We get asked all the time about the best new restaurants in town, and for that, we can direct you over to our Hit List. But what about the places that blow up for a while, only for the hype machine to then die down? A lot of these places are still amazing. Don’t let them become the Nokia you chucked out when the new iPhone arrived.
With that in mind, here’s our Cool List, featuring 10 restaurants that aren’t new but are still definitely worth your time and attention. Not to mention, they’re also places you can actually get into. They might not be ‘hot’ any more, but they definitely are still cool.
Most tapas bars in London are actually just Spanish-themed restaurants serving small plates, but Jose is the closest you’ll get to an actual tapas bar. Like in Spain, everything arrives on little plates, it’s always packed, and you’ll either eat standing or sat on a bar stool. The atmosphere and food are both great, and it’s been one of the best Spanish restaurants in town since opening back in 2011. The menu’s simple but everything you eat - from croquetas to a plate of jamon or anchovies - will always be of the highest quality. While it’s still not as insanely rammed as it used to be, it still gets busy, so try to get there early.
If Begging Bowl had opened in Spitalfields six months ago, then there’s a good chance that everyone and their granddad would be falling over themselves to eat there. Despite being a bit further away in Peckham, the modern Thai food here is just as good as its better-known counterparts in central London, and you should absolutely plan a trip to South-East London to eat their incredible salads and curries. While they don’t take bookings, it’s easy enough to get a table as a walk-in.
The original Meat Liquor was notorious for queues when it opened, and their latest one in Queensway is located next to an ice rink full of teenagers. But Meat Mission, their third restaurant by the Old Street roundabout, is still excellent. We like it best out of all of them because it’s in a cool converted church, you can book, and it’s also conveniently located for hitting some bars in Shoreditch afterwards. The Dead Hippy double cheeseburger and buffalo chicken fingers are as good as ever, and get a couple of rounds of cocktails for the table if you’re pre-gaming.
Bistrotheque is a classic East London restaurant that was doing banging cabaret nights and lush brunches back when places like Beagle were merely a twinkle in someone’s eye. It’s still an original as far as hangs out East go, and the whitewashed warehouse setting and French-leaning food feel as fresh as they did years ago. Brunch is a classic move - when you’re three cocktails deep and the pianist starts playing Strawberry Fields, there isn’t a better place to be at the weekend.
Elliot’s is a reliable spot in Borough Market that you can count on for excellent Mediterranean small plates and natural wines. The mussels and seafood here are very good, and the lunchtime-only cheeseburger is as excellent as it’s ever been. It should be high on your list if you’re planning a small group catch up close to the market, especially when it’s sunny and they open the front of the restaurant onto the street.
A restaurant with small plates and a natural wine list seems to open every other day in London, but Brawn in Shoreditch was one of the first, and it’s still one of the best. The modern European food here like scallop crudo or a textbook panna cotta is simple and excellent, and it’s the kind of thing we could eat every day. It’s a popular neighbourhood hangout, and we like it for a leisurely lunch or for a glass of wine and a plate of pasta at any time of day.
Imagine a no-nonsense British restaurant like St. John, strip it down a bit more, and you’ll get the Quality Chop House. This restaurant’s been around for ages, but got a refurb in 2013 and is worth getting back to if it’s been a while. The no-bullshit menu is full of things that you’ll really want to eat, like a properly made pie or some slow cooked pork, and of course pudding or tart for dessert because your parents raised a champ. The wine list is brilliant, and the retro dining room (a throwback to a 19th century working men’s eating house) is part of its unpretentious appeal.
While Moro’s little sister Morito Hackney is the newer, hipper spot, this classic Spanish/North African restaurant has been packed with real adults for over 20 years, serving an ever-changing menu of things like cuttlefish kofte and wood-roasted skate with pilaf. Go with a few friends, order a good bottle of wine, and pretend that you’re all at a terribly sophisticated dinner party. You are in Islington, after all.
Gathering a few friends for Korean BBQ is always a good idea, because little truly says ‘friendship’ like trusting each other with several rounds of hard liquor and an open fire. To that end, Koba does the best one in central London. Compared to the average barbecue spot, the higher prices are justified by the fact that you’ll eat food that’s better, and in a space that’s been kitted out with futuristic induction fans so you don’t go home smelling of smoke. The seafood BBQ is excellent, and don’t miss the pajeon pancake and the spicy beef stew.
Polpetto brought the ‘bare-brick walls and small plates’ thing to London in 2009 and years later, the atmosphere at this Soho Italian is just as good as it was years ago. It’s also a hell of a lot easier to get into these days, and the new layout means that eating here is a lot more comfortable too. Get plenty of pasta and mini pizzas to keep the table happy, as well as several rounds of negronis. Hit it for an after work hang, or for a last minute dinner in Soho.