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. Lets meet at the bar.Read More
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
1. 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.
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.
Also Featured in:
A daily-changing set menu used to be the only option for dinner at this laid-back Michelin-starred restaurant in Shoreditch. Recently, however, James Lowe and his team launched a new bar menu in the style of their small plate lunch dishes. Expect snacks like rock oysters with rhubarb, smoked eel broth and chicory with blood orange. Fair warning: expect to end up ordering the whole menu.
4. 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.
5. The Barbary
London WC2H 9DP, UK
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.
Cult tapas restaurant Barrafina has several locations in Central London (and soon Kings Cross). 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.
London W1D 6JY, UK
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 opened to great acclaim earlier this year. 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.
London W1F 9TL, UK
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.
10. 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.
11. 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.
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.
There are only a few stools at the pass of Hedone’s kitchen but it’s worth every effort for the chance to watch the chefs of one of the world’s top 50 restaurants at work. The Chiswick restaurant is pricey, but ex-food blogger Mikael Jonsson’s food is exquisite. The menu changes with what’s best in season; during the last dregs of winter expect dishes like pork shoulder with morels, or pigeon with parsley and pistachio sauce.
14. Counter Culture
From Robin Gill et al behind The Dairy and Sorella, Counter Culture in Clapham is the so-called “naughty little brother”. With just 14 stools, the spot serving “modern British tapas” is small, but the food packs a punch. Pickling, fermenting and curing are their weapons of choice — try the potato flatbread with ’nduja and cultured cream or Irish lamb tartare with fermented dulse.