The London restaurant scene isn’t short on world-beating places to dine out. Anthony Pearce shares some of his current favourites.
A few eyebrows were raised when, in a recent feature on London’s increasingly impressive dining scene, The New York Times wrote that just 10 years ago, you could only get the likes of boiled mutton and porridge at restaurants in the British capital. Bizarre assertions aside, the piece, which celebrates what it calls the city’s “recent flowering as a culinary destination”, is one of many that points out what Londoners have known for a while: it’s fantastic city to dine out in.
In fact, the food revolution began longer ago than the broadsheet would have you believe, with the openings of The River Café and St John, the birth of the celebrity chef, the regeneration of areas such as London Bridge and Shoreditch, and the move towards organic eating. What’s great about London’s food scene now is its diversity. The city may have 71 Michelin stars, including four restaurants with three stars, but the fine-dining scene only tells a tiny bit of the story. In London, you can enjoy almost any cuisine – including contemporary, inventive British food – that’s as good as you’ll get anywhere. Here are six of our favourites to try.
St John, Smithfield
A former smokehouse found around the corner from Smithfield Market, this ‘nose-to-tail’ eatery opened in 1994. Its eccentric head chef Fergus Henderson almost single-handedly pioneered the resurgence in offal-based dishes. Expect the likes of crispy pig cheek and dandelion, or grilled lamb hearts with chard and aioli, served in a relaxed atmosphere. Anthony Bourdain called it “the restaurant of my dreams”.
The new opening
Through his Guardian recipes and six cafés and restaurants in London, Israeli-British food writer and chef Yotam Ottolenhghi has had a profound effect on the capital’s eating habits. Although firmly rooted in Middle Eastern cooking, his new, seventh venture, Rovi, is unlike anything he’s done before. The 85-seat restaurant serves a veg-heavy menu with a focus on fermentation and cooking over fire, and may be his best yet.
The hipster favourite
A street food-to-restaurant mainstay success story, Bao in Soho ticks all the boxes: it’s centrally located, innovative, delicious and affordable. The menu is built around the Taiwanese delicacy bao ( fluffy, white steamed buns), which cost just £3.75. Choose from the likes of braised pork with peanut powder, or soy-milk-marinated chicken, sichuan mayo and kimchi, and a host of equally delicious sides, accompanied by green tea. There’s no reservations and the space is tiny, so expect long queues.
Social Eating House, Soho
Michelin-starred chef Jason Atherton is behind no less than seven restaurants in London, not to mention ventures in New York, Dubai and elsewhere, but Social Eating House may well be his best. More informal and relaxed than the likes of the grand Berner’s Tavern, this Soho eatery serves ‘bistro-style’ dishes in a low-lit setting. The food is traditionally British, and the ingredients are locally sourced (menus tell you how far they have travelled), but fans of Atherton will know these dishes are created in his own innovative, sophisticated, often theatrical style, delivered by chef patron Paul Hood. Food this inventive doesn’t come cheap.
The homely spot
Honey & Co, Fitzrovia
This husband-and-wife run café and restaurant, which serves hearty Middle Eastern cuisine, has been a favourite of Londoners since it opened in 2012. Founders Itamar Srulovich and Sarit Packer have since launched a couple of cookbooks, a shop and second restaurant, but this tiny original site, where diners sit elbow-to-elbow, remains a treat. The food, unfussy and generous in portion, matches the relaxed and homely atmosphere.
(Image credit: Adam Luszniak)