The following ten restaurants, though, are long-term favourites that always delight and satisfy and that I've visited multiple times over the past few years. I tried to keep the list diverse — in terms of cuisine, location and price — but as regular readers know, I spend a lot of time in Soho, King's Cross and South London and have a fondness for burgers, pizza, brunch, steak and Italian food; my top ten definitely reflects these preferences. Some of the ten now have more than one branch, in which case, my favourite location is listed. Scroll to the end of the post for a handy map version.
Burger & Lobster — multiple locations
It's a fantastic concept for a restaurant: a minimalist menu with just three options (burger, lobster or lobster roll), each of which comes with chips and costs £20. It makes for an expensive — but excellent and substantial — burger, while the lobster is a great bargain. The cocktails and puddings are good too and there are enough branches now (including a few overseas outposts) to mean that you don't usually have to queue for so long to get a table at peak times.
36 Dean Street, London, W1D 4PS (Tube: Tottenham Court Road).
Full reviews: burger and lobster.
Caravan — King's Cross and Clerkenwell
I've worked in King's Cross since 2010 and the day that Caravan opened up its second location in Granary Square, some four years ago, was the day that I knew that King's Cross's fortunes were changing. Caravan is a true all-day Antipodean venue: the breakfast and brunch are top notch, as are the wood-fired pizzas and creative small plates that are served later in the day. They roast their own coffee too and serve single-origin espressos and filters. I'm over the moon that they will soon be opening a south-of-the-river restaurant in Bankside.
1 Granary Square, London, N1C 4AA (Tube: King's Cross).
Hawksmoor — multiple locations
For a superb steak or a beautifully prepared cocktail, look no further than the Hawksmoor restaurants. I tend to save Hawksmoor for special occasions (partly because of the prices), but the food is great quality and portion sizes generous. I also like the way that each branch has its own vibe: Spitalfields is dark and sleek, while the Air Street restaurant just off Regent Street is bright and with lovely art deco touches.
57 Commercial Street, London, E1 6BJ (Tube: Liverpool Street).
Full reviews: Spitalfields restaurant and Regent Street cocktails.
Hixter — Bankside
I could have included several of Mark Hix's London restaurants in this list, but Hixter is currently my favourite. The main menu involves a choice between chicken or steak, although there are a number of different options for each meat. They also do great Sunday roasts and bottomless brunch. More than that, the Bankside Hixter is a hip but relaxed place to linger over a long meal and the staff are exceptionally welcoming.
16 Great Guildford Street, London, SE1 0HS (Tube: Borough or London Bridge).
Honest Burgers — multiple locations
I eat more than my fair share of burgers, but it's difficult to identify one in London that betters Honest Burgers' eponymous Honest Burger, which tops a flavoursome, meaty patty with smoked bacon, cheddar and red onion relish. The rosemary salt chips are also very moreish. No forks are provided, which means that things will probably get a little messy, but it's worth it. The brunch menu is good too, but I usually resist the temptation of avocado and eggs and stick to the Honest Burger.
251 Pentonville Road, London, N1 9NG (Tube: King's Cross).
Mele e Pere — Soho
I came across Mele e Pere some four years ago — the hundreds of glass apples (mele) and pears (pere) in the Brewer Street window caught my eye and I'm so glad they did as the lower-ground floor is home to a wonderful neighbourhood trattoria. The seasonal menu includes various pasta and meat dishes (we usually order a few starters to share, as well as a main course) and they also make their own vermouth, which means fantastic build-your-own negronis and martinis. I've celebrated many occasions at Mele e Pere, from house purchases and engagements, to birthdays and New Year's Eve. The food is excellent and the service is always impeccable.
46 Brewer Street, London, W1F 9TF (Tube: Piccadilly Circus).
Pedler — Peckham
One of my most memorable meals of all time was when I went to Pedler's soft launch with some friends and we ordered everything on the menu. The neighbourhood eatery on Peckham Rye serves seasonal modern European food in a vibrant and stylish setting. At various points, I've worked my way through the brunch menu and tried several of the roasts. The food is always great and as the restaurant is run by the Little Bird Gin team, there is a fabulous cocktail menu. The staff are among the loveliest in London. What a wonderful place!
58 Peckham Rye, London, SE15 4JR (Peckham Rye Overground).
Pizza Pilgrims — multiple locations
London's pizza scene is really on the up and Pizza Pilgrims can take a big chunk of the credit for driving this change. Their Neapolitan-style pizzas are among the best in London with their thin base and puffy, chewy crust that tastes too good to leave; I usually go for a margherita with buffalo mozzarella or an 'nduja, and I've never been disappointed. The Dean Street pizzeria has a fun and lively ambiance and there are usually great '90s tunes on the sound system. My only complaint is that they haven't come south of the river...yet!
11 Dean Street, Soho, London, W1D 3RP (Tube: Tottenham Court Road).
Polpo — multiple locations
When I first visited Russell Norman's original Polpo on Soho's Beak Street soon after it opened in late 2009, I remember describing it as 'a tapas restaurant with Italian food'. Indeed, the simple but tasty Venetian small plates and well-priced, well-curated wine list proved to be a success and there are now Polpos (Polpi?) in Brighton and Bristol as well as several other London locations. With pared-down, industrial-chic décor and a no-bookings policy (natch), Polpo remains a cool and lively venue.
41 Beak St, London, W1F 9SB (Tube: Piccadilly Circus).
The Riding House Café — Fitzrovia
If you are looking for a New York-style brasserie in Fitzrovia that will take you from breakfast and coffee to dinner and cocktails (via brunch, of course), The Riding House Café is the perfect choice. The modern menu is varied, encompassing interesting salads, burgers, steaks and more unusual main courses. Their brunch, meanwhile, is one of my favourites in London, although trying to decide what to order is tough because everything sounds great. I've always enjoyed their selection of 'small plates to share', which means I can order the cheeseburger (which I love) while also sampling something new.
43-51 Great Titchfield Street, London, W1W 7PQ (Tube: Oxford Circus).
As a bonus, here are five of my more recent restaurant discoveries, which don't yet qualify as old favourites but which probably will someday:
- Bao (worth-the-hype steamed buns in Soho)
- Bone Daddies (ramen in Bermondsey).
- The Good Egg (all-day restaurant in Stoke Newington with NY/Montreal/Israel influences)
- Padella (fab pasta in Borough Market)
- Som Saa (regional Thai in Spitalfields)