London’s best chef’s tables

The restaurants to go to for catching sight of kitchens cooking up a storm

If you fancy catching some Masterchef-style theatrics during dinner, chef’s tables offer the best seats in the house. Traditionally the set-up is a private restaurant-within-a- restaurant, with the action at arm’s length. However, these days kitchen counters are popular alternatives for a more casual snoop. Here are London’s best options for private rooms and seats at the counter…

Casual counters

The counter at Merchant’s Tavern

A Wong

The hinterland of Victoria station isn’t known for its restaurants. Thankfully Andrew Wong is here to save the day with his inventive Chinese treats, including an eight-course duck banquet, and his epic 10-course Taste of China feast. If you go for the a la carte dim sum, make sure you have plenty of room for the delectable dumplings, glutinous puffs, and fluffy buns – and, importantly, the duck egg custard ones at the end. You might slip into a sugar coma after the latter, but it will be worth it. Book ‘Bar Seat Eight’ for the two seats with the best view of Wong at work. It is not a show kitchen – all of the action from start to finish happens in front of you – and there is not a single sad slimy spring roll in sight. awong.co.uk

Merchants Tavern

Housed in a former Shoreditch apothecary, the Merchants Tavern cossets you with deep banquettes, a wood-burning fire and a sweeping mahogany bar. Its kitchen counter overlooks the service line, from where you can see every chop, shake and flambé. Chipper chefs serve you themselves and they’re keen to chat about the ingredients – cooking permitting. At £50, the five-course counter menu is well-priced for the experience: we had superlative oysters, delicate quail with foie gras and chestnuts, and dinky post-prandial madeleines warm from the oven. The wine list offers a strong line in contemporary biodynamic and organic vineyards. You can book the counter for up to 10.  www.merchantstavern.co.uk

Rigo

As Rigo is at the Parsons Green end of New Kings Road, it’s off the beaten track for fine dining, but its ambition puts it far above a neighbourhood restaurant. All three menus are characterised by textural playfulness, arty presentation, plenty of offal and quirky versions of Piedmontese classics. Dinner gets off to a promising start with the instantly-addictive anchovy butter with five-seed sourdough. It only gets more exciting from there thanks to an amuse-bouche selection of snail croquettes, pigeon macaroons and wafer-thin tripe. The intricacy of the dishes’ presentation makes the preparation a balletic, entertaining spectacle.  www.rigolondon.com

Tramshed

Mark Hix’s Kitchen Library is a very cool, relaxed proposition. The counter is a hideaway behind the vast industrial main restaurant, in a corner where other diners would never find you. The counter has an accompanying nook with a snooker table, Hix’s own cookbook collection and squashy sofas. You can really make yourself at home here, and maybe even take a little nap to aid digestion. Events at the Kitchen Library start from £2,500 for a four-course tailored menu with wine. It has room for up to 12. www.hixrestaurants.co.uk/restaurant/tramshed/

Formal tables

The chef’s table at The Berkeley

Le Gavroche

For peak haute cuisine with flair, look no further than Le Gavroche. Now in its fifth decade, it is comfortingly self-assured with super slick service. As you would expect, the menu is stocked up with classics that keep devotees coming back, but it’s far from a timewarp, and there’s a compendious wine list to pique your interest too. At his chef’s table, Michel Roux junior’s personal collection of historical menus and recipe books surround you while you watch the action on a discreet screen. All of the Gallic charm and indulgence will hopefully keep your blood pressure low when you catch sight of the bill at the end. www.le-gavroche.co.uk

Dinner, Mandarin Oriental

Dinner by Heston is the kind of place that Knightsbridge plutocrats flock to for special event dining, but don’t let that put you off – they’re onto a good thing here. The kitchen envelopes the chef’s table on three sides, with a bustling team carrying out their work by open rotisseries inches away from you. The menu is all historical British food, starting with the medieval. The dishes are described and dated so, with a little imagination, you can picture the scene when they were first eaten, such as the Tipsy Cake (c.1810) or tea-cured salmon (c.1730). The table for six with an eight-course tasting menu designed on the day by executive chef Ashley Palmer-Watts with a kitchen tour will set you back £900 for lunch and £1,200 for dinner. dinnerbyheston.com

Corrigan’s

Resolutely resistant to fashion, Corrigan’s offers unreconstructed Mayfair formality. Cosy and dark, the private room for 12 overlooks the action through a window at one end, so you’re not quite in the thick of it. This is a distinct advantage if the idea of cooking smells and raised voices is not for you. This place is serious about food, but not too stuffy to show you a good time. Highlights of the menu usually include the game, terrines and hearty puddings. www.corrigansmayfair.co.uk

Marcus Wareing at The Berkeley

A front row seat to watch Marcus Wareing’s team at work is an exhilarating experience. His intimate chef’s table has the kitchen dramatically on show though one expansive glass wall. The eight-course tasting menu for £120 includes champagne and canapés, coffee and tea, and homemade chocolate. The sommelier pairs the wine either working to your budget, or using a set selection costing £95 or £195. The ‘out of the blue’ table at the Blue Bar next door would be the ideal place for an aperitif or digestif as The Berkeley’s drinking equivalent of the chef’s table. the-berkeley.co.uk


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