(Bloomberg) — During the Covid-19 pandemic, Londoners lost such standards as the Greenhouse in Mayfair and the Ledbury. But local chefs say that the places filling the void are the most exciting they’ve seen in years.
“Post-lockdown, restaurant lovers in London and across the country have been rallying like never before to support their favorite places to eat and drink—which we always hoped would happen,” says chef Simon Rogan, who has seen the impact at his London restaurant Aulis. “People are making up for lost time.”
Among the best new openings, Royale which started as a rotisserie chicken pop-up amid lockdown in Shoreditch, is now a brick-and-mortar restaurant near Victoria Park. Papa L’s Kitchen operated as a pop-up in Earl’s Court; now it’s set on Jermyn Street in the elegant St. James’s neighborhood.
“It’s encouraging to see so many new openings have happened already this year, or are in the pipeline,” adds Rogan. “Despite the volatility of our business, it’s as though the pandemic has in some way compelled those with a vision or long-term dream to open a hospitality venture—to just go for it. It’s amazing to see, and long may it continue.”
Consult this list, compiled from Rogan and 14 other notable chefs, or risk missing out on London’s top tables indefinitely.
Named for women’s rights leader Emily Wilding Davison (whose nickname was Pem), the handsome, seasonally minded restaurant is set at the Conrad London. “It’s headed by the fabulous Sally Abé, and there is a strong female presence in the team, both front of house and back, which is lovely,” says Chef’s Table star (and lamb burger inspiration) Asma Khan. The menu specializes in such updated British dishes as knife-and-fork bacon and Cornish cod with seaweed crumb. Khan has a lot of love for the poached native lobster starter, served with shellfish cream, heritage tomato, and sweet olive. “The lobster was really succulent, and the shellfish cream so delicious.”
—Recommended by Asma Khan, chef and owner of Darjeeling Express
“Santiago Lastra’s food is always delicious,” says chef Isaac McHale about the cooking at the new Mexican restaurant from Noma alumnus Lastra. “I love Kol, it’s a happy place, with the open kitchen in the center of the dining room, rather than at one end,” continues McHale. “You pass through the kitchen on your way to your table, which is a really nice way to integrate the cooking and the dining room.” The set menu blends British ingredients with Mexican ideas and flavors, and among the main course options is one of grilled octopus and caramelized bone marrow, with a salsa made from roast carrots and habanero. “You are given scissors to cut the octopus, and you make your own tacos as you wish. It’s fun and delicious at the same time.”
Rotunda chef Enzo Kazutoshi is also a fan: “It’s a nice setting: well-presented plates with great flavors and textures. I think it’s a great addition to London’s dining scene—since you cannot find good Mexican cuisine, really,” he adds.
—Recommended by Isaac McHale, chef and owner of Clove Club, and Endo Kazutoshi, chef and owner of Rotunda Bar and Restaurant
At his new brasserie, chef Matthew Ryle and restaurateur François O’Neill offer a crowd-pleasing array of dishes, served all day in a handsome setting. “It has a beautiful menu; one could easily be back in France,” says venerable chef and cookbook author Sally Clarke. “Think celeriac remoulade, terrines, oeuf en gelée, crudités légumes, comté gougères, anchovies. There’s never something on the menu I do not want to try.”
Downstairs, the wine bar Frank’s has also gotten the attention of chefs. “They served the likes of oeufs en gelee with braised beef tongue, a spot-on rabbit and prune terrine, and one of the best pâté en croutes I’ve ever tasted,” says chef Chase Lovecky. “Maison François has really done it right.”
—Recommended by cookbook author and chef Sally Clarke of Clarke’s Restaurant and Chase Lovecky, chef at P.Franco
Before he opened this charming canal-side café in Hackney, Max Rocha cooked at such notable London restaurants as the River Café and St. John Bread and Wine. He also worked at Spring, where he caught the attention of owner Skye Gyngell. “He has such a lovely sensibility,” says the beloved Australian chef and Vogue food editor. Rocha offers British-style breakfast staples such as a bacon sandwich and Guinness bread with boiled eggs, as well as a lunch menu of rabbit tagliatelle and lemon sole with marinated peppers. “It’s delicious, unfussy food cooked by people who care about what they are doing,” says Gyngell, “a really, really nice addition to the London restaurant scene.”
—Recommended by Skye Gyngell, chef director of Spring and Heckfield Place
At this Soho restaurant illuminated with a neon bird behind the bar, chef Angelo Sato’s focus is yakitori chicken. Almost 20 skewer options start at £3 ($4), ranging from skin to breast and neck, with a very few non-poultry plates such pork belly with egg yolk. “It’s inspiring to see a dextrous, technical chef putting his skills to chicken butchery in such a detailed and delicious way,” says chef Jeremy Chan. “My favorite serving would be the chicken rice. Apart from being crispy rich, cleanly presented as a square to be shredded, there are spikes of freshness from ginger and citrus.” The comforting dish reminds Chan of home cooking. “While being affordable and instantly gratifying, there is clearly a lot of thought and care behind the creations at Humble Chicken.”
—Recommended by Jeremy Chan, chef and owner of Ikoyi
This combination restaurant, bar, and wine store is an outpost of Anna Tobias and her team behind the popular 40 Maltby Street. “Café Deco is a gentle, calm oasis just outside the bluster of the West End of London, sheltered at the end of a parade of shops in Bloomsbury,” says Jeremy Lee of Quo Vadis, who knows how to create a memorable space. “The room, lit by huge glass windows, is warm, with daylight glancing off the palest washes of pink and green, dappled by light bouncing off the bottles placed on shelves.” The chalkboard menu changes frequently: “The food is fresh as a daisy, boldly simple, such as a perfectly cured trout and peerless dish of egg mayonnaise with anchovies crossed atop. The thinnest, finest charcuterie includes a mortadella that gave conversation a pause.”
—Recommended by Jeremy Lee, chef and owner of Quo Vadis
Before he was forced to leave Syria, Imad Alarnab ran several restaurants and juice bars in Damascus. He drew on that experience to open a compelling new spot that Hawksmoor chef Matt Brown calls “a refreshing addition” to the London dining scene. Alarnab offers small plates such as baba ghanoj, falafel, and grilled squash at very accessible prices; dishes start at £5.50. “It really feels like classic Syrian family cooking, using incredible spices to add layers of flavors to each dish. I liked it so much I ordered almost everything on the menu,” says Brown. He calls out the za’atar salad, shish tawook (grilled chicken strips and crisp garlic), and kabab hindi (minced lamb with spices) as particular standouts. “I also appreciate the restaurant’s devotion to charity and giving back to the Syrian community.”
—Recommended by Matt Brown, group executive chef at Hawksmoor in London and New York
At this West End spot on Jermyn Street, African fusion cuisine is put front and center by chef and owner Lawrence Gomez, who previously worked at such notable kitchens as the Ivy and Sexy Fish. “The dishes are flavorful and modern but have traditional elements, with Lawrence taking inspiration from his mum’s recipes,” says chef Henry Omereye. “I loved so much of what I tried, like the seared scallops with chorizo and a smoked paprika relish.” Omereye also shouts out the black bean and plantain burger with cassava fries. “I use cassava in one of my dishes, so I always love seeing how other people use it.” Save room for dessert: “The rum cake … was so good, I ordered it twice.”
—Recommended by Henry Omereye, executive chef at Riding House Cafe and Rail House Café
Chef Nico Simeone, whose Six by Nico locations around the U.K. include a recent addition at Canary Wharf, designs meal themes on places and memories—and the menu changes every six weeks. “I think the concept behind Six By Nico is really interesting and very unique. It’s amazing to me that you can get such a brilliant tasting menu at such an affordable price. It takes me back to my time on MasterChef,” says chef Alex Webb. The current Chippie menu rings in at £37, with the Fish Supper 2.0 being a standout for Webb. “It’s an inventive take on one of my favorite meals and uses a mix of Shetland cod, pickled mussels, fennel, and samphire. The wine pairing is also really well considered.”
—Recommended by Alex Webb, winner of MasterChef: The Professionals in 2020
This hybrid spot in Hackney operates as a store during the day and a Champagne bar and omakase chef’s table at night—unsurprising, with a menu focused on exceedingly fresh seafood. Chef Andrew Wong hails the restaurant for its exceptional sourcing. “They have dedicated private transport—electric vans—that collect from day boats, mainly in Cornwall, Devon, and Dorset, delivering directly to the restaurant the same day,” he says. As such, the dishes from chef Leandro Carreira change constantly, depending on availability, with the aged turbot being a must-order when it’s on offer. “It uses 10-days-aged turbot and four types of barrel-aged vinegar. It’s incredible,” says Wong.
—Recommended by Andrew Wong, chef and owner of A. Wong
Alongside the Hackney canals in East London, chef Gabriel Waterhouse has opened his first permanent space to offer a menu that focuses on sustainably sourced ingredients, particularly meat that’s used in small quantities. “It’s a beautiful space, which is quite Nordic in feel, and within the restaurant he serves a single nine-course tasting menu,” says chef Simon Rogan. “His British lops pork belly doughnut, which he serves as a canape, is pretty special,” Rogan continues. But it’s Herdwick lamb, sourced from the Lake District with aubergine and black garlic, that’s “the star of the show.” The accompanying wine list focuses on natural selections, and an edited six-course menu is available for delivery.
—Recommended by Simon Rogan, chef and owner of L’Enclume, Rogan & Co, Aulis, and Henrock
During the pandemic, this delivery chicken spot was so popular that it became a brick-and-mortar spot on a canal in East London, specializing in homey Provençal plates from chef Lucy Timm. “They have a beautiful terrace, which almost feels like you’re in the south of France on a sunny day,” says chef Harriet Mansell. “The small plates are amazing—things like anchovies and slow-roasted tomatoes with capers, pork, and rabbit terrine, or galette with courgettes.” Still, Mansell says, “their hero dish is the most beautiful roast chicken.” To accompany Timm’s cooking are wines on tap and gin, vodka, and whisky drinks from her landlord, East London Liquor Co.
—Recommended by Harriet Mansell, chef and owner of Robin Wylde and Lilac
Among the stylish places to eat in Pantechnicon, the new Japanese-Nordic development in Belgravia, is Sachi, whose menu features a wide selection of sushi. Michelin three-star chef Pierre Koffmann calls it “the best meal I’ve had at a new restaurant this year.” In a space lined with bricks and dark wood paneling, the menu features a large amount of local ingredients, from Scottish shellfish to British meats cooked on a robata grill, as well as an extensive sake selection. Koffmann especially enjoyed the Butaniku pork belly with barley miso and radish. “The ingredients, cooking, and service were all first class.”
—Recommended by Pierre Koffmann, chef and owner of the La Tante Claire (now closed)