This article was also published in the Financial Times.
June brings a smile to the faces of London’s restaurateurs for a variety of reasons.
It is a full trading month without the public holidays that have disrupted their customers’ diaries during April and May. There is a fair chance that those with outside seating will finally benefit from the warmer weather. And although there may be no empirical evidence to prove this, I am sure that people spend more when they can see the sun or feel it on the back of their necks rather than when they are stuck indoors.
Finally, a string of social and sporting events bring so many visitors into the capital. Ascot, Henley and Wimbledon attract an extremely high number of pleasure seekers and consequently boost demand for tables.
To maximise your pleasure, I have been poring over my notes to set out 20 favourites over four different categories: restaurants that exude a sense of history; those whose owners have a particular passion for wine; those with an almost tangible sense of fun; and, finally, those places where excellent food is served without pomposity.
London has long been the wine capital of the world as evinced by the history on show two weeks ago as the Vintners’ Company celebrated its 650th birthday in Vintners’ Hall by the Thames. But London’s role as a wine entrepot, alongside its cool, damp, climate which make for such excellent cellars, has been augmented over the past decade by an influx of passionate wine lovers who have opened restaurants arguably more easily here than they could have done back home.
Hence the success of Frenchman Eric Narioo with Terroirs in Charing Cross Brawn in Hackney, Soif in Battersea, and The Green Man and French Horn in theatreland. Fellow countryman Xavier Rousset has matched this passion with his wine lists at Texture and the two branches of 28-50, Fetter Lane and Marylebone (pictured), while Vinoteca has blossomed into increasingly larger premises at Smithfield, Marble Arch and Soho thanks to the combination of Englishman Charlie Young and Kiwi Brett Woonton.
Restaurateurs Will Smith and Paul Corrett display their wine passion in different forms. Smith at Arbutus, Les Deux Salons and Wild Honey, where most wines are available in carafes of different sizes, and Corrett at Clos Maggiore, Covent Garden, where the list comprises some of the very best from the world over.
A recent family birthday saw six of us descend into the basement of Hawksmoor, Covent Garden, on a Monday evening, traditionally the quietest night of the week. It was packed thanks to great steaks, a dessert menu that is heaven for salted caramel lovers and, on this night of the week only, a £5 per bottle corkage policy.
Experiences in a similar vein have occurred at Galvin Bistrot de Luxe, Baker Street, and at Bocca di Lupo, Jacob Kenedy’s trattoria in Soho, particularly at the long counter opposite the open kitchen over lunch or early evening. Fun is an integral but unspecified element in the air on the seasonal British menu atThe Grazing Goat, Marble Arch, and the recently openedBalthazar, Covent Garden.
Smoked fish, grilled turbot and fruit crumble are still on the menu at Sweetings in the City as they have been since 1889 along with a no-reservation policy in a restaurant open only for weekday lunches. J Sheekey, right by Leicester Square, is a mere four years younger and offers a menu also focused on fish but its opening hours are far more customer friendly. It is open for lunch and dinner seven days a week.
Jackson Boxer has breathed new life into what is still an architectural salvage shop in a lone Georgian mansion on the roundabout at Vauxhall to create the Brunswick House Café, a combination guaranteed to bring a smile to the face of any hungry customer. And the Hart brothers, Sam and Eddie, alongside chef Jeremy Lee, have worked the same magic on the four interlinking town houses that now form Quo Vadis, Soho.
My professional involvement as consultant to the developers on the urban regeneration under way at Kings Cross has brought me into close contact with the elegant Victorian architecture there. These charms have now been enhanced by three more New Zealanders, Chris Ammerman, Laura Harper-Hinton and Miles Kirby at Caravan, and, next door, The Grain Store, which opens on 10 June under French chef Bruno Loubet and Australian Michael Benyan, with a menu focusing heavily on vegetables.
GOOD FOOD BUT NO POMPOSITY
The news that St John Bread & Wine in Spitalfield has just celebrated its 10th birthday left me wondering how much I have spent there over the years on just its sourdough loaves and unbeatable Eccles cakes for home, let alone on the larger dishes for four or six with friends.
Another excellent dim sum lunch at A Wong near Victoria reinforced my feeling that this restaurant is currently serving the freshest of its kind in London at the moment, while the sushi and correct style of service at Defune, near Baker Street, always remind me of Japan.
Finally, if we were to live in west London, I would find myself far more regularly at Hedone for the stylish approach to the freshest ingredients taken by Swedish chef Mikael Jonsson. And were we south of the river and within walking distance of Chez Bruce, Wandsworth, my credit card would reveal my appetite for everything Bruce Poole brings to the table.