A fact as irrefutable as the rising sun: no Londoner ever deliberately goes to Leicester Square, the London Eye or Madame Tussauds. And if someone does, that Londoner is either an intern in charge of organizing the company’s social activities, or someone visiting from out of town at the behest of a ‘friend’. Or they lost a bet.
And while there’s a lot in London that appeals to newcomers and old hands alike – the theatres, the galleries – when that friend or hapless relative arrives armed with TripAdvisor’s list of “top 10 unmissable sites” and the will to queue for hours in the rain to stand at the end to check them all off, it’s one of those soul darkening feelings. All the host can do is organize drinks and dinners worth suffering for.
Fortunately, such a meal is never far away, even in the most touristy areas. You may have to work a bit – especially in Waterloo, where every tired chain and caramelised nutcracker has to make its mark (“And so to Waterloo, London’s gray low point, where the culinary highlights include an All Bar One next to a Slug and Lettuce”, as one Standard writer put it) – but those who make the effort will be handsomely rewarded for that extra three minute walk. With half term and Easter approaching, here are the places that showcase the best of London for both home and far away.
Authentic handmade Italian pasta may not sound like the most London culinary experience, but the proof of Officina 00’s claim to inclusion here is in the food. Located just 10 minutes from the granddaddy of the city’s tourist attractions, the British Museum, Officina 00 combines the laid-back cool of a London restaurant with serious Neapolitan cuisine. There are also creative twists, such as the crunchy, viscerally comforting panko lasagna snack and the pistachio pesto, yuzukoshu, and mint caserecce. Even Italian visitors will find something new within the dimly lit, industrial walls. And for anyone still wondering if Officina is really “London”, the daily handmade pasta trend is one of the most enduring and beloved food trends the city has seen in the last decade.
67 Whitfield Street, W1T 4DE, officina00.co.uk
The colony grill room
Old and new London collide in a restaurant that’s just seconds from the pandemonium of Hyde Park Corner – though you’d never know it once you’re inside. Shrouded in the grandeur of the Beaumont Hotel, the Colony Grill is London in the mold of The Forsythe Saga in appearance: plush red carpets, stiff white tablecloths, reading lamps and gleaming mahogany paneling abound. The staff are somehow both sympathetic to their surroundings and superior to them, serving diners in a manner that gleefully dances the line between friendly and formal. The food follows a similar course. Drawing from the thriving network of small-scale farms and producers that chef Ben Boeynaems has built up over the years, the menu is London in essence and execution, but with cheerful touches of American and American-Italian: think Dover sole meunieÌ€re with miso butter, smoked celeriac gnocchi and monkfish wellington with forest chicken. The martinis – necessary after any encounter with Oxford Street – are a delight.
8 Balderton Street, W1K 6TF, colonygrillroom.com
Meson don Felipe
While the view from the London Eye may be exciting, the food is anything but – at least in the immediate area. Those looking for something more inspiring than processed meat in a processed bun should make their way to Waterloo, towards the Cut. As well as two theatres, this quirky, quintessentially London street is home to a variety of renowned eateries, including Meson don Felipe, one of London’s longest-established tapas bars. Founded in 1987 by some hard-working Hispanophiles, it is now owned by the second generation; the manager, Santiago, has been there from the start. Tapas is everything you’d expect and more: sardines, king prawns and tortilla, as well as rich custard cream Catalan and higaditos al jerez (chicken livers with sherry). Meson don Felipe is the best of Madrid and the best of London in one.
53 The Cut, SE1 8LF, mesondonfelipe.co.uk
Royal China Club
The word ‘institution’ is generally overused, but the decadent, classically designed Royal China Club demands an exception. A clue to this lies in the name itself – to know and love this restaurant is to be part of a club where the main criterion is to understand their myriad selection of dim sum. Every part of the menu is huge, from crispy, fluffy or fine, clear dumplings to signature dishes like their whole abalone and fried scallops with foie gras. Don’t miss the classic cheung fun, which is about a thousand times more fun than the nearby Madame Tussauds and Sherlock Holmes Museum will ever be.
40-42 Baker Street, W1U 7AJ, royalchinagroup.co.uk
Mount St. Restaurant
Mount St. is a restaurant that will make you thankful you’re not rich enough to eat out on a regular basis. If this sounds like criticism, it is anything but: instead, imagine how lethargic life would be if you feasted on, say, beef tartare and fresh lobster pie overseen by a Matisse, a Lucien Freud, or a Picasso du jour would become. To dine here is to feel like a cat’s pajamas – if those pajamas were silk, woven by Dempsey and Dempsey and accompanied by a cigar and a small glass. From climbing the narrow staircase behind a discreet Mayfair door to exiting via the bustling, cheerfully decorated pub below, everything is both fantastic and deeply comforting. With a menu inspired by the capital’s culinary history, it lends itself perfectly to showcasing the London food scene to visitors, whether it’s the gooey Arnold Bennett omelette, the hearty Pigeons in Pimlico (actually duck foie gras, bacon and red cabbage) or rich egg custard pie for dessert. Don’t miss the Orkney scallops with smoked eel sauce – and don’t miss the vibrant terrazzo floor, which is a literal work of art in itself.
First Floor, 41-43 Mount Street, W1K 2RX, mountstrestaurant.com
According to Lonely Planet et al, a trip to London would not be complete without the Tower of London and Tower Bridge. According to Londoners, no trip is complete with a great Indian meal. Kill three flies – not the ravens, please – with one stone by capturing the tower, crossing the bridge and heading to the aptly named Gunpowder for smashing dishes like venison and vermicelli donuts (their must-have signature dish) and Bengali beet croquettes . There are some classic options here too – saag with tandoori paneer, Goan-style grilled prawns, Kashmiri ghee roast lamb – but the real fun is in those creative takes, which encapsulate the enduring love affair between this city and Indian cuisine. It’s worth noting that there are three outlets, spread across Soho, Spitalfields and Tower Bridge, so Gunpowder works for multiple tourist locations. The former are bustling and buzzing with fun and noise; the Tower Bridge outlet is a bit more mature and polished.
Different locations, gunpowderrestaurants.com
The French House
As far as any restaurant can be Soho, The French House is. This may sound like an oxymoron, given the name, but the French are about as old-fashioned London as it gets. Precariously perched above a pub of the same name, the restaurant clatters with action: from the kitchen dishing out hearty yet skillful dishes with a subtle French accent, to the diners sitting merrily at the table between exchanging jokes and sometimes wine bottles. daily changing menu is scribbled on their board, and on a piece of paper, for those looking online – though it’s reliable enough that prior research is hardly necessary. Meanwhile, the rule that there is no music, machines, television or mobile phones makes the pub below the perfect place to chat, spot celebs – the French have long been a favorite among London’s celebrities – and, of course, listen in .
49 Dean Street, W1D 5BG, frenchhousesoho.com
Game of Tart
With a cathedral, an abbey and a Mrs Dalloway walking tour all nearby, Wild By Tart wins before guests have even entered the building: a glassy, rather soulless building from the outside, it’s true, but a warm and flowery-studded haven inside . There, bazaar pillows and seasonal margaritas – just £7 between 5pm and 7pm – give way to a vibrant, seasonal menu rooted in ingredients sourced locally or from Tart farms in Somerset and Northumberland. Plates like beef solelet with green sauce and smoked butter, pork belly and heirloom carrot with ponzu, and Cheltenham beet hummus with cashew tarka prove impossible to choose. The best solution is not to do it. Pack plenty of diners—requisition a passing tour group if necessary—and order as many as you can, along with their toasted flatbreads to mop up the heady array of juices and sauces. One is draped with caramelized onion, gorgonzola, roasted pumpkin and hazelnuts and is worth the ticket price alone.
3-4 Eccleston Yards, SW1W 9AZ, wild byte. com
For as long as I’ve known South Kensington – and I was born just around the corner from here – the area has been a culinary desert, home to museums and their coffee shops, and very little else. A lot has changed in three decades, not least of which is my familiarity with Pappa Roma pizzeria – which has been around for 27 years, but is frankly easily overlooked. It packs a punch, though: wood-fired pizzas with all the classic combinations cost around £15. Starters like bruschetta and calamari are equally old-fashioned. It’s not stunning or modern – for that you either have to spend more or walk further – but for a snapshot of a traditional family-run London Italian, located a stone’s throw from the natural history museum, it’s hard to beat.
6 Glendower Place, SW7 3DP, pap aroma. com
Plenty of restaurants operating near Borough Market claim to buy in from the stalls; few actually do. However, Elliots enjoys its location on the cobbled edges of the food market, making it blessed with easy access to produce in the British Isles and beyond. Start with their signature cheese puffs made from Isle of Mull cheddar, bought from their neighbors (Neal’s Yard Dairy), and their Cantabrian Anchovy Toast, a very trendy starter. Flirt – but don’t overindulge – some of their wood-fired sourdough pizzas, especially the taleggio with brown butter and sage, and save room for lamb T-bones and dry-aged trout and halibut brought sizzling and fragrant from the wood grill . Elliot’s is a cosy, cool, expertly operated space, with both high stools and long group tables, filling the street outside in the summer. It’s Borough Market at its best – and when Borough Market is at its best, it offers the very best of London food.
12 Stoneystraat, SE1 9AD, elliots.london