London on a plate

IT’S EASY TO eat bad food and pay a lot of money for it in London so it’s important to plan ahead

IT’S EASY TO eat bad food and pay a lot of money for it in London so it’s important to plan ahead. Here are a few top spots, some of which are so popular you may have to plan your trip around your table booking.


Heston Blumenthal may be taking inspiration from the past for his new restaurant, Dinner, at the Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park, but bagging a table involves some planning into the future. It’s lunch at Dinner only until August, as evening sittings are booked until then, with “limited availability” for lunch.

If you can’t wait that long to taste the famous meat fruit (£12.50), a chicken liver parfait coated in orange jelly made to look like a mandarin, then you could add your name to a waiting list and hope for a cancellation. There’s also a porridge of cod cheeks, pickled beetroot, garlic and fennel (£14.50), hay-smoked mackerel (£14.50) and an 18th-century-inspired dish called Beef Royal, slow cooked short ribs with smoked anchovy and onion puree and ox tongue (£28).


Dinner by Heston Blumenthal, Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park, 66 Knightsbridge, London SW1X 7LA. Reservations: 0044 20 72013833.

Bar Boulud

Alternatively try Bar Boulud, also in the Mandarin Oriental, but without the waiting list. French chef Daniel Boulud, whose Manhattan restaurant Daniel has three Michelin stars, opened this sister restaurant to his Bar Boulud in New York. Boulud is doing a fixed price three-course lunch and pre-theatre dinner for £20.

The à-la-carte menu sounds so French you can almost hear strains of La Marseillaise as you read it. I particularly like the sound of the his-and-hers starter of charcuterie – from the charcuterie bar – and a choice of pâté grandmère, a fine pâté of chicken liver, pork and cognac (£6.75) or pâté grandpère, a coarse pâté of fois gras, truffle juice and port (£9.50).

Bar Boulud Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park, 66 Knightsbridge, London SW1X7LA. Reservations: 0044 20 72013899

Pollen Street Social

The latest celebrity arrival is Pollen Street Social, which opened last Monday under Gordon Ramsay protégé Jason Atherton. In a breathless blog Atherton has been describing his awake-at-night-excitement at finally opening his own “gaff”.

The tone is fine dining “with a British accent”. Possible dishes include Orkney langoustine with lemon peel purée; Speyside beef fillet with organic carrots and a Heston-esque snails, garlic and parsley porridge. They’ve got a Josper grill (you can go to Gotham South in Stillorgan to try it out there first), and are promising London’s “first dessert bar”, which sounds a bit like a coffee shop to me. A three-course lunch menu is on at £26.

Pollen Street Social, Pollen Street, Mayfair (close to Hanover Square).

Reservations: 0044 20 72907600 or email

The Wolseley

A more traditional “British accent” experience is to be found at the Wolseley in Piccadilly where a weekend brunch menu includes The Wolseley muesli (£4.25), caramelised pink grapefruit (£4.75), buttered crumpets with preserves (£2.75), yoghurt with a rhubarb compote (£4.75) or haggis with fried duck eggs (£9.25). A cream tea menu includes fruit scones with home-made jam and clotted cream with tea for £9.75. They do afternoon tea for £21 with “assorted finger sandwiches, fruit scones, pastries and a choice of teas”. You will have to rely on your recall of this quintessential London experience as no photography is allowed.

The Wolseley, 160 Piccadilly, London W1J 9EB. Reservations: 0044 20 74996996, or email


Near Farringdon Road on the pedestrianised Exmouth Market, Moro restaurant offers food on the hoof as well as a sit-down meal. Tapas are served through the day in the Moorish restaurant. Dishes include scallops with crispy capers, smoked paprika and shaved fennel (£8.50), white and green asparagus with pine nut, egg and dill sauce (£8.50) and cuttlefish with broad beans, ink and mint (£8.50). Mains last week included wood-roasted sardines with beetroot and green herb borani (a yoghurt dip) (£18), and wood-roasted pork with artichokes, sherry and mash (£18.50).

Moro, 34-36 Exmouth Market, London EC1R 4QE. Reservations: 0044 20 78338336

St John

One of Anthony Bourdain’s food heroes, Fergus Henderson, is the brains behind the St John Restaurant in a former ham and bacon smokehouse around the corner from Smithfield Market.

Meat and fish are the heart of this restaurant. Henderson was the Daddy of snout-to-tail cooking long before recession cuts of meat started popping up on menus everywhere.

You can also buy bread and baked goods at the restaurant and they host occasional farmers’ markets and food festivals. You can try native oysters for £2.80 each, grilled razor clams for £6.50 each, a starter of smoked mackerel, potato and sorrel for £8, or a potted beef and pickled red cabbage for £13.90. Mains include ox heart, beetroot and horseradish (£17) and pigeon and radishes (£22.50).

St John Bar and Restaurant, 26 St John Street, London EC1M 4AY. Reservations: 0044 20 33018069


Another relaxed option is the third restaurant in a chain of Italian “small bites” bars that began with Polpo and Polpetto. Spuntino recently opened on Soho’s Rupert Street. The name means snack in Italian, the place has 25 covers and it does not take bookings. Dishes, many for under £10, include truffled egg toast (a thick slice of bread hollowed out and filled with two egg yolks and cheese, all drizzled with truffle oil), soft-shell crab with Tabasco aioli, and meatball sandwiches. Be prepared to queue for a table at busy times or turn up for a really early lunch when they open at 11am.

Spuntino, 61 Rupert Street, Soho, London W1D 7PW


Fans of Yotam Ottolenghi will beat a path to Nopi on Warwick Street, his first fully-fledged restaurant which is described as “a brasserie with a twist”. Open from 8am for breakfast through to lunch and dinner, dishes are middle-eastern and Asian influenced. There is a formal ground floor and more relaxed basement area. Sharing is encouraged and three savoury dishes are recommended for dinner, from a selection that includes slow-cooked pig cheek with celeriac and barberry salad (£10), miso quail, red shallots, grapes and verjuice (£12), grilled mackerel with fresh coconut, mint and peanut salad (£9).

Nopi, 21-22 Warwick Street, London W1B 5NE. Reservations: 0044 20 74949584 or email

Petersham Nurseries Cafe

If you tire of London, escape by train or tube for a lunch at Petersham Nurseries Cafe in Richmond where head chef Skye Gyngell won a Michelin star this year. It’s a short seasonal menu with much of the ingredients coming from the walled garden of Petersham House.

Lunch bookings are available from 12 to 3pm. Typical dishes include pan-fried squid with new season peas and sage (£13), guinea fowl with leeks and salsa verde (£25.50) and a dessert of lemon posset with poached rhubarb (£7).

Richmond is 15 minutes by train from Waterloo and is also a stop on the District line. Petersham House is a 30-minute walk from the station along the Thames or a bus or taxi ride away if you don’t want to work up an appetite.

Petersham Nurseries, Church Lane, Off Petersham Road, Richmond, Surrey TW10 7AG. Reservations: 0044 20 86053627

Catherine Cleary

Catherine Cleary

Catherine Cleary, a contributor to The Irish Times, is a founder of Pocket Forests