One of the many great things about living in London is that every once in a while, you hear about a new place where you can take a bath in red wine. Or a restaurant made up of half a dozen greenhouses. Or an impossibly elegant bar hidden behind a velvet curtain at the back of a hotel Champagne room. Or any number of great, sometimes offbeat, occasionally jaw-dropping, but always interesting places.
This is a celebration of those places that have been added to the ranks of London’s scene over the past year, from great bars, to elegant restaurants, envelope-pushing games (not literally, but give it time), and much more besides…
The Very Best New Restaurant | BiBi
What to say about BiBi? Superlatives, mostly.
It does everything right; the atmosphere, the food, the service, the works. It’s a modern Indian kitchen wrapped in an elegant chef’s counter-style bar, with a couple of booths backed onto it all. And the temptation might be to go for one of those booths. Don’t. Sitting at the chef’s counter, overlooking the busied cooks as they work their divine alchemy on the simple ingredients before them, is where you want to be.
The chefs will talk you through the buttery soft lamb chops, the point-perfect Lahori chicken, the silky buffalo milk paneer, as you devour them. It’s not cheap, but it doesn’t have to be expensive either. And it’s worth every penny.
Details: 42 North Audley Street, W1K 6ZR | ££££
The Very Best New Bar | Soma
If you dig out your first edition copy of “How to Create A Dark, Moody, Subterranean Cocktail Bar”, and follow the instructions inside to the letter, you’ll end up with Soma.
It’s the kind of place that makes you feel slightly cooler just for having walked inside. You can either take a seat at the long steel bar, or ensconce yourself inside one of the velvet-curtained private alcoves, and settle in for some of the most delicious drinks you’ve had in a long while. Owned and operated by the guys from Kricket up above, the menu comprises classic cocktails given an Indian twist (the Margarita has gooseberry salt & kumquat, the Gimlet has kaffir leaf and pink peppercorn, etc.).
Details: 12-14 Denman Street, W1D 7HL | £££
The Most Jaw-Dropping Interior Design | Booking Office 1869
Wander in to Booking Office 1869, and the sheer scale is what hits you first.
There are eight meter high palm trees that barely seem to come half way up to the cavernous ceiling. Light cascades in from the vast, arched brick windows lining the walls, and emanates from huge pendant lights that dangle from the ceiling, each of which is made up of (we’re told) 267 brass leaves. The emerald green bar is a massive 22 meters long, wrapping around the original ticket bureau itself. In fact, it feels almost more like a church than a restaurant.
And the kicker? It literally was once a booking office. Yes, this is where people once bought train tickets.
Details: Euston Road, NW1 2AR | £££
The Best Relocation/Reincarnation/Reinvention | Carousel
Carousel – the restaurant famous for perpetually reinventing itself with a new guest residency in the kitchen every few weeks – has now reinvented its entire existence…
Saying goodbye to their trusty old digs in Marylebone and hello to Charlotte Street in Fitzrovia, Carousel co-founders Ollie & Ed Templeton have chosen a buzzier location for Carousel’s new HQ – one that takes up a whopping three townhouses worth of space. And just to add to this whirlwind of constant change, they’ve added in the biggest twist of all: a permanent wine bar.
Details: 19-23 Charlotte Street, Fitzrovia, W1T 1RL | £££
Best Use Of A Former Shotgun | Clays
Over the last few years, this city has been greedily amassing its own world-beating collection of excellent activity bars, so it seemed like it was only a matter of time before something like Clays came along.
It’s an Olympic clay target game & bar (yes, you can take shots while you take shots) and they’ve pulled it off in true style. The place looks great, the games are all well-thought out (and balanced in favour of anyone who isn’t naturally gifted), they’ve paid a lot of attention to the food & drink, and they’ve made sure to use actual decommissioned shotguns too…
Details: 55 Moorgate, EC2R 6LL | £££
Most Intimate Date Spot | Chameleon
Chameleon is a rather unusual concept – it’a part restaurant, part event space, part gallery, part flower shop, and more.
You’ll find it at One Marylebone, a Georgian-era church, and one of the most impressive & grandiose buildings in a neighbourhood filled with impressive & grandiose buildings. And now it has a restaurant around it. As in outside, wrapping around its base.
The dining space is basically made up of little greenhouses of various sizes. The upshot? You can get your very own two-person greenhouse, with some lovely Israeli food, and some great cocktails for a beautifully intimate date night…
Details: 1 Marylebone Road, NW1 4AQ | £££
Swankiest New Bar | The Red Room
If you want to find The Red Room, you’ll need to play a kind of ultra-luxury treasure hunt.
First, head to the Connaught Hotel. Walk past the Connaught Bar (not easy, as it’s currently the World’s No1 Bar), and locate the Connaught’s Champagne Room. Then, finding the plush velvet curtain at the back, pull it aside to reveal the space in all its rose-tinted glory.
Then, discover that the cocktails start at £21, and that you’re basically in for a night of unsurpassed, and pricey decadence.
Details: The Connaught Hotel, Carlos Place, W1K 2AL | £££££
Best Steampunk-Alien-Spaceship-Conference Table | The Sea, The Sea, Hackney
The Sea, The Sea started out as a fishmonger & restaurant in Chelsea. Then, this year they moved into a second space in Haggerston, and took things up a notch. Or two.
As you enter the space, you’ll pass down a long, sleek, corridor whose walls are lined with backlit tanks filled with live fish & crustaceans. There’s a faint green glow above you, further evoking the ocean. Mood set, you’ll arrive at the polished countertop, and take a seat in one of the twelve comfortable, bright orange chairs surrounding it. And what follows is a 12 course, omakase-style flurry of invention, filled with creative ideas and ultra-fresh seafood…
Details: 337 Acton Mews, E8 4EA | ££££
Most Ludicrously Delightful Visual Sugar Rush | Eataly
The secret to enjoying Eataly is to appreciate it for what it is: a giant, Italian food theme park.
It’s 42,000 square feet are absolutely packed with everything that makes Italian food what it is – fresh pasta, coffee, gelato, pizza, cocktails, bread, vegetables, cheese, meat, fish, salami, sauces, olive oil, wine, chocolates, everything. You can get made-to-order cannoli. There’s a cheese-making laboratory. A cookery school. A butchery. Three restaurants. Even more bars. And yes, a vibrantly saccharine kaleidoscope of a corridor filled with sweets.
It’s not a cultural touchstone, or an award-chasing fine-dining place, but it is worth a trip just to have your mind boggled while you pick up a couple of bits.
Details: 135 Bishopsgate, EC2M 3YD | ££
Most Decadent Spa Experience | AIRE Ancient Baths
For those who aren’t up to speed on the high-end luxury Greco-Roman spa scene, AIRE is a collection of thermal baths inspired by antiquity. They only choose historic buildings for their spas, and this one is in the house JM Barrie lived in when he wrote Peter Pan.
Now, it’s almost unreal. The whole place is candlelit, scented by orange blossom, and soundtracked by soothing music. There’s a central trio of pools set at different temperatures and with fancy sounding Latin names, the Caldarium (40º), the Tepidarium (36º), and the appropriately named Frigidarium (14º). Then there’s the salt pool, which has the same salinity as the Dead Sea, and is therefore called the Floatarium, plus the “bath of thousand jets” (the Balneum), and the Vaporium which – despite sounding like a university dorm room – is actually a steam bath.
And the kicker? The ‘Wine Treatment’, which is literally a bath in Spanish Ribero del Duero red (plus a little to drink), followed by a massage with grape-seed oil and a dip in a regular H2O bath….
Details: 2-3 Robert Street, WC2N 6RL | £££££
Most Inspiring Story | Imad’s Syrian Kitchen
Imad’s Syrian Kitchen is run by a Syrian refugee named Imad Alarnab.
And his story is pretty extraordinary. He was one of the most famous chefs in Damascus, then civil war forced him to flee to Europe, sleeping for months on church steps, before eventually making it to the UK where he started a pop up restaurant… and donated all the proceeds to charity. Specifically, a children’s hospital. He then created a crowdfunding campaign to get himself enough cash to start a restaurant this year, and he intends to pay all that money back to charity too, just as soon as he can earn it.
Oh, and by the way, his restaurant? Is absolutely wonderful.
Details: 2.14 Top Floor, Kingly Court, Carnaby St, W1B 5PW | ££
The Most Authentically Inauthentic Casual Dining | Sūpa Ya Ramen
Sūpa Ya Ramen was started by ex NOPI and Berber & Q chef Luke Findlay, in his own home.
That was quite a while back now, and quickly led on to a whole load of further sell-out pop-ups, collabs, and take-overs. However, fate (and maybe a little hard work) has finally delivered what Findlay has clearly always wanted – his own restaurant. It’s a tiny bolt hole in Hackney, but it produces some of the most warming, comforting, nourishing, inventive, and “authentically inauthentic” bowls of ramen you’ll ever have…
Details: 499 Kingsland Road, E8 4AU | £
Want more superlative goodness from the last 12 months? Then check out the best bars and restaurants of the year…