Whoever said ‘knowledge is power’ obviously knew exactly where the closest candlelit restaurant was. Because yes, it’s easy to know exactly how many footsteps it’ll take to get you from your front-door to the nearest meal deal (forty-two, we’ve done the leg work), but sometimes you want something better. Sometimes you want something great. Sometimes you want what we class as a great little place.
In general, GLPs (don’t hate us, we only ever get to use BLT as a business acronym) are:
Cosy, intimate restaurants that are pretty small.
Kind of quiet, but not boring.
Places you won’t be accosted by 300 selfie sticks and lots of tourists.
Restaurants with mains that are mostly under £15.
Spots in busy areas that, for one reason or another, you’ve missed.
Now you have our list of London’s greatest little places, go forth and use it. And don’t worry, we won’t be offended if you claim this knowledge as your own. We get it. Enjoy.
A small family-owned Korean restaurant on New Malden High Street, Imone only has a handful of tables but still has an airy, open feel, with friendly service and the kind of home-style cooking that makes you feel like you’re at a friend's house. From aesthetically pleasing, perfectly crispy plates of calamari and spring onion pancakes to excellent kan pung gi chicken in an addictive smokey, spicy sauce, the menu is full of delicious, traditional dishes, as well as set three-course lunch deals from £11. Head here for a satisfying lunch or a dinner with a small group of friends, just make sure you book a table as it tends to get quite busy—especially towards the end of the lunch service at 3pm.
Il Portico on High Street Kensington spot has been around since the 1960s and it continues to serve topnotch Italian food to this day. But what is it exactly that makes it a GLP? Is it the square footage? The heavy curtain at the entrance that keeps the cold air out? The intimate booths at the back? It’s all of the above, plus the friendly staff and a menu filled with comforting plates of food like nutmeg and walnut gnocchi, veal milanese, and wild mushroom risotto. You could easily spend a lot of time in this old-school restaurant—and you should.
Ducksoup is the poster child for GLPs. Genuinely tiny? Yep. So charming and intimate that you completely forget that you’re in the belly of one of the busiest places on the planet? Yes. Enough lovely, natural wine to sedate even your largest uncle? Absolutely. This place is usually pretty busy, but it’s worth squeezing a group of four around a table designed for two for their eclectic menu of dishes like charred celeriac with salted ricotta, braised beef shin, and fried pork belly with pickled kumquat.
Sinuhe is, in every sense, great. And yet, the word doesn’t actually do justice to the mirza qasemi here. A smokey, rich, and flawless version of the classic Persian aubergine dip, that you need on your table. This adorable little Persian spot off Westbourne Grove is serving some excellent dips, grilled classics, and homely stews and the menu has plenty to choose from. We’d go with both the aubergine dips, the mast-o-khair, and a mixed grill to share. The servers are friendly and useful—another sign of a GLP—so when they gently tell you to order two bread baskets instead of one, you should listen.
Really, it makes sense that a restaurant named after a tiny, shiny fish would make it onto this list. Minnow is a laid-back neighbourhood spot overlooking Clapham Common that serves everything from eggs royale for breakfast to a ricotta and pumpkin seed gnocchi in the evening. Upstairs at Minnow is all about baby blue walls, fresh flowers, wicker seating, and a small outdoor patio, but downstairs is a little more brooding with dark alcoves to sit in and red walls. Either space is pretty perfect for an intimate date night or a cute catch up situation.
The kerala paratha at this South Indian-inspired spot in Peckham has the healing powers of an Adam Sandler romcom. And the conservatory makes it a place where you’ll happily spend a whole afternoon. Located on a quiet street corner, you’ll find this excellent restaurant serving delicious thali weekday lunches with enough food to keep you satisfied for at least six hours. We’re talking creamy chicken curry, rice, poppadoms, a refreshing raita, and a mung bean salad, all for £12.50. There are also kerala goat biriyanis, dosas, and flakey parathas on their all-day menu—if GLP certificates were a thing, this spot would have one.
If you’re not entirely charmed by this neighbourhood spot in Herne Hill, then honestly we don’t know if we can be friends anymore. Llewelyn’s is right on the square by Herne Hill station, and everything from the fairy lights in the tree outside to the florist next door and their reliably tasty seasonal dishes make you feel like you’re living in the epilogue of Sense and Sensibility. Or, at the very least, that you’re a grown-up member of the Famous Five. Whether you come here for an anniversary dinner, a sophisticated catch up, or to enjoy some solo al fresco dining on a sunny day, don’t miss their desserts.
Intimate seating, melted wax candles, and delicious pasta, this little Italian restaurant and deli is rumoured to be where the lady and the tramp first fell in love. OK, it was us who started that rumour, but this charming candlelit spot definitely has all the potential for the ultimate three-hour catch up. Wine bottles lining the walls, fairy lights, and a whole gnocchi section on the menu—you’ll momentarily forget you’re in Vauxhall. The al tartufo is a winner, and you’re highly encouraged to end with a slice of tiramisu before picking up a jar of pesto and a wine bottle to go.
Parsons is the kind of place you could walk past every day for ten years presuming that it’s a barbers until one day you get a strong whiff of clam chowder, enter, and realise it’s a great little seafood spot. This place is not only an absolute sanctuary in the midst of the chaos of Covent Garden, but there’s also a lobster mash that will change your life. Granted, that might sound a little dramatic in relation to some potato and a cut-up crustacean, but we’re yet to find a bad mood that can’t be improved by this side dish. Parsons gets bonus points for writing the daily specials on the white-tiled walls. Very cute.
Okay, we hear you. The name Peckham Bazaar, doesn’t scream cosy, intimate comfort. After all, the last time you were at a bazaar someone stole your debit card and you paid 70 quid for an ornamental Bornean blowpipe. And that’s before we even start on what happened the last time you were drunk in Peckham. Don’t worry, Peckham Bazaar is actually exactly what you want from a GLP. This is the kind of restaurant you can spend hours in, drinking, eating octopus, and remembering what it’s like to live life with the stress levels of a sedated sloth. Just don’t miss the grilled quail.
Like that neighbour who always takes in your post or that colleague who makes you a cup of tea whenever you’re sad, Six Portland Road is extremely likeable. This low-key neighbourhood spot is in a quiet little corner of Notting Hill and serves things like mussels with ’nduja butter, grilled courgette and pecorino, and parsley pappardelle. A meal here can quickly stack-up, but the three-course £21 set lunch menu is always a good shout. And if you do swing by in the evening, you should know there are over 120 wines available here.
It’s probably not normal to develop a crush on a restaurant, but guess what, we have one on Salon. From the outside, this place looks like a cheese shop in Brixton market. Once you’re inside, you’ll find a whole lot more than that going on, including a menu full of part-French, part-Italian, part-British dishes that happen to be some of the best seasonal food in London. There’s an upstairs dining room where they serve a £39 set menu, but we like it best in the downstairs bar area with excellent snacks and a wine list for company.
Despite the obvious nod to getting boozy in its name, this Clerkenwell spot is actually very classy. Full of wild flowers, marble counters, and stacked bottles of wine, it looks more like your home after a visit from the Fab Five than a restaurant. We’re very into the whole chilled, retro feel and that’s before we even mention the food—their French dishes with Persian touches are almost excellent. And yes, it might be a little more pricey than your average GLP, but the mint lamb shoulder alone makes it worth the extra money.
By day, Hill And Szrok in Hackney is a butchers. We know what you’re thinking—wow, that’s the kind of romance even Hannibal Lecter could get on board with. We hear you, but at night time, this place becomes a charming little steak joint. The starters and sides are decent enough, but really you’re here for some British steak and a nice glass of red from their long wine list. Thanks to the small space there’s an intimate feel, but head’s up—it’s communal seating so it might not be right for you if deep chats are on the agenda.
Walking through South Kensington can be a dangerous business. One minute you’re just trying to up your natural history knowledge and the next you’re lost in an endless stream of school children hyped up on fruit juice and the sudden social capital of an excellent T-Rex impression. That’s why it’s important to know that Pappa Roma, and specifically their giant wood-fired pizza, is exactly a five-minute walk from South Kensington station. This place is cheap and cheerful, with mosaic tiling, candles aplenty, and the GLP piece de resistance: pictures of people’s grandparents on the wall.
Lina Stores – 51 Greek Street
We like to think that after the success of his film The Grand Budapest Hotel, Wes Anderson popped over the Atlantic and set up Lina Stores. Mostly because it’s in his signature pastel colour scheme, but also because if we were millionaires we’d set up a restaurant like this as a sort of pasta public service for Londoners too. If you’re in Soho after work or before the theatre and want something casual, inexpensive, and downright cute whilst avoiding the bright lights of 8000 chains, Lina Stores is a great bet. They serve small plates of pasta that are perfect for a little romantic dish sharing, or for not losing your temper with a particularly indecisive friend.
There’s a ewe’s cheese on the menu of this tapas bar that’s described as having a bold personality. We like that. Of course, having never met the ewe in question we can’t guarantee it’s true, but we do know that the dishes at this very endearing spot on Upper Street are pretty much guaranteed to make you happy. This is the kind of place you stumble upon by complete accident (or, by reading this guide) and return to time and time again. Go with a group of mates, get lots of ham, oxtail croquettes, the sweet pork stew, churros, and the hazelnut liqueur to finish. Be pleased with yourself.
Sure, at first you bonded on Bumble over your mutual love, respect, and admiration for Wetherspoons. But now things have gone to the next level and you want to show them that you also know about places that don’t serve pitchers of Woo Woo. That’s where Lady Of The Grapes comes in. This female winemakers focused bar in Covent Garden has plenty of exposed brick, rustic wooden tables, and shelves stacked to the brim with organic wines. Come for some charcuterie over candlelight and a tipsy exploration of their many, many wines.
We want to live inside Rubedo. Granted, we’d probably eat more burrata than is good for a human being, but, honestly, we’re pretty sure it would be worth it. Plus, we look a lot better in candlelight. This Stoke Newington spot has a winning combination of excellent, simple Italian-inspired food, and the feeling that you’ve just stepped off a plane somewhere where you need a high SPF and irony-free Birkenstocks.
You haven’t seen your pals in a while and you’ll be damned if your catch up is interrupted by Calvin Harris’ discography or a waiter telling you the life story of each grape that ended up in your malbec. No, you need a spot like Kudu. This proper charmer of a restaurant in Peckham serves sophisticated South African-inspired food that will satisfy your need for some excellent small plates, as well as bread you’ll be willing to fight over every last crumb of. There are also biltong scratchings. Yes, that’s a thing. And they’re glorious.
There are four Sodo Pizza spots in London, which means it was very almost axed from this GLP list (read that back in your best Simon Cowell lilt, intimidating right?). But, apart from having some of the best sourdough pizza in London, their Clapton spot is particularly small and particularly lovely. There’s a big old communal table with a couple of benches, some stools, and burn marks on the walls from where everyone was just having too much of a good time to worry about candle control. Think of it this way, you’re the tired-end-of-day-commuter moth, Sodo Clapton is the flame. Don’t fight it.
Remember that place you stumbled upon in Lyon several years ago? You know, the one that still makes you a little misty eyed whenever you think about how quaint the table cloths were? And the memory of their cheese list still visits you in your dreams? Well, despite being on a main road in Farringdon, La Ferme has exactly that feel. Yes, the plants are fake, your table might excessively wobble, and the paintings of random vegetables will probably offend your more modernist friends, but it’s all part of the charm. Come here with a few of your favourite people, eat a sh*t tonne of cheese, and witness your mates say ‘isn’t this lovely’ every five minutes as they get progressively hammered on bordeaux, with camembert on their chins.