I’m sure you’ve all been dangling painfully from tenterhooks, in eager anticipation of the second part of my survey of the greatest places to eat in the greatest city. My apologies for the delay in publishing the latter half of the ten gastronomic destination commandments; it has proved a daunting decision. With the first stage I endeavoured to deliver the most diverse compendium as possible: whether it be cuisine type, value, or how many shiny Michelin Stars are glistening over the door. My instincts with this article will be primarily focussed on my final point.
Fine dining is my passion and the completion of this guide will mainly be a testament to that, whilst still including some of the best neighbourhood eateries which are always a pleasure to frequent.
Restaurant Story (One Michelin Star)
This is a truly special restaurant; the one visit I’ve had to date was effortlessly one of the best dining experiences of my life. I say effortlessly, that isn’t quite correct. It is in itself a challenge to even discover where to begin your tale when visiting Story for the first time: it’s in the middle of a roundabout and looks like a showroom on first impression. Upon successful entry, however, the dining room, filled with natural light, is clean and Nordic-looking. We were blessed with glistening sunshine on our lunchtime session last July, pouring through the floor-to-ceiling windows on a summer day. The ethic of the experience is to, well, tell a story. They recommend you bring a book to add to their library (or tell stories as we did, which earned us a bottle of very rare, expensive single malt on the house) as a reward for keeping the front of house entertained – a nice touch indeed. It must have worked as the service is without doubt the slickest of any non-three-star restaurant I’ve ever dined in. It’s marvellous.
Now, the story of the main protagonist: the food. Tom Sellers’s menu is a real delight. With a prologue including scenes under the likes of Thomas Keller and Rene Redzepi, his style certainly reflects the latter gastronomic goliath, and produces a very clean, Noma-esque style with a British sense of humour. One example is the rabbit “fish” finger topped with sliced heritage carrots. There are also surprises throughout the experience which I won’t spoil for you. I cannot recommend this restaurant highly enough. It’s pound-for-pound almost flawless. Go for lunch and have the set menu for under £40. In reality it’s more like an eight course tasting menu – very generous with the amuse-bouches and pre-desserts. Great value, wonderful experience, your story.
Lamb & yogurt. Razor clam & snow. Bonus surprises.
0207 183 2117
Restaurant Gordon Ramsay (Three Michelin Stars)
Now the big guns are coming out. This remains the only three-star experience of my life to date. The reason it makes the list isn’t necessarily the food; three of the four maximum-starred restaurants in the country are classic French, and this is of course one of the two in London. I haven’t visited Alain Ducasse’s outpost at The Dorchester, but many people I know have generally reported back with notes of disappointment. Clare Smyth’s menus are true to Ramsay’s original vision of being unashamedly French, perfectly executed, beautifully presented and, most importantly of all when discussing the difference between one, two and three stars in the Michelin galaxy, with a level of service beyond anything you’ve ever experienced in this universe. It goes without saying that the more stars, the more coins will leave your purse. As a result, go all-out and have the Menu Prestige, the ultimate demonstration of fine dining in what constructed the Ramsay empire from its roots up until the present day. This is the best environment I can think of to help answer the question: what’s all the fuss about with Michelin Stars?
0207 352 4441
Bocca Di Lupo
Every time I visit this neighbourhood trattoria in Soho, I make sure I’m hungry like the wolf in order to be howling with ecstatic satisfaction at the authentic eating experience. The small plates, many thereof approach is definitely the way forward when negotiating the strictly seasonal, fluidly changing regional Italian menu. I recall on my last visit the Insalata Di Mare was easily the best I’ve ever had; the octopus was perfectly tender and the dish well-seasoned, and tinglingly brought together by the acidity of the lemon. The brown shrimps and white polenta was a new, delicious concept to me and the fennel sausage & puy lentil dish is a must. There is something for everyone at Bocca Di Lupo – notice I haven’t even mentioned any pasta dishes yet. I can assure you that the tortellini stuffed with prosciutto, pork, cream & nutmeg is one of the greatest hangover cures when coupled with the crisp, bitter Negroni you’ll inevitably be swilling it down with. Now we’re onto the beverages, the wine list is also a delight to explore, and very flexible on the wallet. A great gateway for those wishing to explore deeper into the treasure trove that is Italian wine, especially the northern reds.
Fennel sausage, squid, prawn & blood orange, brown shrimp & white polenta, Insalata Di Mare.
0207 7342 223
Hibiscus (Two Michelin Stars)
Hibiscus is certainly an interesting restaurant. Yes, amongst critics it’s a polarising dynamic. Claude Bosi’s forward-looking, ultra-modern French haute cuisine has been a Marmite issue for punters and polemics alike for years. My opinion? I love it. The set lunch is great value and they even throw in a deal on a glass of wine or two most of the time. The tasting menu is a unique concept and it’s what keeps me coming back for more. The “Tastes of (insert season)” idea simply lists a plethora of produce that fits the time of year and the diner gets to choose how many courses they would like. What the diner will not know until the plate touches the tablecloth, though, is which ingredients will be used and what form the dishes will take. It’s great for fine dining to have a USP like this and it’s certainly a fun and interesting way to increase customer retention. If the Brixham crab is on the list, order it. It’s one of my favourite dishes in any London restaurant and I’ve tried it in many different forms. Sink your claws into it.
Brixham crab, Scallop with pork pie sauce. Rabbit three ways.
0207 629 2999
This is the restaurant I probably (no, definitely) dine in more than any other in the capital. Having first visited a few years ago I became hooked, and I’ve never enjoyed writing about a restaurant more. Jeremy Lee’s totally unpretentious style is a skill which is incredibly difficult to achieve and maintain to the highest standard. The variation in the daily-changing market menu is truly a celebration of the seasons and has numerous options to explore in addition to the a la carte: smoked eel sandwiches, crab and mayonnaise, and a range of salads plus assorted specials give the diner true flexibility in their options. If you’re a fan of game also, this is the place for you, whether it be birds fallen from the sky or a hare caught in the fields. The set menu at £20 for three courses is a steal too. Since writing the review, Quo Vadis under Jeremy’s leadership in the kitchen and the Hart brothers out front has gone from strength to strength. Breakfast proves to be popular and the dining room is now even open for Sunday lunch. The private dining rooms upstairs have been recently refurbished and the club is certainly worth joining if you’re after a true Soho members’ club to unwind and work in, unlike some of the pseudo-private establishments on neighbouring streets which I won’t take the trouble to name here.
Seasonal squid starter, any soups, Hake & crab broth, vanilla ice cream – trust me.
0207 7437 9585
Well, that’s it. It was incredibly difficult to compile this personal Domesday Book of London dining simply because I could wax lyrical about scores of restaurants which could easily qualify to be here. Give them a go and then we can progress onto making it a top twenty – and beyond!