London (CNN) — The restaurant scene in London has been totally transformed in the past 10 years and is now rightly seen as one of the world’s great dining capitals, no longer in the shadow of Paris or New York.
The sheer wealth of creativity on display in London’s kitchens at the moment is staggering. Going out for food and drink remains one of the city’s favored pastimes. From posh food halls and tasting menus to wine bars and perfect Peruvian cuisine, London is a food lover’s paradise.
Here’s a selection of London’s current hot spots the next time you travel here:
Arcade Food Theatre
Multivendor indoor food markets have been opening all over London in the past couple of years, but the latest to hit the capital, Arcade Food Theatre, is already a cut above the rest.
This is in no small part because of the presence of TŌU, purveyors of 2019’s most popular dish, Iberico pork katsu sando.
As well as offering up the original — a thick breaded pork chop sandwiched between two slices of buttery brioche — there’s also a new vegetarian version with deep-fried tofu and wasabi egg mayo.
TŌU is part of an incredible line up of vendors that includes Pophams (Instagram-worthy pastries); Lina Stores (fresh pasta from one of London’s oldest Italian delis); and Oklava (Turkish-Cypriot flatbreads and more). All this, combined with three bars serving cocktails, wines and London-brewed beers, makes Arcade Food Theatre a high-class operation.
Arcade Food Theatre, 103-105 New Oxford St, London WC1A 1DB, United Kingdom; +44 20 7519 1202
Beginning as a small street food stand before opening up two very successful permanent restaurants, Bao is responsible for popularizing Taiwanese steamed buns in London.
In 2019, the team opened a third Bao restaurant, located on the doorstep of London’s premier food market, Borough Market, and reminded everyone just how good they are.
The classic pillow-soft buns stuffed with the likes of pork belly or fried chicken are still as good as ever, but with each new incarnation, Bao seem to up their game with a variety of new dishes. Take the Xinjiang Maitake mushrooms, which come swimming in a cumin-laced rich sauce, or the spiced beef butter scallops, both exceptional dishes that have spawned many imitators in their wake.
And if all that wasn’t enough, the new Bao Borough also has a karaoke room, where you can sing and stuff your face with buns to your heart’s content.
Bao Borough, 13 Stoney St, Borough Market, London SE1 9AD, United Kingdom; +44 20 3319 8132
Located in the heart of Covent Garden, Cora Pearl is a beautiful little brasserie that stands out among the many neighboring tourist traps.
Opened in 2018, it’s the sister restaurant to the much-lauded Kitty Fishers in Mayfair, with both restaurants taking their name from infamous London “working girls” of the Victorian era. While Cora Pearl herself was a tad controversial, the restaurant named for her is anything but, with head chef George Barson turning out spectacular comforting classics.
Highlights include an elevated take on the ham and cheese toastie, which sees ham hock and pig cheek wrapped up in a cheesy bechamel sauce and sandwiched in toasted white bread and the cow’s curd agnolotti with pea puree and shaved truffle.
One of the best Sunday roasts in London can also be found here, with thinly sliced medium rare beef or tender pork belly served with crispy potatoes, broccoli, Yorkshire puddings, cauliflower cheese, carrots and lashings of gravy.
Cora Pearl, 30 Henrietta St, Covent Garden, London WC2E 8NA, United Kingdom; +44 20 7324 7722
The Town Hall Hotel in east London has housed two exceptional restaurants — Nuno Mendes’ Viajante and Lee Westcott’s Typing Room — since it opened in 2010.
Chefs Paulo Airaudo (who runs the Michelin-starred Amelia in San Sebastian) and Rafael Cagali (formerly of Fera and Aulis) had pretty big shoes to fill when they took over the hotel’s dining room to open Da Terra in January 2019, but they have more than lived up to their now-closed predecessors.
Da Terra offers blind tasting menus (short for £73 or long for £90), and the food displays a mix of influences, from Rafael’s Brazilian background to Spanish and Italian touch points.
While the cooking is undoubtedly fine dining in its ambition, there is room for playful touches, too. Take the chicken liver mousse accompanied by fresh onion brioche and cubes of butter shaped like Lego blocks and the scallops served in a bowl of beach pebbles adorned by a plastic toy shark and diver.
Da Terra Restaurant & Bar at Town Hall Hotel, 8 Patriot Square, London E2 9NF, United Kingdom; +44 20 7062 2052
Staff at the old US Embassy in Grosvenor Square may have initially been worried about what they were going to have for lunch once they moved to the sparkling new Embassy building in Battersea in 2018. Compared with Mayfair, it’s not a part of London with many eating options.
But now that Irish chef Robin Gill has opened his new restaurant Darby’s next door, they have a de facto canteen to be envious of.
Open from breakfast right through to dinner, Darby’s has a menu that’s classic by nature — oysters, grilled fish and steaks — but it’s all been executed with great care and attention.
An in-house bakery turns out freshly baked loaves and pastries on a daily basis. Produce is sourced from the best farmers and growers around the UK. Darby’s isn’t trying to reinvent the wheel, but when the classics are done this well, they’re hard to beat.
Darby’s, 3 Viaduct Gardens, Nine Elms, London SW11 7AY, United Kingdom; +44 20 7537 3111
The owners of one of London’s oldest restaurants, Quality Chop House, are also responsible for one of the city’s newest and most talked about.
Located down a pretty Mayfair mews inside Bonhams auction house, Emilia is serving some of the best Italian food around. As the name suggests, the menu is inspired by the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy that’s the home of Parmigiano-Reggiano, balsamic vinegar and many other famous foods.
Emilia sensibly chooses to let the fresh ingredients speak for themselves.
Creamy burrata is served simply with slices of sweet white peach and courgette fritti come with a sharp lemon mayonnaise for dunking. Fresh pastas steal the show, however, with the ricotta and walnut ravioli being trumped only by the pappardelle with venison ragu.
Being aligned with an auction house has more than just aesthetic benefits, too. As well as an “everyday” wine list, there’s also a list of very special rare bottles from the Bonhams wine department.
Emilia, 7 Haunch of Venison Yard, Mayfair, London W1K 5ES; +44 20 7468 5868
Four Legs at The Compton Arms
Tucked down a quiet residential street in Islington, The Compton Arms was one of George Orwell’s favorite watering holes, and partly inspired his essay “The Moon Under the Water,” in which he describes his ideal pub.
The Compton Arms recently had a bit of a makeover, getting a much needed lick of paint and welcoming in a brand new kitchen team in the process. The chef duo of Jamie Allan (formerly of butcher / restaurant Hill & Szrok) and Ed McIlroy (formerly of Bao) are now in charge at the pub, going by the name Four Legs in reference to “Animal Farm.”
In just a few short months, they’ve created quite a buzz.
Although the menu changes regularly, there is one permanent item: the Dexter cheeseburger. It’s had diners flocking to the place to try one of the best burgers in London. There’s plenty more to love, too, with Korean fried chicken, fresh paratha breads and Japanese chicken skewers among the other regular favorites.
Four Legs at The Compton Arms, 4 Compton Ave, Islington, London N1 2XD, United Kingdom; +44 20 7354 8473
The Garden Café
Among the lesser known museums of London is the Garden Museum in Lambeth, dedicated to the history of famous British gardens and horticultural pastimes. Perhaps unexpectedly, it also houses one of the capital’s best hidden restaurant gems, The Garden Café, which opened in a modern glass extension of the museum in 2017.
Open for lunch every day, and dinner on Tuesdays and Saturdays, the café’s menu changes every day, with dishes being created in line with seasonal British ingredients. The cooking is simple and pared back, with the quality of the produce allowed to shine.
A typical menu might include mackerel served with fresh slices of cucumber, apple and kohlrabi, or runner beans with pickled walnuts and a poached egg. Desserts are a particular strong point, too, with classics such as the treacle tart or buttermilk with poached rhubarb guaranteed to leave a smile on your face.
The Garden Café, 5 Lambeth Palace Road, Lambeth, London SE1 7LB, United Kingdom; +44 20 3640 9322
Gloria / Circolo Popolare
It would be impossible to sum up London’s latest dining hot spots and not include Gloria and Circolo Popolare, located in Shoreditch and Fitzrovia respectively.
These two Italian restaurants, opened just months apart by the French group Big Mamma, have been runaway hits, with long queues waiting for a table every night. Their success is even more impressive given that most people seem to think that the food is just ‘OK’ at best, with a menu of pizzas, pastas and other Italian staples.
But what they might lack in foodie credentials, they more than make up for in sheer let-your-hair-down fun.
Both are temples of outrageously over-the-top design, with every inch of space covered in plants, artwork, bright furniture, festoon lights, and mirrors — Circolo even has a long wall covered in a staggering 20,000 bottles. They are loud, brash and bold, the kind of places you can come with a big group and maybe even misbehave a bit.
And in these uncertain times, who can blame Londoners for going wild for that?
Gloria, 54-56 Great Eastern St, Hackney, London EC2A 3QR, United Kingdom,
Circolo Popolare, 40-41 Rathbone Pl, Fitzrovia, London W1T 1HX, United Kingdom
Pachamama East is the Shoreditch offshoot of one of London’s best Peruvian restaurants, the original Pachamama in Marylebone.
Befitting of its location in London’s hipster heartland, the interiors are more modern than at its big sister, with exposed concrete, pastel colours and plants in the main restaurant area, and a sunken bar and a black-and-pink tiled staircase leading down to a private dining room.
The food is just as fresh as ever, with inventive ceviche such as the yellowfin tuna with pickled potato, the sea bass with nori and the smoked mushroom.
Although still largely Peruvian, the new east location throws in some Asian influences, too, such as with the miso-cured carrot with black quinoa and kimchi.
Add killer Peruvian cocktails, regular guest chef pop ups, DJs and more ,and you’ve got one of east London’s most fun places to eat out.
Pachamama East, 73 Great Eastern Street, Hackney, London EC2A 3HR, United Kingdom; +44 20 7846 9595
Chris Corbin and Jeremy King are London restaurant royalty, responsible for some of the capital’s most celebrated restaurants such as The Wolseley and Brasserie Zedel.
Their latest project has taken them to the well-heeled neighbourhood of St John’s Wood in northwest London to open Soutine, a classic French all-day bistro.
The menu is made up of French café staples such as onion soup, croque monsieur, coq au vin, steak frites and confit de canard, all delivered with great aplomb.
The interiors are gorgeous, with aged wooden wall panels, oil paintings, decorative tiles and art deco lighting creating the look of a place that could have just as easily been around 100 years.
If Corbin and King have a trademark, however, it’s making the classic feel contemporary and they’ve achieved that with Soutine, where the food is a perfect match for the elegant surroundings.
Soutine, 60 St John’s Wood High St, St John’s Wood, London NW8 7SH, United Kingdom; +44 20 3926 8448
London has been spoiled by the number of fantastic wine bars that have opened in recent years, many of them offering solid food menus to match.
Latest to arrive, and already one of the best, is Top Cuvée, located in the slightly unlikely neighborhood of Finsbury Park in north London, not far from Arsenal’s soccer stadium.
While the area is largely populated by pubs and cheap takeaways, Top Cuvée is more reminiscent of a modern Parisian bistro, with its stripped back aesthetic — think whitewashed walls and plain wooden furniture — and menu of simple but delicious dishes.
Particular standouts include the croquettes, hot crispy spheres stuffed with sweet potato and sage, and the beef and smoked eel tartare with wild garlic. The wine list is full of interesting bottles sourced directly from small, independent producers, and the staff is very friendly in recommending new things to try.
Top Cuvée, Blackstock Road, Highbury East, London N5 2LL, United Kingdom; +44 20 3294 1665
The Hoxton, Southwark opened at the beginning of September 2019 and, as well as being an excellent hotel choice for visitors to the capital, it also offers one of London’s best new restaurants.
Located on the 14th floor rooftop of the hotel, Seabird is a seafood restaurant and bar created in partnership with the founders of the award-winning Maison Premiere in Brooklyn.
Along with stunning views of London landmarks including St Paul’s, The Shard and Big Ben, Seabird offers cocktails, an impeccable wine selection and London’s longest oyster list. Then there’s the extravagant seafood towers of crab, langoustines, clams and one of London’s hottest dishes of the moment, the octopus brioche roll.
Don’t miss the San Sebastian-inspired Manchego cheesecake for dessert either.
Seabird, The Rooftop, The Hoxton Hotel, 40 Blackfriars Road, London SE1 8PB, United Kingdom; +44 20 7903 3050