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Dinner by Heston Blumenthal’s signature meat fruit; the London restaurant reopens today at The Mandarin Oriental in Knightsbridge

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These Are the Dishes of the Decade

Chips but way better, fruit hiding pâté, Thai chicken wings, and more era-defining London plates of food

Dinner by Heston Blumenthal’s signature meat fruit
| Official

Looking over this list, one thing is clear: the years following the Great Recession were perhaps the most fertile period in London restaurant history. Places that are now buttoned-down, bolted-on classics made their bones in a time of unprecedented change; that many have survived this long is, in its own way, fairly extraordinary.

The other thing that stands out is how visually arresting so many of the entrants are — a testament to the growing power of Instagram to make the “greatness” of a dish a question of outward aesthetics as much as the old-fashioned boring stuff, like how it actually tastes. But not, it must be emphasised, the sole consideration.

So many of these restaurants have lasted not just because they have served dishes that have resonated out into the broader restaurant-going culture, but because when people have visited to check out *the* dish in question, they have found a reason to come back, again and again. That’s what makes these the dishes that defined the decade.


‘Meat fruit’ — a chicken liver parfait coated in mandarin jelly — at Dinner by Heston Blumenthal at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Knightsbridge
‘Meat fruit’ — a chicken liver parfait coated in mandarin jelly — at Dinner by Heston Blumenthal at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Knightsbridge
Dinner by Heston Blumenthal

Meat Fruit | Dinner by Heston Blumenthal

One of the decade’s richest dishes is a suitably luxuriant signature statement from Heston Blumenthal’s gilded, two Michelin-starred Knightsbridge cage — undeniably beautiful, it’s also undeniably A Lot. It’s also a milestone for the last time a restaurant in this part of town felt properly relevant, now lost to the slow migration east, via Soho, that gathered steam and saw E1 replace SW1X as the dominant culinary postcode.

Truffle egg toast
Benjamin McMahon/Eater London

Truffle egg toast | Spuntino

“Russell Norman invented twenty-teens dining” would be an overstatement, but not by much. The merits of sharing plates have already been subject to a lengthy back-and-forth debate / culture flame war but their democratising force was one clear positive to emerge from the early 2010s — even if their reach is now so over-extended that the old starter-main-pudding triumvirate feels like a novelty again. For a while, though, it felt absolutely thrilling to be able to try so much delicious stuff, none more so than this classic from Norman’s much-mourned haute dive bar. Even if it did, perversely, make sharing highly undesirable.

Smoked eel sandwich
Quo Vadis/Facebook

Smoked eel sandwich | Quo Vadis

Quo Vadis itself has been in existence since 1926, but it was only in 2012 that it opened in its present incarnation, with Jeremy Lee — perhaps the most adored chef in London — at the helm. This three-bite delicacy pride of place on the always-gorgeous menu: the bread is French, the eels are Dutch, and the pickles and horseradish gesture towards Eastern Europe — a perfect summation of how the idea of “Modern British” would continue to evolve over the decade.

Coddled egg, smoked butter and mushrooms
Sothebys

Coddled egg, smoked butter and mushrooms | Dabbous

People who weren’t there at the time won’t really get how big of a deal Dabbous was when it opened, but to put it in 2019 terms: Imagine Gloria, except if the food was great and the room was a David Fincher post-industrial nightmare. More fundamentally, it was also the last time a chef could get away with putting his name above the door in such bold style, as fine dining fell under the thrall of New Nordic, and its emphasis on time and place over individualistic brio. Probably the last time London’s hottest restaurant also had a Michelin star.

Confit potatoes
Quality Chop House [Official Photo]

Confit potatoes | Quality Chop House

An all-time great potato dish, one with clear antecedents — most notably Thomas Keller and Fergus Henderson’s potato pavés – and, since 2017, a host of imitators. Credit for bringing the dish to London’s consciousness is silently and fiercely contested, but for some reason (hint: it’s Instagram and copyright) the dish has become synonymous with QCH. A bit like those baking pans that give extra edges to your brownies, the stroke of genius here is the extra surface area exposed during frying, ensuring a crunch that even one of Heston’s triple cooked chips would struggle to emulate.

Feta and honey cheesecake
Ola Smit/Eater London

Feta and honey cheesecake | Honey & Co

At a recent breakfast at Honey & Co, a member of staff was describing how customers would frequently come in, point to a photo on their phone, and say: “Bring me that.” That was the now-legendary feta and honey cheesecake, a triumphant fusion of salt, fat, acid and sweet that elevated Sarit Packer and Itamar Srulovich’s cosy Fitzrovia cafe up to the top table of London restaurant hype. All their other puddings and bakes are just as worthy of praise, but nothing lasts as long on the memory as this one.

Pine salt buttermilk fried chicken at Michelin-starred The Clove Club in Shoreditch, that forms part of the best 24 hour restaurant travel itinerary for London — where to eat with one day in the city
Pine salt buttermilk fried chicken
P A Jorgensen/The Clove Club

Fried chicken with pine salt | The Clove Club

If Ollie Dabbous moved British fine dining one step away from its fusty, stifling origins, Isaac McHale took an even more decisive leap, relocating its London focal point to Shoreditch’s town hall and putting fried chicken and pakoras on an equal footing with scallops and black truffle. Michelin bafflingly continues to deny McHale more than his current single star, but in a sense that doesn’t matter: the first one, as with James Lowe’s a few minutes away at Lyle’s, was proof enough that the city’s culinary map had been entirely redrawn.

Gymkhana’s biryani
Ola Smit/Eater London

Muntjac biryani | Gymkhana

There had been statement Indian restaurants before this, of course: the original Chutney Mary, The Star of India, The Cinnamon Club. But nowhere captured the popular imagination quite like Gymkhana — a restaurant that turned British high street curry house clichés on their head and wrested ingredients like brains, guinea fowl and venison away from their haute cuisine oubliette. Celebrities would descend; ecstatic reviews would be forthcoming. And Mayfair would soon welcome many more high-end Indian openings — a sign of London’s hunger for cooking that excels on its own terms, rather than pandering to British expectations.

The best restaurant dishes of the decade include Smoking Goat’s chilli fish sauce wings
The Shoreditch iteration of Smoking Goat’s wings
James Hansen/Eater London

Chilli fish sauce wings | Smoking Goat Soho

‘Nu-Thai’ is an unfortunate label to describe a cuisine with an extraordinarily diverse and ancient heritage, but in fairness Central London had never seen anything like this — food that moved away from the creamy curries popularised by chains like Thai Square and towards something more in thrall to the punchier, more astringent flavours of Northern Thailand. Ben Chapman and co have since perfected their approach at Kiln and popularised it in Shoreditch, but this dish will forever remain the calling card of a very specific moment in the evolution of the capital’s tastes.

Classic bao
Bao [Official Photo]

The classic bao | Bao

The moment when the line between street food and restaurant food blurred for good. The recession meant a lot of people who might otherwise have opened restaurants were forced to limit their cost base serving out of food trucks; this was one of the first examples of a street food outfit making the leap into bricks and mortar. By the end of the decade, private equity had seized opportunity so gleefully and pumped so much into funding breakneck expansions that a brand new hospitality industry crisis was born. But the classic endures, and still draws crowds to Soho, Fitzrovia, Borough, and Netil Market to this day.

Beef and barley bun with horseradish at The Marksman in Hackney, rumoured to be opening a new London restaurant at the Market Halls food hall in Victoria, south London
Beef and barley bun with horseradish
marksman_pub/Instagram

Beef and barley bun | The Marksman

Not the best bun on the menu — that would be the curried lamb — but still an absolutely unimpeachable couple of bites, the Marksman’s most famous dish defined a decade of drink-adjacent eating. By the end of the decade, snacks would share menu real estate on a level footing with small and large plates, as eating became less about following a prescribed route through an evening and more a meandering social affair punctuated at different points by stuff coming out of the kitchen. Still: the route to true contentment at the Marksman remains the bun-pie-honey-tart triumvirate.

Ola Smit/Eater London

Dead Hippie | Meatliquor

If the burger of the 2000s is best represented by Daniel Boulud’s gourmet, almost architectural creation at Bar Boulud, there is no better icon of the 2010s’ boom than this self-consciously trashy / sloppy / dirty / filthy / obscene sandwich, a delirious mash-up of high street fast food staples and highly skilled street food nerdery. Tastes may have subsequently moved onto the more overtly plant-based and, ahem, flexitarian, but the once-booming burger category knows who to thank for breaking new ground in the first place.

Squid ink flatbread with cod’s roe
Black Axe Mangal/Instagram

Squid ink flatbread with egg yolk and cod’s roe | Black Axe Mangal

The lamb offal flatbread may be the one menu mainstay since Lee Tiernan opened this peripatetic mangal in 2015, but there’s no contesting which dish gets the most attention on Instagram. Its flamboyant glitter-strewn appearance conceals the fact it’s actually an inherently conservative combination — St John serves a similar set of flavours, subbing in potatoes as the carb — reflecting the innate culinary good sense at the heart of everything on this essential London restaurant’s menu.

Xi’an Biang Biang, in Spitalfields, opened this week
Biang Biang noodles
Ed Smith/Rocket and Squash

Biang biang noodles | Xi’an Impression

The diversity and quality of London’s Chinese restaurants — in Chinatown and around the city — have only been given the attention they deserve in mainstream food circles in the last five years, with palates once sated by gloopy Anglo-Cantonese standards fully awake to the joys provided by a new wave of Uighur, Hunanese and Sichuan restaurants. Credit at least part of the resurgence to Wei Gurong’s no-frills Highbury treasure, which — along with its two award-winning sequels — brought Xi’an food to the attention of grateful Central Londoners. If it had opened a decade ago, it might have snuck into a list of the city’s best cheap eats – these days, its rightly heralded as not just one of London’s best-value restaurants, but one of its essential ones, too.

Ben McMahon/Eater London

Mozzarella | P. Franco

Or any of the other beautiful, elegant dishes with which William Gleave quietly announced the opening of a major new force in London dining. The formula — half Parisian cave, half chef’s table, all low-intervention wine — is so commonplace now that it is easy to forget how revolutionary it felt to all but the most well-travelled of Londoners; if the cramped space and occasionally lean wines remain a deterrent to a certain kind of diner, it’s their loss. As significant for the second half of the 2010s as Polpo was for the first.

Padella Pasta at Borough Market will open a new pasta restaurant in Shoreditch
Pici cacio e pepe
Ola Smit/Eater London

Pici cacio pepe | Padella Pasta

The pasta dish that launched a thousand imitators, nearly all of them inferior. Historians of the future, delving into The Great London Pasta Boom (2015-2030) may struggle to compute exactly why people were willing to queue for literal hours for hot dough in cheese sauce, but Padella’s self-perpetuating hype relied on precisely this sort of anti-logic: if people queued, it must be worth it. Borough Market neighbour El Pastor and Soho Sri Lankan Hoppers induced similarly bonkers wait times, at least at first, but nowhere else has been keeping punters waiting so long, for quite so long.

Whole turbot at Brat restaurant, one of London’s iconic dishes
Whole grilled turbot
Ben McMahon/benjaminmcmahon.com

Whole turbot at Brat

The most recent restaurant dish on the list, and perhaps the single simplest one, too. This is not to understate the skill that goes into cooking one of these majestic beasts properly — merely to observe how far the pendulum can swing in a relatively short period of time. In 2010, the signature dish at the hottest restaurant in town was a laborious confection equal parts baroque theatricality and Willy Wonka inventiveness. Fewer than ten years later, it was a bit of fish cooked over live fire in the manner of a specific seafood restaurant in the Basque country. And if the whole protein! logs! smoke! men! thing seems to be burning with a little less heat than it used to, the instant classic Brat seems built on sturdier foundations.

Maple bacon croissant
Popham’s/Instagram

Maple bacon croissant | Popham’s

It takes a special sort of pedant to observe that this is technically an escargot. And besides, that’s kind of beside the point: Pophams could have called it a Meat Danish and punters would likely still have Instagrammed it in their droves. It makes the list not (just) because of its virality, but because of what that virality suggests about where “iconic” dishes might be heading in the 2020s. The past 18 months have seen a dazzling proliferation of bakeries and hot item providers, many of them hanging all many ‘gram-worthy special editions off the most spurious of seasonal hooks. As fun as they are, they’re a pale substitute for the thought and care and effort that goes into building a concept that will last. Instagram’s rise — and the sort of places that it has brought along for the ride — might therefore be looked upon with more than a little alarm. After all, the London restaurant industry can’t survive without any actual restaurants.

Quality Chop House

94 Farringdon Rd, London, Greater London EC1R 3EA +44 20 3490 6228 Visit Website

BRAT

4 Redchurch Street, , England E1 6JL Visit Website

MEATliquor

6 Saint Chad's Place, , England WC1X 9HH 020 7837 0444 Visit Website

Polpo

41 Beak Street, , England W1F 9SB Visit Website

High Street

High Street, , England KT3

Black Axe Mangal

156 Canonbury Road, , England N1 2UP Visit Website

The Clove Club

380 Old Street, , England EC1V 9LT 020 7729 6496 Visit Website

Gymkhana

42 Albemarle Street, , England W1S 4JH 020 3011 5900 Visit Website

Quo Vadis

26-29 Dean Street, , England W1D 3LL 020 7437 9585 Visit Website

London

, , England Visit Website

Spuntino

61 Rupert Street, , England W1D 7PW 020 7334 3981 Visit Website

Kiln

58 Brewer Street, , England W1F 9TL Visit Website

The Cinnamon Club

Great Smith Street, , England SW1P 3BU 020 7222 2555 Visit Website

BAO

590 Valencia Street, , CA 94110 (415) 658-7453 Visit Website

El Pastor

6-7A Stoney Street, , England SE1 9AA Visit Website

Wings

5 - 7 Old Fishmarket Close, , Scotland EH1 1RW 0131 629 1234 Visit Website

Borough Market

8 Southwark Street, , England SE1 1TL 020 7407 1002 Visit Website

Hoppers

77 Wigmore Street, London, W1U 1QE Visit Website

Chutney Mary

73 Saint James's Street, , England SW1A 1PH 020 7629 6688 Visit Website

Dabbous

39 Whitfield Street, , England W1T 2SF 020 7323 1544

Marksman

254 Hackney Rd, London, Greater London E2 7SJ +44 20 7739 7393 Visit Website

Smoking Goat

64 Shoreditch High Street, London, E1 6JJ

Lamb

94 Lamb's Conduit Street, , England WC1N 3LZ 020 7405 0713 Visit Website

Tart

65 Lordship Lane, , England SE22 8EP 020 8299 4989 Visit Website

Dinner by Heston Blumenthal

66 Knightsbridge, , England SW1X 7LA 020 7201 3833 Visit Website

Padella

6 Southwark Street, , England SE1 1TQ Visit Website

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