British, Modern Restaurants in Covent Garden
1. Frog by Adam Handling British, Modern restaurant in Covent Garden 35 Southampton Street - WC2E
“Eating at The Frog is like allowing your palate to go to a firework display” – Adam Handling and his teams create a series of dishes of “always-surprising ingenuity, with quirky presentation and mixture of ingredients” both at his Hoxton Square original and his even-more-successful Covent Garden flagship. Both locations offer a mixture of à la carte and tasting menus – the latter incorporating vegan and vegetarian alternatives as well as beer-matching and wine-matching options. The results inspire massive support,not just for being “a well-devised journey expertly executed”, but for food that’s “wow, wow, wow beyond delicious!”. In keeping with the main man’s free-thinking philosophy (and, at E1, a big emphasis on sustainability), his locations have a youthful energy at odds with the fayne dining ethos: an approach that also seems to inspire “impeccable service” from his staff (with a special shout-out to his sommelier – “I’ve never been disappointed when asking Kelvin for a recommendation!”). Where his taste is a tad more divisive is the ambience – to fans admirably un-stuffy and energetic, but to critics slightly “odd” or “nondescript”, and with “loud and dreadful music” in N1. Top Menu Tip – “those cheese doughnuts are the stuff of legend”. See also Adam Handling Chelsea.
2. The Portrait, National Portrait Gallery British, Modern restaurant in Covent Garden St Martin’s Place - WC2
“Cracking views over the rooftops of Trafalgar Square and beyond from a sun-drenched room” earn the NPG’s top-floor dining room decent ratings as a venue for brunch, lunch or afternoon tea, or for an “early supper before the opera at the Coliseum”. The food is “quite adequate” although “not spectacular”. (There’s also a Spartan café in the basement).
3. Heliot Steak House British, Modern restaurant in Covent Garden Cranbourn Street - WC2
“Exceptional value set deals” (particularly at lunch and pre-theatre) provide reason to discover this unusually situated grill, in the former dress circle of the converted theatre that nowadays houses the UK’s largest casino (right by Leicester Square tube) and looks down on the gambling tables below. Casino owner Simon Thomas prides himself on the quality of the steaks and wines on offer, and it shows.
4. George in the Strand British, Traditional restaurant in Covent Garden 213 Strand - WC2R
“Surprisingly good food and charming service” make it worth remembering this historic hostelry (refurbed in recent times), near the Royal Courts of Justice. You can eat in the ground floor bar, or in the upstairs ‘Pig and Goose’ restaurant.
5. Spring Restaurant British, Modern restaurant in Covent Garden New Wing, Lancaster Pl - WC2
“A lovely use of a beautiful space” – “with delicate light flowing in, and a cream-focused colour scheme” – this “open and airy room”, within magnificent Somerset House, properly “lives up to its name”, and “is the perfect setting for the light, fresh and wonderful dishes” created by Skye Gyngell from her “fine, seasonal” menu. That it’s “not cheap” is noted, but seldom with rancour. “Courteous service” completes a “superb” and “romantic” experience.
6. J Sheekey Atlantic Bar Fish & seafood restaurant in Covent Garden 28-34 St Martin’s Ct - WC2
“So cool eating at the bar” – this “enjoyably bustling” spin-off from the neighbouring Theatreland classic has “very good, 1930s-style decor” (even though it was only created about 10 years ago). Compared with the main restaurant it’s “perhaps a bit more about the ambience versus the food” here, and – “with the menu opting for the small-plates approach – costs can mount up”. But, results are “predictably good”, and the operation’s “slick” style and “flexible” format suits it to many different occasions: it’s particularly “great for lunch sitting at the bar, or an early pre-theatre dinner at one of the tables”.
7. Jacob the Angel British, Modern restaurant in Covent Garden 16a Neal's Yard - WC2H
“Yummy bakes and great caffeine” help make this tiny coffee house (just 10 covers) in Seven Dials – from the owners of The Palomar – particularly “good for a solo breakfast”.
8. Balthazar British, Modern restaurant in Covent Garden 4 - 6 Russell Street - WC2
“This American-style French brasserie” in Covent Garden – an offshoot of Keith McNally’s downtown NYC institution – has a “great atmosphere any time of day”: “love the decor as you enter”. It’s “a large space but a very cosy one”, and, say fans, “not outrageously priced considering its position and what it must have cost to create”. But at times it’s “a victim of its own success – packed, loud and slow, with staff trying heroically to cope”, and “the food is not exactly world-shattering”, just “fine in a ‘here’s one I prepared earlier and heated up’ sort of way”. Top Tip – “it’s very good for breakfast, which is less costly than other meals here”.
9. The Ivy Market Grill British, Modern restaurant in Covent Garden 1 Henrietta St - WC2
“Maybe the brand is a bit stretched”, but Richard Caring’s bold expansion is paying off by-and-large, certainly in commercial terms, and – though most branches’ average food-rating is run-of-the-mill – by the standards of large chains, the group delivers a consistent-enough formula, whereby folks accept predictable nursery fodder in return for a dependable dose of ‘affordable glamour’. The “beautiful and festive” Ivy Chelsea Garden (SW3) is the best known in the stable and it’s particularly “wonderful if you manage to get a table in their fabulous garden”. The “big and buzzy” Ivy Kensington Brasserie (W8) is less highly rated, but nevertheless fills a vital niche in the local market for a comfortable, atmospheric and versatile rendezvous (“its bar is also a fun place for a drink”). The City branches (The Ivy Tower Bridge, The Ivy City Garden EC2) and Canary Wharf outlet (The Ivy in the Park, E14) are the highest rated all-round (perhaps reflecting the ongoing lack of convivial spaces out east). “Awesome views” at Tower Bridge are distinct client-pleasers. Other branches taking above-average flak include The Ivy Soho Brasserie, W1 (“busy mayhem” with “slow and disorganised service”) and The Ivy Market Grill, WC2 (“nothing special, rather overpriced, and very busy”). See also Granary Square Brasserie.
10. Cora Pearl British, Modern restaurant in Covent Garden 30 Henrietta Street - WC2E
“One of the more individual, thoughtful places opening up in Covent Garden” – this “lively”, “very enjoyable little sister of Kitty Fisher” opened in mid-2018, and inspires many reports of “simple, luxurious food” from “an incredibly attractive menu” of “delicious, little, sharing bites”. “Decent-without-being-exceptional” is another school of opinion on the cooking, though, and middling ratings overall take into account seating that’s “so cramped” and service that’s “at times, pushy, brisk and hurried”. Top Tip – “I’m not sure what they did to the chips but they transcended any normal form of potato – order a bowl each as you won’t want to share!”
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