HIX Mayfair, Brown’s Hotel (British)
HIX Mayfair celebrates British food and art. Executive Chef, Lee Streeton and Director of Food, Mark Hix, have created an outstanding menu featuring great British seasonal dishes, using carefully sourced ingredients. The A La Carte Menu changes every two weeks and includes a daily dish from the trolley. A set menu is also available and changes daily, ensuring only the finest, freshest, seasonal ingredients are used throughout. The restaurant features wood-panelling, colourful banquettes and an amazing collection of artwork by leading British artists, including Tracey Emin, Michael Landy, John Rankin, Fiona Rae, Tim Noble and Sue Webster. A small cocktail bar adds to the lively atmosphere of the restaurant and The Donovan Bar within Brown's Hotel is also available for pre- and post-dinner drinks.
The Guinea Grill, 30 Bruton Place (British)
Not much changes at this Mayfair stalwart & that’s just the way swarms of fans seem to like it: ‘you know what you get’, ‘nothing fancy’ but ‘superbly executed’, ‘good-value’ food coupled with ‘fantastic service’. The bar tends to be thronging both at lunchtime and post-work with smart types sipping pints of ale. The dining, in all its topsy-turvy glory (tightly packed tables, jumbled paintings and assorted ornaments), is focused on steaks (rump, sirloin or fillet) and other carnivorous fare. Roast rack of lamb with herb crust and rosemary jus is ‘highly recommended’, the steak and kidney pie was crowned Steak Pie of the Century in 2000.
The Only Running Footman, 5 Charles Street (Gastro Pub)
Mayfair suffers from a dearth of quality mid-market eateries and this restored townhouse from the team behind The Bull in Highgate and The House in Islington has quickly proved a hit. The bustling ground-floor pub offers casual dining from a daily changing menu of traditional British classics, including beer-battered fish and chips alongside real ales like Wells Bombardier. The intimate upstairs dining room features luxuriously upholstered seating, smart napery and an upmarket British menu of gastropub favourites alongside more adventurous dishes. A meal might kick off with generously portioned starters of buttery tagliatelle with langoustine, or sweet red onion and crumbly goats’ cheese tart. To follow crisp-skinned slow-roast Gloucester Old Spot pork comes with a dinky jug of marjoram jus poured at the table: a nice touch. There are comforting desserts such as Christ Church college pudding, a soft, cakey tart filled with deliciously creamy lemon curd. The decent wine selection includes trendy Austrian, Grüner Veltliner. This unpretentious place is already very popular, so book ahead.
Scott’s, 20 Mount Street (Seafood)
This legendary fish restaurant – which dates back to 1851 – has been relaunched by Caprice Holdings (The Ivy, J Sheekey et al). Vast sums have been lavished on the interiors during a lengthy revamp & the results are stunning: leather banquettes, twinkly lighting, a central crustacea bar in the style of a turn-of-the century cruise liner, crisp table linen and the best silver cutlery create a sophisticated, grown-up setting. Happily, the sexy surrounds are matched by top-notch food, which majors in fish. It was difficult to fault anything we tried on a recent visit, from scallops with chilli and garlic – perfectly cooked and prettily presented in their shells – to steamed fillet of John Dory partnered with a sauce laden with mussels and clams. Dover sole with brown shrimp butter was also peerless and comfort-focused desserts, too, had us groaning with delight, particularly vanilla-specked rice pudding with mulled winter fruits. The wine list has been carefully put together to complement the menu and, while service currently suffers from minor glitches, we’re sure these will soon be ironed out. Make no mistake, this is a very exciting launch and we’ll be going back – as often as our bank balance allows.
Automat, 33 Dover Street (American)
Rather like Mayfair’s answer to The Ivy, Automat combines comfortably polished surrounds with reasonably priced comfort food. Billed as an ‘American brasserie’, the flexible menu ranges from brunches (eggs Benedict, ham and cheese omelette) and light lunches (Niçoise salad, turkey-on-rye sandwich) to full-blown meals of crab cakes with guacamole, baked sea bass with clams and crème brûlée. We enjoyed both our recent lunch and dinners tremendously: macaroni cheese had soft pasta tubes in a creamy, cheesy sauce topped by a crispy crust of Comté, while soft-shell crab with lemon and parsley was the height of simplicity and all the better for it, the deep-fried shellfish bursting with fresh flavour. For main, a hanger steak was cooked rare to order, its bloody juices mopped up by thin, crunchy French fries, with a good dollop of béarnaise for dunking, while roast lamb with polenta and courgettes was equally robust and satisfying, the meat young, tender and benefiting from liberal use of herbs. Large portions mean there’s little room for the signature dessert of Mississippi mud pie, but a marginally lighter option is the top-notch cheesecake. Non smokers or those wanting privacy get to sit in a moody, dark wood and black leather corridor that resembles a railway carriage, though most of the seating is in a light, bright white-tiled room behind.
Tom’s Kitchen, 27 Cale Street (Brasserie)
The comfort’s in the eating rather than the seating at Tom Aikens’ new informal diner, where deliciously simple cooking is served in cramped surrounds, dominated by communal tables with benches. Its bustling, high-decibel atmosphere is lots of fun and all-day opening hours make for relaxed dining. A lengthy menu offers anything from breakfasts and kids’ meals to classic fish, meat and poultry dishes, with casseroles, charcuterie, sandwiches and pies making up the oft-changing specials. Although the friendly service was still finding its feet on our early visit, there was no faulting the expertly turned-out likes of butternut squash soup with cheesy croutons and meltingly tender duck confit with red wine sauce & fat chips. Those looking for peace and quiet can always book the gorgeous upstairs private room, which seats 24.
The Wolseley, 160 Piccadilly (European)
The Wolseley comes courtesy of restaurateurs Jeremy King & Christopher Corbin, the duo who made the Ivy, Le Caprice & J Sheekey such hot meal tickets before selling them on. European café-style food is the loose culinary theme, from breakfast through to dinner, and the results are generally ‘great’ and of a ‘very high standard’, although blips can occur and some readers write of ‘disappointing dishes’ that are ‘nothing to write home about’. Kick off, perhaps, with five soft-boiled quails’ eggs dribbled with hollandaise sauce atop a crunchy croustade, & follow with a meaty suckling pig edged with crackling so crisp it shatters like enamel. Don’t skip dessert either: a sweet and nutty vacherin mont blanc or an intensely rich chocolate délice are both ‘divine’. There’s no denying the ‘glamour’ and ‘buzzy atmosphere’ of The Wolseley, which draws numerous famous faces daily – ‘it’s a great place for celebrity spotting’.
Foxtrot Oscar, 79 Royal Hospital Road (European/Bistro)
Apparently Gordon Ramsay was a big fan of the original Foxtrot Oscar so it’s surprising to find the place changed almost beyond recognition following his take-over. What was once a scruffy neighbourhood bistro has seen nicotine-stained walls replaced with stark monochrome lines in a thoroughly modern makeover that lacks the warm and welcoming atmosphere of old. But while the surroundings might not encourage thoughts of repeat visits, the rather delicious food is worth returning for. The menu has been cropped but remains full of dishes you’d happily eat every day. A Dublin Bay prawn cocktail was pretty much perfect and, to follow, bangers and mash with rich onion gravy, and cassoulet of Goosnargh duck paired with a hearty bowl of buttered cabbage, were deliciously comforting. Lemon mousse with crumbly shortbread provided a fine ending to a very satisfying meal.
St Alban, Rex House, 4-12 Lower Regent Street (European)
St Alban is the latest opening from Wolseley duo Chris Corbin & Jeremy King and is quite a departure from its nearby sibling. In contrast to The Wolseley’s sexy, high-gloss surrounds, St Alban feels very corporate, from its bright, almost lurid seating to the modern murals of household objects lining the grey walls & frosted glass windows. The food is inspired by the flavours of Italy, Spain & Portugal & kicked off well with a plate of super-fresh olives from Puglia and a delightful selection of bread. Starters maintained the high standards, including tender deep-fried squid wittily served with a shot glass of tartare sauce & a generous shrimp salad with tuna dressing (an inspired take on vitello tonnato). But mains didn’t manage to hit such a high note: slices of steak were perfectly pink but tough in places and their accompanying quenelles of mashed potato tasted almost entirely of truffle rather than the other main ingredient of bone marrow, while char-grilled king prawns with cumin and chickpea mash was on the dull side. Service, however, is absolutely spot on and, with such fine parentage, St Alban has already become winter’s hottest opening, so tables need to be booked well in advance.
Skylon, Southbank Centre, Belvedere Rd (Modern European)
Skylon is the stunningly decorated restaurant and bar complex on the third floor of the Royal Festival Hall, an enviable location that comes complete with floor-to-ceiling windows boasting views over the Thames. Operated by D&D London, it has echoes of the company’s Docklands operation, Plateau, with a fine-dining Restaurant on one side, a brasserie-style Grill on the other, and a Bar on a raised platform between the two. The menus of executive chef Helena Puolakka (ex-Harvey Nichols Fifth Floor) feature both classic and more innovative options. In the Restaurant, this might mean a light but vividly flavoured starter of roast apricots with young girolles and hazelnuts, pea shoot salad and chestnut honey dressing followed by equally accomplished mains. Sea bass cooked in a paper parcel with Iberico ham, baby fennel, olives and puy lentils, for instance, was perfectly timed and brilliantly presented so that a wave of delicious herby steam wafted over the table as the waiting staff opened the parcel tableside. Desserts, such as strawberries and cream, were simpler and less memorable. More straightforward cooking, such as rib-eye steak with shallots and baby spinach, is on offer in the Grill. Service was a little shaky on our visit, but will hopefully shape up over time.
Wild Honey, 12 George Street (Modern European)
Restaurateurs Anthony Demetre and Will Smith have struck gold a second time with this follow-up to Soho’s award-winning Arbutus. If anything, Wild Honey is better. The basic formula is the same – cost-conscious ingredients treated with haute-cuisine craftsmanship; affordable pricing; a wine list entirely available by the carafe as well as bottle – but the surroundings are decidedly swisher, with sombre wood panelling and plaster mouldings offset by modern art and contemporary furniture. A starter of braised pig’s head with potato puree and caramelised onions is a deeply porcine, sticky terrine. To follow, shin of Limousin veal is slow-cooked to the point of collapsing, but outshone by its glorious accompaniment of cavolo nero in a cheesy, creamy sauce. A textbook crème caramel, quivering with richness, provides an impressive finish. But while it all looks and tastes terrific, service hasn’t yet proved so adroit, while instant popularity has brought two-hour table turns and securing a peak-time table can be arduous.
Bumpkin, 209 Westbourne Park Road (Modern European)
The team responsible for this rural-themed newcomer is also behind celeb hotspots Cocoon, Volstead and Boujis so it's no surprise to find that it's a piece of chic rus in urbe rather than an unsophisticated country bumpkin. Spread over three floors, there's a ground-floor casual, all-day dining room and take-away deli, a more refined first-floor restaurant and a top-floor private room. We ate on the ground-floor which, humming with good cheer, is much the most appealing part of the operation. The kitchen uses organic and Fairtrade produce where possible and the results are very good indeed. Dorset crab comes finely flaked in a light, creamy sauce on toast, while fishcakes have chunks of assertively flavoured smoked haddock. To follow, a half duck spiced with tamarind and sumac and a sirloin steak were both cooked to juicy succulence. Desserts are similarly rib-sticking: a dense slab of sticky toffee pudding and a super-sweet apple crumble with custard. To drink, there are excellent cocktails and a wine list with a good amount by the (large) glass.
Maze, 10-13 Grosvenor Square (Modern European)
How’s this for a compliment: ‘If head chef Jason Atherton were Michelangelo, his food would be the Sistine Chapel’? So writes one ardent admirer and there’s been plenty of other praise for what’s the most cutting-edge food in Gordon Ramsay’s restaurant group – and arguably London – right now. Diners can’t seem to get enough of Atherton’s mini dishes, four to eight of which make up a meal. Highlights include wood-roasted pumpkin risotto with aged parmesan and wild mushrooms; sea trout with confit lime, peas, caper and raisin puree; and beef with foie gras, parsley, snail and garlic aligot de marinette (cheesy potato puree). Compliments also pour in for the slick, streamlined decor, wine list and chef’s table, though service comes in for a minor bruising. ‘Rude’, ‘erratic’ and ‘inconsistent’ experiences are reported, though we side with the many who have received good, often charming service. In any case, it’s worth turning a blind-eye to occasional service foibles when faced with masterpieces on the plate.
The Square, Bruton Place (French)
Chef/proprietor of The Square, Philip Howard, is a master of his craft & his ‘delicate’ handling of superb quality ingredients results in ‘consistently amazing food’. Recent triumphs on his ‘always appealing’ menu include a ‘beautifully presented’ salad of quail brought to life with the addition of celeriac, apple & walnuts, & an ‘utterly superb’ main course of herb-crusted saddle of lamb with shallot purée & rosemary. Desserts tend to be simpler in preparation, but are no less satisfying; witness an at once light & sweet summer fruit fool with crushed meringue. The cheeseboard, meanwhile, is ‘out of this world’ & should not be missed – ‘beautiful in its simplicity’. As for service, this tends to be ‘formal’ & ‘attentive’, with the sommeliers singled out for particular praise; most will find their advice essential in tackling what is a mighty but artfully compiled wine list. This isn’t the place for romance, however: the open, airy dining room, with its ‘noisy’ wooden floors & modern artwork, has a somewhat ‘corporate stamp at both lunch & dinner’. That said, the ambience is never stuffy.
L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon, 13-15 West Street (French)
This hotly anticipated restaurant from French super-chef Joël Robuchon joins sister outposts in Paris, New York, Las Vegas and Tokyo. It’s a flashily designed space, where counter seating and an open kitchen focus attention on the food. Full-sized dishes are available, but it’s an expensive series of grazing plates that’s the main draw. Some of these are very good. A ravioli of langoustine, plump as a pin-cushion, was stuffed with sweet shellfish, while foie gras-stuffed quail was splendid & accompanied by Robuchon’s signature dish of truffle-mashed potato, an addictively rich creation rumoured to be 70% butter. But with each mini-plate costing an average of £11, there’s no room for duds and, as well as triumphs, we have experienced disappointments on some visits and occasional heavy-handedness with seasoning. The counter is another drawback: although it gives an impressive view into the kitchen, it makes eating here impractical for groups of more than two, and service has on occasion been less than gracious. The monochrome first-floor dining room, La Cuisine, offers an almost identical menu, but it’s not as sexy a space. The top-floor bar, meanwhile, is great for pre- and post-prandial cocktails.
La Petite Maison, 54 Brooks Mews (French)
On the former Teca site, Zuma & Roka co-owner Arjun Waney has launched La Petite Maison, a sister to the Nice hotspot of the same name. It looks the part, with bright interiors and tables decorated with lemons and tomatoes, and service comes with a Gallic accent, too. Taking its cue from the current trend for grazing, all dishes – be they starters or mains – are intended for sharing and typically a table of two might sample four or five hors d’oeuvres followed by a single main. We enjoyed nearly everything we tried and most dishes were characterised by tip-top ingredients, simply handled. A salad of French beans with foie gras was excellent, and a crab and lobster salad, served on a bed of ice, was packed with juicy shellfish. In comparison, a shared main of sea bass with artichokes, girolles and tomatoes was disappointing – it was a perfectly timed piece of fish, but didn’t deliver such intense flavours as everything we’d had before. But we were delighted by the fab Provencal rosé we drank alongside dinner, from a francophile list that admirably offers 16 wines by the glass.
Alain Ducasse at The Dorchester (French)
The name of Alain Ducasse above the door should guarantee that the capital’s committed foodies will be beating a path to the new dining room at The Dorchester, where the French superchef has added a UK outpost to his global portfolio of restaurants. They’ll find a spacious room tastefully done out in shades of beige, and food that is as technically accomplished as it is enjoyable. To start, ‘squid bonbons’ involve parcels of crunchy vegetables encased in thin strips of squid, while main courses include a succulent poached Landes chicken breast in a sumptuously rich Albufera sauce of truffle, mushroom, Madeira and foie gras. Presentation is superb: the selection of cheeses and chutneys arrives on a china tray, each served in its own compartment. The downside, unsurprisingly, is prices – £75 for the three-course à la carte and £115 for the seven-course tasting menu – which seem unnecessarily steep, particularly given that the language limitations of some of the staff can lead to glitches in service.
Hibiscus, 29 Maddox Street (French)
Hibiscus’s chef-proprietor Claude Bosi has uprooted not only his Michelin-starred restaurant from Ludlow to London but also many of his staff, including wife Claire, who looks after front-of-house. It’s been a successful transplant: the wood-panelled, green-grey dining room has an intimacy lacking from other restaurants operating at a similarly elevated level, while on the food front Shropshire’s loss is most definitely London’s gain for diners looking to have their senses challenged by ingeniously inventive cooking. The delicate flavour of lamb sweetmeat (aka testicle) croquettes is thrown into sharp relief by the strident brininess of an oyster tartare, while the sweet and sour stickiness of an apple tart is paired with the almost earthy-tasting smoothness of lentil and ginger ice-cream. It’s not all so arresting: grilled rack of rose veal has the velvety softness implied by the name and is accompanied by a homely vegetable fricassée. The wine list, which runs to over 500 bins, holds equal interest.
Cecconi’s, 5a Burlington Gardens (Italian)
The past few months have seen some big changes at this long-standing Mayfair Italian restaurant with new owners & a glitzy makeover resulting in a bright new look - black & white marble floors, lurid green chairs & Venetian mirrors have replaced the formerly moody brown & beige colour scheme. Its opening hours are different, too, with the chi-chi Bond Street locals now just as welcome for breakfast, morning coffee, afternoon snacks or early evening nibbles & drinks, as they are for lunch & dinner. In keeping with the all-day-dining operation, the menu has become a more relaxed affair (and is pretty fairly priced for this corner of Mayfair) with sandwiches, salads & light bites on offer alongside more substantial Italian classics. Among the latter, the best results are to be found among the simpler dishes - vitello tonnato is well flavoured & satisfying, as are the various pasta options, and turbot with grilled vegetables is a good light option. Ossobuco with saffron risotto, in contrast, could have benefited from more cooking - both the meat & the rice needed longer in their respective pots. Still, there are no hard feelings as service remains as slick as it always was & there's a truly lovely buzz about the place.
Luciano, 72 St James’s Street (Italian)
After several years as a boarded-up site, the former location of Suntory has reopened as an Italian restaurant. Marking a collaboration between two legends of the UK hospitality scene, Marco Pierre White & Rocco Forte, it's a thoroughly glamorous and grown-up affair. The interiors come courtesy of über-designer David Collins & he's excelled himself: the bar at the front of the operation involves eye-catching mosaic floors, sumptuous leather seating and a sparkly backbar, while the dining room is more formal with original artworks wherever you look and plenty of white linen. The food lives up to the surrounds and is characterised by top-quality ingredients served relatively simply. A calf's tongue salad makes a delicious opener, the delightfully tender meat set off by a sweet-sharp dressing, while equally good at main is roast halibut sat atop a pile of cavolo nero and smothered with a rich porcini mushroom sauce.
Sumosan, Albemarle Street (Japanese)
The enormous front window of this large, airy Japanese restaurant is decorated with a stunning screen of coloured glass, while the appealing nude-toned interior makes a relaxing setting, and there’s a chic-looking bar in the basement. We were recently left impressed with the cooking, finding presentation clean & flavours refined & enjoying meltingly soft rock shrimp tempura, moist-fleshed grilled sea bass, tender lamb chops with a punchy mustard sauce and some creative sushi and at these prices, there’s no margin for error. The wine list is comprehensive, but with heavy mark-ups. Set menus at lunch are where to find the bargains, but you’ll encounter good-natured service whenever you choose to visit.
Nobu Berkeley, 15 Berkeley Street (Japanese)
Anyone hoping for a carbon copy of the Michelin-starred Nobu set inside the Metropolitan hotel may be rather disappointed with this new sibling, as it boasts a personality entirely its own. One major difference is that it has a no-bookings policy for groups of less than six people – just pitch up and wait at the ground-floor bar till a table becomes free upstairs – and virtually all the dishes have been freshly created by owner Nobu Matsuhisa and executive chef Mark Edwards specifically for this site. What this restaurant does have in common with its older sister, however, is that it’s a magnet for the young, beautiful and wealthy of London who are coming in their droves (350 diners a night is the norm). The place is beautifully designed in light, soft colours and from the most tactile materials (leather to sit on, silk on the walls) and boasts a terrifically buzzy atmosphere. As for the food, it is generally top-notch. From roasted, salted giant edamame beans with an aperitif to a nicely feisty watercress salad, and from sweet, succulent seared toro with yuzu miso to shredded cabbage cooked in the wood oven and topped with generous shavings of truffle. The Nobu Berkeley experience doesn’t come cheap, but for treats, it’s well worth considering.
Hakkasan, 8 Hanway Place (Chinese)
It may be four years old but Hakkasan is still a magnet for the in-crowd. The location, down ‘a narrow, mysterious street’, adds to the ‘wow factor’ that’s achieved by the restaurant’s ‘beautiful design’. The big basement room is divided into a funky bar serving ‘wicked cocktails’ & the main dining room, itself divided into smaller areas by carved screens providing a sense of privacy. The ‘superb’ and ‘inventive’ food, meanwhile, is unlike any other London Chinese restaurant – grilled Wagyu beef with soya, or braised organic pork belly in five spice with woodear mushroom, or the house special of roasted silver cod with Champagne & Chinese honey. But the skill of the kitchen is best demonstrated by the afternoon dim sum, which sees the standard dumpling repertoire reinvented with an inimitable lightness of touch. As with any fashionable, trophy restaurant (Hakkasan has a Michelin star), there are always gripes: chief here are that it’s ‘so very noisy and smoky’, has rigidly-enforced, two-hour time slots, service that ranges from ‘friendly and professional’ to ‘surly and dismissive’ and eye-watering prices that make some think Hakkasan is ‘completely overrated’. ‘The bad things do deter’, admittedly, but ‘the good things are good enough to make it really worth going back’.
Yauatcha, 15 Broadwick Street (Chinese)
The hullabaloo Yauatcha caused when it first opened in spring 2004 still hasn’t died down. It continues to operate an irritating two-hour table policy and staff can be a touch unfriendly, but there are still plenty of reasons to be cheerful with fans raving about the glam surrounds and, most importantly, some of the finest dim sum to be found in the capital. Sure, there’s the odd duff dish – pan-fried turnip cakes were a little too sweet on one visit – but on the whole you’re guaranteed a feast, whatever you choose. Sweet and peppery roast venison puffs always kick-start a meal nicely, asparagus cheung fun (slippery rolls of pastry filled with crunchy green veg) sound dull but are delicious, har gau come stuffed full of juicy prawns, and the plump sea bass dumplings are gloriously crowned with salted egg. Noodle dishes such as tasty beef ho fun are on hand for those with larger appetites. Such is Yauatcha’s popularity that full meals are now not only served in the twinkly basement dining room, but also in the street-level tea room, where an array of dinky cakes line the windows offering sweet temptation, too.
Nobu, Berkeley Street (Japanese)
One issue has got diners distinctly hot under the collar at this younger sister of Nobu in recent months: the service. Complainants list ‘rushed’, ‘abrupt’, ‘tutting’ and ‘rude’ service and one even goes so far as to argue that ‘the attitude and manner of staff wouldn’t be permitted in a petrol station’. This is a great pity as there’s so much else to please: the chic, airy, good looks, a terrific buzz, and the food – different to that at Nobu and Ubon – that is generally excellent. There’s top-notch sushi and sashimi or ceviche and salads to start, while mains include specialities from the wood oven, such as cabbage steak with truffles (better than it sounds) or whole poussin with spicy lemon garlic. We also highly rate the crispy pork belly with spicy miso and the king crab claw tempura with ama ponzu. Group meals at the hibachi tables always seem to go with a swing. Let’s just hope the waiting staff pull their socks up, as the automatic 15% service charge currently feels very steep.
Sake No Hana, 23 St James’s Street (Japanese)
Make no mistake: this new restaurant from Alan Yau is no Japanese re-run of his groundbreaking (and recently sold) Chinese, Hakkasan. The inspiration is an izakaya, the low-seating sake bars where workers gather to drink and graze and, although the cedar-wood decor is striking, it’s also rather austere. Food comes from a long and hard-to-navigate menu, on which portion sizes are unclear (some dishes feed four, others are just enough for one) and ingredients a long way from the Western-friendly assemblies of Zuma and Nobu. Hits include the sweet and salty flavours of marinated lotus root salad, braised pork rib in a tangy broth with sugar snap peas and carrots, and stonkingly fresh sushi and sashimi. But the flavours of Chilean sea bass with miso and ginkgo nut were muted and udon noodles covered in an icy broth were cold and unpleasant. Yau’s refusal to conform to expectations is to be applauded, but the high prices are hard to swallow given the mixed quality of the food. Champagne and cocktails aside, the drinks list is entirely focussed on sake.
Zuma, 5 Raphael Street (Japanese)
Zuma’s famously ‘electric atmosphere’ is as much of an attraction as its sensational interpretation of Japanese cooking and it’s easy to see why so many still regard this as ‘the best restaurant in London’. Sure, it’s ‘noisy and showy’ but the ‘consistently well cooked and presented food’ remains among the most thrilling the capital has to offer. A lengthy menu ensures there’s plenty of scope to experiment but we keep turning back to the trusted favourites – edamame in chilli, garlic and soy; beef tataki; spider crab sushi rolls; and grilled chicken wings with lime and sea salt. The small dishes do add up, particularly when you factor in stiffly priced drinks, but then again you’re paying for the wow factor of dining in one of the defining restaurant experiences of noughties London. Service can occasionally be a fly in the ointment, with complaints about lengthy waits reaching our ears. Nevertheless, we find ourselves agreeing with the majority who think Zuma is ‘worth every penny’.
Wine Notes: Alessandro Marchesan has fashioned a fine list to complement Zuma’s challenging menu. There are plenty of fragrant whites and soft reds and, most importantly, an extensive range by the glass – essential when you’re indulging in one of the tasting menus.
Benares, 12 Berkeley Square House (Indian)
Named after India’s most sacred city, Benares represents Atul Kochhar’s first venture as a chef-proprietor – not that he’s inexperienced on the London dining-out scene having previously won a Michelin star at nearby Tamarind. Here Kochhar has created a ‘peaceful’ and ‘elegant’ setting with water pools, low lighting & smart furnishings acting as the backdrop to his ‘amazing’ cooking. Kochhar draws influences & ingredients from across the subcontinent &, together with his own innovation, the results are often ‘sublime’ as in jal tarang, a salad of scallops & prawns with grapes in a mint & ginger dressing that bursts with fresh, vibrant flavours. Lamb shank with coriander & chillies is more familiar but equally adept, the meat tender & juicy & the spicing carefully judged. Other recommendations include all the kebabs, which are beautifully succulent, & the tandoori guinea fowl, which like everything else is served by ‘friendly’ and ‘top-class’ staff.