Recommending restaurants is fun! There are few things that give people more unfiltered joy than the gut-swell of happiness after taking a bite of something delicious and surprising –– and the knowledge that you made that happen.
But recommending restaurants is also a little dangerous. If you eat out very often (~3 times / week) you can expect to have ~9,300 meals over a 60-year adulthood. So each meal has to count! You should respect the time and money that people will spend based on your recommendations.
Therefore, here is a tentative list of restaurant recommendations, organised by city. I optimise for deliciousness and consistency and inventiveness, in that order.
It is incomplete – and possibly inaccurate! – but I'll do my best to respect your time and money. If you have a disappointing meal at any of the places listed below, do let me know.
Finally, this list will invariably be a reflection of my own biases and cultural baggage, as well as my particular gastronomic priorities; your mileage may vary, or I may have committed a grave sin of omission. If so, you know what to do.
Biased to north-east London, which is where I have lived and eaten most intensely.
'Modern European' / Franco-Italian
St John in Clerkenwell is the beginning and end of London food, and for good reason. Michelin-starred food with absolutely none of the carefully manicured, tweezered plates. Ales, pies, classic British and French cooking. Nose-to-tail, so lots of offal, but don’t let that put you off(al). There is very little better cooking in London. My routine is a welsh rarebit and a pint of black velvet while I’m deciding what to eat, and you must always always have the madeleines with a glass of calvados or perhaps veille prune to finish a meal. No matter how full you think you are, you’re never too full for a madeleine.
The Quality Chop House is always a really special experience, and worth every penny, for classic anglo-franco-bistro fare. Emphasis on the meat, of course, but almost every dish is punch-you-in-the-face tasty. The neighbouring Quality Wines is a joyous Italian-tinted wine bar with really brilliant cooking, most famously these wonderfully sweet-savoury pig fat cannoli. The wine list, as you’d imagine, is extremely good at both.
Some of the better Italian small-ish plates in the city can be found at Bright in London Fields. It’s part of the P Franco group of restaurants, lots of natural wine and Italian-focussed food. You’ll have a lot of fun getting pissed on the terrazzo with a bottle of something weird and biodynamic, and eating your way through the bar menu. Lovely people, lovely negroni, lovely food.
Round the corner from Bright there’s Popham’s Bakery, known for very large baked goods and fancy flat whites. They’re less well known for their extremely good lunch pastas. Burro e Salvia a bit further south, on Redchurch St, is more deli than restaurant but similarly sells extremely good pasta fresca to take away. And in neighbouring Netil Market there's Sonora Tacquería, one of the few actually enjoyable Mexican restaurants in London.
Gun to my head, my favourite restaurant in London is Brawn, which is franco-italian and so much more. I don’t have much to say other than it makes me feel more at home than any other spot in the city. Eat here. Drink here. Be here.
Trullo is the closest thing in London I’ve found to Trattoria Cibreo (my favourite Florentine restaurant; see Florence section below). It’s not cheap, but the atmos, the wine list, the calibre of the cooking is extremely high. You may have heard of their sister restaurant Padella, which is also definitely worth visiting, but Trullo elevates the whole thing a bit and brings it more in line with the experiences of long lazy dinners in the Tuscan countryside.
40 Maltby St is nominally a wine bar, but, like P Franco, is really about the food. Brilliant small-plates orbit around natural and biodynamic wines. Also from the 4MS team (but really the brainchild of Anna Tobias, who, for a while took up the pans at P Franco) is the recently-opened Café Deco in Bloomsbury. Anna's cooking is St John-level good with the same lack of pretentions to fussiness.
Asian / Asian-inspired
Barshu is reliably good for proper Chengdu-style Sichuan cooking and hotpot, though make sure you take a large group as the portions are enormous (try the fish fragrant aubergine, dan dan noodles, ma po tofu and anything else with ‘ma la’ [hot and numbing] written in front of it).
My favourite takeaway-style Chinese takeaway in London is Lucky Dog on Brick Lane – order from the authentic menu (there are two different menus) and try the dry fried sweet-sour pork, pork mince with green beans and chilli, cold sesame noodles, cold chicken and chilli oil, also the BBQ skewers
Dumpling Shack in Spitalfields market is truly excellent (get the pork and leek jiaozi). There’s also a brilliant chongqing noodle soup (ma la again) popup at the Jackalope in Marylebone, which is a good pub independently of the food. Master Wei and Xi’an Impression are both from the same chef and both really worth trying, as is Xi’an Biang Biang Noodles, which is one of the finest quality-price ratios in the city. Finally, Silk Road in Camberwell for Uyghur / Xinjiang cooking, especially the skewers and tomato egg noodles.
An important place that might be suitable for a long boozy dinner is Smoking Goat (incidentally right next to my flat!) The food is thai, but it’s inspired by the street food scene in Bangkok, so there’s lots of regional thai dishes adapted in a London-friendly way. Lots of blues and rockabilly records, excellent Five Points XPA sold in frozen 2/3 pint glasses, a fancy cocktail list. The laabs – dry-fried curries – are always aggressively spicy and delicious (much like myself). The chilli fish sauce chicken wings is one of my top-five all-time favourite dishes, and the lardo fried rice cannot be missed.
I love Koya in soho for incredibly thoughtful, delicate udon. Cây Tre for Vietnamese and their Bahn Mi takeaway opposite are also extremely good. Black Axe Mangal, if they ever reopen, is a bizarre, hard to categorise, tiny sort-of kebab restaurant from a former St John sous-chef next to Trullo that I’m including in the Asian section because they do the best ma po tofu in the city. Also the flatbreads, and the heavy metal, and the negronis, and the graffito cocks drawn on the floor. Its lack of any sort of deference really belies some staggeringly good quality cooking.
Last, but not least, I really like The Laughing Heart, nestled on Hackney Road. More of a traditional tasting menu, ‘modern European’ with heavy pan-Asian accents. The food is really high calibre and the owner/sommelier, a charming Antipodean man (almost everybody in London hospitality is for some reason Antipodean), always gets me so wonderfully drunk that I can never remember his name.
Last updated: 15/4/2021. Paris, Florence, New York, and The Bay Area coming soon.