If you want to feel like you’re at a Greek wedding, or any Greek celebration for that matter, Elysee is the place to go. By halfway through the evening of a weekend, the plate smashing starts, by 1130pm there’s a rather raucous dancefloor going on – don’t say we didn’t warn you. The food is typical Greek fare: mezze starters and for mains, grilled meats or seafood. It’s all perfectly well cooked, but the food isn’t really the point. Everyone at Elysee has come to party. And they do. The fun goes on until the early hours, punctuated only by visits to the heated smoking area on the roof. We hear midweek dinners are more tame and there is a reasonably priced set lunch, but then again, where’s the fun in that?
Drake’s Tabanco does a good job for transporting you wet and windy London to a relaxed tavern somewhere in Spain. Think white-washed walls, narrow wooden tables, leather banquettes, dangling jamon and free-flowing fino. This blink-and-you’d-miss-it spot discretely tucked away off Charlotte street does high quality tapas with a Northern twist – think mackerel pâté or gravadlax tossed in there with your pig cheeks and piquillo peppers. After all, it is inspired by that most English of rascals, Sir Frances Drake, who supposedly first introduced sherry to the British Isles. Thanks Sir Frances. The mood is ultra laid back (redolent of lazy lunches, siestas and long dinners), but the service is still prompt and super friendly. The crowds don’t seem to have cottoned on quite yet, plus you can book, so get in there while you can.
Berners Tavern is a bit of a showstopper. But would you expect any less from a collaboration between hotelier extraordinaire Ian Schrager and darling of the kitchen, Jason Atherton? You would not. Let’s start with jaw-dropping decor – we mean, this room oozes glamour from the sexed-up stucco (yes, that’s right, sexy stucco) to the dangling chandeliers (which also happen to shine the most flattering of lighting). Then you have the food, which is more than fitting of the fabulous ambience. The menu has mediterranean undertones, but that hardly matters because you’re just going to want to gobble it all up anyway. The operation is slick from start to finish so don’t be surprised when this place becomes the hippest hangout in London.
In this modern era of social media and self-promotion it’s rare not to find a place blare out its presence from multiple platforms. But while some wage Twitter campaigns, Picture just gets on with making great food. Arbutus and Wild Honey alums Colin Kelly and Alan Christie head up the kitchen which serves small plates that have an uncanny knack of hitting the spot in all kinds of interesting, fusion-y ways. Think Lebanese fried chicken with yogurt and sumac, meatloaf with tomatoes and white peach and slow-poached egg with mushroom marmalade. Best of all, they don’t charge an arm and a leg for a few mini plates of risotto. You could easily leave full for £30 a head, and that’s with a glass of wine to see you on your way. This place won’t stay under the radar for long, so shimmy on down before the crowds cotton on!
Bonnie Gull has all the charm of a classic British beachside shack, without all the hassle involved with getting out of London on the weekend. Whitewashed walls, distressed wooden fixtures and of course the de rigeur blackboard transport you from the urban jungle to the seaside. There are some killer cocktails on offer if your imagination needs a little helping hand with that part. The cooking’s pretty simple, which lets the fresh, British and sustainable ingredients on the menu shine through. The seafood platter is a heaving delight of crustaceous goodness, while the fish and chips won’t be as kind to your waistline, but tastes just as good. If you don’t fancy heading into central, there’s now a second branch in Exmouth Market, perfect for a weekend visit.
Fancy dinners served by suited waiters on crisp, white tablecloths are all very well, but sometimes what you really want is a good dollop of comfort food. That tastes bloody amazing. In a nice place. In central London. Where you don’t have to queue for bloody hours for a table. Not much to ask for really, right? We didn’t think so either, which is why we love Newman Street Tavern so much. The seasonal menu of modern British food is like a reassuring hug full of old-school classics, perfectly executed, mind you. Do not, we repeat, do not skip dessert here. You’re comfort eating after all (with sophistication which means the calories don’t count). You should take the dessert injunction particularly to heart if the almond tart is on the menu. It’s better than a cup of tea and a nice, warm bath.
Beige is kind of a dominant colour at Lima; the walls, the booths, the reflection of the walls and booths in the artfully hung mirrors. It’s a study in the very tasteful, but slightly bland. It’s funny, because when it comes to the food, exotic doesn’t really cover it – we didn’t understand half the things on the menu – but definitely don’t let the weird and wonderful descriptions put you off. The food is interesting, but it’s not going to give your taste buds a shock and a lot of the flavours will be familiar and the staff are more than happy to fill in the clueless (ahem, uninitiated). You’re encouraged to order a selection of starters to share before moving onto the mains. When we went a couple stood out as really exceptional; soft and chewy octopus on a bed of quinoa with olive mousse and a tender smoked duck with silky-smooth foie gras shavings. The place is kinda pricey, but they do very reasonable lunch and pre-theatre menus for the cash strapped.
Teeny, tiny Fitzrovia restaurant/cafe/deli from a husband-and-wife team and former Ottolenghi chefs (expect a similar array of delectable Middle-Eastern dishes and good looking desserts). Flavours are exciting, exotic ingredients are used innovatively, and what’s more the place is pretty reasonably priced. Slow-cooked lamb is a melt-in the-mouth, home run of a dish, as is crispy, crispy skinned chicken with the tang of pomegranate molasses. In fact, there’s not a dish on the menu that won’t have you salivating. Tables are close together and the shoebox-space can get a little cramped, but at least they take bookings for the prime-time lunch spots. We’ll admit that like Ottolenghi, this is not dude food, but c’est la vie….more for the ladies.
Creep behind the curtain at the back of Bubbledogs for an altogether different dining experience. While punters queue out the door to squeeze into the tiny corridor-like space for hotdogs and champagne, ‘&’ – as the super-intimate chef’s table tucked in the back is known – is where husband-and-wife team James Knappett and Sandia Chang can show off the skills they learned working in kitchens at the French Laundry and Ledbury. In fact, after the hubbub of Bubbledogs, stepping into ‘&’ is like stepping into another world. Diners sit round a horseshoe bar looking into a state-of-the-art kitchen where chefs and wait-staff perform an elaborate dance all evening serving up course after course of exquisite food. Squishy leather bar stools, soft lighting and exposed wooden walls cosy up the industrial kitchen at the centre of the room and big smiles mean being so close to the chefs is exciting rather than intimidating. There’s just one menu, eleven courses long, and it doesn’t give much away. Each course described by its main component and nothing else until one of the chefs explains it right after its been placed in front of you. Guessing what’s going on as you watch the food being plated up is half the fun though. The place has just 19 covers a night in two sittings, though there is talk of opening for lunch in the future. And don’t worry, no one will judge you if you stop to pick up a hot dog on the way out. We asked.
We were dubious about the kooky concept behind bubbledogs. Don’t get us wrong, we love a bit of bubbly and we LOVE a good dawg, but the two together? Messing with our minds a little bit. A few glasses of bubbly in, on the other hand, we just couldn’t get enough of the stuff. We were scarfing hot dogs like there was no tomorrow, and feeling gooood. Maybe the slick New York-style décor had something to do with it. The place oozes understated cool from the attractive bar staff behind the well-stocked bar to the exposed brick wall hung with dinky dog drawings and stripped down wood floors. Perched on one of the expensive-looking bar stools surrounded by a well-heeled Fitzrovia crowd, glass of bubbly in hand of course, it’s pretty easy to feel pretty good about yourself. The menu is written artfully on a blackboard above the bar; a choice of around 12 dogs (pork, beef or veggie), good luck picking just one. One word of warning, don’t go if you’re fed up of waiting for your food. The queue is as out of this world as the concept.