1 / Get me to the Grill
The Dorchester never ceases to amaze me; to eat there is an experience. Despite its fancy interiors and reputation, it’s not stuffy – a refreshing change for most luxury hotel dining spaces. Tom Booton, Head Chef, is just 26 years old and the youngest chef ever to be at the helm of The Grill. You’d never be able to guess though from the perfect blend of sophisticated cuisine. Put simply, I was salivating as I sipped on my ‘Tiddly Wink’ cocktail, a punchy rhubarb concoction. The Colchester crab, kohlrabi, dill and horseradish is an interestingly textured dish (resembling a savoury pana cotta).
My vote for the first course does go to the Cumbrian beef tartare, however, as the layers of radish, oxtail jelly and beef-fat yolk made this a delight to devour. You can opt for three courses but then you’d be missing out on the prawn Scotch egg – and we absolutely cannot have that. Served with warm tartare sauce and a zingy pickled gherkin, this is home comfort amongst the opulent surroundings. The beef wellington serves two and is recommended far and wide, but dining at The Grill is incomplete, in my humble opinion, without the lobster thermidor tart. Booton insists on serving a whole lobster tail, too, so none of this ‘where’s my lobster’ malarky.
For dessert, guests can transfer from their table to the pudding bar: an interactive counter where you can see the pastry chefs creating the sweet treats – the signature being the Double Decker, a cake version of the much-loved chocolate bar. It’s filling, it’s heavy and it’s divine. If you can manage it, ask for a bit of the rhubarb-and-custard soft serve too – and then roll out The Grill’s grand, gold-plated doors.
Where: The Grill at The Dorchester, 53 Park Ln, Mayfair, London W1K 1QA
2 / Gaucho’s Re-vamp
Over the years, multiple steakhouses have opened across London and keeping current isn’t easy. Fortunately for Gaucho it’s not sacrificed Argentinian steaks or quirks such letting diners select the raw cut. What’s changed then? A full revamp that brings a cool, fun, Friday-night vibe no matter the day of the week. Walking downstairs, the lounge bar is the first taste of New York-inspired ambience. The waiters are as friendly as ever – and there’s no raised eyebrows when you want to order a Chateaubriand to yourself. In fact, the menu even has these either for sharing or the gluttonous. Alongside the meat I’d recommend the Malbec from Gaucho’s own vineyard – which they’ve worked with for over 90 years now. The Viña Patricia will not disappoint. If a bottle is not your game plan, Gaucho also offers wine on tap…
Where: Gaucho, 60A Charlotte St, Bloomsbury, London W1T 2NU
3 / Breaking Bread
Remember Oklava in Hackney? It’s made its way central, with a bakery and restaurant site in the heart of Fitzrovia. It’s a small and cosy cafe, with pastries lined up by the window and bread being made in front of your eyes. The house-cured pastirma is drizzled in balsamic and the lamb crackling bun is to die for, slathered in garlic butter. Make sure you order fried halloumi, coated in lemon, honey and oregano. Tasty Turkish treats such as milk feta with leeks and blood orange, as well as the bowl of Aegean greens are great additions too.
Where: Oklava Bakery & Wine, 64 Grafton Way, Bloomsbury, London W1T 5DP
4 / The Soak
It’s rare these days to find a restaurant in Central London where you can move freely. Tight dining quarters mean that most of us are unacquainted with the definition of personal space as we eat. Not at The Soak. High ceilings, large, circular booths and enough space that you could dance your way to your seat. The food is pretty good too. The lamb belly fritters, scallops with pea purée and squid ink make great starters. A variety of mains jumped out at me; the halibut and pork chop in particular. But the Soak also presides over one of the best fish pies in London, with cod, prawns and creamy mash crust.
Where: The Soak, Terminus Pl, Victoria, London SW1W 0RP
5 / Pasta la Vista
The team behind Emilia’s take a lot of pride in perfecting their pasta. Named after the ‘home of pasta’, Emilia Romagna, the chefs aim to mirror the fresh pasta in the small trattorias in northern Italy. New to the menu is the casarecce with creamy walnut sauce and chestnut mushrooms – it’s homemade and boy, can you tell. Casarecce appears to the be the favourite here, as when paired with another homemade sauce – Parmesan, pesto and Pecorino – it doesn’t do too badly either. A selection of Italian wines, craft beers and cocktails wash this all down easily.
Where: Emilia’s Crafted Pasta, 77 Alie St, Whitechapel, London E1 8NH
6 / Treasure in Chinatown
The go-to location in London for all things noodles, dim sum and egg-fried. But how to choose? There’s a fair few restaurants in Chinatown but a solid, failsafe option is Orient. The only difficulty you’ll find here is choosing, so let me help you. Start off with some cheung fun and load your table up with a variety of dumplings and other dim sum – the deep fried taro with pork was delicious, as were the classic char siu parcels. If you go for lunch, it’s actually one of the few places that will be busier than dinner. One good thing about dining for lunch is that you can enjoy all the dishes from the main menu too. The clams in black bean sauce, sizzling Mandarin beef and Peking duck are all excellent alongside dim sum.
Where: Orient London, 15 Wardour St, London W1D 6PH
7 / Portugal in the City
Bar Douro is one of my favourite spots for Portuguese food in London, and I’ve long been a regular at the original in Flat Iron Square. So imagine my delight when I found out they were opening a second site in Broadgate. Hello good food and good wine. Similar to the first location, counter dining will face the open kitchen but being larger, there is more seating and even an outside terrace. Classic dishes such as smoked sausage croquettes and salt cod hash will return and frequent diners will be ecstatic to know that the award-winning suckling pig sandwich is here too. Newcomers include seafood stews, crab rice dishes and pork with clams and potatoes – all cooked in black clay pots. Wash it all down with an extensive list of quality Portuguese wines and craft beers.
Where: Bar Douro, Finsbury Avenue Square, Unit 3, 1 Finsbury Avenue, EC2M 2PF
8 / Wild by Tart
Nestled in the middle of Eccleston Yards by Victoria station is Wild by Tart. The restaurant has a stripped back yet pretty aesthetic, with a contemporary feel to the space – so much so that, as well as an all-day restaurant, the space acts as a photography studio and an event and retail area. Now onto the menu. Most ingredients are sourced from the Tart family farms, meaning fruit and vegetables are predominantly seasonal with plenty of daily specials. Plates include trout tiradito with lime and chipotle; spiced beetroot and whipped goats’ cheese and butterbean with maple sheep’s curd. The restaurant’s grill will be cooking up charred hispi cabbage with smoked hollandaise while marinated lamb’s leg, braised Tamworth pork and roast leek pizette are among the mains. Finish the meal properly with a cheese board, bay-leaf ice cream and peanut butter cookie skillet with banana caramel and milk ice cream. That last is pure bliss.
Where: 3-4 Eccleston Yards, Belgravia, London SW1W 9AZ
9 / Mexican at Maderam
A popular addition to central London is Treehouse hotel. Situated just past Oxford Street, the dining at in-house restaurant Madera is as in demand as a room. Enjoy London’s views as you indulge in margaritas and tacos – perfect for a sunset cocktail. The atmosphere at night is electric, with Madera and its upstairs bar, The Nest, fast becoming a popular post-work hangout spot. Queso fundido and tostadas make excellent starters, while halibut ceviche, sashimis and Mexican fattoush salads are great follow-ups and side dishes. The chicken mole and beef barbacoa enchiladas were my top main dishes and I, of course, left room for tacos (who doesn’t?!).
Where: Madera at Treehouse London, 14-15 Langham Pl, Marylebone, London W1B 2QS
10 / Novikov
Unless you have been hiding under a rock, Novikov doesn’t need a big introduction. The restaurant caused quite the stir in London’s culinary scene when it opened in 2011 thanks to its opulent interior, buzzing social setting and sometimes divisive cuisine. Famously owned by Arkady Novikov – Russia’s most successful restaurateur – the three storey 500+ seater in the heart of Mayfair was his first foray outside of Moscow. Now into its ninth successful year, it is a stalwart in the Mayfair culinary experience and a popular hang-out for many high-profile individuals. I have always been ‘Team Novikov’ – London’s not short of high-end pan-Asian dining options, however it has always been one of my favourites. That said, I haven’t dined here since Luca Malacarne took over as head chef in 2017, so a visit was well overdue.
Novikov virgins will be immediately impressed with the size, lively atmosphere and amount of staff on hand. The focal point is the open kitchen, where an army of chefs roll, simmer and season in front of you, and the huge seafood bar, showcasing a colourful array of fresh (some still moving) fruits de mer.
The menu offers extensive range of sushi, dim sum, sashimi and barbecued and charcoaled (Robata) dishes (Lemongrass duck, black cod and King Crab Leg included). It can be a little daunting if you’re not familiar with Asian food, however I have always found the staff here very helpful – just tell them your preference and they will take care of you.
Most dishes are made to be shared. Our starters included Wagyo tacos, popcorn calamari and soft-shell crab. All were well presented and cooked to perfection, especially the super-tender Wagyu. Next up was the sashimi and sushi selection, complemented with Novikov’s Hybrid Caviar. While all the dishes were fresh and rich in flavour, it was the scallop and black truffle, yellowtail, and quail egg and truffle gunkan that really stood out.
If you’re more inclined to dance than dine, the restaurant is also launching Vinyl Nights. Groove and shake it to disco tunes as DJs Mass and Tigerbalm play all your favourite old school classics. On the first Wednesday each month, expect this eclectic fusion of funk, Afrobeats and Latin-disco – right in the middle of Mayfair. Enjoy a cocktail or two as you listen to Ibiza-approved tracks through the night as the event will run from 10pm until the lounge bar closes. If you get peckish and didn’t make reservations in either of the restaurants upstairs, the lounge bar snacks include black cod rolls with mango, edamame beans, aubergine fritters and arancini with arrabbiata sauce.
Where: Novikov Restaurant & Bar, 50A Berkeley St, Mayfair, London W1J 8HA