London sparks with openings, from the rough end of Regent St to the badlands of Lewisham. Zeren Wilson unfurls his napkin
Another month, another slew of restaurants. All corners of London continue to spark with openings, and it now seems to matter less and less where you may be based – there’s something decent happening within striking distance for all Londoners. We’re pretty happy about it, too. Even NW8? Yep, stay with me on this one…
Central London culinary buzz is no longer focused on the streets of Soho. Hotels are falling over themselves to grab a slice of the action – several of this month’s openings are hosted by a hotel.
Bloody good fried olives
The Wigmore Tavern has just opened on a corner of The Langham hotel at the top of Regent Street, the menu overseen by Michel Roux Jnr – with that kind of consultancy fee thrown at it, the menu should have a few moves on it. It certainly talks a good game, with some tempting sounding bar snacks: buttered crumpets with steamed cock crab (blinis really, three of ‘em) ; masala spice Scotch Egg (highlight of a first visit); Torta Fritta and prosciutto; fried olives stuffed with veal mince (bloody good, but £6); stovetop cheese toastie. A beautiful interior, plenty of bar seats, a storming selection of keg beers (the house beer is by Brew By Numbers, a current darling of the craft beer scene), and more than a nod to the style and feel of Gramercy Tavern in New York. It’s now a very decent option for a drink at what has historically been the rough end of Regent Street, besmirched with ropey pubs and tedious chain restaurant offerings.
Lauded chef Ollie Dabbous is behind the menu at the recently launched Henrietta Hotel in Covent Garden, bringing his light-handed (and formerly Michelin star-garlanded) touch to the proceedings. New York chef Marcus Samuelsson has brought his Harlem restaurant Red Rooster to the Curtain Hotel in Shoreditch, garnering mixed reviews for his take on chicken and waffles, fried chicken, cornbread and its mash-up of African-American fare, with a dollop of Ethiopian and Swedish lobbed in for good measure. Tienda Roosteria has just opened as a follow-up, serving tacos, margarita slushies and tequila. More tacos for London….
Shoreditch: the Second Coming?
Around the corner on Great Eastern Street (what the hell is happening in Shoreditch, the Second Coming?), Nobu Hotel Shoreditch has opened, where you can drop £42 on their famed Black Cod with miso, if you’re in the mood. With chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten about to move into The Connaught, this will add to an extremely perky hotel restaurant scene at the moment: Gordon Ramsay at Claridge’s feels like a long, long time ago….
From the centre of town to south-east London, and the uncharted (even for many Londoners) badlands of Lewisham. Sparrow opened quietly on an unlikely stretch off a roundabout, with a chef couple who between them have clocked miles at St John, Pollen Street Social, Bao and Merchant’s Tavern. The menu bristles with influences, hopping from ox heart and chips to Sri Lankan dosas with sambal, from roast pork belly with harissa to beef massaman curry….jitterbugging across all corners of the globe.
Changing fried chicken for the good
Fried chicken has been a slow burning trend for some time (in particular attempts to erase the guilt of a fried chicken ‘hit’ with ‘ethical’ and ‘free-range’ birds), but the team who would appear to have nailed it are the Chick ‘n’ Sours mob who have followed up their Dalston spot with another humdinger: CHICK’N, trumpeting the credo that they are ‘changing fried chicken for the good’. I reckon they may well have achieved that already.
They have taken all the ‘naughty’ items we all hanker after and spun it to make us feel better: birds from a farm in Somerset, free to roam and forage, happy chicks. Now throw yourself into this lot: chicken sausage muffin with cheese; buttermilk chicken and herb mayonnaise; chicken burger with cheese and bacon; chicken ‘tiki’ sandwich with buttermilk mayonnaise, pineapple, bacon and cheese; chicken wings, tenders, clusters, with dips including sriracha sour cream; nachos with Szechuan ‘ragout’, kimchee cheese, pink pickled onions….it’s ok, you can feel far worthier indulging here rather than at local chicken shop. Promise.
Make it a four-hour lunch
Westwards to Chelsea, and a Malaysian restaurant of note, Zheng, that quickly won a four-star rave from the Evening Standard’s redoubtable Fay Maschler. She praised their char kuey tow fried noodles, nasi lemak, chilli salt and pepper squid and “luscious” roast duck. Worth trekking to Sydney Street for. With the stylish Elystan Street around the corner on, er, Elystan Street – owned by restaurant stalwarts chef Phil Howard and restaurateur Rebecca Mascarenhas – this is the current Chelsea star which opened last year (go for lunch; make it a four hour job). I’m finding myself kicking around SW3 a bit more these days thanks to openings like these, whereas previously it had been mainly to visit the charming Phat Phuc Noodle Bar (that really is its name) for a cracking bowl of laksa noodle soup. It’s just a shack beneath street level, with just a few outside tables. A genuine hidden gem in Chelsea.
Brazen mac ‘n’ cheese
Finally, a pleasure to discover a beautifully restored pub in deepest, deepest residential St John’s Wood (this place really is deep undercover, hiding amongst a strip of massive Georgian houses), where brothers Ben and Ed Robson have restored The Clifton, which had lain dormant for four years. It may well be the most newsworthy snippet for the area since Noel Gallagher of Oasis lived in the house he called Supernova Heights in the 1990s, hosting raucous parties during the zenith of Britpop. I’m wooed by brazen mac ‘n’ cheese croquettes with a whoosh of slutty white truffle oil, and a skillet of K.B.C. (Korean boneless chicken wings), both of which make me want to sit at the bar and slam back several (five, six, seven…) cold beers, and then order the haggis sausage roll. Then more wings.
St John’s Wood now has somewhere worth eating and drinking? Told you it would be worth staying with me. NW8, eh? Lordy, things really are on the up.
If you liked this article, read our ‘Restaurants in London’ guide