Are These London Restaurants Worth The Hype?
photo credit: Aleksandra Boruch
London has a lot of hyped restaurants. Places with views of the city trending on TikTok. Overexposed classics your uncle in Norfolk went to years and years ago. Restaurants that you keep hearing about. Again. And again. And… again. Some are good, some are not, and some are fun enough that it doesn’t matter. So before you decide to wait in line or make that 5pm dinner reservation, consult this guide.
The Hot Reservations
The Verdict: Practically perfect and single-handedly rehabilitating the image of suet pudding.
The Soho restaurant is above a handsome Mad Men-meets-Dickens pub and getting a table at a normal time—say, 1pm or after 5pm—is almost impossible. Which makes sense because it’s serving some of the best classic British food in London. On cold days it’s the perfect spot to hunker down by the ferocious fire, with a pint of perfectly poured Guinness and beef cheek suet pudding.
The Verdict: It’s still one of the coolest bookings in town, although we’d avoid dinner.
Ever since it opened in 2021, fashionistas true and wannabe have flocked to Cafe Cecilia like hungry peacocks. It’s a London Fields scene full of angular people eating squares of deep-fried bread and butter pudding with custard and, at its best, serves cosy British food in a cool environment. As with many things given the cool seal of approval, it’s hit and miss. So avoid the bun fight of dinner service and take a window-side table for breakfast or lunch instead.
The Verdict: Occasionally delicious, full of buzz, but it leaves you feeling a little meh.
Mountain is Brat’s big Soho sibling and boy does it know it. Getting into this two-floored, Spanish-cum-Welsh, 100-cover behemoth is difficult because it was born into the world as The Place To Be. Some of the food and open-fire cooking is very good, and sitting at the counter upstairs or down with some grilled langoustines and funky wine feels like the move. But anything bigger than that feels too busy, or tastes too familiar, to be truly special.
The Verdict: Pizza that’s absolutely worth getting organised for.
Crisp Pizza W6 at The Chancellors pub in Hammersmith has 63k-plus Instagram followers and the best thin-crust, New York-style pizza in London. The pre-ordering situation might sound a little dramatic for a couple of pizzas, but when you experience the crunch on that crispy margherita, you’ll understand why they sell out every weekend. The gravity-defying slices are smothered with rich and basil-heavy tomato sauce, with the perfect distribution of melted mozzarella and a sprinkling of parmesan.
The TikTok-Hype Spots
The Verdict: A great burger, but we can’t get on board with the queues or limited seating.
Specialising in the kind of crispy-edged smashburgers that resemble a granny's doily, Supernova is a tiny burger spot in Soho. The space is minimalist and straightforward, just like the three-item menu with hamburgers, fries, and sundaes. The burgers are well-seasoned, the fries are crispy, and the sundaes are pleasant enough. But we can't justify the (sometimes 50-minute) wait times. Plus, the seating is limited to just a few precious counter spots. You’d be lucky to get one and even if they are free, the constant flow of people inside means it's barely preferable to walking around Soho with your food.
The Verdict: A decent formula but not worth the wait times.
Swiss Butter is a Lebanese import with a straightforward formula that revolves around a special 33-ingredient sauce. At the walk-in only Holborn steakhouse, all you do is choose your protein—fish, chicken, or steak—and decide if you want bread or chips. While it’s not a meal that will change your life and the steak is pretty average, a £19 beef fillet with chips feels like a steal in this economy if you can walk straight in. If the queue is over 25 minutes, just go to Nando’s.
The Verdict: These are some of the best bagels in London, just come midweek.
It’s Bagels’ bagels are crispy on top and chewy in the middle, and we recommend buying them by the bagful as well as picking up a filled one for lunch. The Primrose Hill spot has a simple deli-style setup, and if you come midweek you’re more likely to get a seat inside. Or, take your bacon, fluffy egg, and oozing cheese wheel of carbs to Primrose Hill to eat it while overlooking London’s skyline. Just avoid coming at the weekend when the queues are silly-sized.
The Classics (a.k.a. The Places Your Uncle Has Heard Of)
The Verdict: The beautiful room can’t distract from a lot of mediocrity, but breakfast is good.
Not too long ago the ownership of The Wolseley changed hands in what can only be described as slightly icky circumstances. That left a bad taste in some regulars’ mouths but, if they’re honest, the standards at this European restaurant on Piccadilly have been iffy for a while. The spectacular dining room—an art deco, former car showroom—still wows (especially if you’re sitting on the balcony). But the food is just fine. Stick with schnitzel and you’re good or, even better, come by for breakfast. The full English is tip-top.
The Verdict: This has-been hasn’t been worth the hype for a while.
Once renowned for Kate Moss sightings and best-in-class treatment, The Ivy is now somewhere that primarily survives on reputation. The glossy, crushed velvet-clad dining room is still permanently packed with beautiful people who have a penchant for truffle. But the service has taken a sharp nosedive and the British food has remained boringly predictable. You might have to wait an hour for your water or repeatedly beg for a triple-figure bill, even though you’re still triggered by the entirely beige, flavourless nature of the twice-baked cheese soufflé.
The Verdict: Beautiful, stylish, and somewhere you should definitely eat at least once.
Arguably London’s most fashionable restaurant, getting a prime-time table at Sessions Arts Club is the restaurant equivalent to a last-minute ticket to Glastonbury. From the grand, dilapidated ballroom interior, to the elegant Vogue cover-worthy European-ish plates, everything about Sessions feels slick and sexy. Lunch tends to last all day here and dinners all night—which goes some way to explaining why tables that aren’t at 2pm or 5pm are so hard to get. The food, while lovely, isn’t the star—but if you want a day or night to remember, this is the place.
The Verdict: Wildly expensive, but still lives up to its legendary status.
The River Cafe is one of London’s most acclaimed restaurants and it’s for very good reason. It was the first place to really do Italian cooking as it should be done, all in a dining room that was modern in the ‘90s but now is unique to itself. Of course, the fact it’s on the Thames makes this institution special during summer but, really, it has an aura all year-round. The prices are high, the pizzetta is delicious and, in the shape of its light-as-a-feather chocolate nemesis cake it has one of London’s most famous desserts. Occasions always have that extra special feel to them when The River Cafe is involved.
The Verdict: You should have low expectations for this naff spot that’s high in the sky.
Some things are inevitable, and people in very tight trousers wanting to go up to the 38th floor of the Heron Tower to eat sushi rolls topped with melted mozzarella is one of them. Unfortunately, Sushisamba is just one of those places. It’s got the views, it’s got the fusion menu, it’s got the arse-clenching prices. You shouldn’t eat lunch or dinner here. That’s a fact. But if you want to get an overpriced drink and look at views across London, we can’t stop you.
The Verdict: Heinous—and that’s just the egg-shaped toilets.
Sketch is one of the most famous restaurants in London by virtue of its toilets, which sums up everything you need to know about this naff Mayfair restaurant. Its upstairs dining room is home to three Michelin stars (whatever that means) but its Gallery room is the one most people flock to for herd mentality reasons. The food is experimental in a rummage-through-the-fridge-at-3am type of way and, typically, charges you an arm and a leg for the displeasure of it. As far as waste-of-time dining experiences in London go, this may well be the worst.
Verdict: A reliable classic, Dishoom has become an integral part of London’s food scene
The first Dishoom opened in 2010 and over 10 years later it’s still near impossible to get a walk-in only dinner reservation that you don’t need to sneak out of work early for. And as frustrating as that can be, we still find ourselves queuing outside their Carnaby Street location when we have a craving for that spicy chicken ruby curry, or their Kensington spot when we’re in the mood for the buttery keema pau. Despite having seven locations across London, it’s still as popular as ever. And you know what? We get it. The combination of home-style Indian cooking, vibey retro surroundings, and excellent cocktails means that Dishoom has become a reliable London staple.
The Verdict: A waste of time, money, and a nice outfit.
The clubstaurant of all clubstaurants, Sexy Fish’s reputation reaches far beyond this city. You don’t come to this Berkeley Square spot looking for value for money, or in search of London’s best sushi. This is an OTT, Damien Hirst gyrating mermaid art-filled restaurant with velvet jacket-wearing waitstaff who look like they’ve had a permanent headache since their first shift. Probably thanks to the DJ whose job it is to make any conversation about how underwhelming the crispy duck is impossible to hear. It can be fun for all of about 45 minutes, or until the fact that you’ve spent £80 per person on some mediocre food sinks in.
The Verdict: Equal parts delicious and silly—in the best way.
Big Mamma—the restaurant group behind Gloria, Ave Mario, Jacuzzi, Carlotta, and Circolo—have cracked the formula. Every restaurant has its own theme, and perhaps the most Instagrammed and sought-after of them all is Circolo Popolare. The massive main dining room is fake Sicily on steroids. The walls are covered in thousands of bottles of spirits, there are more fairy lights than you can count, and carbonara is swirled around a big wheel of pecorino at your table. While the food at this Fitzrovia trattoria is just OK, the stunning interiors are the reason you should set your alarm to book a table. If you want to know what we think of the other spots, we’ve ranked them.