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A guide to the very coolest restaurants in London.
There is no formula for cool, especially when it comes to restaurants. The places that open with the aim of being cool often fail miserably. Either a place has got cool or it hasn’t. Unfortunately, for the restaurant owner, cool can come and go almost overnight. Cool is fickle because cool comes down to people and people are happy to change their minds at the drop of a hat. Cool also finds itself being different to all people. The coolest restaurants in East London packed with a skinny jean crowd may not strike the same note for the diamond and Gucci clientele in West London’s Knightsbridge. Usually, though, the more Michelin stars a restaurant has the harder it will find it to be cool – let’s face it, trying that hard is never cool.
Whether your sort of cool centres on Mayfair or Dalston, below you will find the definitive list of London’s hottest, and therefore coolest, restaurants.
By Alex Williams.
The Gallery at Sketch
Mayfair / Bar / Restaurant / Cuisine: Modern European
This Mayfair bar and restaurant is much more than a mere dining experience; films and all manner of entertainment flashed up on the walls whilst I ate. The cuisine is uber modern: a starter sees beetroot marmalade, gingerbread and raspberry sorbet combined (I tried it and was pleasantly surprised). The cocktail bar is legendary, a place to watch celebrities over a martini. Sketch exudes cool and with the exception of Hampstead Heath, it provides the most talked about loos in London. You'll see.
Soho / Bar / Restaurant / Cuisine: Brasserie
This vast yet weirdly cosy dining hall is from the same family as the beautifully elegant Wolseley, Bellanger, Delaunay, and Colbert. It's Art Deco interior has been improved since it was the Atlantic Bar and Grill, and the service is what you'd expect from a 3-star Michelin restaurant. However, the real highlight is the very affordable, divine food. The presentation is simple and classy, and the taste top notch. The Boeuf bourguignon will actually make you a nicer human being. Pro-tip: arrive early for your booking (a must!), full of conversation topics, and on a night when live music or cabaret is laid on. A lovely evening out in London's West End.
Brixton / Restaurant / Cuisine: Italian
Often said to offer the best pizza in London, Franco Manca is the epitome of cool. Set in Brixton Market, its client base is happy to cross London for a slice of the action. This is a no frills restaurant; the wine list is 2 bottles long and the pizza menu only six deep. It's always packed, being open from 12-5pm Monday-Saturday. This restaurant is so cool it doesn't need to bother opening in the evening - you need it much more than it needs you. I loved the food and vibe; very south London.
Shoreditch / Bar / Restaurant / Hotel / Cuisine: British
Since its opening in 2009 this converted Victorian warehouse in East London's Shoreditch has become a meeting and eating point for those in the design and fashion industries - offering a restaurant, bar and boutique hotel. Boundary has seen a renaissance in the Conran brand, bringing the slightly old-hat name bang up to date. I had a great meal devouring offerings from the mixed British and French menu; the seafood being especially good. This is Conran - but with a definite injection of cool.
Knightsbridge / Restaurant / Cuisine: Russian
This Russian restaurant in Knightsbridge serves wonderful comfort food, but it's the room itself which has you wanting to come back for more. Set-designed like a Russian home (pre-Perestroika) knick-knacks take up every free space available. And they have some of the maddest loos we've ever seen in a restaurant.
St John Bar & Restaurant
City of London / Bar / Restaurant / Cuisine: Modern British
This converted smoke house just round the corner from Smithfield Market in Farringdon is often credited with reviving classic British food (nose to tail dining) and has certainly made offal cool; which is no mean feat. Though sporting a Michelin star, this restaurant does not fit the mould. Whilst other restaurants offer Tornado Rossini, St. John offers bone marrow & parsley salad (which I loved). This exclusive restaurant remains packed all week and is a regular celebrity hangout; offally good.
Shoreditch / Restaurant / Cuisine: Modern British
Too cool for school? People find themselves hard pressed to be too cool for Rochelle Canteen. This converted Shoreditch school provides studio space for local artists, with the canteen providing sustenance and inspiration. Crammed onto wooden benches, surrounded by white washed walls, I found a wonderful mix of people from the art world. The food is British and seasonal; the roast partridge was heavenly. Go here and expect to see, if not be squashed up next to, art royalty.
Shoreditch / Restaurant / Cuisine: Vietnamese
Cheap, cheerful and popular; this Hoxton restaurant has been gaining a dedicated following and undoubtedly ticks the cool box. Surrounded by other Vietnamese restaurants, Que Viet has distinguished itself and draws a chic crowd from across London. I found the service friendly and the food exceptional, especially considering the price. The clientele vary: those wearing jeans costing £5; or £500. The only way to tell is to check the handbag, or the Ferrari they have just stepped out of.
Nobu Berkeley Street
Mayfair / Bar / Restaurant / Cuisine: Japanese
This Mayfair restaurant is the younger, sexier, cooler sibling of the highly praised restaurant of the same name on Park Lane. Having been designed by David Collins (Wolseley, J. Sheekey, Claridge's) the interior is lavish and spectacular. The signature dish of black cod den miso lived up to all of the hype - this really is Japanese cuisine at its finest. The attached, but distinct, bar is open until late where you can rub shoulders with the rich and famous after a meal that is to die for.
Boisdale of Canary Wharf
Canary Wharf / Bar / Restaurant / Cuisine: Scottish
Boisdale, the embassy of Highland hospitality south of the border, have three establishments in London, in Belgravia, Bishopsgate and in Canary Wharf. They feature a unique and very successful mix of fine yet affordable British food, a great wine list, an unparalleled range of malt, blended and grain whiskies, probably the widest selection of Cuban cigars in the world and the best classic jazz, blues and soul offering in London cast in a unique setting with Jool Holland - the doyen of boogie-woogie, jazz and R & B - as Patron of Music. Cool!
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