It’s been an epic year for eating out in London, with rule-bending restaurants opening by the week, and the capital well and truly cementing its position as an unbeatable dining destination.
In this celebration of London's gastronomic greats we've tried to reflect those places that have set trends, pushed boundaries and captured people’s imaginations over the course of the year. Most importantly, though, we've picked those that serve a bloody good dinner. Naturally, these restaurants come in at different price points — with some being more 'special occasion' than others — but we believe that all of them offer good value for money.
Let us know how many of our top 10 you’ve tried, whether you agree with us, and where else you think we should have included by leaving a comment below.
So, without any further ado...
#10: Ember Yard
This is the fourth tapas restaurant from the Salt Yard Group — joining Salt Yard, Dehesa and Opera Tavern — and it's the best yet. As with the others, it blends Italian and Spanish influences and ingredients, and serves traditional dishes alongside more creative ones. An added feature here is a fixation on all things smoked and charred — it was an early-comer to this year’s trend for smokehouse cooking. Cocktails (including a smoky Bloody Mary), an excellent selection of Italian and Spanish wines, and a buzzy atmosphere complete the package.
Standout dish: roasted and chargrilled ibérico pork ribs with quince glaze and celeriac purée
Read our review of Ember Yard
London’s favourite steakhouse group has gone from strength-to-strength this year, opening its fifth branch in Knightsbridge in the summer, adding to locations in Spitalfields, the City, Covent Garden and Mayfair. Its Clerkenwell sibling Foxlow has also excelled itself — including recently launching a brunch menu that includes a waffant. We’ll even let the team off for deciding to open their next Hawksmoor restaurant somewhere called Manchester, which is nowhere near a tube stop.
Standout dish: steak, obviously
Read our review of Hawksmoor Knightsbridge
#8: City Social
There has been no bigger name in the restaurant industry this year than Jason Atherton. The ex-Ramsay chef’s restaurants Pollen Street Social, Social Eating House, Little Social and Berners Tavern are all top of their game, and this year he backed the launch of hot newcomer The Typing Room in Bethnal Green as well as opening City Social at the top of Tower 42. It’s already gained a Michelin star, and is widely reckoned to be the best of London’s sky-high dining options.
Standout dish: whole Scottish lobster with duck fat chips
#7: The Manor
The Dairy near Clapham Common opened in the middle of last year and has been steadily gaining popularity since, to the point that it’s now a destination restaurant rather than a neighbourhood eatery. Hot on its heels comes little sister The Manor down the road, offering similarly clever and creative combinations of seasonal ingredients — many of which are grown on The Dairy’s roof. Complex and exhilarating dishes are exciting not just in terms of taste, but also texture and appearance — a lord in its manor.
Standout dish: warm sourdough bread which comes in a sack with a heated bag of grains at the bottom, to keep it warm and soft — served with a whipped butter that’s been infused with chicken skin
Read our review of The Manor
This Mayfair curry house has had quite a year. In July it was named the UK’s best eatery in the National Restaurant Awards, and in September it gained a Michelin star. It’s the creation of Karam and Jyotin Sethi, who are also behind Marylebone’s Trishna, and is modelled on colonial India’s Days of the Raj sports clubs — something which has sparked some controversy. Aside from intricately spiced dishes, Gymkhana wins with punchy cocktails, slick service and a price point that’s rather reasonable considering the Mayfair address.
Standout dish: wild muntjac biryani with pomegranate and mint raita
This buzzy so-called ‘Japanese gastropub’ has been brought about by Scott Hallsworth, a former head chef at Michelin-starred Nobu. It’s a take on a Japanese izakaya, a form of tavern where people go to drink and share small plates of food, but is unashamedly inauthentic — think sashimi pizzas and wagyu beef sliders. With bold flavours, big acoustics and some barmy serves, it’s no shrinking violet — but it’s full of fun and that’s the charm of it.
Standout dish: soft-shell crab maki with kimchi mayo
Read our review of Kurobuta
#4: Chiltern Firehouse
It’s the place to be seen but that you can’t get into: it’s hard to think of a restaurant launch in recent times which has caused quite as much of a stir as Chiltern Firehouse. Headed up by ex-Viajante chef Nuno Mendes and housed within New York hotshot Andre Balazs’s Marylebone hotel of the same name, it’s best known for being frequented by the likes of Kate Moss, Naomi Campbell et al, but well worth trying to get a table at — trust us, it is getting easier. The setting is infectiously trendy, the atmosphere electric, and the food — last but not least — genuinely exhilarating. Despite its clientele, the prices aren’t all that silly either.
Standout dish: roasted beef rib with hazelnut purée and bone marrow
Read our review of Chiltern Firehouse
#3: Smoking Goat
It takes a lot for a London restaurant to be truly different, but Smoking Goat manages to be exactly that. It’s set in a former dive bar on Tin Pan Alley, and is just as smoky, low-lit and atmospheric as we imagine it was in its heyday. Chunks of meat barbecued with Thai flavours are the order of the day, and you should be prepared to be just as smoky yourself by the time you leave.
Standout dish: slow-cooked, barbecued lamb ribs basted in fermented shrimp, chilli and palm sugar
Read our review of Smoking Goat
#2: The Truscott Arms
Maida Vale pub The Truscott Arms recruited a new head chef earlier this year, and has propelled itself into a first-rate foodie destination in the process. Aidan McGee’s precise cooking and clever pairings bring out the best in simple British ingredients, while his roast dinners are an exercise in excellence — possibly London’s Sunday best. Chunks of succulent meat (or veggie options) are served at the table on wooden boards, along with plump and chewy Yorkshires, crisp-coated but fluffy roasties and generous glugs of rich gravy. Fantastic food, friendly service, good value and an inclusive and convivial atmosphere render this grade A gastropub a shining beacon of what it’s kind should be.
Standout dish: Sunday roast of smoked lamb shoulder
Read our review of The Truscott Arms
#1: The Palomar
The Palomar is the hottest restaurant of 2014
Putting a list like this together is a hard job, but we had no doubt about the top spot from the start. This energetic Soho spot is a spin-off from Jerusalem’s Machneyuda, which is by far the city’s trendiest spot and probably the best restaurant in the whole country. In London, we’d extend that same sentiment to The Palomar. Its vibrant small plates boast exciting flavours, taking inspiration from Israel, southern Spain and Italy, North Africa and the Levant — think warm spices, fresh herbs, bright citrus and tangy sauces. If you sit at the bar overlooking the open kitchen, you’re likely to be handed shots by the chefs; wherever you sit the kitchen will give you ‘gifts’ of extra plates. Service is genuine and personal, prices affordable — budget £35 a head (including drinks) and you’ll be fine — and the buzz high octane. Space is tight, but that’s all part of the fun. Unfortunately you’ll need to book well in advance, or be prepared to brave a queue on the day.
Standout dish: polenta ‘Jerusalem style’, topped with asparagus, parmesan, mushroom ragout and truffle oil
Read our review of The Palomar here
More hot restaurants: 20-10
#20: Rotorino, Dalston | #19: Barnyard, Fitzrovia | #18: DF Mexico, Shoreditch | #17: Fischer's, Marylebone | #16: Spring, Covent Garden | #15: The Camberwell Arms, Camberwell | #14: Lyle’s, Shoreditch | #13: Som Saa, London Fields | #12: Typing Room, Bethnal Green | #11: The Clove Club, Shoreditch
Let us know your top restaurants of 2014 in the comments below...