If there’s such a thing as too much choice, London’s thriving restaurants are surely a testament to it. Whether you’re craving steam-billowing bowls of fresh pasta, sumptuous sushi in a swanky setting or the best Israeli dishes this side of Tel Aviv – dining out in this culinary capital can be a transportive experience.
In time for your summer sojourn, this bucket list of sorts curates an insider’s guide to navigating the city’s eclectic mix of restaurants—from timeless diners, Michelin-starred hotspots to hidden gems.
KITCHEN COUNTER DINING
If you really want to eat as Londoners do, you’ll find that the best seats are often by the kitchen counter, offering a ringside view of the city’s most lauded chefs in action.
The Barbary: Cossetted amidst the colourful patchwork of an alley named Neal’s Yard, this diminutive restaurant is suffused with big and bold flavours that journey along the Barbary Coast of North Africa towards Jerusalem. With just 24 stools placed along the open-plan kitchen counter, the clattering high-octane setting plunges diners right into the heat of things as vivacious dishes are brought to life in a flurry of activity from live-baking to grilling and frying.
The Barbary, 16 Neal’s Yard, WC2H 9DP
Scully: Defying any singular label, Scully’s globe-trotting menu draws inspiration from the eponymous chef’s mixed heritage. Ramael Scully was born in Malaysia and raised in Sydney. There are more formal tables if that’s what you fancy, but the kitchen counter seating is covetable if only to watch first-hand as Scully transforms seasonal British produce with Asian cooking techniques and a bewitching bevy of house-made spices, extracts, pickles and preserves.
Scully, 4 St James’s Market, St James’s, SW1Y 4QA
Sabor: Split across a ground-floor tapas bar and an asador (grill) upstairs, this Michelin-starred establishment by legendary chef Nieves Barragan is faithful to regional recipes traversing the rich diversity of Spain. Buttressed by vibrant Andalusian tiles, the gleaming kitchen counter commands the hottest seats in the house.
35-37 Heddon St, W1B 4BR
SEE AND BE SEEN
Sometimes a knockabout atmosphere is just as compelling as competent cooking.
Gold: This beguiling bolt-hole in Notting Hill manages to be moody yet vibrant, and is set across a seductive bar and garden room sheathed by greenery and plants. It delivers on the epicurean front too with an eclectic modern European menu.
95-97 Portobello Rd, W11 2QB
Chiltern Firehouse: Housed in a former fire-station, this haute hotel from André Balaz (the hotelier behind the legendary Chateau Marmont in LA) remains as terrifically trendy today as it did when it opened in 2014. Those in the know can be found languidly sipping rosé in the chic courtyard terrace on a summer evening. For the record, weekend brunch in the courtyard is just as inviting.
1 Chiltern St, W1U 7PA
North Audley Cantine Mayfair: There is a certain see-and-be-seen quality gracing the Parisian-inspired terrace of NAC (as it is more fondly known). The menu is loosely based on contemporary French bistro cuisine, and is speckled with the likes of miso-flamed aubergine and a truffle burger. It would be criminal not to order the crushed milk chocolate cookies for afters, a dessert that is as Instagrammable as it is addictive, not least for the scoop of Frosties-studded soft serve served on top.
41 N Audley St, W1K 6ZP
Venture off the beaten path and stumble upon the revelatory thrill of these delicious finds.
Fine Cheese Company: This understated and elegant establishment slots right into the genteel surrounds of Belgravia’s Motcomb Street. The Fine Cheese Co. is one of Britain’s premier retailer and exporter of artisanal British cheeses, an unsurpassable selection of which is on display to purchase here. The homage to fromage reaches a crescendo with an impossibly light cheese soufflé, served in the discreet café tucked away at the back of the shop.
17 Motcomb Street, SW1X 8LB
Hunan: Expect the unexpected at this Pimlico-based restaurant that has its roots in the Hunan region of China. There is no menu to choose from here. Simply flag any dietary restrictions up-front and sit back as Chef Peng’s team pushes out a parade of perfectly-apportioned plates, uniting mind and palate in a delightful surprise.
51 Pimlico Rd, SW1W 8NE
Titu: Billing itself as a gyoza bar, Titu feels like a secret spot in Mayfair in the heart of the storied Shepherd Market. With seating for just fifteen, this cosy space is enlivened by a pastel palette and vibrant dishes that encapsulate the concept of Asian fusion cuisine.
1A Shepherd St, Mayfair, W1J 7HJ
Whether you’re braving a blind date or reigniting a romance, here’s a selection of restaurants ideal for an intimate evening.
Saachi: This debonair den is part of the Pantechnicon – a new retail emporium marrying Nordic and Japanese cultures and craftsmanship. The sushi is sumptuous, as are the delicate seafood dishes which push you to try local fish you might never have encountered before.
19 Motcomb St, SW1X 8LB
The Palomar: The good folks at The Palomar know a thing or two about dishing out delicious small plates bursting with Middle-Eastern flavours. The cocktails here are potent, the atmosphere electric and the kubaneh (a hopelessly-pillowy Yemeni bread) impossible to resist, even for those who have sworn off carbs.
34 Rupert St, W1D 6DN
Hakkasan Mayfair: In the world of restaurants, Hakkasan is a name which needs no introduction. They Mayfair-based outpost sets itself apart with a sultry allure that transitions from day to night with effortless flair. The modern Cantonese menu caters remarkably well for vegetarians and vegans, with certain dishes, like their succulent take on mock chicken, the closest some might come to eating meat. Don’t be shy to ditch your usual glass of wine for the signature lychee and sake-infused Hakka.
17 Bruton St, W1J 6QB
There’s no trade-off at these family-friendly restaurants, which are fun for the little ones and lively enough for you to return with your grown-up gang.
Christopher’s: Counted amongst London’s best American restaurants, weekend brunch at Christopher’s is something of an institutional affair, replete with all the classics from made-to-order eggs to a Lobster Mac N’ Cheese. Of course, you’re really here for the Chocolate Brioche French Toast. You’ve never had anything quite like it before!
18 Wellington St, WC2E 7DD
Homeslice: The laid-back charm of this rustic fuss-free pizzeria is elevated by it superlative thin-dough 20” pizzas. The ginormous shape lends itself to a “half and half” option if your party is having a difficult time choosing between all the enticing toppings on offer. You could also opt for pizza by the slice for a small yet substantive bite on-the-go.
Delfino: In the midst of Mayfair’s more formal dining destinations, Delfino stands out as an informal family-run establishment. The wood-fired pizzas are exemplary, the embrace of pasta as comforting as one would hope for, and the tiramisu is one of the creamiest I’ve had in London.
121A Mount St, W1K 3NW
A Wong: Savour every mouthful at this two Michelin-starred restaurant renowned for immaculate dim sum and contemporary take on Chinese cooking.
70 Wilton Rd, Pimlico SW1V 1DE
KOL: Marrying Mexican heritage with British ingredients, this terracotta and ceramic-clad bistro injects much-needed warmth and character to London’s fine dining scene.
9 Seymour Street, W1H 7BA
Gloria: Entering this jaunty trattoria in Shoreditch feels like being transported to 1970’s Capri. More-is-more and nothing is too over-the-top in this maximalist setting where your pasta is cooked in a giant wheel of cheese and the Incomparable Lemon Pie arrives with a towering 5’9-inch layer of meringue.
54-56 Great Eastern St, EC2A 3QR
Padella: There is no dearth of the perfect pasta spot in London these days, but if its infamous queues are anything to go by, Borough Market’s Padella will always command a special place for its love letter to Cacio-e-Pepe, tossed together with pici (chewy heffalump-ish strands of hand-rolled pasta).
6 Southwark St SE1 1TQ
Ayushi Gupta-Mehra is an economist, F&B consultant, self-taught cook and founder of The Foodie Diaries®. Follow her adventures on Instagram @The_FoodieDiaries and @Mummylogues