A Thoroughly Subjective and Incomplete List of Places To Eat in London Now
In My City Guides are only available to paid Kitchen Sense subscribers. This notebook for London joins my previous notebooks on Paris and Tel Aviv. I hope you find my recommendations useful. I’m grateful to all of my friends and colleagues who keep me informed on what’s happening in their corners of the world. If you go, please let me know what you think. And tell me about places you’ve discovered and loved that I should try on my next trip. My lists are ever growing. Encourage friends to subscribe. And thank you for your continued support.—Mitchell
I was fortunate to be able to visit London a couple of times in the last few months. It was a refreshing change from the culinary scene in New York, less performative, less pretentious, and less expensive. Or maybe it was just different, which was nice. I used to find myself in London quite often for meetings and such. During my last pre-pandemic visit, though, I admit to feeling somewhat over the food scene there. I couldn’t decide where to go, and wherever I went felt either lackluster or reaching.
But these last few trips reminded me about the charms of dining in that city, where you can find the flavors of New World multiculturalism in Old World settings (which I guess is just press-release speak for “colonizer cuisine”). Values seems to be enhanced by the favorable post-Brexit exchange rate and menu prices that don’t seem to have been as impacted by the current inflationary trends we are seeing in New York City. (For a great interactive article on the reasons behind current restaurant prices, see this New York Times piece.)
As I noted, this is not some definitive list of what’s best in London this minute. This is where I’ve been, where I’ve paid (unless indicated otherwise), and where I think you will be happy to dine. There is a lot more to choose from. For instance, everyone is going gaga over KOL and Ilikoy, the former an haute Mexican restaurant by the Santiago Lastra, the chef who oversaw Rene Redzepi’s Noma pop-up in Tulum years back, and the latter, where chef Jeremy Chan has earned two Michelin stars by invoking flavors of West Africa on his global menu. Reservations to both are hard to come by and I was there during the historic heat wave, so I certainly didn’t feel like dressing up to dine. I also wanted to try Singburi, a Thai restaurant everyone is singing praises about. Alas, it’s always good to save some things for my next visit. If you go, let me know what you think.
26 St John St, Barbican, London (Smithfield)
St. John Bread and Wine
94-96 Commercial St, London (Spitalfields)
St. John Bakery Neal’s Yard
3 Neal's Yard, London (Covent Garden)
It is not new. Some insist it isn’t nearly as good as it once was, and I might not disagree. Nevertheless, I keep coming back to St. John and I always leave satisfied. In fact, I don’t just come to the main restaurant, on any given London trip I inevitably drop by St. John Bread and Wine and their tiny bakery in Convent Garden (which is located convenient to Monmouth Coffee and an outpost of Neal’s Yard Dairy) for another taste of Fergus Henderson’s British fare. I still recommend it. Get whatever sounds good, Middlewhite pork, offal, Welsh rarebit, chilled fava bean soup. Though the menu has a carnivorous tilt, the vegetables are always superb. And don’t miss the famed Eccles cake for dessert, served with a slab of Lancashire cheese, and I always love me an Eton Mess.
Bread by Bike
30 Brecknock Rd, London (Kentish Town)
Speaking of baked goods, this new bakery, located in the north of the city began with one baker, Andy Strang, who delivered his sourdough loaves to homes in his neighborhood on his bike during the pandemic. A wildly successful Kickstarter campaign raised enough money for him to open a full-fledged bakery and café. The bread and pastries are excellent. The food in the café is lovely, the service, friendly, but soooo slow. No time for that. Instead, I went to the bakery every day I was nearby, sometimes twice.
Unit 7, The white building, 1st Floor, above CRATE Bar, Queen's Yard, London
There is so much to like about Silo, located way east in the trendy Hackney Wick neighborhood. For starters, it’s a “zero waste” restaurant, which means the interior design, the menu, the techniques deployed in the kitchen, the logistics, and the trash disposal are all designed to have little or no impact on the environment and to fully realize the notion of a circular economy. You might think this would lead to an overly earnest, way-too-serious, pedantic, and expensive dining experience. But quite the opposite is true. Instead, chef/owner Douglas McMaster has created a cool, casual, trendy spot with reasonable prices. If you show interest in the mission, logistics and other details, the staff will be happy to engage with you. But if you just want to have a lovely evening, they will leave you alone to enjoy. I sat at the bar and watched the kitchen work really hard to produce the 59£ dégustation that let me try everything on the menu. This all makes for a model of restaurant of which I hope to see more.
Pahli Hill Bandra Bai
79-81 Mortimer St., London (Fitzrovia)
None other than British Indian culinary phenom Romy Gill sent me to Fitzrovia to eat at Pahli Hill, where her friend, chef Avinash “Avi” Shashidharacre, a River Café alum, cooks up a fresh, personal, and exhilaratingly spiced Indian menu based on local, seasonal ingredients. Dishes are designed to be shared and everyone will want a taste of everything. Start with papadi chaat and Dorsey crab sukkah. The sourdough roti may be the best Indian flatbread I’ve ever had. Order two of them.
Hoppers King’s Cross
Unit 3, 4 Pancras Sq, London (King’s Cross)
Continuing down the road of boldly spiced southeast Asian food, I also had an excellent meal at Hoppers in King’s Cross. One of three Hoppers restaurants run by the same team as the posh, Michelin starred Gymkhana, their specialty, as the name suggests, are the crisp, bowl-shaped fermented pancakes called “hoppers” (I know them as appam). For a first visit, I’d recommend the tasting menu, which the whole table has to share, so you can try many things. For your sake, I hope it includes butter squid, bone marrow vaduvan, and lamb khotu roti. Use the hoppers to scoop it all up and also to put out the fire.
4 Redchurch St, London (Shoreditch)
Inspired by the asadors (wood-fired grills) and turbot restaurants of Spanish Basque country, the cooking at this second-floor restaurant in Shoreditch is all done over wood fire in an open kitchen. As in Euskadi proper, that unique heat source transforms British-caught turbot into a regal dish. Everything, even the vegetables, come off the flame. The service is extremely knowledgeable and the wine list is fun. Don’t be put off if they suggest to squeeze you in you have to sit at the counter. It gives you a perch to peer over the dining room (which seems more cramped) and the kitchen, and my dinner companion and I agreed we’d sit there again if given the choice. I can understand why this is a favorite restaurant of many food-obsessed friends who visit London regularly.
58 Brewer St, London (Soho)
64 Shoreditch High St, London (Shoreditch)
Speaking of cooking over wood fire (Is this a London trend?), before the pandemic I was encouraged to line up at Kiln for a seat across from the flames in this sliver of a restaurant in Soho. The positioning almost feels dangerous. They don’t take reservations, which means if you are willing to wait you can eventually get in. I went back in June with a chef from Israel and enjoyed it all over again. The short menu offers a selection of Thai-inspired dishes made with British ingredients and some creative license. The team now has a larger, popular, second restaurant in Shoreditch, called Smoking Goat, on the first floor of the same building that houses Brat (perhaps the landlord is a pyromaniac). The menu and the dining room at Smoking Goat are bigger than at Kiln, and perhaps even more creative license is taken by the kitchen. We liked everything very much—especially the grilled pork chop with chili dipping sauce—except the strawberry som tum, which seemed like the odd idea it proved to be.
59 Wells St, London (Fitzrovia)
When it comes to creating stylish spots that turn out visually stunning food with combinations of flavors that seem destined to be together, but are in fact often new and unique, Yotam Ottolenghi and his team are masters. At Rovi—named for the Fitzrovia neighborhood in which it is located—they’ve done it again, creating a bright, beautiful environment and a selection of dishes that emphasizes vegetables dolled up in global flavors. Accents of Indian, Middle Eastern, and Asian cooking mingle on the menu. Grilled leeks with pickled walnuts and dates, corn ribs with gooseberry hoisin, and cauliflower masala vada show their point of view. But a simple green salad, beautifully presented, may have been my favorite dish. I’ll note the modern elegance of the dining room—Risom chairs to remind me of home—is of the sort that makes you feel chic just for being in it.
The Clove Club
Shoreditch Town Hall, 380 Old St, London (Shoreditch)
I’ve been a fan of The Clove Club since its early days, when I didn’t quite know where Shoreditch was. The food was sophisticated and delicious and the setting was casual chic—think fried chicken skin served in a basket on a wooden table. Well, the tables are covered in heavy cloths now and the tasting menu and wine list have expanded along with the reputation of chef/owner Isaac McHale. This time I was welcomed back as his guest for lunch, which was lovely, elegant, Michelin-y affair. An extremely pleasant way to pass a posh afternoon on the east side of town, even on a day of record heat.
Lanzhou Lamian Noodle Bar
33 Cranbourne Street, London (Leicester Square)
Sometimes, even during a historic heat wave, I just need a late-night bowl of hand-pulled Lanzhou noodles in a steaming bowl of beef soup. You will find them here.
Far East Restaurant
13 Gerrard St, London (Chinatown)
When your flight arrives early and you can’t yet check into your hotel, you can check into a bowl of congee at Far East Restaurant, where the giant, still-warm fried crullers were perhaps the best I’ve ever had. (I spotted the crullers in a display case in the window, which is what drew me in.) Bowls of fine noodles also available for breakfast.
If I’m anywhere near a Monmouth Coffee shop, usually in Covent Garden or Borough Market, I always stop for a cuppa, no matter the time of day.
Unit 52 Rochester Walk, London (Borough Market)
I was with a team of chefs and food writers from Singapore for a quick lunch at this kiosk in Borough Market. The nasi lemak, Haianese chicken and rice, and fried chicken, typical hawker fare, received their stamp of approval. Who was I to argue? It was all delicious. The charming owner wouldn’t take any money for our meal, proud to have served such an esteemed group direct from her homeland.
Cocktails and Wine
Crossroads Camden Cocktail Bar
Junction of Royal College St. and Camden Rd, London (Camden)
One of several London bars established in what were formerly underground public restrooms, Crossroads Camden Cocktail Bar is a lovely neighborhood spot for sophisticated concoctions made from unique components, such as sugar snap pea soda, green grass, smoked bergamot, smoked birch sap, and clarified gazpacho. Though they make no food in house, you can order from nearby Pizza & Dumplings, who will deliver very fine examples of both to your table in the bar.
12 Old Compton St, London (Soho)
91-93 Great Eastern St, London (Shoreditch)
The same cocktailing friend who took me literally underground to Crossroads, suggested Swift Bar as a place to meet someone for a drink before dinner in Soho. How glad were we that he did. The downstairs lounge accepts reservations so you can be sure to find a seat when you arrive, which is not always the case in popular cocktail bars. Downstairs you’ll be presented a “Legends Menu,” that features entertaining illustrations of and drinks crafted to honor an eclectic cast of characters that includes the likes of Snoop Dogg, The Queen Mum, and Nigella Lawson. The service was spot on and hilarious and the drinks were very fine, indeed. Would go back in a flash. Next time, perhaps, we will check out their Shoreditch location.
51 Lamb's Conduit St, London (Bloomsbury)
2 Greek St, London (Soho)
Noble Rot is a charming restaurant—two, actually, one is in Bloomsbury, the other, in Soho. We ate at the Soho location. There is a focus on wine, as the name would suggest, and the food is appropriately simple and classic to pair well with any delicious bottle you might pick. You could call the menu “continental,” if you mean it in the best way. Simple delicious ingredients and dishes that resonate with France and Italy, but are assembled with a British accent. Casual and comfortable. Highly recommend. I will certainly return.