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A plate of grilled stone fruit, fresh cheese, and herbs at the Garden Cafe
A plate of grilled stone fruit, fresh cheese, and herbs at the Garden Cafe
Garden Museum Cafe [Official Photo]

7 Excellent London Restaurants in Unexpected Places

Discover great food in galleries and theatres, gardens and on a boat

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A plate of grilled stone fruit, fresh cheese, and herbs at the Garden Cafe
| Garden Museum Cafe [Official Photo]

London has brilliant restaurants in spades — at least 38 of them. Dining out in the capital has always been about the locale as much as the food, but often the most exceptional locations fall short on their offering: the dismal art gallery café, the overpriced theatre ice-cream. Now, there’s a whole new wave of restaurants opening in the most unlikely of places. Theatres, cinemas, art galleries — many have featured places to eat before, but seldom on this scale, or with this level of acclaim. Some of London’s hottest chefs are embracing the new trend, just as some of their forbears, not to be left behind, are reinventing themselves, too.

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St. John at The Bridge Theatre

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The seminal St. John restaurant group has found a new locale in which to set up shop — at the much-anticipated Bridge Theatre. With the building led by Nicholas Hytner, who is by all accounts British theatre’s answer to Fergus Henderson, the match could not be more perfect. Dishes include the legendary madeleines and doughnuts, along with small plates including terrines, crispy pig skin and potted beef.

London Shell Co.

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Floating restaurants are normally an unquantified nightmare, which is why the brilliant London Shell Co is such a revelation. Turn up for a three-hour cruise from Paddington to Camden and back, eat delicious oysters, chilli and crab linguine and buttermilk pudding, and watch Regent’s Canal go by.

Petersham Nurseries

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With its new outposts in Covent Garden now established, it’s worth remembering that the original Petersham Nurseries Cafe, near Richmond, still excels at superb — if spendy — Italian cuisine, which might feature risotto with amarone and radicchio or baked lemon sole with lentils.

Townsend

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Replacing the also-lauded Whitechapel Refectory in 2020, Nick Gilkinson — formerly of fellow listee Garden Museum Cafe — and Joe Fox — formerly of fellow listee Petersham Nurseries — opened Townsend, and new head chef Chris Shaw has taken it from strength to strength. Dishes like fried Wensleydale with heather honey and smoked chilli; wild mushrooms with egg yolk, Berkswell cheese, and truffle; and poached root vegetables with potato cake and green sauce betray the fact that this is a modern British restaurant aware that much of modern British is really old European with an accent.

The Other Naughty Piglet

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The combination of Andrew Lloyd-Webber and modern British cuisine might initially cause an outburst of “Jesus Christ!”, but this restaurant really is a superstar. Based at the Lloyd Webber-owned The Other Palace theatre in Victoria, raves pour in for the likes of flame-grilled mackerel with seaweed and beetroot or Fallow deer with smoked bone marrow.  

Garden Museum

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Calling “hidden gem” overused is by now as dead as “hidden gem” itself, so stay with the idea that the Garden Museum cafe is ... A hidden gem! Concise and considered, unlike so many museum/cultural institution cafes that seek to deaden themselves to all comers, expect the likes of confit mackerel with tomato and caper; john dory, served whole with black olives and fennel; and mammole artichokes served Roman-style, all in another dead cliché that is here breathed back to life: the “urban oasis.”

Caravel

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One for restaurant obsessives who also love the Lonely Island, Caravel — from Fin and Lorcan Spiteri, sons of current Sessions Arts Club co-owner and former French House and St. John co-founder Jon — is on a boat. But it’s not on a boat in a glib, gimmicky way: this is a dining room, and one that doesn’t move, instead putting out smart, simple pastel dishes with the occasional flourish of wit, like in a duck croquette whose shape might leave diners quacking. Elegance, with a little edge.

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St. John at The Bridge Theatre

The seminal St. John restaurant group has found a new locale in which to set up shop — at the much-anticipated Bridge Theatre. With the building led by Nicholas Hytner, who is by all accounts British theatre’s answer to Fergus Henderson, the match could not be more perfect. Dishes include the legendary madeleines and doughnuts, along with small plates including terrines, crispy pig skin and potted beef.

London Shell Co.

Floating restaurants are normally an unquantified nightmare, which is why the brilliant London Shell Co is such a revelation. Turn up for a three-hour cruise from Paddington to Camden and back, eat delicious oysters, chilli and crab linguine and buttermilk pudding, and watch Regent’s Canal go by.

Petersham Nurseries

With its new outposts in Covent Garden now established, it’s worth remembering that the original Petersham Nurseries Cafe, near Richmond, still excels at superb — if spendy — Italian cuisine, which might feature risotto with amarone and radicchio or baked lemon sole with lentils.

Townsend

Replacing the also-lauded Whitechapel Refectory in 2020, Nick Gilkinson — formerly of fellow listee Garden Museum Cafe — and Joe Fox — formerly of fellow listee Petersham Nurseries — opened Townsend, and new head chef Chris Shaw has taken it from strength to strength. Dishes like fried Wensleydale with heather honey and smoked chilli; wild mushrooms with egg yolk, Berkswell cheese, and truffle; and poached root vegetables with potato cake and green sauce betray the fact that this is a modern British restaurant aware that much of modern British is really old European with an accent.

The Other Naughty Piglet

The combination of Andrew Lloyd-Webber and modern British cuisine might initially cause an outburst of “Jesus Christ!”, but this restaurant really is a superstar. Based at the Lloyd Webber-owned The Other Palace theatre in Victoria, raves pour in for the likes of flame-grilled mackerel with seaweed and beetroot or Fallow deer with smoked bone marrow.  

Garden Museum

Calling “hidden gem” overused is by now as dead as “hidden gem” itself, so stay with the idea that the Garden Museum cafe is ... A hidden gem! Concise and considered, unlike so many museum/cultural institution cafes that seek to deaden themselves to all comers, expect the likes of confit mackerel with tomato and caper; john dory, served whole with black olives and fennel; and mammole artichokes served Roman-style, all in another dead cliché that is here breathed back to life: the “urban oasis.”

Caravel

One for restaurant obsessives who also love the Lonely Island, Caravel — from Fin and Lorcan Spiteri, sons of current Sessions Arts Club co-owner and former French House and St. John co-founder Jon — is on a boat. But it’s not on a boat in a glib, gimmicky way: this is a dining room, and one that doesn’t move, instead putting out smart, simple pastel dishes with the occasional flourish of wit, like in a duck croquette whose shape might leave diners quacking. Elegance, with a little edge.

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