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London on a plate: Tim Hayward’s go-to restaurants

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This article is part of a guide to London from FT Globetrotter

It goes with the job that I get to eat in lots of exciting and interesting places. Some may have been around for years, but most are brand new, fresh ideas, fashionable concepts or just food I’ve never experienced before. Some are reassuringly expensive, many are surprisingly reasonable. Most of these restaurants I’m happy to have visited once or twice — but I don’t necessarily return to them. I’ve been, I’ve had the experience, but I don’t need to go back.

But there are 10 restaurants in London that I return to over and over again. Sometimes you love the chef and know that everything she does is going to be brilliant. Sometimes the menu is unchanging but reassuring. Sometimes it’s the room, the welcome and the ambience, but usually it’s the whole blended package: what you might call “hospitality”.

Below are eight of my 10 go-to London restaurants. It’s quite likely I’ll see you there one evening. If so, do pop over and say hello. The other two? Well, you’ll have to find out for yourself. I have to keep some secrets . . . 

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The French House

49 Dean Street, London W1D 5BG

‘A little piece of Soho restaurant history’: The French House
The storied pub/restaurant was a haunt of General de Gaulle’s during the second world war
The storied pub/restaurant was a haunt of General de Gaulle’s during the second world war © Peter Clark (2)

The French House, universally known as “The French” is a little piece of Soho restaurant history. It’s the dining room above a properly bohemian and theatrical pub, where several chefs have cut their teeth before moving on to greatness. The current resident is Neil Borthwick, who learned his craft in a series of gloriously starred, grand establishments in France before returning to London in triumph. Here, though, he runs a dining room so tiny that he’s able to deliver his brand of Franco-British classic cooking with the focus of a sushi counter. It’s a wonderful place to lose track of an entire afternoon, surrounded by everyone gossip-worthy in Soho. (Website; Directions)

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Brutto

35-37 Greenhill Rents, London EC1M 6BN

A loving homage to Florence: bistecca Fiorentina at Brutto . . . 
A loving homage to Florence: bistecca Fiorentina at Brutto . . . 
. . . a recently opened Tuscan-style trattoria in the City © Paul Winch-Furness (2)

Brutto opened very recently but looks like it’s been living a wild life in Italy for about a century. Restaurateur Russell Norman, after successfully running one of the most influential restaurant groups of the last decade, has finally created a little space of his own, a loving omaggio to the trattorias of Florence. Much of the produce is extremely local, with the signature bistecca Fiorentina being carried in from the meat market just outside the door, but Brutto is a total package. Nobody stages a room like Russell, an absolute master of design and the arcane arts of Front of House. (Website; Directions)

Sola

64 Dean Street, London W1D 4QQ

Dungeness crab, foie gras and toasted almond emulsion at Michelin-starred Sola
Dungeness crab, foie gras and toasted almond emulsion at Michelin-starred Sola
The Soho restaurant is chef Victor Garvey’s ‘one-man crusade to re-examine the roots of California cuisine’
The Soho restaurant is chef Victor Garvey’s ‘one-man crusade to re-examine the roots of California cuisine’ © Sonya Metzler (2)

Chef Victor Garvey’s Sola is a one-man crusade to re-examine the roots of California cuisine. We forget what a breakthrough it was back in the 1970s and ’80s to bring classic technique to bear on the best local ingredients of the Golden State, and to include the diverse cultural influences of its people. Sola takes that spirit and brings it alive in London, wearing a fresh Michelin star with pride and serving a superb list of the wines the Californians wisely keep to themselves. (Website; Directions)

The Guinea Grill

30 Bruton Place, London W1J 6NL

‘The interior looks like a set designer’s dream’: The Guinea, which has been a pub for almost 600 years
‘The interior looks like a set designer’s dream’: The Guinea, which has been a pub for almost 600 years
Top-notch British offerings at its restaurant include beef, oyster and horseradish pie
Top-notch British offerings at its restaurant include beef, oyster and horseradish pie

To call The Guinea Grill a gastropub is to sell it catastrophically short. Tucked down a Mayfair mews, this ur-boozer has been serving British “grill” food since the 1950s and running as a pub for merely the five and a half preceding centuries. The interior looks like a set designer’s dream and the food is . . . well, perhaps the most appropriate English term would be “top notch”. It’s the only pub I know in which you actually walk past a butcher’s counter as you enter the dining room, and where you can order a pint of well-tended Guinness at the front to warm yourself up for buying a £1,000 bottle of wine in the back. (Website; Directions)

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Sabor

35-37 Heddon Street, London W1B 4BR

Seafood rice at Sabor, just off Regent Street
Seafood rice at Sabor, just off Regent Street . . .  © Marcus Cobden
 . . . where the vibe is ‘constantly on the edge of a party’
 . . . where the vibe is ‘constantly on the edge of a party’ © Chris Terry

In an alley just off Regent Street, chef Nieves Barragán Mohacho and her team have recreated a little bit of Ramblas. Sabor is a light airy space over two floors where you can pick your seat to fit your style. Sit at the ground floor tapas bar and down cocktails, or take in views of the wood-burning asador from a table upstairs and be served elegantly. The menu ranges from simple tapas preparations to substantial parts of roast pig. The vibe is best described as constantly on the edge of a party. Sabor received a Michelin star in 2018 but wears it lightly and still holds seats for walk-ins. (Website; Directions)

Brat

First floor, 4 Redchurch Street, London E1 6JL

Fire cooking is the order of the day at Shoreditch restaurant Brat
Fire cooking is the order of the day at Shoreditch restaurant Brat
Brat’s signature dish: grilled whole turbot
Brat’s signature dish: grilled whole turbot © Benjamin McMahon (2)

Many London chefs have dabbled with fashionable fire cooking but few have embraced it as enthusiastically as Tomos Parry, who set up his first restaurant in the austere upper rooms of an East End pub that was previously famous as a strip joint. The signature dish is a whole turbot, grilled Galician-style over the flames, but there’s an extremely appealing wider menu of Basque-influenced cooking. Its location on the north edge of the City makes it an ideal spot for a dissipated all-afternoon lunch, but the dining room is also magical at night. (Website; Directions)

Noble Rot Soho

2 Greek Street, London W1D 4NB

The Soho outpost of Bloomsbury’s Noble Rot is on the site of the legendary Gay Hussar
The Soho outpost of Bloomsbury’s Noble Rot is on the site of the legendary Gay Hussar © Juan Trujillo Andrades
The venue’s modern British dishes include smoked eel, kohlrabi, potato, apple and sorrel
The venue’s modern British dishes include smoked eel, kohlrabi, potato, apple and sorrel

At the height of lockdown, two of London’s most exciting young restaurateurs took over the site of one of the oldest and most beloved of Soho restaurants. Noble Rot, a brilliant wine-centric bistro in Bloomsbury, now also occupies what had formerly been the Gay Hussar, hang-out of bohemians, politicians and journalists since the 1950s. The menu is outstanding, featuring the modern British cooking of Stephen Harris and Alex Jackson, the wine list is genuinely brain-altering and the space has been modernised with appropriate gentleness. I went for a quiet lunch here once and woke up four days later, in Macau, with a full beard. I can think of no better recommendation. (Website; Directions)

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Seabird

The Hoxton hotel, Southwark, 40 Blackfriars Road, London SE1 8NY

Octopus roll with sobrasada and padron pepper at Seabird
Octopus roll with sobrasada and padron pepper at Seabird
The views from Seabird are spectacular – especially at night
The views from Seabird are spectacular — especially at night

South of the river, at the very top of a painfully hip hotel and decorated with unrestrained pink and gold bling, Seabird has, to be frank, the aesthetic of an influencer’s jewel box. But there are two reasons you won’t notice this: an Andalucían chef cooking seafood — which almost always means brilliance — and views over London that will make you misty-eyed at how beautiful our grim old city can be when viewed from just the right angle. It’s pretty outstanding during the day, but at night it’s like picnicking on an endless blanket of diamonds. (Website; Directions)

What are your go-to restaurants in London? Tell us in the comments

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