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Guide

The Ride-Along Report: First Takes From Last Night’s Dinner

Our first thoughts on London’s newest restaurants.

72 Spots
Launch Map
72 Spots
Launch Map

You might think that we rock up to restaurants, morning, noon, and night, order a ridiculous amount of food undercover, and then eat until we need a nap. If you think that, then you’d be absolutely right. Yes, we’re basically Charlie’s Angels, but with the meat sweats and a lifetime’s supply of Rennies. But, what really goes on when we go to check out a restaurant for the first time? Yes, we have silly secret names. Suggestions for those are welcome. Yes, we always pay for everything. No, we don’t have rules about ordering a specific percentage of the menu, we just order a little more than seems responsible. Does that cover it? Good.

Once we’ve slept off the previous day’s meal, we’ll be putting our first impressions of the places we’ve been to in this post. And, the best new places will then be going on our Hit List.

If you like following along here, then you’ll probably also enjoy following our live Restaurant Review Ride-Alongs on @infatuation_london. They’re like the write-ups below, but with a few more gifs, and a lot more pictures of egg.

november 2018

Berenjak

££££
££££ 27 Romilly Street

What It Is: A walk-in Iranian kebab spot in Soho.

Perfect For: Lunch, Catching Up With Mates, Big Groups, Quick Eats, Drinks And A Light Bite, Casual Weeknight Dinner, Eating At The Bar

We did almost the entire menu here on our first visit. The kabab torki came with a load of shawarma on a bed of crispy chips, chillis, and garlic and chilli sauce, and would have been enough for any normal person. It’s fantastic stuff. But obviously we didn’t stop there. The lamb shoulder kabab was the other standout, and the mazeh was tasty enough - some nice dips and maybe the probably the best liver we’ve ever had.

Verdict: A welcome addition to Soho. The bill adds up quickly here if your eyes are as big as ours, and we’ll have to see how accommodating walk-ins only works at dinner time, but we like it and we’re putting it on the Hit List.

Pachamama East

££££ 73 Great Eastern Street

What It Is: A Peruvian restaurant in Shoreditch.

Perfect for: Group dinners. Casual Mid-Week Dinner

Pachamama East is in a great location next to The Hoxton Hotel on Old Street, the staff are great, and - judging from our first visit, a lunch - it feels like it’d be a great place for a group dinner. Our lunch would have been fine if the food had tasted a bit better. Of the six dishes we ordered, only an aubergine salad stood out. Surprising considering we’d also ordered the fried chicken and the duck.

Verdict: Pefectly fine for an inoffensive group dinner, smart enough for a dinner before going ‘out out’, but still casual enough for a low-key dinner date. However, Andina’s just up the road if you want something tastier.

Hugh Johnson

Kricket White City

££££
££££ 101 Wood Lane

What It Is: The third Kricket restaurant, still serving Westernised Indian food but this time in the old Television Centre in White City.

Perfect For: Catching Up With Mates, Dinner With The Parents, Dinner With The Parents, Casual Weeknight Dinner, Drinks And A Light Bite

When we walk into a restaurant, we always do a quick scan of the room. At Kricket we liked what we saw. There were people on dates, big groups catching up, a couple of solo diners eating by the open kitchen, and some recent shoppers with approximately two hundred bags. Not only that, they all looked happy. We ordered the Keralan fried chicken, samphire pakoras, garlic and coriander kulcha (bread), and the bhel puri with tamarind and yoghurt. They fell into two categories. One: the bhel puri, kulcha, and samphire pakoras were all lovely, not mind-blowing, but lovely none the less. The second category: the Keralan fried chicken, which comes with curry leaf mayo and is an absolute must-order.

Verdict: The food at Kricket won’t alter your universe, but there’s some great dishes on offer and it’s a good spot to know about for when you’re in the Shepherd’s Bush area. Get the fried chicken.

Børealis Restaurant

££££
££££ 180 Borough High Street

What It Is: An all day Nordic restaurant in Borough.

Perfect For: Casual Weeknight Dinner, Keeping It Kind Of Healthy, Lunch, Dinner With The Parents, Catching Up With Mates, Business

When we first walked into the building where Borealis lives we were a bit confused. Was it a bird? Was it a plane? Was it a budget fashion hotel-cum-co-working space with some Ryvita thrown in? We’re still a bit unsure, but as soon as we sat down and had some salmon smørrebrød in front of us we were happy. It’s a big space and there wasn’t any atmosphere at all when we visited, but the food was, by and large, lovely. The real winner here is the frikadeller with mashed potato, pickled cucumbers, and lingonberries, and makes this place worth a trip.

Verdict: A nice enough spot when you’re after some Scandinavian food, or a grown-up catch up, with friends or a low-key client.

Crispin

££££ White's Row

What It Is: A Spitalfields small plates spot.

Perfect For: Breakfast, Coffee, Small Plates, Drinks And A Light Bite, Casual Mid-Week Dinner

Sometimes a restaurant gives us pangs of deja-vu. Not because we’re ‘we’ve seen it all before’ types, but because a place is so similar to so many other places we’ve been to. That said, the anchovy sauce that went with the burrata did stand out. And so does the funky building, which makes the dining experience more interesting than the food itself.

Verdict: Not a bad meal, but beyond the unusual setting it might not leave any real lasting impressions. We’ll be back soon to try breakfast and brunch.

Charactere

££££ 209 Westbourne Park Road

What It Is: High-end Italian inspired restaurant in Notting Hill

Perfect For: Fine Dining, Dinner With Parents, Corporate Cards

This place is casual enough, in that we felt that we could have turned up in jeans and t-shirts (so long as they were our best jeans and our best t-shirts), but we also found everything we expected of a high-end Italian spot. We had ravioli which was filled with rich-people meat, and totally swimming in butter. And then there was butter on top of that. All very tasty of course, but we also paid a pretty hefty price to eat it all, and although the room was a bit cold, it suits the crowd perfectly, and the service was delightful.

Verdict: If Our feeling is, if you’re going to spend this much on a meal - save just a few more pennies and hit up the Ledbury, or Core By Clare Smyth instead. If someone else is paying, do it.

Chick 'N' Sours Islington

££££ 62 Upper Street

What It Is: Another spot for the fried chicken and sour cocktail specialists of Haggerston and Covent Garden.

Perfect For: Casual Weeknight Dinner, Quick Eats, Lunch, Catching Up With Mates, Big Groups

The aesthetic here has a touch of the Meatliquors about it. The darkness and neon caught us as soon as we walked in and before we knew it we were eating a lot of food that’s simultaneously tasty and indistinguishable from the last thing you ate. We went a little OTT on the old chicken - burger, wings, toast - and every part of the bird sort of turned into one. Not that it ended up clucking, but it all kind of tasted sickly, sweet, and spicy. Side dishes of aubergine and watermelon were good enough to cut through this fog of flavour though.

Verdict: A solid spot if you keep it simple, don’t go OTT, or expect too much.

Levan

££££ 12 Blenheim Grove

What It Is: A new all-day restaurant-cafe-bar in Peckham

Perfect For: Small Plates, Drinks And A Light Bite, Coffee

The coffee shop here is pretty solid, but we went to check out the small plates menu. All the small plates gang were present and account for, and, as a result our lunch felt a bit standard: burrata - check, anchovies/sardines - check, cured meats - check, a cooked hunk of meat - check, the chip that is not quite a chip - check. Everything was fine, it just didn’t set our world in fire.

Verdict: This is a good place for a slightly better than casual meal in the neighbourhood. We’ll definitely be back to check out dinner, and to get involved in their natural wine situation.

Kin+Deum

££££ 2 Crucifix Lane

What It Is: A casual Thai restaurant near London Bridge.

Perfect for: Literally Everyone

We loved everything we had here. While nothing really blew our minds, the clay pot noodles and massaman curry were both deeply satisfying. Plus, it’s the kind of place we could definitely use for all different types of occasions.

Verdict: Kin + Deun is one of those perfect neighbourhood restaurants, and we’ll definitely be back to try out some more of the menu.

october 2018

Two Lights

££££
££££ 28 Kingsland Road

What It Is: A modern American small plates restaurant in Shoreditch

Perfect For: Small Plates, Drinks And A Light Bite, Casual Weeknight Dinner, Date Night

Some of the small plates here sardine - sando, hen of the woods mushrooms, grouse sausage - were really good. And the atmosphere felt right. Not too Shoreditch-y, but not too humble either. It’s confident, cool, and everything this area should be. But the desserts let us down. You can’t get us all excited about a custard tart like that, only for the taste of smoked caramel to slap us around the face. It’s not fair.

Verdict: A cool spot to take someone who thinks you’re cool, someone who you want to convince you’re cool. Equally, it’s a good place just to be cool in.

Jessica Jill

1251

££££ 107 Upper Street

What It Is:A modern British small plates restaurant on Upper Street

Perfect For: Small Plates, Drinks And A Light Bite

The first thing we thought when sat down in 1251 is how much we like natural light, windows, and not being in a cupboard. C’est la vie. This fine dining-ish restaurant is a funny old place. We got involved with the three plates for £15 lunch menu. Brilliant value, but with mixed results. Some things were really quite tasty and of a decent size. Other things were forgettable, and appeared to be props from Honey I Shrunk Your Lunch. The ground floor room is, as mentioned, lacking in windows, which doesn’t quite work when the decor is more canteen than cosy. But the upstairs looks like it could be more comfortable.

Verdict: One to revisit.

Justin DeSouza

Maison Bab

££££ 4 Mercer Street

What It Is: A modern kebab restaurant in Covent Garden.

Perfect For: Casual Weeknight Dinner, Catching Up With Mates, Lunch

A modern kebab is a bit like an electric blanket. An interesting, but potentially dangerous idea. That’s pretty much what we experienced at Maison Bab. It’s a huge spot in Covent Garden with plenty of people, and plenty of enticing menu items. Some of the food we ate - not necessarily kebab related - was nice. Doner beignets, and a mutton curry hit the spot. As did the chicken shish. Other things, like the celeriac shish, and the pork shawarma, were less nice. It’s a busy place, but that doesn’t make up for the need for a flare gun to get some attention, and we couldn’t help feel a bit meh about the whole experience.

Verdict: Good enough for a work lunch. Not good enough to go out of your way for.

Alphabet

££££ 56 Upper St

What It Is? An all-day bar and restaurant on Upper Street, serving cocktails and Mediterranean sharing plates.

Perfect For: Drinks And A Light Bite, Casual Weeknight Dinner, Catching Up With Mates, Cheap Eats, Big Groups

The first thing we thought when we walked into Alphabet was ‘this is just a bar, we’ve been had’. However, once we made it past all the people getting merry, we discovered a fairly roomy restaurant at the back. Our goat’s cheese and merguez flatbread was perfectly tasty, it just wasn’t as good as our cocktails. This place does an all-day happy hour during the week, so all of their many, many cocktails are £7. We tried The Warning Sign (rhubarb gin, pickled blueberries, lemon sherbet and hibiscus soda). It was pretty good.

Verdict: This feels more like a cocktail bar with some very nice Mediterranean snacks. We’ll be back in to get more acquainted with all 33 of their cocktails, and maybe even try a tagine.

Blacklock

££££ 30 Rivington Street

What It Is: A meat-forward restaurant in Shoreditch.

Perfect for: Date Night, Affordable Mid-Week Dinner, Sunday Roast

We couldn’t find much not to love about Blacklock. But then again, we’re meat lovers. It would almost certainly be a different story for a vegetarian, because there’s not a lot for them to eat here. We had a great pile of chops served in a meat juice drenched flat bread and it only cost us £20 each. Well, it would have only cost us £20 each if we hadn’t gone a bit crazy on the £5 cocktails.

Verdict: This is not the best meal you’ll ever eat, but it’s fun, and it’s hard to fault the price. Best enjoyed with a big group of thirst and carnivorous friends.

Iron Bloom

££££ 46 Great Eastern Street

What It Is: A dark and cosy sharing plates restaurant in Shoreditch.

Perfect For: Date Night

We’d been eyeing up this sharing plates spot for a couple of months. When we finally made it in, we liked the location, lighting, and cocktail list, but couldn’t work out why it was so empty. A glance at the menu and we were most of the way towards solving the riddle. They recommend three sharing plates per person, but most of the sharing plates come in at over £15, and while they were pretty good, that’s just way too expensive. The bone marrow wagyu burger was well worth the money though, and it went down well with a cocktail.

Verdict: We might come here often if it wasn’t so expensive. If you’re looking for a great date night hack, come in for a burger and a cocktail.

Chimichurris

££££ 132 Southwark Bridge Road

What It Is: A South American steakhouse in Southwark.

Perfect For: A Casual Mid-Week Dinner.

We went for The Parrillada “El clásico” which means we got a taste of everything. There were two types of steak, two types of sausage, and it came with what can only be described as a boat-load of melted cheese. It’s not the best steak we’ve ever had in London, but it was semi-reasonably priced.

Verdict: Not a restaurant to trek across town for, but if you’re in Southwark and craving a steak, it’s reasonably satisfying.

Charlie McKay

Flesh & Buns

££££ 32 Berners Street

What It Is: A new bigger restaurant from the Bone Daddies lot.

Perfect For: Wasting Your Time And Money

Like a sailor drawn by siren calls, we were attracted to this glistening new spot. It’s got a sexy interior, an exciting looking open kitchen, and a pisco trolley that you can call with the press of a button. But once the food was in our faces things turned ugly. Our sushi rolls looked and tasted like runners up at a local flower show, they charged us extra to have buns around our baos, and extra again for a crappy little slice of cucumber and lettuce salad, the fried squid was so salty we were unable to eat it, and the £24 short rib did nothing to justify the price. There were some high points. The pisco sours were pretty good, and the chicken wings were really very good (although they were also quite similar to the ones you get at Bone Daddies, only at an inflated price). The Nutella dessert was nice too.

Verdict: When Nutella is the highlight of a really pricey meal, you know things are bad.

Authentique

££££ 114a - 116 Fortess Road

What It Is: A casual wine bar and small plates restaurant near Tufnell Park.

Perfect For: Casual Weeknight Dinner, First/Early In The Game Date, Date Night, Catching Up With Mates

We stopped by this spacious wine shop on a Saturday night, and were not disappointed. Despite it being busy, we still managed to walk in and and grab a couple of seats on the corner of their small bar. This place is run by a bunch of French guys, they serve exclusively Francophone wines, and their selection of wines available by the glass move around from one region (of France, obviously) to the next. A couple of glasses of Cahors, and a plancha of cheese later, we were fairly satisfied. The wine was a bit pricey but excellent, and the cheese selection was substantial without being overly generous. Different story with the bread, which just kept on coming, and was probably the best baguette we’ve had in London.

Verdict: An excellent spot for a casual date night or an evening out with small group of friends and some very good wine. We’ll be back soon to try their small plates menu.

The Belrose

££££ 94 Haverstock Hill

What It Is: A pub with grub on Haverstock Hill.

Perfect For: Casual Weeknight Dinner, Date Night, Catching Up With Mates, Lunch

The Belrose is a pub refurb where the emphasis has been on creating a casual and communal space. It worked. We didn’t find it to be the cosiest pub in NW3, but the pizzas are solid, and there’s more bottled beers on sale here than we’ll ever have the time to sample.

Verdict: Fine for a casual pizza with friends and family if you’re in the neighbourhood.

Little Kolkata

££££ 51-53 Shelton St

What It Is: A casual Bengali restaurant in Covent Garden.

Perfect For: Lunch, Casual Weeknight Dinner, Catching Up With Mates

We stopped in for lunch and were generally impressed with the variety of food on offer. It’s made up of small and large sharing plates which are all fairly reasonably priced. The doi papri chat was the standout dish for us, and while the rest of our order was nice enough, nothing else made much of an impact.

Verdict: A nice spot for a casual, no fuss lunch or dinner, especially if you’re rolling with a crew of four to six people.

Ichiba

££££ Unit 0220, Relay Square, Westfield London

What It Is: A Japanese market and canteen at Westfield White City.

Perfect For: Lunch, Quick Eats

We’d expected Ichiba to be more of a Hawker style market than it actually is. What we found was a well-stocked Japanese food market. There’s a sake bar, and a takoyaki and yakisoba kiosk, but apart from that it’s just a single counter where you order the rest of your food. We steered clear of the Shoryu ramen and ordered instead some gyoza and a bowl of beef sukiyaki with soba noodles. We were not overly impressed. While prices are not particularly high, we expected more flavour and more quantity, and the gyoza were nothing more than fine.

Verdict: A decent enough spot for a quick and relatively inexpensive bite at Westfield. But, unlike some of the other food markets popping up across London, there’s no need to make a special trip there.

September 2018

Gunpowder

££££
££££ 4 Duchess Walk

What It Is: A new bigger restaurant from the Gunpowder team, serving the same home-style Indian food they make at their Spitalfields spot.

Perfect For: Casual Weeknight Dinner, Date Night, Literally Everyone, Catching Up With Mates, Lunch

When an excellent restaurant opens a second site, it’s a problem. Not because it’s a bad thing, but because of the expectations. Crippling, crippling expectations. We love the original Gunpowder so we expected to feel the same way about this slick new incarnation. We were (briefly) put off because it’s located in a new development - a glassy, yellow-bricked, straight outta Foxtons thing. But that doesn’t matter because inside is quite lovely and roomy, and what we ate was superb. Gunpowder classics like the venison and vermicelli doughnut or lamb chops are still excellent in their new location, while the new cheese and chutney toastie is an instant classic. Although we ate a sizeable chunk of the menu, an order of a doughnut and another snack, plus a portion of rabbit pulao between two would come to £20 each.

Verdict: Tastier than an Eastenders Christmas special from the mid-noughties, it’s going on the Hit List.

Beef & Brew

££££ 33 Downham Road

What It Is: A small spruced up pub in De Beauvoir Town with craft beers (obviously) and a kitchen specialising in steaks, meat sandwiches and burgers.

Perfect for: Catching Up With Mates, Casual Weeknight Dinner, Drinks And A Light Bite, Outdoor Seating

We stopped into Beef and Brew for a quick drink and an early evening steak, The price and the service was perfectly fine, but the brisket jam nuggets weren’t quite as good our server’s description of them. The £10 early-bird onglet and fries special was perfectly fine.

Verdict: A decent spot for a quick and easy steak and beer. We’ll be back to check out the burgers and other offerings.

Old Compton Brasserie

££££
££££ 34 Old Compton Street

What It Is: A big, all day brasserie in Soho.

Perfect For: Birthdays, Catching Up With Mates, Lunch, Special Occasions

We headed to this new spot on Old Compton Street on a Friday night, armed with the knowledge that there were many, many cocktails to be had. There’s also brass detailing, big leather booths, plenty of meaty mains, a shiny marble bar where bearded men make boozy drinks, exposed brick, several vegan plant-based options, and a large mural of Bjork. Interesting. Our onglet was tasty enough, if slightly overcooked, but the vegan burger was actually really delicious. Sure, this is the kind of place where the cocktails are named after ‘Soho legends’, and our drinks came with sparklers, but the atmosphere is fun, and the all day menu very affordable.

Verdict: A handy Soho spot to have in your back pocket, and we’ll be back to try more of the menu.

Red Farm

££££
££££ 9 Russell St, London

What It Is: A NYC Chinese restaurant transplanted to Covent Garden.

Perfect for: Date Night, Escaping The Crowds, Catching Up With Mates

Our first impressions of this small restaurant was that there’s lots of staff. We figured that’d mean we’d get some great service, but as our meal went on we got increasingly over-attentive, fussy service, and it almost ruined what might otherwise have been a nice casual dinner. The beef fried rice and duck wide noodles were both fine but forgettable, however the cheeseburger spring rolls were an excellent starter, and the soup dumplings were exceptional, possibly the best we’ve ever had in London.

Verdict: Annoying service and prices that add up are more than compensated for by the soup dumplings.

Zuaya

££££
££££ 35 Kensington High St.

What It Is: A new high end South American restaurant just off Kensington High Street

Perfect For: Date Night, Catching Up With Mates

We found something a little jarring about Zuaya. Maybe it was the decor, which is luxurious but inconsistent, and which we couldn’t quite square with the house music pounding in the background. As the night went on, the service was sometimes inattentive, but the food was pretty fun. We ate a very tasty duck salad, and some good looking prawns, but there was also a pretty tasteless duck stew, and our order of ‘Tacos for 2’ contained - frustratingly - three tacos.

Verdict: Zuaya is totally fine, not too ridiculously expensive for the area, and some of the food is pretty decent.

La Brasseria Milanese

££££ 42 Marylebone High St

What It Is: A good looking Italian brasserie in Marylebone

Perfect For: Wasting Your Time And Money

We came across La Brasseria Milanese on a perfect late summer evening. It seemed to have good lighting, beautiful interiors, and the patio was full of people lounging in the evening sun, looking like they were having a great time. Unfortunately the food was an absolute mess. Everything we ordered - from a disappointing tuna tartare and a tasteless carpaccio with truffle, through to a very poor chicken parm and veal escalope - suggested a paint-by-numbers approach to Italian food, and very little flair.

Verdict: Lots of style and very little substance. We won’t be rushing back for the food but can’t rule out stopping by for a drink at the bar or out on the patio.

Boxcar Baker And Deli

££££ 7A Wyndham Place

What It Is: A bakery, deli and butcher in Marylebone that’s also open for sit down lunch and dinner.

Perfect For: Quick Eats, Lunch, Casual Weekday Dinner

Boxcar Baker is a trendy looking spot in Marylebone, and is a bit of a jack of all trades. It’s a deli, a butchers, and a bakery. Unfortunately, on our visit, it was a master of none of those trades. The pastries were average, and the lamb chops were a disgrace. On the plus side, the burger was pretty damn good.

Verdict: Boxcar is fine for a sit down burger if you’re in the area and their all-day menu could be useful if you’re in a tight spot.

The Chipping Forecast Soho

££££ 58 Greek Street

What It Is: A slightly modernised take on the classic fish and chip shop, situated in the heart of Soho.

Perfect For: Catching Up With Mates, Casual Weeknight Dinner, Lunch, Takeaway, Literally Everyone

The Chipping Forecast has the classic, unmistakeable scent of battered fish, but there’s not a plastic counter, wooden chip fork, or reproduction painting of a Sailboat At Dawn in sight. The tables are wooden, there’s suave brown leather seating, and crab mac ’n’ cheese on the menu. Yup, there’s even cocktails. This is fish and chips, gone just a little bit fancy. We had the cod scotch egg (not so special), the crab mac ’n’ cheese (tasty) and, of course, the cod and chips (very good). We also, very boldly, ordered a couple of mojitos and if you’ve ever left a tinny in a tent for three days and then decided to drink it anyway, you get a good idea of what they tasted like.

Verdict: A really nice restaurant for a classic British fish supper. We’ll be coming back, but when we do we’ll probably stick to the classics and completely avoid the cocktails.

Bancone

££££
££££ 39 William IV Street

What It Is: An affordable handmade pasta spot in Covent Garden.

Perfect For: Casual Weeknight Dinner, Date Night, Literally Everyone, Catching Up With Mates, Lunch

Bancone is all about pasta. Hand-made, fresh, butter dripping pasta. There are 11 dishes to choose from, ranging from a slow cooked oxtail ragu pappardelle to a brown shrimp and seaweed butter tagliolini. Of those we tried, all were pretty delicious, but the silk handkerchiefs (entirely glorious squares of thin pasta) with hazelnut butter and confit egg yolk were the standout. This is the kind of dish you travel across town for, and merrily wade through Covent Garden’s three billion tourists to eat. The fact that the pastas range from just £7.50 to £13.50 is just a bonus.

Verdict: The silk handkerchiefs alone are worth a visit, it’s going on the Hit List.

Casa do Frango

££££ 32 Southwark St

What It Is: A-more-upmarket-than-Nando’s piri piri chicken place in Southwark/London Bridge.

Perfect For: Catching Up With Mates, Casual Weeknight Dinner, Group Dinners, Date Night, Lads Night Out, Girls Night Out, Literally Everyone

It was only a matter time before somebody ran with the Nando’s idea and took it up a notch. That’s pretty much what Casa Do Frango has done. It’s above Native in Southwark/London Bridge, and the room is similarly bright and airy, but with the happy buzz that only a busy piri piri restaurant provides. What we ate was undeniably better than the famous all-conquering chain. Fried sardines with paprika aioli and lemon are a simple and tasty start, but what you come here for is the chicken. A half is £9 and it’s as juicy and charred as a Brit on holiday. The one piri piri sauce here is nice, we’d rank it as medium on the Nando’s scale, and the chips were decently crispy. It was busy, not surprising given the value and quality, but the iffy service meant that we couldn’t help but think a bit wistfully about the ease and familiar satisfaction of you know what.

Verdict: An excellent shout when you’re in the area and someone’s pining for Nando’s, but you want something different.

Maple Restaurant And Bar

££££ Wood Lane

What It Is: A big all day drinking and dining spot in the new Westfield London development.

Perfect For: Lunch, Cheap Eats, Drinks And A Light Bite

Maple is very pretty. As soon as we walked in there was a lot of ooh-ing and ahh-ing over the copper details, the shiny bar with ember glass, and the big red booths. Sadly, that was where the wonder ended. The ‘botanical cocktails’ were basically a nice standard tipple with a flower thrown in for good measure. This time at least, the food felt a bit like someone performing a terrible jazz rendition of your favourite Beatles song. Our crab linguine would have been lovely, if they hadn’t laced it with so much chilli that our earlobes started sweating. Our chicken with gnocchi and summer squash was more like eating tiny rock-solid roasted potatoes (do not deny us promised gnocchi), and the squash was raw. Maybe, just maybe, they were having an off night, or they haven’t quite hit their pace, so we’ll be back to check it out again.

Verdict: A nice looking spot for a drink.

The Lebanese Bakery

££££ Drury House

What It Is: A grab-and-go middle-eastern bakery in Covent Garden with the option to grab and stay.

Perfect For: Lunch, Takeaway

We can still taste the hummus from The Lebanese Bakery. It really lingers. But, in a good way. Actually, in a great way. The hummus came in a tub the size of a brick with just the right amount of olive oil, toasted pine nuts and, was served with a fluffy white dough flatbread that could feed a family of four. They’re open from early to late, and we went in the evening but it felt like the kind of place you’d want to hit for lunch. The flatbreads were delicious. Especially the minced beef, lamb and pomegranate manousheh, which tasted of Christmas and summer simultaneously.

Verdict: A definite spot to hit for lunch in Covent Garden, but not necessarily the best spot for a sit-down catch up.

Morso

££££ 130 Boundary Road

What It Is: A homemade pasta restaurant off Abbey Road.

Perfect For: Catching Up With Mates, Date Night, Literally Anyone

With its filament bulbs and minimal monochrome decor, Morso feels very Padella but without the queues. There was a good crowd on the weekday evening we visited, and the pasta was excellent. A couple of the sauces were slightly lacklustre (mascarpone and ’nduja was particularly disappointing) but the cacio e pepe was very good. We also enjoyed the polenta crisps.

Verdict: A solid shout if you’re in northwest London and can’t be bothered to trek into town for some properly good pasta.

The Coal Office

££££ 4-10 Bagley Walk Arches

What It Is: An upscale middle-eastern restaurant at Granary Square from the team behind The Palomar.

Perfect For: Impressing Out Of Towners, Action At The Bar, Date Night

Despite arriving at 6pm, just as they opened, we were told they were all booked up and so we’d have to sit at the counter. This wasn’t a problem because the counter overlooks the open kitchen, and if you’ve ever eaten at The Palomar you’ll know just how fun it can be to watch these chefs do their thing. We were greeted with a shot of punch to get us started, and followed up with a couple of excellent cocktails and the kubalah, one of three freshly baked breads on offer. It was served with yoghurt, and we ordered a plate of chilli dips to go with it. It was incredible. A few of the sharing plates were underwhelming (sashimi, polenta) but the chicken liver pate was fantastic, as was a fig dessert which was served with tahini ice cream.

Verdict: This is an exciting place to be, but it’s expensive, and the food didn’t hit all the marks we hoped it would. We’ll be back to give it another try before deciding whether it gets a spot on the Hit List.

Rovi

££££
££££ 59 Wells Street

What It Is: A vegetable and fermented foods focused spot in Fitzrovia from the Ottolenghi empire.

Perfect For: Date Night, Perfect For Everyone, Impressing Out Of Towners. Keeping It Kinda Healthy

This place is a well-oiled machine, and we could tell from the moment we walked in that they know exactly what they’re doing. We sat at the bar because, even on a weekday night, it was completely booked out, but this is a great place to be. It seemed appropriate to start with a couple of cocktails, including a very good lapsang souchong old fashioned, but everything else at Rovi is for sharing, and everything was bigger than we expected it to be. From the £5 tomato salad, to the celeriac shawarma, which at £14.50 was not only one of the best value dishes we’ve had in London recently, but is also hands down, one of the best things we’ve eaten in London this year. Honestly, the shawarma and the corn ribs (a slightly alien looking ear of corn) was all we really needed, and these two dishes alone are reason to come back again and again. And again.

Verdict: We love this place and it’s going on the Hit List.

Lady Of The Grapes

££££
££££ 16 Maiden Lane

What It Is: A female winemaker focused wine bar in Covent Garden.

Perfect For: Drinks And A Light Bite, Date Night

Lady Of The Grapes quickly became the kind of place that someone would have to drag us out of come midnight whilst we cradle a bottle of organic Slovakian wine to our chest. The atmosphere, the cheese, the rustic interior, was all very addictive. We can’t speak for their French tapas as we didn’t try it, but we’ll definitely be back to check out the full menu and honestly, we’re pretty hyped to get back to exploring that wine list.

Verdict: A truly lovely wine bar that has all the potential to be a Covent Garden favourite.

august 2018

Cora Pearl

££££
££££ 30 Henrietta Street

What It Is: A new British restaurant from the people behind Kitty Fisher’s.

Perfect For: Date Night, Dinner With Parents, Lunch, Catching Up With Mates

We’re big fans of Kitty Fisher’s, so we went into Cora Pearl with pretty high hopes. The feel of the restaurant is a bit different. It’s more Soho Farmhouse than country manor house. But the food is similar. Basically tarted up meat/fish and two veg. A few dishes were really excellent - the veal, the most impressively engineered chips we’ve ever had, and milk and cookies - but some were less so. It’s not that there were low points. It was more like there were some highs, and some slightly less highs.

Verdict: An excellent addition to Covent Garden, and a worthy addition to our Hit List. Also, the chips win a spot in the potato hall of fame.

Akira

££££ 101-111 Kensington High Street

What It Is: A seriously upscale restaurant sitting on the upper floor of Japan House at High Street Kensington

Perfect For: Corporate Cards, Wasting Your Time And Money

There’s no doubt about it, Akira is beautiful. Unfortunately, the food is, well, just food. Actually, it’s very expensive food. It’s all served on big rocks and in bento boxes, which we guess is supposed to impress. It doesn’t. And nor does it justify the frankly stupid prices. The sushi is perfectly fine, but some of the more innovative combinations (orange ponzu) just don’t work.

The Verdict: If you want some imaginative and expensive Japanese food, just head across the road to Yashin Sushi. If you want to spend a pile of dough to eat okay food in a stunning room, come here.

Paesan

££££ Weston Park

What It Is: A casual small plates and pasta place in Crouch End, with specialities from all over Italy.

Perfect For: Catching Up With Mates, Date Night, Solo Dining, A Casual Weeknight Dinner, Lunch

We’re fans of Paesan’s original spot on Exmouth Market, so when they took over an empty site in Crouch End, we raced over to check it out. It’s a small and intimate spot and already mobbed with locals in the evening, so we went for a quick solo lunch at the counter downstairs. We were not disappointed. We ordered the Pugliese garlic bread, a generous but inexpensive bowl of orecchiette with friarelli and n’duja (also from Puglia), and a flourless chocolate cake for pudding. All were good. And we’d happily eat it all over again.

Verdict: This is a perfectly fine and inexpensive everyday option if you’re a local, or if you’re heading up to Ally Pally for a thing. Also, the menu lets you do an eating tour of Italy without leaving north London.

Tim Green

The Frog

££££
££££ Hoxton Square

What It Is: A casual fine dining spot, relocated from Brick Lane to Hoxton Square.

Perfect for: Casual Weeknight Dinner, Catching Up With Mates, Date Night, Literally Everyone

Our first visit to The Frog’s new location went well. Yes, the place still has slightly questionable graffiti on the wall, but it’s modern and bright, and - most importantly - the food is fantastic. And, the mac and cheese is still one of the best things we’ve ever eaten in our lives.

Verdict: It’s hard to find serious fault with a restaurant that makes food taste this good. We’re putting it on our Hit List.

Hide

££££
££££ 85 Piccadilly

What It Is: A £20 million mega-restaurant thing in Mayfair. There’s a downstairs bar, an upstairs tasting menu spot, and all-day fine dining on the ground floor.

Perfect For: Breakfast, Corporate Cards, Impressing Out Of Towners, Special Occasions

Our first impression of Hide was that there’s lots of wood in there. The whole restaurant is like the the creative vision of a Bond villain who was tormented by bark as a child. It’s magnificent. But it’s also quite a lot. We opted to eat our early dinner à la carte on the ground floor, and found it slightly hit and miss. Starters were uniformly excellent, a barbecued octopus main was spectacular, but the lamb dish we ordered failed to blow our minds. While we’re complaining, the bread was ho-hum. Oh, and it was really expensive.

The Verdict: This place does some very nice food, but it comes at a price. We’ll be back soon to dig a little deeper.

Henrietta Bistro

££££
££££ 14-15 Henrietta Street

What It Is: Mediterranean food served from the restaurant of a Covent Garden boutique hotel.

Perfect For: Dinner With The Parents, Lunch, Literally Everyone, Catching Up With Mates

We have good memories of the restaurant at the Henrietta Hotel. The previous occupant of this site did fancy things with flowers that we liked in spite of ourselves. The food at Henrietta Bistro, is a totally different thing. They’re doing food from all over the Mediterranean, and it gave us happy flashbacks of some of the best meals we’ve had on holiday. This is very much a good thing.

Verdict: Henrietta Bistro is a lovely, calming room. Perfect for a nice chilled dinner with the parents or friends.

Andina Notting Hill

££££
££££ 157 Westbourne Grove

What It Is: A chilled out Peruvian spot in Notting Hill

Perfect For: Brunch, Casual Weeknight Dinner, Catching Up With Mates, Date Night, Drinks And A Light Bite, Keeping It Kind Of Healthy, Literally Everyone, Lunch, Screaming Children, Vegetarians

Walking in to Andina for brunch felt like a breath of fresh air, especially when compared with some of the more stuffy restaurants in the neighbourhood. And, although we know Andina’s other spots fairly well, we were still blown away by the food in this new place. It serves a brilliant mix of heavy and light. We ate meatballs, sourdough toast, sea bass ceviche, yellowfin tune tartare, and an exceptionally good scrambled egg.

The Verdict: This place is definitely worth travelling for. We’ll be going back for dinner very soon to decide if it’s going to go on our Hit List.

july 2018

Kyseri

££££
££££ 64 Grafton Way

What It Is: A modern Turkish restaurant in Fitzrovia.

Perfect For: Date Night, Catching Up With Mates, Dinner With The Parents, Drinks And A Light Bite, First/Early In The Game Dates

This cute, warm, and reassuring spot feels like getting a warm hug from an old friend. Despite this being a first visit, we’re not complete strangers. We’ve been hanging out with Kyseri’s sister restaurant, Oklava, for a while now. That place was cute, but Kyseri is even cuter. The £45 menu got us a bit of everything and is something we would definitely do again. That said, we’d also come in just for a glass of wine and some hellim bread, or, better yet, the beef pasta in spicy tomato sauce, which is one of the best pasta dishes in London.

The Verdict: We love this place and have put it on our Hit List.

Claw Carnaby

££££
Seafood  in  Soho
££££ 21 Kingly Street

What is it: A casual seafood restaurant behind Carnaby Street.

Perfect For: Catching Up With Mates, Lunch, Literally Everyone

We may have come to Claw for the lobster roll, but we soon discovered that there’s more than one crustacean in the sea. This casual seafood spot also does a decent crab mac and cheese. And a very nice tune tartare. Okay, tuna’s not a crustacean. We know. But nor are the sesame caramel chicken wings, and they were still the best thing we ate here

Verdict: We came for the seafood. But we’ll come back for the chicken wings.

Scully

££££
££££ 4 St James's Market

What is it: A casual small plates restaurant serving modern European food in St James’s.

Perfect For: Casual Weeknight Dinner, Catching Up With Mates, Date Night, Dinner With The Parents, Eating At The Bar, Literally Everyone

When we walked into Scully we were convinced we’d stepped through some kind of tesseract. One minute we were in St James’s, in the heart of establishment London, the next, we were doing the small plates thing, sitting at casual counter seating, and wondering what they keep in all those mysterious pickle jars. We could have been in the depths of Peckham or Hackney, and it was a fantastic surprise. As was the food. We ate a spiced chickpea snack that should be served at every bar in London, a short rib croquette that we now want to get delivered to our office every day, and a fresh tomato salad served in a sauce that made us want to lick our plate clean.

Verdict: We’ve put Scully on our Hit List and we’ll be coming back here with all our friends.

Abd El Wahab

££££
££££ 1-3 Pont Street

What It Is: A massive Lebanese Restaurant in Belgravia.

Perfect For: Corporate Cards

This smart, good looking restaurant is perfectly fine. They serve all the dishes you’d expect of a Lebanese restaurant in London: hummus, grilled meats, halloumi. But it all felt rather clinical.

Verdict: By all means go if you’re in the area and need a spot for a business lunch. Be warned though: this place has zero bants.

Cecconi's Pizza Bar

££££
Pizza  in  Soho
££££ 19-21 Old Compton Street

What It Is: An all-day (and late-night) pizza and pasta spot in Soho.

Perfect For: Catching Up With Mates, Cheap Eats, Dining Solo, Lunch, Literally Everyone

Walking into Cecconi’s is like walking into any other Italian-themed restaurant in any city on earth. There’s nothing particularly special or notable about it, except for the outstanding value £10 pizza and a beer (or glass of wine) weekday lunch. At that price we might have forgiven our pizza for being merely okay. It wasn’t. It was actually fairly good.

The Verdict: A new go-to for an unspectacular, but cheap and civilised lunch in Soho.

The Hero Of Maida

££££
FrenchBritishPub  in  Paddington
££££ 55 Shirland Road

What It Is: An old pub in Maida Vale that’s been converted into a posh bistro.

Perfect For: Dinner With Parents, Outdoor Seating, Group Dinners, Impressing Out Of Towners, Sunday Roast

The Hero of Maida is just about as gorgeous as a pub conversion gets. It’s still recognisable as a boozer, but it’s had an elegant facelift, and the soaring ceilings and massive windows made it an incredibly nice place to have a meal. We knew much of the menu from our visits to their sister restaurant in Clerkenwell, and the French-style bistro food here was just as good. In particular, the grilled rabbit topped with bacon, and served in a creamy mustard sauce, was outstanding.

The Verdict: An excellent spot for any occasion. Even if you’re not local, it’s worth travelling to Little Venice for. We’re putting it on our Hit List.

Bottles

££££
££££ 67 Brushfield Street

What It Is: A wine bar in Spitalfields with food by pasta-specialists, the Sood Family.

Perfect For: Lunch, Catching Up With Mates, Dining Solo, First/Early In The Game Dates,

This wine bar at Old Spitalfields Market had been on our radar since we heard that pasta specialists, the Sood Family, were moving here from their former spot in the Spitalfields Kitchens. Our first visit was for a light lunch with a glass of wine, and we were not disappointed. With dozens of wine available by the glass, there’s plenty of drinking options. And the food is on point too. Particularly an excellent bowl of handmade spaghetti all’amatriciana with crispy guanciale.

The Verdict: A really good new food and wine spot for Spitalfields. We’ll definitely be back.

Randy’s Wing Bar

££££
American  in  City
££££ 30 – 33 MINORIES

What It Is: Strips, burgers, and wings. Served with cocktails, wine, and beer. In Aldgate.

Perfect For: Casual Weeknight Dinner, Lunch, Catching Up With Mates, Literally Everyone

Randy’s is a causal spot in a relatively quiet corner of the City, and is the perfect place for getting dirty with some fairly messy wings. We had the Casablanca wings which are infused with harissa, and served with pomegranate seeds and a mint dressing. They were very good. Sadly the bacon dust fries we ordered on the side tasted like a bag of late-night chicken shop chips had collided with the contents of a Pizza Hut salad cart. They were not good.

The Verdict: A fun spot for getting your hands dirty with some friends.

Vins

££££
££££ 93 Grosvenor Avenue

What It Is: A restaurant and wine shop near the Canonbury Overground station.

Perfect For: Date Night, Casual Weeknight Dinner, Catching Up With A Friend, Drinks And A Light Bite, Outdoor Seating

This cute little wine shop and restaurant has all the makings of a neighbourhood gem. It’s the kind of place you’d want to wander down to after a long day at work, when you just can’t face opening the fridge. At least that’s why we went. It didn’t disappoint. A big, rustic plate of fregola with pigs cheek and spring onions was perfectly satisfying. We will be back, because it seems like it could be fun spot to hang out at with friends.

The Verdict: A decent new local restaurant and wine shop that should become a regular spot for those living in the area.

june 2018

Bright

££££
££££ 1 Westgate Street

What It Is: A wine bar and restaurant from the P. Franco folks.

Perfect For: Action At The Bar, Dinner With parents, Drinks And A Light Bite, Outdoor Seating, Small Plates

Within seconds of walking in, we were reassured that the team at Bright had successfully managed to recreate the cool, laid-back approach we love so much at P. Franco. We weren’t fooled by their insouciance though. This is a professional outfit. From the wine selection to the food, everything manages to be tip-top without being flash. Beef tongue skewer in blackcurrant was a revelation. Little katsu sandwiches are the bar snack of your dreams. A grilled onion salad with ricotta was delicious, and went very well with chilli spatchcocked chicken. And an elderflower and rhubarb compote dessert was an excellent way to end, although we were a bit pissed by then.

The Verdict: All things point to a winner, and we’re putting it on the Hit List.

Lahpet

££££
££££ 58 Bethnal Green Road

What It Is: A casual Burmese restaurant in Shoreditch

Perfect For: Casual Weeknight Dinner, Catching Up With Mates, Date Night, Keeping It Kinda Healthy, Vegetarians,

Lahpet’s new spot on the Bethnal Green Road is all dim lighting, cocktails and curries to share. Our lentil curry, baked aubergine, and chickpea paratha were all very satisfying. We’ll be sticking to the vegetarian options next time though because the pork and dish curries didn’t blow us away.

The Verdict: Decent. Not one to travel across London for, but an excellent back-pocket restaurant for when you’re in the area.

Sambal Shiok

££££
££££ 171 Holloway Road

What It Is: A casual laksa bar on the Holloway Road.

Perfect For: Casual Weeknight Dinner, Date Night, Catching Up With Mates, Solo Dining, Action At The Bar

After a short wait, we got a seat at the bar and ordered a hefty portion of laksa, a Malay spicy noodle soup with king prawns and chicken. It tasted very good, it had a proper kick (and by proper we mean, like a drop kick to the private parts), and we’ll definitely be back to try side plates like fried chicken, salads with peanut sauce, and some of the rice dishes once the new opening excitement dies down a bit.

The Verdict: A welcome addition to north London, we’ll be heading back once they get into their stride.

Brigadiers

££££
Indian  in  City
££££ 1-5 Bloomberg Arcade

What It Is: An Indian meat specialist in the City.

Perfect For: Action At The Bar, Big Groups, Birthdays, Catching Up With Mates, Guys Night, Girls Night Out, Impressing Out Of Towners, Outside Seating, Literally Everyone, Sports

Walking into Brigadiers we found it hard not to let out a long, hard ‘phwoar’. It’s a maze of a restaurant, and behind every corner, there was something else we wanted to do: book one of their private dining rooms for our next party, rent the pool room and tell them to keep bringing the pao while we help ourselves to beer and whisky, sit at the bar grazing on masala chicken skins whilst watching the game... The list could go on. But, as well as being a playground for grownup children, it’s also a spectacular Indian restaurant. From the butter chicken wings and bhajis, to the bone marrow and beef shin biryani, everything is first class. We’ll definitely be back.

The Verdict: A serious contender for our favourite Indian restaurant in London, we’re putting it on the Hit List.

St Leonards Restaurant

££££
££££ 70 Leonard Street

What It Is: A sleek sharing plates spot in Shoreditch.

Perfect For: Date Night, Catching Up With Mates.

St. Leonards, is a spacious, modern feeling spot on a back street in Shoreditch serving meat and fish and veg. Everything manages to be both simple and complicated at the same time, if that makes sense. We had grilled hake with a crab aioli, and a charred cabbage with a pork and xo crumb. It was fine. Nice enough at times. But not very memorable. We’ll have to come back and try it again.

The Verdict: Nothing about the food left much of an impression. Neither a good one, nor a particularly bad one.

Mother Clucker

££££
££££ 59-61 Rosebery Avenue

What It Is: A fried chicken spot in Clerkenwell.

Perfect For: Dining Solo, Lunch, Casual Weeknight Dinner, Cheap Eats

When we saw the neon lights at Mother Clucker, we had high hopes. All London’s best chicken shops have neon lighting, that’s how the drunk people find them. This is very much a pick your dish, pay (only card, no cash) and then grab a very industrial stool kind of situation. The burger was a bit sad but, the Mother Clucker signature strips were an absolute treat. As was the black eyed pea stew. Everything is improved exponentially by their impressive collection of hot sauce. Just watch out for the Bajan red hot pepper.

The Verdict: Mother Clucker is just the place to fulfil a craving for decent, twice battered, buttermilk fried chicken.

Native

££££
££££ 32 Southwark Street

What It Is: A foraged ingredients led casual fine dining restaurant in Southwark.

Perfect For: Date Night, Dinner With Parents, Fine Dining, Birthdays

Nothing says natural like walking into a restaurant and being accosted by a branch as you say the name of your reservation. Native wants you to know they are all about the natural stuff, and we almost tripped over a tree as soon as soon we got in the door. This casual fine dining restaurant has reappeared south of the river (having previously been in Covent Garden) and is still doing some tasty, good value, fancy food, only some of which contains stinging nettles. £40 for three courses and an array of snacks is excellent value, and the food was good. Unfortunately our abiding memory is of the meal’s languorous pace. If snails were on the menu, they probably would have escaped before being cooked.

The Verdict: Good value fine dining that could do with a rocket up its arse.

Xi’an Biang Biang Noodles

££££
££££ 62 Wentworth Street

What It Is: A Spitalfields spot specialising in Xi’an cuisine.

Perfect For: Cheap Eats

The food at Xi’an Biang Biang didn’t make us very happy. That’s not to say it was terrible, it just wasn’t great. Actually, that’s a lie, the potstickers and the pork burger were fairly terrible. But, the pork and vegetable wonton in chicken broth and the cold noodles were nice enough. It felt a bit like getting back from a first date and mumbling ‘it was alright’ to your friends. You know it wasn’t a complete waste of time, but are you going to see them again? Possibly not.

The Verdict: If we happened to live or work on Wentworth Street and wanted some hand pulled noodles, we’d happily hit Xi’an Biang Biang. However, we don’t.

Ruya

££££
Turkish  in  Mayfair
££££ 30 Upper Grosvenor Street

What It Is: A vast Turkish restaurant in Mayfair.

Perfect For: Girls Night Out, Guys Night Out, Catching Up With Mates, Group Dinners, Action At The Bar, Corporate Cards

The first thing we noticed when we entered Ruya was just how big it is. It’s an enormous corridor of a restaurant. It just seems to go on forever. The other thing we noticed was how empty it was on the weekday lunchtime we visited. We were two of about ten diners, and by our count we were outnumbered 4:1 by staff. The upshot was very attentive service, which isn’t something to grumble about. Nor was the food. Generous portions of cheesy, egg-y pide, calamari, and aubergine crisps got us started, followed by some kebabs, some fish, and a couple of decent desserts.

The Verdict: The food here is fine. In fact it’s slightly better than just fine. We’ll have to return in the evening to see if it gets any better (and busier) though.

Karolina Wiercigroch

Lina Stores – 51 Greek Street

££££
Italian  in  Soho
££££ 51 Greek Street

What It Is: A pasta bar in Soho from the 70 year-old deli on Brewer Street.

Perfect For: Dinner With Parents, Date Night, Casual Midweek Dinner, Practically Everyone, Catching Up With Mates

Lina Stores on Greek Street feels like going back in time to the Soho of our dreams. Upstairs is all bustling counter and charming ice-cream parlour pastels, but we ate downstairs. We’re glad we did. It’s far roomier down there, and we needed the space when we ordered everything they had an offer. The aubergine polpettes made for an especially good starter, and truffle and ricotta tortellini were rich and delicious. That’s not to say the menu is all fancy. In fact it’s perfectly sized, and excellent value for the quality.

The Verdict: Not every pasta was a hit, but this is charming new spot in Soho for a casual meal.

May 2018

Leroy

££££
££££ 18 Phipp Street

What It Is: A wine bar and sharing plates place in Shoreditch.

Perfect For: Eating At The Bar, First/Early In The Game Dates, Small Plates, Catching Up With Mates, Dinner With Parents

London probably doesn’t need another natural wine and sharing plates place, but Leroy, an airy restaurant on the corner of a relatively peaceful Shoreditch backstreet, is low-key and comfortable enough to stand out from the crowd. There’s a choice of nibbles, some vegetables, some pasta, a bit of salad, and some meat and fish options. There’s also lots of very good wine. To go with our glass of aglianico, we had the house salad. It came buried under slivers of cheese (like all good salads should) and was delicious. The rest of our order - asparagus and ricotta, a plate of cavatelli with mushrooms, and some boudin noir - was fine, if slightly unmemorable.

The Verdict: We anticipate spending lots of time in this delightful room, especially when we’re happy for the food to play second fiddle to the wine.

Santa Maria

££££
PizzaItalian  in  Fitzrovia
££££ 160 New Cavendish St

What It Is: A Fitzrovia Neapolitan pizza specialist.

Perfect For: Cheap Eats, Casual Weeknight Dinner, Literally Everyone, Vegetarians

Whenever we head into Fitzrovia to check out a new spot, we kind of expect an expensive experience. Santa Maria certainly isn’t that. It’s a clean and bright restaurant which was just the perfect amount of busy on the weekday evening we visited. The menu is made up almost entirely pizzas, and they’re good: all rich tomato sauce and thin crispy base. This is what we came here for, although we couldn’t resist that urge to order some meatballs on the side. We were not disappointed.

The Verdict: An excellent addition to Fitzrovia serving quality food at reasonable prices.

Cornerstone

££££
Seafood  in  Hackney
££££ 3 Prince Edward Road

What It Is: A Hackney Wick, seafood-focused, sharing/small plates spot.

Perfect For: Corporate Cards, Small Plates

Cornerstone is in a bright room that feels modern and fresh. Unfortunately, besides a decent but tiny potted shrimp crumpet, and an £18 plate containing three scallops in green sauce, the food was unmemorable. A sickly sweet pork belly dish was downright unpleasant. Friendly service and an oddly generous crumble for dessert wasn’t enough to salvage a meal that we were still hungry at the end of.

The Verdict: We’ll come back here for dinner as the menu changes regularly, but at the moment it feels like a nice place that’s being let down by the food.

Temper Covent Garden

££££
££££ 5 Mercer Walk

What It Is: A third restaurant from The Temper people focussed on fake pasta and amazing pizza

Perfect For: Literally Everyone, Fun Date Night, Girls And Boys Night Out,

This new spot from the crew behind Temper City and Temper Soho is a little bit the same, but also quite a bit different from those other outposts. It’s the same in that it’s got a similar air of excitement about it, like a party could break out at any moment. But it’s different in that it specialises in pizzas rather than the meats on offer at those other restaurants. In typically iconoclastic fashion, the pizzas come with weird toppings, some of which were wonderful, like the cheeseburger and kimchi Detroit-style pies. Elsewhere on the menu, something called ‘not-pasta’ features batshit inventions like lardo carbonara, where the lardo stands in for pasta. It’s every bit as filthy as it sounds.

The Verdict: We like this place a lot. It’s fun, it gives zero f*cks, and serves cool, slightly ridiculous food that we’ve never had anywhere else. We’ve added it to our Hit List.

Sapling

££££
££££ 378 Kingsland Rd

What It Is: A small plates and natural wine restaurant on the Kingsland Road.

Perfect For: Small Plates, Drinks And A Light Bite, Early In The Game Dates,

At nine-thirty on a Wednesday night, we were hoping to sit at the central counter, but it was already filled with a cast of characters straight out of The Guardian’s Blind Dates column, all of them deep embedded in their conversations. Instead, we got comfortable in one of the tiny booths for two, which was a bit more intimate than we wanted, but it was fine. There was a precision to the place which could have been annoying if we were expecting something more casual, but it didn’t stop us from enjoying the natural wine, the on point selection of cured meat, and a heritage tomato salad that had us close to falling in love.

The Verdict: This is a great neighbourhood joint, or a date night destination. It’s not as rock and roll as somewhere like P. Franco, but it’s fun nonetheless.

Inko Nito

££££
JapaneseKorean  in  Soho
££££ 55 Broadwick Street

What It Is: A loud and proud spot in Soho serving Japanese and Korean inspired sharing dishes.

Perfect For: Small Plates, Quick Lunch, Group Dinner, Before You Go Out Out

Inko Nito is a spacious, calming refuge from the madness of Soho. For this first visit, we took a counter seat, and ordered a brace of dishes. A fresh hamachi salad, some nigaki (which is described as something between maki and nigiri), the whisky glazed pork belly and cauliflower with parmesan panko from the robata grill. And some fried chicken. Obviously. Everything we had was good, although only the charred coconut soft serve we had for dessert was legitimately great.

The Verdict: Inko Nito is a fun, casual, and relatively inexpensive new spot in Soho.

The Duke of Richmond

££££ 316 Queensbridge Road

What It Is: A new posh pub in Hackney.

Perfect For: Casual Weeknight Dinner, Dinner With Parents, Catching Up With Mates

The Duke of Richmond is the kind of spot we were hoping would be great. That way we’d be there everyday. Unfortunately things were merely fine. A duck salad tasted like the kind of thing that would get served at a nice dinner party food, but the brown butter skate was so buttery, we had to have a serious lie down afterwards. As a result we skipped dessert.

The Verdict: Underwhelming, but we’ll be back.

La Goccia

££££
££££ Floral Court

What It Is: Italian small plates on a courtyard in Covent Garden.

Perfect For: Eating With Parents, Business Lunch, Mid-Week Dinner, Date Night

This peaceful spot in the heart of the West End has something for everyone. There’s a good selection of pastas, tiny (over priced) wood fire pizzetta’s, and meat off the grill. There’s nothing on the food front that wowed us, but we were able to nab a sunny table on the courtyard and that was fairly delightful.

The Verdict: A solid spot in a really nice location.

Freak Scene

££££
££££ 54 Frith Street

What It Is: A counter seating spot in Soho serving Asian inspired small plates.

Perfect For: Casual Weeknight Dinner, Eating At The Bar, Small Plates, Catching Up With Mates

It’s just as well we like eating at the bar, because Freak Scene is all bar. It’s also a sensory assault. Hip-hop memorabilia on the walls, hip-hop blasting out of the speakers, and Japanese game shows playing on the TV. All this signifies that this is supposed to be fun restaurant. And it is. The sake bombs and excellent black cod tacos fit the mood perfectly.

The Verdict: This place has cool food and bucket loads of character. We wanted to carry on hanging out here long after we finished our meal, and you will too. We’re putting it on out Hit List.

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