Restaurants: London


London, upmarket fine dining
London, smart but more casual

London Fine Dining

The Ritz Restaurant, Ritz Hotel, Piccadilly
Dining at the Ritz has become a bit of an annual institution. We’ve eaten there three years in a row since 2021, which is good for the soul, if not the bank balance. We first went having seen young chef Spencer Metzger take over as head chef: his reputation is, and was sky high, and the restaurant absolutely delivered. Its one star Michelin rating seems to me to be a star short. I was initially concerned when a few months before my December 2023 booking Metzger left the Ritz. It was a blow, but we kept our reservation, and I am so glad we did. Under head chef John Williams this was a fabulous meal. From the very start – exquisite canapes of tatare of beef with Imperial caviar alongside a croustade of crab, Menton lemon and raddish – every course was a visual and flavour explosion. I know that sounds like cliched marketing speak, but this was one of my meals of the year.

Other highlights? A stunning ballotine of duck liver, accompanied by a fabulous little damson and pistachio cake (pictured). The richness of the liver along with the ginger-spiced, deeply-flavoured little frangipane-like cake was sensational. Pressed and carved at the table, with a theatrical creation of the sauce involving lots of flambeing of brandy and port, Anjou pigeon a la presse was dreamy, the rich sauce studded with peppercorns and the pigeon so succulent. I could rave about all dishes (and little extras) on the seven course tasting menu (£175 per person), but really, all I can say is that the overall experience excelled. The wine list is extensive, but our eager and knowledgeable young sommelier made choosing a treat, and we drank well. The Ritz is all theatre really, so do not be intimidated by anything other than the price: you will be treated wonderfully well by charming staff. Two words of warning: gentlemen are required to wear jacket and tie, and on Friday and Saturday nights there is live entertainment for which you are charged an extra £55 per person. If that’s not your thing: avoid! Open seven days, lunch and dinner.

La Trompette, 3-7 Devonshire Rd, Chiswick
In terms of my favourite one star restaurant in London, the Ritz may occupy its own stratosphere, but a little closer to earth’s atmosphere is the marvellous La Trompette. This is the epitome of friendly, unfussy and brilliant cuisine and service. I am almost always here with wine loving friends from the wine-pages’ forum and we are indulged with a BYO deal, but the wine list is interesting, extensive and beautifully chosen.

The food is marvellous, with a strong emphasis on comfort, and on very refined but wholesome interpretations of British and French classics. Their sourdough and wonderfully piquant cheese-filled gougeres set the tone for very fine food. Recently a plump, juicy, ham hock raviolo (pictured) sat majestically in a lightly spiced but buttery-sweet pumpkin velouté, topped with trompettes and shards of deep fried sage. The main course daube de boeuf was majestic, falling apart under threat of a fork, and with rich, wintery accompaniments including a chestnut puree and decadently dark damson puree. La Trompette’s take on Christmas pud is a joy to behold (and eat) too, boozy as you like and served with a cinnamon ripple ice cream. A brilliant place. £85 for three courses. Closed Sunday to Tuesday

Murano, 20 Queen Street, Mayfair
Angela Harnett’s chain also includes branches of Cafe Murano, but this is the 1* Michelin flagship restaurant in Mayfair. It’s a smart, comfortable place in muted colours with well-spaced tables, the sort of place where business is done as much as romantic dinners perhaps. The a la carte evening menu we chose can be taken as anything from three courses at £95 to six courses at £145. I found the food overall to be just a little disappointing. Nothing stood out as particularly good, or particularly bad, and I guess that was the problem.

Take, for example, a leek and potato risotto. OK, maybe that has ‘potentially bland’ written all over it, but I would have hoped for something a bit transcendent at this level, and this just wasn’t. My main was good, Aynhoe Park venison, with a well-flavoured polenta, celeriac, and shavings of black truffle. Dessert was another that pleased without really exciting: a plum soufflé with a quenelle of mascarpone & lemon sorbet (pictured). The wine list is mostly Italian, and there are some fine mature bottles at a price. Perhaps the final element of ‘damning with faint praise’ is that we were in search of some really high-end Italian food, and tossed a coin between Murano and Theo Randall, which I’ve always enjoyed. Having never been before, we plumped for Murano, and somehow the experience just lacked a bit of ‘Italian-ness’; I wasn’t looking for spaghetti carbonara and giant wooden pepper mills, but this struck me as rather safe ‘modern European’ cuisine, rather than an enlightening take on classic Italian ingredients and cooking. Closed Sundays.

Galvin at Windows, Hilton Hotel, 22 Park Lane
I’ve eaten here several times, drawn partly for the 1* Michelin food, but mostly by the setting: perched on the 28th floor of the Hilton on Park Lane it offers outstanding vistas over all of London’s landmarks, day and night. All tables have a view, though most recently we secured one right at the window looking into the back garden of Buckingham Palace. With an evening flight ahead of us we went for the three-course Sunday lunch, which is offered for a very reasonable £55 per person.

There’s a choice of five or six dishes in each course, with a traditional Sunday roast as one option. I kicked off with a Landais chicken terrine (pictured) which was layered with duck liver and black pudding, and studded with little chunks of pistachio and carrot. It was very good I have to say, served with toasted brioche. The Sunday roast was a Michelin-worthy rendition, with nicely rare but properly cooked and flavoursome Black Angus beef and classic accompaniments, along with a red wine gravy. Dessert was one I’ve loved here in the past: tarte tatin with vanilla ice cream and a Calvados caramel. It was good, but on this occasion the pastry was just a little too soggy for top marks. We drank some Champagne followed by glasses of sommelier recommended Syrah at £19 per glass. Overall, another lovely visit. Closed Mondays.

Club Gascon, 57 West Smithfield
Club Gascon is the Michelin-starred top tier of a small group of Gascon venues that includes a bar and bistro within the same vicinity near Smithfield market and the Barbican. The space is cosy, intimate and smartly minimal, with a bar at one end and plenty of wood, stone and natural textures. A seasonal tasting menu is offered for the whole table, but we ate a la carte from a small selection inspired by southwestern France. But this is not the place to come for rustic cassoulets and steaming bowls of boulliabaise (and nor is it the place for vegetarians). Rather, Club Gascon offers very precise, sophisticated haute cuisine. A small procession of canapés and amuses arrived before the main event, and from a menu that features eight variations on a theme of foie gras, I started with a grilled version, deliciously topped with caramlised grapes and sitting on a mound of sweet onion compote. My main course was a slightly odd dish. King scallops were the main ingredient, and delicious they were too, sweet and just crusting on the outside, an accompanying oyster was meaty and delicious, but then a pungent, herby little soup was difficult to eat with a fork and flat ‘pusher’ spoon. Pudding was less of a challenge, and very delicious, little constructions of white chocolate served with a boozy, aromatic cherry sauce. Coffee and petits-fours rounded off a really interesting and generally delicious meal. Menus from £65 to £150 per person plus a la carte. Two people: £200. Lunch Wednesday to Friday, Dinner Tuesday to Saturday. Closed Sunday.

Pollen Street Social, 8-13 Pollen St
A lively atmosphere was very much in evidence on a Saturday evening, and the staff worked well to make the experience an enjoyable one. This was their eight course menu, which began with an amuse-bouche of pork crackling with apple sauce. Among our favourite dishes, ‘English Breakfast’ was amazing: an egg shell filled with a tiny portion of scrambled egg, smoked bacon and beans. This treat was just like the real thing but with unexpected textures. Cornish Crab salad, avocado, beetroot sorbet and crab toastie soon followed. What a delicate mouthwatering experience. The menu remained focused on fish, Orkney sea scallop sashimi certainly made Japan top of our gastronomic places to visit list. The final fish course, line caught Cornish turbot, squid and langoustine ‘ministrone’ was pure elegance in a bowl. For my main course I chose the roasted Creedy Carver duck, spiced pear gel, braised duck leg, turnip and English Ale-Gar reduction. Two desserts completed the tasting menu: Scottish raspberry and yuzu sorbet with aerated Devon cream cheese, followed by Asian mango pudding. What struck me most about this well balanced menu was the lightness and freshness of all the ingredients: a truly delicious and extravagant experience. Menus from £58 (lunch) to £165 per person, plus a la carte. Closed Sunday and Monday.

Theo Randall at The Intercontinental, Park Lane
Ex-head chef at the River Café, Theo Randall’s eponymous restaurant has attracted a steady stream of awards and plaudits since opening in 2008. A life-long Italiophile, Randall’s food philosophy is all about impeccable ingredients, classical techniques and, ultimately, simplicity. The dining room is large and comfortable, and although housed within a 5* hotel, has an informal atmosphere. Settling in, a bowl of delicious, hot-from-the-fryer zucchini fritti were brought to nibble on whilst we perused the menu. In the lightest batter, beauitfully seasoned and sensationally moreish, these set the tone for a terrific meal. We opted for the tasting menu which commenced with two of the highlights of this star-studded dinner: seared scallops on a bed of agretti (monk’s beard), followed by heavenly tagliatelle (the kitchen has a pasta-making team on duty eight hours per day). The latter was served with fresh peas and prosciutto, Speaking to Theo Randall afterwards, he said the peas he uses are imported directed from Italy and are in season for only around one month each year. It is those, with their incredibly vibrant and memory-provoking freshness of childhood summers, that inspired the dish. Fillet of longhorn beef was a superb steak, fabulously tasty, and after some beautifully conditioned Italian cheeses, one of his signature desserts: an Amalfi lemon tart that was sharp and sweet, with the finest of crumbly, short crusts. It really was a beautifully balanced meal and a word for the wine choices from the eager young sommelier team: all spot-on in terms of food matching, but also a few surprises including a sparkling Nebbiolo from Piemonte and a sour cherry-infused Cabernet Sauvignon from the Marche. This is undoubtedly one of the UK’s best Italian restaurants. Menus from £40 plus a la carte. Closed Sunday and Monday.

London more casual dining

Noizé Restaurant, 39 Whitfield Street
Casual but excellent and authentic fine French dining in a relaxed atmosphere. Choose from the slightly more formal upstairs restaurant, or the larger basement area and bar, for apparently simple cooking that focuses on ingredients. The restaurant is run by Mathieu Germond, former co-owner and manager of Pied à Terre, and his passion for wine shows not only in the very personal and non-corporate wine list, but in his willingness to accommodate wine enthusiasts looking to BYO. It’s unfair to place Noizé in ‘fine dining’ in some ways, because there is no pretension here: it is all about the food and wine, and though dishes are fairly simple, with four or five components on the plate, the ingredients are superb and cooking excellent, like a recent fillet of hake, served with a creamy white bean purée, and piquant, fresh accompaniment of salsify, caper and lemon. The menu changes according to the seasonal produce available, and three courses will cost around £65 without wine. Closed Sundays and Mondays but may open for larger bookings.

Sussex, 63-64 Frith Street
In a Soho premises that I used to visit quite often when it was called Arbutus and held a Michelin star, now it’s a casual and bustling restaurant and bar where many of the ingredients are ‘British, local and wild’ according to their slogan. It’s always been a slightly odd dining space, a long U-shaped room with tables down each of the legs of the U, but we settled in comfortably enough and kicked off with a glass of Bollinger (not so British admittedly). For my first course, pan-seared Shetland king scallop, came with a very interesting British-grown chilli & garlic butter sauce. There was only one scallop, but it was plump, juicy and nicely seared. It was very much wild venison season, so South Downs venison appealed, and was a lovely few slices of loin, again well seared and soft to the bite, served with a creamy Jerusalem artichoke purée and Chichester-grown beetroot and blackberries and a red wine jus. A bottle of Vinsobres from the Perrin family (£65) washed this down nicely. Prices are moderate for this part of London, with starters around £10/12 and mains £25/£35. A friendly, welcoming place taking its food seriously. Closed Sundays and Bank Holidays.

The Don, 19-23 St. Swithins Lane
In a lane close to Bank Station The Don occupies the atmospheric old Sandeman Port cellars, where sherries, madeiras and ports were bottled for 200 years. Upstairs is a bright, bustling dining room with large picture windows to the lane, but there is also the option of dining downstairs in the barrel-vaulted cellar. Food is Gallic-focused comfort food with dishes like Soupe de Poisson, Saddle of Rabbit and Roast Suckling Pig. I was guest at a private wine dinner, with a menu that included some flavoursome smoked salmon, nicely marinated and rich in lemony, herby flavour and roast rack of lamb, served juicy and pink, with slow-cooked lamb breast with a roasted aubergine mousse. The quality of ingredients and cooking was very good. Prices are moderate with a two course lunch at £32, maybe £65 per person for dinner before wine. A handy place to know in the City. Lunch Monday to Friday, Dinner Tuesday to Thursday

Hawksmoor, 157 Commercial St
Hawksmoor (which now has multiple branches) established a huge reputation as one of the capital’s best steak houses in rapid time. A bustling room with exposed brick walls, lovely wooden floors and simple tables crammed reasonably cosily together, it is a carnivores delight with the day’s special cuts – Chateaubriands and the rest – chalked up with price and weight on a blackboard, and ticked off as they are sold out. But worry not, the main menu has steaks aplenty for hungry carnivores. I started with Dorest crab on toast, which was simple and delicious: a mound of snowy-white and succulent meat layered on rustic bread, then onto the main event: I chose a 300gm fillet steak, to be cooked medium-rare and to be served along with buttered greens, triple cooked chips and some Stilton hollandaise sauce on the side (all charged separately). The steak was full of flavour and with a bit of bite to the texture. We drank some fine Pulenta estate Malbec from a pretty serious wine list, and noted that Mondays are BYO nights. Feeling somewhat replete, I had a single scoop of salted caramel ice cream to finish a truly excellent dinner. Hawksmoor is not cheap, it was buzzy and noisy on a busy Friday night and our particular waiter was a bit distant (others were not). But the experience here is a fabulous. Around £160-£180 for two drinking modestly. Open seven days, dinner only Monday to Wednesday.

St John, 26 St John Street
St John is a London institution and pioneer in the revival of British gastronomy and the championing of British ingredients. A thronging bar and lively dining area, where white-aproned waiting staff bearing groaning platters of superb food squeeze between tightly-packed tables, it is not the venue for a quiet tete-a-tete, but St John has a terrific atmosphere to match the quality of the food and wines. On my most recent visited I started with an old favourite: roast bone marrow served with toast and parsley salad. A tray of bones is brought from the oven, and a long, skewer-like fork used to scrape and cajole the comforting, creamy marrow onto the toast, to be topped with a pinch of sea-salt, handful of piquant salad, and devoured. I followed with pheasant and pig’s trotter pie: a beautiful pie, with buttery but short pastry, filled with chunks of meat in a delicious gravy. All meat is off the bone of course, and the flavour is robust yet delicate, earthy yet clear. To finish, a plate of wonderfully tangy and dry Lancashire cheese was served with Eccles cakes – flaky, sugary pastry cases crammed with spicy dried fruits. Wonderful food, that evokes the best of traditional British cuisine, accompanied by an interesting, good value and exclusively French wine list (many imported direct by St John), makes for a unique dining experience. Highly recommended. Two people: £150-£170 for dinner. Open seven days, lunch only on Sundays.