When I travel, I’m most interested in restaurants with a strong sense of place. For years, London was lauded mainly for those serving foreign cuisines, but now the city has numerous fine options for high-end British food as well. I focused chiefly on the latter — plus one or two new hot spots popular with locals. At all of the restaurants below, I never felt that I could be anywhere but London.
In a soaring space on the 31st floor of The Shard, London’s tallest building, this romantic restaurant has panoramic views of the City’s skyline and the Thames (request a window seat when you make your reservation). I had a delicious dinner of Colchester rock oyster gratin with crunchy samphire, and perfectly cooked fillet of Hereford beef. Tables in the cocktail bar have even better views than those in the restaurant.
31 St. Thomas Street. Tel. (44) 20-3011-1256
“Tavern” is hardly the word for this palatial dining room in The London EDITION hotel, with hundreds of gilt-framed artworks hung beneath an imposingly ornate plaster ceiling. It felt like an updated Simpson’s in the Strand (see below). A mix of well-heeled travelers and Londoners populated the semicircular booths. I relished my appetizer of pork pie, reminiscent of pâté en croûte and served from a carving trolley with pickled vegetables and a selection of mustards. Even better was my Cornish cod with a ragu of fennel, fresh dill and mussels. With a crunchy golden crust and moist, flaky flesh, it was absolutely delectable. The energetic sommelier made fine recommendations, and our French waiter took time to write down some of his favorite Paris restaurants for us.
10 Berners Street. Tel. (44) 20-7908-7979
Bibendum occupies the century-old tile-clad Michelin House, the former London headquarters of the famous tire-making and restaurant-reviewing company. Although a restaurant opened in 1987, only recently did acclaimed French chef Claude Bosi take the helm. In no mood for a lengthy tasting menu, we chose from the à la carte menu of creative French-inflected dishes that use local ingredients (we received several additional small courses in any case). My appetizer of Cornish cock crab came with crab mousse and aromatic elderflower jelly. To follow, I tried an unusual and complex main course of Somerset goat kid ballotine stuffed with pork, foie gras and kidney and topped with Scottish razor clam carpaccio. The service was highly attentive.
Claude Bosi at Bibendum
81 Fulham Road. Tel. (44) 20-7581-5817
“I haven’t been to a restaurant like this since the ’60s!” a portly English gentleman next to us exclaimed to his wife. Indeed, the brand-new Cora Pearl, named after a 19th-century courtesan, had an atmosphere at once full of energy and tinged with a whiff of scandal. We sat in the compact bar in the basement, which felt dead until about 8 p.m., when it began filling up with fashionable Londoners. I started with a mosaic-like terrine of sweet and tender leek and smoky eel, served with rich horseradish clotted cream. I also liked my flaky cod with deviled crab and grilled cauliflower. And I won’t soon forget the side of chips (french fries), which proved to be layers of paper-thin potato formed into crunchy, creamy-centered batons. Don’t miss them.
30 Henrietta Street. Tel. (44) 20-7324-7722
This “grand British brasserie” in the Rosewood Hotel looks the part, with red banquettes, granite columns and contemporary chandeliers. After contemplating the menu over a mellow barrel-aged Negroni, I knew what I had to do. The personable waiter tried to steer me toward the mutton pie, but it was only the pork pie for me. I made the right decision. It had a flawless, flaky crust and a savory filling of pork shoulder, bacon, fennel and sage, accompanied by a pork demi-glace. It was positively addictive, and as I write this I find myself pining for another portion. And another. A trifle of cherries, yellow sponge cake, pistachios, mascarpone cream and hazelnut toffee was almost as compelling. The restaurant’s Pie Room offers cooking classes.
Holborn Dining Room
252 High Holborn. Tel. (44) 20-3747-8633
I heard mostly American accents at this chic new restaurant, tucked away on the second and third floors of a Mayfair townhouse. After overeating for several days, the small portions by El Bulli alumnus Rob Roy Cameron were something of a relief. But don’t go to Gazelle if you’re actually hungry. My four courses felt like a light meal: refreshing cherry tomatoes in basil oil and white carrot juice with candied lemon peel; turbot with sea beans and a clam reduction; pork tail with a Manhattan cocktail reduction and Jerusalem artichoke; and exotic black sesame sponge cake with mango sorbet and frozen pink peppercorn gelée. The food was creative, even cutting-edge, but I couldn’t help wishing I was dining on roast beef at Simpson’s.
48 Albemarle Street. Tel. (44) 20-7629-0236
The newest restaurant by star chef Ollie Dabbous has a Scandinavian-modern aesthetic and floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking Green Park. (However, the view is of double-decker sightseeing buses as much as anything.) Even so, I loved our lunch there, not least because of the charming, good-humored staff. The cuisine comes in jewel-like presentations but feels satisfying, not precious. After trying some delights from the gorgeous breadbasket and nibbling some crudités with chamomile-rapeseed oil dressing, I had a balanced appetizer of beets and beet greens with horseradish foam. The shaved king oyster mushrooms in my main course of veal rillettes turned into something like al dente pasta in the truffle cream. And I couldn’t resist a selection from the cheese trolley. The ground-floor restaurant has a tempting à la carte menu, but Hide Above has better views, and its Lunch Set Menu offers a better value.
85 Piccadilly. Tel. (44) 20-3146-8666
On an improbably quiet pedestrianized street just behind Piccadilly Circus, year-old Ikoyi presented me with the first gourmet West African tasting menu I’ve ever tried. It was a spicy, invigorating delight from start to finish. Standouts included stone bass in peanuty banga bisque (palm fruit soup) with crayfish oil and greens, trombetta squash slicked with turmeric butter atop thick tahini-like egusi (ground seeds) sauce, and 60-day aged beef with efo (spinach) sauce, cauliflower-anise purée and eggplant, accompanied by a bowl of divine crab rice. Each dish had deep flavor, keeping me engaged through to the finish of cashew ice cream with baobab fruit crumb and hibiscus-poached peach. The wine pairings presented by the sommelier would have been splendid on their own, but most were overwhelmed by the spiciness of the food. Cocktails or a sweet wine might be better choices.
1 St. James’s Market. Tel. (44) 20-3583-4660
After a sensitive renovation in 2017, Simpson’s in the Strand still looks grandly traditional, with an elaborate plaster ceiling, warm wood wainscoting and red leather seating. Sitting at the table next to Winston Churchill’s favorite, we enjoyed a meal of beautifully presented British classics. I started with some sweet potted shrimp in a brown-butter sauce spiked with mace, followed by butter-tender Yorkshire grouse, which had just come into season, accompanied by braised red cabbage and creamed spinach. A master carver sliced the grouse, served whole, into more-manageable pieces for me. He also manned the roast-beef trolley, from which he carved rosy, melt-in-your-mouth slices. With service that was formal but friendly, Simpson’s in the Strand became one of my favorite restaurants of the entire trip.
Simpson’s in the Strand
100 Strand. Tel. (44) 20-7420-2111
The Langham hotel opened this “pub” last year, but it’s a bit more glamorous than it sounds, with lacquered green walls and striking glass-globe chandeliers hanging from its ornate ceiling. I noticed locals using it as a business lunch spot, but it’s just as appealing to travelers. We shared a theatrical appetizer of masala-spiced Scotch eggs covered in fried vermicelli — the waiter jokingly referred to them as “hairy eggs” — served atop dal and herbed yogurt. But I felt less willing to give up any of my chicken tikka pie, which came with juicy chicken, raisins, potatoes and onions, bound together with mild curry cream, beneath a sumptuous golden pastry crust.
15 Langham Place, Regent Street. Tel. (44) 20-7965-0198