It’s a question we get asked all the time. Where should I be eating in London right now? If you’ve thought that recently, you’ve come to the right place. The Infatuation Hit List is your guide to the city’s best new restaurants.
And when we say ‘best’, we mean it. We’ve visited each of these restaurants on several occasions and personally vetted them to find out which ones are worth the time and effort. Crucially, we’ve also left countless others off that we don’t think you should bother with, regardless of what a dozen restaurant PRs and Instagrammers have insisted - being a new opening doesn’t automatically qualify a spot on the list.
The Hit List is our record of each restaurant that’s opened within the last year that we highly recommend that you try, and we’ve arranged it in chronological order with the newest places at the top, and the oldest at the bottom.
New to The Hit List as of 31/5/2018: Temper Covent Garden and Inko Nito
Temper Covent Garden is a restaurant to pull out of your pocket on any occasion. As with Temper’s other two spots, there’s the same counter seating, the same fun vibe, and the same weird and wonderful inventiveness in the kitchen. Instead of the BBQ and curries they specialise in at their Soho and City branches, they’re doing ragu here. And to accompany the sauces they’ve got a take on pasta that isn’t actually pasta. To illustrate: the noodles in our carbonara were actually strips of lardo. Yes, that’s as filthy as it sounds. And, yes: it’s amazing. They’re also doing pizzas. But instead of doing them in the Neapolitan style as fashion dictates, the best of them here are deep pan Detroit Squares with options ranging from the cheeseburger, which is basically the living embodiment of what you always think a Big Mac should taste like, and the K-Whole (a kimchi based pizza) which is sensational - one of the best things we have eaten so far this year. Temper Covent Garden definitely deserves a spot on your restaurant rotation.
Most of the time, Japanese food in London is either ramen, very pricey sushi, or very crap sushi. Inko Nito is changing that. It’s a spacious, slick spot in Soho catering predominantly for walk-ins to eat Japanese/Korean fusion at a huge, many-sided counter. While it might have a casual set up, this place is a bit too expensive for a casual lunch. It’s worth it though. The food is filled with fresh flavours and textures that’ll make you wonder why you don’t eat like this more often. It’s also very pretty. We expected the highlight to be the meats, fishes, and vegetables cooked on a central robata grill. But, as good as the whisky glazed pork belly, and the grilled cauliflower with parmesan and panko crunch are, there are other items on the menu that excite us. For example: the black kampachi sashimi salad. It’s some of the best inexpensive raw fish we’ve had in London. It’s simple, it’s pretty, and it’s delicious. Meanwhile, the menu’s only dessert, a £5 bowl of charred coconut soft serve and granola, is enough in by itself to make Inko Nito a Soho destination.
Some restaurants feel the need to shout and scream about the lineage of the chefs working in their kitchen. Llerena isn’t that type of restaurant. It’s a friendly and unpretentious tapas spot on Upper Street where the products - many of which are imported directly from the family farm southwest of Madrid - are of such high quality that they speak for themselves. They serve all the tapas you’d expect, as well as stews, salads, and cuts of ibérico cooked on the grill, but their specialty is jamon and cold cuts. There are several to choose from, but we’ve developed a soft spot for the lomito de bellota, the premium loin of an acorn-fed ibérico.
Somehow, along the way, we have replaced actual laughter with the word “lols”. We need to feel again people. We need to laugh again. Out loud. Freak Scene in Soho is a place where you can do that. For real. The food is a described as ‘pan Asian’ (insert eye-roll here), but rather than serving up mediocre interpretations of anything a bit Asian food-y - they actually nail the remixes. The chilli crab bomb, spicy crab meat in a wonton case, is the er... bomb, and you’ll want to order the black cod tacos twice. The restaurant itself is small, with hip-hop nostalgia on the walls, hip-hop blasting out of the speakers, and Japanese game shows distracting you on the TV above the kitchen. Time will tell if they can keep up the fun vibes for the long run, but for now, it’s proper lols.
The definition of a pub is a pretty fluid one these days. Is it a pub if a pint costs more than travelcard? Is it a pub if there’s no active or repurposed fruit machine? Is it a pub if it has a separate dining room? Does anyone actually care what it is when you can have a nice beer and a nice bit of food? If it’s anything like The Coach then the answer is no. This is the sort of pub you take your family to when everyone’s in town. There’s an excellent array of beers, a bright and airy dining room (and another upstairs) and some of the best French bistro-y type food we’ve had in a long time. Note: do not miss out on the chips or the gnocchi. Or the wild garlic soup for that matter.
East London is really getting into this whole ironic self-deprecation thing. Prick, the cacti, shop really set the standard, and now we have Brat, a grill restaurant in Shoreditch. Its thing is a big open fire grill, so you’ve got lots of nicely grilled meat and fish alongside some very delicious grilled bread and butter. The beef chop in particular is a good bit of back to basics fire and meat cooking. Young leeks and cheese are also delicious, even if they do sound like two angsty teenagers on Soundcloud. The vibe is trendy, but not in the way its name suggests, and the room is one of those very nice open oak panelled type ones. Promising, all in all.
Mayfair isn’t a place we’re accustomed to going for a casual night out, in fact, we only just realised that wearing a suit isn’t obligatory by law in all W1 postcodes, but Sabor on Heddon Street is our kind of spot. It’s casual, loud, and the food is just brilliant. There’s a bar area, and countertop dining downstairs, while El Asador upstairs has a more formal menu. All in, it makes for an unusually sociable night out, especially in this part of town. There are a few very special plates of food downstairs, most notably the queso fresco and black truffle brioche, duck breast, as well as some salads that are actually meats. Meanwhile, upstairs it’s even more lively. The food is just as brilliantly executed, and though the mains are pretty pricey they are worth skipping starters for. The suckling pig is particularly brilliant, and is accompanied by your choice of five different varieties of patatas fritas. Yes, that’s five different types of chip.
We’re always dreaming about a great new restaurant opening in our neighbourhood, and if you happen to live near Queenstown Road-Peckham station and have dreams like ours, then new South African spot Kudu is that dream come true. It’s that understated, sophisticated restaurant that’d be great for a date night, or equally good for a relaxed but slightly upscale dinner with mates. The menu is small and punchy, and if you’re partial to well cooked meats then it’ll be right up your street. Don’t even think of skipping the Kudu bread, it comes with melted lardon butter and parsley, but it should come with a mental and physical health warning because it’s outstanding. Violent thoughts towards your dining companion(s) may enter your head as they reach for ‘just another bit’ of it. Kudu is definitely a spot to check out, even if you’re not from the neighbourhood.
Just when you thought London’s quota of wine and sharing plates spots was full, Linden Stores comes along. It’s a wine shop-cum-bar a few minutes walk away from Highbury Corner serving some really tasty small plates. The sizeable menu is guaranteed to have something for everyone on it, from the delicate pork scratchings (which might be a disappointment if you’re expecting pub-style tooth-breakers) to the hearty oxtail pie with bone marrow mash. And don’t let the size of the plates deceive you, dishes like the roasted beets with prune puree and hung yoghurt make for a rich and satisfying accompaniment to the wine. Upstairs is clean and bright, perfect for catching up with mates, while the candle lit room downstairs makes for a casual date-night. This is one you’ll want to come back to again and again.
‘Why are we putting a restaurant that’s been open for a few years in our Hit List?’ nobody asks. Well, P. Franco changes their chef every six months or so, meaning that while this Clapton wine bar’s excellent atmosphere and mood remains the same, the food does not. The newest chef to man its two induction hobs is keeping things as excellent as those we’ve experienced before him, serving simple but lovingly prepared sharing plates that match the wine perfectly. Expect to see salami, cheeses, a couple of seafood options and a pasta on the menu. If it’s on the menu, the gochujang ragu is worth coming for alone.
Usually, a restaurant that puns on the head chef’s name does not bode well. Especially when it’s a ‘can I take a moment to explain our menu’ type of place. Right, before you start having foam flashbacks, we need to tell you that Roganic is superb, poncey characteristics aside. It’s at a permanent spot in Marylebone and from what we’ve experienced the food is - to use as un-poncey a word as possible - buff. Each dish contains some ingredients foraged the week before, and although that makes for the sort of thing you never ever want to say out loud, it has some amazing results, e.g. the baked celeriac. Unsurprisingly it’s expensive here, probably because you’re paying for some poor chump to free jump off a cliff to retrieve three mushrooms that form part of a palate cleanser. That said, if you’re not looking to remortgage or make a terrible same day loan decision, the £40 lunch set is expansive and delicious.
If someone asks whether you fancy a curry and you find yourself in an Uber to Mayfair, odds are you’re either going to be jumping out at the lights, or making a quick call to your bank to discuss overdraft options. Bombay Bustle isn’t one of those types of places though. Things here are definitely a bit more formal than your local curry house, but it doesn’t feel stuffy at all. The upstairs room is laid out like a train dining cart and we’d recommend nabbing one of the booths before waiting for your mini poppadoms to arrive. We don’t often like mini things, but we like these a lot. Lamb chops are a must as is a dosa, and the bohri chicken curry is a real crowd pleaser. Much like your local, it’s the sort of place that you bring anyone, from dates to dads, and you’re getting much better quality bhaji for your buck.
If you thought The Palomar was hard to get in to, their new place Evelyn’s Table might as well be surrounded by an electrified fence and a 14th century moat. This kitchen table experience only two doors down from The Palomar itself is in the basement of their pub, The Blue Posts. There are just eleven seats at the bar, and there’s an irreverent and friendly attitude, so be prepared to get friendly with the chef who’ll be cooking everything right in front of your face. The food is southern European, and you can expect freshly caught fish and hearty pastas, but if the pork jowl or the cuttlefish ragoût are on the menu you should absolutely order them.
Southam Street36 Golborne Rd
Sister restaurant to the clinically insane yet truly brilliant 108 Garage, Southam Street is at what used to be called the ‘wrong end’ of Golborne Road, but is now about as trendy as West London gets. Spread across three floors of a dimly lit, nicely-decorated townhouse, it includes a grill, sake bar, and sushi bar, and though the food might not be as exciting as 108, it’s still more than worth your time.
You could see Londrino as a neighbourhood restaurant for Bermondsey. It’s got all the makings of one. There’s a bar area where locals can pop in for a drink or a bite, but there are also two spacious dining areas with a serious though not-overly-formal vibe. It’s a seafood driven affair that takes familiar and delicious ingredients and magics them into unfamiliar and delicious plates of food. These are the kinds of guys who’ll make a concentrated paste out of all things crabby, call it crab foie, and then have us lather it on thick, crunchy bread. Or they’ll spend three days turning a mushroom into a cracker so that we have something to crunch on while we’re devouring their mindblowingly well-cooked mallard. Londrino - which is Portuguese for Londoner - may be made for Bermondsey, but we think it’s set to be a destination restaurant for the entire city.
Does London need another tapas restaurant? Probably not. But Rambla, a new spot from the guys behind Sibarita in Covent Garden, is a pretty useful restaurant to have in Soho. It’s that back pocket restaurant that you’re going to default to when you need somewhere chill for lunch, or somewhere chill for a date or somewhere chill because the wait for a table at Barrafina down the road is too long. There are no big surprises on the menu, but they do manage to pack a lot more flavour into their palomos prawns and rice stuffed calamari than your average tapas joint. We also highly recommend ending your meal with the warm apricot & almond coulant. It’s the kind of dessert that converts someone who isn’t all that into dessert into someone who very much is.
Unless we’ve been invited to a State Banquet - and, why have we never been invited to a State Banquet? - we’d never have considered The Mall a dining destination, but Rochelle’s arrival at the ICA has changed all that. The menu’s changing all the time, but, seriously, everything we’ve tried here so far has been excellent. If the cuttlefish stew’s on offer, you should order it. If they’re doing salad, you should order it. If there’s a pie, you should order two. The whole affair has the same kind of modest swagger they’ve perfected over at Rochelle Canteen in Shoreditch, but now they’re serving their uniquely British food in a uniquely British setting. It somehow manages to be both serene and barnstorming at the same time. How British is that?
We were naturally excited when the people behind The Palomar announced they were opening a pub a couple of doors down from their Theatreland restaurant. The space itself is much smaller than we anticipated, the ground floor pub can barely fit 20 people, and the Mulwray lounge bar on the second floor is only a tad more spacious. But we were won over by the excellent bar food, including a roast pork belly and apple sauce roll that’s a potential entry for our ‘best sandwiches ever’ list.
There are a bunch of new restaurants in the new Bloomberg building, and not one of them is an artisan fried mushroom burger stall from Dalston. Obviously. Instead, there is a second outpost of the ridiculously popular Soho Japanese restaurant Koya, which specializes in udon. You’ll find a slightly bigger space, but this new location definitely isn’t a secret and is already extremely busy.
London is such an exciting melting pot of cuisines from all over the world at the moment, that a French restaurant might not sound that exciting. But Noize in Fitzrovia is definitely worth a visit. There are white tablecloths and a serious wine list, but it’s not overly formal or poncey, and the food is fantastic. The suckling pig belly, in particular, is some of the best we have had in London, and be sure to order the rice pudding for dessert. Use it for a nice date night or dinner with people who appreciate good wine and food.
We’re big fans of The Frog in Shoreditch (we rated the it an 8.5), so it says a lot that we like their new location in Covent Garden even more. That’s due in part to the space itself: the Shoreditch location, set in a car park, has its charms but also feels slightly out of place, whereas the new, swankier spot has a real sense of occasion. And the food here also takes it up a notch: you’ll eat things like celeriac with truffle, or halibut with a super rich crab sauce and caviar, or a pot of razor clams that looks like it has a built in nightclub smoke machine. Their 5 or 8 course tasting menus do offer a real balance, but you can order a la carte as well. Things can get a little pricey if you’re matching your tasting menu with cocktails or wine but for something special, this place really is worth it.
The Padella imitators keep on coming. We recently got Pastaio, which is ‘Padella for Soho’, and now we have Flour and Grape, which is ‘Padella if you want to book a table’ or “Padella if Padella is way too bloody busy’. It’s a 10-15 minute walk away from Padella, and the pastas are less than a £10. They’re also served in real-people portions, because let’s be honest, Padella’s cacio e pepe is epic, but you need at least 10 portions to make you feel full. Flour & Grape also does a very good cacio e pepe, and an excellent tortellini. The restaurant itself works well for catch-up dinner with mates or a low key date night. And when you’re all filled up with pasta, you can make your way downstairs to their gin bar for a couple of drinks.