Our round up of places that closed in London in 2022 makes for a melancholy read, but it's worth being reminded that — valiantly, in the face of spiking cost-of-everything — 2022 was liberally scattered with new openings in London. Live-fire cooking, Thai-influenced heat, and omakase spots were all a big presence — but there was enough of everything from lowlit robata grills and pan-African sharing menus to deep-dish pizza-pie joints to make it hard to stick to just a handful of our favourites.
Doing some of the best nose-to-tail Italian cooking — scrap that, some of the best Italian food, full stop — in London: like nearly everybody else within a 100km radius of the M25, we fell for Manteca hard.
In-house meat-curing. Hand-rolled pasta. Live-fire cooking. And a warmly-lit, romantic-meets-rowdy feel that can turn a quick linguini pitstop into a lingering, closing-the-restaurant-down dinner: Manteca's a nonchalantly, unceremoniously great place to spend an evening.
It keeps luring us back, our visits a mix of their notorious six-weeks-in-advance-booking to get a table and last minute turning up and looking plaintively hungry — the moral is that whenever you want to be eating something glorious and you don't have a plan, you should probably just always try to be at Manteca and sometimes it'll work out for you. Read more about our visits here.
From the same people as Brilliant Corners, a few doors down, Mu's taken the BC fixation on late-night music, eclectic programming and natural wine, added a Japanese-ish robata grill menu, and jammed it into a vibey, Scandi-simple bar-meets-restaurant space.
It's a bit like a latenite Manhattan jazz bar. It's a bit like a counter-dining izakaya. A bit like Rick's in Casablanca, but with more sake, a bit less gin, and (probably) less political intrigue. Arrive late, stay till they lovingly usher you out, and don't miss the saketini.
Chet's, Shepherd's Bush
Thai-Americana mash-up from chef Kris Yenbamroong, Chet's started off as a pop-up underneath the Hoxton Holborn in Rondo La Cave, their incubator kitchen. The transfer to a — hopefully long-term — spot in the new Hoxton Shepherd's Bush is great news for west Londoners, and tbf good news for everybody prepared, as we are, to cross an underground zone or two in search of stuff like the tuna melt, with tuna larb blanketed in American cheese. Or the Bodega sandwich, a kaiser roll crammed with scrambled egg and cheese, with northern Thai sai ua sausage and umami ketchup.
Look out for high-heat salads, and crabby, garlic-heavy pineapple rice — the Chet's menu's fiery, with clashes of Thai and LA food tropes that feel less like fusion and more like a cheerfully chaotic wrestling match.
Chet's, Shepherd's Bush.
Acme Fire Cult, Dalston
In some ways the collab between chefs Andrew Clarke and Daniel Watson and 40ft Brewery in Dalston still feels more like a pop-up than an embedded restaurant: service is very friendly and kind of chaotic; both times we've been it's been cold enough (indoors) that several people were wearing coats and woolly hats to eat. Sign of how good the food is that we're already planning our next visit despite that; the menu's a flamboyant, fire-kissed masterpiece of rich flavours and light charring — grilled leeks heavy with pistachio romesco, mutton merguez ragu with lamb fat toast, and (star dish imo, hidden modestly for five quid in the pre-dinner snacks list) the Marmite butter and pecorino sourdough toast, black butter pooling underneath the chunks of bread like a sexy oil slick.
It's not just fire, smoke and swagger, though, like some restaurants riding the open-fire trend. The food's nuanced, with scatterings of gherkins, kimchi, shiso and a bit of fermentation-worship around the menu singing through the richness. Bonus points for their participation in the devilled eggs revival going on this year, which: we love to see. Dress in thermals, and order two rounds of the Marmite sourdough each.
Acme Fire Cult, Dalston.
Mayfair's first and only Armenian restaurant is talking a fancy game — but for a formal, sommelier-heavy, high end place, Lusin manages to steer clear of starchiness.
Ignore the set-up of the restaurant, which looks like it suits romantic little tête-à-tête tables of two — the menu has a strong slant towards group feasting. Prices look punchily expensive (and often are; it's very much aimed at Mayfair wallets) but become a bit less so when you realise several of the signature dishes aren't, despite the menu's silence on the subject, main courses for one; they're plates for three or four of you. The sour cherry kebab's one of those, vividly rich, sweet and sour, ditto the ghapama, an entire roasted pumpkin stuffed with rice, and little chunks of spiced meat — both better shared between four than tackled alone, scooped up with lavash bread fresh out of the oven, and washed down with something from their Areni Noir wine list.
Elis, Bethnal Green
Town Hall Hotel's been needing something a bit more relaxed, a bit more drop-in-on-an-urge rather than save-up-for-months than Da Terra, the double Michelin-starred restaurant from Rafael Cagali downstairs. Enter Elis, also from Cagali, serving a menu inspired by his childhood in Sâo Paolo, and his Brazilian-Italian heritage. Think Arctic char crudo with manioc root dressing, bacalhau fritters, and pecorino churros.
Elis, Bethnal Green.
Plaza Khao Gaeng, Tottenham Court Road
Hot on the heels of last year's VIỆTPopulaire pop-up in Soho comes another JKS Group collab with chef Luke Farrell, this one serving lip-swellingly hot southern Thai food in the mezzanine-level space at Arcade Food Hall.
It's one of several JKS-Farrell projects in the neighbourhood: downstairs at Arcade they have Indonesian street food stand Bebek! Bebek!, and rowdy Bangkok-influenced Speedboat bar in Soho. Of the three, PKG's the most restaurant-like but it's still informal, canteen-esque, with truly unflattering lighting that highlights nicely the sweat forming on everybody's brows and the tears standing in everybody's eyes when they reach the Khua Kling Muu (fiercely hot wok-fried minced pork). It's an exuberant, high-power menu, in a lowkey setting — and at relatively lowkey prices for food this imperial, with £35 a head getting you the long, punchy Deep South set menu, and the a la carte dishes much cheaper.
Plaza Khao Gaeng, Tottenham Court Road.
The debut restaurant from Akwasi Brenya-Mensa's a joyful pan-African party, with a menu geared towards group banqueting (if only so you get to order every dish). The concept's designed to fit with the remit of the Africa Centre, where it's based: to celebrate the diversity of Africa and its global dispora. On Brenya-Mensa's menu that translates to Ghanaian omo tuo and nkatenkwan (rich groundnut soup with a rice dumpling) rubbing up against South African geelrys (yellow rice) and Jamaican ackee croquettes. Fantastic for people eating low or no meat, with most of the best dishes (and 5/6 of the dishes on the Taste of Tatale set menu) vegetarian, and vegan by request.
Detroit Pizza, Shoreditch
We've had the seal of approval for their signature Detroit pie — pepperoni, jalapeño, parsley, honey, parmesan — from somebody who grew up on the real bona fide right-outta-Detroit deal. The airy bases, intense marinara sauces and OTT Americana of the pies are available for delivery (and imo this travels better than a trad Neapolitan or Roman pizza crust thanks to its resolute thiccness) but one bonus of a drop-in to their Spitalfields shopfront is it's also available by the slice.
Detroit Pizza, Shoreditch.
Restaurant St Barts, City
A beautiful, Scandi-simple space serving only tasting menus with an emphasis on nose-to-tail cooking, collecting together British traditions and and doing it with such a light, un-solemn touch you could forget it's an elaborate 15-course menu, book-months-in-advance kind of place.
Floor-to-ceiling windows look out on the quiet, green courtyard and pale stone cloisters of London's oldest church. A beef course — a tiny, elegant piece of rare meat — comes with a little, intensely rich gravy pot riff on beef stew, made with finely chopped beef tongue, hearts, and carrots. Your cutlery was hand-wrought in a Herefordshire forge. Your martini will probably be infused with sea fennel collected by the head chef while wild swimming in the Scottish highlands earlier that year. Everything's been thought about very carefully, but the overall effect isn't a cerebral, high-concept flex; it's less aimed at swagger, and more aimed at warming you and delighting you.
Restaurant St Barts, City.
Officina 00, Fitzrovia: A second branch for the Old Street pasta-slingers, the new location's serving most of the classics from the OG menu, but with a dish or two of their own.
Don't miss the fried cacio e pepe raviolo — little coin-sized hits of crunchy, rich heat — or the ink raviolo Bergese, stuffed with crab and layered with egg yolk and turmeric butter that ooze out viscously when you cut into it.
Crème, Notting Hill: Crème's new branch is doing the same NY-style chunky cookies as the OG Soho location. Chocolate-studded, thick, and managing to be rich but fluffy, and feel wholesome but intensely OTT at the same time, these are as far as we know — and we don't say this lightly — the best cookies available on the open market in London.
Three Uncles, Brixton: A tiny, popular Brixton Village venue for the Cantonese roast meat specialists, doing their signature siu mei platters of roasted duck, pork, or chicken, glazed and cooked over an open fire. Read more about our visit here.
Tendril, Mayfair: Moving on at the end of January, but it'd be hard not to include Rishim Sachdeva's pop-up in a list of some of the most exciting food happening in London this year. Tendril successfully crowdfunded this year for a permanent location in 2023 — watch out for the next venue for the inventive, lovely, accidental celebrity-magnet and mostly vegan restaurant.