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Inside chef Florence Knight’s spectacular new Clerkenwell restaurant, Sessions Arts Club

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The Most Exciting Restaurant Newcomers of 2021

As the London restaurant opening cycle kicked back up, who stood out?

The menu at Sessions Arts Club, one of the best new London restaurants of 2021.
| Michaël Protin

It is the tradition at Eater to end the year with a survey of friends, contributors, rovers of the industry, and professional eaters. Even a year like this one. For 2021, the group were asked 13 questions, covering the best meals and the worst tweets alongside 2022 predictions and dining standbys. Their answers will appear throughout this week, with responses relayed in no particular order; cut and pasted below.

First, it’s time for the newcomers: the best and most exciting new restaurants in London over the last 12 months.


Adam Coghlan, Editor, Eater London: Cafe Cecilia was the hottest new London restaurant opening: a place that felt cool but delivered plenty of substance to go with its style. Feels like it’ll be around for a long time. Sessions Arts Club feels like it’s already been around for a long time and has to rank among the best newcomers. Hawkers Kitchen’s Malaysian street food menu comprising roti prata (canai), dal, fish curries, and excellent plates of noodles such as kway toew goreng (char kway teow) makes it one of central London’s best new casual spots. Shouts to Balady for making its central London debut; to Rita’s for opening on one of the best streets in the city; and to Salt Bae for fully taking the piss out of a restaurant industry that got caught with its kex down.

James Hansen, Associate Editor, Eater London: The most complete new restaurant of the year is probably Sessions Arts Club, with its painterly, protractor-sharp plates framed perfectly by the cracked grandeur of the dining room. Marugame Udon may not be spectacular, but represents an actually interesting trajectory in fast-casual dining, beyond infinitely terrible burgers and mediocre Italian food. And in a year that was still beholden to adaptability and evolution as much as, if not more than true novelty, the dine-in debut of Cafe Deco and the debut of Sonora’s carne asada need some shine.

Anna Sulan Masing, food writer and Eater London contributor: This last year was really about spending my money on places I could rely on and how I believed in. The occasional new spots I did go to didn’t meet the hype others felt. I dunno, I think I like my food well-seasoned and that wasn’t a big theme in new restaurants this year imho (is salt not a thing anymore?) But! I really enjoyed Koya Ko. Simplicity that works, well cooked (and seasoned) food, efficient. I’ve wished so much it was 30 min from me and I know I’d be there twice a week, at least.

Jonathan Nunn, food writer and Eater London contributor: Two food businesses which were definitely not announced on Hot Dinners: Fabrice Sery Bi’s Ivorian street food operation Serybi’s on Old Kent Road, and Noor Amy Ismail’s rejuvenation of Putera Puteri.

I organised a dinner at Serybi’s (I say ‘at’ ─ it’s a van in between an Asda and a shuttered Latin nightclub ) earlier this spring and I only realised as we got there that our party included a Nigerian chef, a Filipino chef, an Indian chef, a Malaysian chef and a Thai chef ─ perhaps the toughest audience you could ask for. Yet Fabrice put on his game face and produced the best meal this year that has been consumed on a Tesco parking lot ─ pork and lamb suya, whole grilled fish and lobster, perfectly done rotisserie chicken, all with sour attieke and a chilli sauce to make your jaws ache.

Putera Puteri, on the other hand, does have a roof and is probably the best all round Malaysian restaurant in the city right now. The chefs there are self described “wok hei specialists” which is why the wat tan hor is so smoky and lush, but they’re also casually putting our better roti canai than Roti King. It’s basically an open secret on Malaysian social media channels, and I think once people have cottoned onto it, people will be talking about it alongside Normah’s, Dapur and Laksamania as the makan elite.

Chris Cotonou, writer and Eater London contributor: Imad’s Syrian Kitchen, by Imad Alarnab, who built quite the culinary empire in Damascus before leaving the war-torn country. It’s a privilege to experience his authentic cooking here in London on King Street, after years of fund-raising for children in Syria. His hummus is divine — authentic and simple. But his fattet macdous might be the most sumptuous meaty middle-eastern dish I’ve eaten all year. Here’s hoping his new chapter takes a leap in the capital.

Sejal Sukhadwala, food writer and Eater London contributor: I was excited to see Vasco & Piero’s Pavilion back — there’s so much history to that place (though it’s now in a new location).

George Reynolds, writer and Eater London contributor: Sessions Arts Club: the room of the year, the reservation of the year, the date night of the year. Planque: in a slightly strange space, the best, most laser-focused cooking of the year, translating French (neo)bistro food into 2021 London argot. Café Cecilia: the most gifted menu-writing of the year, in which every dish sounds like exactly what you want to eat (and quite often is.) Manteca 3.0: the evolution of the year, now a capital-S, capital-R Statement Restaurant in a beautiful, simple set of rooms (also, in their pig skin ragu, host to one of the dishes of the year.) Mr Ji: the most unabashed good time of the year, a perfect sweet spot between giddy creativity and proper tekkers. Jolene Colebrooke Row: most creative branding of the year (lads, it’s Essex Rd, as many a bemused local could tell you when they finally arrive), but also best (deliberate lack of) innovation in the sandwich stakes of the year. Dimsum and Duck: the best restaurant in Kings Cross that isn’t Hawker’s Kitchen. Hawker’s Kitchen: the best restaurant in Kings Cross that isn’t Dimsum and Duck. Also I know Mangal 2 isn’t technically *new* this year but post-refurb and re-imagining of its entire raison d’etre it’s practically a newcomer and absolutely gets the award for best-pivot-to-something-new-and-thrilling-whilst-remaining-rooted-in-what-made-you-great-in-the-first-place of the year.

Emma Hughes, writer and Eater London contributor: Rita’s Soho. And don’t tell anyone, but there’s this great little place in Clerkenwell called Sessions Arts Club — I think it’s going to be massive.

Lucas Oakley, food writer and Eater London contributor: A toss-up between Sessions Arts Club and BiBi — two restaurants that are doing things very, very right in very, very different ways.

Shekha Vyas, food writer and Eater London contributor: There were some brilliant newcomers which were celebrated this year, namely Hawkers Kitchen, Planque, Sessions Arts Club, Cafe Cecelia etc. From a personal perspective though, the newcomers that excited me most were on my doorstep, allowing me to incorporate them into my regular eating radar. Lobito Grill, for one, an unsung Portuguese cafe that serves a solid eggs benedict for £5; the things they do to a simple grilled tomato are miraculous. Le Kitchen, a Vietnamese place which took over Minh’s old spot and is throwing out strong versions of bun bo hue and com tam to help me through the winter.

Ed Cumming, writer and restaurant critic: Hongdae Pocha, The Rocket Store (Cornwall).

Sean Wyer, writer, researcher and Eater London contributor: I spent most of 2021 going back to the old restaurants I had enjoyed in the Before Times, but I also had great fun at Mr Ji in Soho. Fittingly for a place that takes cocktails seriously, the best things on the menu work perfectly as drinking food. I love the prawn “in” toast, which is equal parts cheeky and delicious.

Feroz Gajia, restaurateur and Eater London contributor: Planque was a late opening but I’d been anticipating for what felt like forever, it did not disappoint. Lighthaus being so close to home and serving Alex Vines food was a prospect I was excited for during Lockdown 2, the reality proved to live up to the expectation.

Daisy Meager, food writer and Eater London contributor: Cafe Cecilia, Bibi and Sessions Art Club all created such an exciting buzz (and lived up to the respective hypes) but Rita’s Soho steals the crown for me. The food is banging, there’s perfect lighting and music that make it somewhere you’d take a bunch of friends, a date or an old pal. The staff make it a fun, truly enjoyable place to eat out — the kind of place you’re always guaranteed a Very Good Night.

Angela Hui, food writer and Eater London contributor: Planque, BiBi, Sessions Arts, Cafe Cecilia, Manteca, Tofu Vegan, Hawker’s Kitchen and Popeye’s.

David Jay Paw, food writer and Eater London contributor: Not a newcomer, but Chloe-Rose Crabtree’s cakes and pastries at Bake Street — and the excitement that’s accompanied them — has been one of the best things this past year. Her crème brulee cookies are truly elite.

Hester van Hensbergen, food writer and Eater London contributor: Most exciting newcomers this year have had one thing in common: you don’t have to look very far to find a prominent name from the art, fashion, or food world elite attached. Four Legs at The Plimsoll is an exception. Chefs Ed McIlroy and Jamie Allan crowdfunded the project and pretty much built the whole kitchen themselves. Just like their food — which is exuberant and unhindered, but quietly technically accomplished — there’s an anarchic charisma to this pair that might mistakenly read as precarity. On the contrary, Four Legs at the Plimsoll is serious, fully independent, and here to stay. May it bring joy and thrills to all who venture there for many years to come.

Shekha Vyas, food writer and Eater London contributor: There were some brilliant newcomers which were celebrated this year, namely Hawkers Kitchen, Planque, Sessions Arts Club, Cafe Cecelia etc. From a personal perspective though, the newcomers that excited me most were on my doorstep, allowing me to incorporate them into my regular eating radar. Lobito Grill, for one, an unsung Portuguese cafe that serves a solid eggs benedict for £5 — the things they do to a simple grilled tomato are miraculous. Le Kitchen, a Vietnamese place which took over Minh’s old spot and is throwing out strong versions of bun bo hue and com tam to help me through the winter.

Sunday

169 Hemingford Road, , England N1 1 020 7607 3868

Akoko

21 Berners Street, , England W1T 3LP 020 7323 0593 Visit Website

Nasi Economy Rice

169 Holloway Road, , England N7 8LX 020 7700 6008 Visit Website

Mangal 2

4 Stoke Newington Rd, London, Greater London N16 7XN +44 20 7254 7888 Visit Website

Cafe Deco

43 Store St., London, WC1E 7DB +44 20 7323 4501

Decatur

, , GA 30030

Ji

Chalk Farm Road, , England NW1 8AH 07398 682956

Darjeeling Express

2a Garrick Street, , England WC2E 9BH 020 7836 8888 Visit Website

Sollip

8 Melior Street, , England SE1 3QP Visit Website

Big Jo

326 Hornsey Road, , England N7 7HE 020 3915 6760 Visit Website

Chishuru

Coldharbour Lane, , England SW9 8LB 020 3915 1198 Visit Website

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