Kensington has a lot of things going for it - great museums, great parks, beautiful white townhouses, and a good chance of seeing random members of the royal family getting twatted on a Saturday night.
What we have never been convinced of is whether there are any great places to eat in Kensington. While it may never rival the lively restaurant scene happening in Soho or Shoreditch, there’s plenty that’s perfectly solid and will suit you well. Here’s our guide to knowing where to go, whether you want caviar sushi or a £10 pizza.
Da Mario is not the absolute best restaurant in Kensington - but it is our favourite. This is a proper old-school Italian joint in a Venetian-Gothic building that fans of interesting old buildings would get fizzy knickers over. The first thing you notice is that Da Mario’s interior is authentically and charmingly a bit rubbish. And there are a lot of pictures of the late, great Princess Diana on the wall. The food here is homestyle Italian, with big portions of pasta and great pizzas at semi-reasonable prices. This is a place for everybody and worth the short walk to avoid the chain bait restaurants around Gloucester Road station.
You may be surprised to hear that one of the best sushi restaurants in London is hiding just off High Street Kensington. Yashin Sushi has a ‘no soy’ policy for sushi, but the soy is substituted with ingredients like truffle flakes, ponzu jelly, and caviar. They have quite a nice lunch deal where you can get five nigiri, a spicy roll, miso soup, and salad for under £18, but overall, this place is not cheap.
Yashin Ocean House is the sister restaurant of Yashin Sushi. Expect a bigger space, a bigger menu, and for the whole thing to come with a lot more theatre. Like the original Yashin, sushi here comes with truffle or caviar on top, but you’ll find some new things too - like lobster sitting over dry ice, or candy floss over wagyu beef. This is a great spot for a group meal or a fun date.
On the scale of things that make a great pub, The Builder’s Arms rates pretty high. An exciting menu of updated British classics for under twenty quid. Check. Six different roast options on their Sunday lunch menu. Check. Outdoor seating for those summer days and drunken evenings. Check. And, that’s without even starting on the hefty wine list, open fireplace, and local craft beer tap takeovers. If it’s your local, we’re jealous. If it’s not, well, the ridiculously tasty £5 scotch egg alone is a good enough reason to risk the Circle line.
Jia is an old school spot near South Kensington. And by old school, we mean they don’t have a website. The restaurant itself is modern yet simple, and despite there being crispy duck, sweet and sour sea bass, and wasabi king prawns on the menu, the steamed dumplings are where it’s at. Their curried king prawns, scallops, and black cod shu mai dumplings are among the best we’ve had in London, and even though things can get pretty expensive, pretty quick, the £28 set dinner comes with sweet and sour chicken, green curry king prawns, rice, vegetables, and, crucially, a dim sum platter.
We’re letting you in on a secret that every student in Kensington seems to know - Dozo serves half-decent sushi at a half-decent price. This spot gets very busy during lunch so if you fancy getting a seat, we suggest either getting there dead on 12 or after the lunchtime rush. It’s also open late (until 10:30pm most nights and later at the weekends), so it also works if you need a quick dinner before heading to some toff-filled nightclub. Just try not to sit downstairs - it’s a bit of a cave and you need to be an amateur contortionist to get into the sunken seats.
When you first walk into Maggie Jones’s you’re not sure if you’ve stumbled on to the set of Poldark, or into the stash house of The Great Rocking Horse Robbery of 1922. As much as we love the nicknacks, it’s the menu of British classics - dishes like the apple sauce smeared roast belly of pork, guinea fowl in white wine sauce, and a grilled rack of English lamb - that keeps us coming back. This is a great date spot, because Maggie Jones, whoever she may be, is a romantic. There’s enough candles, hidden booths and Bordeaux wines on offer, that by the end of the night you won’t care where the rocking horses came from, you’ll just feel like you’ve met an old friend, in restaurant form, and be entirely ready to book a table to do it all again.
We’ve all had that dream. The ‘where to go for dinner’ discussion crops up, and you, hero to the hungry, say ‘oh, I know this great little place round the corner’. Then you part the tourists like the Red Sea, and guide your friends to the safety of a beautiful little spot with candles, mosaic tiling, and pictures of people’s grandparents on the walls. Pappa Roma is that place. A five minute walk from South Ken station, they serve solid Italian food. If you get the pizza, you’ll wish you got the pasta. If you get the pasta, you’ll wish you got the pizza. It all just smells so damn good. And, it’s so damn cheap. You can share one of their giant wood-fired prosciutto pizzas and a bottle of red and leave only £16 lighter. In Kensington. Madness. And sure, should you decide to make it an even £20 by getting the pistachio-topped cannoli for dessert, we really wouldn’t judge you.
The Queen’s Gate could be under five feet of snow and it would still feel like summer at Ceru. It could be the rainbow, Aztec upholstery. It could be the jolly smiles of the chefs in the open kitchen. But our money’s on it being the modern Levantine dishes that give Ceru that vacay feel. This is the kind of place you bring a whole gaggle of friends to share as many of the small plates as possible. Hell, bring a bunch of strangers, they’ll love it. The all day menu is full of seafood, fritters, halloumi and spiced meats. Basically, if it goes with mint yoghurt, it’s on the menu. There’s also a £9 lunch platter, with lamb and even more yoghurt, that’s guaranteed to arrive within 20 minutes.
Enoteca Rosso is a stylish Italian wine bar/restaurant on Kensington High Street that’s great with a few of your friends, or that date, or just to get wine drunk while nibbling of a plate of excellent charcuterie. They do serve Italian cuisine here, and while the pasta is nice enough, it will not blow your mind - you’re really here for the wine.
PJ’s is an old-school, polo-themed restaurant in South Ken that feels like you’re dining in a luxurious wood-trimmed yacht filled with wannabe Ralf Lauren models. The food here is brasserie style and pretty average overall, but the real time to come here is for their all-day fry-up after accidentally ending up at a club filled with all of Prince Harry’s third cousins.
Is Le Petit Sud the spot for fine dining and mind-blowing French food? No. Is it the spot for making your way through the wine list and eating excellent charcuterie on a romantic first date? Absolutely. In case the chandelier made of wine glasses doesn’t give it away, Le Petit Sud is a proper wine bar, but with none of that ‘are you sure you want to pick the rosé’ side-eye. Both the waiters and the wine list will happily point you towards the right bottle, with cheat sheet sections like ‘fresh and crisp’ or ‘weird and wonderful’. They’re opposite the Kensington entrance to Hyde Park, and just a five minute walk from the Royal Albert Hall, so if motorcades and Bach are your thing then Le Petit Sud is the perfect spot for a plate of cheese and a gateway glass of Chablis.
Rocca is technically a chain, but the other one is far away enough (in Dulwich) that no one else has to know that. They do a fantastic carbonara, and their red Sarda pizza topped with sardines and olives kicks in all the right places. This is a relaxed place, but is busy all week, so it’s definitely wise to book ahead. And you should, because Rocca is the place for a consistently solid no-nonsense Italian meal that’ll just as easily accommodate early romance as it will a casual meal after work.
We enjoy some exposed brick as much as the next person. But sometimes, that whole marble open kitchen, swish leather seating, big airy windows thing can equate to some very small, very disappointing dishes. Luckily, the food at Melabes is neither of those. In fact, this is the kind of place where you need to take a solid ten minute hand wash break between courses, to pry the aioli from your fingernails. Their huge mediterranean menu has everything from salads, to a schnitzel pita that is a true feat of engineering. But the small plates. Oh, the small plates. The hummus with pita ‘small plate’ (lies), is basically a creamy chickpea pond. With every new dish, another gravy boat of greek yoghurt or aioli will appear with it. This is the perfect spot to share a beer with friends at the bar, watch the chefs have a laugh whilst marinating a chicken thigh and get very, very messy.
If the weight of organic fruit and bircher muesli inevitably has your pilates arm aching and tote bag bursting, the welcoming arms of Bone Daddies are just a short ascent away. They have a setup in the food hall above Whole Foods on Kensington High Street and are serving their signature ramens as well as some location-specific dishes. Our favourite of the ramens is the tonkotsu – 20 hours worth of bone-brothed richness, and we recommend getting the Korean wings as well. So put those wholemeal chia seed snack bars down, put on a bib, and go eat some Japanese soul food.
Brindisa’s original location in London Bridge will always hold a special place in our hearts as one of the original decent tapas restaurants in London. But we’re not in London Bridge - we’re in South Kensington. This Brindisa location comes into its own when the sun is out, the windows are open, and the outside seating is laid out - you almost feel like you’re in a foreign country. Mainly because it’s filled with tourists. The usual standard tapas classics appear on the menu, and if you’re in need of a half decent meal near the museums, then this isn’t a bad shout.
Muriel’s Kitchen is cute. It’s home county, cute. It’s doodles of milkshakes on their menu, cute. Serving afternoon tea with homemade scones, cute. Being a three minute walk from South Kensington station, well, that’s just very practical. This place is a perfect spot for having a sit down coffee with the parents, and a tasty beef lasagne that, somehow, is only £9.99. Sure, the food isn’t going to cause any epiphanies, but Muriel’s isn’t about mad spices and flaming cocktails. This is about nice, filling food, and wine by the glass, in a chilled spot that makes you forget all about the flock of tourists outside. Plus, it’s open from 8 and there’s a casual 26 breakfast options on the menu.
There will come a time in your life when, through no fault of your own, you will have to organise dinner in Kensington for your friends who live in east London. It may seem like an impossible feat to find somewhere that’s nice, but also not too pricey, not too stuffy, not too polished, and not too well, er, W8. Thanks to Locanda Ottomezzo, a neighbourhood Italian restaurant with Italian movie memorabilia on the walls and actual Italians in the seats, planning this dinner is not impossible. This isn’t the finest of Italian restaurants, but it gets the job done. Plus, there’s some theatre in the form of the risotto, which comes to your table in a cheese wheel and then gets mixed and served on your plate. Locanda is great for any occasion, but it’s best for a small group dinner where you can also share a few bottles from their excellent wine list.
Somehow you got the short straw in taking your cousin/god-child/Sloane ranger to get some museum culture and now they’re screaming that they’re hungry. And need to eat. Right now. Only a burger will fix this situation, and in this case you’re better than a fast food chain, but not better than a mini-chain. Honest Burger is the happy compromise where you get to shut them up with a great burger, and you get to posh it up with some rosemary fries and wash it all down with some much-needed alcohol too.
Margaux is a relatively casual but still elegant neighbourhood restaurant serving Euro bistro-style food, and they do it well - dishes like the roasted duck breast or venison fillet are very good. It’s one of those restaurants that is good for literally for everyone, so you can be safe in the knowledge that if you were to bring your nan, a random internet date, or your boss here, they would all have a great time. They might find it weird to be sat at dinner with each other though.
There are a few Wright Brothers restaurants dotted all over town, but the South Kensington location is the one that your mum would probably like the best. It is, for lack of a better adjective, ‘cute’, and is perfect for a late-afternoon session of knocking back some £1 oysters or a cosy evening meal with some friends.