Where to Eat in Central London

Sun, 29 September 2019
aquavit

Circolo Popolare

You’ve no doubt seen it all over Instagram. Twenty thousand bottles of liquor line the walls of this peach-tinted behemoth of a trattoria in Fitzrovia, dreamed up by hospitality aficionados Big Mamma Group. Always packed, it’s a place to see and be seen. Start your soirée with a visual feast, averting your gaze upwards to the swathes of greenery and flowers that adorn the ceiling and tumble down the walls, punctuated by glowing lanterns and strung with fairy lights. At eye level, it’s all wicker chairs, wooden tables and star-struck diners pouring over a mammoth menu of Sicilian home-cooking, refined for a cosmopolitan crowd. The usual favourites such as burrata and bruschetta (this one’s “magic mushroom”) sidle up next to the likes of pork bites and sea-bass crudo, all helping you to set sail on your cruise around Sicily. Your next port of call will be its hedonistic pizza offering – I Wanna Nduja is divine – complemented by rainbow salads, promptly made more indulgent by your order of La Gran Carbonara. You’ll be trying (in vain) to make an indent into those 20,000 bottles throughout, of course. Good luck.

Sabor

It’s hard to find good Spanish food in London. Really hard, in fact. You may have spent summers hopping between pintxos bars in Andalusia, Galicia or the Basque Country, nonchalantly gorging on small plates at a euro a pop, but despite the capital’s effervescent culinary scene, the city really falls short when it comes to Spanish fare. The only place we can think of that does it really well is Barrafina – hence the perennial queue – so it’s no surprise that the executive chef of this Regent’s Street gem is of Barrafina stock. Nieves Barragan’s refined yet hearty cooking paints a colourful picture via several menus from bar snacks to the main asador (grill). Start with the likes of oozing ham croquettes and perfect pan con tomate (bread with tomato), followed by cuttlefish pappardelle with wild-garlic, Galician octopus or pesto-braised oxtail with scallops. A rotating menu means Sabor – meaning “flavour” – draws diners back time and time again. Sit at the counter for a tête-à-tête with a front-row seat of the action, or bring a group for suckling pig in the main restaurant upstairs. The solid wine list makes good food even better.

Wiltons

London’s oldest restaurant, Wiltons has maintained its reputation among the capital’s elite (we’re talking silver-haired aristocracy rather than the flash Euro set) for almost 275 years. An impeccably English affair, this sophisticated St James stalwart sets the standard for the tailors, barbers and hatters that surround it, with its well-heeled clientele returning time and time again, safe in the familiarity of surroundings and discreteness of the staff. Originally a shellfish monger in Haymarket, the menu continues to uphold the restaurant’s history, offering the finest locally sourced seafood (order oysters and dover sole) and game, alongside an impressive carving trolley and faultless wine list. While you’ll probably be among the youngest diners, Wiltons is the definition of an institution and makes a welcome change from sharing plates in industrial-chic surrounds.

La Goccia

Neighbouring the West End, Petersham Nurseries’ Covent Garden offshoot, La Goccia, brings its own element of drama to the area with an open kitchen and clangy dining space. Toasting to the Italian aperitivo and cicchetti (small plates), food at La Goccia is made for sharing. The menu changes based on seasonal produce – order the fried courgette flowers with ricotta, honey and tomatoes if you’re lucky enough to spot it on the menu card – the fried sage with anchovy and lemon are always a must. A great Sunday lunch option, avail of their set menu (costed at £28) and choose from a selection antipasti, followed by Haye Farm pork served with summer cabbage or the lemon sole paired with courgettes, capers and parsley. Both are equally flavoursome and generously portioned. Finish with something “dolci”. Our choice: poached apricots with almond sorbet. Surrounds lean towards the casual – think wrought iron chairs and shabby-chic finishings – and staff are more than hospitable.

PUCCI Mayfair

Hearts all across West London were broken when Pucci closed its Kings Road doors in 2010, but its clientele of models, rock stars, actors and general foodies can rejoice knowing that the renowned pizzeria has opened up a new stylish spot, smack bang in the middle of Mayfair. Decor is cool and unpretentious, with exposed brick, worn leather, industrial light fixtures hanging overhead – plus a pop of colour afforded by the art adorning the walls. Big windows mean natural light on even the most dreary of London days, while summertime invites you to the restaurant’s street-side terrace for al-fresco dining or aperitivo.

As with its ex-Chelsea counterpart, pizza takes centre stage on the menu – anything from a simply perfect nudo smeared with tomato and olive oil (£8) to a whopping truffle affair (£45). Courtesy of ex-Noma chef Tilly Turbett, this time around the menu also features small seasonal plates – dishes like sticky pumpkin with honey and sesame are veggie crowd-pleasers, while we were suckers for sea-bass crudo and Galician charred octopus. You might claim to be too full for pud, but the chocolate semi-freddo tastes like Ferrero Rochers and shouldn’t be missed. An unsurprisingly solid wine list and playful cocktail menu makes Pucci as good a choice for in-town business lunches as it is for after-work dinner with friends.

Rovi

Unlike Ottolenghi’s other outlets, the food at ROVI places emphasis on fermented ingredients and cooking over fire. Veering away from his signature Middle Eastern style, you won’t find salads loaded with pomegranates here – prices for which have grown rapidly since the Israeli-British chef put them on our culinary radar at his first Notting Hill deli 16 years ago. Instead, you’ll be met with a menu laced with crumpet lobster toast, ricotta doughnuts and tomatoes accompanied by lighter-than-air yoghurt with a zest of lemon and a catalogue of herb infusions. It’s all very Asia-meets-the-Levant.

Ceremonious melt-in-your-mouth moments are frequent, running right across the menu (designed to be shared) from the amuse-bouche fava beans to the sweetheart cabbage with dashi and anchovy and grilled halibut, not forgetting the concluding sweet notes of sea salt caramels with miso. A spacious and relaxed dining area of mixed levels and table types (including bar seating and sharing tables), ROVI is the spot of choice for the Soho crowd looking for the latest laudable cuisine.

Laurent at Café Royal

Opening a new restaurant as your first European venture in the same place that David Bowie held a “Last Supper” for Ziggy Stardust is pretty bold. But if it’s also your old stomping ground, as it is for acclaimed veteran chef Laurent Tourondel, then perhaps it’s not such a bad idea. And so we have Laurent at Hotel Café Royal in Piccadilly, a grill and sushi restaurant providing a relaxed yet refined dining experience cosseted by Italian architect Piero Lissoni’s sophisticated interiors. The international menu is centred on the Argentinean parilla grill, with the kitchen providing a wide range of expertly grilled steaks, fish and seafood, and subtle, well-judged starters. There’s plenty of enjoyment on offer, from the distressingly tempting sushi list to the gastronomic revelation of Tourondel’s signature popover, a delicious North American take on the Yorkshire pudding by way of gouda and cheddar which will have you waving goodbye to pre-meal breads forever. The flair extends to a short but sweet pudding menu – the milk Chocolate peanut Butter croquant a prime candidate for cult dessert status – and a refined wine list. You’ll sweep back into Piccadilly feeling pleasantly indulged and planning your return.

Aquavit

Trends come and go, that’s the definition of a trend after all, but our obsession with all things Nordic shows no sign of abating – and Aquavit have nailed it when it comes to Scandi food. Hailing from New York (where they have two Michelin stars) this practically perfect restaurant brings something a little different to often stuffy Mayfair, with sleek interiors and even sleeker plates making it one of our favourite restaurants in London. Ask the amiable staff to help you decipher a menu offering up variously intriguing ingredients. You must, of course, begin with a smorgasbord; choose from gravlax, oysters, shrimp “skaget”, herring and celeriac. Next up its veal tartare and mackerel with kohlrabi, followed by mandatory Swedish meatballs with lingonberries. It’s all fresh, light and wonderfully healthy. This even extends to the crowning glory that is an antiquated drinks trolley dispensing various “aquavit snaps” – a flavoured spirit produced in Scandinavia since the 15th century – as a virtuous of digestif. Between this and what must be the chicest marble bathrooms in the capital, we weren’t surprised when somebody told us they’d visited four times in one week.

  • 020 7024 9848
  • Go to Website
  • St James's Market
    1 Carlton Street
    London
    SW1Y 4QQ

Chick 'n' Sours

After the unprecedented success of their Haggerston branch, these guys have brought their winning formula of sour cocktails and fried chicken dishes to feed the masses in Seven Dials. Said to be one Harry Styles’ favourite restaurants (don’t let that put you off) the darkened subterranean dining room is packed nightly with hungry punters who come for the “disco wings” – done naked, sticky or hot – and get sucked in by tenders sprinkled with “seaweed crack”. Heftier dishes include sandwiches such as the K-Pop (fried thigh, gochujang mayo, chilli vinegar, Asian slaw), though you’ll want to leave room for beef-dripping chips and pickled watermelon with peanuts, coriander, mint and chilli – zingy and exactly what you need to cut through the fry. Punchy cocktails also do their bit at palette cleansing; pisco punches and diablo sours (with tequila and cassis) are joined by craft beer. If you really back yourself (or are fighting a hangover) pitch up for “whole-fry Sunday” – exactly what it says on the tin.

Barrafina

Barrafina’s recipe for success is simple: cook good ingredients very well. This is the kind of restaurant where anything you order will be delicious. Though the menu features tapas from all over Spain you’ll find that the influence comes mainly from the Basque country, where head chef Nieves Barragán Mohacho grew up. Their perfectly executed dishes are served directly to the customer from an open kitchen – pan con tomate, croquetas, tortilla, chipirones and daily specials in seafood (last time sweet and delicate cigalas (a kind of langoustine) were up for grabs). This is a no-reservations restaurant and the line can get ridiculous pretty much any day of the week during lunch or dinner. The wait is worth it. There is a second, and equally good Barrafina on Adelaide street in Covent Garden and a third location on Drury lane, both of which serve more ambitious dishes, like lamb’s kidneys and ox tongue.

Pizza Pilgrims

One of the best lunches in Soho and a strong contender for London’s best pizza. The dough is fluffy and chewy, perfectly bubbled and browned, and the tomato sauce so flavourful that you’ll find yourself thinking the absence of cheese is a good thing – their marinara pizza is ridiculously tasty. Pizza Pilgrims was founded when brothers James and Thom Elliot decided to quit their jobs and purchase a food van in which they could place a pizza oven. The only problem was they knew absolutely nothing about pizza, so they travelled around Italy learning the craft and perfecting their recipe. Thus the pilgrimage began. They now have two other locations – Kingly street and Exmouth Market. Reservations are taken only if you’re a group of eight and above.

Bone Daddies

There’s a slew of new ramen restaurants opening up in London but Bone Daddies remains our favourite. In particular, we put this restaurant high up on your list of hangover cures. The rich broth, whether chicken or 20-hour pork, will serve as a tonic for both head and stomach aches. By the time you’ve finished a deep bowl filled with noodles, a tea-stained egg, spring onion, bamboo and crispy garlic you’ll feel like a new person. Tie your mane up with one of their complimentary hair bands and watch the crowds pass through Peter Street as you listen to a soundtrack of rock n roll and light metal. Don’t come here if you’re looking for a light meal though, as the soups are rich and often accompanied with extra fat in the form of lard or sesame oil. Check the website for additional locations.

Palomar

The Palomar serves Israeli food with influences from Southern Spain, North Africa and the Levant and is a restaurant that has that magical synergy of food and atmosphere – the flavours on your tongue jostle for attention like the chefs do in the open kitchen. You’ll find this Soho restaurant is always packed, but we think instead of making a reservation it’s best to come as a walk-in and sit at the bar – that way you can watch all the action closely.Their enthusiasm for the dishes they are creating is impossible to resist. The shiny chrome bar is overhung with copper pans, lit with gold-plated table lamps and enjoyed from turquoise padded stools. Their back room is lined with plush, royal blue leather banquette seating.

Bocca di Lupo

Bocca di Lupo remains as feverishly popular today as it was back in 2008, when it first opened in the heart of Soho. Literally, the name means “the mouth of the wolf”, but as a phrase it translates from Italian to “break a leg”. Both sound to us like an invitation to go to town on the small and large plates on offer. The menu spans the regions of Italy, from classic ragu Bolognese, Tuscan fish stew and Venetian squid with blood orange to Ligurian grilled mussels with chilli and polenta with gorgonzola and fried duck egg. Even more impressive than the actual food is the fact that the menu changes twice a day, every day. Take this with one of London’s best wine lists and simple, elegant décor and you’ve got something close to a perfect evening.

Lima Floral

This Covent Garden restaurant is part of Virgilio Martinez’s Michelin-starred LIMA family, renowned for vibrant Peruvian cuisine and some of the prettiest plates in town. Be sure to order the ceviche mixto (sea bream, tuna, prawns, octopus) so you can try as much of their speciality as possible, while meatier mains include slow-cooked confit pig and beef fillet pachamanca. Look out for exotic ingredients such as huacatay (Peruvian black mint) and camucamu, a cherry-like fruit from teh Amazon. They also have an impressive cocktail menu which reinvents classic cocktails with pisco – you’ll no doubt end up ordering several, so if you’re just here for drinks be sure to have a good supply of cancha (toasted corn) to snack on. Don’t miss their banging weekend brunch (quinoa porridge, suckling-pig brioche bun, potato pancakes) where you can get four glasses of prosecco for £12.

The Ritz

There’s no greater British tradition than afternoon tea and no better place to experience it than The Ritz. A London institution, walking into the hotel’s Palm Court is like stepping into a Faberge egg; Louis XVI-style with twinkling chandeliers, a stuccoed ceiling, pastel-pink wall panels, chintzy yellow silk chairs, palm fronds, fresh flowers and an outrageous amount of gilt. Impeccable waiters deliver an array of Alice in Wonderland-esque delights from finger sandwiches to pastries, cakes and scones served with lashings of clotted cream and strawberry jam. The Ritz is the only hotel in the UK to have a certified tea sommelier, Giandomenico Scanu, who travels around the globe to bring back the best of the best. They have 18 different varieties, but it would be rude not to go for the Ritz Royal Blend. With a resident harpist and pianist serenading you as you sip, The Ritz gives the Mad Hatter a run for his money.

Street XO

The sibling of three-Michelin-star Madrid restaurant DiverXO has transported to Mayfair and it’s even more barmy than the rumours. A team in straightjackets are fronted by rock-star chef David Muñoz as music blasts out over a black and red basement adorned with neon signs and beautiful people – so pull up a pew and get ready for the show. Arrive early because you don’t want to miss out on slurping a cocktail out of a human heart-shaped receptacle, or a fishbowl wine glass bigger than your head, do you? Well-lubricated for dinner, request a seat at the counter to watch the meticulous crafting of weird and wonderful tapas sharing plates; signature Pekinese pig ears dumplings arrive on greaseproof paper and splattered with a strawberry hoi sin sauce (both gruesome and delicious) while tender grilled octopus cuts like butter and is lacerated by a vivid sweet and sour green-apple puree. Another favourite was crispy kimchi croquettes topped with slabs of tuna. Be warned – your tastebuds will be tested, and there will probably be a plate you’re not totally sold on. But it’s the whole experience that matters, and you’ll leave feeling both exhausted and exhilarated after a trip around this top-end gastronomic playground.

Roka

Roka. The name on every self-respecting sushi aficionado’s lips, this upscale Japanese joint has spread its wings with outposts in Aldwych, Canary Wharf, Fitzrovia and Mayfair. The latter branch is nestled on trendy Charlotte Street and rubs shoulders with some of city’s hottest dining destinations. It houses the moodily lit, subterranean Shochu Lounge where creative types come to sip on concoctions such as ‘spirited away’ (green tea-infused cranberry with fresh berries and honey) while a DJ spins heady beats late into the night. Upstairs is a brighter, buzzier affair, packed out with a sophisticated Soho set that can stomach the somewhat steep prices in return for impeccable dishes – we’ve been dreaming about the signature black cod in yuzu miso since our visit. Grab a seat at the counter and watch the experts craft some of the prettiest plates in town: yellowtail sashimi with yuzu-truffle dressing, mizuna and pickled vegetables; scallop skewers with wasabi and shiso; rock-shrimp tempura with wasabi-pea seasoning and chilli mayonnaise; lamb cutlets with Korean spices – you’ll struggle to choose, but be bold in the knowledge that every dish will delight. We’d advise you to clear your palate with some green-tea sorbet but a better option is the gloriously indulgent dark chocolate and green-tea pudding with crunchy jivara and pear ice cream. Either way, be sure to end with a shot of sweet sake.

  • 020 7580 6464
  • Go to Website
  • 37 Charlotte Street
    Fitzrovia
    London
    W1T 1RR

Sketch

Outside it’s a Mayfair townhouse, inside a gastronomic playground with four unique dining areas. The Gallery, which you’ll no doubt recognise from endless ‘grams, was conceived by Turner Prize-nominated David Shrigley and is a plush palatial pink paradise filled with 239 of his farcical drawings and custom-designed crockery. Once you’ve stopped taking pictures of the decor (make sure you visit the WC while you’re there – it’s just as photogenic as the rest), the imaginative menu offers up a la carté dishes featuring everything you want in decadent French cuisine. Mind you, the restaurant’s Instagrammable spaces don’t stop there – you’ll need to visit at least a few times and treat yourself to Michelin starred fare in The Lecture Room, breakfast in The Glade or cocktails in The Parlour.

Gymkhana

Gymkhana offers atmospheric dining in the heart of Mayfair. Inspired by the colonial British-Indian “gymkhana” clubs it serves a combination of classic and contemporary Michelin-starred Indian cuisine with a strong focus on chatpata and boldly spiced sharing dishes. The interior is grand and decadent but the silk carpets and buttoned Chesterfield leather booths afford the space an unprecedented sense of conviviality. A carefully curated cocktail list, infusing Indian spirits with spices, complements the dishes and staff are engaged and knowledgeable, well-versed in experience-optimising flavour combinations.

The Ninth

London-based Jun Tanaka’s ninth venture is both an inspiration and an aspiration to chefs and diners alike. Located on Charlotte Street in the heart of London, The Ninth is perfectly positioned for those in need of great food after a long day. Contemporary yet comforting, the menu offers honest and vibrant interpretations of French favourites, made from the freshest seasonal produce. Dishes include, oxtail croquettes, ossobuco tortellini with hazelnut gremolata and crispy potato galette and the menu is split into flavour subsections rather than starters, mains and desserts. Reasonably priced and ridiculously tasty, The Ninth is a welcome antidote to the proliferation of three-course dining experiences in London.

Temper

Located in the heart of Soho, Temper, the first solo venture from Neil Rankin, serves up hearty portions of expertly barbecued meats and equally exciting sides. Whole animal cookery is championed here – the flatbreads contain rendered fat and bones are boiled into a hearty broth. Dishes are cooked enthusiastically in front of guests, in a unique barbecue and open-fire set-up, by chefs who are as much entertainers as they are cooks. Go for the food, leave with new friends.

Frenchie

The newest member of Gregory Marchand’s hugely popular and quickly growing restaurant group is in Theatreland. It echoes its celebrated Parisian counterpart, showcasing complex flavours and international influences in dishes that ooze ebullience. The drinks menu changes with the season and a five-course tasting menu, which includes black figs with white-balsamic caramel, rosemary and honey yoghurt and sea bream with tartare, yuzu, pear and chestnut, is available everyday for dinner. Exposed-brick and metal tables are softened by pink-tweed chairs and glowing pendant lights.

Noble Rot

Located on one of London’s prettiest streets, Lamb’s Conduit Street, Noble Rot is the perfect place to seek refuge at any time of the day / all day. The menu is succinct but abound in honest and delectable British flavours, such as baby Dover sole and Cornish caught turbot, the bar is overflowing with arguably the best wine selection in London, with helpful staff and their trusty magazine to hand.

Mortimer House Kitchen

On the ground floor of the six-storey members club, Mortimer House is the 90-seat Mortimer House Kitchen. Located on the corner of Mortimer and Wells Street, just off Oxford Street, this is a bustle-free spot to recharge.

Housed in a 1930s art deco building, Mortimer House Kitchen is led by Head Chef Luca Unali (of Cecconi’s and Blakes schooling.) Riffing on his Italian-Israeli heritage, Unali’s menu is dominated by Mediterranean fare with hints of Middle Eastern flavour. Choose from avocado shakshuka, courgette spaghetti with pistachio pesto and smoked ricotta, and a variety of small, medium and large plates available from the all-day menu. From May, the 19-hold alfresco dining space opens all day; the terrace is ideal a summer sundowner or post-work aperitif.

  • +44 20 7139 4401
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  • 37-41 Mortimer Street
    Fitzrovia
    W1T 3JH

The Mirror Room

The Rosewood collection are pros at subverting convention – while respecting the sensibilities of their locations. Nowhere is this more apparent than the Mirror Room at the Rosewood London. Circumventing tradition, Executive Pastry Chef Mark Perkins gives classic English afternoon tea an update with the aid of art mavericks past and present. Art Afternoon Tea is inspired by London’s vibrant art scene and serves a rotating menu in keeping with the city’s latest exhibitions.

Enjoy a spread of traditional sandwiches followed by freshly-baked scones served with Cornish clotted cream, lemon curd and homemade strawberry and elderflower jam. Served in courses, the main event – the sweet delicacies – has seen works by Rodin, Banksy, Kadinsky, Pollock and Miro reimagined in pastry and chocolate form. Currently, diners can snack on the iconic sculptor Rodin’s The Kiss rendered in chocolate sponge.

For breakfast, lunch, all-day dining and the aforementioned high tea, the Mirror Room’s surrounds will whet your appetite with floor-to-ceiling decorative mirrors, low lighting and lounge style seating. A jewel-box dining room as delectable as its servings.

Ichibuns Soho

Glowing like a beacon on Chinatown’s Wardour Street, this self-described “Japanese super diner” specialises in udon and burgers with a generous side serving of retro kitsch. A frivolously fun option, it’s an ideal spot if you’re looking to let loose with the gang in Soho. Order everything for the table – dynamite shrimp (crispy and covered in lime) and spicy yellowtail tacos followed by platters of sushi, sashimi and maki. Don’t scrimp on the gyoza – we actually think it’s the best thing on the menu. Follow with a house wagyu burger or silky noodles mixed with salmon or chicken teriyaki. Cocktails put Asian twists on classics such as the Kyoto Colada (with yuzu), though you’ll probably want to make headway into the sake and shochu list. A resident DJ spinning out tunes from decks fixed in an old car means this place is loud – perhaps too loud – but you didn’t come for a quiet heart to heart.

Barrafina

Pizza Pilgrims

Bone Daddies

Palomar

Bocca di Lupa

Lima Floral

The Ritz

Street XO

Roka

Sketch

Frenchie

Noble Rot

Temper

Gymkhana

Mortimer House Kitchen

The Mirror Room

Laurent at Café Royal

Rovi

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