Destination: England: London
If you happen to be strolling on Westbourne Grove, the Bond Street of Notting Hill, stop in at the discreetly named 202 Westbourne Grove. Owned by retail bigwig Stephen Marks (who also owns Nicole Farhi), 202 is a casual “yummy mummy” place not only to eat and people watch but also to buy that £30,000 Venetian mirror you’ve been hankering after. Everything is for sale, including antique mirrors, oak tables, cane chairs and Farhi’s clothing line. But if you’re just in the mood to eat, that’s fine too. Open only for breakfast and lunch, with a no-reservations policy, 202 offers the kind of comfort food that goes down well on a typical overcast London day, from buttermilk pancakes with fruit compote and crème fraîche, to kick off your morning, to spiced beef, black bean and Manchego quesadillas with avocado salsa and fish and chips, at lunch.
Brompton Bar & Grill
Located on Brompton Road, between the Victoria & Albert Museum and Harrod’s, this neighborhood bistro is perfect for lunch or dinner. It’s cozy without being claustrophobic, and most of the chic clients look like they live around the corner in pretty South Kensington. Brompton B&G was started by Francois O’Neill who has a culinary heritage (thirty years ago, Francois’ father Hugh and his cousin, renowned restaurant critic Quentin Crew, launched London’s first brasserie in this spot). Brompton B&G serves seasonal, accessible fare that is delicious, too. For lunch, I had fillet of bream with fennel, pepper and tomato piperade, while my friend feasted on boiled ham with potatoes, cabbage and parsley sauce. Both dishes were worth returning for.
Burger & Lobster
This fun, no-frills spot serves just three dishes: burgers, lobsters and lobster rolls (deliciously offered on a toasted brioche with mayonnaise, lemon and chives.) All options come with french fries and a side salad, and cost £20 (a bargain in its Mayfair neighborhood). There are no appetizers and desserts are limited, but cocktails are delicious, as is the beer on tap. Because this popular restaurant takes no reservations, it is advisable to dine early (e.g. at noon for lunch). Other locations in Soho, Farringdon and the City, all take reservations, unlike their Mayfair sibling.
Sister restaurant to London classics, the Ivy, J Sheekey and Scott’s, but with a modern and relaxed atmosphere all of its own, this ever-popular Italian restaurant is ideally located close to the V&A museum and Cadogan Hall in South Kensington. Welcoming throughout the winter with roaring log fires, the restaurant becomes an alfresco favorite during the summer with the conservatory roof and large front windows open to the outdoors. Focusing on seasonal ingredients and Italian country cooking, the hearty menu includes gnocchi, ravioli and risotto dishes, traditional polpette brasate and fegato saltato and a tempting selection of gelatos and cakes. There is a popular and affordable set menu and the mostly-Italian wine list features good Prosecco and Champagne options.
This small Soho spot gets high marks for its homespun, relaxed European approach and delicious, often-changing menu (a photo of the hand-written menu is posted on Ducksoup’s website daily). The team met at Mark Hix’s acclaimed Oyster & Chop House. The reviewer of the Evening Standard loved everything he ate here. Like Polpo Convent Garden, Ducksoup is small and does not accept reservations, so come early or be prepared to wait.
Kensington, which is not known for its restaurants, finally has a local spot that’s both delicious and stylish. Named after Kensington’s post code, Kitchen W8 was conceived by Phil Howard, top executive chef at Michelin-starred The Square, as the place for talented Mark Kempson to spread his culinary wings. Decorated in contemporary pale shades, Kitchen W8 just off Kensington High Street is the perfect place to impress new friends, yet it’s also fine for a girl’s night out. Don’t be fooled by the name. The food here is not casual-kitchen but Michelin-goes-rustic. Service is highly attentive.
Princess Di’s old Kensington hangout has been given a new lease on life with new owners D&D London. The food is delicious and original: soufflé arrived with mustard ice cream; petits fours were chocolate-flavored and spiced with thyme, basil and bay leaf. The restaurant is just off Kensington Palace in lovely neighborhood that’s been long on cherry blossom trees and short on good food—until now.
Lutyens is the latest addition to Sir Terence Conran’s restaurant empire, opening right after Boundary and Albion in Shoreditch. Located in the former Reuters building in the heart of Fleet Street, the menu features both French and Irish classics, with ingredients selected seasonally to suit every taste and budget. The Lutyens bar, open all day, offers charcuterie and light bites, while the main restaurant is open Monday to Friday for lunch and dinner only. In addition, there is a private members’ club (based on annual membership) and bar in the downstairs cellar rooms.
In this quiet, neighborhood patch of London, Orrery is a true local’s haunt located on the first floor of the Conran shop. Head chef Igor Tymchyshyn–formerly of Michelin-starred Mayfair-favorite Mirabelle–adds a modern twist to traditional French dishes with an emphasis on seasonal ingredients. Rely on the knowledgeable sommelier for a wine recommendation and during the warmer months, ask for a table on the quiet outdoor terrace overlooking St. Marylebone Church.
Polpo Convent Garden
Polpo Covent Garden, previously known as Da Polpo, reminds one of what it’s like to be young and impulsive—but with good food. Launched by restaurateur Russell Norman and Richard Beatty who already have three hits with Polpo, Polpetto and Spuntino in nearby Soho, the pretty restaurant has already boosted Covent Garden’s slightly dated feel. The menu focuses on small pizzas and meatball dishes as well as traditional Venetian small plates. Polpo Convent Garden takes reservations only for lunch, no reservations at the dinner hour. (Another location in Soho).
In a sea of trend-seeking restaurants, this bistro stands gloriously apart for its dedication to old-school French dining. Expect leather banquettes, mirror-lined walls and white linen, as well as a menu that includes such hearty favorites as filet au poivre, grilled rabbit with mustard sauce and soupe de poisson. Racine is elegant yet cozy, the food refined but comforting. Best of all, it’s within walking distance to the V&A, Royal Albert Hall and the Knightsbridge Hotel.
Much like New York’s Brooklyn Flea developed into a veritable phenomenon, with a gourmet spin-off, so did this vibrant street market take off in a nondescript corner of Bermondsey. Running between Maltby Street and Millstream Road, Ropewalk is a must for foodies visiting London (it’s now open on Saturday and Sunday). Finds include pastries from Comptoir Gourmand; sandwiches from Monty’s Deli and preserves from Pink’s Organics, among many others. There’s also a small tapas bar and gin cocktails, with London-made gin, at Sparrow Bar.
St. John Bread & Wine
The sister restaurant of acclaimed St. John in Clerkenwell, this all-day restaurant opened across the street from the Spitalfields Market in 2003. The dining room has whitewashed walls and specials written up on a chalk board, and the open kitchen gives everything a congenial vibe. Some swear it’s best for brunch and lunch thanks to a variety of incredible sandwiches, while others would not miss the innovative, often-changing dishes at supper. Many of the menu’s offerings are time-specific due to the fact that some of St. John’s suppliers don’t arrive in the city until later in the morning or early evening. Needless to say: it all could not be fresher.
The Modern Pantry
Tucked away in a quiet square midway between King’s Cross and Liverpool Street, this first venture from chef Anna Hansen inevitably attracts the business diners, but has rightfully become a favorite among East End locals. The menu features fusion dishes such as chorizo and date fritters with tamarind yogurt, while the serious mains include spiced pork belly and grilled miso onglet steak. Save room for dessert- the panna cotta and the gourmet ice cream should never be missed. Request a table upstairs for a more intimate meal, or dine alone at the central communal table on the ground floor.
For a simple, mouthwatering bowl of soup and a hunk of homemade bread, try The Orchard, headed by Natasha Abraham, an ex-chef at the critically acclaimed River Café. The Orchard hits the spot and leaves the wallet unscathed. The small, simple café serves a selection of homemade soups, light lunches and original desserts. Save room for dessert, which may include Apfel Kuchlein: bite-size apple doughnuts sprinkled with cinnamon sugar and finished off with luscious vanilla sauce.
An intimate Tuscan restaurant started by Florentine brothers Federico and Max Sali (and backed by top chef Giorgio Locatelli), Tinello has been garnering well-deserved rave reviews since it opened in 2010. The brothers previously worked with Locatelli at Zafferano and have cooked at several Michelin-starred restaurants in Tuscany. Locanda Locatelli became so popular, expensive and showy that I gave up trying to get a table years ago, but Tinello is a different story.
It’s low-key with a simple modern décor, not too expensive and most importantly, meals are delicious and the wine list extensive (Max Sali bought wine for Locatelli). The menu features small-plate appetizers, like pickled octopus or zucchini fritti, followed by entrées of such regional dishes as linguini gallinella e olive nere (pasta gurnard, black olives, chili and garlic). Another reason to rave about this place is its convenient location, right on antiques shop–lined Pimlico Road near Sloane Square.
Tip: It is crucial to request a table on the ground floor.
Those who like their trendy Chelsea eateries casual should stop in at Tom’s Kitchen, a restaurant brought to us by super chef Tom Aikens. With its long wooden tables, open-to-view kitchen and wood-burning stove, the restaurant serves up deliciously simple dishes, made with fresh, locally grown produce, that are guaranteed to please customers of any age. The all-day brasserie-style menu has everything from classic fish, meat and poultry preparations to casseroles, charcuterie, sandwiches and pies. Childrens’ menus are also available at lunch and dinner.
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