“You feel that love is in the air!” at this “very special” destination (yet again the survey’s No. 1 choice for a romantic occasion), especially in “the inner sanctum” – “the lovely glass-roofed courtyard at the back, hung with blossom, a roof that opens in fine weather, and with an open fire for chilly nights”. “Amidst the dross of Covent Garden”, not only is it “an oasis of calm”, but staff are “charming” and “professional”, the French-inspired cuisine is “very enjoyable” and the “daunting” wine bible – one of London’s most extensive lists – is “really something else”. “Securing one of the courtyard seats is a challenge”, but “the experience in the somewhat blander upstairs is still memorable”.
“The deliciously dark and candle-lit interior is romance personified”, at this “sensual French delight” in Pimlico, whose intimate nooks and crannies have made it a famed trysting spot for as long as anyone can remember. The food “has come off the boil” in recent times: “just in case you notice it, it’s old fashioned, bistro fare, and not particularly cheap, but no-one cares”. Service meanwhile is very Gallic – “they respond more favourably to Francophones!” Top Tip – “fab outside space in summer”.
“THE place for a date in Soho” – “time stands still”at this “intriguing” townhouse that wins the hearts of legions of Londoners with its “dark and Gothic”Bohemian, candle-lit charm, its “casual yet engaged staff”, and its “splendiferous wine list (without hefty mark-ups too”). Don’t expect great comfort (although the “cramped quarters do make for romantic closeness”) and while “the no-frills cooking is very flavoursome it’s not haute cuisine”.
“The charming necessity to ring the doorbell to get in” helps “to whisk you miles from Soho” at this “intimate” and “elegant” townhouse, whose “calm and quiet atmosphere is amazing for somewhere just one street away from Shaftesbury Avenue”. Alexis Gauthier’s “mind-blowingly fantastic” seasonal cuisine is “some of the best French cooking in London” – “classic, but never old fashioned” – and backed up by an “unusual and interesting wine selection”; while “uncloying” service is of the “nothing-is-too-much-trouble” variety. “The absence of a Michelin Star since 2012 is baffling” and starkly calls into question the judgement of the tyre men. Top Tip – “lunch is a real snip”.
“The convivial atmosphere never fails to be stunning, and the Gallic cooking seldom fails to please” at this “unique Dickensian-style” warren, on the fringe of the City: “a perfect place to impress that special someone in your life”, be it romantically or on business! The “gorgeous and imaginative wine list” is key to its appeal, as are staff who are “friendly but, hard to understand given the strong French accents!” (It’s a big operation, comprising a restaurant, wine bar and tavern, all interlinked, and all with somewhat different price points.)
“A very special place” for many of the most blasé of Londoners – this “slick oasis of sophistication”near The Ritz owes its enduring success to the “elegance of the interior with its superb lighting”, “the comfort of the piano playing”, and staff under Jesus Adorno who “make you feel like a million dollars (even if you’re far from it)”. “The food is hardly the point here” and never really has been, but “prices have gone up under Richard Caring”making what has always seemed “well executed and unfussy dishes” now seem “fairly ordinary and expensive for what they are”.
“A well-oiled, old-school machine that still delivers!” The Roux dynasty’s Mayfair icon “never goes out of fashion” to its army of fans for whom it’s “simply the best”. Founded in Chelsea in 1967, it moved to its current “cosy” site round the corner from the American Embassy in 1982, and even if the occasional reporter “wishes it wasn’t in a basement” the general effect “oozes class and charm”. Michel Roux Jr succeeded his father at the helm in 1991, and “the regular presence of the great man himself adds value; he takes time with his customers and actually talks!” (Currently his daughter Emily is being primed as next in line.) The Gallic cuisine – under head chef Rachel Humphrey – is “rich and sumptuous”, while the “polished but un-condescending” service under Emanuel Landré is “almost other-worldly good”. “A hefty chunk out of the wallet” is of course de rigueur, but even so gripes about “arm-and-a-leg” bills increased this year, contributing to the food grade missing a 5/5 for the first time in a few years. Top Tip – “The fixed price lunch menu is still the best deal in London!”
“Well deserving its status as a West End Institution”, Richard Caring’s “very classy”Theatreland Icon (est 1896) offers “plenty of star gazing after the theatre”, and remains both the survey’s most talked-about destination, and its No. 1 tip for fish (eclipsing its stablemate Scott’s for nominations as London’s best). Sitting in a narrow, Dickensian alleyway off St Martin’s Lane, you pass its doorman and etched-glass façade to enter a series of snug (“poky”) panelled chambers, where “white-aproned waiters deliver whip-sharp service and a menu that sings of the sea: from shellfish platters and superior classics (eg lobster thermidor) to creamy, comforting fish pie”. “Nothing is experimental or over fussy”: “it’s without fripperies, foams and smears – just perfectly sourced and cooked seafood”. The ongoing drive to expand the business (including here the September 2016 rebranding of the bar into the ‘Atlantic Bar’) seemed to put some pressure on ratings this year however, with a tiny but tangible proportion of reports saying “expansion has hit standards a bit” (hence a slight dip in grades). The general verdict however? “Always magical!”
“Wow! I didn’t think this place could possibly live up to the hype, but it did… and easily!” Brett Graham’s “sophisticated” Notting Hill HQ delivers a pitch-perfect performance and again topped the survey’s nominations for offering London’s best meal of the year. But for all his “stunningly well-crafted” cuisine (“so many dishes that were so memorable”) and “perfectly matched wines”, it’s the “unpretentious, customer-first attitude that makes a meal here that much more enjoyable”: “everyone’s relaxed and having a great time!”
“So professional, but without any of the usual nonsense!” – Bruce Poole’s “wonderful neighbourhood restaurant” by Wandsworth Common is, for the 13th year in a row, the survey’s No. 1 favourite destination. It’s by no means a flash place – “the understated atmosphere is of a comfortable local” – but for legions of Londoners it provides “perfection where it counts”, not least the “immaculate service”, and “inspiring food”: dishes are “fine, but not fussy”, and with “enough innovation to surprise you each time” thanks to their “exceptional, and deft flavour combinations”. “AND, it’s affordable! For once you don’t need a second mortgage…”