With so many amazing restaurants to choose from in London, it can be hard to narrow down the places that really deserve your money. Here are the spots that make the cut. Ranging from blow-the-budget expensive to mind-meltingly cheap, if you eat at these restaurants, you’re guaranteed to have a memorable meal.
Restaurant, Japanese, $$$
We’re almost reluctant to recommend this establishment, as it’s already hard enough to get a table here. With a very small sushi counter the only seating, and no way to book apart from ringing the required phone number on a specific day and at a specific time, it’s frankly a nightmare to book. But you realise it’s worth hitting redial 50 times as soon as the first piece of sushi is placed in front of you. For somewhere so exclusive, it’s not fancy – in fact, it’s best to roll up in the type of clothes you wear to work every day. But it is unequivocally the best sushi in London. You choose your relatively affordable set menu, and then sit back and stuff your face as piece after piece of flawless sushi with warm rice and sashimi is placed in front of you. Definitely order the seared fatty tuna nigiri and the salmon sashimi.
River Café serves up the best unassuming, flawlessly sourced and beautifully prepared Italian food in London. Also some of the most expensive, so balance how much you value one of the best meals of your life against a groaning bank balance. Set in a slightly unlikely location on the bank of the Thames in Hammersmith, the River Café was opened in 1987 by Ruth Rogers and Rose Gray as an employee café of the architectural partnership owned by Lord Rogers, Ruth’s husband, who also designed the restaurant.The bright, white room with neon accents is slightly at odds with the traditional Italian food served within, but there isn’t a bum note on the entire menu, which changes daily depending on produce and is written in an elegant, sloping script. Classics include the squid with red chilli and the tomato pasta (you can request pastas in half portions, FYI), but any offering will be impeccably cooked and presented. Order the turbot, the lobster pasta and the almond tart, which almost prompts tears of joy. In summer, request a table outside to watch the sun set over the river. And always order a grappa to go with your dolci.
This grand, European-style café and restaurant feels like the definition of a London institution, but it actually opened only in 2003. Located in the heart of Piccadilly, the imposing building is home to a chic, traditional room of dark wooden tables and waiters dresses in black and white. The menu is extensive and provides succour to everyone from whiskered old businessmen to teenybopper Instagram influencers, running the gamut from kedgeree and smoked kippers to green juice and icing sugar-dusted Danish pastries. Open all day, it’s great for any meal – although if you’re there for dinner, Culture Trip strongly recommends the steak tartare and the millefeuille. (Tip: they do pudding to take away if you’re too full to squeeze in one more mouthful.)
Tiny, packed and kept always warm by the enormous grill in the open kitchen, The Barbary is a gem in the heart of Covent Garden. The owners come from a nightclub background, and as soon as you step inside the small space, you can tell that you’ll have a great time here. You’ll probably have to wait for a table, so order an expertly mixed drink from the short menu and begin planning your order. The descriptions can be slightly short and esoteric, so ask the fantastically knowledgeable staff for a hand if you need one. The food takes inspiration from the former Barbary Coast (Morocco, Algeria, Libya and Tunisia), so it’s a wide mix. The vegetables are stellar, with fattoush being a standout – but hearts have been stolen bythe Jerusalem bagel, a U-shape of chewy white bread boiled, baked and encrusted with oily, delicious sesame seeds. It comes with zaatar, a spice mix, for dipping.
It’s over the top and ridiculously decadent, but this is a list of the best restaurants in London, not the most restrained, and Park Chinois is a place that everyone should experience at least once. Stepping inside this luxuriously outfitted spot is like stepping into your childhood dream of what a fancy restaurant looks like. There’s velvet. There are mirrors. There are drapes. There’s lighting that makes everyone look broodingly beautiful, and there’s gold aplenty. It’s not above laughing at itself, so it’s not ridiculous, even though the level of tackiness is high. No request is too small for the impeccably polite waiters. The sea urchin and the udon carbonara are the pinnacle of what’s on offer, but the famous crispy duck is definitely worth ordering – it’s as incredible as you hope. Live music is played most nights and the bar is hopping, so you can make a night of it.
Honey and Co is one of those places you wish would open in your neighbourhood. The embodiment of charming, it’s open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Every bite you take here is quietly amazing. The menu is fresh and changes frequently but riffs on a theme of Middle Eastern. There are lots of vegetables, interesting spices and yoghurt. The vibe is super-friendly and relaxed, while still being celebratory. Definitely order the sharing platter of starters and always leave room for the feta and honey cheesecake, which is served on a bed of deep-fried pastry soaked in honey.
A true London icon, St John pioneered the concept of nose-to-tail eating before anyone else was even murmuring about it, and the British dishes it serves are consistently flawless. Reliably classic – think wooden chairs, white walls and good lighting – it’s quietly been doing amazing things to food since 1994. We don’t advise non-meat eaters to come here, as they won’t be very well served, but enthusiastic carnivores will be delighted. Expect familiar cuts of meat served in fantastically imaginative ways, such as grilled ox heart and pheasant and trotter pie. Do order the bone marrow and parsley salad, and finish with a baked-to-order madeleine.
From the outside, The Sichuan looks like every neighbourhood Chinese restaurant you’ve ever seen. The decor is limited to a few red wall hangings and a mirror, and the menu is laminated. But order anything from that menu and you’ll soon be gushing as lyrically about the food as your pores will be gushing sweat from the amount of chilli and Sichuan peppercorns you’ve ingested. The menu descriptions are spare, so just put your faith in the kitchen, because there’s not a bad dish to be had. If you’re in a group, the enormous fish served draped in a fiery blanket of chillis is a unmissable option, and the lotus root is an underrated side dish. It’s not pretty and it’s not refined, but it is endlessly tasty and relatively inexpensive. Truly some of the best Chinese food in London, and comes with bragging rights when no one you know has ever heard of it.