Against all odds, London’s food scene is still thriving. Proof is in the unfathomable number of new restaurants that open every week in the capital, and the thousands of diners still clamouring for a booking. It’s almost impossible to keep on top of.
But, as a professional eater (or, more aptly, snob), here’s a non-exhaustive list of favourites that have sparkled in the past 12 months.
Some of our recommendations are as follows. Get elbow-deep in a steaming cauldron of seafood at Brat-famous Tomos Parry’s Mountain in Soho (the only one to earn five stars from us, if the accolade exists). Gorge on goat curry in The Good Front Room, Dom Taylor’s well-earned prize for winning Channel 4’s Five Star Kitchen. Go classic at Paris-abroad eatery 64 Goodge Street or Mayfair’s grandiose 20 Berkeley, an ode to the brilliance of British produce. Or have fun at Papi, the new home for pandemic troublemakers Matthew Scott and Charlie Carr.
There’s much more, and surely more to come. Stay tuned (and hungry).
Brat is back. Well, more specifically, its head chef and co-founder Tomos Parry is, with his new opening Mountain, in Soho. The formula is much the same as what gave the 2018 hit its cult status: wood-fired cooking combining Spanish influences with Parry’s Welsh heritage, plus excellent wine. Well, if it ain’t broke…
And it certainly ain’t. Sobrasada toasts with honey and guindilla pepper pray at the altar of salt, spice, smoke and fat. I never thought a bowl of tripe would get people so excited, but apparently it does. A spider crab omelette, its innards submissively oozing out like one of those satisfying TikTok videos, has even the egg-adverse at the table gleefully tucking in. Another in our party, fists to the table, demands bread – baked onsite, of course, the butter organic, cultured, from Cardigan.
But among many myriad must-haves, there is one that’s truly worth shelling out for: the Anglesey lobster caldereta (£90 for three to four or £120 for four to five). A steaming cauldron (hence the name) of charcoal-roasted Welsh lobster chunks bathing in a broth made satiny from the velvet crab and grilled salt cod stock. Get elbow deep, don’t wear white, let them demand bread. If turbot put Brat on the map, this is the dish that will define Mountain.
And just like that, Brat grew up. There’s no elbow-grazing Shoreditch hipsters here, for one thing. Everything that made its younger sibling over-hyped (my DMs are closed) makes Mountain glorious. Take your friends, take your dates, or both, order the hits, go off-menu for wine, then saunter off into Soho for the evening quite content.
The Good Front Room
The lack of variety in London’s melting pot of fine dining cuisines has long been a point of contention and one that hardly needs arguing. Do we really need another French bistro? It’s possible to get bored of bon bons and beurre blanc, believe me.
What’s not boring is curried goat that falls apart at the slightest tap of a fork in a sauce as thick as blood, mopped up with still warm roti bread or smeared with fingers or straight-up slurped from the bowl. Can I take a bath in it? Salt cod and ackee (that oddly savoury, scrambled egg-like fruit) fish cakes with confit garlic and scotch bonnet aioli. A single dark rum-caramelised king prawn in a nest of dasheen salad and coconut sambal. Unwrapping a banana leaf like a gift to find ginger marinated sea bream. Even dessert has me salivating at the memory: a toasted spiced bun with sweet blue cheese, sour cherries and plantain chutney. Dessert should always have a hint of savoury.
No, I’m not in Brixton. I’m in The Good Front Room at the five-star West End hotel The Langham, chef Dom Taylor’s prize for winning Channel 4’s Five Star Kitchen, in a room with ceilings as high as a church, rubbing elbows with punters more familiar with paying £200 for dinner than under £20. Taylor’s real triumph, though, is his menu, inspired by Caribbean flavours and a south London upbringing, which is the perfect cure for fine dining’s chronic case of aridity in the capital. Curried goat belongs here. It’s also the best possible justification for never seeing a French menu again.
1C Portland Pl, London W1B 1JA | langhamhotels.com/en/the-langham/london/good-front-room | 020 7636 1000
64 Goodge Street
In a world full of innovations, sometimes it’s nice to revel in the classics. And call me Jackie Collins but is there anything as classic as a vol-au-vent? They’re still enjoying their moment in the sun and it shines particularly brightly at 64 Goodge Street, the newest opening from the Woodhead Restaurant Group, who can be reliably called upon for reliably brilliant eateries. Actually, it’s pretty dimly lit at 64 in a Parisienne sort of way – sans red and white tablecloths – which is precisely the point. To steal a phrase from Diana Henry, it’s hard to eat this well in Paris.
The aforementioned vol-au-vent is thankfully not stuffed but exists as an extremely fluffy mopping up tool for the very French sauce américaine. The lobster tail that comes with it might be one of the best I’ve had. Elsewhere on the French classics bingo card are snail, bacon and garlic (need I say more?) bon bons, which are teed up like gooey golf balls. Nicoise makes a rare appearance, but correctly dumps tuna for rabbit. What would a counterfeit French bistro be without beurre blanc? This one is thicc and slides under perfectly plump scallops and lentils. Sea bass or saddle of lamb are tempting, but instead we mistakenly tuck into overly salty squab pigeon, which is somewhat rectified by a scoop of ice cream for dessert. Really, it’s the exclusively burgundy wine list that got me through the door.
I don’t want to develop a habit of eating my words but perhaps there’s room for one more excellent French restaurant in London. Already in its groove when I visit just a week after opening, 64 Goodge Street could be it. Head chef Stuart Andrew has nailed French food without the faff – just don’t look at the bill and it’s no different to dining in Paris.
64 Goodge Street, London, W1T 4NF | 64goodgestreet.co.uk | 020 3747 6364
Eschewing the kitsch party-restaurant theme that seems compulsory in this part of town, Mayfair’s 20 Berkeley promises “the feeling of being in a home, the British Isles your back garden”.
Well, if your home is an enormous Georgian-era country manor house in central Mayfair, that is. Navigate this veritable warren and unfold the origami-style menu, though, and you’ll realise this isn’t the same kettle of fish as, ahem, Sexy Fish, Amazonico, Annabel’s or Bacchanalia, to name a few of its noisy neighbours.
If the menu is a love letter to excellent British produce, then the language of love is a plump scallop scantily clad in a sliver of lardo, canoodling a hot-in-the-middle black pudding tortellino in a bath of foamy sorrel veloute. It’s the crunch of a deep fried courgette blossom, the slick ooze of the smoky cheese within, a lick of elderflower honey. It’s gently teasing the flesh of a slow-grilled turbot away from the bone, using confit potatoes dribbled in aioli to mop up its juices. We longed for the Herdwick lamb, jutting pink and proud from a tomato fondue, or the brazenly butch rib-eye that prompts sighs of content from a neighbouring table.
Alas, bellies full, we allow the Nipperkin bar below and its serious slinger of seriously good cocktails Angelos Bafas (formerly of personal favourite Soma in Soho), to envelop us. First a highball concoction of whisky, meadowsweet, strawberries, Earl Grey and strawberry “paper”, then martinis that don’t mess around, and then… I forget. You know it’s a night to remember when you simply don’t.
Mayfair has been calling out for a place like this, and thank god 20 Berkeley answered.
20 Berkeley Street, London, W1J 8EE | 20berkeley.com | 020 3327 3691
My visit to Papi, from Hot 4 U’s Matthew Scott and Wingnut Wines’ Charlie Carr, in London Fields, turned out to be a lesson in why pairing your guest with the restaurant is just as essential as pairing Cab Sav with steak.
As a not-at-all-cool person, I wanted to bring a cool friend along to cool new Papi – not realising the menu was so heavily seafood focused and forgetting her aversion to anything remotely fishy. At the two-chef counter, within bantering distance of Scott and co, I had a front row seat to all the delicious things we weren’t ordering. A mound of clams drenched in bright, briny red pepper romesco. Huge langoustines, naked but for dashi vinegar and roe. Oysters… sigh.
And though I am forced to make decidedly unfishy choices, the food, as the kids say in the part of town, slaps. Rebel coppa with mustard seeds gets us salivating. Hunks of winter tomato (better than summer’s, I’ll be taking no further questions) and shredded shiso leaves are glazed in a holy trinity of kecap manis, black garlic and black vinegar. We lick the plate clean. Scott points out a bottle of the stuff on the counter. I consider necking it. I’m happy to be persuaded out of my resentment for garlic bread when a grilled, fermented (squidgy and cute) potato cake topped with whipped ricotta and wild garlic arrives. If the food is fun to eat, the wine is just as fun to drink (when isn’t it?).
For guaranteed great vibes with a dose of nostalgia, you’re in the right place. They’re just as serious about food and wine as they are about a good time. Go hungry, get a counter seat, but, most importantly, don’t take someone who doesn’t like seafood.
1F Mentmore Terrace, London Fields, E8 3DQ | papirestaurant.com | 07961 911 500
Review by Lucy Thackray
It’s possible that you’ve never paid much attention to London’s gallery and museum restaurants, but once you start looking for them, there are many. They’re not the edgiest joints in town, nor somewhere you’d drop in for an impromptu bite. Instead, what they’re great for is a gift – an art fix and a posh lunch or dinner as a day out.
I have such a food-and-art pairing in mind when I take my dad to The Portrait, the new Richard Corrigan restaurant at the National Portrait Gallery, the final touch to a major three-year renovation of the gallery that finished in June. It certainly is a glow-up, but the light and minimal design lets the view (which is pretty spectacular) and the food do the talking.
Here’s what it has to say: instantly intriguing things about artichoke with crab mayonnaise and kombu, “snails bolognaise” over conchigliette, a duck heart vol au vent, pig’s trotter with borlotti beans and something described only as “cauliflower, yeast, seeds” (we skip that one). Much of it is what you’d expect from Corrigan – earthy flavours from the UK and Ireland, plenty of fish and veg, but with a few curiosities thrown in.
With dainty-portioned mains at £22-32, there are no bargain bites, but the style of food and the option of set menus (£28 for two courses, £35 for three) feels nicely suited to an exhibition ticket as a present or treat. A meal here can be as good value and restrained or lavish and decadent as you make it – surely true of any day out in the capital.
The Portrait Restaurant, National Portrait Gallery, St Martin’s Place, London, WC2H 0HE | theportraitrestaurant.com | 020 3872 7610
Read the full review here
That a pisco sour isn’t the first thing on the menu at Shoreditch’s new modern Peruvian restaurant Llama Inn suggests they might be doing things a little differently.
The first cocktail on the list is actually a gin “mini-tini” (a trend I shan’t be supporting) with a blue-cheese stuffed olive, which I’m sure would have made for an interesting aperitif had they not run out of blue cheese on the night. Starting my meal with a shot of brine isn’t my usual modus operandi.
Ceviche, anticucho and saltado do abound elsewhere, though, with welcome (and some less so) twists. I’m repeatedly recommended the summer fruits ceviche as the best thing on the menu, though I can’t fathom why as vinegary slices of nectarine and melon leave quite a lot to be desired. They should instead recommend the two anticuchos, the cabbage and the octopus, which are chargrilled to perfection and drizzled with delights: sweet miso on the former, spicy-sour on the latter.
We swerve the “un poco de todo” (a bit of everything) section on account of two of the four dishes containing pork and my non-pork-eating guest not being swayed by bok choy salad or courgette stew (an oversight that needs correcting). Instead, we’re stunned by the whole fish patarashca, which comes with a quaffable fruity-spicy curry sauce. But for the Gram, you should get the lomo saltado – a mound of stir-fried beef and fries to be wrapped in scallion pancakes.
The NYC outpost might have earnt a Michelin Bib Gourmand, but London’s version could struggle to compete. That said, where Llama Inn ever so slightly misses on food, it makes up for in vibes. The hideaway terrace is a romantic spot to while away the last hours of summer. Better to stick to the theme and order a pisco sour.
Modern Mexican isn’t typically a catchline that gets me going. Haunting visits to Chiquitos and Wahaca as a teenager haven’t placed the cuisine high up on my list of frequent cravings. There’s a lot of bad tacos out there. But at Zapote, the brainchild of Mexican chef Yahir Gonzalez and hospitality veteran Tony Geary (you can thank him for Sketch), I’m prepared to eat my words… and a fair few tacos.
The tortillas are knocked out fresh every day for the purposes of mopping up smooth and zingy guacamole, surfing under yellowfin tuna and spicy crab (piquant, fishy, delicious), and hosting beef tartare, which comes with a side of roast bone marrow in case you felt the bread-to-meat ratio was off. Arguably its best role is in a basket alongside thick slices of just-charred lamb neck on a smoked aubergine and tamarind puree. Some are hits, others are misses. Cutting a single tortilla in half to share with my date in full view of an open kitchen full of chefs seems like sacrilege, though.
Stray from the tacos, however, and Zapote comes into its own. The scallop ceviche, that so overdone dish, here shines with persimmon, orange and grilled corn. Sweet white crab and black bean pozole, served in the shell, initially confuses the palate, then develops in flavour like a polaroid of old Mexico. Baby artichokes that cut like butter are also very good, served with a dollop of pipian verde, that bedrock mole. Wash it down with a Mezcal margarita and you’ll be saying, “Wahaca, who?!”
If the food could do with some finessing, so could the setting. A backdrop of terracotta walls, murals and cacti fails to make the extraordinarily large space, formerly occupied by the ill-fated St Leonards, feel as intimate as its menu. When they say there’s a “bar area”, what they mean is they’ve just cordoned off some of the tables with a little curtain. There’s simply more they could do with the space.
And yet, where most middling dining experiences put me off a return visit, there was just enough mystery that I could be tempted back.
70 Leonard Street, Shoreditch, London, EC2A 4QX | zapote.co.uk | 020 7613 5942
Review by Kate Ng
Camden has long been known as the spiritual home for misfits. It’s also where punky pair and Israeli chefs Shiri Kraus and Amir Batito have opened their restaurants, The Black Cow and the newer Epicurus, just minutes away from each other.
Like its older sister, Epicurus takes its culinary cues from across the pond – this time putting an Israeli twist on the all-American diner. The punny menu includes delights such as the “Oof Gozal” – chicken wings coated in a yellow Amba mango and Scotch bonnet sauce. Despite the fearsome chilli, these wings are barely spicy, favouring the flavour of the Scotch bonnet over the heat. They are incredibly moreish and the fact that your fingers end up being absolutely covered in sauce is only an invitation to get licking. You should also definitely get the “Papi Chulo”, a mix of crunchy deep-fried okra and soft padron peppers covered in spices that come with a lemony-garlicky-chilli aioli for dipping.
Another honourable mention goes to the Epicurus single decker burger, which is also available as a double. It contains some of the richest, fattiest ingredients I’ve ever seen between buns, like bone marrow aioli and Baron cheese, and it does border on being a bit too unctuous. Boy, am I glad there’s no calorie counts on this menu.
Is it worth elbowing your way through the thronging crowds of Camden Lock Market to get to Epicurus? I think it will be. Never mind the cheap tat and endless boba tea shops, head to Epicurus for a tasty escape.
Unit 90, The North Yard, Camden Stables Market, NW1 8AH | epicuruscamden.co.uk | 07843 199560
Read the full review here
Casa do Frango
Just a few months ago, I was touring the Algarve on the trail of authentic piri piri (I know, it’s a hard life). Days were well spent gorging on the local speciality of reverse-spatchcocked chicken brushed thrice with chilli oil and glugging local vino verde. It rained most of the time, if that helps.
Back in London, though, and similar offerings are slim but the weather is much the same. Portuguese, alongside Spanish and those other misunderstood Mediterranean cuisines, and particularly the food of the Algarve is not well represented in the capital.
Except at Casa do Frango, which literally translates to “chicken house”, and is strictly Algarvan. Say no more, I’m there, at their newest location in Victoria, to be precise.
Don’t expect mind-blowing, out-there cuisine but do expect a truly authentic taste of the Algarve. The perfect order looks like this: order something drenched in their secret recipe piri piri oil to start (the prawns will do) and dip hunks of sourdough into it because… obviously. The main event is the piri piri half chicken (also comes in oregano or lemon and garlic for the spice intolerant/wimps out there). Shred that between two of you along with the African rice – with chorizo, plantain and shards of crispy chicken skin – and a salad, then finish with a chocolate mousse, an Algarvan classic found in most chicken houses. Stay within these strict parameters and you’ll understand why millions of Brits flock to Portugal’s southern tip every year. There’s various other things on the menu and seasonal updates but let’s not pretend like you’re here for anything other than chicken. Like I said, minds won’t be blown but a good time will be had.
The wine is also decent – strictly Portuguese with some great Douro Valley reds but the wonderfully acidic world of vino verde, particularly their exclusive Boa Pingo, is worth a visit.