Many of the movements that have come to form the current restaurant landscape in the western hemisphere largely include back-to-basics, family-style sharing plates; burgers given haute-cuisine do ups (potato buns! beef garum! sit-down service! silverware!); puzzling chalkboard menus of barely translatable Euro-inspired small plates (if you haven’t quite yet assembled the courage to ask the server if it’s the fregola or the brandade that should pique your interest, you may be doing it wrong); and what is often marketed as democratic service, which is to say no-reservations bare-brick restaurants that have queues of pining diners coiling from its entryway to surrounding side streets.
But, if a blow-out occasion takes a man’s fancy, which is the table to reserve for when the moment calls? Here’s our selection of places where the food will jolt your mind and the prices will bust your Amex in equal measure.
Balthazar, Covent Garden
Where better to begin than Balthazar? Bathed in the glow of Parisian lightshades, and bedecked throughout with antique-style mirrors, chandeliers and art, this Covent Garden restaurant has been serving up fine French brasserie-inspired cuisine for close to a decade. The menus tease and tempt in equal moreish measure, brimming with such tongue-twistingly tantalising dishes as ‘Saumon Fumé Au Chêne’, ‘Soufflé Suissesse’ and ‘Turbot Meunière’. But the real decadent draw here is the private dining rooms; intimate spaces with their own private kitchens, bars — and even entrances.
These are ‘Le Grand Salon Prive’ and ‘Le Petit Salon Prive’. The larger of the two is perhaps the best use of your bonus; a vast table (seating thirty) sits on antique timber floorboards, with an original pewter bar propped close by. Vibrant and atmospheric, the space epitomises Balthazar’s blend of classic French with a New York twist — and offers set menus between £50 and £88 per guest. And the best part? You’ll receive the same exceptional service, ambient style and delectable dishes the restaurant is renowned for, whether you’re closing a crucial business deal or throwing a private cocktail reception for friends.
Balthazar, Covent Garden
The Ninth, Fitzrovia
There’s much to love about The Ninth, an endlessly charming, bijou bolthole on Charlotte Street in Fitzrovia. You could love the company — for it has chosen its culinary bedfellows incredibly well (Six by Nico, Norma, Kitchen Table to name but a few). You could love the sweet setting, with cosy studded benches inside and a small terrace jutting out into the hustle, bustle and Russell Square-adjacent area. But the easiest way to fall in love with chef Jun Tanaka’s first solo venture? By ordering first from the dessert menu; a dish unassumingly named ‘Pain Perdu’.
For it is sublime. A golden ingot of browned French toast, this is one of the richest, creamiest, most decadent desserts in the capital. Not for its ingredients, necessarily — but rather for how it has been treated; served up simply with pride, care and a large dollop of vanilla ice cream. There is, of course, much more on the menu that’ll have you swooning (try ‘Smoked Eel & Panisse’, the ‘Tempura Grezzina Courgettes’ and the enchanting ‘Pipe Rigate, with Australian Black Truffle and Egg Yolk’), but ensure above all else that you indulge in that ‘Pain Perdu’. It’s bonus-blowing bliss.
Technically, Amethyst is not a jewel — but a gemstone. However, we’ll make an exception here, because Carlo Scotto’s enigmatic eatery (the entrance of which can be found sitting unassumingly on Sackville Street) is exquisite; a dazzling jewel in the crown of Mayfair. The ‘Chef’s Table’, which sits jaggedly in the centre of the room, has a vein of the vibrant purple stone running through it, and this swish surface plays host to the twelve sumptuous courses of the restaurant’s signature tasting menu.
The food is influenced by Scotto’s considerable and cultured travels. The cuisine is difficult to define; beginning with a base of Nordic and Japanese flavours, but with a dash of French cookery techniques and a pinch of Arabic twists thrown in to keep things feeling fresh and tasting incredible. Dishes include ‘Foie Gras with Rose Petal Salmon’, ‘Burnt Hay Black Cod with Caramelised Miso’ and ‘Beef with Ras el Hanout and Medjool Dates’. And, seeing as though you’re blowing your bonus, why not fork out for the extra expert wine pairing from sommelier Filippo Carnevale? You won’t regret it.
Decimo, Kings Cross
When Gentleman’s Journal stayed at The Standard, Decimo hadn’t yet thrown open its marvellously Mexican doors. But, even if you’re not lucky enough to be staying downstairs, the eatery atop the luxurious London hotel is well worth your time — particularly handy, given its proximity to Kings Cross, if you’re hosting a business dinner, or entertaining friends and family from out of town.
The chargrilled brainchild of Michelin-starred Chef Peter Sanchez-Iglesias, the 10th floor restaurant has killer views — and merges the piquant cuisine of Sanchez-Iglesias’ Spanish homeland with his love for Mexico (and macramé, seemingly). This decor is especially striking; think mid-century chic fused with restrained bohemian touches and a flurry of spiny flora.
When it comes to order, begin with cocktails. The Paloma is a classic, but we’d recommend the ‘Horchata Punch’, a milk-washed, mezcal-based sipper that’s like a liquid starter in of itself. For food, try the ‘Pork Belly Taco’, or its vegetable-based brother, which showcases cauliflower three ways. And don’t neglect your ‘Para Picar’ small plates, most notably the ‘Marinated Red Peppers’ pictured above — a flavourful paste to be spread sumptuously on coal-oiled bread. It’s a revelation with every bright red bite.
The first thing you’ll notice is the fish. And not the thinly-sliced seafood on Miro’s menu (although the Sliced Hamachi with Spicy Ponzu and Jalapeño is a true treat from the deep). Rather, we’re talking those fluorescent fish hanging above the slick open kitchen; swimming in a sea of neon and setting out Miro’s stall for your meal to come. Because the extensive menu from Executive Chef Toby Burrowes may dive and dip into many cultures’ cuisines — Asian, Europian and South American-inspired among them — but finely dished-up fish unites almost ever plate in the place.
There are four different Maki Rolls to choose from (we’d go for the Crunchy Truffled Yellowtail and Avocado option). The King Crab and Prawn Croquettes topped with Garlic Aioli and Confit Garlic is one of Miro’s most sumptuous signatures. And the Grilled Jumbo Tiger Prawn is almost as striking as the restaurant’s exceptional wine list — which contain’s a particularly sushi-friendly Ribeauvillé Riesling. But the catch of the day? “Fish and Chips”; Miro’s innovative spin on the British classic, consisting of an oblong of fried potato galette topped with fatty tuna ‘chūtoro’, ‘Oscietra’ caviar and pickled wasabi. You’ll never be satisfied by the local chippy ever again.
Dinner by Heston
Have you ever wondered about the brioche bun that blossoms from a cast-iron pot and is ordered by nearly all the covers at Dinner by Heston? That’s the Tipsy Cake, the restaurant’s trademark dessert, a blooming, shapely bun lacerated five directions, heavily moistened with Sauternes, and whose accompanying jagged slice of pineapple has been spit-roasted in front of the kitchen’s open-fire oven for the span of a sluggish afternoon and severed into stubby, appendage-looking batons moments before it’s delivered to you. Does the dish’s 19th-century backstory truly flavour the moment? Perhaps; the taste is divine.
Blumenthal’s playbook here is directed by recipes fashioned centuries prior and refracted through a contemporary lens. The dish labelled on the menu as Rice and Flesh – a risotto-like riff enlivened with slices of almond, veal sweetbreads and smoked eel, fragranced with saffron, and scattered with snips of chicken feet – has lineage from Richard II’s court. The black-foot pork chop – the loin taken from the Iberian pig, judged by many to be the finest breed of its kind, sliced fine, and fanned out like a spread of cards on a Las Vegas table – is a nod to a moment in time when Marie-Antoine Carême, the 19th-century architect of French cuisine, took residency in London. At the end of the meal, the Victorian-inspired ice-cream trolley will be wheeled out and cranked by hand tableside until a thick smoke of liquid-nitrogen erupts from the new-age machine and envelops your server who will then stud it with popping candy, chocolate and walnut, and raspberries that have been freeze-dried. At this point, it’s either you or the dessert that gets crushed. Steady yourself and move the belt down two notches; you’ll need to dig deep.
Eight-course menu, £220 per person
Dinner by Heston
Bob Bob Ricard City
Is there a more embellished London restaurant than Bob Bob Ricard City, the outpost of the Soho original, acknowledged for its champagne-summoning button and flush trappings of oyster plateaus and caviar plates? Well, there’s Aquavit, the Scandi-inflected restaurant in St James’s whose restroom taps are gilded in gold. At Brasserie of Light, Damien Hirst’s model of a pegasus in flight, encrusted with enough crystals to steady a small-nation’s economy, dominates the airspace. BBR City, a complex network of bevels and sparkles, pixelated screens and motifs that seemed to have been smuggled from a Fabergé storeroom, is likely in the argument.
The currency that sustains BBR’s appeal is hedonism dialled to eleven, from the moment you spoon the pelmeni – meat dumplings lined with lobster, crab and shrimp and steeped in a lobster bisque – to when your server raptures at your selection of red Domaine Faiveley as though it weren’t the eighth carafe of the stuff peddled that hour. Have you really been to BBR if you didn’t you order the beef wellington, a behemoth brick of beef fillet cooked to pink, swaddled within a latticed veneer of pastry and lubricated by only a few dabs of truffle-enriched sauce? The gleaming dessert orb that shatters into itself under the gentle heat of melted chocolate? Here, everything exists for your pleasure.
Four courses, roughly £180 per person
Bob Bob Ricard City
Endo at the Rotunda
There is a particular cadence to an omakase tasting, the tightly coordinated meal which is regarded as the best expression of the season’s bounty and a chef’s masterful intent and whose length can last anywhere between 45 minutes and the duration of a cross-continental flight. You will most likely have to make your reservation three months in advance (walk-ins are for the less ambitious!). When you land the coveted spot, you and a small-sportsteam-size of strangers will congregate around a hinoki counter. You’ll probably be encouraged to swab your hands with an oshibori, the dampened hand-towel crucial to Japanese hospitality. And, like a Knicks fan who has managed to score courtside seats, you’ll spend most of the evening observing the itamae mould tiny mounds of rice, dab it with a grating of wasabi, and press it with coin-thin slices of fish. The rhythm is tight and it flows – mould-dab-press-eat, mould-dab-press-eat – and the pace is relentless.
At Endo at the Rotunda, the restaurant reputed as one of the toughest seats to land this side of Park Lane, Kengo Kuma’s pared-down scheme immaculately frames chef Endo Kazutoshi’s merciless bill of fare. Otoro with Gloucestershire ‘onsen egg’ may dwindle into kobujime brill, Atlantic tuna, and aged monkfish pil pil, and your visit, should the stars align, might include the Cornish spider crab that’s absolutely pummelled with a mortgage-worth of Périgord black truffle.
20-course menu, £220
Endo at the Rotunda
Cradled between the embellished brasseries and the wood-lined, scotch-perfumed members’ clubs of St James’s, the genreless Ikoyi swims against the current, its name taking its cues from a well-heeled Lagosian district and its pantry of spices and pungent rubs, which derive from sub-Saharan west Africa (scotch bonnet chillies; Grains of Selim), is paired with produce that the food-obsessed label as micro-seasonal – namely ingredients, such as finger lime, that are at full flavour for only a precious few weeks.
Things here are often pickled, burnt or fermented, and run the gamut from ikejime trout and Gola peppercorn, to plantain-smoked kelp and blackberry; sorghum crêpe, cuttlefish and trompette fondue; and black sesame, uda and vanilla. Innovative libations – Palm Punch made with rum, palm wine and tiger nut; and Pedro’s Elixir that mixes ogogoro, pineapple and ginger – also pack strong punches. If you find yourself questioning what is the quintessential-London restaurant to book, the table that best embodies the city’s vivacity and character, there are the usual suspects – St John with its white-walled sobriety and its paean to offcuts; or Wiltons, the near-300-year-old establishment that proffers crustacea and choice cuts of fish prepared and served the way it’s always been done. But Ikoyi’s menu – borderless, complex and offbeat – might make the strongest argument.
13-course tasting menu, £185 per person
The love for Italian menus seemingly knows no limits in London. There is Padella, whose once endless queues comprised tourists flocking from the Tate, yuppies looking to score a modestly priced dinner, and Eater-subscribers hoping for a taste of the creamy cacio e pepe, a dish well-chronicled by restaurant followers and reputed for cranking up the Roman original with a heavy shake of what I suspect is oregano or marjoram. The Veja-wearing Campari-sippers pack the inner courtyards of Campania, perhaps the closest you can get to the southern half of the Italian peninsula without having to make a beeline to Gatwick. And I could have sworn I once heard a portly man whisper to his mistress that the scaloppa Milanese at Ciao Bella – a wheel-sized tablet of veal, breaded and bludgeoned until it achieves the thickness of a frisbee – would be his death-row meal. Luca, a clean, bare-brick space punctuated with skylights and skirted by leather banquettes, the type of place enthusiasts of bellini and Calvarino might naturally gravitate towards, could rank among the best.
What the cooking at Luca speaks of is a new-wave approach to Italian fare that has come to flavour many of the Euro-inspired dining rooms in London, less facsimiles of regional brodos and osso buccos than concepts based on a true story. Is the burrata, dialled-up with broad-bean pesto, preserved lemon and confit almond, an exact representation of the Murgian delicacy that’s traditionally coupled with nothing more than a scattering of rough salt and a puddle of olive oil? Will you think more of the Orkney waters from where the lean, puckering scallop was caught than the Calabrian origins of the gently spiced ’nduja schmear that underpins it. Does the plating of Scottish halibut, with spring minestrone, jots of smoked eel and coins of Italian courgettes, smack more of the fresh British spring than that of the Amalfi kitchen? A shortage of rough-and-ragged workman pasta and choppy wines might not agree with zia, yet, all things considered, you probably won’t take note. Settle into that leather banquette – and submit.
Four courses, roughly £165 per person
The mezcal selection at Kol, chef Santiago Lastra’s apparently seamless integration of Mexican fare with the British larder, is a lethal, yet not entirely regrettable, way to end a meal. A quick sip of La Sandia, the pichomel-focused drink distilled twice and fermented for fifteen days in a plastic vat, floods the throat with heat and funk, with sparks of fruit, before waxing the deeper inches of your chest with what feels like a Jackson Pollock – all energy, colour and vibrancy. It is a pleasurable, life-affirming thwack to the system before you pour yourself into the taxi home.
You have, no doubt, tasted Mexican in London before, or at least attempts of recreating the cuisine whose roots, complexities and nuances are embedded in millenias-old tradition – and what is on offer is often a dud when compared to the options that Angelinos or Chicagoans consider a birthright. If you were pushed, Sonora, whose divine, lovingly blistered flour tortillas draw the London Fields crowd, and La Chingada, popular amongst the Mexican community south of the river, are worthy of your time. Kol, however, whose tostada is slicked with a fistful of enoki mushrooms, and cranked up with habanero and clippings of fermented gooseberry, and whose quesadilla is lubricated with springy Kentish Oaxaca cheese that can stretch the length of a forearm, could be considered the finest of them all.
Antojitos in the Mezcaleria from £6
Nueve tasting menu in the restaurant from £125
Lisboeta is a colossal space, generous in wood and glow, signalled only by its muted ink-blue facade that is jimmied amongst Charlotte Street’s officeworker boozers, chain eateries, greasy pizza dives, and Michelin-approved tasting menus. The curved marble bar stretches for what seems like a shuffleboard-standard length, and the grilling station is piled absurdly high with spears of asparagus, palettes-worth of deep-sea scarlet prawns, and racks of brick-thick hunks of drying beef. Depending on the day, you are led upstairs, towards the food-obsessed couples and groups of media workers, and you are seated amongst the extremely loud, explosive energy of it all, where the high decibel levels are probably only comparable to the chaos of Black Axe Mangal, chef Lee Tiernan’s anarchic Highbury eaterie.
Lisboet’s chef, Nuno Mendes, has, one might say, cemented auteur status in London, having previously overseen winners with the brasserie-style Chiltern Firehouse and private-diner Mãos, and his most recent project certainly helps cement the argument. The glory of Portuguese fare, I am told, is not in its spice-grilled chicken or the pastéis de natas, the way in which bulgogi and bibimbap are not truly symbolic of the seriousness of the Korean kitchen – and part of Mendes’s success is having not leant into the Portuguese clichés. At Lisboeta, you will be tearing up bits of O Simões Azeitāo cheese – a viscous, soft sheep’s cheese from Portugal’s western coast with a punchiness you might find strikingly pleasurable – grilled acorn-fed black pork whose taste is darkened by a fermented red-pepper paste, a dish you’d hope to be confronted with whenever you step into a Lisbon restaurant, and you are going to want to try the mushroom açorda – thick cuttings of wild mushrooms congealed by flowing egg yolk – at least once. A trip here also shouldn’t go without the promise of the abade de priscos – a gleaming, wobbly orb of egg yolk and pork-fat custard the size of a desktop mouse, good enough to eat even without the splendid addition of port-wine caramel, a glorious dish that appears more a contemporary sculpture than food in its simplistic, curving appearance.
Mains from £36
Now for a digestif. Here’s how to make the ‘Fine Line’ Suppai cocktail by Sexy Fish…
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