Some of these are classic, some are cheap, some Michelin-starred, and some are late-night. One of them is essential. All of them are almost certainly on a tourist’s radar. This selection of 16, unlike so many unmerited establishments that find their way into guidebooks, or just simply get in the way of a tourist’s route through town, are actually good, dependable — in some cases — outstanding, places to eat. Happy holidays.Read More
Tourist Trap Restaurants That Are Actually Good
‘Meat fruit’ in Knightsbridge, late-night beigels on Brick Lane, three-Michelin-starred dining in Chelsea — and more
1. Beigel Bake
This one, not the other one (which does bacon bagels, for heaven’s sake). Coming here is regulation for Londoners up late; a stack of salt beef that’s superb any time, even after a full meal. The bagels are ultra correctly boiled before they’re baked.
2. St John Restaurant
London EC1M 4AY, UK
Much has been written about how chef Fergus Henderson and his protégés have transformed British food, with a sphere of influence that extends around the globe. It is this that generates such interest in what is perhaps London’s most famous (for the right reasons) restaurant: Once-innovative, now textbook, British (and French) cooking that looks to the past like nowhere else in London, if not the world. Must try dishes include: Roasted bone marrow with parsley salad, Welsh rarebit, and a half dozen freshly baked madeleines.
3. Chiltern Firehouse
Consultant chef Nuno Mendes’ Chiltern Firehouse is a totally extravagant celeb-magnet of a restaurant. It sits inside one of London’s most prestigious hotels, and is the kind of special occasion place that delivers on a the promise of feeling special, even when the food is often merely meh. Brunch is a good time to visit — where fruits de mer, XO lobster fried rice, or Philly cheesesteak sandwich — adequately and decadently service a hangover. Or, dinner, when the lights dim, and the room comes into its own. But eye-wateringly expensive dishes like iberico pork, red pepper, barbecued peach, and fennel cream; or roasted turbot, baby artichokes, seaweed, and black truffle are pretty much just the side-show in a spectacular overall production.
A pillar of Punjabi cuisine and community in the city since 1972, Tayyabs is permanently heaving, permanently raucous, and permanently demanding of two essential orders: the charred, beautifully tender lamb chops. And, what is possibly London’s best mango lassi.
5. Duck & Waffle
The “highest 24/7 restaurant in London”, Duck & Waffle in the Heron Tower is almost as spectacular as the ride up the lift is thrilling. Dishes, which are matched, but not limited to their appropriate time of the day include duck egg en cocotte with soldiers; ox cheek doughnuts and their signature crispy duck confit and waffle; and corn dogs, duck kebabs, and crispy pig ears.
One of London’s most recognisable chefs and a cook, author, and restaurateur who sits alongside Gordon Ramsay, Nigella Lawson, and Jamie Oliver as a food star with mass, international appeal. For that reason, the cafe-restaurant mini-chain that carries his name registers on the tourist’s radar. For good reason, as this is not just a branding ruse. Ottolenghi does not just display beautifully photogenic meringues, but offers some truly excellent lunch fare — like quiche, pie, cleverly seasoned, grilled root vegetable salads, and a range of high quality dessert pastry.
Just as famous for its interiors, French chef Pierre Gaignaire’s Sketch flagship is one of a select number of London restaurants with two Michelin stars. So the cooking belongs to a certain tradition, offering the likes of whole pigeon, pigeon terrine, beetroot, buckwheat crepe, and cherry for £54. It recently celebrated its 15th anniversary, which means neither Sketch’s sort of finery nor the boldest of bold designs have yet to fall out of fashion.
8. Shake Shack Covent Garden
A rapidly expanding American mega chain somehow beats most homegrown burger restaurants in London. One just needs to know what to order, or rather, how to order the trademark Shack Burger. It’s pretty simple (if emulating classic fast food burgers is the goal.) To best complement the beautifully and aggressively griddled American cheese-covered patty, which is sandwiched between a sliced, squidgy Martin’s potato roll, order sliced raw onion and add pickles. (Tomato should be optional.) The original branch in Tourist Central, Covent Garden, is the pick of that area’s restaurants.
9. J Sheekey
It’s a piece of prime gastronomic real estate, but M&Ms aside, there isn’t much to eat in Leicester Square itself. A claw-cracker’s throw from the neon, though, is some of London’s best seafood, courtesy of J. Sheekey. The fish pie and grilled Dover sole with bearnaise are still menu mainstays, while next door at the Atlantic Bar there’s sparklingly fresh shellfish platters, textbook lobster tempura and moreish smoked eel and bacon croquettes.
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10. The Wolseley
In 2003, restaurateur royales Corbin and King were steering The Ivy, Le Caprice and J Sheekey when they opened this homage to Europe’s “grand cafés”. 15 years on, the former trio are in the care of Caring while The Wolseley stands steadfast. Its breakfast is its most formidable offering, with a peerless omelette Arnold Bennett. It feels like it’s been in London forever.
11. The Ritz London
Maybe London’s most exclusive publicly admissible restaurant. So ornate, it might be nauseating for some. But the Ritz represents the kind of faded opulence that fans of natural wine bars and exposed brick speciality coffee shops believe to have become extinct. The thing is, in Britain, this bizarre brand of nostalgia will never truly die. And what’s more, at least the Ritz has a chef — John Williams — who does not rest on his laurels, nor expect the chandeliers to distract from what’s on the plate. This one’s for the monied tourist, (who doesn’t mind a dress code), no doubt. But, like so much in Mayfair, and Piccadilly, The Ritz is not dross.
12. Borough Market
London’s oldest, busiest, buzziest food market is a food tourist’s dream, and recent restaurant openings have perked things up. Between Monmouth Coffee’s queue, Ginger Pig sausage rolls, Kappacasein toasties, and Brindisa chorizo sausage in a roll, Bao’s new restaurant, Flor, and mainstay Elliotts are all top shouts.
This restaurant sits in the sky, on the 33rd floor of the Shard. It’s also the best restaurant in the building. The Northern Chinese-focused menu offers the likes of Shandong shredded chicken with homemade butterfly buns; and whole crispy seabass. A dim sum selection rivals some of the city’s best, too: Iberico pork xiao long bao, bean-curd rolls with monkfish and black truffle and shiitake buns. And don’t miss Sichuan-style deep-fried lobster, which is served with chilli, black beans, and garlic.
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14. Dinner by Heston Blumenthal
Heston Blumenthal’s (really, head chef Ashley Palmer-Watts’) shrine to historically-inspired British cuisine continues to impress, holding two Michelin stars and one of six London restaurants placed on the World’s 50 Best’s counter-intuitive top 120, because it serves precise and innovative food with élan. Exquisite chicken liver parfait “Meat Fruit” is an essential order for the table. From there, each dish is dated and rooted to food from centuries ago.
15. Dominique Ansel Bakery
Dominique Ansel, the award-winning New York pastry chef and creator of the Cronut, (a doughnut-croissant hybrid) has won his plaudits for good reason. Croissants are subjected to a transglobal cross-section quality check often posted on Instagram; deconstructions of classical American combinations are witty and fun rather than cripplingly impractical, and cronuts are there. It’s not hard to see why this would be on the intrepid traveller’s itinerary.
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16. Restaurant Gordon Ramsay
One of only three three-Michelin-starred restaurants in London. So it’s that sort of place. Old-school, owned by one of the oldest-school chefs left in the business. Of course Gordon Ramsay himself is rarely here, but its not just the brand and his association that seduces the Red Guide’s inspectors year after year. Following the departure of long-serving chef Clare Smyth, it is now the job of Matt Abe to roll-out fancy creations such as roasted sweetbread with artichoke and sunflower, pork chop with coco beans, hazelnut and mustard, and lemonade parfait with honey and bergamot. (Many menus to choose from, and also a dress code to confront.)