By Frankie Jay
In London for a whistle-stop work trip but want to squeeze in meeting friends and family while eating well there too? Let moi help you. From glam-tastic to strolling in a cool street market. I’ve got something for every occasion that’s going to impress your stomach as well as your dining companion without crossing the Thames.
Need to impress?
Espelette bistro at The Connaught (Mayfair): The Connaught started life as The Coburg in the early 19th century and has retained an understated but esteemed part of the London Hotel lore since then. Fast forward to present day and we’d recommend starting off for a quick drink at the award winning Connaught Bar, then suitably warmed up, meander over to your dining table in the dining room of Espelette. This front room is a treat. You sit there looking at this rather Gustav Klimpt-esque ‘Woman in Gold’ ceiling, which in turn radiates a gentle golden light under which everyone looks fantastic. So that’s a good start. Once you remember to glance down, you’ll also notice the room itself is very pretty, with huge glass windows that make it perfect for day time as swell as evening. The menu is more casual, bistro-style French food but still exquisite and under head chef’s Hélène Darroze’s charge while she cooks up a storm (and more awards) at the sister restaurant in the next room Hélène Darroze at the Connaught. Every fish dish superb, classic Dover Sole - faultless. Secret guilty memory, I remember having my first ever éclair at the Connaught as a wee kitten during their famous afternoon high teas. It was a coffee éclair. I still remember how it looked and tasted – delicious and have never been able to better anywhere yet. Sigh. But chin up, I keep trying.
The Wolseley (Piccadilly): Step into a former prestigious car showroom, come banking chamber now grand dame of the modern London dining scene then you’ll know you’ve arrived at the glamorous Wolseley. Meet your pal for high tea or wait till the sun sets and watch the interior Venetian and Florentine marble sparkle just that little more. You will impress your dining companions with the setting, the buzz and bustle and equally important, you will have a wonderful meal. The Wolseley caters to an international audience ranging from royalty of dubious ranks to business folk and tourists. While a predominantly European brasserie style, it offers burger as well as vegetarian lunch/dinner menu options and late night dining, thankfully for the after theatre hunger pangs.
Ristorante Frescobaldi (Mayfair): Very trendy and upmarket (yes that does mean expensive) Italian restaurant of the moment. Run by the famed Frescobaldi family of Tuscany, who have some serious 700 years noble linage behind them, they have well-earned chops in fine wine production themselves, so expect a well matched menu. The restaurant itself has a modern beautiful apartment feel with a hanging light fixture that itself is a sculptural piece of art. Let the Frescobaldi team suggest a wine, while you focus on the menu. You just have to remember at the end of the meal that you do need to get out of the comfy chairs as it's not your home and your bed is well.. wherever it is.
Granger & Co. (Notting Hill): From Bill Granger of the original famous Bills Darlinghurst restaurant café in Sydney, Australia, this more established airy eatery still has his Sydney delicious trademarks and relaxed sophisticated casual vibe that Aussies do so well. The lightly Parmesan crusted chicken schnitzel with cabbage is moreish, as are his curries and gorgeous steak with fries. Nothing is too heavy handed but the flavors are there so much that the next day you are thinking about them and plotting a trip back. If you do pop back, why not make there for one of Bill’s famous breakfast dishes of ricotta hotcakes with banana & honeycomb butter, order some excellent coffee and drink his legendary Sunrise smoothie – berries, banana, apple, yoghurt & orange. Suddenly your day will feel a whole lot brighter. PS if you can't make it there, his cookbooks (see below) are divine.
The Barbican Kitchen (Barbican): A favorite image of London dining are the open tables heaving with good food to choose from and the Barbican Kitchen does not disappoint. In fact it surprises with its cleverness, its whimsy and quality. Especially when you consider the large food hall size of the space. Serving to local residents, Barbican Centre concert goers, office workers, students and their proud family & friends who've come to see their stars graduate, Barbican Kitchen does this with casual aplomb. Tasty hearty sandwiches, posh fish and chips, a range of irresistible cakes and tarts and wash down with not only usual supply of drinks but huge glass containers with elder flower juices. There is alcohol too with a moderate well priced offering.
The Wine Gallery (Chelsea): Secret gem of a neighborhood wine bar that doubles as restaurant. Simple menu, freshest ingredients, very pleasant for a post work drink with friends or a light weekend lunch. Competitive pricing on the excellent wine and food too. In the warmer months sit out street front or position yourself in the sweet open garden courtyard at the back. In winter, the courtyard covers over and turn into a heated space where you can snuggle into your Thai green curry or a Sunday roast and a glass of wine sourced decent producers from around the world.
Negozio Classica (Primrose Hill): can get busy, but what doesn’t in London when it’s good. This Italian wine bar and shop is pretty on a sunny Sunday afternoon and in the evening settle in on the stools (elbows in please, it's cosy) and order not only a glass of wine but some delicious Tuscan small plates such as the culatello riserva: Parma cured ham with fresh buffalo mozzarella, rocket, and extra virgin olive oil.
Time for a walk and talk lunch only?
Head over to Whitecross Street Food Market (Thursdays & Friday only). This is super. One of the oldest street markets, with usual options of street food markets i.e. Lebanese, Indian but you can also get a Buddha bowl and gluten free crêpe from a French crêperie. The food crews selling here are friendly, clean and serve tasty nosh. Pick up a take out coffee at Fix for the walk back.
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