Where To Go When You Need A ‘Great Little Place’Everyone likes saying ‘I know a great little place for dinner’, don’t they?
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 (42, we’ve done the legwork), 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 £20.
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 great, moody Malaysian restaurant in Paddington, Satay House has a menu filled with comforting classics and an intimate two-floor space. The street level dining room is where it’s at for small cosy groups, and the basement dining level is a mini cave that’s ideal for dates. Get the sambal tumis udang petai—a stir-fried prawn and petai dish—it’s equal parts spicy, creamy, and addictive.
Ombra is a GLP that’s big on portions and atmosphere. Empty wine bottles find a new life as vases for dried flowers, candles flicker on tables, and puffy gnocco fritto saucers are punctured, photographed, and eaten on repeat at this Italian restaurant in Hackney. It’s busy but not in a rowdy way. Bottles of wine with cool labels are ferried between tables of four, and spritzes are delivered to couples trying and failing to be diplomatic about who gets the last bite of tiramisu. Which is surely one of London’s best.
Cadet is a matchbox-sized, oat-toned, chalk-and-board, walk-in only N16 wine bar that’s big on bottles and small on plates. It’s where you go to drink pinot noir and lazily spread mousse de canard at 10pm on a Sunday night. But equally this Newington Green wine bar is popular with couples, bedding in at the bar on a Friday night, and young families on a Sunday afternoon. Regardless of when you come, you'll more than likely be making a night out of Cadet on a regular basis.
The London Fields outpost of Elliot’s turns a busy and black bin-laden corner of Mare Street into something altogether more Kinfolk shoot-worthy. There are muted beige tones, there are ceramics and ceramicists at every table and, come summer, every wine glass is as orange as the setting sun. The 10-inch pizzas are chewy and the toppings, from beef ragu to aubergine and green olive gremolata, are all consistently delectable. Elliot’s is your go-to GLP for love and low sulphite-led catch-ups fuelled by modern European food.
Gola is an intimate and cosy little Italian restaurant on Fulham Road where you’ll eat dinner surrounded by walls lined with wine bottles, and be blown away by the margherita. It’s pizza in its final form. Immediately-order-another-pizza-after-one-slice kind of good, with a thick doughy crust, a rich tomato sauce with the perfect hint of basil, and a lot of mozzarella. The cacio e pepe, which is served with a pecorino cheese wheel, is a real winner too. The pastas and specials can get a little pricey, but the pizza is our favourite thing here anyway.
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 smoky, spicy sauce, the menu is full of delicious, traditional dishes. Head here for a satisfying lunch (there are three-course set meals) or dinner with a small group of friends.
Il Portico on High Street Kensington has been around since the 1960s and it continues to serve top-notch 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 (also known as Soho)? 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, modern European menu of dishes like charred celeriac with salted ricotta, braised beef shin, and roasted 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 smoky, 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. 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.
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, this excellent restaurant serves 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. 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 for an anniversary dinner, a sophisticated catch-up, or to enjoy some solo alfresco dining on a sunny day, don’t miss the desserts at this European-leaning spot.
London can never have too many great wine bars and neither, it turns out, can Herne Hill. Lulu's is a short skip across the way from sister spot Llewellyn’s and it serves the same Richard Curtis levels of quaintness. The dinky candlelit bar serves warming food, the space is so small that you’re just in it. A little pile of salted shoestring fries is wordlessly brought to everyone who sits down. If that doesn’t say GLP, we don’t know what does.
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 10 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 chaotic Covent Garden, but there’s a menu of well-cooked, good-quality fish that you’ll want to get with a side of something potatoey. Parsons gets bonus points for writing the daily specials on the white-tiled walls. Very charming.
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 can quickly stack up, but the three-course set lunch menu is always a good shout. And if you do swing by in the evening, know there are over 120 wines available here.
Walking through South Kensington can be a dangerous business. One minute you’re trying to up your natural history knowledge and the next you’re lost in an endless stream of schoolchildren 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 pièce de résistance: pictures of people’s grandparents on the wall.
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 Spanish 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.
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. It’s a Covent Garden bar that focuses on female winemakers and 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.
Remember that place you stumbled upon in Lyon several years ago? The one that still makes you a little misty-eyed whenever you think about how quaint the tablecloths were?Well, despite being on a main road in Farringdon, La Petite 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 with a few of your favourite people, eat a 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.