There are some seriously excellent women at the forefront of the London hospitality industry. Women with the ability to make you say profound things like ‘fuck me, that’s good’ about a cauliflower and groundnut soup. Women who are revolutionizing the taco and turning them into a life-altering lamb and brisket naan bread hybrid. Women who can make bergamot margaritas so good that you’ll forget your own name and hopefully the entirety of 2020.
But maybe you’re thinking ‘hang on, what does being women-led have to do with my dinner?’. Well, statistics show that over 70% of UK chefs identify as male, so every time you support one of these excellent restaurants, bars, or cafés, you’re helping the restaurant industry shift steadily towards equality. One excellent coffee, cocktail, or dinner at a time. Onwards for some of the women-led spots we won’t shut up about.
The ‘Bossy’ Badass Women Leading London's Hospitality Industry
The Begging Bowl isn’t just the best Thai restaurant in Peckham, it’s one of the best Thai restaurants in London. Head chef Jane Alty is the woman behind their menu of grilled lamb ribs, galae peanut curry, and minced duck larb salad. It’s a relaxed neighbourhood spot that’s perfect for a big, group sharing situation and make sure you get involved in the whole deep fried sea bass with kohlrabi, roasted rice, and plenty of chilli.
Owner, head chef—and in the early days, waitress—at her own restaurant, Alexis Noble’s ode to Australia is a Stoke Newington neighbourhood favourite. You’re likely to find all sorts on the menu. From sweetcorn cappelletti, to a miso and pistachio baby gem salad, to something as tantalisingly stuff-it-in-your-face-sounding as Vegemite garlic bread. It’s a lovely, low lit setting for your Friday night.
Whisky expert Mia Johansson is the woman responsible for Swift, a go-to cocktail bar in Soho. The easygoing vibes and excellent drinks here are difficult to match, even in this part of town. At street level, there’s a shiny Art Deco-style bar that’s good for grabbing a beer or sipping martinis, while downstairs there’s a moody whisky bar with red booths and basement vibes aplenty. Hit it for a drink before dinner or a date, or for a nightcap when you and a mate look at each other at 11pm and say ‘just one more?’. But when the cocktails are this good you can be forgiven if ‘one more’ turns into several.
In the shadow of Westfield in Shepherd’s Bush, Albertine is owned by Allegra McEvedy whose mother originally bought the space back in 1978 and turned it into a wine bar. There’s an upstairs dining room that serves charcuterie and bigger dishes, but, really, you want to be downstairs tucked in one of their church pews with a bottle of wine and plenty of cheese. Just be warned, it’s a popular spot, so book ahead if you’re swinging by with more than two people.
Anyone who’s anyone around east London knows about Lucky & Joy’s sesame noodles. Within no time the Chinese-influenced restaurant, headed up in the kitchen by Ellen Parr, has become a part of the furniture on Lower Clapton Road. Their sweet, savoury, and spicy noodles have certainly helped this, along with regulars like Grandma’s potatoes, and those lusty turnip cakes. As has their neon, good time aesthetic, plus their unwavering support of Homerton Hospital throughout the pandemic.
One of the most celebrated chefs in the country, Clare Smyth is the head chef at her synonymous fine dining restaurant. A converted townhouse in Notting Hill, Core is the restaurant you go to when you want to do the whole fine dining thing without risking a shred of celeriac on a bed of edible leather being your dinner. The food here is perfectly executed, exciting, and most importantly, extremely tasty.
We have more feelings for this restaurant than we did our ex who we shared three long years of our lives with. Why? Because you can’t beat the spark you get with the LiangPi noodles at Master Wei, no matter how defined your jawline is. Guirong Wei’s Bloomsbury spot has some excellent biang biang noodles, and a spicy cumin beef ‘burger’ that is a staple any time we’re “in the area” [read: travel an hour out of our way for noodles].
How many people have we bought Asma Khan’s cookbook for? Hundreds, thousands, possibly millions. Okay, we’re being dramatic but the point is we’re huge fans of Khan’s cooking. Experience her puchkas, tangra chilli garlic prawns, and our personal favourite, the aubergine curry at her restaurant Darjeeling Express in Covent Garden. Be sure not to skip the tamarind dal.
A 14-seat open kitchen counter styled on the kopitiams of Singapore, Mei Mei is right in the heart of the feelgood buzz of Borough Market. On the changing menu you’ll find things like assam fish curry, deep fried chicken rice, nasi lemak, and a fantastic coconut milk ‘Captain’s Curry’ that warmed the cockles of our grumpy little hearts on one particularly savage rainy Thursday. The woman responsible for this bright-bowls, big flavours spot is Elizabeth Haigh, a chef who gained critical acclaim at fine dining spot Pidgin before opening Mei Mei as a nostalgic celebration of her heritage.
Aptly on Maiden Lane in Covent Garden, Lady of the Grapes is a charming little wine bar owned by French sommelier Carole Bryon. We’ve been here on dates, with mates, and for several Emergency Wine Situations. You know, like when it starts raining and your umbrella fails, or you discover you were wearing your shirt inside out for the entirety of that meeting and you need a little vino, stat. Expect candlelight, natural wines, cheese, and yet more cheese.
With Milk is a sister act. Not the kind that involves Whoopi Goldberg and Maggie Smith in habits, but a sister act nonetheless. A great little coffee shop in Tottenham, it’s owned by Hana and Lela Mamma, with a little assistance from their adorable pet dog Tekka. Not only do they make a mean turmeric latte, they have a changing menu of sandwiches and sweet treats that always hit the spot. Plus, there are plenty of gluten-free options and their huge croissants are quite frankly, f*cking fantastic.
What Chishuru lacks in literal, physical space it makes up for in vibrant personality and bolshy flavours. The menu of Adejoké Bakare’s supper club-turned-restaurant reflects the owner and head chef’s excitement and innovation. Much of the West African restaurants produce is found in Brixton’s Market Row - just around the corner from the restaurant - and the results, like groundnut cauliflower soup, or goat ayamase, are truly spectacular. Even in meal kit form.
Few restaurants hold the excitement for almost unending possibility but guaranteed deliciousness as Freddie Janssen’s Snackbar. The Dalston cafe is so much more than just that. It’s a place to hang out indoors or out, munching dill pickle hash browns or enjoying an impromptu taco night. Much of the menu and experimentation comes from Janssen’s own travels (and cravings) and you’ll soon learn that they’re often aligned to your own. See: that mortadella banh mi.
This Netil Market stall, owned and run by Lungi Mhlanga, is every sugar head’s dream. The stall is open for takeaway on Saturdays and Sundays and it’s the spot for things like doughnuts stuffed with Nutella fudge brownies, salted caramel hot glazed doughnuts, and smores hot chocolates. And lucky for literally everyone, they’re delivering their hot doughnut sundae kits online.
Bao is one of those cool cult restaurants that pops up on every Londoner’s list of go-to spots. The food is consistently excellent, the branding impeccable, and ever since they opened their KTV room in their Borough Market restaurant, there officially isn’t a single situation this place isn’t perfect for. Founded by Erchen Chang and brother-sister duo, Shing Tat and Wait Ting Chung, their confit pork bao is one of London’s most iconic dishes. Plus, it’s now easier than ever to get your Bao fix with restaurants in Soho, Fitzrovia, Borough Market, a café in King’s Cross, and their online delivery service, Rice Error.
Sambal Shiok is a casual Malaysian spot in Highbury which is the place to get laksa in London. As well as serving up some seriously satisfying laksa, owner and chef Mandy Yin’s menu includes things like prawn noodle salad, Malaysian fried chicken, and black bean tofu.
When you think of London’s most tranquil areas, Shoreditch is near the bottom. Way below somewhere like Highgate, but above, let’s say, Old Street, its immortal roadworks, and the Mad Max-ish roundabout. That said, Shoreditch is home to one of London’s most tranquil restaurants in Rochelle Canteen. The space in an old school playground that Margot Henderson and Melanie Arnold have created is modestly brilliant and the same goes for the food. Whether it be egg on toast in the morning, a crab and radicchio salad later on, or several bottles ending with a tarte tatin.
It’s not often that a meal kit changes your life. But we can say, from the bottom of our hearts, that the lamb and brisket naco kit from Cue Point, is a meal we think about at least once a week. Owned by Mursal Saiq, and having previously popped up in Shepherd’s Bush, this British Afghan BBQ spot is making some of the most exciting smoked meats around.
Seeing as we spent the entirety of our childhoods having full-body wrestling matches over who gets to hold the remote, we find it incredibly impressive whenever siblings open a restaurant together. Ifeyinwa Frederick and her brother Emeka are the co-owners of Chuku’s in Tottenham, a seriously feelgood Nigerian tapas spot. Home to a knockout caramel-infused kuli kuli chicken, blueberry-topped plantain waffles, and traditional classics like sweet okra, make sure you come here when you’re ‘proper ravenous’ so you can try as much of the menu as possible.
The concept of this fantastic Italian spot is simple. A troupe of female chefs, known as the mammas, cook a menu of regional Italian food. Every few months a different mamma takes charge, and the focus shifts to a new region. But what you really need to know is, if you’re able to walk back onto the King’s Road at the end of the night without clutching your stomach like a pregnant celebrity on their first cover, then you’re doing this place wrong. Home to the best cacio e pepe in London, they now have a second restaurant on Hollywood Road in Chelsea, and a Notting Hill deli.
Gaia Enria is the founder of Burro e Salvia, a little pasta bar in the heart of Shoreditch. Unfortunately, you can’t form a deep relationship with any of the pastas here, as they change the menus and available dishes monthly, which means we’ve definitely lost some great loves along the way. If you do fall madly in love with any particular pasta, be sure to get some to take away and cook at home. Small but undeniably cool, Burro is one of our all-time favourite great little places to impress potential dates and family.
Monica Berg is a bartender turned industry leader and one half of the team responsible for Old Street’s Tayer and Elementary. The bar section is walk-in only and the look is part izakaya and part Apollo 11 with added negroni tap. It’s a place where you’ll sit with a bowl of lardo covered fried rice in the day, but lean against the counter in the evening. Not because it’s comfier, but because angling yourself with a cocktail and a £15 sandwich whilst French hip hop plays requires a very specific lean. Heads up, we’ve also been to Monica’s bar Himkok in Norway, and it should be at the very top of your list if you ever find yourself in Oslo.
If an excellent spicy garlic sausage sounds like something you’d like to eat alongside some perfectly grilled hellim, then Turkish spot Oklava is probably where you should be. Selin Kiazim and Laura Christie’s slick Shoreditch restaurant is where we come when we feel like over-ordering and not regretting a minute of it.
If you’re a fan of a certain cooking show—cough, Masterchef, cough—then you’ll probably know exactly who Monica Galetti is. This celebrated chef is the founder and director of Fitzrovia’s Mere, a fine dining restaurant that runs like clockwork. Each explanation of a tomato fondue, top up of your wine glass, and angle of a pomegranate here is as carefully considered and scheduled as a royal wedding. Picture Jennie Bond stood outside Mere’s enormous wooden front door saying “the Herdwick lamb has officially arrived, with initial unconfirmed reports of black garlic and lemon thyme in attendance”. Nothing here is an accident, especially how excellent everything on their classic French - with a touch of the South Pacific - menu tastes.