Essential London restaurants

Trying to keep up with London’s food scene is silly business – but all the more fun for it. A seasoned food writer picks out the best restaurants in the city, from Hackney to Notting Hill

Words by Lydia Winter
Last updated: April 10, 2024
The best restaurants in London | Cornish Native lobster with peanut and sesame at Bibi Mayfair
Cornish Native lobster with peanut and sesame at Bibi Mayfair

London’s food scene is dizzyingly, dazzlingly delicious; the city’s best restaurants run the gamut from world-leading Michelin stars and historic institutions to tiny BYOB neighbourhood favourites. Each month brings new openings and pop-ups,  so much so that even as an insider, it’s hard to know which way to turn. It’s difficult to identify a prevailing food trend at any given time – we’ve had tacos, bao, regional Thai, pasta – but the overarching theme is a focus on seasonal cooking and sustainable sourcing, and so it should be.

Navigating the London food scene

Each London neighbourhood has its own clutch of brilliant restaurants, from Hackney in east London to London Bridge and Borough Market. During the warmer months, London’s array of outdoor restaurants really comes into its own, while many of the city’s brilliant hotels are culinary destinations in their own right. Consider the recommendations below a short tasting menu of a city that’s totally obsessed with food: use it as your starting point and get ready to tuck in, preferably after an aperitif (or two) in one of London’s best cocktail bars.

The best restaurants in London | White walls, dark wood and a bunch of daisy-like flowers at Café Cecilia
Café Cecilia's interiors are understatedly beautiful

East London

Cafe Cecilia, Hackney

Best for: Seasonal cooking from an all-star line up
Address: Canal Place, 32 Andrews Road, Hackney, London E8 4RL
Price: Starters from 7 GBP

Cafe Cecilia comes out of the starting gate strong before you even get to the food: the chef-owner is Max Rocha (he’s done stints at St. John, Spring, River Cafe, among others), and the design has input from his equally successful family: his sister is fashion doyenne Simone Rocha (she designed the staff uniforms), while his father is Irish interior designer John Rocha. That’s a whole lot of creativity floating around, and the result is a pared-back space by Hackney canal delicately serving up plates of seasonal food that nod to the chef’s Irish background. Guinness bread is waiting to be slathered with creamy butter; pork and apricot terrine is roughly hewn but all the more perfect for it; pillow-shaped ricotta agnolotti with sage butter is far more than a sum of its parts. It is one of the most popular restaurants in Hackney, for very good reason, so book in advance.

The best restaurants in London | Fazzoletti with duck ragu served at Manteca
Fazzoletti with duck ragu served at Manteca

Manteca, Shoreditch

Best for: Large appetites and carnivores
Address: 49-51 Curtain Road, London, EC2A 3PT
Price: Starters from 6.50 GBP

Pasta has been having a moment in London for a while now (and you can’t mention cacio e pepe without talking about Padella, with locations in Shoreditch and Borough Market), but to swerve the queues and to get something just as good (in our humble opinion), go for dinner at Manteca. It’s a collaboration between David Carter (of iconic London barbecue restaurant Smokestak – also worth a visit) and Chris Leach, formerly of the Michelin green-starred Petersham Nurseries Café down in Richmond. This manifests in an Italian-inspired menu with nose-to-tail dishes like pig’s ear ragout and crispy pig skin; crab cacio e pepe, and a seriously impressive wine list. There’s a clutch of great bars nearby, but if you want to start with a palate-opening amaro and stick with the Italian theme, head to Bar Swift for a quick sharpener.

The best things to do in London | light-filled interiors at Water House Project
The Water House Project

The Water House Project, Bethnal Green

Best for: Informal fine dining
Address: 1 Corbridge Crescent, Cambridge Heath, London E2 9DT
Price: Short tasting menu from 110 GBP; long menu from 155 GBP

Stepping inside The Water House Project feels akin to visiting your friend’s extremely well designed kitchen. And that’s actually the point: chef-patron Gabriel Waterhouse cut his teeth in some of London’s finest kitchens, but started developing his own style while running pop-ups in his own home. Now, cooking in his restaurant in Bethnal Green, a stone’s throw from renowned venue Oval Space. The menu focuses on sustainable, seasonal eating, and changes every three months, with small deviations according to ingredient availability. Dishes are prepared in an open kitchen, overlooking a lofty dining space with dried flower arrangements hung from the ceiling. Choose between the “long” menu (comprising 15 plates) or the “short” (a curated version of the former). In the winter months, you could be eating dishes like a wholemeal crumpet with brown crab; fallow deer with juniper and rose; and Orkney scallop with parsnip, elderflower and lovage. We’ll admit this one isn’t cheap, but you’ll be dining out on the memories for years to come.

Best outdoor restaurants in London | A spread of seasonal British cooking at Rochelle Canteen
A seasonal feast at Rochelle Canteen, Shoreditch. Photo by Patricia Niven

Rochelle Canteen, Shoreditch

Best for: Outdoor dining
Address: 16 Playground Gardens, London E2 7FA
Price: Starters from 6.50 GBP

Rochelle Canteen is probably one of London’s worst-kept secrets, “hidden” inside a former bike shed attached to a red brick Victorian school building in Shoreditch. The chef here is Margot Henderson, who, together with her husband Fergus Henderson, are London food royalty. (Fergus Henderson is behind St John, which also features on this list). Margot’s food has similarities with Fergus’ style (nose-to-tail, a celebration of traditional British cooking) while also honouring the dishes that women typically cook at home – a nod to her years spent cooking for their three children. Star dishes include the roast quail with lentils and aioli, and the pork chop with beans and a bitter puntarelle and anchovy salad. Rochelle Canteen really comes into its own in summer, when you can dine al fresco in the lush, grassy garden (easily one of the best outdoor restaurants in London), secreted away from Shoreditch’s bustle.

Best restaurants in London | Tables lie in wait with cutlery and pristine white tablecloths in the dining room at Sessions Arts Club, in front of bare stripped walls and twin fireplaces
Sessions Arts Club

Sessions Arts Club, Clerkenwell

Best for: One of the hottest tickets in town
Address: Old Sessions House, 24 Clerkenwell Green, London, EC1R 0NA
Price: Starters from 9 GBP 

Probably one of London’s most talked-about restaurants of recent years, Sessions Arts Club is a space that offers both style and substance. Taking over a former courtroom, it sits tucked away up a side street, behind a red door, in a cavernous space that’s been beautifully restored, with purposely untouched sections of unplastered walls, a sweeping staircase, and hulking old service lifts. The space doubles up as an art gallery, while mussels with wild garlic and cream and rabbit rillette with mustard and pear are just some of the dainty delicacies to expect here (as are fairly steep prices). There is also a rooftop restaurant for warm days, with views over the London skyline.

The best restaurants in London | wine and a dish on a white table at St John

St. John, Smithfield

Best for: Proper British cooking
Address: 26 St John Street, Barbican, London, EC1M 4AY
Price: Starters from 10.50 GBP

The cooking of St. John’s chef-patron Fergus Henderson changed the way we eat in London and beyond – St. John was even planning to open an outpost in LA, currently on hold post-pandemic. These are big words, but they aren’t without substance: Henderson brought our attention to nose-to-tail cooking when we were all blithely, boringly looking the other way, and in doing so, he created a London food legacy that’s still in full flow. His alumni – Lee Tiernan of heavy metal mangal Black Axe Mangal, and Doug McMaster of pioneering zero-waste restaurant Silo among them – have gone on to spawn a new wave of restaurants in this city. But back to St. John: there are a number of sites around London, but the Smithfield original is the best example, with an old-school dining room – white tablecloths, informal but informed white-jacketed staff – that compliments equally old-school British cooking. The essential dishes? Bone marrow salad, where you spread the marrow over a hunk of sourdough toast; flavour-packed ox liver; and half a dozen of the infamous madeleines.

ROADBOOK's guide to the best London restaurants | A metal dish holds three grilled king prawns
The Tamil Prince's frankly enormous grilled prawns

North London

Tamil Prince, Islington

Best for: Tamil cooking 
Address: 115 Hemingford Road, London N1 1BZ
Price: Starts from 7.50 GBP; mains from 13.50 GBP

A London pub serving Indian grub doesn’t initially sound like headline news, but it most certainly is when the food in question comes from chef Prince Durairaj, also behind the smash hit Roti King. He’s now striking out on his own, and there’s no doubt that there’ll be hungry hordes following him all the way to his first solo site in between Caledonian Road and Barnsbury. The space itself feels distinctly swish thanks to dark-green walls and slate-grey tiles, but the cooking remains packed with heart, soul and the flavours of Durairaj’s home state, Tamil Nadu in South India. There are, of course, incredible rotis, but other dishes worth mentioning are the juicy grilled tiger prawns, and beautifully buttery dahl.

Best London restaurants | The wood-panelled bar area at Top Cuvée's Highbury restaurant
The wood-panelled bar area at Top Cuvée's Highbury restaurant

Top Cuvée, Highbury

Best for: Natural wines
Address: 177B Blackstock Road, London, N5 2LL
Price: Tasting menu around 50 GBP / 65 USD

A visit to Top Cuvée will take you out of the main haunts of Shoreditch and Soho, and into one of London’s lesser-known neighbourhoods: Highbury, just north of Angel. The main thoroughfare, Highbury Park (which transitions into Blackstock Road as it heads north) can, at points, feel a bit shabby, but it’s undergoing a restaurant renaissance. Top Cuvée, a natural wine bar and seasonal small plates restaurant, is as cool as they come, and became a known name during the Covid-19 lockdowns thanks to some guerilla-style social media marketing and their wine delivery service. Head to the restaurant now, and you’ll be treated to an evening (or lunch) of seasonal small plates (including a terrific terrine), and ‘natty’ wines (natural, organic and biodynamic). If you want to take some home with you, pop to their bottle shop Shop Cuvée around the corner. If you’ve come for lunch, Clissold Park is one of the loveliest spaces in London for a stroll, and the coffee shops and boutiques of bougie neighbourhood Stoke Newington lie just on the other side.

The best restaurants in London | Roasted celeriac at Primeur in Stoke Newington
Roasted celeriac at Primeur in Stoke Newington, which majors on sustainably

Primeur, Stoke Newington

Best for: sustainable and regenerative producers
Location: Barnes Motors, 116 Petherton Road, London N5 2RT
Price: Starters from 11 GBP

The founders of Primeur and its subsequent offspring (Western’s Laundry, Jolene and Big Jo) have been unconsciously promoting sustainable sourcing since they began, working with small-scale suppliers on a menu of seasonal small plates and natural wines. But in recent years, Jeremie Cometto-Lingenheim and David Gingell have educated themselves on regenerative agriculture, and their restaurants were some of the first to partner with pioneering grain company Wildfarmed, using the regeneratively grown flour to make their pizza, bread, and cultish pastries. The duo are on a mission to teach London’s food-loving masses about regen agriculture one pastry at a time, and are opening small, satellite Jolene bakeries around the city to spread their message. Any of their outposts is well worth a visit, but Primeur, housed in a former garage between Stoke Newington and Canonbury, is the true original. Find mustard yellow water jugs on wooden tables, a changing menu chalked up on a blackboard, a lovely selection of natural wines, all dimly lit by candles for a charming setting. On summer days, the bifold doors open up entirely onto the quiet street for inside-outside dining.

F.K.A.B.A.M., Highbury

Best for: Turkish-inspired food
Address: 156 Canonbury Road, London N1 2UP
Price: Sharing menu from 55 GBP

Another London restaurant, another nose-to-tail menu centred on lesser-loved cuts of meat. But F.K.A.B.A.M. (which stands for “formerly known as Black Axe Mangal” following a mysterious renaming during the pandemic) in Highbury utterly deserves its place on this list because, in a food scene dominated by prettily served yet tiny seasonal small plates, it makes its mark with generous portions, blaring rock music, black walls and a cocktail list that isn’t for the faint of heart. When it first opened almost ten years ago, it was absolutely impossible to get a table; today, the furore has died down but booking remains essential. Head chef Lee Tiernan cut his teeth at St. John Bread and Wine and continues to put his spin on things, influenced by the Turkish mangal grill houses that pepper the streets of East London. So sure, you’ll find lamb offal on the menu, but it gets served on a charred lahmacun-style flatbread. There’s also a vegan menu, and you’ll find plenty of low-intervention wines to wet your whistle.

The best restaurants in London | pared back interiors and Upper Street views at 1251 Islington
1251 Islington

1251, Islington

Best for: Affordability and utterly delicious food
Address: 107 Upper Street, London, N1 1QN
Price: Five-course tasting menu from 40 GBP

Tasting menu, shmasting menu: long considered the peak dining experience, they can sometimes leave you a bit cold with their pomp and circumstance. Not so at Islington’s 1251, where chef James Cochran leverages his Haitian and Scottish heritage to create an affordable, delicious and accessible menu. Dishes switch up regularly, but the fried chicken with scotch bonnet jam is one that put Cochran on the map – so much so that people regularly order it a second time instead of having dessert (although you absolutely should eat the chocolate tart too). For atmosphere, flavour and price, a meal at 1251 can’t be beaten, and you’re not far from Angel’s excellent clutch of pubs, either (Earl of Essex, we’re looking at you).

The best restaurants in London | interiors at BiBi in Mayfair
BiBi, Mayfair

Central London

BiBi, Mayfair

Best for: Exemplary Indian fine dining
Location: 42 N Audley Street, London W1K 6ZP
Price: Starters from 12 GBP

London’s Indian diaspora – and the abundance of top-quality Indian food – is legendary, but even within this crowded space, BiBi has made its mark. Chef-owner Chet Sharma’s CV is well seasoned with stints at The Ledbury and Mugaritz, and time spent overseeing culinary operations at JKS restaurants (an Indian fine dining dynasty that spawned London icons Trishna, Gymkhana and Hoppers), making it no surprise that his first own venture continues to be a smash hit several years after opening. Here, Sharma has stayed true to his expertise in polished Indian cooking with elegant small plates with punchy spicing. Don’t miss out on the Lahori chicken, served with a cooling cashew and yoghurt whey — and be sure to book well in advance, because the space is on the smaller side.

The best restaurants in London | Bubala draws on vibrant Middle Eastern flavours
Bubala draws on vibrant Middle Eastern flavours

Bubala Soho

Best for: East Mediterranean 
Address: 15 Poland Street, London, W1F 8QE
Price: Around £7 for a small plate

Confit potato latkes with aleppo chilli; falafel with tahini amba and sumac onions; baklava semi freddo: reading through the menu at Bubala Soho is the gastronomic equivalent of whispering sweet nothings in someone’s ear. This peachy-hued restaurant is the second opening from Bubala (the original is in Spitalfields) and chef Helen Graham, who used to head up the kitchen at The Palomar, another one of London’s greats and similarly focused on Middle Eastern cooking. Flavours here are punchy without overwhelming and, together with the frankly lovely space, they make the restaurant worthy of its name – ‘bubala’ means ‘darling’ in Yiddish. Something else worth noting – although we didn’t want to make a big deal out of it – but everything here is vegetarian.

Best London restaurants | wooden stools with brown leather cushioning around the bar at The Barbary
The intimate counter dining at The Barbary. Photo by Carol Sachs

The Barbary, Covent Garden

Best for: Special dates
Address: 16 Neal’s Yard, London, WC2H 9DP
Price: Small plates from 4.50 GBP/6 USD

The Barbary is the kind of restaurant that you want to keep going back to – but the rest of London feels the same way, which means there’s one hell of a waiting list. It’s certainly worth it though: The Barbary in Covent Garden is one of the most sought-after bookings for its fire-cooked moreish and Moorish cuisine and buzzy vibe. Most of the dining takes place at the counter; the lighting is low, and the music is pumping – perhaps not one for parents, but great for a one-on-one dinner (brownie points if you swing it for a date, and even more brownie points if you pair it with a night at the Henrietta Hotel, one of London’s most beautiful places to stay). The food is outrageously delicious, especially the plates of black salmon with dukkah and harissa lamb chops. Nip into the new little sibling The Barbary Next Door – yes, it’s next door – for a similarly inspired yet more bijou space.

The best restaurants in London | airy interiors and greenery at Akub, Notting Hill
Akub, Notting Hill

West London

Akub, Notting Hill

Best for: Palestinian cooking
Address: 27 Uxbridge Street, London W8 7TQ
Price: Small plates from 6 GBP

Tucked behind Notting Hill Gate station is a charming stucco-lined stretch that houses Kuro Eatery and Bakery (considered one of the best coffee shops in London), The Hillgate pub and Akub, an intimate, candlelit restaurant from chef Fadi Kattan that serves modern Palestinian fare. Its Arabic name honours Kattan’s favourite vegetable, a thistle-like Palestinian plant. Go hungry, as vibrant labneh balls and goblet-sized dumplings are followed by dagga ghazzawieh (a spicy Gazan salad) and slow-cooked lamb, all served with dips spanning creamy swirls of red lentil moutabal and zesty musabaha (akin to hummus), with hulks of freshly baked focaccia. Finish with a wobbly Hilbeh baba cake, spiked with cardamom. A hand-painted mural by Tess Newall conjures a Palestinian landscape, met by curved ceilings and stoneware by Palestinian ceramicist Nur Minawi, all of which enhance the softly lit, homely vibe.

The Ledbury, Notting Hill

Best for: A once-in-a-lifetime meal
Address: 127 Ledbury Road, London W11 2AQ
Price: Tasting menu from 210 GBP / 265 USD

The Ledbury was recently awarded its third Michelin star – just one of three restaurants in London to hold this prestigious accolade. But despite this success, the path for this restaurant and its chef and co-owner Aussie Brett Graham didn’t always run smooth: the space shut between 2020 and 2022, and London’s food scene truly mourned its loss. But Thankfully it opened its doors again, setting the stage for Graham’s innovative British-meets-Japanese cooking. The Michelin guide describes the kitchen as in possession of “technical mastery”, seen in dishes like chalk stream trout with miyagawa orange, rose and apple marigold, the fish sourced via ike jime, a style of killing fish in a way that preserves the quality of the meat that originated in Japan; or veal sweetbreads with parsnips and jus noisette.

The best restaurants in London | Interiors at Wild by Tart, Victoria
Interiors at Wild by Tart, Victoria

Wild by Tart, Victoria

Best for: Convivial dining
Address: 3-4, Eccleston Yards, London SW1W 9AZ
Price: Starters from 8 GBP 

Wild by Tart is housed in a 9,000 sq ft space in Eccleston Yards, a serene courtyard near Victoria Station, which is steps away from the upmarket independent boutiques of Elizabeth Street. If you’re thinking that sounds too big to be a restaurant, you’d be right: it’s also a tempting homewares shop (hide your wallet from yourself), and a deli serving daily-changing salads and tarts (yes, it has that name for a reason). But the evening is when the space comes into its own, and soft lighting, lush greenery, and artist-made table decor turn the repurposed Victorian power station into a magical dining space. The food helps: simple seasonal small plates are bolstered by larger dishes from the wooden grill, like Cornish lemon sole or roasted red kuri squash with green tahini and mouth-puckering sumac. As much produce as possible is sourced from the British farms belonging to the two chef-owners, Jemima Jones and Lucy Carr-Ellison, and their love letter to their home country shines in this homage to modern British dining.

Best London restaurants | A selection of the unique bao available at Bao Borough, from classic options like pork to tiny fried chicken burgers
A range of dishes from Bao Borough

South London

BAO Borough

Best for: Informal dinners
Address: 13 Stoney Street, London, SE1 9AD
Price: Bao from 5.50 GBP/7 USD

BAO, run by Erchen Chang, Wai Ting and Shing Tat Chung, went from Netil Market stand in East London to one of the most well-known restaurant groups in London. This is in part due to banging baos, naturally – the Taiwanese founders led the charge in turning the pillowy buns into a household name here – but also because of their impeccable sense of style. Each location, whether the Soho original, the new BAO Noodle Shop in Shoreditch, or the Borough Market outpost with its downstairs karaoke room, is beautiful and just plain cool. The vibe is casual and the food is outrageously delicious, and each site has its own different bao fillings, so you’ll just have to go to them all. That being said, to make an evening of it, head to Borough, where you can peruse the market stalls and bask in the buzzing market vibe.

The best restaurants in London | Blue sky views from Forza Wine at the National Theatre
Views from Forza Wine at the National Theatre

Forza Wine at the National Theatre

Best for: Rooftop terrace
Address: National Theatre, London SE1 9PX
Price: Starters from 9 GBP 

The National Theatre expanded its hospitality offering in 2023 to include two destination restaurants: Lasdun, from the team behind lauded Hackney pub-restaurant Marksman, and Forza Wine, an offshoot of the much-loved Peckham original. The menu at Forza Wine is designed for pleasurably lengthy grazing as you while away an evening with friends: cauliflower fritti with lashing of aioli; burrata with blood orange and hazelnuts; sardine with winter tomatoes and monks beard, all served against the National Theatre’s brutalist backdrop. Bonus points if you come in summer: the site has a vast terrace overlooking the River Thames that’s crying out for balmy evenings. Even though this location is new, Forza Wine and its concept is not. It’s the third site from the group (also Forza Win in Camberwell), known for its Italian-adjacent cooking and cocktails that look heavily to aperitivo hour for inspiration. If you need any more temptation – aside from the National Theatre’s high-punching programme of music, performances and events – the South Bank location offers a weekday lunch special: onglet, lentils and salsa verde with a glass of wine for just £15. How could you resist?

Roast scarvita cabbage dressed with labneh, brown butter, dill and crispy shallots from Camberwell Arms
Roast scarvita cabbage dressed with labneh, brown butter, dill and crispy shallots from Camberwell Arms

The Camberwell Arms

Best for: Refined pub grub
Address: 65 Camberwell Church Street, London, SE5 8TR
Price: Starters from 8 GBP 

Pubs aren’t just places for a pint: London is home to a slew of brilliant boozers that put just as much thought into their cooking as their selection of beers. There are heaps to choose from – but we’ve included The Camberwell Arms in, er, Camberwell, because it requires an adventure to the depths of leafy South London, and because it serves dishes like scotch bonnet pork fat on toast, and lemon sole with puntarelle and anchovy butter. And before you start to worry about what else to do in the area, it even has a bar upstairs for cocktails, wine and snacks that stays open till late – making this a one-stop eating and drinking shop.

The exterior at Elliot's in Borough Market, London
Elliot's, Borough Market

Elliot’s, London Bridge

Best for: An evening of grazing
Address: 12 Stoney Street, London SE1 9AD
Price: Starters from 8 GBP 

Elliot’s is a real stalwart on the London food scene. The first site opened in 2011, bringing a brick-walled New York-style space to Borough Market, where it sourced seasonal produce from its neighbours and cooked it over a wood-fired grill. This focus on provenance garnered the restaurant acclaim at the time of opening, but despite its popularity, it waited several years to open a second outpost in Hackney, peddling a similar style of hospitality. Think zingy black bream and citrus crudo, pork arancinco and Cornish tuna carpaccio — but be warned, dishes can sell out, so book your table for earlier in the day. Look out for special events and menus in partnership with wine producers, like a recent Tuscan-inspired evening that saw them serve bistecca alla fiorentina alongside wines from independent Tuscan producers.

Braised Octopus at Peckham Cellars
Braised Octopus at Peckham Cellars

Peckham Cellars

Best for: Neighbourhood wine
Address: 125 Queen’s Road, London SE15 2ND
Price: Starters from 11 GBP 

Peckham Cellars (not to mention its offshoot Little Cellars) is a magnet for the great and the good of South East London, right by Queens Road Peckham station. The drinks list will take you on a pilgrimage around the world, from Spain to Greece to Chile and back again, while food is equally diverse and no less delicious: pork rib-eye with a peppercorn sauce and crispy enoki mushrooms served with chipotle ketchup are just two recent dishes that catch the eye. And bonus points to Peckham Cellars for its regular wine events, like the Wine School that runs every January, with four lessons designed to teach you about terroir and beyond. Put simply, if you’re in Peckham, a trip to Peckham Cellars is a must.

If that’s left you craving more of our insider insights into the best of London, explore the capital’s best museums and galleries, or the best boutique hotels in the city.