Mr Porter Eats
London’s Best Local Restaurants
You don’t need to cross the capital to eat well – the top new restaurants are closer to home
Palatino, Clerkenwell. Photograph courtesy of Palatino
It was one of the immutable rules of dining out in London: for a decent dinner, you got on the Tube and headed into town. In all likelihood, “up west”, to borrow a phrase from a popular East End soap opera. “Up west” meant places such as Soho, Covent Garden, Mayfair and Holborn – the stuff in the middle, basically. That was where the action was, where the big names such as Messrs Gordon Ramsay and Michel Roux Jr ran their gastronomic temples.
Recently, though, things have begun to change. The new hot restaurants are no longer only found on Greek Street and Great Portland Street, but also in the further-out boroughs of Islington, Hackney, Lewisham and even Richmond upon Thames. The reason is simple. Rents in central London are extortionate so, unless you have a deep-pocketed backer, it is incredibly difficult to open a place in the centre of the city.
The result of this harsh economic reality has been the return of the neighbourhood restaurant, joining longtime suburban superstars such as Riva (Barnes), Chez Bruce (Wandsworth) and La Famiglia (Chelsea). Yes, the rents are cheaper, the decor is less strained and the ambience more relaxed, but the food is top drawer, as London’s favourite critics will attest.
MR PORTER presents a list of the best new neighbourhood restaurants the city has to offer.
Monty’s Deli, Hoxton
Left Reuben sandwich at Monty's Deli. Photograph by Mr Ben Lansky. Right restaurant interior. Photograph by Mr Joe Woodhouse. Both courtesy of Monty’s Deli
Monty’s started life as a market stand run by Messrs Mark Ogus and Owen Barratt at foodie mecca Maltby Street back in 2011. But along came the smiling figure of double-Michelin-starred chef Mr Tom Kerridge, who took one bite of Monty’s Reuben sandwich and declared it the “best value lunch in London” on BBC2. So began a journey involving a £65,000 Kickstarter fund and an endless charm offensive to extract money from their respective families. That culminated in a new 65-seater “Jewish soul food” restaurant on Hoxton Street in east London. The restaurant has been decked out with unearthed original tiles (it used to be a bakery), black leather booths and a glistening central bar, around which the friendly staff perform little ballets, dispensing food only a Jewish granny might recognise, including challah bread, cholent stew, chicken soup and vast quantities of salt beef. As Ms Tania Ballantine points out in her Time Out review, it is one of the few places in London that makes its own salt beef – and it shows. “It’s salty (but not too salty), fatty (but not too fatty), and soft enough to eat with a spoon,” she says. “It’s impossibly moreish.” A restaurant with chutzpah – and with good reason.
What to order: the Reuben Special – salt beef, pastrami, pickles and mustard piled on lightly toasted rye bread
What to wear
Left Legs restaurant exterior. Photograph by Mr Andy Parsons/Time Out/REX Shutterstock. Right steak tartare with crispy bread. Photograph courtesy of Legs
The chef-patron of Legs, Mr Magnus Reid, began his career cooking in the cafés of Perth, Western Australia, in order to fund his training as a tattoo artist, and he is conspicuous in his small Morning Lane restaurant for his many inkings. As good a tattoo artist as he was, Hackney residents have reason to be thankful that he put down the tatt gun and took up the ladle, because his food is sublime. The menu is simple, with 11 dishes for sharing – think hot-smoked salmon pâté with crispbreads, or brassicas, anchovy mayonnaise and breadcrumbs, and three desserts. Nothing is more than £15 per plate and the staff welcome you as if you’re a long-lost cousin. As you might expect with a place named after the way a wine reacts to the glass it is served in, the list is nearly as long as the Dead Sea Scrolls, with most of the bottles coming from independent producers. Ms Fay Maschler, writing in the London Evening Standard, describes it approvingly as “a welcome new addition to east London where the chef has been quoted observing that ‘you exist to serve the public, not yourself’.” Go for an early Saturday dinner for extra-special service.
What to order: whatever your waiter suggests is good that day
What to wear
Westerns Laundry, Holloway
Left langoustines with Marie Rose sauce. Right Westerns Laundry interior. Photographs by Ms Patricia Niven, courtesy of Westerns Laundry
Westerns Laundry’s owners Messrs David Gingell and Jérémie Cometto-Lingenheim have previous form when it comes to opening neighbourhood restaurants – they have another, Primeur, about 15 minutes’ walk down the road. And while that one’s housed in a former garage, Westerns Laundry has been fashioned from, yes, a former laundry. Like Primeur, the menu changes almost by the day, and is primarily focused on seafood cooked with a southern European-cum-Asian accent. Sounds confusing, tastes delicious. Expect chargrilled mackerel with miso and chilli or seabass tartare along with natural wines (made without chemical and with minimal technological intervention), which range from the modest to the eye-wateringly pricey, although a Coravin system means most will be available by the glass. As Mr Jay Rayner says in The Observer, “Westerns Laundry is a class act: a smart, skilled kitchen with some tables attached.”
What to order: ray wings, tomatoes and oregano
What to wear
Left Palatino restaurant interior. Right mozzarella, peas and shoots. Photographs courtesy of Palatino
Palatino is the fifth outpost in the pocket-size empire of former River Café chef Mr Stevie Parle. It is named after the Palatine Hill, which is sandwiched between the Forum and the Circus Maximus in Rome. And, indeed, the food is Roman down to its fork tines. It draws on the two great culinary traditions of the city: its fryer-happy Jewish heritage and its penchant for using every fleck of meat on an animal. The menu, then, is a delight of waistband-stretching dishes ranging from salt cod with tomato to bombolotti ragu “Marcella” and hearty (read: massive) vignarola stews. Choose between the large central table that cleaves the space or one of the sun-yellow booths at the edge of this industrial-chic restaurant in London’s design district. Or avail yourself of its takeaway service. When the hard-to-please Mr Giles Coren of The Times describes it as having “excellent cooking, great value and absolutely no taking the piss”, you can be pretty sure it is worth a visit.
What to order: saltimbocca
What to wear
Perilla, Newington Green
Left butterhead and herb salad at Perilla. Right restaurant interior. Photographs courtesy of Perilla
When it was announced that Messrs Ben Marks and Matt Emmerson were to open a restaurant in north London’s Newington Green, the foodie demi-monde pricked up its ears. Not simply because of the owners’ pedigree, which is of Crufts standard, but because their investors are from the top drawer of the London food world. Their former employer at multi-Michelin-starred The Square, Mr Phil Howard, backed them, along with Claridge’s executive chef Mr Martyn Nail, and Mr Thomas Koch, the former general manager and documentary star, now of the Café Royal. A good start. And indeed, when it opened in late 2016, London swooned. Mr Tim Hayward, in the Financial Times, raved: “I loved everything I ate” – something you don’t hear a critic say every day. Housed in a high-ceilinged, terrazzo-floored premises with big windows, it looks as good as the food tastes. There is a tasting menu or an à la carte, which changes with the season. We particularly like the steamed asparagus with goat’s butter sauce and the 40-day-aged chop, which we’d eat every day if we could. Dinner, lunch, tasting or à la carte – this a diamond amid zirconia.
What to order: cuttlefish bolognese
What to wear
Left Sparrow restaurant interior. Right rhubarb panna cotta. Photographs courtesy of Sparrow
The name Sparrow isn’t a hint at the food Mr Terry Blake and Ms Yohini Nandakumar serve at their restaurant in Lewisham, south London. Mercifully, no small songbirds were hurt in its creation. The pair explain that it merely reflects the ethos of the place. Their menu flits between countries and cooking styles, so one week you might find a dish from Mr Blake’s time working in kitchens in New Zealand or something from Ms Nandakumar’s Sri Lankan heritage, or indeed an English dish from their time at St John, the Michelin-starred nose-to-tail restaurant in London where the pair met. The dining room has a lot in common with St John, being all bare wood and teal tiles and not a tablecloth in sight. The food is, in the main, tapas style. Mr John Walsh, reviewing for The Sunday Times, laurelled its food with four stars, describing the bruschettas of mushroom and courgette trifolati as “fat spoonfuls of tuber and gourd, ‘truffled’ with parsley, sage, garlic and a lick of goat’s cheese, served on toasted sourdough: smushed and crunchy and perfect”. High praise, indeed, for a small place in deepest south London.
What to order: appam, a light pancake made with fermented rice batter
What to wear
Left conchiglioni. Right Radici exterior. Photographs courtesy of Radici
Radici’s chef, Mr Francesco Mazzei, made his name at L’Anima, a vast edifice constructed, seemingly, only from glass and yards of starched white linen. It largely services the expense-account brigade in the City of London who feast on osso bucco midweek, but that means it’s expensive and a bit dead at the weekend. His new restaurant, formerly the Almeida, couldn’t be more different – it is well-priced, laid-back and throbs with life seven days a week. And why not? Mr Mazzei’s southern Italian cooking is precise and generous and never anything less than superb. As The Observer’s restaurant critic Mr Jay Rayner said of the place, “If you do not order Mr Mazzei’s zucchini fritti, exploding from their pot like some desert grass that’s bolted, you are an idiot. They are the thinnest and the crispiest in London. If you attempt to eat these with cutlery, you are either strange or so uptight, you probably carry with you an antibacterial hand gel for when you touch your own children.”
What to order: zucchini fritti