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Finessing dessert buns at A. Wong in Pimlico.
Finessing dessert buns at A. Wong in Pimlico.
Andrew Leitch/Eater London

London’s Best Splurges and Special Occasion Meals

Outstanding omakase, tasting menus majoring on excess, and a machine that crushes ducks

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Finessing dessert buns at A. Wong in Pimlico.
| Andrew Leitch/Eater London

Birthdays, anniversaries, breakups, paydays, getting a dream job, quitting a hell job... Sometimes a meal needs to do more than feed, and when that time comes a splurge is needed.

A splurge is a state of mind, not just an act of fiscal negligence: it’s about the release from humdrum quotidian constraints, not purely what it does to one’s bank balance. And, boy, does 2021 feel like a good time to find release from quotidian constraints, as the U.K. continues to take nervous steps out of its metaphorical sitting room and out into the wider world again. Here, then, is a list of place to go to let go — yes for special occasions, but also for occasions made special by the sheer pleasure of being out again, contemplating a menu, deciding one more dish would be overkill, and ordering it anyway.

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Note: Restaurants on this map are listed geographically.

1. Endo at the Rotunda

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8th Floor The Helios, Television Centre, 101 Wood Ln
London W12 7FR, UK

One of the most special rooms in town. This Bond villain’s eyrie, formerly the BBC TV Centre, overlooking West London, just happens to host perhaps the best omakase in town, too. Sushi Tetsu heads may contest that particular claim, but sushi master Endo Kazutoshi has certainly turned his 15-seater counter into an equally desirable and equally impossible to reserve piece of real estate. Anyone lucky enough to get hold of one of those will know what to expect at the restaurant proper: best-in-class produce, handled with the precision and finesse of a true master of his craft.

2. The River Café

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Thames Wharf, Rainville Rd
London W6 9HA, UK

The bill here still hits with the bracing chill of a plunge pool on a hot day, but for the majority of punters that’s kind of the point: for decades now, The River Café has been selling a specific kind of fantasy to everyone who walks through its doors, cultivating a genteel illusion within which, if only for a few hours, it is possible to imagine oneself as yacht rich, Succession rich, £30 pizzetta-on-a-whim rich. It’s a credit to the cooking, the setting and the hospitality that — unlike so many other places with multiple pound signs next to them in the guide books — the eventual pain feels genuinely worth it.

3. Claude Bosi at Bibendum

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Michelin House, 81 Fulham Rd
London SW3 6RD, UK

Glitz, glamour, elegance, style, luxury — throw all of the usual fine dining signifiers at Claude Bosi’s 2-Michelin-starred Michelin star and any of them will stick. But unlike many of the restaurant’s similarly-garlanded peers in the capital, CB@B doesn’t feel like an exercise in just playing the hits for a bored, moneyed, fundamentally incurious crowd: the menu reads like a synthesis of the past century of French fine dining, with a keen eye for newer, more innovative techniques as well. The downstairs oyster bar would also go toe-to-toe with any of Paris’ huitreries; the upstairs dining room — gorgeous stained glass tribute to a mascot composed of rubber and all — rivals anything the grandes dames of the City of Lights could produce, too.

4. Locanda Locatelli

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8 Seymour St
London W1H 7JZ, UK

There is something darkly thrilling about the clandestine debauchery that takes place behind the heavy baize of Giorgio Locatelli’s Mayfair bordello: a Lecter-ish elegance to the way very nice Chiantis are decanted by candlelight and silken mounds of fresh pasta ripple with butter, Parmesan, white truffle. A room upstairs in the Churchill Hotel is the logical end-point to a meal where the ecstatic suggestiveness of a blowout dinner is rarely far from the surface.

5. Trishna

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15-17 Blandford St
London W1U 3DG, UK

Gymkhana has the celebs, Brigadiers has the city boys, BiBi has the all-important buzz. But does Trishna lowkey have the best food of all the Indian restaurants in JKS Restaurants’ proud stable? The opening salvo of snacks and fried stuff marries finesse with a serious whack of chilli heat; chicken, seafood and paneer emerge impeccably blackened from the tandoor to follow; mains run the gauntlet from Southern Indian curries (don’t miss the cashew and pepper chicken) to a selection of the group’s justly famed biryani. There is a “Taste of Trishna” menu available, but the move is absolutely to go à la carte and overorder so dramatically that there’s plenty left over to take away.

6. Hunan

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51 Pimlico Rd
London SW1W 8NE, UK

Nestled in the leafy surrounds of ultra-moneyed Belgravia is one of London’s most unusual hidden gems. “Hunan isn’t your typical Chinese restaurant,” the website reads, and ordering dinner is pretty atypical, too: simply describe dietary preferences and openness to spice and the legendary Chef Peng will take care of the rest. Also by its own admission, Hunan is something of a misnomer, given the range of regional cuisines that a typical dinner can cover in a dizzying succession of small plates — from Shanghainese xiaolong bao to Cantonese steamed sea bass via Sichuan-style dry-fried frogs legs and a signature bamboo cup soup. Given the location, the prices — for both tasting menu and wine — are a genuine bargain.

7. The Ritz Restaurant

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150 Piccadilly, St. James's
London W1J 9BR, UK

The cook dude here literally wears a toque. That’s all anyone really needs to know about the level of old school flair John Williams and co bring to the table The Ritz Restaurant, and submitting to it means encountering the likes of veal sweetbreads, native lobster, dover sole and beef wellington presented with painterly grace. The seven-course “Epicurean Journey” menu comes in at a mere £125 (although that jumps to a slightly more crunchy £405 once the top-level wine pairing is added) — a no-brainer for anyone looking to experience one of London’s most timeless dining rooms. NB: there is a dress code, and they do enforce it.

8. A. Wong

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70 Wilton Rd, Pimlico
London SW1V 1DE, UK

Royal China Club remains the city’s gold standard for tabletops groaning with steamer baskets full of dumplings, but for truly the best dim sum in town make a beeline for Andrew Wong’s Victoria terminus. At lunch time, that is: evenings play host to a dazzling multicourse “Taste of China” menu that showcases centuries’ worth of research, filtered through a creativity and sensibility that is still unmistakably modern. Whatever the time of day, A Wong remains one of London’s most singular dining destinations, and reservations are accordingly elusive, so get on it early to avoid disappointment.

9. El Asador At Sabor

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35 Heddon St
London W1B 4BP, UK

The bar and counter downstairs at Sabor are wonderful in their own way, but the true jewel in Nieves Barragan’s crown is the first-floor Asador. Here is one of the few places in London that serves an entire Segovian suckling pig. one of the great delicacies of a country not short on them, served so astoundingly succulent that it is possible to carve the flesh with the side of a plate. An acquired taste for some, perhaps — but what a taste for those in the know. A quarter pig is £42.50 and feeds two handily with a few other bits and pieces from further up the menu beforehand; if scaling up all the way to a full pig (£210), add hungry friends accordingly.

10. Ikoyi Restaurant St. James's

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1 St James's Market, St. James's
London SW1Y 4AH, UK

Creativity and cookery in high-end restaurants are not always the most contented bedfellows: at some point, a third ‘c’, consistency must come into play. Jeremy Chan and Iré Hassan-Odukale could, accordingly, be forgiven for taking a breather, resting on their multiple laurels, and perfecting an already successful formula. But since its inception, that hasn’t been the Ikoyi way, and the tasting menu today remains one of the most ceaselessly inventive in town. At £160 it’s right up there, price-wise with the two-Michelin-starred likes of Da Terra and A Wong: on the plate, it belongs in that elite company, too.

11. Noble Rot Lamb's Conduit

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

There’s the wine list, of course. A recipient of so many industry awards that at this point, singing its praises further would be pointless. But what occasionally gets overlooked amongst all the cork dork froth is how superbly Noble Rot accommodates a certain kind of genuinely old-school capital-L Lunch. Oysters are present when appropriate, and are beautifully shucked and presented; a quasi-secretive specials board will often conceal jewels in the British crown like langoustines and lobster. Come Christmas, there is always roast goose — a wonderfully Dickensian flourish for a restaurant ideally suited to celebrating high days and holidays alike.

12. Otto's French Restaurant London

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182 Grays Inn Rd
London WC1X 8EW, UK

At least every other word on the à la carte menu at Otto’s is one of the keystones of la grande bouffe philosophy: truffles and mushrooms, veal and poulet de Bresse. But true sybarites know to seek out the famed Canard à la Presse. “One Duck, Two Guests, Three Courses” reads the website with admirable if somewhat misleading economy: this is a grand tour of old haute cuisine’s greatest hits, featuring morels, brioche, pommes soufflés, foie gras and black truffle in addition to the main event itself, a whole Challans duck. It costs £180: small beer for such transportive whisking back to a time when Escoffier was still in his pomp.

13. The Quality Chop House

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88-94 Farringdon Rd
London EC1R 3EA, UK

Over the course of his tenure as head chef there, Shaun Searley has steadily and stealthily transformed The Quality Chop House into one of London’s most unabashedly hedonistic dining experiences. Of course, it’s still possible to pursue a more straightforwardly British meat-n-two-veg approach, but why bother when the alternative is so much more fun, comprising the likes of luxuriant chicken liver parfait draped in shaved black truffle, or confit potatoes propping up steak tartare flavoured in the style of a Big Mac? The by-the-glass Coravin blackboard packs a punch for anyone looking to really splash out; the olive oil ice cream drowning in about ten quid’s worth of Le Coste or Capezzana’s finest probably isn’t all that healthy of a digestif, but rounds things off admirably. If dining at lunch time, do not plan to operate heavy machinery for the rest of the afternoon.

14. Westerns Laundry

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34 Drayton Park
London N5 1PB, UK

There are, of course, shinier temples to the joy of seafood to be found closer to the heart of the city. But nowhere has the sheer romance of Jeremie Cometto-Lingenheim and David Gingell’s Highbury stalwart; nowhere has the same lightning-in-a-bottle magic of stepping from a cold winter’s evening into such a sparsely beautiful candlelit room. Plus, nowhere has that blackboard — a litany of provocations that only the strongest-of-nerve can resist, from croquettes to small plates to a Stygian baked cuttlefish fideo noodle dish that goes to places the likes of Scott’s could never.

15. Singburi

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593 High Rd Leytonstone
London E11 4PA, UK
020 8281 4801

It’s still takeaway only in Leytonstone, but that shouldn’t deter anyone with an interest in exceptional Thai food from sampling Sirichai Kularbwong’s cooking. Given the seductiveness of the blackboard menu — and the related, urgent desire to eat everything on it — this is a splurge perhaps best reserved for large groups of friends, all the better to not have to make agonising trade-offs between options. The moo krob or the crispy quail? The stir-fried monkfish or the steamed clams? It’s so much easier when the answer is simply “all of the above.”

1. Endo at the Rotunda

8th Floor The Helios, Television Centre, 101 Wood Ln, London W12 7FR, UK

One of the most special rooms in town. This Bond villain’s eyrie, formerly the BBC TV Centre, overlooking West London, just happens to host perhaps the best omakase in town, too. Sushi Tetsu heads may contest that particular claim, but sushi master Endo Kazutoshi has certainly turned his 15-seater counter into an equally desirable and equally impossible to reserve piece of real estate. Anyone lucky enough to get hold of one of those will know what to expect at the restaurant proper: best-in-class produce, handled with the precision and finesse of a true master of his craft.

8th Floor The Helios, Television Centre, 101 Wood Ln
London W12 7FR, UK

2. The River Café

Thames Wharf, Rainville Rd, London W6 9HA, UK

The bill here still hits with the bracing chill of a plunge pool on a hot day, but for the majority of punters that’s kind of the point: for decades now, The River Café has been selling a specific kind of fantasy to everyone who walks through its doors, cultivating a genteel illusion within which, if only for a few hours, it is possible to imagine oneself as yacht rich, Succession rich, £30 pizzetta-on-a-whim rich. It’s a credit to the cooking, the setting and the hospitality that — unlike so many other places with multiple pound signs next to them in the guide books — the eventual pain feels genuinely worth it.

Thames Wharf, Rainville Rd
London W6 9HA, UK

3. Claude Bosi at Bibendum

Michelin House, 81 Fulham Rd, London SW3 6RD, UK

Glitz, glamour, elegance, style, luxury — throw all of the usual fine dining signifiers at Claude Bosi’s 2-Michelin-starred Michelin star and any of them will stick. But unlike many of the restaurant’s similarly-garlanded peers in the capital, CB@B doesn’t feel like an exercise in just playing the hits for a bored, moneyed, fundamentally incurious crowd: the menu reads like a synthesis of the past century of French fine dining, with a keen eye for newer, more innovative techniques as well. The downstairs oyster bar would also go toe-to-toe with any of Paris’ huitreries; the upstairs dining room — gorgeous stained glass tribute to a mascot composed of rubber and all — rivals anything the grandes dames of the City of Lights could produce, too.

Michelin House, 81 Fulham Rd
London SW3 6RD, UK

4. Locanda Locatelli

8 Seymour St, London W1H 7JZ, UK

There is something darkly thrilling about the clandestine debauchery that takes place behind the heavy baize of Giorgio Locatelli’s Mayfair bordello: a Lecter-ish elegance to the way very nice Chiantis are decanted by candlelight and silken mounds of fresh pasta ripple with butter, Parmesan, white truffle. A room upstairs in the Churchill Hotel is the logical end-point to a meal where the ecstatic suggestiveness of a blowout dinner is rarely far from the surface.

8 Seymour St
London W1H 7JZ, UK

5. Trishna

15-17 Blandford St, London W1U 3DG, UK

Gymkhana has the celebs, Brigadiers has the city boys, BiBi has the all-important buzz. But does Trishna lowkey have the best food of all the Indian restaurants in JKS Restaurants’ proud stable? The opening salvo of snacks and fried stuff marries finesse with a serious whack of chilli heat; chicken, seafood and paneer emerge impeccably blackened from the tandoor to follow; mains run the gauntlet from Southern Indian curries (don’t miss the cashew and pepper chicken) to a selection of the group’s justly famed biryani. There is a “Taste of Trishna” menu available, but the move is absolutely to go à la carte and overorder so dramatically that there’s plenty left over to take away.

15-17 Blandford St
London W1U 3DG, UK

6. Hunan

51 Pimlico Rd, London SW1W 8NE, UK

Nestled in the leafy surrounds of ultra-moneyed Belgravia is one of London’s most unusual hidden gems. “Hunan isn’t your typical Chinese restaurant,” the website reads, and ordering dinner is pretty atypical, too: simply describe dietary preferences and openness to spice and the legendary Chef Peng will take care of the rest. Also by its own admission, Hunan is something of a misnomer, given the range of regional cuisines that a typical dinner can cover in a dizzying succession of small plates — from Shanghainese xiaolong bao to Cantonese steamed sea bass via Sichuan-style dry-fried frogs legs and a signature bamboo cup soup. Given the location, the prices — for both tasting menu and wine — are a genuine bargain.

51 Pimlico Rd
London SW1W 8NE, UK

7. The Ritz Restaurant

150 Piccadilly, St. James's, London W1J 9BR, UK

The cook dude here literally wears a toque. That’s all anyone really needs to know about the level of old school flair John Williams and co bring to the table The Ritz Restaurant, and submitting to it means encountering the likes of veal sweetbreads, native lobster, dover sole and beef wellington presented with painterly grace. The seven-course “Epicurean Journey” menu comes in at a mere £125 (although that jumps to a slightly more crunchy £405 once the top-level wine pairing is added) — a no-brainer for anyone looking to experience one of London’s most timeless dining rooms. NB: there is a dress code, and they do enforce it.

150 Piccadilly, St. James's
London W1J 9BR, UK

8. A. Wong

70 Wilton Rd, Pimlico, London SW1V 1DE, UK

Royal China Club remains the city’s gold standard for tabletops groaning with steamer baskets full of dumplings, but for truly the best dim sum in town make a beeline for Andrew Wong’s Victoria terminus. At lunch time, that is: evenings play host to a dazzling multicourse “Taste of China” menu that showcases centuries’ worth of research, filtered through a creativity and sensibility that is still unmistakably modern. Whatever the time of day, A Wong remains one of London’s most singular dining destinations, and reservations are accordingly elusive, so get on it early to avoid disappointment.

70 Wilton Rd, Pimlico
London SW1V 1DE, UK

9. El Asador At Sabor

35 Heddon St, London W1B 4BP, UK

The bar and counter downstairs at Sabor are wonderful in their own way, but the true jewel in Nieves Barragan’s crown is the first-floor Asador. Here is one of the few places in London that serves an entire Segovian suckling pig. one of the great delicacies of a country not short on them, served so astoundingly succulent that it is possible to carve the flesh with the side of a plate. An acquired taste for some, perhaps — but what a taste for those in the know. A quarter pig is £42.50 and feeds two handily with a few other bits and pieces from further up the menu beforehand; if scaling up all the way to a full pig (£210), add hungry friends accordingly.

35 Heddon St
London W1B 4BP, UK

10. Ikoyi Restaurant St. James's

1 St James's Market, St. James's, London SW1Y 4AH, UK

Creativity and cookery in high-end restaurants are not always the most contented bedfellows: at some point, a third ‘c’, consistency must come into play. Jeremy Chan and Iré Hassan-Odukale could, accordingly, be forgiven for taking a breather, resting on their multiple laurels, and perfecting an already successful formula. But since its inception, that hasn’t been the Ikoyi way, and the tasting menu today remains one of the most ceaselessly inventive in town. At £160 it’s right up there, price-wise with the two-Michelin-starred likes of Da Terra and A Wong: on the plate, it belongs in that elite company, too.

1 St James's Market, St. James's
London SW1Y 4AH, UK

11. Noble Rot Lamb's Conduit

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

There’s the wine list, of course. A recipient of so many industry awards that at this point, singing its praises further would be pointless. But what occasionally gets overlooked amongst all the cork dork froth is how superbly Noble Rot accommodates a certain kind of genuinely old-school capital-L Lunch. Oysters are present when appropriate, and are beautifully shucked and presented; a quasi-secretive specials board will often conceal jewels in the British crown like langoustines and lobster. Come Christmas, there is always roast goose — a wonderfully Dickensian flourish for a restaurant ideally suited to celebrating high days and holidays alike.

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

12. Otto's French Restaurant London

182 Grays Inn Rd, London WC1X 8EW, UK

At least every other word on the à la carte menu at Otto’s is one of the keystones of la grande bouffe philosophy: truffles and mushrooms, veal and poulet de Bresse. But true sybarites know to seek out the famed Canard à la Presse. “One Duck, Two Guests, Three Courses” reads the website with admirable if somewhat misleading economy: this is a grand tour of old haute cuisine’s greatest hits, featuring morels, brioche, pommes soufflés, foie gras and black truffle in addition to the main event itself, a whole Challans duck. It costs £180: small beer for such transportive whisking back to a time when Escoffier was still in his pomp.

182 Grays Inn Rd
London WC1X 8EW, UK

13. The Quality Chop House

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

Over the course of his tenure as head chef there, Shaun Searley has steadily and stealthily transformed The Quality Chop House into one of London’s most unabashedly hedonistic dining experiences. Of course, it’s still possible to pursue a more straightforwardly British meat-n-two-veg approach, but why bother when the alternative is so much more fun, comprising the likes of luxuriant chicken liver parfait draped in shaved black truffle, or confit potatoes propping up steak tartare flavoured in the style of a Big Mac? The by-the-glass Coravin blackboard packs a punch for anyone looking to really splash out; the olive oil ice cream drowning in about ten quid’s worth of Le Coste or Capezzana’s finest probably isn’t all that healthy of a digestif, but rounds things off admirably. If dining at lunch time, do not plan to operate heavy machinery for the rest of the afternoon.

88-94 Farringdon Rd
London EC1R 3EA, UK

14. Westerns Laundry

34 Drayton Park, London N5 1PB, UK

There are, of course, shinier temples to the joy of seafood to be found closer to the heart of the city. But nowhere has the sheer romance of Jeremie Cometto-Lingenheim and David Gingell’s Highbury stalwart; nowhere has the same lightning-in-a-bottle magic of stepping from a cold winter’s evening into such a sparsely beautiful candlelit room. Plus, nowhere has that blackboard — a litany of provocations that only the strongest-of-nerve can resist, from croquettes to small plates to a Stygian baked cuttlefish fideo noodle dish that goes to places the likes of Scott’s could never.

34 Drayton Park
London N5 1PB, UK

15. Singburi

593 High Rd Leytonstone, London E11 4PA, UK

It’s still takeaway only in Leytonstone, but that shouldn’t deter anyone with an interest in exceptional Thai food from sampling Sirichai Kularbwong’s cooking. Given the seductiveness of the blackboard menu — and the related, urgent desire to eat everything on it — this is a splurge perhaps best reserved for large groups of friends, all the better to not have to make agonising trade-offs between options. The moo krob or the crispy quail? The stir-fried monkfish or the steamed clams? It’s so much easier when the answer is simply “all of the above.”

593 High Rd Leytonstone
London E11 4PA, UK

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