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.
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 hot spot. 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, and is credited with elevating modern Indian dining. The tandoori dishes and curries 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.
The minimalist-cool look of this London hotspot matches its innovative cooking. The New York Times recently raved about its “delicate, sincere, fragile, locavore ‘cuisine naïve.’ Note that reservations are hard to come by.
The Indian cuisine served at Dishoom is about as authentic as it gets in the Western hemisphere. There is also a Covent Garden location at 12 Upper St. Martin’s Lane.
The Basque region has long been associated with excellent cuisine, and this Marble Arch–area spot makes no exception to the rule.
Those in the mood for chic Chinese should try this Michelin-starred restaurant headed by chef Tong Chee Hwee. 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.
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. This is a more convenient location the 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 menu includes homemade pastas as well as excellent fish and meat dishes. 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.
Run by a husband-and-wife team (both named Sam), this relaxed spot in Clerkenwell serves up a delicious mix of Spanish and North African food. In the warm months, there’s seating outside (the inside of the restaurant can get loud). The well-focused menu includes charcoal-grilled meats and beautifully prepared vegetables. There’s a separate small-plate bar menu and a wine list with a heavy Spanish slant. There’s not a ton to see and do for visitors in Clerkenwell, but the neighborhood has a great gastronomic reputation and acclaimed restaurant St. John is nearby.
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. This eatery, Ottolenghi’s first foray into the restaurant world, resides in Nopi (north of Piccadilly). With an accent on Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cuisine, the chic eatery serves a variety of healthy dishes with loads of flavor. It’s a not-to-be-missed addition to London’s restaurant scene.
Those who want a relaxed, quiet night out should try this Sardinian seafood restaurant in Belgravia. It’s the third 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 Pierluigi Piu, the same 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 chargrilled 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.
Sake No Hana
Alan Yau, owner of Hakkasan, opened this Japanese restaurant at 23 St. James Street, ultra-convenient for pre- or après theater. Yau’s emporium continues to grow: besides Yauatcha and Hakkasan, the only two Chinese restaurants in Great Britain to have been awarded a Michelin star, he also owns Cha Cha Moon, a Soho hot spot.
London’s restaurant scene became just a little bit spicier with the arrival of South East Asian inspired Spice Market at the W London in Leicester Square. Renowned three-Michelin-starred chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten created a menu celebrating curries and spices. Signature dishes to watch out for are spiced chicken samosas, cod with Malaysian chili sauce and kulfi, with 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 offset 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.
Don’t expect anything fancy and be prepared for a wait without (or even with) a reservation. This Punjabi grill is popular and for good reason: it serves incredibly flavorful Indian food—juicy, spicy, messy—in a loud, busy setting. Service is fast, and it’s BYOB, but for an authentic Indian meal at one of London’s mainstays (it opened in 1972), this is a great option. Diners who want something more formal should head to Amaya.
Headed by Takashi Takagi and his wife Hitomi (who owned teeny Sushi of Shiori until late 2012), this Japanese gem focuses on kaiseki. Understated, with bamboo sliding doors and a monotone color scheme, the quiet dining room serves as a neutral backdrop for chef Takagi’s colorful creations. Menus are lengthy affairs (8- to 12 courses at dinner) while lunch offers an abbreviated kaiseki menu as well as a sushi/sashimi option.
Foodies should book ahead at Viajante, a restaurant in London’s vibrant East End that hit the scene in 2010 (Viajante means “traveler” in Portuguese). 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 a 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.
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.
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.”
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