In London, love and scandal are considered the best sweeteners of tea.
- John Osborne
Here's what you won't get: frills, booze, or fancy surroundings. Here's what you will: exceptional Syrian cuisine at incredibly low prices. (They also own Damas Gate, the wholesale supermarket nearby.) A second, more central location is just north of Hyde Park (28 Edgware Rd., W2 2DZ; +44-020-7224-8382).
Cozy, quiet, romantic, rustic, quirky. Pretty much what you'd expect from an establishment that also runs an antique print shop. The menu is Mediterranean, the wine list is noteworthy, and it's always crowded, so don't forget reservations.
Cool tapas in a skeek Soho setting. Carefully sourced but not fussy ingredients, with an especially nice selection of Spanish cold meats. No reservations, but the reliably lively crowd makes the inevitable wait for a perch at the bar counter more tolerable.
There's plenty of action and sophistication underfoot in Picadilly, a touristy neighborhood rarely known for its elegance. At street level, there's the casual ZL Cafe. Downstairs, the grand and opulent Brasserie Zédel serves classic French fare at wallet-friendly prices. For more after-sunset action, have cocktails at Bar Américain, and catch cabaret and jazz at The Crazy Coqs. In case it looks familiar, this is another production from the team behind the Wolseley.
An airy and free-spirited restaurant on Columbia Road from the owners of the also excellent Terroirs in Covent Garden. It's getting a lot of attention for its excellent big-flavored food (lots of charcuterie and pig) and wines. Read the FATHOM Postcard.
It's over the top, glamorous, and potentially ludicrous. Which is what makes it so fantastic. The well-heeled crowd comes for the people-watching and for Italian classics like veal Milanese and pappardelle with lamb ragu.
Heston Blumenthal is one of the world's most influential and experimental chefs, and his flagship in Bray, The Fat Duck, is a singularly transformative meal. His new outpost at the Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park is not, probably because he has to cater to a more touristy and business-y clientele. But the food is prepared with his signature skill and panache, with historical references throughout the menu.
A small but airy wine and food bar with excellent Spanish fare, mostly in sandwich-y form. Around the corner at 73 Beak Street is their cafe, which serves pastries and coffee.
A grand and glorious spot for a drinks or dinner, especially if you're hopping the Eurostar to the Continent. It feels like you've stepped back in time, from the ornate, Victorian-era ceilings designed by Sir Gilbert Scott to the speciality cocktails and chef Marcus Wareing's menu of refined bistro fare.
Everybody loves J Sheekey, the theater district seafood restaurant that never goes out of style. There's a high likelihood that someone famous will be across the low-ceiling dining room having classic Dover sole. That's par for the course in Richard Caring's buzzy Caprice restaurant empire, which also includes The Ivy in West End, Le Caprice in Picadilly, and Scott's in Mayfair. If you can't get into J Sheeky, try the Oyster Bar next door.
London is crazy for Spanish food, and it's at its best at Moro, where farm-fresh food is prepared with Ibero-Arabic flair by the married chefs, Samuel and Samantha Clark. If you can't get into Moro, try Morito, their tapas bar next door at 32 Exmouth Market. And by the way, their cookbooks makes for a great souvenir.
Israeli chef Yotam Ottolenghi, of Ottolenghi deli fame, now has a proper restaurant in Soho, or, more precisely, "Nopi" for "north of Piccadilly." The menu is, of course, Middle Eastern, with an emphasis on shared plates. Reservations are a must.
If there was a heaven for salads and prepared foods, it would look like the spread at this airy, casual Notting Hill restaurant, the perfect spot for lunch or a tea-time snack.
By popular demand, there are three other outposts:
Islington: 287 Upper St., N1 2TZ, +44-020-7288-1454
Kensington: 1 Holland St., W8 4NA, +44-020-7937-0003
Belgravia: 3 Motcomb St., SW1X 8LB, +44-020-7823-2707
A small, charming, and very delicious Venetian-style restaurant ("bacaro") serving small plates ("cichetti") like crostini, meatballs, and fritto misto in Canaletto's former home. Reservations are only accepted at lunch; dinner is first-come, first-served. If you have to wait (and you will), the Campari Bar downstairs isn't a bad place to do so. Or try their other locations in Covent Garden (6 Maiden Lane, WC2E 7NA, +44-020-7836) or Smithfield (3 Cowcross St., EC1M 6DR, +44-020-7250-0034).
The one, the only, the legendary. The light and airy riverfront restaurant created by Ruth Rogers and Rose Gray is where the English fell in love with casual Italian cuisine and where many now-famous chefs (like Jamie Oliver, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, and April Bloomfield) learned to cook it.
The tucked-away Shoreditch restaurant is a favorite of in-the-know foodies. Housed in a former bike shed and overlooking a playground, the focus is on fresh ingredients cooked simply and purely for breakfast, lunch, and tea. When it's warm, sit outside.
The sceney sushi and robata restaurant in Soho, an offshoot of perennial favorite Zuma, is one of London's best Japanese restaurants. It's a little clubby and a little noisy, but the food is great. If you're in a real party mood, take your action to Shochu Lounge in the basement.
Chef Fergus Henderson spawned the modern nose-to-tail dining craze from here, making this and the new Spitalfields Market outpost, St. John Bread and Wine, a must-stop on any foodie tour of London. Not for the faint-hearted who don't want to see duck hearts on a menu.
The room is a beautifully ostentatious showpiece, and everyone here acts like they're on display, too. The vibe is clubby and buzzy and very aren't-we-doing-well-for-ourselves, which is meant as high praise. The menu covers brasserie classics like steak frites, duck confit, a towers of oysters. If you forgot to make a reservation, you can snag a table in the cozy front room cafe.
When you crave pork and prawn shui mai and crispy aromatic duck, this is dim sum heaven. The sister restaurant to Hakkasan, it accommodates everyone, with a mellow upstairs for having conversations and a bustling downstairs basement for the fun and trendy. Don't forget the macaroons for desert.
It's a scene at the see-and-be-seen perennial in Knightsbridge, but don't let that distract you from the divine Japanese/Asian menu. Reservations may be impossible, but a party of one can easily get a seat at the sushi bar. Courage, grasshopper.