Buckets of history, beautiful architecture, its very own Boy — Clerkenwell has it all. Its main thoroughfares are the home of some of the most storied restaurants in the capital; its hidden alleys and secluded courtyards hide some lesser-known names well worth seeking out. Three Eater 38 essentials (Sushi Tetsu, Moro and The Quality Chop House) call this part of London home; even passing them by in favour of unsung heroes will provide more than enough to keep a hungry visitor to the area occupied for a couple of very indulgent days.Read More
Clerkenwell’s Best Restaurants
Really rich pickings in the area between central and east London
1. The Quality Chop House
When now-Sunday-Times-critic Marina O’Loughlin was given carte blanche to go anywhere in the country for her final Guardian review, she made a beeline in chef Shaun Searley’s direction. And with good reason: The Chop House is under new ownership these days, and things seem to have been almost-imperceptibly elevated, taken to an even more rarefied level. Old favourites like the chicken liver mousse, smoked cod’s roe, mince on toast, and confit potatoes are all still present and correct, of course, and this is far from a delicate or dainty affair. But there are little touches of luxury to Searley’s cooking now, grace-notes that serve to make the previously delicious now actively special. Truly the stuff of last suppers.
2. Leather Lane
London EC1N 7TJ, UK
Pound for pound – both £ for £ and lb for lb – this street surely has the best and most comprehensive lunchtime offering in all of London, with a daily street food market and a range of decent bricks and mortar options to boot. Turnover among the stalls is not uncommon, but Retro Thai (and its excellent green curry) has remained a stalwart; there are some promising newcomers offering Ethiopian and Indian stuff, too. Among approximately 57 falafel and shawarma joints, Dukan 41 stands out for the vibrancy of its salads and the variety of its garnishes; among some occasionally questionable full-service concepts, the mighty Mugen stands out for its highly competent Japanese dishes. Make sure not to miss the stall right at the bottom of the street which sells recherché delights like Brannigan’s roast beef and mustard crisps for peanuts.
3. The Coach
Clerkenwell feels like a much more logical home for Henry Harris’ cooking than Knightsbridge — with Smithfield market, St John and Club Gascon all around the corner, The Coach can happily situate itself at the centre of a ferociously greedy Venn diagram. The décor isn’t to everyone’s tastes, necessarily — “a little Home Counties” was one especially withering verdict — but there’s no arguing with the food. Up at the bar, a riotous merguez sausage roll makes for an ideal accompaniment to a pint (or an appropriately debauched aperitif); once at the table, the real challenge is finding things not to eat on a profoundly appetising menu. It’s hard to go wrong with any of it, but it’s in his way with slightly more uncommon beasts like duck and rabbit that Harris’ real genius shines through.
4. L Terroni & Sons
‘The Star of Italian Delicatessen Meats Since 1907’ proclaims the awning above this beloved hangover from the area’s past as London’s Little Italy, below another sign noting Terroni has been in business since 1878. History does not record whether there was another Star of Italian Delicatessen Meats in that 29 year gap, but in 2018 Terroni remains undeniably stellar. The hams and cheeses to go — along with a panoply of other Italiana — are exactly what one might expect from a century-plus of heritage; there are affordable no-frills pasta dishes and robustly filled sandwiches to eat-in at lunch-time. Those truly in the know, though, make their way there for a morning espresso (or two) and a wide-eyed gander at the treasure trove of pastries, including a range of excellent cannoli. Pick of the lot may well be the baked ricotta sfogliatelle — usually fresh out of the oven around 9.30.
5. Tongue & Brisket
Tongue and Brisket’s website, with its mention of multiple branches and a sister concept, is enough to set alarm bells ringing — it suggests that this spinoff from Edgware’s B&K Salt Beef Bar is going to offer Jewish deli fare-lite. But to walk in — or to merely walk in the general vicinity — and inhale the aromas from the back-room kitchen is to realise that very few punches are being pulled here: this is serious, serious food. There’s roast beef, there’s salt beef, there is also — no false advertising here — tongue. And latkes, fish balls, chicken soup, properly punchy pickles — everything anyone could want or need from somewhere like this. A salt beef on white with mustard and side of chicken soup (complete with noodles and dumplings) makes for one of the city’s most complete, restorative one-two punches.
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The Hackney Road branch may court all the cool kids now, with its Cretan riffs on the established mezze-tapas formula. But for a few hot years there was nowhere harder to get into than this stunner of an Exmouth Market shoebox; there were no nights better than those spent drinking fino out of beaded fridge-cold sherry glasses and knocking back chipirones, chiccarrones de Cadiz and gildas by the fistful. Except, queues aside, nothing really has changed: the food is still exceptional, the sherry is still cold, the Málaga raisin ice cream with Pedro Ximenez and several spoons is still an unimprovable way to end an evening. With all the love in the world for the Hackney Road branch, the cool kids can keep it.
This year marks the 21st anniversary of Moro on Exmouth market — the restaurant by River Cafe alumni Sam and Samantha Clark. Their focus has always been on ingredients, presented through menus that travel, not just through Italy, but more broadly across southern Europe, North Africa and often leaning toward the Middle East. A curtained entrance and cool Mediterranean aesthetic make Moro one of a small number of dining rooms in which it is possible to escape the city. It hasn’t dated one bit.
8. 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 (depending on who’s visiting) might well be a good thing. Mezze are tasteful, vegetable-led, and often quite beautiful to behold; an array of meatier shawarmas are unsurprisingly excellent. Special mention should be made of the potent and well-made cocktails, a delightfully hoppy za’atar-, sumac- and orange-infused house beer, and some brilliantly sourced natural wines. Oh, and the cauliflower shawarma rice bowl, the perfect embodiment of everything this place does so well.
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9. Sushi Tetsu
Quite possibly the hardest reservation to secure in the whole damn city, and not just because there are only seven seats. To observe chef Toru Takahashi’s knife skills and to eat his omakase menu while receiving Harumi Takahashi’s gently flawless hospitality (the two are married) is to experience one of London’s most complete and completely brilliant restaurants.
Those wanting a more high-end Italian experience need only stagger a few streets away: Isaac McHale’s ‘Britalian’ concept promises “British seasonal ingredients through an Italian lens” but to a certain extent this undersells both what to expect and what to expect to pay. Only the most parsimonious sort could argue it’s not money well spent, though: there are few more stately and beautiful rooms to eat in this side of Mayfair; gossamer-fine pastas in particular embody the quality and fine-dining attention to detail on show here. Whilst some have taken issue with the pricing of main courses and the wine list, it’s even possible to get out of the door without it costing the earth: both the breakfast and bar menus (the latter including THOSE parmesan fries) represent a satisfying dose of actually affordable luxury.
11. St John
London EC1M 4AY, UK
When it opened in 1994, St John’s every facet felt as iconoclastic as those striking whitewashed walls. And while it has seen its status shift since then from enfant terrible to local hero to worldwide icon to national treasure, it shows precious little signs of growing old gracefully. Kidneys hum with the same tang and devil of old; rarebits, pies and sweetbreads still taste as elementally satisfying as they did the first time round (everyone remembers their first time). If anything, the passing years have allowed people to appreciate St John for what it truly is: not a John-Bullish temple to guts and gluttony, but a singular testament to the ongoing effort and creativity of a team working both within and without the British culinary tradition.
12. Moi An
London EC4A 1EQ, UK
On a previous version of this map, Moi An was bundled into a separate entry for Leather Lane, even though 1) it’s not even on Leather Lane; and 2) doing so was an absolute travesty. This lunchtime-only Vietnamese spot is absolutely worthy of consideration all by itself, such is the quality and versatility of its offering. Care and attention to detail sing out from the sonorous stocks at the base of excellent noodle soups; among a range of toppings served over rice, beef meatballs wrapped in betel leaf are a notable standout. When the sun’s out, summer rolls are a burst of freshness and zip; in winter, a stout bo kho warms like an extra layer. Pro tip: the house lemongrass chilli oil makes everything taste better; buy an extra pot for experimentation at home.
London WC1X 8LT, UK
Sorry, Prufrock: there may be few places better to measure out one’s life in coffee spoons, but in terms of local caffeine-adjacent culinary bragging rights, there’s only one winner. There’s conventional coffee-house fare on offer here — check out the cabinet to the right of the till, and definitely get a pastel de nata. But the real star of the show is the all-day menu written behind the counter; in particular, the simply ridiculous things Vasilis Chamam sandwiches between two pieces of bread. If the VTEC chicken is the current darling, going toe-to-toe with Rectory Road’s Bake Street and its makhani monstrosity for title of London’s Most Extra, don’t overlook the halloumi katsu sando, a towering monument to excess packing deep fried battered cheese, a blast of coffee sriracha, and a soft-yolked egg for good measure. In a genius piece of vertical integration, a strong coffee is practically mandatory afterwards to ward off an incipient carb-coma.
14. Quality Wines
Instagram being Instagram, Quality Wines is inextricably associated with its hero dishes: the award-winning cannoli, the mandatory gildas, the hilariously indulgent black truffle toasties. But even the most beautiful shot ignores quite how much is going on beyond the photograph’s frame. Iceberg-like, so much of what makes Quality Wines special is hidden from plain sight: the warmth of welcome, the literal quality of the wines, the special hubbub that full, happy people create in a full, happy dining room. And it’s the thought that goes into the food, hours before diners eat it, that ensures that the short blackboard menu remains all killer, no filler year-round. A legit contender for 40 Maltby Street’s crown as the London food dork’s restaurant of choice.
15. Το Ελληνικόν souvlaki bar
London WC1X 8LT, UK
When only meat wrapped in flatbread will do, skip Leather Lane’s plethora of largely mediocre wrap-slingers and cut across to Grays Inn Road, where the site formerly occupied by a lamentable wellness concept has been transformed into somewhere offering a far more reliable recipe for living the good life. The menu is vast but it’s hard to go wrong with aggressively charred gyros bundled into a superb pita — the medium is more than enough for a satisfying lunch; the large, therefore, is obviously the way to go. For a truly unbeatable one-two punch, combine with a short toddle up to Great Grill House on Farringdon Road, the de facto Quality Wines staff canteen.