I updated my little list of favourite restaurants today, and just wanted to let you know about this…
Released to the wild on 12-08-2010. Read version1.
I love food blogs for the personality behind them, and for its ever-evolving nature. However keeping up with the frequent updates can be overwhelming for new readers who simply want a summary of the best recommendations. So I wrote this page down for their benefit, mainly places I love and would revisit. Think of this as a condensed version of all the critical moments in my discovery. No guide is ever definitive, and this one is far from it. It is alive and it will change as the landscape of food. I hope that you will find this a pleasant introduction to the world of London dining.
Scene. August 2010
Food blogs, food critics, critic round-ups, photographed dinners, paywalled websites and the utter brillance of Bob Granleese. The landscape of food media, ever changing and never more saturated. Now is the best time to be someone who enjoys reading about food.
2010 has seen a number of lovely new openings which has graced Central London, some might even become future institutions. Good restaurants are spread across the entire capital, but if you find yourself around Soho or Farringdon, there are nice places around for you to choose from.
I believe that prices are a deciding factor, especially in London, where it is traditionally and infamously high. The perceived value for money is an important consideration. I find that prices fluctuate with the general economic mood, and depending on the cuisine and location, prices vary wildly. However, taking into account my own experiences, this is rough classification of the market:
3 Michelin Star : £100 plus.
2 Michelin Star : £70 to £100
1 Michelin Star : £55 to £65
Posh restaurants, old institutions : £55 for three courses
Middle of the road, competitive : £40 for three courses
Budget restaurants : £25 for three courses
Fish and Chips £7 to £10
Gourmet Burgers £6 to £9
Chicken Rice, One plate meals £6 to £10
Sushi £3 to £8 per nigiri
McDonalds Cheeseburger 99p [See the Big Mac Index]
Supperclubs are so last year, cheap set menus are a regular fixture in many restaurants, and brewed coffee came and went with Penny University. Heston will open his London outpost toward the end of the year, but until that happens, restaurateurs have embraced the bistro/brasserie chillax concept this year.
Of course, I don’t know everything there is to know, my exploration of gastronomy has inherent weaknesses. Firstly, I am based in West London, much of the East is a complete mystery to me, but I am extending my catchment area every week. I am not an expert of cuisines, often there will be gaps and my opinion will be confined to comparisons with my previous experiences, at which point I will push you toward a more credible source. I believe the strength of social media is linking to the collective memory bank, but at the same time, its really just the perfect excuse for me to eat out more often.
Keeping up to date
In the new world of social media, there are a number of critics and serial restaurant bloggers who write about the latest restaurants in town. Naturally, I am an avid fan of restaurant critics as I regularly follow their conquests and feel that the wealth of experience professional critics offer give a rounded viewpoint of placing and benchmarking restaurants in their respective cuisines. Equally there are a host of food blogs which provide an alternative and more personal angle on similar subjects. I believe that a saturation of view points is only a good thing as it will ultimately give the prospective diner a more complete gauge of whether a restaurant will be a good fit or otherwise. Food is subjective after all. London based sources I wholeheartedly recommend:
Update: Sadly, Bjorn has closed ESI amid tough times. More here.
£40pp French 40 St John Street EC1M 4AY
Tel: 020 7490 9230 Tube: Farringdon
I love this place. Food is beautifully cooked, wonderful balance of flavours, and the restaurant is entirely personable. The best onglet and frites. I also think Bjorn van de Horst has nurtured a culture amongst staff, who project an air of modesty, something which I think is sorely lacking in most high nose places where amorous pretension are all but rampant. Read More
Cambio de Tercio
Spanish, £50pp ; 7 Course taster menu £37.
163 Old Brompton Road SW5 0LJ
Tel: 020 7244 8970
Tube: Gloucester Road
I’ve been visiting this restaurant since 2003, and glad to say that it is still going strong in 2010. Simply the finest Spanish restaurant in London, in my opinion, probably deserves at least a michelin star just for the sheer quality of food. I’ve never had a bad meal here and it comes with my highest recommendations. Read More.
Sushi of Shiori
144 Drummond Street, Off Hamstead Road, NW1 2PA
Tel: 020 7388 9962
Tube: Warren Street
I never thought such a fabulous labour of love would ever exist in London, this tiny sushi bar can only accommodate nine people, is run by a husband and wife team, but the sushi is as good as you will find in London. The chef is ex-Umu, and is a artist with the knife, who has probably decided to keep his restaurant small, so that he can wow his diners as they watch him prepare dinner. If you love sushi, or would like to be introduced to it, this is the place to go. My favourite Japanese restaurant in London. Read More.
£45pp Steakhouse Maddox Street W1S 1QH
Tel: 020 7499 3776 Tube: Oxford Circus
As a red blooded male, I love meat sweats. I have frequented Goodman alot lately and this is my go-to restaurant for proper steak. There are two realistic choices for London steak, Goodman and Hawksmoor. I prefer this Russian owned restaurant for the sheer choice of meat, in particular the Nebraska Prime USDA beef. NZ Wagyu, O’Sheas Irish Beef and Scotch are also on their menu. They also have their own aging rooms on premises and the vaunted Josper Grill for extra smokiness. Oh and for the record, I don’t rate the Goodman Burger, too salty. Read more … but don’t bother with my review, I’m going to write a more recent update which better reflect my feelings about them, and why I love Goodman so much.
184 Bermondsey Street SE1 3TQ
Tel: (020) 7378 6809
Tube: London Bridge
This lovely little restaurant represents the first of a wave of restaurants that churns out fantastic Italian inspired dishes at unbelievable prices. Some hail it as a lite version of River Cafe, but I think it might probably be better. The best grilled veal chops I’ve yet had in a London restaurant. Read more.
£30pp British 46 Lexington Street, Soho W1F 0LW
Tel: 0207 437 5708 Tube: Leicester Square
Those who love it, say it is the single most romantic small restaurant in Soho. Others write it off for inconsistent cooking. Whatever the case, this cosy outfit certainly has a large following, you won’t find an empty table on weekends. I fell for its rustic execution, a warming pork belly roast with apple puree, as well an efficient spatcock on toast. I’m all for the alternative and the romantic. Read more.
£12pp British 73 Marylebone Lane W1U 2PN
Tel: 020 7486 3644 Tube: Bond Street
I went to Geales once for their highly produced beer battered haddock, good, but a tad too expensive. Fish and chips are suppose to be cheap. I am indebted to Helen for introducing this Marylebone favourite. Fish are fresh catch delivered from Grimsby, daily. Chips are a little soggy and the mushy peas are forgettable, but the battered cod is just what the doctor ordered for Friday lunch. Read more.
£45pp British 28-31 Saint Martin’s Court London WC2N 4AL
Tel: 020 7240 2565 Tube: Leicester Square
This institution is part of Richard Caring’s behemoth Le Caprice group. A resplendent all-wood, all-brass oyster bar is adjoining to the more formal dining room, and weekend menus can be had for as low as £25.50. You will find alot of ardent fans who support this wonderful fish restaurant. On my visit, a Cornish Pollack cooked ever so slightly under that was incredibly flaky. Finished in a cream sauce with mussels. I have only tried the set lunch, but a pricier revisit is scheduled later this year. Read more.
27 Walham Grove, London SW6 1QR
Tel: 020 7386 1847
Tube: Fulham Broadway
I am including this recent Michelin crowned superpub by default, because I think it represents an important milestone in the London restaurant scene, and for British cuisine in general. The menu is respectably affordable, and the venison scotch eggs are probably the best you can find, this side of Fulham. I don’t think it deserves a Michelin star to be quite honest, however, the food is honest, and honestly fantastic. Read more.
Great Queen Street
32 Great Queen Street Covent Garden, WC2B 5AA
Tel : 020 7242 0622
Tube : Covent Garden
I love this place, it is perhaps the epitome of a ‘gastropub’, the menu rotates on a daily basis, there is an emphasis on British produce, recipes are reticent, but cooking is superbly refined and well executed. Brown crabs are used on toast, and the minute steak is the perfect alternative to a Sunday roast. I just love the unpolished wooden floors, and Burgundy walls. Read more.
British £150pp. ***
High Street, Bray SL6 2AQ
Tel: +44 (0) 1628 580 333
Heston Blumenthal’s temple of fantastico in Bray is still hitting the spot. Nothing is orthodox about this three michelin starred restaurant, and for £150, you get theatre, tricks, Kiefer Sutherland lookalike restaurant manager and amazing snail porridge. If you are going to blow your load, you may as well skip the stuffy old-fashioned French institutions and don you favourite jacket to the most progressive restaurant in Britain. Read more.
French £75. **
6-10 Bruton Street, Mayfair W1J 6PU
Tel: 44 (0) 20 7495 7100 Tube: Green Park
Philip Howard holds two Michelin stars at the Square. I find that his French cooking not only has a certain air of flair, but that the concepts are innovative. I am a proponent of balanced flavours and good old fashioned ‘signature’ flavours, and I feel that this is the driving philosophy behind the technical accuracy of Howard’s cuisine. Expensive of course, I have heard that their set menu is laughable, but I tried their a la carte and it was eye opening to say the least. He has had a hand in newer establishments including Kitchen W8 and the Ledbury.Read more.
French £75. **
27 Ledbury Road W11 2AQ
Tel: 020 7792 9090 Tube: Notting Hill Gate
Brett Graham must surely be the hottest chef in town right now. I went in 2009, when they were still a rising two star as opposed to the full two star status it currently holds. Brett loves his game, but you needn’t worry about overly livery flavours as his food is also a masterclass of umami, just like his mentor Phil Howard. Rarely do I remember individual dishes, though I remember his salt crusted ash celeriac – cooked wholly in a salt crust with ash and then served sliced with truffle mayonnaise and a kromeski of middle white pork. Signature stuff. His other restaurant is the Michelin Starred Harwood Arms.Read more.
British £40. *
26 St John Street EC1M 4AY
Tel: 020 7251 0848 Tube: Farringdon
The original purveyor of Nose to Tail cooking, Fergus Henderson’s food is as stark as the restaurant’s decor. Offal, game and lesser known cuts are the order of the day and the menu is more of an exploration of the limits of what should be eaten, though equally there are some stunningly rustic dishes as well. At times, the bare-bones outfit might be just a tad too reticent, however its simplicity is also its greatest attraction. Roast bone marrow and their mandelines amongst their most popular dishes. For a michelin restaurant, infinitely affordable. Read more.
From around the Pacific, £12pp
Engineers Way HA9 0EG
Tel: +44 (0) 207 409 7747
Tube: Wembley Park
The spiritual successor to Oriental City, based in Wembley, and right now is still in its beginning days. There’s Japanese, Chinese, Malaysian, Korean and Tibetan stalls already open, plus a supermarket which should open soon. If you like foodcourts, this is worth a visit. Cheap too. Read more.
£12pp Japanese, Udon-ya.
49 Frith St W1D 4SG
Tel : 020 7434 4463
Tube : Leicester Square
What do you mean you haven’t had a chance to slurp these sticky lovelies yet? Superbly rubbery, hand-made udon, based conveniently in the heart of Soho. ’nuff said really. Drink with the ultra expensive Echigo beer made from Koshihikari rice. Read more.
£50pp Japanese fusion 37 Charlotte Street W1T 1RR
Tel: 020 7580 6464 Tube : Goodge Street
Roka is part of an expanding chain of zenith-class restaurants owned by German restaurateur, Rainer Becker. He also happens to own the Zuma line of luxury restaurants. Since he opened Zuma in 2002, and then Roka two years later, his highly acclaimed brand of refined Japanese cuisine has gone strength to strength, now Zuma and Rokas have expanded to Hong Kong, and in 2009, a new Roka in Canary Wharf. I was a little sceptical at first, but after I visited, boy did I fall in love with the robata grilled Japanese food. Pricy but worth it. Read more
£15pp Chinese 10 Hogarth Place SW5 0QT
Tel: 020 7373 7000 Tube: Earls Court
In my opinion, No.10 is a hidden gem of sorts. Situated in Earls Court, its expansive menu caters to a wide variety of differing regional cuisines, but the kitchen’s speciality is in Szechuan food. While there is a wealth of Szechuan restaurants, currently a trend in central London, I find that most are merely ok. Here, small groups can enjoy a positively exciting feast of ‘mala’ or spicy hotpot and in my opinion, a juicy rendition of soya chicken, tender. I also enjoyed the braised pork ribs with rice, served in a ceramic pot on a bed of rice, with ‘winter’ mushrooms (shitake). At £6.50 a steal. Read more.
£20pp Chinese 8 Sheldon Square W2 6EZ
Tel: (0)207 289 7000 Tube: Paddington
This is my benchmark dim sum in London. Food is good across the board, prices are reasonable and the dining room is elegant. Bog standard, but in a good way and really what you want is dependable quality. Cheung fun has great consistency, it doesn’t fall apart when you pick it up; har gau and siu mai will bounce around as you bite into them and I particularly enjoyed the wasabi prawn dumplings, even if purists say that is not Chinese, it is fusion. Purists like my dad for example. As you know, a good dim sum restaurant does not make a good restaurant for dinner. Royal China comes to mind. But I have heard many good things about dinner here, I have marked out my calendar specifically to try it. Helen the World Foodie Guide highly commends it and if she likes it, it is worth a try. Read more.
£18pp Chinese 28 Chalk Farm Road NW1 8AG
Tel: 0207482222 Tube: Chalk Farm
You would have to visit on a weekend, and on lunch hour rather than for dinner. Personally, dim sum has always been Sunday breakfast for me and I think Yum Cha exudes just that kind of vibe. The food is excellent and might actually be better than Pearl Liang. Their egg tarts in particular are great, and they also serve very capable xiao long baos. The crystal dumplings – Prawn and scallop – were seeped in seafood flavours and most of the benchmark dishes including the har gau and siu mai kept me happy. Read more.
£12pp Chinese 84 Queensway, London, W2 3RL
Tel: 020 7229 4320 Tube: Bayswater
This popular institution needs no introduction really. They are famously the ‘Roast Duck specialists’ in town. Personally, I prefer the Leicester Square branch to the over subscribed original at Bayswater, either way, you won’t go wrong if you are hunting for quality Chinese BBQ meat. Aside from No.10, this is my go-to restaurant for slithery roast duck and soya chicken rice. Ask for the drumstick or leg while you’re at it. It is only Chinese. One caveat though: Service is shite, so be wary….[Full review pending]
Uncle Lim’s Kitchen
£7pp Malaysian/Chinese Upper North Arcade Whitgift Center CRO 1UZ
Tel: 020 8688 8378
I’ve had alot of great Hainanese chicken rice in both Malaysia and Singapore. Being a quarter Hainanese myself, I know for a fact that ‘Bai Zhan’ Chicken – Poached White Chop Chicken – is something of a family tradition, so I am telling you now that the best Hainanese Chicken Rice I have had in London is not in London. It is in Croydon. If you have always been curious or are craving for a great example of this famous one plate meal, you must give Uncle Lim’s a try. They also do very good Malay style spicy chicken wings, sambal prawns as well as Nasi lemak. The chicken rice is a weekend only special and how I wish they would bring this family secret to London. Any restauranteurs reading this? More here.
Do you sushi binge? But don’t want your pockets to burn while you’re at it? Well then you need to visit an Atari-ya. They are princially fishmongers, specifically high grade frozen tuna, and they supply most of the capital’s best sushi restaurants. Yes folks. ‘Sashimi grade’ fish usually means freezing to a superlow temperature so that nasties are superdead. I recommend you travel to the Swiss Cottage one, if you want a comfortable environment; full fat otoro is £3 a pop. And it really is the premium stuff. If you’re really struggling for cash, then head to the retail shop in Golders Green, they have a small sushi bar. Super quality otoro, but at a mere £2.30 per nigiri. Forget Kikuchi, that place will rip your balls off with their £8 otoro. Read more.
58 Kingsland Road E2 8DP
Tel: 020 7739 6686
Wonderful things are happening on pho mile in Dalston Kingsland, in fact, most Vietnamese restaurants are so good, that little separates them. Recently, I have been visiting Viet Grill, specifically for their special £5 one plate lunch offers, the noodles are quite abit soggy, but the soup stock is vibrant and fantastic. Deserves your attention too, if you are in the area. Read more.
Well Travelled Portuguese, £25 for 3, £60 for 6, £85 for 12.
Patriot Square E2 9NF
Tel: 020 7871 0461
Tube: Bethnal Green
I seriously think that Nuno Mende’s foraged-from-around-the-world cuisine is groundbreaking, a game changer and a wonderful addition to London scene. If he keeps up his mad genius, I think he can rival Noma’s status. I believe he represents the next generation of superb breakthrough gastronomy. There is something very special brewing in Bethnal Green, and I will be watching his development very closely. Read more.
£7.25, all over.
I used to think Byron was contrived, but that was two years ago, when they only had three branches. Now, I think they produce the best burgers in town. And they have ten locations. I don’t think burgers should ever be gourmet, I think they should be accessible, affordable and simple. I eat byron hamburgers so regularly, I may as well invest in them. Read more.
£25pp British 344/342 Lanbroke Grove/Kensal Rd, London W10 5BU
Tel: 020 8962 1610
The key to Dock Kitchen is experimental food. Initially a pop-up project as part of London Design Festival, Stevie Parle and Joseph Trivelli (the former, a River Cafe chef) have now established a unmoveable version of their moveable kitchen project. In addition to special theme supper club nights, they are also open for lunch on most days serving an ever changing daily menu of brilliantly simple good food cooked to perfection. A labour of love, and I am completely a fool for small, highly bespoke personal projects of this kind. Read more.
Tapped and Packed
£cheap Coffee 26 Rathbone Place, Fitzrovia, W1T1JD
I have not written a review yet, and Tapped and Packed is brand new anyway, but if you are totally into the new coffee culture hitting the capital, then I wholeheartedly suggest giving Tapped and Packed a try. In addition to silky flat whites, they offer their brew via a number of methods including with a aeropress. Oh and their hot chocolate is absolutely divine. Made with chocolate flakes and cream, it is buttery, chocolatley but not overly sweet nor muddy. Plus, it isn’t as cramped as Flat white or a Milk Bar, expansive tables to spread yourself and your laptop, oh and free wi-fi too. Read their blog. My review is coming.
Fernandez & Wells
Fernandez & Wells Food and Wine Bar official site
43 Lexington Street W1F 9AL
Tel: 020 7734 1546
Tube : Leicester Square
The Fernandez & Wells experience centres on providing a relaxing shrine for you to sink into a comfortable daze. There are three Fernandez & Wells café-bars all in close proximity to one another, each with a slightly different offering. The St Anne’s court branch caters for coffee lovers, the Beak St branch is mainly for cakes, while the Lexington branch has an open kitchen which offers delicious savory fare and a superb wine selection. The Lexington branch mainstays are European inspired sandwiches served with cuts of premium cured hams. Speciality items include Jamon Iberico Bellota (Iberian pigs fed on acorn and cereal diet) and legs of Jambon ‘Le Noir de Bigorre’ – a French ham from black pigs, cured for 24 months – which hang invitingly from the ceiling. F&W also serve a changing daily menu of cooked specials ranging from roast chicken to rabbit stew. Their roast pork ciabatta is splendiferous, hand carved by the waitress, stuffed with resplendently golden crackling and lashings of mayonnaise with fresh mustard seeds. There is a distinct lack of able boulangeries in London, but where quantity is wanting, quality is found in heaps at F&W. Read more
Next update…. tentatively in December 2010….