London's Best Seafood Restaurants

By Lydia Manch Last edited 6 months ago

Last Updated 18 December 2023

London's Best Seafood Restaurants
Image by Maresco, Soho.

It was strongly felt that the best fish and chips in London needed a dedicated round up of their own. But for our favourite places to demolish an oyster platter, order plate after plate of tiny, oily boquerones, share an old-school fish pie in obscenely luxurious surroundings, or go all-out and all-in on candlelit, banqueting-hall surf 'n' turf: we've got you.

Maresco, Soho

From the same people as Escocesa, further on in this list, and with the same kind of ethos — the best Scottish seafood, given the tapas treatment — this Soho spot is cosy, candlelit, and deservedly busy. Best seats in the house have to be at the kitchen counter, where you can watch a parade of small, perfectly-formed plates — of boquerones pooled in golden, peppery oil, fideua with huge langoustines, and razor clams scattered with chilli — be prepped and shipped out to you. And an improbably good pan con tomate and almond torta, because man cannot live by seafood alone.

Hat-tip to the drinks list, with most of the wine available by the glass and carafe, a few carefully-chosen bottles of sherry for that true Galician-summer-evening feel, and the welcome comeback of frosty, deep green appletinis: muy bien, pal.

Maresco, Soho

Brat, Shoreditch and Hackney

Maybe Brat's not technically, technically a seafood restaurant, with a good half of the menu usually dedicated to tartares and mutton chops and assorted offal. Impressive, though, to be able to make all of that meat — with its offal-laced, wood-fire-grilled swagger — feel like a sidebar, and that's what Brat's seafood does.

With their Climpson's Arch location just announced as going permanent, and a new Soho restaurant planned for later this year, there's a hat-trick of places to get their spider crab toast, their slow-grilled [insert whatever fish their careful selection of British suppliers have caught that day], or their star turn, the turbot: cooked entire, and slowly, and enough for 3-4 of you.

Brat, Shoreditch and Hackney

Behind, Hackney

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Chef and owner Andy Beynon helms this 18-seat, tasting menu only restaurant in Hackney, the stuff of London legend for having scooped up a Michelin star within a month of opening. Seats are around a big crescent counter with a front row view of the chefs at work, so this is very much food-as-theatre, but the vibe's relaxed reverence, not hyperformal ceremony. Expect an eight-course (plus extra flourishes) hymn of praise to seafood from around the British Isles, with some big artistry being delivered with a light touch — think fish pie croquetas, little bitesize balls dusted with crunchy, silk-thin fishscales, scallops peppered with tiny flecks of wild strawberry, fish cured in seawater, little delicate-looking shots of consommé that punch with so much intensity and depth they feel like a meal in their own right. Unsurprisingly that doesn't come cheap — six-course lunch menus are £54 a head, the dinner menu is just under £100 — but Behind's packing a whole lot of effort, passion and intricacy into that price.

Behind, Hackney

Bentley's Oyster Bar and Grill, Piccadilly

Image by Bentley's Oyster Bar, Piccadilly.

Upstairs Bentley's is a classic, old-school effort, with a members'-club-from-the-early-1900s vibe; downstairs it's a busy oyster bar with a (heated and sheltered) terrace. Both are as expensive as you'd expect from the marble-scattered grandeur, but if you stick to a counter seat at the bar you'll get the best of Bentley's — the people-watching, the live piano, the ye-olde-fanciness — for the price of a (still quite pricey) cold beer and a half-dozen Carlingford rocks.  

Bentley's Oyster Bar and Grill, Piccadilly

Hawksmoor Air Street, Piccadilly

It's the same Hawksmoor burnish and richness as usual at their Air Street branch, but with a seafood-slanted menu. Carefully-sourced shellfish are given the trad steakhouse treatment: lobster in garlic butter, scallops roasted with port, smoked salmon and soda bread. Like basically everything Hawksmoor does, it's all classic, reliable, and nonchalantly decadent.

Hawksmoor Air Street, Piccadilly

Cornerstone, Hackney

Cornerstone, Hackney Wick. Image by lateef.photography.

In a still-kind-of-quiet corner of Hackney Wick, Cornerstone's turning out a pricey but beautiful tour of some of the best of British seafood. Think small, delicate dishes, big flavours, Scandi-simple setting, and a bit of formality but relatively lo-fi and buzzy by Michelin-star standards. The compact menu changes seasonally, but it's always fish-forward and usually includes some of the restaurant's Insta-famous staples like the hake Kyiv, the pickled oysters with horseradish, and the dense, stacked little Lincolnshire Poacher crumpet; comfort food turned into special occasion food.  

Cornerstone, Hackney

Decatur, pop-ups across London

Chargrilled oysters. Image by Decatur London.

Decatur, back in the day, were the first to make hot-oyster believers of us. These days we believe hard, and often, but Decatur's cajun spice-dusted, Crystal hot sauce-spiked, pecorino-garlic-buttered Maldons are still some of the best we've ever had in London.

They're not running a real kitchen residency for now, and can be hard to find in the wild. But keep a look out for some one-off pop-ups, usually around east London (including a Mardi Gras one-nighter at Dina in Leytonstone), which you can track here — and meal kits for delivery, so you can recreate their shrimp boils at home.

Decatur, pop-ups and delivery

J Sheekey, Covent Garden

Built along similar, old-school-lavish lines to Bentley's (earlier in this list) J Sheekey manages to pull off the stateliness without being stuffy. It's loud, bustling, somehow manages to make sharing a fish pie perched at the counter feel like a very romantic act. If you drop by after theatres close, there's a hint of... incipient rowdiness? One that's never truly bloomed into a full-blown knees-up when we've been there, but just the vague sense that it could adds a little frisson of pleasure.

J Sheekey, Covent Garden

Wright Bros., Battersea, Borough, and South Kensington

Their branches come and go — RIP Carnaby afterwork oyster pitstops — but Wright Bros. are still going strong in Battersea, Borough, and South Ken. Borough Market's the OG, opened in 2005 and, imo, still delivering the best busy, semi-industrial Victorian chophouse feel of the group. Head there Mon-Thurs from 3-6pm for their poorly-kept-secret £1 oyster happy hour.

Wright Bros., Battersea, Borough, and South Kensington

Etta's Seafood Kitchen, Brixton

One of the original Brixton Village veterans, Etta's set up shop in the covered arcade in 2009, when the council offered 3 months free rent to businesses with a plan to bring more people into the market. The menu: huge seafood platters, saltfish fritters, jerk prawns, grilled red snapper — a love letter to Caribbean cooking and very hot hot sauces. It's all, still, headed up by Etta Burrell: in the kitchen; on the restaurant floor, and ferrying rum punch and Red Stripe to people who've overestimated their hot sauce capacity (based on a true story).

If you're in Brixton Market craving seafood and can't get a table at Etta's, a shout-out to the Creole fish stews, prawn roti and saltfish fritters with ginger aioli at Fish, Wings & Tings, at the edge of the market building.

Etta's Seafood Kitchen, Brixton

Escocesa, Stoke Newington

Different menu to its younger sibling Maresco in Soho, but otherwise a very similar feel and ethos from Stephen Lironi's second location (after Crouch End's Bar Esteban) — a small, buzzy spot inspired by a mash-up of Lironi's love of Scottish seafood, roadtrips to Catalunya, and (his words), a 'high level dependency on sherry'. Spanish and Basque takes on Scottish produce are dished up as tapas-esque small plates, plus a bonus trio of paellas and a fluffy, springy Basque cheesecake that's less of a supporting act, and more of a reason to visit in its own right.

Escocesa, Stoke Newington

The Prince Regent by London Shell Co., cruising

Starting in Paddington and floating down the Regent's Canal through Little Venice, and into Camden, The Prince Regent has the distinction of being London's only cruising seafood restaurant and therefore also its best. But they'd be able to handle some competition — their 5-course set menus would be lovely even in a more shorebound setting, the 2.5 hours you get to spend sliding gently along London's waterways in a tiny canalboat (8 tables) is just a bonus. Expect seasonal British and modern European dishes — like crab tartlets, clam risotto, and scallops with punchy, fishy hot sauce — and the occasional briny little martini.

The Prince Regent by London Shell Co., cruising

Honourable mentions

Little Ochi, Herne Hill: Heard great things about this unassuming south London Caribbean restaurant, with fresh fish, lobster and prawns sided with bammy (cassava flatbread), plantain and hot sauce.

The Sea The Sea, Hackney: Making their difficult second album look effortless, this is the younger, more high-concept sibling of the Chelsea fishmonger-restaurant from chef Leo Carreira. Under a Haggerston railway arch, it's a 14-seat chef's table dinner that'll set you back £150 a head for the food alone that promises — and from reports, also delivers — an innovative, slightly-Portuguese-slanted tour through the best fish and seafood from their impressive suppliers and their in-house curing and drying facilities.  

Oysters, brown bread and white wine
Sweetings is a City institution that's still going strong. Image: Londonist

Sweetings, City: Everyone from Toulouse Lautrec to Anthony Bourdain have eaten oysters at Sweetings, a family-run fish bar that only opens weekday lunchtimes, and has hardly changed since opening in 1889. You'll find fancier fish dishes elsewhere, but for fried whitebait, cod steaks doused in parsley sauce, and sliced brown bread perched on the side, lunch at Sweetings is a time capsule of an experience to treasure. We wrote about it here.

Beast, Bond Street: The ridiculously OTT restaurant of choice for when you're craving surf 'n' turf in a flamboyantly Game of Thrones feast-style set-up. Beast is candlelit, looks like a medieval banquet, has a website with sections called things like 'You Are The Beast'. Cannot emphasise this enough: Beast is not for every day, or for everybody, or for every pay packet. But if you're looking for high-concept king crab by candlelight, there's nowhere in London committing as hard to that.