Growing up in America, I remember my first trip to London at the young age of 13. I was told that the food would be drab, dull, and lifeless by many of my fellow countrymen. I soon discovered that the stereotype of overcooked, bland native British food was not far off. However, my return visit to London many years later has rejuvenated my taste buds to a new world—of culinary flavors, textures, techniques, and innovations—and has quickly destroyed that stereotype of boring British dining experiences.
Today, when visiting a city like London, there are so many good restaurants that it’s often difficult to know where to dine. For this reason, many people will rely on the Michelin Guide to assist them; this is a reasonable plan, and my picks for the five favorite restaurants in London all appear in Michelin. My fourth and fifth picks also appear in Bloomberg’s best restaurants in London list. My top three choices also appear in the “World’s 50 Best Restaurants” list compiled by Restaurant Magazine.
Located in the heart of London’s famous Soho district, the Social Eating House has a TripAdvisor Certificate of Excellence and a TripAdvisor rating of 4.5–5.0. It is just one of many restaurants around the world owned by world-class chef Jason Atherton. Since starting his career with other great chefs, Atherton has branched out on his own. His restaurants have received several accolades, and he has won personal awards, including the 2014 Catey as Restaurateur of the Year.
The Social Eating House offers a contemporary bistro menu in an informal setting. Chef Paul Hood collaborates with Atherton to deliver meals like smoked duck “ham,” egg, and chips, featuring ham cured on the premises and served with a soft-centered, bread-crumbed duck’s egg.
Wine is available with meals, but this restaurant is better known for its cocktails, such as Ballroom Spritz 10, a delicious mix of Belsazar Rosé, Limoncello, Botanist gin, Prosecco, bitter sherbet, and raspberry.
58 Poland St, Soho, London W1F 7NS, Phone +44 20 7993 3251
The Barrafina, located on Drury Lane in Soho, is a Barcelona-style tapas restaurant with a TripAdvisor Certificate of Excellence and 4.5–5.0 rating. Unusual for a restaurant of this quality, it does not take reservations; so, expect to wait at least an hour to be seated. It does have a ground floor dining area that can be reserved for parties or special events.
The owner-chefs, Sam and Eddie Hart, are often referred to as the kings of the Soho food scene. They learned their trade while spending their summers with their mother in Mallorca. The meals are based on the family dining style found in Spain and include not only seemingly endless tapas, but also runny-centered tortillas with huge red prawns or tender octopus adorned with capers, toast, and aioli.
The dining facility itself consists of about 20 stools around an “L” shaped bar. The atmosphere is always buzzing as drinks and tapas are constantly being served. The restaurant’s wine list is impressive, but naturally, specializes in Spanish wines and offers its own exclusive, specialty magnums, which are ideal for larger parties.
26-27 Dean St, Soho, London W1D 3LL, Phone +44 20 7440 1456
The Clove Club has also received a TripAdvisor Certificate of Excellence and a 4.5–5.0 rating, was listed at 26th on the Restaurant Magazine “World’s 50 Best Restaurants” list, and is located in the Shoreditch Town Hall. Although it is said Shoreditch has seen the last of its trendy brigade, you would not believe it when you visit the Clove Club, with its graffiti-covered walls and a fair share of trendsetters.
The restaurant made history this year when it became the first in the United Kingdom to require diners to pay when booking a reservation, as opposed to after the meal. The restaurant is known for its British dishes that often use long-forgotten ingredients. A couple of examples of these dishes are:
- Rhubarb and Toasted Oats accompanying Flamed Cornish Mackerel
- South Indian Spices accompanying Yorkshire Suckling Pig
- Jerusalem Artichoke and Coffee accompanying Monkfish Cooked in Malted Barley Oil
- Hazelnuts, Clementine, and Autumn Truffle accompanying Raw Orkney Scallop
The restaurant accepts reservations and even offers the entire restaurant for large parties. The wine list is extensive and offers wine pairings with meals and, at an added expense, prestige wine pairings.
Shoreditch Town Hall, 380 Old St, London EC1V 9LT, Phone +44 20 7729 6496
The Ledbury is located in Notting Hill, perhaps London’s liveliest area. The fact that it was opened by Australian-born chef Brett Graham when he was 25-years-old speaks volumes about his talents, as does the prestigious Josephine Pignolet Award he won before being named the Restaurant Association's “Young Chef of the Year” in 2002.
The restaurant has attained a Certificate of Excellence and a 4.5–5.0 rating from TripAdvisor and placed 14th on the Restaurant Magazine “World’s 50 Best Restaurants” list, as well as ranking high on other fine restaurant listings. The menus at the Ledbury are based on British fare and make the most of wild game and vegetables. A typical menu may consist of:
- First Course: Candy Beetroot, English Caviar, Smoked and Dried Eel
- Second Course: Grilled Cuttlefish, Garlic, and Cracked Wheat
- Third Course: Jowl of Pork, Carrot and Gooseberry Juice, Girolles, and Crackling
- Fourth Course: Roasted Quince Ice Cream, Chestnut Sponge, Whisky, and Honey
The Ledbury has perhaps one of the best-stocked wine cellars in London, with a broad range of selections to choose from. You can get anything from a glass of 2014 Trebbiano d’Abruzzo (Tiberio) for just £6, to a bottle of 1999 Montrachet Grand Cru (Domaine de la Romanée-Conti) for £4,500.
Reservations for this world-class restaurant are usually accepted up to two months in advance.
127 Ledbury Rd, Notting Hill, London W11 2AQ, Phone +44 20 7792 9090
Dinner by Heston Blumenthal is located in the Hotel Mandarin Oriental in Knightsbridge. Huge windows overlook Hyde Park. Ranking 45th on the Restaurant Magazine “World’s 50 Best Restaurants” list, the Dinner by Heston Blumenthal also has a TripAdvisor Certificate of Excellence and a 4.5–5.0 rating, along with an extensive list of other awards.
Serving traditional British food, some of which date back to the Tudor period, a typical meal may include hay-smoked salmon, dressed snails, frog's legs, garlic, parsley, and fennel or roast pollack frumenty, both served with a suitable wine.
This popular restaurant received the High Life Travel Awards Best New Restaurant award in 2011. Reservations are accepted up to six months in advance for the “Chef’s Table,” where your meal is served personally by Executive Chef Ashley Palmer-Watts.
Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park, 66 Knightsbridge, London SW1X 7LA, Phone +44 20 7201 3833
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