Destination: England: London
One of the rare Indian restaurants to win a Michelin star, Amaya has been one of the city’s hot spots for spicy food in sexy surroundings since it opened in 2004. With its entrance off of a courtyard arcade off of Motcomb Street, Amaya serves lunch and dinner to Londoners who can view the chefs at work slicing, dicing and spicing the food in an open kitchen area at the back of the main dining room. During the day, natural light streams through a central sky light lending a loft like feeling; at night, the sleek black furniture, sandstone and crystal accents and spotlit sculptures create a lounge-like atmosphere. A lively bar scene and long communal tables notch up the revelry factor. But no matter how many glamorous figures are in the room, the food remains the real star. The freshest ingredients and flown-in-from India spices elevate all of the dishes. Don’t miss the kebabs or trying lamb tawa, which is cooked on a scalding iron plate. Tip: The tasting menus at lunch are excellent value. If you cannot get in to Amaya, try its sister restaurants Chutney Mary and Veeraswamy.
A no-reservation policy and just twenty-three stools at the L-shaped bar mean long lines at this tapas place of the moment. Barrafina, the brainchild of restaurateurs Sam and Eddie Hart, is perfect for a glass of sherry or cava before or after a show; at the marble-topped bar you can watch the chefs prepare their superlative tapas: golden ham croquettes, prawns, tender lamb cutlets and fresh squid.
There is heated debate about whether Amaya or Benares serves the best Indian food in London, but neither place will disappoint in their sophisticated takes on traditional dishes from the subcontinent. Michelin-starred chef Atul Kochhar appears regularly on British food shows, including Saturday Kitchen, and is credited with elevating modern Indian dining. The tandoori cooked quail, chettiyar baigan (aubergine curry with star anise and cinnamon) and lobster mappas (lobster tails cooked in coconut milk and tamarind) are not to be missed. And for those who want to learn from the master, Kochhar opens his kitchen for students a few times a year and shares his skills, but classes fill fast so sign-up early.
Tip: If you cannot get a reservation in the main dining room, ask about booking a table in the bar. The music can be a bit loud but you can order from the new special bar tasting menu or the one from the main dining room.
I’m not much of a cook and Sunday nights reappear too quickly so it was with delight and appreciation that my kids and I discovered this retro-chic Lebanese take-out or sit-in café, near Selfridges. We loved it the minute we saw the long glass counters displaying a variety of treats, from filled wraps, tanginess and spicy grilled chicken wings to tabbouleh, hummus and frittatas. We sampled lamb kofta and the lamb tangine, only to order more of both. Macaroons come flavored with rosewater, orange blossom, pistachio, coffee and cardamom or chocolate and hazelnut. And not only is the food delish, but the interior’s pop-art Arabesque design is hip. Think Lichtenstein does Beirut. The delightful 1950’s setting is complemented by wonderful packaging and quirky extras like the African bag we couldn’t resist. As we were leaving my daughter asked if Comptoir could become a new Sunday night tradition.
“My favorite steak, worldwide, is at the Gaucho Restaurant in Piccadilly, London. They spare no expense to bring their pampas-grazed beef in from Argentina and it is, without a doubt, the finest I have ever eaten. I always order the fillet and I get it rare. They also have, arguably, the best Argentinean wine list outside of Argentina, so it’s heaven for me!”
Those in the mood for chic Chinese should try this Michelin-starred restaurant headed by chef Alan Yau (who also runs its sister eatery, Yauatcha). Six years on, the food is still delicious. Set in a glamorous, moody Christian Liaigre–designed basement, Hakkasan is especially yummy at lunch, where the emphasis is on dim sum. The prawn and Peking dumplings, duck spring rolls and scallops are delectable. And the desserts, unlike at most Chinese eateries, are worth ordering. The chocolate lemon mousse is sublime. Note: the bar is small, and diners are given a two-hour slot, which can be annoying. Also, it’s a bit pricey, so save it for a special occasion.
Lovers of dim sum and all things Asian should venture over to this restaurant on Bruton Street, across from the Diane von Furstenberg boutique. This is a much-more convenient location than owner Alan Yau’s original Michelin-starred Hakkasan. The food is delicious but when I went, I was happy to be part of a group of two rather than six (the latter would have been an evening of sign language due to the general noise level). We ate in the chic ground floor bar and restaurant. The subterranean lacquered and bamboo downstairs is only slightly quieter. The highlights at Hakkasan are the lively atmosphere and superb Cantonese cuisine. Lunch is slightly quieter.
Loved by Chelseaites, Lucio is a warm, comfortable, inviting restaurant serving delicious classic Italian food and offering great service and an impressive wine list. Started by Lucio Altana, the former longtime manager of San Lorenzo, on Beauchamp Place, Lucio makes everyone feel welcome, including Harvey Weinstein, who likes to come here after landing at Heathrow. The seasonal summer menu includes courgette flowers stuffed with goat cheese and fresh peas; homemade pappardelle pasta with broad beans, rocket leaves and Parmesan shavings; tagliata of steak with summer truffles; filet of wild sea bass; risotto with asparagus and Taleggio cheese; and char-grilled chicken with roast potatoes. Lining the cream walls in this chic U-shaped spot are Terry O’Neill portraits of celebrity clients, a group that has included Madonna, Gwyneth Paltrow, Pierce Brosnan and Michael Caine; Mick Jagger was reportedly turned away because the place was full.
Not a week goes by without me dropping into Ottolenghi, my favorite London deli for some delicious salad, blueberry crumble muffin or café mocha. And if I’m at home, its cookbook is my kitchen bible. Now this eatery, Ottolenghi’s first foray into the restaurant world, has opened in Nopi (north of Piccadilly). With an accent on Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cuisine, the chic eatery serves a variety of healthy dishes, including braised lamb meatballs with yogurt sauce and pomegranate seeds, grilled lamb cutlets, spicy eggplant, baked blue di percora cheesecake with wild mushrooms and cardamom rice pudding. It’s a not-to-be-missed addition to London’s restaurant scene.
Those who want a relaxed, quiet night out should try this newish Sardinian seafood restaurant in Belgravia. It’s latest venture from chef Mauro Sanna (of Olivo and Oliveto), who loves his native Sardinia—and after eating at his various spots, you will too. Olivomare, designed by Piero Piu, the same Cagliari architect who did the other two restaurants, offers a variety of Sardinian specialties, including spaghetti with lobster, seafood risotto, sea bass on a bed of Sardinian couscous and poached sea bream.
Adjacent to Olivomare is an attractive food shop selling Sardinian wines, olive oil, salt and other Italian treats. On a summers night it’s pleasant to eat outside. At the moment Sanna only has an outdoor license until 9:30pm, but he’s trying to extend it.
Sake No Hana
Alan Yau, owner of Hakkasan, opened this Japanese restaurant in the fall of 2007. Located at 23 St. James Street, it’s ultra-convenient for pre- or après theater. Yau’s emporium is growing: besides Yauatcha and Hakkasan, the only two Chinese restaurants in Great Britain to have been awarded a Michelin star, he also recently opened Cha Cha Moon, a Soho hot spot.
London’s restaurant scene is set to become just a little bit spicier with the arrival of South East Asian inspired Spice Market at the new W London in Leicester Square. Renowned three-Michelin-starred chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten has created a menu celebrating curries and spices. Signature dishes to watch out for are spiced chicken samosa with coriander yogurt; cod with Malaysian chili sauce and Thai basil; and kulfi, caramelized banana and spiced milk chocolate. The British offshoot also serves sushi and other dishes not available at the original Manhattan branch. The opulent interior is off-set by the W London’s translucent glass exterior, which changes color with the time of day. In short, the place is a feast for all senses.
Foodies should book ahead at Viajante, a new restaurant in London’s vibrant East End (Viajante means “traveler” in Portugese). Portuguese chef Nuno Mendes, whose passion for food was honed at Jean-Georges in New York, Spain’s El Bulli and the Coyote Café in Santa Fe, presides over the intimate place, which is housed in the new Town Hall Hotel & Apartments. (While it’s worth seeing some of the stylish rooms if you have time, I would not recommend staying here, as the hotel is not central enough for visitors.) If Viajante is booked, you can come for such innovative drinks as lemongrass and basil oil martini and snack on small plates like Nuno’s signature ceviche. The eye-catching bar area boasts an awesome silicone chandelier. Indagare Tip: Twice a month, up to twenty guests can sign up for The Supper Club, hosted by Nuno in the de Montfort Suite. Once a grand council chamber, this stunning triple-height suite is worth the visit alone.
Famed restaurateur Alan Yau’s Soho bistro is guaranteed to please, with mouthwatering dim sum, all-day cocktails, beautifully presented Chinese teas and delectable French pastries. The Christian Liaigre–designed two-story space is contemporary and cool, with an open kitchen on each level. I like eating in the brighter, street dining room; the downstairs room has electric-blue fish tanks and turquoise banquettes with embroidered cherry blossoms, but it can be dark and noisy. Watch for Yau’s newest London venture, Cha Cha No Hana, a rustic-style Japanese restaurant slated to open this summer in the annex of the Economist building, near Piccadilly.
Says Nathalie Hambro: “Alan Yau’s gorgeous all-day tea house, Yauatcha, is in the heart of Soho, around the corner from the lively Broadwick Street market. Chic media and publishing types come for rare varieties of tea and couture-like pastries (which are available as take-away in uber-designed boxes) and the city’s best dim sum.”
Search By Keyword
A first-hand account of a wildlife cruise to this unforgettable...
New on Indagare
Give the Gift of Indagare The perfect present for travelers: a membership to Indagare. Buy now
Indagare Insider Trips: Cuba, Myanmar and India: We’re planning trips throughout the year. Contact Indagare (212-988-2611) to be added to the wait list.
- Community: Share advice with fellow members asking about your favorite travel discoveries.
- Indagare Insiders: Three-day itineraries for families in London and art lovers in Vienna. Plus, fashion insider Chiara Ferragamo’s picks on what not to miss in Florence, Bonnie Gokson, owner of Hong Kong’s lofty Sevva on Hong Kong, Culinary Insider: Budapest.
- Rant & Rave: Indagare members can share their advice with the community by logging in first, then clicking here: Rants & Raves.
- Give the Gift: Indagare: Give the gift of travel intelligence with a membership to Indagare. For details or to order, call us at 212-988-2611 or click here: Gift Membership.
- Indagare Plus: Remember that hotels marked by an Indagare Plus symbol offer preferential rates and benefits to members.
- Indagare Share Feature: Share articles, postcards and reviews with family and friends on such networking sites as Twitter, Facebook and Delicious. Simply click on the three small dots that symbolize our connect icon, at the end of every article, and follow the link to the networking site of your preference.
- Sample Indagare: With free bi-weekly email blasts on new hot spots and insider tips when you sign up for our mailing list.
- Profile feature: Members share your profiles, comments, favorite articles and IQs. Just click on the Profile tab on the upper right of your screen and look for the Edit My Profile blue tab.
- Indagare means to discover, explore, seek, scout in Latin.