45 Jermyn Street
Fortnum & Mason’s triumphant flagship restaurant, 45 Jermyn St., ushers visitors into its glamorous, old-school interiors, with terracotta-red leather banquettes, rosewood tables and parquet flooring. The menu, meanwhile, is pure contemporary European, populated with the likes of game consommé and Dover sole à la meunière. The caviar trolley, offering a choice of three ‒ Iranian Beluga 000, Golden Oscietra and Siberian sturgeon ‒ with blinis, toast, new potatoes and eggs scrambled tableside, adds a dramatic flourish to a menu of perfect pre-theatre fare.
Alain Ducasse at The Dorchester
Alain Ducasse at the Dorchester is one of the city’s gourmet treasures. The food, service and surroundings are sublime, and there is a welcome serenity and understated quality to the experience that seems in tune with the times. (Yes, it is still an expensive adventure, but the food is exquisite and it’s not about fanfare but formal French choreography.) Before this site opened, Ducasse declared that he expected this restaurant to offer the contemporary aesthetic of his Tokyo outpost Beige with the freshness of the Louis XV in Monaco, his very first three-star Michelin. Table to request: the one hidden behind a shimmering curtain of crystals in the center of the room.
One of the rare Indian restaurants to win a Michelin star, Amaya has been one of the city’s hot spots for spicy food in sexy surroundings since it opened in 2004. With its entrance off of a courtyard arcade off of Motcomb Street, Amaya serves lunch and dinner to Londoners who can view the chefs at work slicing, dicing and spicing the food in an open kitchen area at the back of the main dining room. During the day, natural light streams through a central sky light lending a loft like feeling; at night, the sleek black furniture, sandstone and crystal accents and spotlit sculptures create a lounge-like atmosphere. A lively bar scene and long communal tables notch up the revelry factor. But no matter how many glamorous figures are in the room, the food remains the real star. The freshest ingredients and flown-in-from-India spices elevate all of the dishes. Tip: The tasting menus at lunch are excellent value. If you cannot get in to Amaya, try its sister restaurants Chutney Mary and Veeraswamy.
This Spanish brainchild of restaurateurs Sam and Eddie Hart is perfect for a glass of sherry or cava before or after a show. Grab a seat at the marble-topped bar to watch the chefs prepare their superlative tapas: golden ham croquettes, prawns, tender lamb cutlets and fresh squid.
There is heated debate about whether Amaya or Benares serves the best Indian food in London, but neither place will disappoint in their sophisticated takes on traditional dishes from the subcontinent. Michelin-starred chef Atul Kochhar appears regularly on British food shows, and is credited with elevating modern Indian dining. The tandoori dishes and curries are not to be missed. And for those who want to learn from the master, Kochhar opens his kitchen for students a few times a year and shares his skills, but classes fill fast so sign-up early. Tip: If you cannot get a reservation in the main dining room, ask about booking a table in the bar.
Berners Tavern became an instant hot spot when it opened in Ian Schrager's London Edition hotel. The dining room manages to mix historical bones (a fabulous plasterwork ceiling) and traditions (a veritable gallery of paintings—211 to be exact) with modern touches like glass windows on to the kitchen and bar tables with leather barrel chairs that are perfect for single diners or a cozy drink for two. Star chef Jason Atherton (of Little Social and Social Eating House fame) presides in the kitchen and turns out scrumptious updated English fare like Jersey royal potato and wild garlic soup with Dorset snails, foie gras and morels; crispy rock shrimp roll and chips and chargrilled Dingley Dell pork chop, braised chicory, pickled plum purée and turnips. Of course, there is a whole section of grass-fed British beef to be served with sides like triple cooked chips, minted peas and butter and purple sprouting broccoli.
Angela Hartnett opened the little sister to her Michelin-starred Murano in 2013, in with the aim of it being the sort of relaxed restaurant you can drop into every day and feel at home. Here you’ll find her signature gutsy Italian cuisine with impeccable attention to detail, but focusing on a simpler style of north Italian cooking – Sausage Ragu with Radicchio and Tagliatelle, Chicken Puttanesca.
Claude Bosi at Bibendum
Compagnie des Vins Surnaturels
A wine bar first and foremost, this divine spot set in a charming yard in Covent Garden has also made various ‘best new restaurant’ lists. Its small but perfectly formed menu is devoted to charcuterie and cheese and spiced up with hearty dishes of the day such as squid ink risotto. Run by the talent behind Experimental Cocktail Club, Compagnie des Vins Surnaturels (CVS for short) is perfect for a special meal in a somewhat touristy area.
The Basque region has long been associated with excellent cuisine, and this Marble Arch–area spot makes no exception to the rule.
Duck and Waffle
Housed at the top of the Heron Tower, a commercial skyscraper in the financial district, Britain’s highest restaurant is a favorite amongst the city’s foodies—as much for the 360-degree views as for the inventive cuisine. The pan-European menu emphasizes local, sustainable British ingredients, and it’s well suited for both a Mimosa-fueled brunch and a business dinner. The raw and cured section of the menu offers something for the health conscious, but the legendary (and eponymous) duck confit with a fried duck egg and mustard maple syrup is easily the most decadent—and splurge-worthy—brunch option in town.
When it opened in early 2015, Fenchurch quickly earned a reputation for inventive seafood served in sumptuous surroundings atop the ‘Walkie Talkie’ building, London’s newest landmark skyscraper at the time. The airport-grade security as you enter on the ground floor is the first glimmer of the unusual dining experience ahead, which is confirmed when you reach the upper floors, a triple-height glass atrium (or "Sky Garden") filled with lush vegetation and extravagant restaurants and bars. The fine dining operation, Fenchurch, is (literally and figuratively) a cut above the building's alternative all-day brasserie, Darwin. Thanks to its tasting menu replete with inventively concocted crowd-pleasers, it's perfect for a classy business lunch or special occasion dinner.
Flat Iron, Covent Garden
The brainchild of Charlie Carroll (formerly of hit Mexican franchise Wahaca) aims to serve excellent steak at affordable prices. This was achieved by pouncing on a hitherto underrated cut: flat iron, a well-marbled, juicy slice of goodness priced at a ridiculously affordable £12. Their flagship restaurant in Covent Garden retains a pared-back menu, but advertises special cuts on the blackboard, along with excellent sides like beef dripping chips. With craft beers on tap and delicious cocktails, Flat Iron shows you a good time at a fraction of the cost of Hawksmoor.
The Hackney outpost of London’s beloved pizza joint, Franco Manca, is their sixth and most inviting restaurant, and the dominant eatery on a trendy street lined with drinking and dining options. Every evening, you’ll find a queue of local creatives and young families eagerly awaiting a seat. Pizzas have a crisp, textured sourdough base slapped with Italian-grown tomatoes and top-notch cheeses and cured meats. Organic red wine and locally brewed beer run freely, service is frenetic and unashamedly Neapolitan, and the functional dining space is reliably buzzy. This is the perfect spot for some comforting carbs before heading to the excellent gastropub Cat & Mutton on the corner, or Off Broadway opposite for innovative cocktails.
Notorious as one of the hardest reservations to get in Paris, Frenchie expanded across the English Channel in 2009 and was an immediate success due to its quintessential Parisian cuisine with each dish exquisitely crafted using the finest ingredients. The restaurant’s second location in Covent Garden echoes its French counterpart with an emphasis on simple sharing dishes influenced by Chef Gregory Marchand’s travels across the globe (from London and New York to Spain and Hong Kong). The rectangular dining space is decorated in subdued grey with white accents and long lines of banquettes and chairs. Downstairs, guests can indulge in the five-course tasting menus and watch the bustling open kitchen in action.
This Michelin-starred Chinese restaurant located in a glamorous, moody Christian Liaigre–designed basement is especially yummy at lunch, where the emphasis is on dim sum. The prawn and Peking dumplings, duck spring rolls and scallops are delectable. And the desserts are definitely worth ordering. The experience is pricey but worth it. For dinner, head to Hakkasan Mayfair instead.
Lovers of dim sum and Cantonese cuisine must pay a visit to this restaurant on Bruton Street. As the second location in London to open after the original on Hanway Place, the food is just as memorable. Elegant and innovative, yet tied to Cantonese culinary tradition, Hakkasan brings a sense of drama to both the menu and the surroundings. The dining room is dimly lit and decked in rich colors and patterns. In the evening, it's lively, where the subterranean lacquered-and-bamboo downstairs dining room is slightly more subdued.
The Sethi family’s Indian restaurant in Mayfair, Gymkhana, boasts a Michelin star and is one of London's hottest eateries. This, their more low-key, 36-seater Sri Lankan restaurant on Soho’s Frith Street, is no slouch, either. Hoppers’ namesake dish —a Sri Lankan street food staple—is a savory ground rice and coconut milk pancake, served with lamb, hot buttered devilled shrimp or cashews and plantains. Dosas made with split black lentils and fenugreek seeds are also on the menu alongside a variety of delicious kari (similar to curry), which is served with tomato and coconut chutneys. Cozy and atmospheric surroundings including a rattan ceiling, colorful terracotta tiles, abundant vegetation, carved demon masks and vintage Sri Lankan travel posters, makes Hoppers a gloriously exotic option for adventurous foodies.
Shepherd Market in Mayfair is a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it maze of charming cobblestoned alleyways, just minutes from the buzz of Bond Street. Here lies Kitty Fisher’s, a youthful addition to the Mayfair dining scene, which can be a touch formal. Chef-of-the-moment Tomos Parry is known for his simple menu that incorporates only the freshest ingredients. Dishes like beef tartare with rosemary, nasturtium and rye and monkfish with blood orange, fennel and monks beard have impressed food critics and discerning locals alike. If you can’t get a reservation, there’s bar seating available.
Helmed by ex-Nobu chef Scott Hallsworth, Kurobuto serves tapas-style Japanese fusion dishes. Forgoing a fussy scene like that at many white-tablecloth establishments, Hallsworth opted for funky music, dim lighting with neon hues and casual dining tables, some of which are communal.
London is having a Peruvian moment. First came the low-key, late-night Ceviche (17 Frith St.; 44-20-7292-2040), now the more grown-up gastronomic Lima, and Coya. Lima was started by a renowned team including Peruvian chef Virgilio Martinez (who has had stints at Lutèce in New York, the Ritz in Paris and Astrid y Gastyon in Madrid). The look is minimalist with a touch of Inca.
The food is interesting, delicious and beautifully presented, with dishes that combine seasonal UK ingredients with specifically Peruvian additions. My starter of braised octopus al olivo, organic white quinoa and pink botija olive bubbles was so yummy that I greedily didn’t share. But then again, my friend seemed equally as focused on devouring her duck crudo, algarrobo tree honey, shaved foie gras and ghoa cress. Next up was crab with a purple corn reduction, huayro potatoes and red kiwacha. My friend loved her halibut with Andean herbs, cancha corn parfait and mirasol alioli. And for dessert I polished off a very rich chocolate pudding with mango granita, while my dinner partner went for the dulche de leche ice cream topped off with some beetroot emulsion and Amazonian maca root honey. Foodies and non-foodies will be wowed by the cuisine here.
Chef Jason Atherton’s second restaurant in London is this cozier spot, located across the street from Pollen Street Social. All three of Atherton’s bistros are informal yet stylish, hip and feature sublime food. The menu features such options as braised Irish ox cheeks with horseradish mash and pink peppercorn meringue with lemon curd and passion fruit.
British chef James Lowe, previously one half of the wildly innovative Young Turks pop-up dining collective alongside Isaac McHale (now at The Clove Club, another hot-ticket eatery in Shoreditch) and before that, head chef at Fergus Henderson’s St John helms this consistent 'World's Best' restaurant in Shoreditch. Elegant, pared-back white interiors with functional steel touches and Ercol dining chairs make this a vaguely industrial yet inviting dining space. The seven-course tasting menu is heavy with small-scale producers, foraged herbs and carnivorous determination (black pudding is rechristened ‘blood cake’). The Clove Club (similarly with a set menu) might have the edge for atmosphere in the evening, but Lyle’s is a particularly delightful spot for lunch, right next to Shoreditch House.