NFT London Restaurants

London / Restaurants

British food and British chefs had a pretty bad reputation until fairly recently; greasy piles of stodge topped off with gravy was the general consensus for what to expect in a London restaurant. A couple of years back France's premier chef Alain Ducasse upped the ante for the London dining scene by declaring it the 'restaurant capital of the world.' While there are still numerous naff cafes around they're far outnumbered by brilliant bistros, bountiful brunch places, bodacious BBQs and boatloads of other badass eateries.

As one of the most multicultural cities in the world, London is packed with cuisine from around the world, with some areas dedicated to a signature cuisine. We've got Jewish, Indian, Peruvian, Mexican, Vietnamese, Moroccan, hell even Mongolian. Visitors don't even have to look at a Yorkshire pudding, roast beef, a full English, or fish & chips if there're not so inclined but anyone would be a fool to miss out on some of the better English places.

Foodie trends come and go in this dusty old town so if you really want be down with the urban gourmands you'll need to know what's hot right now. It would be terribly embarrassing to be caught nibbling on sushi when munching on king ribs is the in thing. Then there's the staple and stable cool places that manage to keep the hungry masses happy no matter what's cool.

What you spend on food is as flexible as British weather too; street food provides some of London's most famed snacks while places like Hix's Tramshed dishes out minimalist done well, and old English favourites like The Ritz stick to the traditional-type menu its customers expect. For everyone else in between there's everything else in between. London even does Vegetarian, apparently.

Eating British
In a country whose national dish is reportedly a Chicken Tikka Masala, pin-pointing what British cuisine actually is doesn't come easy. Taking a traditional approach we've got those archetypal dishes like the Sunday Roast, Full English, Fish & Chips, and Jellied Eels; if visitors believed every stereotypical image of the British it would stand to reason that these dishes make up our standard diet, along with bucket loads of builder's tea, of course.

Delve a little deeper though and you'll find a revolutionised British menu brought about by the demand of a newly sophisticated palate. We still do the soggy seaside favourite but you're just as likely to find grilled mackerel with potato salad on a chip-shop menu as you are a battered saveloy which is what you'll see at Poppie's in Spitalfields (Map 91). We still do Sunday lunch but you're more likely to be served the rarest of beef, a whole Poisson, or tenderloin pork than a leathery piece of gravied meat. Breakfast is a class of its own and though we're still to see a food revolution hit the East End pie shops, some things are best left as they are like the centuries-old F.Cooke (Map 89) on Broadway Market.

We're partial to a fusion, too; it's not unusual to see British tapas on a pub menu – expect things like mini toad-in-the-hole, bite sized beef wellington, and pork belly squares served with apple sauce. We're seeing things like whole Indian menus that are made entirely of British ingredients to keep the eco-warriors happy, and we're munching on American-style pulled pork that is smoked over English craft ales.

Our adopted second cuisine award goes to the Indian sub-continent whose spicy dishes us Brits consider to be synonymous with a night out on the tiles or a night in front of the telly. Samosas as a snack, bhajis on the way home from work, and a five course special of a Sunday eve; it's all good.

Hold the Pesticides
You'd think that with all the smog the city creates, and the pollution that's pumped around this place that Londoners would have come to accept the pesticides and chemicals often found in food; you would, of course, be wrong. London loves a good farmer's market and all organic café, and a good serving of local produce and meat. Weekly farmer's markets like those in Islington (Map 80), London Fields and Borough (Map 106) are credited with starting the trend for street food in London, a few years back. The vendors would cook each other's produce to sell to hungry shoppers which in turn created a demand for top end, tasty, chemical-free food.

Any café worth its salt uses free-range eggs, bacon from British pigs, lamb (from Wales not New Zealand), apples from Somerset orchards and oysters from Whitstable. There's certainly no crime in sticking to produce form British soils, serving misshapen tomatoes, and purple carrots, just be aware that more than a handful of ‘organic' places like to charge over the odds for the pleasure of non-tainted meals.

Breakfast & Lunch – Brunch
Any good Londoner values their weekend days off like a dog loves his bone. The working week leaves time for no more than coffee and a croissant at breakfast time which is why we revel so much in a weekend brunch date. Be it with a lover, a group of rowdy friends, or visiting family members, we've developed the act of brunching into an art form in its own right.

You'll still see the off greasy spoon around, serving lukewarm baked beans, fatty bacon, and pebbly scrambled eggs but chances are that the dove grey (or Victorian green) painted shop two doors down will be packed to the proverbial rafters with a convivial young crowd of foodies and hipsters. There's a lot to be said for the Full English; it's a world-famous classic, and done well, it's the breakfast of kings. We've even branched out into providing grease-free breakfasts for the more delicate morning palate.

Nothing beats the Veggie Breakfast at the Counter Café (Near Map 94) in Hackney Wick, and Pavilion Café (Map 93) in Victoria Park is a close contender for feeding the east's foodies – kippers with potato cakes and poached eggs is a fantastic Irish classic. Caravan (Map 6) has enjoyed its time at the top for a City brunch and it looks set to stay in the number one spot for some time; the chefs here are renowned for mixing up exotic flavour and creating elixical hangover cures. For American treats The Breakfast Club (Map 80) is a firm favourite and with three locations there's a seat for everyone. Dukes Brew and Que (Map 82) is a sneaky American brekkie place vying for the winner's ribbon and Scandinavian-influenced Cooper and Wolf (Near Map 87) has some wholesome northern European options on offer for the more health conscious.

Street is Sweet
Eating on the street might mean using a plastic fork and sitting on a kerb but it certainly doesn't mean dissecting your way through a soggy sarnie or pulling half-eaten burgers out of the bin. It does mean queuing for a while to eat at the best places, trying to decide which of the tempting street stalls to eat from, and possibly dripping mustard down your best top.

You can literally find everything on the streets of London; from cockroaches to sleeping people, dog shit and hypodermics. Quite delightfully you can also find the much more attractive options of food from all over the world – we've got Peruvian, Polish, Vietnamese, Mexican, French, and pretty much everything else you can think of.

The humble burger has enjoyed huge acclaim over the past year with stalls like Lucky Chip reinventing the British BBQ classic to resemble something much more palatable. Bahn Mi is a travelling Vietnamese baguette specialist that keeps chiming in reward for serving the best pork rolls in town, and the East.St collective have a permanent spot at Kings Cross where they present the baying public with things like The Wild Game Co (Map 11), and Engine with its haute-gourmet Hot Dogs. Even city centre workers have taken the bait for their bait though there is a heavy lean towards superfood salads and sushi in the city, the current bento leader is also perfectly positioned for visitors; right outside of Liverpool Street Station, Wasabi has a stall where you can pick up a salad, a couple of bits of sushi, and a delicious miso soup for less than a fiver.

Camden Market food used to be famous for all the wrong reasons; overcooked noodles, oily fried chicken, watery curry and cardboard pizzas, there's still plenty of that around but a newer set of stalls also caters to more refined tastes. What's on offer can be interchangeable but there are a few stalwarts that are worth a go. There's a French stall that does mushrooms and sauté potatoes in a Roquefort sauce and there's no exceptions made just because the chefs are serving from a stall instead of inside a restaurant; these things are literally sit-down-white-table-cloth standard.

The absolute upside to street food stalls, which we've cleverly held back 'til last, is the ability to enjoy top-notch, amazing food for a fraction of the price that a restaurant would charge for the same dish. We're talking £5-6 a go for a main meal that might be paella, Moroccan tagine, Goan curry, or an Argentinian steak. A little cake for afters should knock you back a couple of quid and will round off your stand-up meal quite nicely – Violet's (Map 89) lemon drizzle cake makes the proverbial icing on your day.

Doffing Hats to a Trend
The London food scene can be a fickle thing. One day it's Gin and Venison that's the reigning king of the food world and the next it's knocked off its perch by a BBQ rib and a craft beer. See, once the masses have caught onto a top secret food trend, the gourmands move on to new pastures where The Guardian is yet to report, and a license is yet to be passed.

We've lately seen some foodie revolutions, the death of others, and the birthing of a few. While the burger has surely enjoyed its time, one of the new kids on the block, Peruvian, is sticking around for a while, and crawling across the city like a drunk crab – the Last Days of Pisco pops up in venues across the city which can be a bit pesky if you turn up the day after it has moved on but their ceviche is possibly one of London's best new additions. Out in the West, the aptly named Ceviche (Map 12) does more of the fish-cooked-with-citrus thing and complements each dish with lashing of Peruvian firewater, Pisco which comes on its own, in dessert, and as a range of cocktails.

Onto another trend which is set to stay; the French have hors d'oeuvres the Spanish have tapas, the Swedish have smorgasbord and now the British have small plates, and we love them. Russell Norman's Polpo (Map 10) restaurants will remain as popular as ever to serve up shareable small plates in a New York diner-style setting. Expect to see things like Anchovy & Chickpea Crostini, Spicy Pork & Fennel Meatballs, and Rabbit & Chicory Salad, all made in perfect proportions whether you're planning to take a couple for yourself or share a load with friends.

Yauatcha (Map 10) is Soho's answer to the small plate influx where head chef Tong Chee Whee is renowned for combining complicated flavours and adding delicate notes to create things like Venison Puffs. Brawn (Map 91) on Columbia Road is in a class of its own when it comes to creating meaty feasts; the restaurant shamelessly rejoices in all things pig and waives any requests for a veggie option. The menu is dependent on season and on what the chefs feel like cooking; you might find salted ox tongue, pork scratching, or pickled wild boar here and it will all be delicious and meaty.

Pop-up, Pop-Down
Providing a location for these pop up restaurants and supper clubs can be a challenge, mainly because the very nature of them means that most don't stay in the same place for too long, instead choosing to change venues every 3-6 months, allowing each little part of insular London to enjoy the experience.

Some of the more business-inclined places choose to pop in the same place, say, once a month, which makes it easier to pinpoint them but harder to actually get a table. Other that started as a travelling-circus version of a restaurant have settled into grown-up, permanent accommodation, or at least rented a kitchen to become semi-perm tenants. The Seagrass (Map 80) in Islington is one of the second type – started as a pop-up and matured to a mainstay; they take over a pie & mash shop three nights a week to serve up a menu heavy on game and fish, you're also invited to bring your own booze.

Disappearing Dining Club follows a similar vein. Having started as a pop-up group offering tea dances and three course dinners, it recently moved out of its student digs into a parently home on Brick Lane where they're operating under the name of Back in Five Minutes (Map 91). It's hidden behind a clothes shop, limited to thirty guests, and operates from Wednesday to Saturday.

Pay for What You Eat
It seems only sensible and fair that you should only pay for what you eat, right? Think about how much of your evening dining bill is often down to the sheer amount of booze you've put away though. Now imagine that you don't have to pay for that portion of the bill.

London has its fair share of bring your own bottle restaurants and the best part is that they're not all of one vein i.e Oriental, dingy, or in one place; even high-end Mayfair has BYOB bottle restaurants. There does seem to be a higher than normal number of BYOB eateries in the east but that's just because hipsters are skint, preferring to spend their cash on purple leggings and (il)legal highs.

By day Hurwendeki (Map 92) is a standard little coffee shop, tucked in a railway arch with a unique terrace, by night it is a Korean restaurant with perfect ambiance a brilliant, affordable menu and a BYOB policy. Little Georgia (Map 92) is a darling of a place; pretty pale green with a warm, inviting basement, and hearty portions of Georgian food is what to expect here. Kingsland Road is scattered with Vietnamese places where u can BYOB and while they're all fairly good Mien Tay (Map 91) is always packed out.

On Our Radar:

Posted By:  Claire Storrow
Photo:  Claire Storrow

The Palomar
"Shall we go in?" we looked at each other doubtfully. It was 6:15pm on a Thursday night and the dining bar at The Palomar was already rammed. I almost abandoned the idea because I hate this "stand-at-the-bar-while-you-wait" culture which is so common now (you can book tables at The Palomar but it takes months to get one). We stood scrunched up against the wall agreeing that if we got through the first drink and there were still no seats available, we would go somewhere else. But within about 20 minutes, we were shown to our places - a front row seat in the theatre that is the open kitchen at The Palomar. And honestly, listening to and watching the banter amongst the chefs is worth the wait alone, every so often, the head chef singing along with Elvis playing on the sound system, slightly discordantly, but with such chutzpah you can't not smile. You can't not smile when you taste the food either--the humble butternut squash risotto was elevated to another level, the octo-hummous was compelling, and the onglet steak (with latkes, fried egg and bone marrow) sublime. I was slightly disappointed by the shakshukit (deconstructed kebab) as it was quite oily and heavy but perhaps the bar had been raised too high as I also found the halva cream brownie relatively underwhelming. Dinner wasn't cheap at £57 each but that included two cocktails apiece and service. I will definitely return and wait patiently for my seat at the bar.

Posted By:  Claire Storrow
Photo:  Claire Storrow

I don't like restaurant critics. They're always snarky. Anger issues. Passive aggression. If I don't like somewhere, I just won't review it. So that's the first thing to get off my chest. The second thing: I'm not overly keen on 'small plates'. I don't like sharing which is what people tend to do with small plates. So Picture, because it's being reviewed here, must be at least good to outstanding, and also, must have converted me to this way of eating. Picture is that rare thing: a quietly confident eaterie in central London that has both style and substance, and it's also pretty damned reasonable for the quality of food and service you're receiving. The tasting menu is six courses (that's six small plates each) which may seem daunting but each dish is so carefully considered and the service timed so well that you never feel overwhelmed only excited about the next course. I couldn't say which was my favourite, everything was cooked to perfection; however, the sea bream elevated a dish which has become ubiquitous yet so often badly done. Closely followed by the pork cheeks. And the sublime chocolate mousse. An a la carte menu is available if you're after a quick bite but I highly recommend the Spring tasting menu. Simple food and flavours done perfectly.

Posted By:  Claire Storrow
Photo:  Claire Storrow

From the outside, Villandry is one of those places that could be intimidating. It’s on Great Portland Street where side roads are filled with Maseratis and Jaguars and it is also a Parisian-style grand café. So you would be forgiven for thinking that the service may be a little haughty and perhaps that the prices would leave you out of pocket. In fact, the takeaway counter is pretty reasonable and with this cold weather, for a few more pounds than your usual Pret-Itsu-EAT lunch, you can get something hot and tasty that feels homemade. The soup is hearty and healthy (I had cauliflower and fennel) and you can choose from hot dish of the day for £6.50 (beef and Guinness stew anyone?) or the daily carvery in a baguette or ciabatta for £6.95. Salad is available too from £4.95 and looks vibrant and fresh. Did I mention the juices, smoothies, pizza, and wraps? As for service, the staff were friendly and quick to serve. What really caught my eye though were the patisserie-style offerings and I couldn't resist a large homemade jammy dodger--buttery biscuit sandwiched together with serious raspberriness. That alone put a big smile on my face for the rest of the day. Jammy dodger indeed.

Posted By:  Claire Storrow
Photo:  Claire Storrow

Beyond Bread
The number of places in London that offer gluten-free options is inversely proportional to the number of people who suffer from gluten intolerance. When I say gluten-free options, I mean real options, like exactly the same things that people who eat wheat eat, but made with rice flour or spelt or any of the other myriad options. That kind of thing. Luckily, Beyond Bread seems to be addressing the matter by providing breads and pastries made from alternative grains. The various baguettes and baps have delicious fillings such as pulled pork, wasabi tuna, and roasted vegetables making it quite hard to decide on what to have. So I went for the salmon and asparagus quiche. Getting gluten-free pastry right is no easy feat but this one had a good crumb and thankfully, no soggy bottom. A good bit of salt and pepper wouldn't have gone amiss in the topping though. This place only opened about four weeks ago and there are a few teething problems: the pay point is beyond the food display creating a bottle neck with customers trying to get to the seating beyond, and although the service was definitely friendly, it was a bit scattered. To be fair, this was probably because they were busy but they better get used to it until more gluten-free places open.

Posted By:  Claire Storrow
Photo:  Claire Storrow

Nusa Kitchen
I found myself in Clerkenwell today and began reminiscing about my first job in London which was in this very hood. Back in 2006, Nusa was my regular lunch stop. Something about their soups comforts and reassures. Influenced by Eastern flavours it's common to find the likes of Chilli Chicken and Prawn Laksa on the menu but anything spicy goes and other options today included Prawn Jambalaya and Yucatan Tortilla (FYI they do delicious spicy breakfasts, too). At around £4.95, the soups are hearty and filling--more like stews and curries--and are bolstered by brown rice and flat bread. Also mindful of vegetarian, vegan, dairy-free and gluten-free options, the menu is clearly marked accordingly which is fab for anyone with those concerns. The soups are made from scratch with delicious fresh ingredients which makes you feel confident that you're eating something nutritious rather than the mass-produced franchise stuff. And judging by the queue that goes out the door they're as popular as ever and probably don't need my endorsement. They are however, food heroes for me, and in the sea of high street dross that dominates the takeaway lunch market, family-run Nusa is still refreshingly different.

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