Fantastic London restaurants
November 18, 2019 8:45 AM   Subscribe

We (early 40s U.S. couple, no kids) are headed to London for four days next month and would like to know where we should eat! We'll be staying in Soho but can of course travel anywhere in town. Some more details inside.

1) We're interested in visiting some special places that make you say "Wow!" and really stick in your memory. While I won't quite say that money is no object, we're happy to spend for top quality.

2) Vegetarian- or pescatarian-friendly is a bonus, but not a requirement. If there's a super awesome place that has, like, two vegetarian-friendly options, we'll consider it. (If there are zero options, though, we'd pass.)

3) More casual ideas for breakfast/lunch/tea are welcome!

4) Open on Sundays is also a plus. (It seems like a number of fine dining establishments are closed that day.)

Thank you so much!
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell to Food & Drink (27 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
I love Redemption Bar in covent garden - it's a wonderful vegan café and I think qualifies as a casual lunch place.
posted by hazyjane at 9:19 AM on November 18, 2019 [1 favorite]

On the vegetarian front, I'm a big fan of Mildred's (there are a few locations, including one in Soho). The ale pie is choice if it's on the menu (and they also sell a wonderful cookbook).

Wulf & Lamb in Chelsea is a bit more casual, simpler, and is excellent for breakfast. Their full breakfast (specifically the ackee scramble) is divine.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 9:20 AM on November 18, 2019

The website is being pretty useless right now, but one of the best meals I've ever had was at Tamarind (albeit fifteen years ago). I can't get it to show me a menu, but, at the time, they had a bimodal distribution of prices where vegetarian dishes were less expensive than you'd expect (in line with a much less fancy London restaurant).
posted by hoyland at 9:24 AM on November 18, 2019

We recently had a fantastic dinner at Lorne. A small menu but definitely vegetarian/pescatarian options. They are open on Sundays but only for lunch (looks pretty good though tbh). Located close to Victoria station.
posted by everybody had matching towels at 9:26 AM on November 18, 2019

I'm not a vegetarian so I don't have any specific advice there. Know that vegetarian eating has a stronger and longer tradition in the UK than in the US so many places will be able to cope with a veg diner.

Fish and chips: Rock and Sole Plaice

A fancier seafood restaurant I've always had great food at: J. Sheekey. Get reservations unless eating at an off time. They run a more informal, smaller place next door that's good too: J. Sheekey Atlantic Bar and Terrace.

I enjoy the Balthazar in Covent Garden. Noisy; Brasserie and French-ish; a copy of the NYC Balthazar. Offers a vegetarian menu. Also next door is their bakery for carry out bread and some pastries: excellent.

I also like Ivy's, an old and always popular restaurant. Lots of seafood on the menu. A vegetarian could eat there.

The River Cafe is very good food at quite expensive prices. For example, an appetizer of buffalo mozzarella with caponata: 23 pounds. Because of the price, I haven't eaten there often but everything I've had was exactly right. And that's the place's reputation. Lots of seafood. You could have a veg appetizer and a pasta and eat vegetarian.

I wouldn't recommend any specific Chinese restaurant but you can have fun and find some good largely Cantonese food on Gerrard St. Nothing fancy. Crowded and noisy, for sure. I've had some great vegetable dishes at a couple different places there. Fresh vegies, absolutely freshly prepared, gently cooked. A number of things one doesn't see in American greengrocers.

Oh, have fun!
posted by tmdonahue at 9:44 AM on November 18, 2019

Recent standouts from our last visit to London (as a 40-something 1/2 vegetarian Californians) were Ottolenghi in Islington, Dishoom in Shoreditch, and the Duke of Cambridge also in Islington. Ottolenghi is pretty fantastic, a beautiful space, nice people, and it was not hard to get a reservation. Dishoom is a total scene and we had a really good time, lots of vegetarian options. The Duke of Cambridge is run by an organic farm organization and all the dishes we had there were stellar (we've been back several times on several trips).
posted by niicholas at 10:19 AM on November 18, 2019 [2 favorites]

It was years ago so I can't make a specific recommendation, but I noticed that at the top restaurants, the difference between lunch and dinner prices is striking; lunch is often a half or a third of the dinner price. So one approach would be to schedule your high-end meals for lunch and visit more casual places for dinner.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 10:36 AM on November 18, 2019

Vanilla Black is my favourite restaurant in London, and I'm not even vegetarian. It is quite small though so you will need to book.
posted by Lanark at 10:37 AM on November 18, 2019 [1 favorite]

Padella in London Bridge is great pasta.

Kiln in Soho for interesting Thai.

Ceviche in soho is fun.

I reckon best fish and chips in London is the Golden Hind off Marylebone High St.
posted by eyeofthetiger at 10:45 AM on November 18, 2019 [1 favorite]

My go-to favorite is “Dinner” in the Mandarin Oriental.
posted by alchemist at 11:18 AM on November 18, 2019

Also: J Sheekey has a special secret vegetarian menu. My whole vegetarian family go there on special occasions, and never even look at the main menu. Other nice veggie restaurants are Vanilla Black (near Temple), and The Gate (Angel).

We also really like The Wolsely (Piccadilly) for breakfast, and The Delaunay (Covent Garden) for European. If you want a more casual vibe, head down to Brixton Village (the covered market not the outdoor fruit and veg market) for lots of tiny hole in the wall ethnic places. You’ll need to queue.
posted by tinkletown at 11:41 AM on November 18, 2019

I can enthusiastically second Ottolenghi. He's something of a celebrity chef, but his restaurants are the real deal. I had lunch here with my (vegetarian) fiancée on a recent visit to London, and it blew us away. Not too pricey, either, for what it is.
posted by scarylarry at 12:16 PM on November 18, 2019

Holborn Dining Room has just a few vegetarian options, but their pies are awesome.
posted by farlukar at 1:02 PM on November 18, 2019

Know that vegetarian eating has a stronger and longer tradition in the UK than in the US so many places will be able to cope with a veg diner.

I would always check the menu first, especially if you’re both vegetarian. While everywhere, even somewhere renowned for meatiness like the brilliant St John, will have one or more veggie options, all too often there is only one option and surprisingly often it is not very exciting.
posted by fabius at 1:13 PM on November 18, 2019

If you're looking for a "Wow!" location, I can highly recommend Duck & Waffle: on the 40th floor of the Heron Tower, open 24 hours, vegetarian options.

We went for a sunrise breakfast and I'll never forget it.

(If elevators and heights are scary for you, then this might not be your place.)
posted by at 1:24 PM on November 18, 2019 [1 favorite]

Thirding Ottolenghi, specifically His restaurant Rovi, which I love particularly for breakfast, but it's good all the time!
posted by featherboa at 1:27 PM on November 18, 2019

Honey and Co in Fitzrovia is excellent levantine food - I strongly prefer it to Ottolenghi fwiw. Maybe I've just had an off night there though.

Dishoom is indeed a favorite,but if you are staying in Soho, they have a location in Carnaby Street (and at Kings Cross) - no need necessarily to trek out east.

I really enjoy Rochelle Canteen in Shoreditch.
posted by voiceofreason at 2:42 PM on November 18, 2019

Another vote for Ottolenghi, and Dishoom (the wait is long, though I've heard they have an excellent breakfast). Dishoom is definitely an "only in London" experience. They have 5 locations, Carnaby is near Soho and in a fun area. I agree J. Sheekey is also nice and in a fun area to wander. I know you are vegetarian, but I highly recommend going to a pub for a Sunday Roast: they often have a vegetarian option. There's just nothing more delightfully English than a Sunday roast in a pub. There's a lovely pub in Kentish Town called The Lion & Unicorn that has a great vegetarian Wellington. If you plan on visiting Camden market at any time that could be a good option. A family member of mine is an NYC foodie and when he comes to visit he always takes us to some restaurant his friends recommend, one of the most memorable for me was the modern pantry in Clerkenwell.

I promise you will not forget a grilled cheese from kappacasein in Borough Market, or jerk chicken, rice and roti from Fish & Wings & Tings in Brixton. These are some meals you'd never be able to have anywhere else on earth, super tasty and with the most London atmosphere you can get.
posted by pazazygeek at 2:54 PM on November 18, 2019

Seconding The Wolsley, especially for afternoon tea.

The *bestbestbest* afternoon tea I've ever had was at the Savoy Hotel, but it was super expensive. Their cocktails are great too.

If I were going for pub food in its finest iteration, I would go to The Ship near Holborn tube. The butternut squash, mushroom and chestnut Wellington looks quite delicious.

The best gelatos I've found in London are La Gelatiera (I go to the New Row/St Martins Lane one), Snowflake (I go to the Soho one) and Gelupo (also in Soho, right behind the Queen's Theatre).

When my vegetarian and vegan friends have something to celebrate, they go to The Gate. Originally they were just in Hammersmith, but now they have four locations. Marylebone looks like your closest.
posted by Pallas Athena at 3:33 PM on November 18, 2019

Also, if you want recommendations for lunch chains (presumably you don’t want to spend two hours on a sit-down meal for every meal), look at Pret, Eat, Leon, Comptoir Libonais, and Wahaca. Franco Manca for pizza. There is a Pret and an Eat on practically every street in Zone 1, but they are far better and more inventive than they need to be. Leon and Comptoir are middle-eastern inspired wraps and salad boxes (both also do great breakfasts). Wahaca is small-plate Mexican fusion.

None of them are going to win any Michelin stars, but the food is good, you’ll be served quickly, and they are reasonably-priced (not super cheap, you’d need to be outside central London for that, but lunch for two would be £15-25).
posted by tinkletown at 5:50 PM on November 18, 2019 [1 favorite]

Try some of the pubs found in Martha Grimes' Inspector Jury mysteries - they're all real.
It's been years, but I had a traditional English Sunday Roast Beef and Yorkshire Pudding Dinner at "I Am Only the Running Footman" pub in the Mayfair area.
posted by dustpuppy at 7:06 PM on November 18, 2019

Former Londoner here. Some recs:

Straight up list of my favourite restaurants though, to really answer your question:

* Le Café du Marché (Smithfield): it's old and it's romantic and the food is delicious, set back on a cobblestone street
* seconding the Duck & Waffle: the views are unsurpassed, the food is great; reservations can be tough to get though, try asap.
* seconding Mildred's - great veggie food
* and also seconding the Ivy, old school cool sort of place
* Hawksmoor (there are a few locations, I recommend Hawksmoor Guildhall): phenomenal steak and insanely indulgent breakfast menu; my husband & I had our last breakfast here before we moved out of the UK
* Finally a very British/London dining experience would be Sunday roast - really at any pub, but I am specifically recommending the wonderful Spaniard's Inn in Hampstead (on the heath, another must visit) - est. 1585AD. Also, Hampstead (neighbourhood) is just worth a visit, I think.

In case you're up for a drink:

* the Coburg Bar at the Connaught Hotel in Mayfair. It's a very fancy hotel, but this bar (note: the hotel has more than one) is beautifully dark, fireplaces and comfy leather armchairs. It remains one of my favourite places to indulge in a tipple.
* The Zetter Townhouse in Clerkenwell, near Exmouth Market
posted by jacquilinala at 8:07 PM on November 18, 2019

I was in London in September and only had about 36 hours at the end of a two-week UK tour. For days, my traveling companion and I were craving Indian food; from Bath to Stonehenge to London, it was all we talked about, but when we were standing in front of the concierge desk, about to ask about Indian food, I suddenly (almost) shouted, "Or Mediterranean!" I thought my friend would think I was crazy, but the minute I said it, we had to have it, and the two concierges got huge grins and without even asking, one just said, "We've got you covered!" and made us a reservation at Maison Du Mezze.

We were staying at Charing Cross, near Trafalgar Square, so it was an easy walk for us. Depending on where you are in SoHo, it should be an easy walk from the opposite direction, at 14 Leicester Square. (It's in a touristy area, but didn't feel at all touristy.) We were hungry, tired, and a little sad about going home, but they took great care of us, explaining the menu and anticipating our needs. I don't eat meat (but I do eat fish), and though I ordered one dish with scallops, I ordered many other purely vegetarian things.

Speaking of which, the portions were huge. Being told that this was a small plate/meze kind of restaurant, we anticipated, well, small plates. Our portions were huge...and delicious.

There was a private party downstairs, around the corner from where we were seated, and the music did get a bit loud. If you want a quieter evening, you might request to be seated upstairs.
posted by The Wrong Kind of Cheese at 9:44 PM on November 18, 2019

I will echo the Dishoom recommendations - I went twice last week and would go twice every week if I could get the bookings.

You can just turn up and wait, just about feasible during the week but a total nightmare at the weekend. However, I am happy to tell you that: 1. any number of people can book for the breakfast menu (which is cheap and filling and amazing); 2. parties of 6+ can book for lunch and dinner, too.
posted by citands at 1:02 AM on November 19, 2019

I get a kick out of watching the posh lunchtime crowd at Colbert's on Sloan Square. Expect old tile floors and starched white table linens. Their smoked haddock and salmon kedgeree is heavenly.

It's not cheap, but I'd also recommend as a hidden gem the restaurant inside the National Portrait Gallery.
posted by Short Attention Sp at 6:52 AM on November 19, 2019

Casse-Croute Tower Bridge. I ate solo here on a whim and had a memorable meal. Tiny French bistro.
posted by Kafkaesque at 2:49 PM on November 19, 2019

+1 to Dishoom. As a single diner or 2-top, I've been fine walking in without a wait as long as I get there before 6PM, at the Kings Cross or Soho locations. Which is ridiculously early by European standards but perfectly average for this American (at home we often go to dinner at 5:30).
posted by serelliya at 12:10 PM on December 10, 2019

« Older Buying a Used Piano   |   St. Louis house architecture question Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.