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Best seafood restaurants in London: cockles at Kiln in Soho
Kiln offers some of the most sought-after bar seats in town
Kiln [official photo]

The 14 Best Places for Counter Dining In London

Pull up a stool for the pick of the capital’s best bar snacks, kitchen-side seats and countertop cuisine

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Kiln offers some of the most sought-after bar seats in town
| Kiln [official photo]

From restaurants with stool space only to joints where the best seat in the house is up at the pass, eating at the counter is no longer a bad thing in London’s restaurants. It’s the place to see — the kitchen, the chefs and the action — and be seen. Let’s meet at the bar.

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Note: Restaurants on this map are listed geographically.
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Hill & Szrok Master Butcher & Cookshop

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The marble butcher’s block at east London’s Hill & Szrok is wiped down every evening and transformed into one of Broadway Market’s most sought-after counter tables. Gorge on pork rillettes and pickles, the day’s choice cuts of meat and a changing support cast of sides like buttered greens and curried lentils.

On a sunny day, Morito’s Hackney Road outpost is flooded with light, and a seat around the blue marbled bar or by the window is the best in the house. Take advantage of its great-value mezze lunch, or clear ample space at the counter for the thrilling seasonal small plates on offer at dinner: sweet and salty cheese fritters with thyme honey, grilled lamb chops with anchovy butter and addictive fried aubergines with molasses and feta.

Sure, sitting at one of the sleek wooden tables bathed in sunlight is great, but at this Michelin-starred Shoreditch institution, the bar is better. Probably best for people watching and choice alike at lunch, where the dinner set menu gives way to an a la carte heavy on game, fungi, and preserves of summer: girolles and hen of the woods mushrooms with egg yolk and preserved plum; blood cake, beetroot, and blackberry; or mallard with pumpkin and chestnut. The only move more baller than that is coming in for the solo bar dessert, chosen from one of the capital’s most imperious pastry sections.

BAO Fitzrovia

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Head upstairs at BAO’s Fitzrovia location to bag a prime position spot around the horseshoe-shaped bar which is perfect for people watching and steamed bun eating alike. Make sure to leave room for the other menu big hitters like tingling mapo aubergine, addictive beef cheek and tendon nuggets and mackerel with persimmon.  

The Barbary

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A small number of stools set around a u-shaped bar look into The Barbary’s open kitchen. Don’t be deceived by its size though — the food here is a knockout. Mop up silky baba ganoush with huge blistered flatbreads, marvel at coiled octopus tentacles on a bed of garlicky chickpeas and crave more sticky pistachio tart long after the last forkful. 

Barrafina

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Cult tapas restaurant Barrafina has several locations in central London. Executive chef Angel Zapata Martin ensures that everything that leaves the pass is top-tier, and all locations feature marble-topped bars and chic red leather stools with views into open kitchens. With a glass of manzanilla in hand, work through molten ham croquetas, delicately grilled sardines and succulent milk-fed lamb. It’s worth every minute of the wait time.

Snag a seat at the counter for spectacular sushi in Soho. Feast on some of the best nigiri and sashimi London has to offer, sample duck teriyaki and peruse the extensive sake list. An insider tip from fan Marina O’Loughlin: at the counter, diners can order made-to-order hand rolls that aren’t available at tables.

The debut solo restaurant from ex-Barrafina chef Nieves Barragan contains multitudes. While many head upstairs to the asador, the real drama is downstairs at The Counter, less than a metre away from the open kitchen. Watch the parade of hits cross the pass, like baby potatoes with a slick of sobrasada, crisp quail with romanesco and irresistible prawn croquetas. Propping up the bar while waiting for a seat? Don’t miss the camarones fritos — fried shrimp — topped with a runny egg. 

For the best view of the open kitchen and the Thai-inspired restaurant’s namesake kiln, sit at the far end of the bar. Watch as clay pots filled with glass noodles and crab meat or Tamworth belly nestle among the open flames. Order a dry red curry or heady pork laap and watch it all being prepared just out of arm’s reach. And a heads up: expect any clothes worn here to smell delicious for days.

J Sheekey Atlantic Bar

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Sister to the neighbouring original J Sheekey fish restaurant, seafood is still star of the show at the Atlantic Bar. Whether it’s to grab a quick bite in the West End or settle in for a more lengthy post-theatre affair, ask for a plush seat at the horseshoe-shaped bar; dine on native oysters and martinis, or after 9.30pm, order the legendary fish pie.

Wiltons Restaurant

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Bask in old-school luxury at Jermyn Street stalwart Wiltons’ oyster bar. Cosy up at the counter with a glass of something sparkling and a dressed crab or comfortingly retro prawn cocktail. It would be rude to leave without sampling some native oysters — have them as they come, with a squeeze of lemon, or go Rockefeller, Kilpatrick or Beau Brummell.

Watch Bermondsey Street go by from this little tapas and sherry bar; the daily-changing menu is chalked up on blackboards, and sure to be full of Spanish favourites done well. Expect vibrant pan con tomate, oozing tortilla, sea bass with piquant mojo verde and slivers of melting jamón Ibérico. With a glass of crisp fino on the side, of course.

Bright’s generous dining room in London Fields has plenty of large tables for groups, but sitting at the bar — overhung with bottles from its extensive wine list — is a treat of its own. Its menu is one of the most complete in its class, with a robust pasta section adding ballast to a rotating cast of winkingly interesting small dishes like pumpkin fritters with brown butter yoghurt; crudités with a chervil and Parmesan condiment; and a salpicon of squid.

The Sea, The Sea - Hackney

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Elite fishmonger / restaurant The Sea, The Sea has doubled up in Haggerston, and its cinematic dining counter offers cooking to match, devised by Leandro Carreira. Carreira’s trajectory — from the interesting, but ultimately flawed Londrino in Bermondsey, through to this counter and its counterpart on Pavilion Road — is upward, and his most exciting flourishes, from a lobster rice sandu to peerless ice cream making, are all present here.

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Hill & Szrok Master Butcher & Cookshop

The marble butcher’s block at east London’s Hill & Szrok is wiped down every evening and transformed into one of Broadway Market’s most sought-after counter tables. Gorge on pork rillettes and pickles, the day’s choice cuts of meat and a changing support cast of sides like buttered greens and curried lentils.

Morito

On a sunny day, Morito’s Hackney Road outpost is flooded with light, and a seat around the blue marbled bar or by the window is the best in the house. Take advantage of its great-value mezze lunch, or clear ample space at the counter for the thrilling seasonal small plates on offer at dinner: sweet and salty cheese fritters with thyme honey, grilled lamb chops with anchovy butter and addictive fried aubergines with molasses and feta.

Lyle's

Sure, sitting at one of the sleek wooden tables bathed in sunlight is great, but at this Michelin-starred Shoreditch institution, the bar is better. Probably best for people watching and choice alike at lunch, where the dinner set menu gives way to an a la carte heavy on game, fungi, and preserves of summer: girolles and hen of the woods mushrooms with egg yolk and preserved plum; blood cake, beetroot, and blackberry; or mallard with pumpkin and chestnut. The only move more baller than that is coming in for the solo bar dessert, chosen from one of the capital’s most imperious pastry sections.

BAO Fitzrovia

Head upstairs at BAO’s Fitzrovia location to bag a prime position spot around the horseshoe-shaped bar which is perfect for people watching and steamed bun eating alike. Make sure to leave room for the other menu big hitters like tingling mapo aubergine, addictive beef cheek and tendon nuggets and mackerel with persimmon.  

The Barbary

A small number of stools set around a u-shaped bar look into The Barbary’s open kitchen. Don’t be deceived by its size though — the food here is a knockout. Mop up silky baba ganoush with huge blistered flatbreads, marvel at coiled octopus tentacles on a bed of garlicky chickpeas and crave more sticky pistachio tart long after the last forkful. 

Barrafina

Cult tapas restaurant Barrafina has several locations in central London. Executive chef Angel Zapata Martin ensures that everything that leaves the pass is top-tier, and all locations feature marble-topped bars and chic red leather stools with views into open kitchens. With a glass of manzanilla in hand, work through molten ham croquetas, delicately grilled sardines and succulent milk-fed lamb. It’s worth every minute of the wait time.

Jugemu

Snag a seat at the counter for spectacular sushi in Soho. Feast on some of the best nigiri and sashimi London has to offer, sample duck teriyaki and peruse the extensive sake list. An insider tip from fan Marina O’Loughlin: at the counter, diners can order made-to-order hand rolls that aren’t available at tables.

Sabor

The debut solo restaurant from ex-Barrafina chef Nieves Barragan contains multitudes. While many head upstairs to the asador, the real drama is downstairs at The Counter, less than a metre away from the open kitchen. Watch the parade of hits cross the pass, like baby potatoes with a slick of sobrasada, crisp quail with romanesco and irresistible prawn croquetas. Propping up the bar while waiting for a seat? Don’t miss the camarones fritos — fried shrimp — topped with a runny egg. 

Kiln

For the best view of the open kitchen and the Thai-inspired restaurant’s namesake kiln, sit at the far end of the bar. Watch as clay pots filled with glass noodles and crab meat or Tamworth belly nestle among the open flames. Order a dry red curry or heady pork laap and watch it all being prepared just out of arm’s reach. And a heads up: expect any clothes worn here to smell delicious for days.

J Sheekey Atlantic Bar

Sister to the neighbouring original J Sheekey fish restaurant, seafood is still star of the show at the Atlantic Bar. Whether it’s to grab a quick bite in the West End or settle in for a more lengthy post-theatre affair, ask for a plush seat at the horseshoe-shaped bar; dine on native oysters and martinis, or after 9.30pm, order the legendary fish pie.

Wiltons Restaurant

Bask in old-school luxury at Jermyn Street stalwart Wiltons’ oyster bar. Cosy up at the counter with a glass of something sparkling and a dressed crab or comfortingly retro prawn cocktail. It would be rude to leave without sampling some native oysters — have them as they come, with a squeeze of lemon, or go Rockefeller, Kilpatrick or Beau Brummell.

José

Watch Bermondsey Street go by from this little tapas and sherry bar; the daily-changing menu is chalked up on blackboards, and sure to be full of Spanish favourites done well. Expect vibrant pan con tomate, oozing tortilla, sea bass with piquant mojo verde and slivers of melting jamón Ibérico. With a glass of crisp fino on the side, of course.

Bright

Bright’s generous dining room in London Fields has plenty of large tables for groups, but sitting at the bar — overhung with bottles from its extensive wine list — is a treat of its own. Its menu is one of the most complete in its class, with a robust pasta section adding ballast to a rotating cast of winkingly interesting small dishes like pumpkin fritters with brown butter yoghurt; crudités with a chervil and Parmesan condiment; and a salpicon of squid.

The Sea, The Sea - Hackney

Elite fishmonger / restaurant The Sea, The Sea has doubled up in Haggerston, and its cinematic dining counter offers cooking to match, devised by Leandro Carreira. Carreira’s trajectory — from the interesting, but ultimately flawed Londrino in Bermondsey, through to this counter and its counterpart on Pavilion Road — is upward, and his most exciting flourishes, from a lobster rice sandu to peerless ice cream making, are all present here.

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