In a major dining city truly spoilt for choice, very few London restaurants can cut through the clutter and emerge on top. Every year, the ante is upped as more Londoners expect dining with a “wow” factor, and those that succeed attract legions of foodies en masse. The city’s current obsessions span east to Shoreditch, to southwest in Clapham, and the variety — from Michelin-starred Indian fare to honky-tonk barbecue — speaks volumes of London’s international palate. Either queue early or book your reservations well in advance, as these restaurants are London Town’s current best of the buzz.
Barrafina was already a fixture in recent years, but its new Michelin star status in September has only added more fuel to its fire. The no-bookings tapas restaurant, led by Spanish brothers Sam and Eddie Hart, brings some of the finest Catalan and Mallorcan dishes to the capital. Diners are willing to wait for hours to experience plates such as milk-fed lamb’s brain, arroz de marisco (seafood rice) and stuffed zucchini flowers, and the new Adelaide Street location hasn’t done much to dampen the popular demand. However, everyday patrons and tough-nut critics are in sound agreement: It’s a satiating experience worth queuing for.
André Balazs’ hospitality empire spawned an instant legend last year in Chiltern Firehouse, the ultra-exclusive hotel and restaurant in Marylebone. The hotel magnate transformed a defunct Grade-II listed fire station into one of the world’s most fiery-hot hangouts (pun emphatically intended). The restaurant’s become the haunt of choice for the world’s A-list — Naomi Campbell, Bill Clinton, Rita Ora, Kate Moss, and the Beckhams have all dined here — and the celebrity-spotting hype occasionally surpasses the food itself. At the helm of the restaurant’s blistering status is chef Nuno Mendes, serving brasserie-style fare such as crab doughnuts and chicken skin Caesar salad. If you’re not a celebrity, it’s best you try your luck at a weekday lunch, as Chiltern is truly as hot as it gets.
Fera at Claridge’s
Fera’s residence in the luxurious Claridge’s Hotel should give good indication that it’s likely pricey (and excellent). Open tables are scarce as the deep-pocketed masses clamor to book Simon Rogan’s newest Michelin-starred haunt. Inspired by the Latin term for “wild,” Fera focuses on natural, organic ingredients, much of which are grown and foraged at Rogan’s private upcountry farm. Fera’s ever-changing à la carte and tasting menus guarantee original experiences at each subsequent visit, as the restaurant only harvests and serves ingredients at their prime. Dinner for two here can easily surpass the £300 ($460) mark, but their £30 ($46) three-course lunch is a steal for one of London’s most sumptuous and celebrated restaurants.
Gymkhana is still riding high from a glorious 2014; not only did it receive its first Michelin star, it was also named National Restaurant of Year for all of the United Kingdom. Kickstarted by Karam and Jyotin Sethi (the same team behind sibling Michelin-starred curry house Trishna), the Mayfair restaurant is leading the pack for London’s luxury Indian cuisine. Those lucky enough to snag coveted dinner reservations are harkened to colonial, aristocratic India in both atmosphere and taste. Diners delight in original selections such as wild boar vindaloo, quail seekh kebab, and duck egg bhurji with lobster. With nary a bad review in sight, Gymkhana proves restaurants can be supremely in-demand and acclaimed in equal parts.
This popular barbecue street-food vendor recently grew up and settled down into its first permanent location in Spitalfields. Pitmaster and head chef Lewis Spencer did his darnedest to make barbecued “craft meats” and sides as authentic as the American South, and, judging from the demand, he’s pulled it off. It’s all about the meat at East London’s hottest restaurant; for the peckish, there’s the Smoked Selection: a veggie-less platter of beef short rib, pulled pork, chicken thigh, pork rib, and hot-link sausage. Unless they’re coming just for drinks, this is not the place you want to bring your vegetarian and vegan friends; Hotbox is a decadent playground for the carnivorous.
The posh set has found their new fix in Kurobuta, a contemporary Japanese café fronted by former Nobu head chef Scott Hallsworth. The Australian’s affinity for modern Japanese cuisine elicited seismic waves of acclaim since Kurobuta’s Chelsea pop-up debut in 2013. There’s now a permanent location in both Marble Arch and Chelsea, the latter having opened earlier this year. Kurobuta has an exhaustive list of small plates for sharing, most noted being the robata-barbequed tea smoked lamb with Korean miso and the raw beef fillet tataki with onion ponzu. The jet-setting clientele often seen here are at times reflective of the jet set prices — two pieces of wagyu beef sliders are £19 ($30) — but Kurobuta is simply peerless in quality and “it” factor amongst its Japanese contemporaries.
Clapham’s new local dining hero has further cemented the neighborhood’s “one to watch” status for serious eats. The same team behind famed and fellow Clapham neighbor The Dairy strikes gold again with imaginative, modernist dishes. The cooking here employs all of the current culinary buzzwords as the vegetables are fermented, liquid nitrogen’s involved with the desserts, and ingredient-charring appears frequently but all executed with finesse and sense of purpose. If you’re into smart dining, this is a bandwagon you want to jump on, because this Southwest London gem is undoubtedly worth the trek.
An instant hit by Ottolenghi alum Tom Caley, Pachamama shares rank with the capital’s top small-plated Peruvian, such as Lima, Ceviche, and Andina, but served with a British twist. The restaurant boasts many must-try dishes, including the crispy lamb belly with sweet miso, and sweet plantain with feta and English malt. Their ceviche menu, however, is the main attraction; Pachamama’s sea bass version with samphire, radish, sweet potato, and tiger’s milk is arguably the hottest ceviche dish in the city. If you’re only coming for a drink, their sexy, contemporary bar offers a pisco-heavy selection for quality imbibing. Marylebone is not exactly London’s most “happening” neighborhood, but it hasn’t deterred crowds from packing out Pachamama on a nightly basis.
Siblings Layo and Zoë Paskin pulled out all the stops on their first London restaurant, serving serious, modern Jerusalem eats in a fun and flirty atmosphere. The Palomar’s located in a rather shabby section of Chinatown, but one’s bound to feel transported once inside by the venue’s sumptuous 1930s décor and lively vibe. The city’s abuzz about Palomar’s masterful small plate offerings, making scoring dinner table reservations a perpetual tough act. The best seats, however, are in their lush 16-seat kitchen bar, where you can watch the enthused cooks create dishes like the Jerusalem polenta with truffle oil, asparagus, and mushroom ragout (a fan favorite), or Josper-cooked octopus steak with hummus, chickpeas, and tomato confit.
The Smoking Goat has truly been smoking-hot since its October debut. This trendy Thai barbecue café allures diners into a compact and dimly lit den, offering street food-inspired Thai “mom-and-pop” restaurants don’t offer. Their signature dish is the challengingly fun whole chili Cornish crab (the words “messy eating” are actually on its menu description). If you’re ever keen on visiting the Smoking Goat for dinner, be wary about taking a date…lest you risk sight of sticky hands and splattered red chili-coconut cream all over the table, and perhaps yourself. Som Saa might be a commendable rival — a fellow buzzed-about modern Thai joint that opened weeks later — but Smoking Goat offers Thai at its down-and-dirtiest, and the Soho scenesters can’t get enough.