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smoked eel sandwich at quo vadis, one of central london’s best snacks
Smoked eel sandwich at Quo Vadis, one of central London’s best snacks
Quo Vadis [Official Photo]

Where to Snack in Central London

The best single (or double) mouthfuls, including an iconic Soho sandwich, cloudlike parmesan fries, and an unmissable Spanish bite

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Smoked eel sandwich at Quo Vadis, one of central London’s best snacks
| Quo Vadis [Official Photo]

The age of the small plate has given way to the age of the snack. The rise of all-day dining and the financial imperative to maximise square footage has led to a proliferation of bar menus across town, carving out new terrain for the snack-happy to explore. Even in places lacking dedicated bars, sharing plates are ceding menu real estate to smaller and more personal dishes designed to whet the individual appetite. It is time that this glorious subclass of mini-bites got its due: this is the first of a series of localised lists seeking to celebrate the tiny but mighty, the dishes that set a restaurant’s stall out in but a mouthful (or two.)

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Note: Restaurants on this map are listed geographically.

1. Fried Egg and Camarones at Sabor

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35-37 Heddon St, Mayfair
London W1B 4BR, UK

Nieves Barragan’s Heddon Street restaurant harbours both a Barrafina-style sit-down affair and a slightly more rustic upstairs asador. Everyone knows that the real fun is at the bar, where a short but inventive menu is the perfect script for pre-dinner snacking (though it also offers more than enough to constitute dinner in its own right.) It’s not totally out of leftfield — there is still jamón ibérico, there are still croquetas — but there’s no standing still on invention. This is the only dish on this list that really shouldn’t be attempted without cutlery, but anyone who has experienced the gold-on-gold alchemy that occurs when yolk meets tiny, crispy prawns would agree that it’s a nod to formality worth making.

Camarones and fried egg at Sabor in central London, one of central London’s best snacks Sabor/Instagram

2. Potted Shrimp Croquettes at Parsons

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39 Endell St
London WC2H 9BA, UK

Of the myriad things Parsons gets just right, its sense of permanence is among the most alluring. That permanence is matched by a willingness to play with tradition and convention when it will benefit the diner: a burst of yuzu surprises trout tartare; grilled fish is just as likely to come with bok choi as baby leaf spinach. A less confident restaurant would serve potted shrimp as they come, perhaps with some toast; a more thrustingly modern one might pile them on a crumpet with a ‘grammable garnish. Only somewhere as comfortable in its own skin as Parsons would think to stuff them into a croquette — the result is a fittingly modern, old school classic.

Best seafood restaurants in London: Potted shrimp croquettes at Parsons, one of the best snacks in central London Parsons [Official Photo]

3. Parmesan Fries at Luca

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88 St John St, Clerkenwell
London EC1M 4EH, UK

Luca has come under sporadic fire for the occasionally dizzying cost of dining there, but on a bar menu that already feels pretty reasonably priced, this is pure bargain territory. There is something evanescent in these cloud-like confections: the pleasure they offer is euphoric, but fleeting. Solo diners aside, two portions per table should be the bare minimum: it is terrifyingly easy to absent-mindedly graze through a bowl in a matter of moments while dining companions look on, horrified. On second thoughts, better make it one portion per person.

parmesan fries at Luca: one of central London’s best snacks at one the city’s best Italian restaurants

4. Smoked Eel Sandwich at Quo Vadis

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26-29 Dean St, Soho
London W1D 3LL, UK

Jeremy Lee reports that the late great AA Gill considered this a no-brainer — it was what he ordered immediately upon sitting down, what he ate while he made his mind up about what he wanted to eat. And for good reason: this is a platonically perfect blend of umami, acidity and heat that could awaken even the most jaded palate. Few are aware that Lee had originally intended it to be a truffle sandwich, and that it was only a shortage of the central ingredient that forced him to change tack. Thousands of contented Quo Vadis customers are probably grateful that he did.

smoked eel sandwich at quo vadis, one of central london’s best snacks Quo Vadis [Official Photo]

5. Trotter Nuggets at Bao

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53 Lexington St, Carnaby
London W1F 9AS, UK

It’s almost category fraud to include anything from the Bao restaurants on this, since handheld snacking is (pretty much) its entire raison d’être. But there are few better illustrations of how London’s burgeoning street food scene has influenced its restaurants for the better. These holdovers from the Netil Market stall taste phenomenal however they’re eaten, whether yawped down hot out of the fryer a stone’s throw from Broadway Market, or enjoyed from the comfort of a bar stool in gorgeously minimalist Central London premises, fancy cocktail in hand.

Trotter nuggets at Bao, one of central London’s best snacks Bao/Instagram

6. Chicken Liver Parfait at The Quality Chop House

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88-94 Farringdon Rd, Clerkenwell
London EC1R 3EA, UK

Honorary mention must go, of course, to the smoked cod’s roe, one of the signal achievements in London snacking and arguably the precursor to the form’s current golden age. But in pure bang-for-buck terms, there’s no topping Shaun Searley’s parfait, which departing Guardian critic Marina O’Loughlin once deemed “as rich and luxurious as anything in Selfridges’ cosmetics hall.” If grating truffle and placing a giant chicharron on top arguably verges on overkill, few are complaining.

chicken liver parfait with pork skin and truffle at Quality Chop House, one of central London’s best snacks Shaun Searley/Instagram

7. Fried Olives at Bocca di Lupo

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12 Archer St, Soho
London W1D 7BB, UK

The “Fritti” (fried stuff) section of Bocca’s menu lays claim to a great many of the city’s best single-bite experiences, from the outrageous Buffalo mozzarella bocconcini to a heady take on Rome’s beloved suppli (rice croquettes stuffed with tomato and yet more mozzarella). When lamb’s sweetbreads and artichokes are in season, the pairing arguably represents the best of the lot, but for a year-round treat, these olives come pretty close. The flavours involved — salty olive, herbed pork, smooth veal — may not be long on subtlety, but there’s no arguing with the final result, nor the surprisingly affecting beauty of a half-dozen piled on a square of grease-spotted paper.

8. Kid Goat Methi Keema at Gymkhana

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42 Albemarle St, Mayfair
London W1S 4JH, UK

It’s not an accident that this list is leans on JKS restaurants: few operators have done a better job at disrupting the three-course-meal value chain and eking out a precious few extra quid per head early on in proceedings with cannily priced cocktails and just-inexpensive-enough small bites. At the latest opening, Brigadiers, drinking food — spicy, salty, insistent — has been raised close to an art form, but it’s this offering from statelier older sibling Gymkhana that arguably perfected the formula in the first place. Matched with an ice-cold lager, it’s a perfect window into what has allowed the Sethis to soar.

Kid goat methi at Gymkhana, one of central London’s best snacks Gymkhana/Instagram

9. Aged Lamb Skewer at Kiln

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58 Brewer St, Soho
London W1F 9TL, UK

Pour out some Tsing Tao for now-deceased Manchurian Legends, which could once legitimately boast the best lamb skewer in Central London. But celebrate with a glug of west coast saison or zingy Zeren Wilson-curated Riesling, too, because in Kiln’s version there is a more than worthy successor. Other dishes may bring more fire and fat and funk, but there are few that encapsulate the specialness of the Kiln / Smoking Goat project with such economy — or provide such a dazzling advertisement of its success.

Aged lamb skewers at Britain’s best restaurant, Kiln in Soho, also one of central London’s best snacks Kiln [Official Photo]

10. Welsh Rarebit at St. John Restaurant

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St John Restaurant, 26 St John St
London EC1M 4AY, UK

When considered as a savoury, the Welsh rarebit should be taken later on in one’s repast at St John. But also consider the facts: it’s (relatively) portable, it’s rich, it’s spicy, it goes just as well with an ice cold beer as a glass of Picpoul or a steadying measure of sherry. Does that sound like a savoury? Or simply one of the city’s finest bar bites?

Welsh rarebit at St. John, one of central London’s best snacks Eater

11. Oysters at Noble Rot

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51 Lamb's Conduit St
London WC1N 3NB, UK

This is a bit of a cop-out: a good oyster is a good oyster wherever in the world it’s served; it’s not like Noble Rot sources theirs in a way that puts other dedicated shellfish-slingers in town to shame. But it’s more the ceremony with which they’re presented here that makes them special — adorned with fronds of bladderwrack, impeccably shucked and chilled, mignonette and tabasco on the side — and the knowledge that it’s hard to go wrong in terms of potential pairings from a reliably wide-ranging list of wines by the bottle and glass. Along with the anchovies and the bread basket (and a plate of paleta Ibérica), this is surely one of the most sophisticated and complete opening gambits to be found in town.

12. Egg Mayonnaise at Café Deco

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43 Store St
London WC1E 7DB, UK

A soft-boiled egg, cut in half lengthways and laid yolk-down, blanketed in rich, beige mayonnaise and criss-crossed with two lithe anchovy fillets. That’s literally it for this iteration of the classic snack at Anna Tobias’ Cafe Deco in Bloomsbury, which sets out its brand of flawless austerity with aplomb.

13. Gilda at Quality Wines

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88 Farringdon Rd
London EC1R 3EA, UK

Quality Wines sits alongside and opposite a couple of Greek restaurants, and Nick Bramham’s cooking clinches this stretch of Farringdon Road’s unlikely transformation into Med-vibes. The gilda — a classic snack of gordal olive, anchovy, and pickled guindilla pepper — is a briny, acidic, cleanly spicy hit, so much so that it’s impossible to have just the one.

A floral-design plate with gildas on it — a cocktail stick with a Gordal olive, anchovy, and two pieces of guindilla chilli James Hansen/Eater London

1. Fried Egg and Camarones at Sabor

35-37 Heddon St, Mayfair, London W1B 4BR, UK
Camarones and fried egg at Sabor in central London, one of central London’s best snacks Sabor/Instagram

Nieves Barragan’s Heddon Street restaurant harbours both a Barrafina-style sit-down affair and a slightly more rustic upstairs asador. Everyone knows that the real fun is at the bar, where a short but inventive menu is the perfect script for pre-dinner snacking (though it also offers more than enough to constitute dinner in its own right.) It’s not totally out of leftfield — there is still jamón ibérico, there are still croquetas — but there’s no standing still on invention. This is the only dish on this list that really shouldn’t be attempted without cutlery, but anyone who has experienced the gold-on-gold alchemy that occurs when yolk meets tiny, crispy prawns would agree that it’s a nod to formality worth making.

35-37 Heddon St, Mayfair
London W1B 4BR, UK

2. Potted Shrimp Croquettes at Parsons

39 Endell St, London WC2H 9BA, UK
Best seafood restaurants in London: Potted shrimp croquettes at Parsons, one of the best snacks in central London Parsons [Official Photo]

Of the myriad things Parsons gets just right, its sense of permanence is among the most alluring. That permanence is matched by a willingness to play with tradition and convention when it will benefit the diner: a burst of yuzu surprises trout tartare; grilled fish is just as likely to come with bok choi as baby leaf spinach. A less confident restaurant would serve potted shrimp as they come, perhaps with some toast; a more thrustingly modern one might pile them on a crumpet with a ‘grammable garnish. Only somewhere as comfortable in its own skin as Parsons would think to stuff them into a croquette — the result is a fittingly modern, old school classic.

39 Endell St
London WC2H 9BA, UK

3. Parmesan Fries at Luca

88 St John St, Clerkenwell, London EC1M 4EH, UK
parmesan fries at Luca: one of central London’s best snacks at one the city’s best Italian restaurants

Luca has come under sporadic fire for the occasionally dizzying cost of dining there, but on a bar menu that already feels pretty reasonably priced, this is pure bargain territory. There is something evanescent in these cloud-like confections: the pleasure they offer is euphoric, but fleeting. Solo diners aside, two portions per table should be the bare minimum: it is terrifyingly easy to absent-mindedly graze through a bowl in a matter of moments while dining companions look on, horrified. On second thoughts, better make it one portion per person.

88 St John St, Clerkenwell
London EC1M 4EH, UK

4. Smoked Eel Sandwich at Quo Vadis

26-29 Dean St, Soho, London W1D 3LL, UK
smoked eel sandwich at quo vadis, one of central london’s best snacks Quo Vadis [Official Photo]

Jeremy Lee reports that the late great AA Gill considered this a no-brainer — it was what he ordered immediately upon sitting down, what he ate while he made his mind up about what he wanted to eat. And for good reason: this is a platonically perfect blend of umami, acidity and heat that could awaken even the most jaded palate. Few are aware that Lee had originally intended it to be a truffle sandwich, and that it was only a shortage of the central ingredient that forced him to change tack. Thousands of contented Quo Vadis customers are probably grateful that he did.

26-29 Dean St, Soho
London W1D 3LL, UK

5. Trotter Nuggets at Bao

53 Lexington St, Carnaby, London W1F 9AS, UK
Trotter nuggets at Bao, one of central London’s best snacks Bao/Instagram

It’s almost category fraud to include anything from the Bao restaurants on this, since handheld snacking is (pretty much) its entire raison d’être. But there are few better illustrations of how London’s burgeoning street food scene has influenced its restaurants for the better. These holdovers from the Netil Market stall taste phenomenal however they’re eaten, whether yawped down hot out of the fryer a stone’s throw from Broadway Market, or enjoyed from the comfort of a bar stool in gorgeously minimalist Central London premises, fancy cocktail in hand.

53 Lexington St, Carnaby
London W1F 9AS, UK

6. Chicken Liver Parfait at The Quality Chop House

88-94 Farringdon Rd, Clerkenwell, London EC1R 3EA, UK
chicken liver parfait with pork skin and truffle at Quality Chop House, one of central London’s best snacks Shaun Searley/Instagram

Honorary mention must go, of course, to the smoked cod’s roe, one of the signal achievements in London snacking and arguably the precursor to the form’s current golden age. But in pure bang-for-buck terms, there’s no topping Shaun Searley’s parfait, which departing Guardian critic Marina O’Loughlin once deemed “as rich and luxurious as anything in Selfridges’ cosmetics hall.” If grating truffle and placing a giant chicharron on top arguably verges on overkill, few are complaining.

88-94 Farringdon Rd, Clerkenwell
London EC1R 3EA, UK

7. Fried Olives at Bocca di Lupo

12 Archer St, Soho, London W1D 7BB, UK

The “Fritti” (fried stuff) section of Bocca’s menu lays claim to a great many of the city’s best single-bite experiences, from the outrageous Buffalo mozzarella bocconcini to a heady take on Rome’s beloved suppli (rice croquettes stuffed with tomato and yet more mozzarella). When lamb’s sweetbreads and artichokes are in season, the pairing arguably represents the best of the lot, but for a year-round treat, these olives come pretty close. The flavours involved — salty olive, herbed pork, smooth veal — may not be long on subtlety, but there’s no arguing with the final result, nor the surprisingly affecting beauty of a half-dozen piled on a square of grease-spotted paper.

12 Archer St, Soho
London W1D 7BB, UK

8. Kid Goat Methi Keema at Gymkhana

42 Albemarle St, Mayfair, London W1S 4JH, UK
Kid goat methi at Gymkhana, one of central London’s best snacks Gymkhana/Instagram

It’s not an accident that this list is leans on JKS restaurants: few operators have done a better job at disrupting the three-course-meal value chain and eking out a precious few extra quid per head early on in proceedings with cannily priced cocktails and just-inexpensive-enough small bites. At the latest opening, Brigadiers, drinking food — spicy, salty, insistent — has been raised close to an art form, but it’s this offering from statelier older sibling Gymkhana that arguably perfected the formula in the first place. Matched with an ice-cold lager, it’s a perfect window into what has allowed the Sethis to soar.

42 Albemarle St, Mayfair
London W1S 4JH, UK

9. Aged Lamb Skewer at Kiln

58 Brewer St, Soho, London W1F 9TL, UK
Aged lamb skewers at Britain’s best restaurant, Kiln in Soho, also one of central London’s best snacks Kiln [Official Photo]

Pour out some Tsing Tao for now-deceased Manchurian Legends, which could once legitimately boast the best lamb skewer in Central London. But celebrate with a glug of west coast saison or zingy Zeren Wilson-curated Riesling, too, because in Kiln’s version there is a more than worthy successor. Other dishes may bring more fire and fat and funk, but there are few that encapsulate the specialness of the Kiln / Smoking Goat project with such economy — or provide such a dazzling advertisement of its success.

58 Brewer St, Soho
London W1F 9TL, UK

10. Welsh Rarebit at St. John Restaurant

St John Restaurant, 26 St John St, London EC1M 4AY, UK
Welsh rarebit at St. John, one of central London’s best snacks Eater

When considered as a savoury, the Welsh rarebit should be taken later on in one’s repast at St John. But also consider the facts: it’s (relatively) portable, it’s rich, it’s spicy, it goes just as well with an ice cold beer as a glass of Picpoul or a steadying measure of sherry. Does that sound like a savoury? Or simply one of the city’s finest bar bites?

St John Restaurant, 26 St John St
London EC1M 4AY, UK

11. Oysters at Noble Rot

51 Lamb's Conduit St, London WC1N 3NB, UK

This is a bit of a cop-out: a good oyster is a good oyster wherever in the world it’s served; it’s not like Noble Rot sources theirs in a way that puts other dedicated shellfish-slingers in town to shame. But it’s more the ceremony with which they’re presented here that makes them special — adorned with fronds of bladderwrack, impeccably shucked and chilled, mignonette and tabasco on the side — and the knowledge that it’s hard to go wrong in terms of potential pairings from a reliably wide-ranging list of wines by the bottle and glass. Along with the anchovies and the bread basket (and a plate of paleta Ibérica), this is surely one of the most sophisticated and complete opening gambits to be found in town.

51 Lamb's Conduit St
London WC1N 3NB, UK

12. Egg Mayonnaise at Café Deco

43 Store St, London WC1E 7DB, UK

A soft-boiled egg, cut in half lengthways and laid yolk-down, blanketed in rich, beige mayonnaise and criss-crossed with two lithe anchovy fillets. That’s literally it for this iteration of the classic snack at Anna Tobias’ Cafe Deco in Bloomsbury, which sets out its brand of flawless austerity with aplomb.

43 Store St
London WC1E 7DB, UK

13. Gilda at Quality Wines

88 Farringdon Rd, London EC1R 3EA, UK
A floral-design plate with gildas on it — a cocktail stick with a Gordal olive, anchovy, and two pieces of guindilla chilli James Hansen/Eater London

Quality Wines sits alongside and opposite a couple of Greek restaurants, and Nick Bramham’s cooking clinches this stretch of Farringdon Road’s unlikely transformation into Med-vibes. The gilda — a classic snack of gordal olive, anchovy, and pickled guindilla pepper — is a briny, acidic, cleanly spicy hit, so much so that it’s impossible to have just the one.

88 Farringdon Rd
London EC1R 3EA, UK

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