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Ten top places to dine in London

Neil Sowerby tells our new city ambassadors where to go

Written by . Published on January 27th 2011.

Ten top places to dine in London

To adapt Dr Johnson, he who is tired of the London restaurant scene is tired of life.

On a recent visit this was more than apparent. So given the variety, the choice and the ensuing confusion that might follow here are our 10 places to dine out in London.

We would have also included Marcus Wareing at The Berkeley in this list, but Schofield the editor’s reviewing it next week, so you can learn more intimately about it then.

Galvins La Chapelle
(deservedly gained a Michelin star for 2011)
One critic described Chris and Jeff Galvin as the Roux Brothers of the Noughties. Their considerable repertoire now extends from the Parisian-style bustle of Galvins Bistrot de Luxe in Baker Street to the heights, panoramic and gastronomic, of Galvins at Windows, atop the Park Lane Hilton Tower (there are pipe dreams for fine dining at our own Hilton Beetham Tower Cloud 23, fingers crossed). But the boys’ standout outpost is La Chapelle in a stunningly converted girls’ school next to Spitalfields Market. Hard to tell which takes the breath away more – the soaring arched vaults or the likes of their signature Devon crab lasagne, veloute of chanterelles starter (£12.50). Silky service adds a romantic sheen to a necessarily pricey experience. www.galvinrestaurants.com.

Tom’s Kitchen Tom Aikens, a fearsomely accomplished chef, already holds a Michelin star at his eponymous Chelsea restaurant. Now he has set up a branch of his more casual dining operation, Tom’s Kitchen inside the south wing of Somerset House. Outside, when we were there the skating rink was in full swing. The restaurant space is an oddly disconcerting sequence of high semi-open plan rooms, broken up by booths. It once housed a very French restaurant called the Admiralty. Back from South African safari via Heathrow, we had once lunched there well at the next table to Michael Palin, which seemed one of life’s appropriate encounters. The Aikens experience, celeb-free, was even finer. It claims to be hearty bistro fare – well sourced (Rhug, Daylesford, Cobb). Whatever, there’s real skill in the kitchen. My venison casserole with cranberries and root vegetable mash (£19.50) was exquisite after a starter of pan-fried foie-gras with Clarence Court duck egg and Ventreche bacon). Fine, affordable wine list, to complement all this. www.tomskitchen.co.uk.

Cicchetti are Venetian tapas. San Carlo in Manchester opened an offshoot name after the concept – last year’s casual dining hit in London. The original Polpo (octopus in Italian) is still going strong in Beak Street and has now spawned Polpetto, above the iconic French House pub in nearby Dean Street. Bookings are taken for lunch (call 020 7734 1969); reservations are not taken for dinner; tables are allocated first come, first served. Tackle tiny tidbits of cuttlefish in ink with gremolata (£8.20), chopped liver crostini (£2.80), lentils, buffalo and mozzarella and basil (£6.70), washed down with wine by the 250ml or 500ml carafe. If you like your tapas trad Spanish go round the corner to queue at Barrafina in Frith Street. www.polpo.co.uk. www.polpetto.co.uk. www.barrafina.co.uk.

Bocca da Lupo
Overtaken by Polpo in cult Soho status, but the Archer Street (for regional, earthy) Italian restaurant responded by opening across the road possibly London’s best ice cream shop, Gelupo, offering espresso, deli food and a wine shop, too. At Bocca itself each dish is accredited to its region. Say tripe with guanciale, chilli and tomato (Roma) and fried duck egg, golden polenta and gorgonzola sauce (Lombardia), respectively £7.50 and £15 and £6 and £12 according to portion size. www.boccadilupo.com.

Barbican Lounge
Canny revamping, involving Scandinavian style furniture and an attractive outdoor area, has transformed the Barbican’s boring beige Balcony Bar, as has the showbizzy introduction of a macaroon mixologist matching cocktails to cakes. There’s also a ‘Dinner and Dash’ early evening menu for the theatregoers, but it is the English tapas here (not an octopus in sight) that shows the influence of a manager formerly at Gordon Ramsay’s “small portion” mecca, Maze. All dishes come in under a fiver including treats such as vive hour braised oxtail, hand cut pappardelle, Merguez sausages with saffron aioli or pissaladière with anchovies and olives. www.barbican.org.uk.

London has a clutch of Michelin-starred Indian restaurants, of which Quilon is the most understated, like its chef, Sriram Aylur. The setting, in a dull Westminster thoroughfare round the corner from Buckingham Palace is at odds with the culinary magic inside. Purist Sriram conjures up beguiling South Indian flavours from a pinpoint spicing palette, fish a speciality from a man who learnt his trade on the Malabar coast. Kovallam fish curry simmers halibut in coconut, chilli and raw mango, to achieve a rare delicacy (£18). As you’d guess, this is a MIchelin that does vegetarians proud. Good value lunches but it’s in the evening when the chef’s progressive tendencies show up. Black cod, asparagus and mange tout and lobster butter pepper or a beer matching tasting menu. www.quilon.co.uk.

Les Deux Salons
A former Pitcher and Piano just off Trafalgar setting is the unlikely setting for Anthony Demetre’s latest venture. Tete de veau and andouilletes among the starters alert you to the hardcore French brasserie intentions. Even the sauce for my irresistible Herefordshire snail and bacon pie (£8.95) was creamily Gallic. Beef from Scotland and lamb from the Elwy valley pairs the finest British ingredients with masterly cross-Channel technique. As in the chef’s groundbreaking West End eateries Arbutus and Wild Honey wine comes in a variety of carafe sizes, enabling you to pair appropriate wines with each course. The concept is magnifique. At the hectic pre-theatre time we dined here, the service less so.www.lesdeuxsalons.co.uk.

If Les Deux Salons was perhaps trying too hard, we are in danger of taking for granted Henry Harris’s bastion of French bourgeois cuisine in Knightsbridge. Handy for Harrods, the Kensington Museums and confession in the Brompton Oratory, it offers a daily changing prix fixe menu at £15, but I’m inevitably tempted by old favourites on the carte that invariably include rabbit with mustard (or lapin au moutarde as the French staff refer to it) and Valrhona chocolate mousse. www.racine-restaurant.com .

Bistrot Bruno Loubet
Watching the saturnine M. Loubet vigilantly manning the pass of his open kitchen inside the Hotel Zetter in Clerkenwell you are suddenly transported to the culinary France of legend. In summer, tables spill out into a small square. The food has all the bright splashes of flavour you’d hope to find in some brilliant Povencal eaterie. His gurnard and cucumber, a superficially pallid prospect, remains my favourite fish dish of 2010. Hare Royale with celeriac puree, fondue of shallots and mushrooms (£19) still has me salivating.

As with Pierre Kofmann, another French culinary genius returning to the London restaurant scene after too long away, it is a disgrace Michelin 2011 didn’t recognise Loubet. Beautiful, affordable food and spot-on service. www.bistrotbrunoloubet.com.

I’ve still to try Koffman at the Berkeley (hopefully before spring), but Gordo raved about it here.

Ten minutes’ walk from London Bridge Station (and the handily-placed London Bridge Hotel), this newish Italian restaurant on Bermondsey Street run by an ex-River Cafe team, which explains the open plan kitchen and general buzz but not the terrific value. Portions are huge. Try the (Were)rabbit with pancetta or get entangled in one of their octopus specials. There’s no escaping the ubiquitous cephalods this season! www.zuccalondon.com.

Of course, if you are staying at London Bridge Hotel – and I highly recommend it – you are just a minute’s stroll from London’s food buying epicentre, Borough Market and the thriving cafe and shop culture that has built up around it.

Prices are a hike up from normal farmers’ markets and it’s best to get there early, do your shopping and then hole with a pint or two of Harveys Sussex Bitter up in The Market Porter pub. Gaze up at the shell of the Shard, its jagged spire already towering above the station and Southwark Cathedral and destined to be Europe’s tallest building. A stroll along the South Bank footpath to the Tate Modern will clear your head.

If you are looking for somewhere more central to stay, handy for West End theatres and several of the restaurants I recommend the Radisson Hampshire, bang on Leicester Square, a classy haven from the crowds. A room overlooking the Square is a great place to people watch and there is a terrific metropolitan buzz about the bar.

There’s a lot of redevelopment going on in the Square, with the central gardens boarded off. At the time of writing, a five star W Hotel is due to open, while a more boutique rival Fergus Henderson’s St John Hotel is also nearing completion in nearby Leicester Street. Expect more of the “nose to tail eating” Fergus is famous for.

Heading west and seeking a base for the great museums, Harrods or the Albert Hall?

London Bridge’s sister hotel, Kensington House, is surprising informal and affordable with a delightfully friendly staff. Rooms, though are on the small side.

Borough Market

Hampshire Hotel. Room prices start at £185. Radisson Edwardian Hampshire HotelLeicester Square, London WC2H 7LH.
Telephone: + 44 (0)20 8759 6311

Kensington House Hotel, 15/16 Prince of Wales Terrace, London W8 5PQ – weekend room rates start at £120 excluding VAT and including continental breakfast www.kenhouse.com.

London Bridge Hotel, 8-18 London Bridge Street, London SE1 9SG – weekend room rates start at £115 excluding VAT www.londonbridgehotel.com

Virgin Trains run up to 50 trains a day between Manchester and London. For details of services and fares, including special promotions, visit www.virgintrains.co.uk.

For timetable information ring National Rail Enquiries 08457 48 49 50.

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