southwark

Bermondsey and London Bridge are perfect for an aimless Sunday wander. Winding narrow streets thread past medieval buildings, cobbled courtyards, old churches and riverside boozers where Shakespeare (probably) wet his whistle back in the day.

At the heart of the area is sprawling Borough Market, London’s most famous food mecca which has been touting fresh bread, fruit and vegetables for as long as anyone can remember.

These days the market has cranked it up a notch, offering everything from shellfish and truffles to tacos, craft liquor, artisanal meats and Nana Fanny’s salt-beef bagels under one vaulted, bottle-green roof. This culinary tradition has seeped into the surrounding streets, with some of London’s most exciting restaurants popping up in close proximity. World-famous chefs are at work in disused railway arches and people queue around the corner for fresh pasta, while elegant oyster bars jostle next to no-frills pubs and new-age tapas bars.

This is our guide to the best restaurants in London Bridge.

Wright Brothers

There are few culinary pairings as perfect as oysters and stout; people have been lapping up icy oysters with glasses of creamy dark beer since the Victorian times. Wright Brothers is an “oyster and porter house” on the edge of Borough Market with a handsome interior of brickwork, brushed wood, chalkboards, beer barrels and antique Guinness signs. An open kitchen at the back means you can watch the chefs at work. Choose from a menu of simple but sumptuous seafood dishes, champagne, stout and oysters from their own farm in Cornwall, served in guises such as deep-fried “New Orleans” and “Rockefeller” with spinach, herbs and butter. Shuck yeah.

José

This place is the eponymous brainchild of Spanish cookery maestro José Pizarro. The tiny spot on the corner of Bermondsey Street transports you to the clattering tapas bars of Spain, where dishes are simple but explosively delicious, the wine is affordable and the toasty little room is all tiles, hanging meats and window seats. The best dishes are the least suspecting ones – the pan con tomate is rubbed with an ungodly amount of garlic and sweet, sunny tomatoes. The padrón peppers are fat, curled and sprinkled with coarse salt. The tortilla is fluffy and yellow. And the wine list is full of interesting Spanish varieties that slip down far too easily. The specials menu changes by the day, depending on what’s available at the market, which means more Spanish meats, colourful salads and sizzling seafood than you can shake a jamón carving knife at.

London Grind

Housed in a former bank on the edge of the River Thames, this coffee shop, restaurant, bar and club is a honey trap for London’s keyboard-tapping freelancers. Along with high ceilings, exposed pipework, steel, lots of concrete and some life-affirming quotations in red-neon lights, Grind has a wraparound bar perfect for sipping coffee made with their very own beans. Buzzing from day to night (and not just thanks to the caffeine) pop in here for a coffee break, boozy brunch or seasonal plates of gnocchi with wild mushrooms, pan-fried quail and fresh burrata. The espresso martinis are lethal.

El Pastor

A tidal wave of taquerias has hit London – and this is one of the best. Located in a vaulted-brick building on one of Borough’s sidestreets, cacti, colourful furniture, fairy lights and a bustling open kitchen give the feel of a lively Mexico City eatery. The Hart Brothers (of Barrafina fame) have devised an eye-popping menu of freshly made tacos overflowing with things like 24-hour-marinated pork shoulder and caramelised pineapple, short rib with habanero salsa and roasted squash with queso fresco and pumpkin seeds, served up with Mexican radish salad, grilled corn and homemade salsa. Don’t forget to throw down a few mezcals from the devoted menu, which is divided into “silky and smooth”, “deep, dark and smoky”, “fresh and green” and “unique and exotic”. It’s not unusual for waiting times to be two to three hours at weekend, so put down your details and busy yourself at a nearby bar like Wine Wharf.

Padella

Chances are you’ve already enjoyed a few plates of fresh pasta washed down with wine-on-tap at this slick smash-hit Italian bistro – or attempted to and been put off by relentless queues. A good time to visit is at lunchtime, when you can slip in quite easily and choose from a concise menu of hand-rolled pasta with sauces such as Italian sausage and fennel ragu, ricotta with sage butter and their famous (and feverishly Instagrammed) “pici cacao e pepe, a thick spaghetti with garlic, cheese, butter and black pepper. Grab a seat at the bar to watch the pasta-masters in action.

Caravan Bankside

Run by four Kiwis (who know a thing or two about good brunch), Caravan has stolen the hearts of coffee-swilling, seasonal-eating Londoners with its three locations around London. Famed for its top-quality own-brand coffee beans and hangover-curing brunches, it also serves hearty, inventive lunch and dinner dishes – featuring “well-travelled” food inspired by all reaches of the globe – alongside craft cocktails in perpetually sunny atmosphere. Their newest offshoot on Bankside occupies a former 19th-century metal-box factory, with many of the original concrete-clad features still intact. Incorporating a coffee and cocktail bar, dining room and kitchen-dining bar, it’s the kind of place you can bed down in for an entire day.

Hixster

Housed in the same ex-metal box factory as Caravan, this elegant eatery by Mark Hix is the “little sister” to Shoreditch’s Tramshed, specialising in the same high-grade meat and fine British art as its counterpart. Done up (or down) in original metal, tiles and floor-to-ceiling windows, it serves carnivorous delights like “Indian rock chicken” (roasted, fried or in a burger) and Hereford or Aberdeen beef, which has been aged in a Himalayan salt chamber and comes with sides like salt and vinegar onion rings or wild garlic mushrooms – a reliable option whatever the occasion.

Bread Ahead

Although this artisanal Borough Market bakery makes some of the best fresh bread in the city, it’s their perfect doughnuts that have brought them an international cult following. Let your nose lead you to their Saturday stall, where you can pick up a sourdough loaf or rosemary focaccia and squabble over the fresh, pillow-y doughnuts. Head baker Justin Gellatly switches up the flavours every day, loading the sourdough bakes with everything from classic jam to salted caramel cream, lemon curd and hazelnut and almond praline – don’t even think about trying to share one.

El Pastor

Wright Brothers

Padella

Bread Ahead

Hixster

Caravan Bankside

London Grind

José

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