Lifestyle: Restaurants

Friday, October 5, 2012
Today marks the release of the new Michelin Guide and, no doubt, a lot of analysis, discussion and naval-gazing in the restaurant world. It seemed only right to contribute with a short list of my favourite restaurants. They may not be the finest in London, they may not have Michelin stars, some may not even appear in the guide. Nevertheless, for whatever reason (usually a combination of low price, high quality, and an ambience that suits my taste) they have become either favoured haunts or preferred treats, depending on how often I can afford to go there...

Brasserie Zédel
Big and brash, with slightly naff interior décor, a few too few staff, and that nasty policy of pointedly giving you a limited time at the table before turfing you out; this recently opened Brasserie underneath Sherwood Street has become a new favourite nevertheless. The main reason is its almost impossibly cheap set menu, which allows you to eat two courses, plus coffee and a small cake, for less than £12. So long as one of those courses is Steak Haché, that is (and it might as well be, since it's absolutely excellent). That, in central London is absolutely unheard of, and goes a long way to both justify and excuse the restaurant's other failings. Combine this with a pleasantly art deco cocktail bar, and all the ingredients are in place for a very pleasant evening.

Le Caprice
The Ivy's slightly less well-known, slightly less overhyped cousin; Le Caprice is by no means cheap, but it never fails to offer terrific food and great service. Perhaps more importantly, it retains a busy lively atmosphere even for very late bookings (particularly important for those on a budget since, after 10.15 pm, the very reasonable 'post-theatre' set menu kicks in again), not to mention offering brunch at the weekend and occasional jazz on Sunday nights.

Incredibly English, pretty expensive, and much more traditionally 'fine dining' than others on this list, Wiltons is aimed squarely at the well-heeled businessman or resident of central London, open only during the week and still requiring gentlemen to wear a jacket. Formerly the possessor of a Royal Warrant as the supplier of oysters to Queen Victoria, it still has an excellent oyster bar and a great range of seafood. The rest of the menu deals heavily in traditional meat dishes, particularly seasonal game. It also offers that mark of the traditional English menu, rarely found outside of clubs these days; the savoury. Ideal for those who tend to find they finish a meal with just enough room for a little cheese on toast.

It seemed only right to include one restaurant that's not broadly Anglo-European, and since I absolutely adore dim sum, Yauatcha is the perfect choice. Trendy, colourful, modern and bang in the middle of Soho, it's a 'reinvention' of the traditional Chinese tea-house and complements its selection of dim sum with an incredibly wide range of tea, along with macaroons and other deserts. It might not have quite the refined atmosphere and quietly courteous service of Wiltons, but the staff are helpful, polite and efficient, and the dumplings are outstanding.