Marylebone is better known for the mispronunciation of its name than for being a destination district of London in the way that, say, Chelsea or Soho are. But, the spindly area, which runs up, down and outwards from the overtly wholesome Marylebone High Street, and which was once a hunting ground for Henry VIII, hides some of London’s finest restaurants.
Dodge tourists milling off Oxford Street and squash yourself somewhere on the pavement in and around St Christopher’s Place for a quick and boisterous bite or join the chattering classes further north in the refined environs of Dinings or Orrery. A fun fact to wow your fellow diners with: Marylebone counts both Jimi Hendrix, Charles Dickens and the Beatles among its past residents.
For anyone who has biryani on a rickety train somewhere between two Indian metropolises, you’ll be delighted by the soft and slightly perfumed guinea fowl biryani at Ooty. It’s in the classic in-between area of Baker Street but brave the quieter ambience and this is imaginative south Indian food that’s worth hunting out. Crunchy deep fried crab, kid goat topped with a melting duck egg, and Masala dosa smothered in moreish spiced potato. Kick off with the kaffir lime spiced ‘negrooti’ and save space for the cardamom rice and pineapple bake pudding – it convinced even a hardened rice pudding hater.
A bigger, marginally more spacious outpost of the Soho original, the beauty of the Marylebone Hoppers is that you can book. The restaurants are brainchildren of the Sethi siblings who brought London the (somewhat) smarter restaurants Lyle’s and Gymkhana, and focus solely on Sri Lankan food. Ask for a translation of the menu if you can’t tell your karis from your kothu rotis – the staff are unfailingly helpful – and make sure that you try all of the available carbs (hopper, dosa, roti). The bonemarrow varuval is a particular winner for those with a carniverous bent.
Honey & Smoke
Honey & Smoke’s garrulous and generous founders Sarit Packer and Itamar Srulovich met when working in the kitchen of the Israeli chef Yotam Ottolenghi. I once saw them flaming plums in a floor-to-ceiling wooden bookshop in Bath. What arrives on your plate in their second (and thankfully much larger) eatery packs the same amount of punch and surprise. Swiping up copious amounts of houmous, smoky tahini and creamy almonds with puffy, salty sourdough is a simple joy. And it’s unbelievable value too. Three courses for £37.50 feels criminal when you see how many ingredients get packed on to the plates.
Orrery’s once Michelin-adorned head chef Igor Tymchyschyn powers out fresh French cuisine from this ex-stable block at Marylebone’s northern end. Francophiles will be delighted by the Tournedos Rossini and the voluptuous cheese trolley, but there are British-inspired highlights too like the elderflower pannacotta and Kentish lamb fillet. The light, bright, art deco interior (a recent refurbishment) has the satisfying rustle of fine dining activity. The terrace is one of Marylebone’s best outside spaces.
Millionaire Andre Balazs’ sceney hotel became known in the early Noughties for the number of celebs tripping in and out of its doors. It is not quite the incessant hotspot that it once was but it’s still somewhere to go for the people watching. Michelin-starred chef Nuno Mendes’ wildly international menu is good fuel for this (although I suspect no one really goes for the food). It’s not cheap but it’s elegant – and the black truffle and cheese fries are as naughty as they sound.
This Japanese restaurant, which also has an outpost in The Norman, Tel Aviv’s smartest hotel, is precise and fascinating. In essence, Dinings is a swept-up version of a Japanese izakaya (a bar serving food), where you can watch the chefs slicing and dicing behind the sushi counter. It has the same slightly cramped feel as you might get on the streets of Tokyo and the fish tastes as fresh. The deceptive problem is the portion size – it’s tempting to keep on nibbling without realising quite how many of the intriguing morsels you’ve shovelled in.
Jikoni, the first restaurant of the chef and writer Ravinder Bhogal, is a treasure chest of colours and brightness, and oddly homely cuisine. It is Asian, in essence, but spliced with Brit reminiscences – a prawn toast scotch egg, mayonnaise cut with curry leaf. It has a villagey atmosphere that matches Marylebone’s own with wicker chairs on the street and block print tablecloths – and the dishes are a happy price for weekday suppers. The brunch line up is particularly intriguing – especially if you are suffering from smashed avo fatigue.
The flagship restaurant of chef-come-TV presenter Giorgia Locatelli is well into its second decade and has aged well. Of course it is smart but it has also managed to maintain a deliciously Italian rusticism. Gnocchi is rich and molten, kid goat ragu tastes like its run around a Lombardy mountain a few times, even if it hasn’t. It’s expensive compared to the plethora of new pasta restaurants popping up all over London but for smart Italian dining it is worth the price.
Unoriginal to say it, but this restaurant does do what it says on its tin. The crab – Red King Crab – can only be fished for a three month period in the northern Pacific. Its legs can reach almost 2m in length so there is meat a-plenty although the menu is beefed out with a ship’s bounty of other seafood options so you can shuck oysters to start and suck on lobster tagliatelle for main if you don’t fancy the headline dish. Plenty for landlubbers to but the quality is in the surf not the turf.
All hail pisco and ceviche at this basement Peruvian-inspired haven at the Oxford Street end of Marylebone’s high street. It may not be somewhere to sit on a sunny evening but it has the buzz of a gutsy cocktail bar and the pisco sours to match. The tasting menu is the best way to go if you want to sample a ‘best of’ – all the dishes are sharing plates and throw in not strictly Peruvian surprises. Take home favourites were the brown crab and yuca churros, and intriguing veg dishes: miso-cured carrots and aubergines smothered in smoky yogurt and pecans.
Chef Simon Rogan’s southern adventure (his other restaurant is the much-hailed Lake District outpost L’Enclume) is for the experimental not the comfort eater. You can opt for the short tasting menu (7 courses) or the full 11 course run down, both of which cast a series of ingredients from Rogan’s Cumbrian farm in neat fine dining guises. It’s intriguing cooking, although sometimes too pretty to eat. Make sure you aren’t in a rush when you visit.
Deli-come-restaurant Briciole is the happy little Italian trattoria that you always hope to find in your neighbourhood. The kind of place you forget how many glasses of red wine on a week night while you chew over spaghetti with friends. It’s not wildly priced, the staff blossom with bonhomie and it has all the favourites as well as a few other more intrepid dishes like the pork cheek with saffron potatoes. It’s not going to win points for delicacy but for satisfaction Briciole gets full marks.