As the song has it, ‘tis the season to be jolly.
And, traditionally, ‘tis also the season to sit down and look back on the year’s eating and try and pick out the culinary highlights – a process that has, of course, been made much easier thanks to Instagram.
However you look at 2018, it’s been a pretty positive one for London’s restaurant scene. What the future brings – particularly in light of the chaos that is Brexit – is uncertain but, for now, let’s consider 2018’s palpable hits, albeit with the obvious caveat that, despite appearances, I haven’t eaten everywhere.
6. HIDE – 85 Piccadilly, Mayfair, London W1J 7NB
As may have been clear from an earlier column, I blooming love HIDE. Yes, it can get very spendy, but look around at the staff, the setting, the ingredients on your plate and you can plainly see where the money goes. Ingredients are key, service is so impeccable as to be almost game-changing and that room… if it’s not the best in London, it’s at least in the top three. Breakfast is superb – if I was in a position to award a “best sausage” prize there would be no other contender – and the baking is exquisite. You could also do a lot worse than splitting a few snacks from the “to graze” section – the bread, the charcuterie, the parfait – have a glass of wine, and walk away with change from £20 a head. But if you’ve ever got a boat to push out, this would be my current suggestion as the best place in London to do it.
5. Native – 32 Southwark St, London SE1 1TU
I liked Native when it was in its tiny Covent Garden location. I love it since its move to a spacious and well-lit room on Southwark Street. The focus on seasonality, the devotion to zero waste, etc., could come across as hipster clichés but, thanks to founders Ivan Tisdall-Downes and Imogen Davis, it results in some spectacularly clever and enormously enjoyable cooking. Courgette stalk penne was one of my happier “leftover” surprises of 2018.
4. Bancone – 39 William IV St, London WC2N 4DD
Finally, London wakes up to great pasta. With Padella still generating queues and Lina Stores doing utterly lovely things in Soho, Bancone brings Covent Garden into the act with a satisfying menu of simple pleasures at sensible prices.
3. Sabor – 35-37 Heddon St, Mayfair, London W1B 4BR
For all intents and purposes, Nieves Barragan and José Etura have dropped a little bit of Spain into Mayfair. Three little bits, in fact – the counter, the upstairs El Asador and the bar complement one another wonderfully, while maintaining their own personalities. The bar is my current favourite – mostly because of THAT shrimp dish with fried egg – but that’ll probably change next time I sit at the counter.
2. CLAW – 21 Kingly St, Soho, London W1B 5QA
It’s easy to forget that CLAW only opened their Soho operation in January. Thanks to their street food presence – and their stint at Broadgate – they’ve been a very welcome part of London life for a while. The Crab roll gets a lot of entirely justified attention, ditto the crab on fries – exactly what they sound like – but the Trout Reuben should not be overlooked.
1. Brat – 4 Redchurch St, London E1 6JL
Whether it’s testament to the style of London’s dining preferences or Michelin waking up to the fact that there’s dining beyond the white tablecloths and formality, three of the places listed here have stars: Sabor, HIDE and Tomos Parry’s Brat, which is sort of “modern British meets the best of Basque cooking and some other stuff” and is ALL delicious. Seriously, if you can read that menu and find something you don’t want to eat, I’d be very, very surprised. Much is made of the big ticket grill items – and the Turbot is off-the-charts good – but a graze through the smaller plates, such as Young Leeks and Fresh Cheese, Spider Crab Salad or the remarkable Mussels and Trotter Sauce, will leave you very happy too.