British, Modern Restaurants in Covent Garden
1. Frog by Adam Handling British, Modern restaurant in Covent Garden 35 Southampton Street - WC2E
“Outstanding showmanship” (“food theatre for the TikTok generation”) “but matched with exceptional cooking running behind the gimmicks” (“dry ice, melting bubbles etc thrill but don’t hide the perfect texture and a palate of savoury flavour combinations”) has carved an impressive reputation for Adam Handling’s acclaimed Covent Garden flagship. Despite its status as a foodie temple, staff are “so relaxed and fun” and the atmosphere generally is very “informal”, which fans feel “makes the experience even better”: “you can really focus on the food”. And with “the kitchen being open, it allows you to see Adam leading his very disciplined brigade”. On the downside, ratings dipped a little this year, with some diners questioning “startling prices”, or accusing the culinary pyrotechnics of allowing “a triumph of style over substance”. (“The technical excellence is unquestionable, but really too much showing off… serving waffles with caviar and honey ought to be a capital offence!”). Success came in other respects, though: it was finally – not before time – awarded a Michelin star.
2. Cora Pearl British, Modern restaurant in Covent Garden 30 Henrietta Street - WC2E
“Romantic but with a buzz”, this Covent Garden crowd-pleaser excels for its “consistent mixture of ambience, service and quality food”. Not surprisingly “a pre-theatre favourite”, it offers “no real gastronomic experiences” but superior comfort food, such as the “delicious and imaginative mini ham-and-cheese toastie starter portions: to die for!”. Like its older sister Kitty FIsher’s in Shepherd Market, it’s named after a courtesan who, in times gone by, frequented the area.
3. The Ivy Market Grill British, Modern restaurant in Covent Garden 1 Henrietta St - WC2
“You wouldn’t go for ‘haute cuisine’, but as a jolly place to eat comfort food in a spectacular setting, it is hard to beat” – that’s the upbeat view, anyway, on this now-“ubiquitous” brasserie chain. Eight years and 40 openings later, the spin-offs increasingly eclipse the Theatreland original (see also), whose Edwardian features provide the style-guide for its nationwide ‘roll out’. “Even if the unchallenging food reaches no heights, there’s a consistent buzz”, which makes them a “posh”, “fun” choice for a get-together, if not a particularly foodie one. This is particularly the case at the landmark London off-shoots: at ‘Chelsea Garden’ (“gorgeous greenery”); Kensington (“slick”, with a “pretty glitzy crowd”); and on the Thames (“great views over Tower Bridge”). But while it’s always been acknowledged that the mass offering is “a shadow of the mothership’s” – with “average grub at not-so-average prices” – the feeling that the brand has become just “a chain that does not excite” is gaining ever-stronger currency. Service seems more “stretched” nowadays, and a sliding ambience rating is making the whole offering seem ever-more “overrated, for all its modern art and perky décor”.
4. Clos Maggiore British, Modern restaurant in Covent Garden 33 King St - WC2
“Get lucky and score a table in the conservatory and you’ve landed the most romantic rendezvous in town!” at this “lovely” oasis in bustling Covent Garden – for many years now, reporters’ No. 1 choice “for celebrating anniversaries, engagements, weddings, etc…”. The “beautiful glazed dining room is hung with blossom and has both a roof that opens in warm weather and a cosy fire for cold days”. And not everyone feels that all is lost if you don’t nab one of these prime seats (“everyone raves about the garden room but there is a small dining room upstairs that we love too!”). Though it has never been a prime foodie destination, the kitchen typically wins acclaim for its “accomplished modern European cuisine”, which is backed up by “the longest wine list ever seen” (although pricing of some vintages gave cause for complaint this year). There continues to be a school of thought that its food is “sadly not as good as it was pre-lockdown” or that “staff changes have made it seem less welcoming”. But ratings recovered well here this year after a dive last year, and on most of the very many reports we receive: “you always feel special here!”
5. Balthazar British, Modern restaurant in Covent Garden 4 - 6 Russell Street - WC2
“An excellent simulacrum of a Parisian brasserie” – this big, prominently situated Covent Garden fixture, just off the Piazza (created by English-born New Yorker, Keith McNally, but nowadays part of Caprice Holdings) provides “good vibes for Sunday brunch or a meal around a show”. But even fans feel “the main draw is the buzzy atmosphere, not the unexciting food” and – especially when it becomes “too busy for its own good” – this is, for its critics, “the worst kind of hell”, with food that’s “absolutely average and poor value for the price”.
6. Plume by Grays & Feather British, Modern restaurant in Westminster 26 Wellington Street - WC2E
2021 Review: Promising, if limited, early feedback on this modern ‘wine parlour’ – recently opened by wine expert Andrew Gray (a merchant with a business at the Southbank Food Market) on a corner-site near Covent Garden (the erstwhile office-space of a Mr Charles Dickens); and with an excellent list of 70 wines: “limited food, but what they do is lovely; tiny space, but it’s gorgeous, and well worth a visit, especially as staff are so lovely”.
7. Indigo, One Aldwych British, Modern restaurant in Covent Garden 1 Aldwych - WC2
This “well-situated” venue occupies an attractive mezzanine in a luxury hotel near Covent Garden that borrows buzz from the foyer below; and which makes a handy rendezvous for business or pleasure. Top Tip – “a most imaginative afternoon tea, and they cater automatically for those of us who are wheat and dairy free!”
8. The River Restaurant, The Savoy Fish & seafood restaurant in Covent Garden The Savoy, 91 The Strand - WC2
In its heyday, this elegant room overlooking the Thames was one of London’s key options for any kind of major occasion. But its relaunch and rebranding (from Kaspar’s Seafood Bar & Grill, RIP) to this – its original identity, but now under Gordon Ramsay Holdings – in late 2021 inspired surprisingly limited survey feedback this year (and indeed few press reviews). It is sometimes recommended for the top fish and seafood that is its focus, but all-in-all reactions are muted and uneventful for what should be a top destination.
9. J Sheekey Atlantic Bar Fish & seafood restaurant in Covent Garden 28-32 St Martin’s Ct - WC2
A semi-independent addition to the original venue next door, its “reliably fresh fish” and glam, casual styling make this American-style seafood bar “a great post-theatre favourite”. There are no specific gripes about food or service, but “the pricing seems to be approaching the level of the main restaurant, taking away some of its raison d’être”.
10. The Ivy British, Modern restaurant in Covent Garden 1-5 West Street - WC2
“It’s just so, so comforting… out-of-towners, especially those north of 50, always find it magical!” This “always buzzy” and still-famous Theatreland icon (‘rolled out’ by Richard Caring over the last ten years as a national chain) is, says fans, “still a wonderful experience”. Such advocates often feel that “it never fails to impress” (even if the A-listers moved on a few years ago) and – for business occasions – appreciate the fact that “clients love it!” Even such boosterism often acknowledges, however, that “these days better food can be found elsewhere” (“it’s not remotely going to challenge or educate your palate”). And, while it’s long been accepted that “you don’t come here for its comfort food”, its ratings nowadays support harsher critics who feel that “it’s just become an overworked cliché” – “the food is moving to the disappointing level of the chain… and service too”.
11. Spring Restaurant British, Modern restaurant in Covent Garden New Wing, Lancaster Place - WC2
“One of the prettiest chambers in London” – Skye Gyngell’s “wonderful, light and airy venue” has a “lovely and calming vibe” and makes “beautiful use of the Somerset House dining room”. Her “assured and imaginative” modern cuisine makes it a major favourite, although it was much less often recommended this year for hitting the peaks of gastronomy. Top Menu Tip – “the ethics, creativity, utility and value for money of the ‘Scratch Menu’ are brilliant!” (“delicious reimagined ‘leftovers’ served from a no-choice menu between 17.30 and 18.30”).
12. Heliot Steak House British, Modern restaurant in Covent Garden Cranbourn Street - WC2
“To-die-for steaks” can be a surprise find in the restaurant overlooking the floor of London’s biggest casino, on Leicester Square. It’s a quirky space, in the circle of the former Hippodrome Theatre, and its USDA-imported meat and superior wines are something of a passion project for casino owner, Simon Thomas.
13. Gordon’s Wine Bar International restaurant in Strand 47 Villiers Street - WC2
“Love it… I always feel like a spy when I drink there…” – London’s oldest wine bar (est. 1890), near Embankment tube, is worth a visit for its “great interior” alone, with ancient brick-lined vaults, but it also boasts one of the capital’s biggest outside terraces. You no longer queue for the cold cuts, cheese and pies – they bring them to you with waiter service. The “excellent selection of wines” is by far the greater attraction.
14. Pivot by Mark Greenaway British, Modern restaurant in Covent Garden 3 Henrietta Street - WC2E
“Tucked away on the first floor of a Covent Garden townhouse”, this late-2021 newcomer from top Scottish chef, Mark Greenaway, is “a great little venue” with a “beautiful setting overlooking Covent Garden piazza”. “Pick the chef’s counter and you’ll be served by Mark himself: an engaging chef, but even if you can’t sit at the counter, the restaurant seating has good views”. The menu (including breakfast and a pre-theatre option) is versatile and “both delivers on taste and offers good value for the location”. Top Menu Tip – beef and bone marrow pie.
15. St Martin's House British, Modern restaurant in Covent Garden 4a Upper St Martin's Lane - WC2H
Styling itself as ‘Your new home in Covent Garden’ – this new all-day British brasserie in London’s Theatreland opened in spring 2022 (just before our survey) in the prominent and convenient site formerly occupied by Tredwell’s (RIP). In limited initial feedback, reports are of highs and lows – it seems safest to leave a rating till next year.
16. 26 Grains Neals Yard British, Modern restaurant in Covent Garden 1 Neal's Yard - WC2H
2022 Review: In late 2019, the team from well-known café, 26 Grains of Neal’s Yard, opened a big sister over the road from Borough Market. It’s a casual, tastefully decorated haunt serving simple food; and where at night, the vibe is less café, more wine bar. In late 2020, Tom Cenci (the ex Duck & Waffle head chef, whose own Loyal Tavern venture did not survive the pandemic) took over what has become an extended residency. The cooking (by him and one other chef) centres on sustainability, and less-used cuts of meat (particularly Irish beef).
17. The Jones Family Affair British, Modern restaurant in Covent Garden 40-42 William IV Street - WC2N
“An excellent addition to the family!” – this new steakhouse from the eponymous clan is making a success of this big, well-located site off Trafalgar Square where a number of London’s top restaurateurs have stumbled in the last decade, when it was Les Deux Salons, RIP. Its large interior is “beautiful”; and – “with superb meat, supplied by The Ginger Pig – it does one of the best steaks in London”. And, leaving all that aside, it’s just “great to have somewhere decent to eat so centrally”.
18. Bustronome British, Modern restaurant in Charing Cross 40b Victoria Embankment - WC2N
“A gourmet meal on a sightseeing bus in London” – might sound hellish but is surprisingly well-reviewed, including by some locals: “the food was tasty and it was a great experience!”
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