There are times when all that will do is a vegan biryani, served out of a recycled container in a decrepit car park in Brockley. There are times when it’s about a 20-course tasting menu and being too blown away by the food to bother talking. And then there are those moments when you want to put on your smartest, sparkliest clothes, sod saving up for a deposit and just soak up the glamorous thrill of living in one of the world’s most exciting cities — ideally with an A-list celebrity on the next table, or at least, that person from that thing on Netflix.
Suggesting a restaurant where the food is worse than what you could rustle up at home isn’t our bag, but the cooking is not the be all and end all of the places we’ve recommended below — though you will eat superbly at many of them and often, but not always, pay handsomely for the privilege.
Rather, these are our quite simply our favourite restaurants in London to go feel good in. From truffle-covered pizza to Champagne at the push of a button, crystal-coated loos and crêpes flambeed on a trolley, here’s where’s to head for a taste of the very, very good life.
One of the few surefire bets in London for celebrity sightings, the capital’s classiest fish restaurant is a heady combination of old-school glamour and Mayfair new money stirred together by one of the most potent histories in restaurants. Scott’s was where Ian Fleming decided he liked his martinis shaken not stirred, and the place name-checked by the POWs of The Great Escape as a post-wartime nirvana. It looks just as dreamy today, with a wood-panelled dining room hung with modern masters (Emin, Hirst, Hume) and a centrepiece shellfish bar glittering with fresh crustacea. Griddled prawns, seared scallops, Dover sole and lobster thermidor are there for those who rather the fish comes cooked. Those martinis, incidentally, make Scott’s the place to dispute the old wives’ tale that spirits and oysters should never be mixed. They very much should.
20 Mount Street, W1K 2HE, scotts-restaurant.com
Jean-Georges at The Connaught
Should you find yourself tottering out of The Connaught Bar in search of something to soak up the just-one-more that’s starting to feel like one-too-many, you could do a lot worse than settle into a supremely comfortable tub chair at this dining room across the lobby where, if something can be coated in truffle, then it’s probably on the comfort-food menu, which among other bits, boasts truffle-crusted salmon with apple, celeriac and black-truffle vinaigrette; black truffle pizza with fontina cheese; or a cheeseburger with Somerset Brie, yuzu pickles and black truffle mayonnaise. Still got the munchies? Try eggy brioche toast topped with Imperial Oscietra Gold caviar. The restaurant’s namesake is New York-based superchef Jean-Georges Vongerichten, which means there’s more to this place than just a casual alternative to The Connaught’s three-starHélène Darroze: expect nothing-is too-much trouble service, a glossy transatlantic clientele and a bill that’s a reminder you’re dining on the most expensive square of the Monopoly board.
The Connaught, Carlos Place, W1K 2AL, the-connaught.co.uk
MiMi Mei Fair
Look past an irritating name that will have you wishing you’d booked somewhere else when you can’t spell it for Google maps and a tiresome backstory of the fictional Empress Mimi and this is one of the most impressive Chinese restaurants to have arrived in London in some time. Owner Samyukta Nair is also behind the Michelin-starred Indian Jamavar, and consequently has form in knowing what moneyed Mayfair palates want from a night out. Classic Cantonese cooking is elevated by superior ingredients — Wagyu beef baked puffs; Norfolk black pig char siu — though the signature Peking duck is so generously portioned it could make a meal in itself, which might make the £88 price tag easier to swallow. The intimate series of dining rooms, meanwhile, look a million dollars — clubby booths downstairs, a pastel-blue and powder-pink salon above — while staff in velvet blazers go about their duties with a nudge and a wink that suggests nothing about this fabulous confection should be taken too seriously.
55 Curzon Street, W1J 8PG, mimimeifair.com
The fact that BiBi comes courtesy of JKS Restaurants – Gymkhana, Trishna, Hoppers et al – gives this new Indian an immediate hallmark of quality before you even know that Chet Sharma was a development chef for Moor Hall, the two-Michelin-starred Lancashire restaurant that has topped the UK’s best restaurant list for the past two years. But the background isn’t nearly as impressive as the here-and-now experience of cooking that will leave you utterly absorbed and oblivious to the surroundings of paisley screens and ornate fretwork that are fit for a modern maharajah. The small portions designed to share, however, may be better ordered in pairs; there is no one we love enough to split a Wookey Hole cheese papad or raw Highland beef pepper fry with. A refreshingly short wine list priorities quality over quantity (at prices to match), with cold infusion teas for non-drinkers.
42 North Audley Street, W1K 6ZP, bibirestaurants.com
Bob Bob Ricard
Bob Bob’s famous “Press for Champagne” buttons are so iconic they have their own hashtag, but even if your manicure isn’t Instagram ready, there’s still enough eye-popping opulence on display elsewhere here to turn your social into a thirst trap. Interiors modelled on the Orient Express combine intimate, leather-lined booths with angular art deco glamour, while oysters and caviar set the mood if you have something to celebrate. What’s always surprising about this place though is how affordable most of the retro comfort food menu is: prawn cocktail followed by salmon poached in white wine will give change from 30 quid, though the chance to try a chicken Kyiv which will transform your plate into a lake of garlic butter should not be passed up. As for those buttons – “too much of anything is bad, but too much Champagne is just right,” as Mark Twain once slurred.
1 Upper James Street, W1F 9DF, bobbobricard.com
If you’ve ever rifled through the designer racks at Selfridges and wondered “when would I ever wear that?” then you’ve obviously never been to Sexy Fish, where there is so much well-toned flesh on display that a Victoria’s Secret Angel might blush. But while the dress code might be dictated by the Damien Hirst mermaid that is the restaurant’s mascot, where else in London can you turn up at six thirty on a midweek evening and feel like you’re partying on Mykonos (or Miami, where the international roll-out in waiting has just launched)? Subtlety might not be on the menu at this Berkeley Square pleasure palace; what is are Asian small eats (sushi and sashimi, skewers and salads) plus, if you’re hungry, whole baby chicken, Ibérico pork ribs and – what else in Mayfair? – A5 Wagyu. Don’t miss gawping at the two giant fish tanks in the basement private room when you go to the loo.
Berkeley Square House, Berkeley Square, W1J 6BR, sexyfish.com
The only thing more beautiful than the crowd at Isabel is the interiors. The dining room is reason alone to put on your finest glad rags, with polished brass lamps set into the ceiling like trumpets and walls glittering with golden fabric, while toilets lined with hand-painted de Gournay wallpaper make the lavs the best-dressed loos in London. High-protein, low-carb dishes and a catwalk-ready international clientele prove the old adage that you can never be too rich or too thin, though the likes of grilled veal chop with green beans and a pickled shallot salad are as delicious an advert for meat and two veg as you’re likely to find.
26 Albemarle Street, W1S 4HY, isabelw1.london
This legendary dining room, so famous that it’s signposted on the exit at Green Park tube, is the centrepiece of countless fond memories but no one, however, would ever have called the old Langan’s luxe. Now new owners with a background in Mayfair members’ clubs have made Langan’s fit for the 21st century, recasting the dining room in Murano glass and swirly marble, adding an invite-only bar upstairs and keeping the menu of retro comfort food: spinach soufflé, shellfish cocktail, bangers and mash and a fish pie for two to share. Regulars from the original Langan’s will be reassured that the quality of cooking is as wayward as the old days but this is a restaurant that has always been more about the mood than the food. The ultimate seal of approval? Former owner Sir Michael Caine brought his BFF Joan Collins here for lunch and loved it.
Stratton Street, W1J 8LB, langansbrasserie.com
The Hanway Place Hakkasan may be the original, but this Bruton Street sequel ups the glamour, not only due to the Mayfair location but also because of a more intimate-feeling dining room where the throbbing beats and dim-blue lighting make you feel like you’re eating in a nightclub, even if it’s lunchtime. Dim sum and jasmine tea (surprisingly affordable) in the ground-floor bar may be a better call during the daytime, but Hakkasan is a venue precision-tuned for nights on the town hoovering up Cantonese classics and creative cocktails (unsurprisingly expensive). The chefs, at least, know what they’re doing: you won’t eat a better sweet and sour pork this side of Kowloon, but better to order the signature dishes you can’t find elsewhere: black truffle roasted duck, stir-fried rib-eye with Merlot, roasted silver cod in Champagne and honey. If you’ve serious money to burn, go big on the wine list packed with famous names for celebrating,
17 Bruton Street, W1J 6QB, hakkasan.com
Grunge more than glamour might be the first thing that springs to mind when thinking about Shoreditch but for east Londoners with West End tastes, BiBo has brought razzle-dazzle to the Mondrian hotel. Hotshot Spanish chef Dani García closed his eponymous Madrid restaurant a year after winning a third Michelin star, instead choosing to focus his energies on this growing chain of tapas restaurants in Marbella, Madrid, Doha and now London. The Spanish love of late-night partying means that a restaurant that is subdued at lunch transforms into a throng of high-decibel hedonism come the evening, buoyed up by live DJs and sangría blancos. Some top-notch tapas diverts attention momentarily from the spectacle it all – ham croquetas topped with a silky-sweet frill of Jabugo ham; tortilla decorated with chevrons of mayo. For the ultimate in party-after-the-party vibe, check in for the night and you’ll have access to the rooftop pool.
45 Curtain Road, EC2A 3PT, sbe.com
Le Comptoir Robuchon
Joël Robuchon was the most awarded chef in Michelin-star history at the time of his death in 2018 – a twinkling haul of bling that wouldn’t disgrace the wrists of the Euro clientele of this dining room just off Piccadilly where the Robuchon legacy of luxury lives on with a light touch. Knockout cocktails are dispensed from a long marble bar which gives on to an even longer open kitchen and chef’s counter, though the best seats are in the plush velvet banquettes, where angled mirrors provide superb people-watching as the one per cent air-kiss their way around the room. The cooking could easily be a procession of finger food for the stick-thin, and though you could graze your way around bite-sized Kobe beef toast or sweetcorn cromesquis, better to dive into the calorific signatures: langoustine ravioli glossy with foie gras butter, or the iconic pomme purée, more butter than potato and potentially the only thing here richer than the customers.
6 Clarges Street, W1J 8AE, robuchonlondon.co.uk
Fight your way through the crush of Amazónico’s heaving front bar and you’ll find a surprisingly civilised dining room behind, the sort of place where kids who went to the Rainforest Cafe go when they grow up and get a megabucks job in the City. A canopy of greenery dangles from the ceiling, a jazz band plays out of sight while model-attractive staff deliver surprisingly friendly service. The cooking takes South American clichés and refines them with cheffy technique: the chimichurri for the skirt steak is made more intense with a brief flash under the grill, while the guac is seasoned with sea urchin – though the presence of sushi and Wagyu steak as bait for the Berkeley Square crowd indicates that this is not the place to expect authenticity. For pudding, take your cue from the wall of spinning pineapples grilling on a rotisserie.
10 Berkeley Square, W1J 6BR, amazonicorestaurant.com
Sketch Lecture Room and Library
Sketch’s ground-floor Gallery has just been refurbished by artist Yinka Shonibare and designer India Mahdavi but for the ultimate in opulence, head upstairs to the three-Michelin-starred Lecture Room and Library. En route you’ll pass Chris Levine’s portrait of the Queen and loos encrusted with Swarovski crystals before being ushered into a dining room lined with leather walls that was the former London HQ of Christian Dior. The combination of those three stars with a big-name French chef-patron (Pierre Gagnaire) and an obsessive attention to detail add up to one of the most expensive dining experiences in the capital but it is, at least, easy to see what you’re spending your money on: multi-dish courses of the most seasonal of ingredients, low-availability wine served in the thinnest Austrian glassware, tables so widely spaced you may as well be eating alone and one staff member for every guest. Even if you can’t afford to eat here, this is a restaurant that must be seen to be believed.
9 Conduit Street, W1S 2XG, sketch.london
It’s near impossible not to want to burst into a little Édith Piaf as you descend the curving staircase to Zédel, Jeremy King and Chris Corbin’s loving pastiche of the grand French brasseries which proves that imitation really is the sincerest form of flattery. Pink-clothed tables topped with baskets of French bread are the setting for people-watching more entertaining than what’s in the surrounding theatres, a mix of Soho camp, London literati and out-of-towners who can’t believe their luck. So what if it’s not the best French food you’ll ever eat? There’s simply nowhere else in the capital that lets you live the high life on a low budget quite like this: cauliflower soup for £3.25, steak-frites for £11, îles flottantes for £6. Just don’t get stuck into the wine list too enthusiastically or the bill will skyrocket.
20 Sherwood Street W1F 7ED, brasseriezedel.com
When you want to put on The Ritz, there really is nowhere quite like, well, The Ritz. Chaps must still wear a jacket and tie or face the ignominy of being politely asked to don one of the hotel’s green blazers, though this is a dining room that demands you get dressed up, not least because no one wants to be outclassed by spic-and-span waiters sporting dickie-bows and tailcoats. Chandeliers illuminate a frescoed ceiling worthy of Versailles, a pianist tinkles away in the corner while trollies appear tableside bearing Bresse duck and crêpe Suzette. If it all sounds hideously touristy, the quality of the food and sheer professionalism of the staff squash any such qualms: this is dining on a palatial scale that every Londoner should save up for and try at least once. Even just saying “we’re going to The Ritz” feels magical. The place astonishes.
150 Piccadilly, W1J 9BR, theritzlondon.com