Since starting the blog, people often ask me to recommend restaurants. It’s a compliment and very nice to be asked but also slightly difficult for a number of reasons.
I’m not a professional restaurant critic and while I go out to eat quite a bit to meet up with friends, it’s often to the same places and I very rarely go to anywhere ‘posh’. I can’t give you advice about Michelin starred and award-winning restaurants; I’m more of a trattoria and café person. So, if you’re looking for somewhere extra special for a blow-out meal, I’m not really your guide.
Recommending anything is always like entering slightly dangerous territory. There are restaurants I love which others haven’t been impressed by; there are restaurants others think are wonderful but I don’t like. I do know if a first visit to a restaurant isn’t good I’m rarely forgiving enough to give it another try, while favourite restaurants have nine lives like cats: ‘Oh dear,’ I might think, ‘that wasn’t quite up to their normal standard,’ and let it go and not be put off going again (unless the lower standard is regularly repeated).
I’m more forgiving of mediocre food than mediocre service. But the food of course is important. Food has always been important. I’ve been talking about food since I learnt my first words; my parents were always in search of good and interesting food and we’d make big detours to try a new restaurant or food shop. As a family, now with my children and their partners and own children, we will talk in detail about food, whether eating in or out: how to prepare it, how the flavours work, whether it was better when we did something slightly different last time, maybe it needs a little more this or that … I think you really have to love food to want to talk about it in this way but we do! It’s not about criticising as much as about discovering and sharing.
Virginia Woolf wrote in A Room of One’s Own, ‘One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.’ I’ve been lucky enough to dine extremely well over the past few months. I’ve returned to old favourites, had a few disappointments, but I’ve also added some great finds to my list of places to eat. I thought it would be fun to tell you where I’ve been eating out in the first half of this year – in no particular order – and if you get to try them too, I hope you like them as much as I do!
A discovery from last year but it earns its place in this list by having become my most ‘go to’ place. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve eaten there and I’m going again this coming week! I love the food, which is exceptional, I love the atmosphere, the setup of the bancone (counter) where you see food being prepared and feel part of all that’s going on. I’ve eaten there with friends, my son, and on my own. Happiness comes bancone shaped! (Click here for full review.)
A recent find but a place I’ve passed so many times and thought I must try it one day. Part of what held me back was the fear of disappointment. I’ve had so many disappointments eating at ‘big name’ restaurants and I wanted to go on liking Marcus Wareing when he pops up on the TV. All fears completely unfounded: Tredwells is fantastic! Get there soon. (For full review click here.)
3. Cinnamon Bazaar
The ‘Cinnamons’ have been favourite haunts since a friend took me to the original ‘Club’ about 15 years ago. I was awed; I’d never had Indian food of this quality before. There are other great Indian restaurants now but the Cinnamons are still some of the best: Cinnamon Club, Cinnamon Kitchen … and now I’ve tried the slightly more relaxed Cinnamon Bazaar, I love it too. After I went for the first time in April this year, my son ate there with a friend and thought it was great as well. (Click here for full review.)
4. The Oystermen
I mostly choose fish when I’m eating out but rarely go to ‘fish restaurants’ and have never been able to answer the query: ‘Can you recommend a good fish restaurant?’ Well now I can say, ‘Yes! The Oystermen … and it’s phenomenal.’ Be warned there’s not a non-fish alternative on the menu, but if you like fish as much as I do, then you simply have to try it next time you’re in Covent Garden. (Click here for full review.)
5. Meson don Felipe
I first wrote about Meson don Felipe in 2016 but with a few visits to the Old Vic and the Young Vic theatres this year, I’ve been back to this great Spanish tapas bar a few times. I like it a lot. I’m always saying that Barrafina in Adelaide Street is one of my very favourite restaurants – and it is – but while Barrafina offers ‘fine dining’ tapas, Meson don Felipe feels more like the real thing; surrounded by Spanish staff you could almost believe you’re in Spain. It’s always busy so best to book. (Click here for full review.)
Foodies have been writing and talking about Padella for ages and my first attempt to get in didn’t work. I was on my way to the theatre and just didn’t have time to join the long queue. I don’t venture over to the London Bridge/Borough Market area often so it’s a bit off my radar. But when I was there for the excellent beekeeping course at Bermondsey Bees in April, it seemed the ideal opportunity to try again – and go with plenty of time to queue! I’m so glad I did. It was excellent with fabulous pasta dishes. (Click here for full review.)
7. Bar Douro
I keep telling myself I’ll get to Lisbon soon but still haven’t booked my ticket! I’ve never been to Portugal and my instant thought food wise is, of course, the infamous, now very popular pasteis de nata, little custard tarts. So when my friend Annette suggested meeting at Bar Douro, I was keen to find out more about the food of Portugal. And it was great, so this was another good find this year. (Click here for full review.)
8. Santa Maria Pizzeria
It must be a year of finally getting to places (even if not Lisbon!) for having heard so much about Santa Maria pizzas for years, when I found I was meeting someone near their original Ealing (West London) pizzeria one evening in May, I just had to go. And was pleased to discover their pizzas were every bit as good as I’d heard. (Click here for full review.)
9. Santa Nata
This is cheating slightly for you can’t actually eat at Santa Nata. But you can buy a freshly baked, glorious pasteis de nata, still warm from the oven, some cinnamon sprinkled on top, and carry it to nearby Covent Garden Piazza, find somewhere to sit and experience a moment of pure sweet tasting joy. (Click here for full review.)
10. Coffee 091
We’re a family of habits; we are loyal to our favourite local cafés and restaurants and go to them most of the time. But however much you like a place, it is also nice to have some variety, so the opening of Coffee 091 in Whitton (part of Twickenham, west London) a few months ago has been greeted with considerable enthusiasm and is now a new but regular haunt. They do great coffee and croissants but also snacks. The Sicilian owner, Giacomo, is always friendly and calls hello as we pass, even if we’re not going in, which is part of the pleasure of frequenting local places. (Click here for full review.)
I hope you feel inspired to try some of these places if you’re in London. The pleasure for me in writing a post like this is not only reminding myself of good places to eat (if I could possibly forget any of these great eateries!), but it’s also a celebration of some of the best bits of the year so far.
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