The London restaurant scene shows no sign of slowing down in 2017. Chefs and owners are hit by Brexit, rising ground rates and ingredient costs, but that doesn’t seem to be deterring them from opening.
Which is good, as Londoners are still going out to eat - a lot. It’s no surprise – the buzz around some of these new launches, such as , is enticing enough to get us to want to.
So what are the new restaurant trends? Well, 2017’s best openings tend to be either good old fashioned homely food, cooked beautifully, served casually, fast and fun, from the Indian dishes at Kricket to the Jewish salt beef sandwiches and chicken soup at . Or they’re high end glamour, glistening with gilt on all the fixtures and fittings like at Aster or The Game Bird.
For eating out has become either an event to dress up for or a friendly gathering to drop into, to enjoy but to have done in an hour or two, the two sides complementing each other beautifully.
So whether you want classic British ingredients at Lupins or a fusion of East and West at Rail House Café in Victoria, there is a new restaurant to suit your tastes. For that’s the thing about the London scene – variety is still the key ingredient.
65 Commercial St, London E1 6BD;
The third restaurant from the group behind Gunpowder and Madame D, Gul and Sepoy is just as delicate of flavour, just as succulent, with cocktails just as fragrant. It's a menu of two halves, rich dishes inspired by the royal courts of North India and then more relaxed plates coming straight from the fishing villages on the south west coast. It leads to a thick and fast storm of sharing plates: big flavours, tender meats, spices and herbs and sauce.
The biggest hit is the kid goat, falling off the bone, melting into a rich liquor, lime juice and sprigs of mint dancing on the top. Seating is casual, lights are low, it's a date restaurant in the East end to go with someone you're really comfortable with. The previous too places from this group have both had stellar reviews, and Gul and Sepoy is sure to garner the same. Go, while you can still can get a place.
The Mall, St. James's, London SW1Y 5AH;
There's an air of mythic beauty surrounding the chef Margo Henderson. Partly because her restaurant Rochelle Canteen, down a bucolic lane in Shoreditch, has only been open during the week, and only for lunch (although a new weekend brunch has just been added), and mostly because her deceptively simple food is always on point. She seasons lamb with anchovies, mussels with cider, a crowd with her signature Negronis.
So it's with a lot of excitement that she launches in an intimate space in the ICA, overlooking St James Park, small tables and low lights and clumps of radishes with a jewel of golden butter. There's a real magic here, it's better than any museum caff has any right to be, a date place for people who are relaxed in each others' company.
The menu changes seasonally but this month expect such gems as poached quince, and Old Spot chop, and a perennially punchy glass of cremant. Pretty close to perfect.
153 Hoxton St, London N1 6PJ,
Vegetarian-focussed tasting menus don't come more enticing, more exciting, more full of joy than at Cub. The first restaurant from Ryan Chetiyawardana, aka Mr Lyan, the cocktail genius behind White Lyan and Dandelyan, the emphasis here is on flavours working together in the most beautiful ways. Just as Skye Gyngell whips the best ingredients into dishes greater than the sum of their parts over at Spring, so here the combinations sing with delicacy but at a fraction of the price. A seven course tasting menu, with drinks, costs £45.
Particular highlights: a green tomato, fig leaf and white peach salad, as fragrantly summery as freshly cut grass, each taste adding layers of sweetness to the others. A bowl of violet carrots, studded with blackberries, hinting at the earthy scent of Autumn to come. The long yellow booths, an interiors inspiration board waiting to happen; the staff, all smiles and slubby linen; the glass of champagne with the water jelly dome at the bottom, encasing a hint of a herb.
Cub is a really good neighbourhood restaurant in that it involves the community - taking produce from a local growing charity - and because it's actually worth travelling to the neighbourhood for. Vegetarian food, thanks to the ever-growing interest in it, couldn't be more right for now. And it's not served better than here.
One Hamilton Place, Park Lane, London W1J 7QY,
Something exciting has happened on the unloved corner of Hyde Park and Park Lane - Ella Canta has arrived. Bloomed, in fact, like a flower, unfurled in all its perfect glory, rich and fragrant.
It's all down to Mexican chef Marta Ortiz, who is on Latin America's 50 Best Restaurants List for Dulce Patria in Mexico, and who wanted to bring her version of refined Mexican cuisine to London. "We Eat Colour" boasts her website, and she's not wrong: vibrant green gucamole, puffed up with ricotta, bowls of glistening ceviche (the coconut one, with its lick of lime, is refreshingly sharp), octopus slick with smoked chilli sauce). Each dish comes with a flourish, for this is occasion dining, full of theatrics, buzzy, fun, with uniforms by 1947 Bespoke as beautiful as the David Collins decor. It all adds up to what a restaurant ought to be.
Make sure to have the duck and it's spicy plantain puree, and the black cod that is flecked with chilli. Take a date or go for an occasion, this is London's newest and coolest place to celebrate in. The cocktails, by the way, are worth the trip alone. For like Ella Canta itself, there's a magic in their alchemic creation.
11 Woodstock St, Mayfair, London W1C 2AE,
Neo Bistro is so much more than it seems. For starters, the outside still looks like an old boozer, with barely a hint of the incredible food being served up inside. It's within throwing distance of a Julien MacDonald diamante cushion from the Debenhams on Oxford St, but the food is so much more refined than the location would suggest. And, despite the painterly smears and artful presentation seen here, the dishes are hearty, wholesome, big of flavour and full of joy.
But then, Neo Bistro has pedigree. The chefs comes from Anglo and Harwood Arms, and they know their way through a best of British-inspired tasting menu. Herwick lamb, Cornish crab, a simple bowl of potatoes laced with herbs, each forkful more fulsome than before. A slab of chocolate fondant dessert so rich and decandent it could be the pudding of the year.
The decor is distressed, the staff are in slubby linen, and it all just feels like the perfect place to come for a date - romantic, but not overly so. So good it might even make SoWox (that's south of West Oxford Street) a thing.
161 Brick Lane, London, E1 6SB;
It doesn't matter if the British summertime doesn't play ball, as it's always sunny in Shoreditch. Or at least in the new branch of Suvlaki at the top end of Brick Lane. Or at least, it feels sunny, thanks to the flavours on the plates that come flying out of the kitchen.
For this is Greek food at its best, taking what the much loved Soho branch does and transporting it East to a slightly larger dining room. The suvlaki themselves, skewers of meat, are coated in herbs and spice - the prawn is spiked with a punchy rose ailoi, softened with a the merest hint of dill - but the sharing plates are the real heroes here. Bitesize squares of taramasalata, studded with cucumber and anchovy, taste of the cool saltiness of the sea on a warm afternoon. Kale, crispy and dark, charred into a delicacy, is envlivend with slivers of orange. Meatballs are coated in a crispy breaded crumb, flecked with orange zest, slick with a rich tomato sauce. Make sure to have the lamb chops, glistening with fat and thyme, both tender and sweet.
Suvlaki is cosy and fun, the lights are low and tables small. It's ideal for dates, for an elbows-on-the-table realxed style of eating, for a moment of holiday in the city. But really, it's just ideal - the perfect little place.
80-82 Great Titchfield St, Fitzrovia, London W1W 7QT,
Greek food bursts with sunshine. There are tomatoes, red and yellow, orbs of light. Taramasalata that tastes salty like the sea, like holidays spent with nothing to do but swim. Lamb cutlets, juicy and pink, fattened by the warmth of their wonderful weather.
And Meraki, London's newest Greek restaurant, manages to bring that spirit to the UK. The interiors are muted - soft pastels, blonde woods - but the flavours are loud: all of the above succulent baby chicken with lemon and oregano, roasted cauliflower with a punchy anchovy dressing, and a wine list of hidden Greek gems. It's smart and chic - you probably won't find any plates being smashed here - but it feels like a little foodie holiday all the same.
45 Curtain Rd, London EC2A 3PT,
Marcus Samuelsson's Harlem restaurant Red Rooster has seen everyone from Barack Obama to Mindy Kaling stop by for fried chicken, bone marrow dumplings and the sort of easy hospitality that comes with fingers are greasy and the live music is smooth. And his first UK outpost, nestled in the basement of The Curtain Hotel like a gold mine of soul and soul food, has recreated the same magic.
It's dark and loud, mostly, and food comes big and fast, mostly, But there are quieter corners and lighter spots, and of course you don't have to order the fried yard bird and the jerk pork and prawn hot rice that comes in a creamy coconut sauce and the incredible herb roasted chicken, but it'll be hard not to.
Special mention also goes to the Gospel Brunch on Sundays - cornbread, eggs, that yard bird again - and an entire gospel choir. Total joy.
8 Mount St, Mayfair, London W1K 3NF;
The original Jamavar at the The Leela Palace Bengaluru in South India is something of an instituion, a fine dining experience bringing the best flavours from around the country.
And the new London outpost is no less majestic. Plush banquettes, linen napkins, spectacular service....and some of the best Indian food in town. Start with a cocktail, fruity and sharp, the perfect foil to the big flavours to come. Old favourites like butter chicken, rich and fragrant, sit next to prawn mappas, succulent prawns served with shredded coconut and a sprinkling of raw mango that is tropical and juicy and perfect.
There's a seven course tasting menu but you'd do just as well to put yourself in the hands of your server, to tell them the flavours you like and let them bring you the best of the a la carte. For that's what Jamavar is all about - being looked after, made to feel relaxed whilst dishes quietly swish up to you. Simply, it's a lovely, lovely place to be.
227 Hoxton St, London N1 5LG;
Queuing for a salt beef Reubens has been a Saturday staple for Londoners making the pilgrimage to Monty's at Maltby Street Market, so it's with joy I can report the new permanent site is just as magical.
Styled like a 1950s rockabilly diner (the wall tiles alone are worth going for) start with a restoring bowl of chicken soup, as life-enhancing as Jewish lore suggests, and then go big on the Reubens, a sandwich with both salt beef and pastrami. And pickles. And mayonnaise. And get the fennel salad, a crunchy slaw to foil all that soft, almost buttery meat. It's wonderful booth seating, ideal for dates. And if you can eat this expansive, encompassing, but not exactly tidy food in front of them, marry them.
12 Denman St, Soho, London W1D 7HH,
You almost have to feel sorry for a much-hyped pop up taking over its first permanent site - the weight of expectation is groaningly high. Kricket, however, delivers. It's sublime, a low-light-and-bar-stools kind of place, the sensual beats from a soundtrack of Solange underpinning the soft and subtle flavours of the food.
Indian-inspired, the Delica pumpkin melts into a sauce so blooming with cardamom it's almost floral, the Keralan-fried chicken alight from the glow of bright and zesty curry leaf mayo. Star of the show is Misti doi, a panna cotta-like pudding, creamy and scented with rose. This is the place to drop in to with a date, to swing by to after a show, Soho dining at its finest. My current pick of the postcode.
52 Haymarket, St. James's, London SW1Y 4RP;
Getting into Duck and Waffle can sometimes feel like a mythical exercise, and I don't just mean because it needs a lift to the 40th floor - it's still just that popular.
Duck and Waffle Local, though, is ideal for dropping into - a huge dining room on the ground level at St James, serving up duck-related dishes, fast and fun. Order at the bar and have the dishes come when they're ready: duck gizzards in a sweet and sticky sauce that ought to be sold in bottles, a fried duck egg on flatbread, flecked with jewels of harissa, even a duck jam doughnut, marrying salty and sweet. Double order the rosemary fries, triple order the white basil cocktail. For duck's sake (groan).
Cardinal Place, 150 Victoria St, London SW1E 5LB,
D&D's newest launch Aster, home to an exciting mix of French and Nordic cuisine, is all wrapped up in brass fittings, soft leather chairs and a beguilingly pretty floral motif running throughout.
Highly recommended is chef Helena Puolakka's three course Saturday brunch. For there are some familiar favourites like smashed avocado in a zingy Green Goddess dressing and egg florentine, puffed up on a bed of kale, next to Baltic fish pie, a rich and creamy butternut risotto and an almond cake so light, glazed with its sharp blood orange segements, that it's worth the cover price alone. Oh, and there's a DJ, but don't let that put you off - volume was low and music atmospheric, helping the quiet and calm merriness of the weekend along. Two courses for £21 with unlimted prosecco for £10.
Oh, and there's a cute deli, pictured, for takeaway. Perfect.
8 Sir Simon Milton Square, London SW1E 5DJ,
Victoria is having a renaissance. No longer just a place to pass through (or see Wicked), it's suddenly home to a plethora of places you'd actually want to eat at. Jason Atherton and D&D have moved in but buzziest is the Rail House Cafe, sister restaurant to Village East and Riding House.
It's sprawling but cosy - segmented areas have the feel of initmacy, h seating ups the comfort - and an international menu means all tastes are catered for.
Lighting is low, service is peppy and there's a warm coconut and chicken rice dish flecked with just the right amount of spice. A true modern classic.
66 Union St, London SE1 1SG; lupinslondon.com
There's a huge cheffy pedigree behind Lupins (the founding duo come from Chelsea faves Medlar and Cross Keys) but the lineage doesn't spoil the light, the deceptive simplicity, the happy sense of conviviality that floats through the big windows of the tiny dining room.
Pale pastels glow as twilight settles, ingredients sing like rare summer birds. Think British with a twist: tempura spring onions, slick with oil, pigeon with chipotle that seeps through to its tender middle. It's casual enough for friends, smart enough to take parents. Natural wines, seasonal flavours. This little place will be big - get in while you can.
16-18 St James's Place, St. James's, London SW1A 1NJ;
Have you ever been to The Stafford London? It's a gem of a hotel tucked away in a hidden part of St James, a Tardis of a townhouse where the streets are quiet and the staff take care of every need.
Newly opened is The Game Bird, a light and bright dining room nicely opening up the more trad decor elsewhere - and it's old-school fine dining meets new school friendliness. There's a salmon cart, layered with smoked, gravlax, Scottish. A chicken kiev stuffed with truffle butter, a steamed syrup sponge that is delicately light.
This is probably best saved for event dining - birthdays, annoucements, dates with someone you really like. But it's assured finesse makes it the ideal place to celebrate in. Guaranteed good times to be had.
The Ivy Tower Bridge, One Tower Bridge, Tower Bridge Road, London SE1 2AA;
There's been no escaping The Ivy this year, with 2017 seeing the opening of an incredible 12 sites, including new central London spot the Ivy Soho Brasserie and cafes in further reaching suburbs like Blackheath, but amongst our favourites is the newly opened Tower Bridge edition.
Boasting incredible views over the River Thames and London’s iconic Tower Bridge, it comes with all the usual trappings of an Ivy: a cosy terrace offering the perfect place to people watch under soft green blankets, impeccable interiors of checkered floors, soft velvet chairs and luscious greenery, and a fail-safe menu of old favourites.
It’s hard to go to the Ivy for dinner and not order their signature shepherd’s pie, made with half slow braised lamb shoulder and half beef, it’s comfort food at it’s very best. Order a side of truffle and Parmesan chips and green beans and roasted almonds for the table.
And if you like a little drama with your dessert, then opt for the chocolate bombe, which dissolves into a glorious puddle of chocolate, honey comb and vanilla ice cream when drenched with hot salted caramel sauce.