Some of London’s restaurants are essential; some are quintessentially of the moment. This is a list of places which for whatever reason — a secluded location; similar offerings taking all the buzz; the vicissitudes of fashion; simple bad luck — have slipped under the radar. Consider them hidden gems, consider them locals’ favourites; consider them the venues to hit up once the big names are ticked off. Ultimately, simply consider them: they’re worth the attention.Read More
19 Restaurants Every Londoner Should (Re)Discover
From French and Italian institutions to regal dim sum, a wrap chain, new-wave wine bar and textbook gastropub
1. Zia Lucia
Along with superlative cheese / wine shop Provisions, this is one of a number of encouraging green shoots breaking through the culinary asphalt of Holloway Road. The clientele is robustly, demonstrably, demonstratively Italian; the dough is superb; if the toppings are inferior-grade, this clueless Inglese lacks the wherewithal to tell. Plus they serve up a half-pint rocket-fuel Negroni for six pounds, or a bucketful of Spritz for five-fifty, and the service is delightful, and the bill is hearteningly reasonable. Abbondanza!
2. The Drapers Arms
Like the thick slabs of bread with good salty old-school butter plunked on your table here without ceremony, a meal at The Drapers Arms is not always the most finessed. But — particularly in winter — its gutsiness is sometimes the ideal tonic to food that has been ponced into anonymity elsewhere: soup, that most unfashionable of dishes, is a panacea on a cold day; pies are huge ribsticking affairs that leave even the staunchest trenchermen utterly contented. There is also more than the occasional flirtation with Hendersonian nose-to-tail cookery, not least the annual offal-fest Glandstonbury. Come hungry.
3. Towpath Café
For a certain class of Regents Canal-bothering Hackney resident, this is not so much “hidden gem” as site of regular weekend pilgrimage (to try running or cycling past the growing brunchtime crowd is to risk an impromptu and truly unpleasant bath). But the food — not least the legendary cheese toastie — is worth the hassle; a range of homemade cakes and pastries make for an ideal afternoon pick-me-up once the crowd has subsided.
In a tiny site split across two floors, Tom Oldroyd continues to knock out a sort-of-Italian, sort-of-Modern-British menu that — whatever the time of year — is always slightly more interesting than it needs to be to thrive in chain-infested Islington. Not that any of the regulars are complaining: the frequently changing croquettes are unfailingly superb; pasta is a particular strong suit. Service is winning and there’s even a table plonked outside in high summer — a perfect vantage point from which to watch the queues outside Five Guys and Franco Manca.
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5. Pavilion Victoria Park
After a long run around glorious Victoria Park, there’s really nowhere better to undo all of that good work. Good coffee and Nordic-style buns in an arresting array of flavours (cardamom, cinnamon, turmeric) are just the prelude to one of London’s most delicious, incongruous Sri Lankan breakfasts, complete with string hoppers, daal and all manner of chutneys and sambols.
6. The Laughing Heart
Another Hackney hipster-magnet doing vaguely modern things with food and vaguely natural things with wine, right? Not quite, actually: for one thing – especially when compared to cosy / cramped confines of P. Franco and Legs — The Laughing Heart is absolutely vast, cascading across two extensive floors. Both the wine list and the menu show similarly large-scale ambition: a bottle of sublime Radikon Slatnik is the perfect pairing to food boasting Asian, Italian, Modern British and classic French influences: olives stuffed with kaffir lime and charcuterie offcuts; wild cep agnolotti with Wiltshire truffle and hazelnut; an astonishing Sichuan crème brulée. Don’t let the name put you off: despite charming, informal service, this place is about as serious as it gets.
7. Berber & Q - Shawarma Bar
This smaller, more focused offshoot of the Haggerston Middle Eastern grilled-meats-and-big-beats game-changer comes on much less strong, which is undeniably a good thing. Mezze are tasteful, vegetable-led, and often quite beautiful to behold; an array of meatier shawarmas are unsurprisingly excellent. The cauliflower rice bowl might well be the best single-dish lunch in the whole of Exmouth Market.
8. The Fryer's Delight
London WC1X 8SL, UK
The practice of frying in tallow — or beef fat — is still fairly common in the north of England, but it’s much scarcer in saturated fatphobic London. More’s the pity, because it definitely imparts a distinctive savour and sweetness to everything here, as well as allowing for a batter that is notably thinner than that on show in the majority of chippies. But it’s not really about the fish and chips, actually — there are probably better, even in London — so much as it is about everything that the decades-old Fryer’s Delight represents: tradition and simplicity in a city often all too happy to leave both behind.
9. Royal China Club
This isn’t the first attempt to get more people to visit this Baker Street institution, and it won’t be the last: truly — and whatever some spurious list of 38 other restaurants might tell you — this is one of London’s must-visits. The exactitude required to knock out dozens of different, flawless dim sum carries over into how the kitchen approaches other fare like roast duck and steamed seafood; the service is no less full of care. It’s great whenever, but for Sunday lunch it’s an unimprovable upgrade on the usual roast.
10. Locanda Locatelli
Is this the sexiest restaurant in London? Not the usual Mayfair couture-frock-no-knickers sexy, but sexy like Giorgio Locatelli is sexy: brooding, elegant, masterful. Snowdrifts of truffle and parmesan form atop impeccable pastas and mains as tastefully opulent as the penumbrous room; Barolos and Barbarescos are decanted tableside by the light of a flickering candle. It’s very grown up, but there’s enough of a twinkle in its eye to draw any reluctant hedonist in; to make them complicit in its specific, intoxicating, adult pleasures.
11. Good Friend Chicken
One of the (many) infuriating quirks about London’s Chinatown is the relatively narrow spectrum of quick, grab-and-go options available. There are some OK bakeries; there are a couple of storefronts slinging OK dumplings. But really there is only the mighty Good Friend Chicken, where legs, breast, and even — baller order, this — slabs of skin emerge fresh from the fryer encased in a shattering, impossibly crisp batter, only to be dusted in a range of eye-popping seasonings. In true Taiwanese style, there’s boba tea, too — a necessary accompaniment when £5.50 buys you a breast fillet the size of your head.
The dishes that come out of Skye Gyngell’s kitchen at Spring are variously delicate, beautiful and immaculate. The décor and staff outfits are Jean-Paul Gaultier conceptual (and therefore, uh, “divisive”), but there’s no debating the quality that suffuses everything on the plate, from riffs on Italianate classics like malfatti and vitello tonnato, to the impeccable produce shipped in from Fern Verrow, to the properly glorious desserts. It’s expensive, but given it somehow does justice to its pocket of real estate in the magnificent Somerset House, it still ends up feeling like a bargain.
13. Wrap It Up!
It cannot make any sort of rational business sense for the owners of Wrap It Up! to stock an entirely different type of flatbread alongside the bog-standard tortillas that surround the so-so fillings ordered by the majority of their customers. But praise be that they do, because in their “Caribbean” (Trinidadian) lamb or chickpea, pumpkin and tamarind roti they offer what is surely the best option to be found in the lunchtime food desert along The Strand. Not one for eating on the move — or without a knife, fork, and plenty of napkins. Various locations.
Two albatrosses — its location within a hotel, and a shiny Michelin star — hang round Quilon’s neck, and probably deter a great many potential customers. It’s their loss, as this is some of the best high-end Southern Indian food in the city — none better than the assortment of chutneys and pickles presented at the start of the meal. Prices at dinner can be bracing, but the set lunch represents one of the best haute bargains in town.
15. The Good Earth
Before it was stuffed in a bao bun and sold for a couple of quid, good Chinese food in London looked a lot like this: the familiar Anglo-Cantonese classics, but cooked with a skill and attention to detail — and just a tweak of originality — that elevated them above 1970s cliché. Even as the market has evolved, The Good Earth hasn’t lost a step: really, what is there better than prawn toast, aromatic duck, a whole steamed seabass, and some egg-fried rice?
16. Cambio De Tercio
Equal parts quirky and classy, Cambio de Tercio has been a South Ken gem since it opened in 1995; its menu reads like a distillation of the best things to happen to Spanish food from the time of Cervantes to the present day. Go traditional with jamón ibérico followed by stickily caramelised oxtail; if that doesn’t appeal, go full Ferran Adrià bonkers with a tasting menu for the table. The wine list is as thick as Don Quixote (and, come to think of it, as thick as Don Quixote); the gin-tonics come in the vast balloon copas so beloved in the king of drinks’ spiritual home. ¡Salud!
Hunan is in Belgravia, which is another way of saying it’s not cheap. But surrender to the cost and the concept — there is no menu at dinner; flag dietary restrictions upfront — and be sumptuously rewarded for your courage with dozens of gorgeous small bites rooted in the Hunan region but content, too, to range wider across China. A grown-up wine list makes this one for special occasions — even among the Belgravia set.
It’s in a slightly subprime location at the wrong end of the King’s Road, but inside Medlar is prime Zone One, baby — all French-inflected food and honking red-trousered first growth claret. But look a little closer, and it soon becomes apparent there’s a little more wit and finesse on display: in dishes like the iconic duck egg / duck heart tart and a tarte tatin for the ages, there’s a lightness of touch to go with all that butter and demi-glace. It’s quiet without being hushed; the service is charming without being pompous. And the set-price menu isn’t even that expensive. Value for money in Chelsea? Maaaaaayte.
19. Chez Bruce
In the site formerly occupied by Marco Pierre White’s legendary Harvey’s, Chez Bruce represents another major step in London’s evolving, convoluted relationship with French food. Like the best Parisian brasseries, it makes everything feel utterly effortless; like the (other) best London restaurants, it remains open to influences from both close to home and further abroad (a recent menu boasts foie gras but also a Thai-spiced soup and taramasalata, though thankfully not at the same time). For a supplement of a mere six pounds, the groaning, exquisite cheese board is an absolute steal.