It’s taken for granted among those who know that the best nights out are the impromptu nights, the ones that start half way through dinner. Maybe it’s the cosmos; perhaps one of the group got a raise; maybe it’s just Friday night (and the feeling is right) – but somewhere between the main course and the bill comes a tacit agreement that no one is going straight home.
There’s a crackle in the air, a cheeky twinkle in each eye. Any thought of dessert is instantly dropped in favor of espresso martinis. Google maps appears, bars, clubs and pubs are triangulated and an exciting discussion breaks out about what, where and how to get there as quickly as possible. It’s a magical, inimitable feeling; one that is almost impossible to plan or even engineer, aside from booking a restaurant that could cause it. These are our favourites, selected because they boast good tunes, cocktails, food that is flavorful but not filling, and well located for fun. On the nights from 3 am; fun is back in fashion.
Of course, every rule has to have its exceptions, and while the best nights creep up on you, some start with a bang and a pitcher of frozen strawberry margarita. To do this, head to Mestizo, which offers 50 shades of margin, staggering mounds of tortilla chips and generous dollops of guac. They bring the party, as do the staff who joke with diners and dance with each other to the irresistible beat of mariachi music. Granted, Mestizo is heavy on the cheesy, fried dishes — the fried chihuahua cheese sticks with tomatillo salsa are fantastic, as are the potato flautas — but these have their merits when it comes to soaking up the tequila, and the ingredients are carefully sourced .
103 Hampstead Road, NW1 3EL, @mestizo_camden
Where better to organize a postprandial nightclub trip than a restaurant that started life at the back of a nightclub? FKABAM, the restaurant formerly known as Black Ax Mangal, is the dark, boisterous and dramatic brainchild of one of London’s most music-obsessed chefs, Lee Tiernan (pictured above with Jeremy Lee of Quo Vadis). It started with bouncers serving as waiters at the back of a Copenhagen nightclub, then was reborn on Highbury Corner as Black Ax Mangal, a mishmash between a bistro and London’s beloved Turkish mangal grill houses. It was reborn in exactly the same place after the pandemic and branded as a tribute to itself. There are worse testimonials. The cocktails are strong and the flavors are stronger: think foie gras and plum donut, ox tongue and Ogleshield flatbread, shrimp toast and mango chili pepper. It’s a set menu at £50pp, and its shared nature promotes an easygoing, friendly feel – a prerequisite for a night on the Tiles. However, it’s the music that does it: eclectic, loud, dancey tunes that lighten the mind even more than the shots and the neon-colored lights on the walls.
156 Canonbury Road, N1 2UP, blackaxemangal.com
An absolutely foolproof way to ensure that the evening continues after dinner is to choose a restaurant that becomes a night out after dinner. The Montpelier is one such place: a decent pub serving small plates of modern British food by day, and a dance floor lit by a disco ball and a DJ by night. The food is simple but carefully made from locally sourced, seasonal produce. Opt for the small plates such as the pakora with mint and harissa or cod, brown shrimp and wild garlic butter; they are by far better and won’t overcharge you when it comes to the event they simply call Pub Dance where the wooden tables are pushed aside, the lights dimmed; then, courtesy of some of Peckham’s best DJs, the music kicks in.
43 Choumert Road, SE15 4PE, themontpelier.net
Caso de Frango
I never knowingly went to Caso do Frango and never left after that. That in itself should be reason enough for inclusion, but for exposition’s sake: this Southwark Portuguese restaurant serves affordable plates for sharing in a light-filled 19th-century covered warehouse, and has a speakeasy bar – The Green Room – behind an unmarked door. The restaurant is all about chicken, which itself rotates on a spit over a charcoal grill that slowly roasts the bird to bronzed perfection. Chickens are halved, enriched with house-made piri-piri sauce and served with hot, golden-brown fries and an array of tapas-style sides like their moreish feijoada, rich in sweet potato, velvety white beans and crispy kale. You can eat as much or as little tapas as you fancy before heading to The Green Room: a sultry, shabby chic space to enjoy their signature negronis while plotting the next phase of the starlit night.
32 Southwark Street, SE1 1TU (plus two other locations), casadofrango.nl
Like The Montpelier, Piano Works is dinner, drink and night out all in one venue; perfect for that friendship group that demands maximum reward for minimum effort. Those looking for a club atmosphere should opt for Oxford Street; those in the mood for more of a concert environment should head to their second place in Farringdon. Both offer a six-piece house band, happy hour every day, and a concise menu of bistro-style dishes that are reliably excellent thanks to good provenance and easy delivery. Drinkers and dancers of all diets are well catered for here, with vegan lasagnas and burgers, steak, buttermilk chicken, hake and three types of potatoes. Piano Works also caters to different musical tastes as the band takes requests all night long; tipping is advised on busy nights to ensure your go-to tune can jump in line.
WC2 and EC1, pianoworks.bar
Located on floor ten of the Brutalist block that is The Standard hotel, Decimo is an unreservedly cool restaurant that will make you happy to be alive, and even happier to be a Londoner. When you drink in the view of St. Pancreas silhouetted against North London, it’s impossible not to want to be in it; out-out, even — and that’s before a margin made with Mexican key lime and mezcal is knocked back. Food – Manchego quesadillas, pork belly tacos, octopus habareno aguachile and other selectable plates – was created by Peter Sanchez-Inglesias, a Michelin-starred chef of Spanish descent who grew up in his parents’ Italian restaurant in Bristol . This combination of heritage, experience and extensive research and travel is reflected in a menu that deftly fuses Mexican and Spanish techniques and ingredients. Being big on vegetables as well as meat and fish, the menu lends itself well to groups, as does the dimly lit dining room, with its red velvet chairs, round tables of polished wood and enticingly long marble bar.
10th Floor, 10 Argyle Street, WC1H 8EG, decimo.london
The clue is in the name; even before you’ve walked in the door, Quo Vadis asks where you’re going (Latin translates to: “where are you going?”). The answer must be concluded with a dry martini – one of the best in town, courtesy of the skilled bar team – and a smoked eel sandwich with sweet pink picked onion, courtesy of acclaimed chef Jeremy Lee. There have been many great nights out for that alone, but one should and should ideally continue as Lee’s cooking is almost peerless. The baked salsify is another classic snack that is perfect without being heavy; ditto one of Lee’s seasonally changing, always perfect pies and mixed salads. However, it’s the atmosphere as much as the food that sets off a night out here: buzzy, pseudo-sophisticated and social, with a steady pulse of fun (and booze) flowing through, Quo Vadis will get you into the night goes with twice as many friends as when you came in.
26-29 Dean Street, W1D 3LL, quovadissoho.co.uk
Perhaps it’s the wine list, lovingly curated to flit between solid French classics and favorites from further afield. Perhaps it’s the moody-chic cocktail bar buried downstairs, half-filled with unhappy dudes who couldn’t get a seat in the restaurant and half-filled with happy dudes who don’t want to leave. Perhaps it’s the staff, who serve with a happy, twinkling eye saying they too might dance later. The food certainly has something to do with it: fun, flavoursome French dishes that range from the familiar – paÌ‚teÌ en crouÌ‚te, onglet en frites, comteÌ gougeÌ€res – to more unusual dishes, such as duck meat skewers and anchovies, Stracciatella and smoked chili. Whatever it is, Maison Francois leaves you feeling a little shady; a little intoxicated with hedonism, as if the party has just begun and you are the guest of honor. A quick vesper down and you leave believing that some dance floor needs you somewhere.
34 Duke Street, SW1Y 6DF, maisonfrancois.london
Few people fit the phrase “life and soul of the party” as well as Chef Richard Corrigan; and few places embody it quite like Daffodil Mulligan, his third London outpost. No sooner had it opened its doors than the staff and regulars called it Daffy’s; it’s just that kind of place. The food is fire lead, international but rooted in the Emerald Isle. Recommended aperitifs are Black Velvet and Jameson and Ginger; standout dishes include rock oysters, pork cheek skewers with tamarind and crab fry sauce, and a Tipperary Hereford sirloin steak with smoked bone marrow, anchovies and firm onion. It’s food that grabs even the most sluggish by the lapel and drags it to the dance floor – which isn’t far off, as Daffy’s is a stone’s throw from Shoreditch. There’s indeed one dance floor downstairs: Gibney’s is Daffy’s basement bar, a dark and cordial place buzzing with live music and even livelier liquors. You could head straight in here with some of Corrigan’s inspired bar snacks and have a great night that quickly turns into a full night.
70-74 City Road, EC1Y 2BJ, daffodilmulligan. com
Mexican dishes are tailor-made for a night out – so much so that the Venn diagram between this list and that of the best Mexican restaurants in London could easily have been a perfect circle. The tequila helps, of course – and there’s plenty at El Pastor – but it’s also the nature of the food itself: light, fresh, vibrant with chilli and intoxicating with citrus and spice, every bite of a taco or tostada feels like a legal high . Created by two Mexican nightclub veterans, Crispin Somerville and Sam Hart, all El Pastors serve as gateways to good times. Borough is the original and the best, but Soho has mezcalria in the basement and Kings Cross has live music. Drinks are strong in flavor and feel, food is as you’d expect but deftly done – but what El Pastor has in even higher concentration than London’s wealth of Mexican restaurants is that ever-elusive concept: atmosphere.
Different locations, tacoselpastor.co.uk