Bocca di Lupo

Why go here:

To try Modern Italian dishes inspired by different regions of Italy. Also, this restaurant is consistently ranked as one of London’s best Italian restaurants.

What it looks like:

Situated right in the heart of Soho, the restaurant has seating at the marble bar which is perfect for people watching if you’re by the windows or you can choose to sit in the formal dining area with an all wooden decor and lots of paintings of food all around.

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The food:

The dishes are supposed to made of ingredients sourced either from Italy or prepared in-house such as with the breads, sausages, pastas and pickles. All the dishes come in small or large sizes so you can choose to have a tapas style or a standard 3 course meal. We opted for the tapas style because there were too many dishes that we liked the look of on the menu.

We started with the Radish, Celeriac, Pomegranate and Pecorino salad, the signature dish of the restaurant and rightly so. The paper-thin slices of celeriac and radish were crunchy and sweet and the lashings of truffle dressing really made this salad into an indulgent dish. The pecorino cheese slabs added to the bite and enhanced the flavour of the truffle further.

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Next we had the White Polenta and Brown Shrimps cooked in brown butter and lemon. This simple sounding dish was surprisingly delectable and probably my favourite dish of the meal. The polenta was silky smooth and the sweet, crispy and buttery shrimps made an unbeatable combo with it.

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The Guinea Fowl with grilled panzanella, peas, beans and rocket came in a tasty, garlic-y sauce made with the juices of the grilled fowl, tomatoes and wine.

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From the seafood section, we opted for the Skate fish in crazy water. The fish was white, meaty and fresh and had only one bone down the middle and was partenered with a tomato broth with chunky onions, capers, olives and leeks, which was very rustic and toothsome.

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To finish, we ordered the Caffe Alla Nocciola- a sweetened, Hazelnut-flavoured, utterly creamy coffee which was brought to us on the house!

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Verdict:

Every dish at Bocca di Lupo is of superb quality, with authentic & freshly-sourced or in-house ingredients and very enjoyable. It goes to show that Italian cuisine stretches so much beyond linguines and lasagne. This place is a must try for all foodies out there that like Italian- this is modern Italian at its best.

Terroirs

Why go here:

For rustic French tapas and for organic wines.

What it looks like:

The restaurant looks like they partially renovated a wine cellar- low ceilings, wooden beams and bare brick walls in one part of the dining area are contrasted with the ‘faux-kitchen’ like decor on the other side consisting of pretty papered walls, miniature portraits and decorative cupboards displaying random cooking equipment.

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The food:

I started off with the Brawn & Gribiche Sauce on toast. Portions were very large considering these were ‘small plates’. Brawn is a sort of terrine made with flesh from the head of a calf or pig. The terrine was flavoured with pepper and onions and the rich meat was well-balanced by the mustard-y, gribiche sauce with capers and the crunchy, fresh shredded radichio on top.

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For main course, I opted for one of the ‘Plats du Jour’ i.e. one of the day’s specialities the Christian Parra Boudin Noir with braised parsley roots, carrots and kale. Boudin Noir is a French Black Pudding except the Christian Parra variety is supposed to be one of the most in demand due to its richer taste. There is no casing like in traditional sausages and it is chunky instead of having the fine, pudding like texture. The dish was truly decadent and was so much tastier than I expected it to be. This really is nothing like your breakfast black pudding. I highly recommend trying it.

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The wine list here was like a fat encyclopaedia with wines sourced from small artisan growers in France, Spain, Italy and more. We ordered a white from the Burgundy section and while I’m no expert on wines, the white we ordered was easily one of the most palatable and fragrant wines I’ve had.

Service was polite but a little aloof and in spite of the waitress not being too busy, we had to try quite hard to get her attention and remind her to refill our water glasses.

Verdict:

This new kid on the block has been getting all the attention of French food and wine lovers for a reason. Affordable, large portion-ed rustic French dishes made of unique ingredients mostly sourced from France and an extensive array of organic wines make this place well worth the hype.

Polpo

Why go here:

It is one of its kind in London- a Bacaro, which is supposed to be a ‘humble’ restaurant serving good Italian and Venetian plates and great wines, all for reasonable prices. Simply put, it is a tiny Italian tapas and wine bar that aims to serve affordable, delicious food.

What it looks like:

There are a few different branches of Polpo. The one I visited is situated in the heart of Soho. The restaurant has bare brick walls, minimal lighting and unpolished wooden furniture. There are two bars- one next to the dining room upstairs and a bigger one downstairs with cosy seating, where you’ll find the diners awaiting their tables and sitting, sipping on wines.

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We did find the bars to be understaffed though and the only girl serving the downstairs bar was also getting calling to wait tables, which meant that I had to wait for more than a good half an hour for my drink and when I finally did get to place my order, I found that they had run out of the wine I wanted. The dining experience was thankfully much better.

The food:

For starters, we ordered the Chopped Liver Crostini and the Jerusalem Artichoke, Pecorino and Truffle Oil Bruschetta. The chopped liver was warm and smoky but the bruschetta is what stole my heart. Slabs of pecorino cheese and uniformly sliced artichoke slices with lashings of truffle oil make every mouthful of this dish heavenly.

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For mains, I tried the Cod Cheeks with Lentils and Salsa Verde.The cod cheeks were well cooked yet not tough and the lentils added to the texture but the salsa verde was lacking from the dish. There was too little of the salsa to taste, which was a shame because it was very fragrant and spicy and would have complemented the otherwise, mild and simple lentils and cod dish quite well.

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My friend ordered the pork belly which was crispy skinned and juicy inside and the combination with the hazelnuts really did add to the texture and the taste, although the dish did feel a little dry at times and could have done with some more sauce drizzled on the pork belly.

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Dessert was a flourless chocolate and hazelnut cake. I wish I could find the recipe for it. It was like eating a massive Nutella-flavoured brownie. It was dense and luscious and packed with chopped hazelnuts.

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Verdict:

One of the best valued eateries in Soho and with a regularly changing menu of Venetian dishes. I suggest ordering several dishes and sharing. Remember to order the Jerusalem Artichoke Bruschetta and the Flourless Hazelnut cake- you’re unlikely to find equivalent dishes anywhere else!

City Social

Why go here:

For a sophisticated, luxurious dining experience with stunning views of the City.

What it looks like:

Overlooking the Gherkin and housed high up on the 24th Floor of Tower 42, the old Natwest Tower, the restaurant is an embodiment of sophistication. Leather booths, spotlights being shone on tables and overlooking London’s landmark skyscrapers.

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The bathrooms were particularly cool, with dressing mirrors and comfy stools set right by the all glass wall panels, so that you can enjoy the panoramic views while touching up your makeup!

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The food:

The dishes here are mostly works of art- in terms of ingredients, techniques and presentation. The Chestnut Tagliatelle with smoked chestnuts and butternut squash came with a silky sage-infused with veloute. The tagliatelle was the softest, most flavourful I’d ever had.

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The seafood linguine was dished with an abundance of fresh seafood and their tongue tantalising juices formed a beautifully fragrant sauce.

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The ‘Navnon’ of lamb was a bit surprising since I had expected a big bowl of lamb casserole with seasonal vegetables. Instead, I was served a juicy lamb fillet with a drizzle of mint sauce and caramelised shallots, all topped with a crispy bacon crumb.

You have to get the desserts here. Every single item on the desserts menu looked great but based on recommendations from the waitress, we went for the Peanut , Banana and Chocolate ‘Old-fashioned’ and the Lemon & Vanilla Tart. The Old -fashioned came with an utterly scrumptious peanut butter parfait and a rich dark, chocolate ganache and freshly made banana ice cream.

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The lemon and vanilla tart was sweet and not too tangy and the fennel in the accompanying yoghurt sorbet had an unusual flavour but complemented the lemon tart well.

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Service was also very attentive with our glasses and bread baskets getting topped up seamlessly.

Verdict:

You should go to City Social if you’re looking to try food that looks like masterpieces of art and is of Michelin star quality, while enjoying spectacular views of London in superbly luxurious settings.

Bellaria

Why go here:

Authentic Italian food in a candlelit underground cellar in the centre of London.

What it looks like:

Located in the West-End, the restaurant had two floors- a street level standard cafe-style eatery and the basement level cellar. The latter comprises of stone walls, candles, low ceilings and an extensive wine collection. You can see why it’s popular amongst couples.

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The food:

We started with the crepes filled with ricotta cheese, sun-dried tomatoes and porchini mushrooms served with a red pepper coulis. The crepes were soft and the filling was gooey and delicious.

For mains, I had the tortellini with roast pumpkin, ricotta and nutmeg in a butter and sage sauce, all topped with pomegranate seeds and rocket. The tortellini was freshly made and the combination of pumpkin & sage was warm and earthy.

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The tiramisu we ordered was the only disappointing aspect of the meal. The biscuit base was a bit soggy and the only strawberry used for the presentation was a bit too large and had slipped off the top, causing the tiramisu’s shape to be a bit distorted.

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Verdict:

This place is good if you wish to try fresh, authentic handmade pastas. Worth going to for a date – the dimly-lit cellar is ideal for couples that are into the whole ‘quiet-and-segregated-in-an-underground-tunnel-with-food-n-booze’ kind of thing.

La Roux at the Landau

Why go here:

This is the newest partnership of  the duo that established London’s acclaimed 2 Michelin-starred French restaurant, La Gavroche. Dine here before it becomes as hard to get a table here as the former.

What it looks like:

Housed in the famous Langham hotel & next to one of London’s best bars, the Artesian, you enter the restaurant via a corridor lined with an extensive collection of wines from around the world.

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The dining room is a circular hall with gilded timber walls, Vera Wang designed China-ware, brass chandeliers and fresh roses adorning every table, all of which leads up to making it one of the most elegant venues around in London.

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The food:

Unlike most other restaurants whose only freebie is fresh-baked bread, we started off here with complimentary blue cheese souffle which was just glorious and melted on my tongue in a fraction of a second. How I wish there was more of it.  I wanted the taste to linger in my mouth for just a bit longer.

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Thankfully, my starter arrived soon after to distract me from dreaming about the souffle. I had ordered the Roast Cornish squid which was served with a salt-cod brandade. You will be a bit surprised when you see the dish because your fried squid is served in an unusual colour- navy blue! This is due to the use of squid ink in the preparation of the batter. But beyond the unusual look, this was a simple dish albeit done perfectly. Squids were cooked well and the brandade, which is a buttery emulsion of salt cod and potato in olive oil ,was luxuriously silky.

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For mains, I had the monkfish dressed in pistachio and continuing the theme of unique colors, the dish came with a black curry and an orange saffron & pomegranate biryani. The highlight of the dish was surprisingly the black curry, which I am yet to figure out the components of. All I can tell you is that it had a mild spicy and smoky flavour which was well complimented by the sweetness of the pomegranate and the warm saffron in the biryani. The fish was fresh and crispy-skinned without being oily.

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My friend ordered the butter roasted beef sirloin which looked less exciting than my fish but was well cooked. The ox tongue potatoes on the side were particularly scrumptuous and the green garlic butter topping it all added to the taste.

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Moving onto dessert, we had to go for the Chocolate Millefeuille, the star dish featured on the website. And when it arrived, I realised how much better it looked in real life than in pictures! The chocolate glaze on top was shinier than a mirror- I swear I could see it reflecting the chandeliers on the ceiling (or maybe I was a bit tipsy at this point). The chocolate filling side were little globules of deliciousness. The maple ice cream on the side was also good although I would have preferred it to have a stronger flavour.

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We ended the meal with a final round of complimentary goodness- a platter of freshly made petit fours including blood orange jelly, berry macaroons, artisan cheeses and more.

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My only complain was with the service which seemed a bit unfocused due to there being too many waiters on rounds at the same time and all of them taking turns to serve us.

Verdict:

This is a glamorous venue with food that parallels Michelin-starred restaurants in quality and presentation, so that the prices do seem pretty justified. This is one of London’s best contemporary French restaurants and is definitely set to impress your date, your client or your Mum.

Le Garrick

Why go here:

It’s an Italian bistro serving regional French food inspired by the cooking in Toulouse and Burgundy.

What it looks like:

Situated in Covent Garden, the restaurant has 2 floors- the upstairs is breezy and with large windows offering you to observe the bustle of the heart of London. The downstairs, on the other hand, feels almost like eating in wine cellars with the all-encompassing brick walls, the low ceiling, the candle lit tables and of course, an extensive menu of good French wines.

The food:

The dishes are all supposed to be traditional and based primarily on South-Western French cuisine. For starters, I had the Cassoulet, a ‘basque style’ preparation of calamari where its seared in the pan with ginger, chillies and coriander. The calamari could have been a bit more tender but the sauce was very flavoursome and buttery. In fact, I am going to find it hard to go back to enjoying plain-old deep fried calamari rings having seen calamari in this all new light.

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My main course, supposed to be a Toulouse speciality, was a hearty dish consisting of Duck Confit served with lingot beans which were cooked with pork belly and local varieties of French sausages.

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The service was friendly and attentive but a bit slow. We waited about half an hour between main course and dessert but it was well worth the wait. Our dessert was a Chocolate Fondant, which was warm, rich and with a very gooey inside that just made my heart melt. And it was all served with a generous scoop of homemade vanilla ice cream. Yum!

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Verdict:

Great location, very good ambience and well prepared traditional French food, all at affordable prices, make this place perfect for a date or for that cosy dinner with the family.

Baltic

Why go here:

If you want to try modern Polish food and many different varieties of flavoured Vodka.

What it looks like:

Less than a stone’s throw away from the Southwark station, you enter the restaurant through a dimly lit bar which leads to their big modern dining hall with a very high ceiling, colorful skylights, wooden beams and a minimal, no clutter decor. I went here during Christmas time and found there to be only one christmas tree with some fairy lights in it- no tinsel, no stars and no glitter, which was a welcome change to the gaudy decor I’d spotted at most other venues.

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The food:

I wasn’t sure what to expect beyond lots of potato and cabbage since that’s what traditional Polish food is known for. But Baltic’s modern take on Polish food was definitely a sweet surprise. The starter consisted of Buckwheat Blinis served with smoked salmon and sour cream. The blinis were big, soft and warm and very filling.

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Before moving onto the main course, we had our first shot of vodka which was the Rhubarb and Apple flavoured vodka. The shot was very fruity and sweet albeit quiet strong.

Then came main course. I ordered the roast duck leg with figs, apples and braised red cabbage. The sweet, warm sauces of the fig, apple and cabbage side really complimented the duck well and the cabbage didn’t have its standard strong smell due to being braised in a rich, red wine and soy sauce.

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Then came the second round of vodka, this time in the Orange and Spice flavour, followed by which we got onto dessert. Mine was a caramelised hazelnut parfait with a pear compote and my friend ordered the Rum marinated Plums in dark Chocolate Mousse. The desserts were both extremely indulgent and the combinations of components while unique, worked really well together.

The meal ended with some more vodka including caramel, honey, passionfruit and other flavours. Be careful though- the vodka is so sweet and delicious, you don’t realise how much you end up drinking..

Verdict:

Go here to change your notion of Polish food and experience the interesting flavours modern Polish cuisine has on offer and remember to have your drinking hat on- since there will be a lot of vodka to get through…

The Balcon

Why go here:

If you want to have French inspired British dishes in one of London’s most lavish settings.

What it looks like:

Part of the five star Hotel Sofitel, this restaurant is housed in a grade II listed building in central London. It’s hard for you to walk in and to not spend the first few minutes gaping in awe at the decor of this place. There are dramatic crystal chandeliers, polished wooden floors and tables to match and a stunning cocktail bar which is modelled after Coco Chanel’s apartment apparently. On your walk to the toilets, you notice more of the lavish decor. Keep your eyes open for a rosy pink hall decked with a five foot tall harp. The waiters, all in formal attires, were also very attentive and friendly.

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The food:

The French-British fusion food here really is superb in quality and taste. I had snails here for the first time and I couldn’t have started somewhere better. They came in a little red pot and reminded me of fresh, juicy scallops in texture and taste but were softer and coated in a buttery parsnip puree.

The twice baked cheese souffle was another classic they aced- the dish was melt-in-your-mouth and set in a richly flavoured lobster and creme fraiche sauce.

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For mains, I tried the lemon sole which came with a burnt butter and sage sauce and with garlicky, wilted spanish. While the fish was white and fresh, this dish didn’t stand out much in comparison to the rest of the meal but probably only because the rest had greatly exceeded my expectations whereas I have had sole fish done in a similar style at other places.

Finally onto desserts, my favourite part of the meal. The tea-flavoured creme brulee was divine and I am yet to find another to match its taste. The vanilla ice cream profiteroles drizzled with the hot chocolate and praline sauce were lip smackingly good and a total treat to the eyes.

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Verdict:

If you want to impress someone, bring them here. The grandeur of the venue and the quality of the service and most importantly, the food, is bound to win them over.

Fino

Why go here:

One of London’s first contemporary Spanish restaurants serving both traditional and modern tapas and sister restaurant to Barrafina, London’s only Michelin starred tapas bar.

What it looks like:

Unlike most other tapas bars with tiny spaces and wooden stool seating, Fino is a large, modern dining space with a bar curtain-ing the semi-open kitchen. Additionally, Fino is good for when you don’t want to queue since the unlike its sister restaurants, it does allow bookings.

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The food:

The restaurant has a regularly changing menu. The tapas are actually all served in decent sized portions and usually two will be more than enough to fill you up, excluding the cheapest dishes maybe (that are cheaper than £5 or £6).

The crispy pig’s head with cherry apple chutney, mustard and pickled onions was one of my favourites. Don’t let the words pig’s head deter you because there is no actual trace of the head. The name simply refers to the use of the meat from the pig’s head which is then braised, deep fried and formed into intensely rich croquettes, whose flavour was enhanced further by the sweetness of the cherry apple chutney and caramelised pickled onions.

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The clams were juicy, fresh and plentiful. The grilled quail came with a garlic aioli which was so delicious, it almost dominated the dish over the quail.

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The fava beans with chorizo was a rustic and hearty meal on its own and the texture of the firm chorizo worked really well with the smooth, squishy white beans.

My only complain would be with the timings of the dishes, which arrived at very different points over the course of about half an hour even though they were all ordered at the same time.

Verdict:

Go here if you want to try high quality tapas in a modern setting and if your friends don’t mind waiting in case your dish arrives much earlier than theirs. Don’t be afraid to be adventurous because you won’t easily get to try tapas of the same sort anywhere else or even at Fino itself due to the daily changing menu!