The Best London Restaurants For Eating At The Counter19 spots for when you want to feel like you’re part of the action.
Table or counter? Most people will, more often than not, always choose the former. Especially if there’s more than two of you. But if you are eating in a pair, then there are plenty of restaurants where the counter is the better option. Especially if you’re uncomfortable with looking the person next to you in the eye. The best counters are lively, entertaining, and where you'll occasionally get extra edible treats because you laugh at anything and everything the chef says. Here are 19 restaurants where you should always choose the counter.
More restaurants should serve toasties. There is little more a human needs than bread, cheese, copious amounts of butter, and a little peg to hang your jacket on. Hackney wine bar Sager + Wilde has all of those things covered, as well as a long list of interesting bottles too. This counter might look like the kind of place you’d find a brooding detective sipping on white port while trying to decipher whether the butler was innocent after all, but trust us, come evening it’s the perfect spot for a third date.
Bar seating and breadfruit is a formidable combination. We know this firsthand from our visits to Paradise, a Sri Lankan restaurant in Soho where the counter is industrial cool but the food is homely and warm. The menu is tweaked daily but quality ingredients are at the centre of every dish, so whether you’re eating turmeric dahl with spices shipped direct from Sri Lanka or a supremely creamy Devon crab kiri-hodi curry, you’re guaranteed a satisfying meal.
Bocca Di Lupo is one of those entirely effortless restaurants where all of life’s little disappointments get replaced by a wild boar ragu and the feeling that you really do look great in this lighting, thank you very much. On Archer Street in Soho, the long counter situation covers sophisticated dates (hello marble), a tender reunion (hello shared gelati), and comfort (hello solid three-inches of padding on the leather stools). Just be sure to select ‘counter dining’ when you make your reservation.
Sure, it’s no Martin Scorsese but watching someone add an amazu pickled shallot to your blue lobster slider at Dinings SW3 is one production that will truly whet the appetite. This is a serious sushi spot in Knightsbridge where you should expect serious prices. Although there are only a few counter seats, it’s totally worth calling ahead for the winning combination of taramo hand-dived scallops and your own personal sushi chef show. Whatever you do, don’t skip the handrolls.
Sweetings is a seafood-focused, lunch-only restaurant that is full of merry walking signet rings and the sound of the same anecdote repeated over and over until the end of time. It’s been open in the City for over 130 years and it has the ideal counter if you’re of the opinion that prawn cocktails really need to make a comeback. Get the lobster mash, get the crab bisque, and get settled in for a lunch where a tankard of black velvet is essential.
Oysters at the bar is what several members of our team would describe as ‘a mood’ and if that’s the mood you’re after, then the counter at J. Sheekey is where you should be heading. As far as old-school seafood restaurants go, this Covent Garden classic is our favourite. It’s got plush leather bar seats, backs and all. It’s got gold detailing. And, most importantly, it’s got four different types of oyster (as well as everything else).
The truth is we’d sit at a regular table, a booth, a spot next to the cloakroom here. Fuck it, we’d sit outside in a blizzard if it meant we could eat the delicious things being served up at this Indian restaurant in Mayfair. But if you sit at the counter, you’ll get the best of both worlds. Incredible dishes like Lahori chicken and lamb belly galouti, alongside some wookey papad to snack on mid conversation, and a refreshing passionfruit and buttermilk dessert, all arriving straight to you from the buzzing open kitchen.
If you’re looking for a restaurant counter that’s pretty much got it all, stools with backs withstanding, then Kiln is your answer. Sharing a claypot of crab glass noodles alongside a Burmese-style beef curry as flames crack off the pans opposite and beads of sweat roll down chefs and diners alike is, pretty much, how we picture heaven. Thankfully this counter isn’t just a figment of our imagination. It’s right there on Brewer Street in Soho, and you should be too.
You approach the counter at Scully in the same way you would an Attenborough documentary. With confusion and fascination, and eventual delight. Nothing served in this St. James’s restaurant is what we’d classify as run of the mill, nor is it made that way. One chef will be scooping a pile of soft aubergine onto yoghurt, as another wields tweezers big and small for various herbs and leaves. All of it could be pretentious, but it isn’t. Instead it makes for a unique dinner: flavour and experience-wise. And their stools have backs.
Whether or not you’re in the area, this handroll specialist in Brixton is worth heading to. If not for the delicious salmon temaki, then for the wooden wrap-around counter, ceramic plates, and overall cool aesthetic. But really, it should be for the salmon, BBQ eel, and otoro temaki. Come here with one other person, get the set menu for £35 each, some vegetable tempura, and you’re in for a great meal.
Spanish tapas mini-chain Barrafina probably has the most famous counter restaurants in London and though there are more exciting options around central, their Coal Drops Yard location is a no-brainer if you’re around King’s Cross and in need of some tortilla and a glass of wine. It’s an excellent option for lunch or dinner. Particularly if, like us, there’s never a time you aren’t in the mood for some pan con tomate.
At Berenjak there is only one place in which you can sit opposite a slowly revolving, glistening, hunk of meat on a stick—and that’s the counter. This corridor-shaped Iranian spot on Romilly Street is an excellent place to know about in Soho. Not least because sitting up at the counter means that you get their freshly made taftoon bread hot from the oven, as well as their kababs and dips as well. Plus, there’s always that hypnotic shawarma to gaze at as well.
The words ‘all-day bar’ do funny things to us. It’s important to admit this before going on to say that a meal at the counter at this Farringdon Florentine-style trattoria is one of the best choices you can make in London. Whether you’re here alone or with a friend or date, you’ll find a restaurant that is entirely committed to your enjoyment, and a menu that suits a quick-in-quick-out bowl of sausage and lentils as much as it does an all-in 950g t-bone to share. Whatever you do, don’t skip the tiramisu or the £5 negroni they serve at the aforementioned all-day bar.
On the right day, with the right lighting, Levan’s street-facing counter might just be the best place to eat in London. The sharing plates at this casual all-day Peckham wine bar change all the time but you can expect things like buckwheat gnocchi, sprouting broccoli tempura, pear tarte tatin, and generally things that will make you smile like you just saw a daschund in a hot dog costume. Come nighttime though you’ll want to sit at the kitchen counter, partially because it makes for good entertainment, but mostly because watching someone carefully slice your jambon de bayonne is a very special kind of sexy.
Here’s a fun fact: Bancone means ‘counter’ or ‘bar’, so it would be a pretty sad state of affairs if it didn’t make it into this guide. An intimate little Covent Garden spot, this Italian restaurant serves a short, changing menu of handmade pasta with things like confit egg yolk, saffron butter, and beef shin ragu. Although there are a few tables here, most of the restaurant is counter seating around the big, open kitchen where you’ll see the chefs constructing chocolate brûlées or pan-frying some lobster and garlic. But don’t get so distracted by the kitchen theatrics that you forget to order the signature silk handkerchief pasta—it’s excellent.
To us, any mention of the counter at The Palomar in Soho is pretty much code for a great evening. In fact, in the future when someone says they’re ‘feeling a bit palomar’ just go ahead and presume they’re having a really, really good time. Thanks to its excellent kubaneh bread, intimate feel, and constant buzz, a same-week reservation can be tricky but you can always put your name down for the bar and come back later. Any waiting will feel entirely worth it once you’re a couple of cocktails in and the bartenders are coaching you through the best of the menu. Trust us, you’ll feel peak party no matter which night of the week it is.
OK, it’s confession time. There’s actually only one counter at La Mia Mamma that we’re really interested in and it’s the one directly behind the front window. This two-person counter is undeniably home to the best seats in this whole restaurant because of your proximity to the people that make this place so special: the mammas. The closer you are to this Chelsea spot’s troupe of Italian female chefs, the more pasta you’re going to eat, the closer you’ll be to any ‘happy birthday’ singalongs, and generally the better your life is going to be. The menu here changes regularly, but be sure to order the cacio e pepe—it’s our favourite in London.
The nemesis of counter dining is the common stool. Nobody wants to spend half their meal googling whether it’s normal to get pins and needles in their left ass cheek, which is exactly why we’re such big fans of the counter dining at Kama By Vineet. This upmarket 26-seater Indian restaurant inside the Harrods Dining Hall not only has some seriously excellent butter chicken but the counter seats are more tall, beautiful, sophisticated armchairs than wooden butt numb-er. Basically, the seats here are pretty much the top tier of counter seating and it’s a top place to eat some pistachio lamb chops and chocomosas while you watch the chefs bake fresh garlic naan.
You know what, sometimes using a shampoo with argan oil or wearing a nice watch isn’t enough to make you feel sophisticated. And when that’s the case, there’s the marble counter at modern brasserie Frenchie in Covent Garden. The bar here is not only very good looking, but the high-backed chairs are comfy, the bartenders are fun, and the cocktails come much quicker than if you were sat on the banquette seating with the other fools. Don’t miss the bacon and maple syrup scone. Or the manicotti. Or the banoffee and caramelised pecan dessert.