When friends visit London, they usually ask me where they should eat, so here are some suggestions that you may find useful for your visit. Do also download On The Frog to London, my free iPhone app aimed at visitors to London, a guide with 50 tips for discovering some good old British traditions alive and well in modern London. Both this post and the app are updated regularly, so please check back before your trip.
Restaurants – just a few to whet your appetite…
These are some of my favourite restaurants that I go to regularly. Most are in Soho as that’s where I was based for over 11 years.
- Bone Daddies Ramen – this is one of three ramen bars that opened around the same time in Soho, London, and in my opinion the best. Avoid the crazy evening and weekend queues by eating early at lunch if you can, as they don’t take bookings. You can add a pipette of extra fat to any bowl of ramen, along with numerous other toppings. Current favourites are the tonkotsu ramen which leaves you with delicious greasy porky fat lips, and the T22 soy ramen with chicken and cock scratchings (add an extra topping of spicy ground chicken)
- 10 Greek Street – a small and very popular Soho restaurant that takes bookings for lunch but not dinner. You can also grab a bar seat at the kitchen counter and nibble on small plates served throughout the day. The food is of a high standard and reasonably priced for central London. Local and seasonal British ingredients feature heavily, and recent examples include seared scallops, celeriac puree, pancetta and watercress, followed by Brecon lamb, root vegetable mash, sprouting broccoli and anchovy
- Spuntino – no phone, no reservations New York-style grungy bar located in a former butcher’s in the heart of Soho. Go early for lunch or dinner to avoid the inevitable queues and perch on stools around the bar. It’s very relaxed, so chat to the servers and enjoy round beef and bone marrow sliders, truffled egg toast and macaroni and cheese before finishing off with the peanut butter and jelly ice cream sandwich
- Dabbous – it’s extremely hard to get a booking, whether for lunch or dinner, weekday or Saturday. Tables are usually booked up a year in advance. Instead of getting frustrated with the online booking system, I would suggest calling for cancellations, trying a walk in for a weekday early lunch or going downstairs for bar food at Oskar’s Bar. The food is exciting, creative and good value for money. I’ve been many times since it opened and particularly love the coddled egg (sadly no longer on the menu) but all the dishes are recommended. Choose from the tasting menu or set lunch/dinner menu. Closed Sunday and Monday
- Princess Garden – my favourite restaurant in London for dim sum and in fact the only one I go to these days with family and friends. All our family birthdays and other celebrations are held here. The dining room is large, light and airy, the service friendly and the dim sum of high quality as well as good value for the central location (two minutes walk from Selfridges). You can book for lunch and dinner, which makes this a perfect weekend dim sum venue as many Chinese restaurants don’t take bookings for dim sum
- Roti Chai – this is the only Indian restaurant I go to in London. I like both the informal Street Kitchen upstairs serving street food and snacks, and the more formal Dining Room downstairs (Roti Chai unusually has two separate kitchens). I always order the bun kebab (lamb burger), chicken lollipops and papri chaat. Tables can be booked downstairs but not upstairs. And it’s just around the corner from Selfridges, making it convenient for a break after shopping
- Koya – excellent fresh udon made on the premises, with creative daily specials. I always have an onsen tamago with my noodles (try the mushroom and walnut miso udon or the pork and miso). There is a no bookings policy and it gets very busy, so go for an early lunch (12.00) or early dinner (17.30) to avoid a long wait. You can now also try Koya Bar next door, which has a very good breakfast menu too
- Koba – my favourite Korean restaurant in London where I always eat the same few dishes, including barbecued meat (kalbi, bulgogi & pork belly) and seafood, bibimbap (I liked the spicy pork belly as well as the kimchi one), and pajeon (seafood pancake). It’s always busy but they do take bookings (Tel: +44 20 7580 8825, no website)
- Quo Vadis – the emphasis is on simple British cooking using seasonal ingredients. I recently tried a starter of beetroot and a soft boiled egg salad, followed by hake, mussels, seaweed and samphire. The smoked eel sandwich in particular has a huge fan base. Apart from the a la carte menu, the Theatre Set menu is available all day and is excellent value at £17.50 for 2 and £20 for 3 courses. Breakfast is also served in the bar during the week, from 08.00 to 11.00. I always request a window table at the far end of the dining room. For history buffs, the restaurant was founded in 1926 (although it has changed hands many times since) and the building is famous for being the location where Karl Marx wrote Das Kapital. Closed Sundays (bookings taken)
- Pizarro – down the road on Bermondsey Street from tapas bar Jose, Pizarro has a larger menu and can seat more people. They now take bookings too. Keep an eye on the blackboard for the daily specials. Last time I had salt cod and potatoes, Vizcaina style; scallops, pancetta and cauliflower purée; and of course salt cod fritters. And chef/owner Jose Pizarro always interacts with the diners as well as cooking in the open kitchen, which is nice to see
- Ottolenghi – fans of Yotam Ottolenghi’s fabulous Middle Eastern/Mediterranean-style cookery books Ottolenghi, Plenty and Jerusalem will love his mini chain of cafes/stores. The Islington branch is the largest and a proper restaurant, the only one where dinner bookings are taken. Brunch is particularly busy, so be prepared to queue. The portions are mezze-sized and include delights such as grilled marinated burrata wrapped in vine leaves with roasted red grapes and coriander seeds or roasted aubergine with feta yoghurt, pickled cucumber, pink peppercorns and herbs. You can also pop in for a coffee and a delicious cake in the afternoon, or take food away with you from the counter selection. Don’t leave empty-handed as there are countless tempting cakes, bags of biscuits (I love the pistachio and Parmesan ones) and exotic cooking ingredients to take home with you
- Bocca di Lupo – specialising in Italian regional cooking, Bocca di Lupo in Soho is just as hard to get in now as when it first opened in 2008, but you can also try for a stool at the bar if you go early. Sitting in front of the kitchen area is enjoyable but should be requested when booking. The bar area is far nicer than the dining room at the back which can feel a bit cramped. The whole sea bream baked in salt is highly recommended, as is the now classic radish and celeriac salad and any of the pastas. I always go over the road to little sister Gelupo for ice cream afterwards
- Copita – a relaxing Soho bar space to share some great tapas with friends, although the portion sizes are quite small, in true tapas style. I love the ajo blanco, duck egg yolk, razor clams and quail. There are also many types of sherry on the menu. Bookings are taken for lunch but not dinner
- Yashin – you’ll find high quality Japanese food here although it’s not cheap. The Omakase sets start at £30 and go up to £60 for 15 pieces of sushi, and there is also a Tasting Menu for two (from £100 per person). The ingredient combinations are exquisite, however, and some types of sushi are seared with a blowtorch. The best seats are therefore in front of the searing action, at the bar (request these when booking) and I wouldn’t recommend sitting anywhere else. NB The homemade tofu is an absolute must order item
Tea, coffee & cake – a few places where I like to meet friends, or just sit and read a book. Go ‘off peak’ to get a seat!
- Attendant – a miniscule cafe uniquely located in a beautifully restored Victorian public toilet dating from around 1890. You’ll find it directly opposite the Crown & Sceptre pub, and it initially feels a little strange going down the narrow stairs. However, you can order excellent coffee from Caravan, fresh cakes, breakfast, salads and sandwiches prepared on site in their little kitchen. Grab a seat along the former urinal or the banquette seating area at the back and make use of their free Wi-fi. There are very few spaces, so choose your visiting time with care. Go for breakfast, lunch or any time you fancy a visit to the restroom!
- Kaffeine – perennial favourite of coffee connoisseurs and so it’s always packed as the perfectionist baristas really take their time preparing the coffee. They also have various ‘guest’ coffees for a limited time, including at one time Copenhagen’s excellent Coffee Collective. Delicious cakes such as brownies and ANZAC biscuits and sublime toasted sandwiches are also available
- Nordic Bakery – if you like relaxing on Alvar Aalto furniture and being served sticky cinnamon buns on iittala plates, then head to the Nordic Bakery. They also serve delicious open rye bread sandwiches with a variety of fillings including gravadlax & cucumber, egg & herring and Jarlsberg cheese & pickled gherkins (don’t forget to ask for your sandwich top!). There are now three locations to choose from, but I prefer the Marylebone location as the original Golden Square cafe now looks a little worn around the edges
- Princi – the London branch of the Milan bakery has been packed from the day it opened five years ago. The ordering system has always been a little chaotic and it hasn’t been a place I would choose for a relaxing breakfast. However, I was pleasantly surprised when I wandered in one Saturday morning and found only a few people quietly enjoying their breakfast with a morning paper. The pastries are superb and I recommend the pain au chocolat, almond croissant and apricot crostata as well as the moreish filled mini croissants (custard creme, Nutella or raspberry jam). For the rest of the day, pizzas, salads and hot dishes are available. No bookings
- Fernandez & Wells – my go-to place for the best toasted sandwiches in Soho, as well as daily soups and stews. There are tempting cakes as well, best washed down with a coffee on the premises. There aren’t many seats in the St Annes Court branch but the others on Lexington Street and Beak Street are bigger.
- Tapped and Packed – great coffees, tempting cakes and the creamiest porridge can be found here. There are three branches – the original one at Rathbone Place, at 114 Tottenham Court Road near Warren Street tube station, and 193 Wardour Street
- Workshop – you’ll find a relaxed atmosphere, friendly staff, exposed brick interior and music that doesn’t hurt your ears. More importantly the coffees are excellent, as is the hot chocolate. My canele was very fresh too, and I really liked the look of the breakfast, lunch & dinner menus. Stick to the Clerkenwell Road branch and avoid the tiny Marylebone coffee bar, which has a completely different vibe
Food shops & markets where I like to shop for food…
- Maltby Street Market – a popular weekend morning destination for gourmet breakfast, lunch and food shopping under the railway arches just ten minutes away from London Bridge. The Ropewalk section is lined with independent food and drink stalls and I always have a slice of sublime Hansen & Lydersen smoked salmon served on sourdough bread with creme fraiche and dill. At Maltby and Greek, I buy my favourite tangerine jam, produced on a tiny Greek island. More can be found around the corner on Druid Street, including St John Bakery where the fresh custard-filled doughnuts quickly sell out. Continue walking down Enid Street for a wonderful selection of cheese, vegetables and other products. Best of all is the The London Honey Company where I stock up on their thick honeycomb. Maltby Street Market is a modern alternative to nearby historic Borough Market, which these days can be quite overwhelming and commercialised. Ropewalk open Saturdays 09.00-14.00 & Sundays 11.00-16.00
- Paul A. Young – despite being raised on British classics like the Flake and the Crunchie, these days I prefer Paul A. Young’s exquisite handmade chocolates which are made in the shop’s basement kitchen. Quirky flavours include pea & mint or lemon, basil & almond, but my favourite is the award-winning sea salted caramel truffle. I buy both the small bars, which have a longer shelf life, as well as the different sized boxes of self selected truffles (£15.50 for 9). The truffles need to be eaten within seven days, which isn’t at all difficult. These make perfect gifts for family, friends and of course for oneself
- Gelupo – wonderfully creative ice cream flavours such as blood orange sorbet. Also great for Italian food ingredients. Little sister of Bocca di Lupo (see above)
- Fortnum & Mason – with its venerable 300 plus year old history, Fortnum & Mason on Piccadilly is still the destination for top quality food and drink products. At my home, the most popular breakfast ingredient is the superb lemon, gin and Angostura bitters marmalade. And when I travel abroad, I always buy gifts for friends and family from here. The tiny tea and jam collections go perfectly with the tins of biscuits. You can also create your own hamper in the store. Pick the hamper size you want (£15-60) and just fill it with whatever takes your fancy as you wander around the store. I would be delighted to receive such a gift hamper! And after you’ve done your shopping, relax over traditional afternoon tea at the Diamond Jubilee Tea Salon on the fourth floor
I’ll be writing separate posts on afternoon tea, Sunday pub lunches and fish and chips soon, but in the meantime there are recommendations for all these and more in my free London iPhone app.
Do also have a look at my London recommendations in my series of articles for Le Cool London.
Enjoy your stay in London!