Your home-baked sourdough may be world beating, but now’s the time to give our patronage to places we know and love. Our local haunts will be overflowing with enthusiasm but not necessarily people; times are going to be tough for a while yet. We will also all have our own guilty cravings. So once you’ve checked your neighbourhood café is still standing, and had your cacio e pepe from Padella, your bacon naan roll at Dishoom and your peri-peri fix in Nandos, here are some other signature dishes at much-loved restaurants to try:
Holborn Dining Room; Pies
A salve for troubled times, one of Calum Franklin’s pies is all one needs to transport oneself back to a simpler time when social distancing in restaurants meant avoiding a table too close to the loos. It was about time someone opened a restaurant dedicated to this great British dish, and here they elevate it to an art form. The curried mutton pie with mango chutney is a favourite, and there is even a five-course pie tasting menu with wine (or ale?) tastings. The dedicated Pie Room is attached to the spectacular brasserie-style dining room of The Rosewood Hotel, and is open Monday to Friday 11 to 4 p.m. Conveniently for these uncivilised times, there’s also a street-side hatch where you can get pies to-go, along with paté en croute, sausage rolls and scotch eggs.
Le Gavroche; Soufflé Suissesse
A famous institution, Le Gavroche has now been going for more than half a century and was the first restaurant in the UK to be awarded one, two and then three Michelin stars. Things have changed over the years: in the restaurant’s early days there was a firm insistence on using French ingredients, some smuggled through customs by Albert Roux’s wife. Now, Chef Patron Michel Roux Jr espouses the beauty of Wildes Cheese made in Tottenham and honey from Bermondsey Street Bees. Nonetheless, it remains the standard for old-world, unapologetically extravagant French gastronomy. There are a clutch of classics, including roast duck in two servings and the Omelette Rothschild (an apricot and cointreau soufflé), but none is more iconic than the Soufflé Suissesse, a twice-baked cheese soufflé with enough double cream to sink a Channel-traversing ferry. Albert would be proud.
Lahore Kebab House; Lamb chops
Lahore Kebab House claims to be the “most famous halal restaurant in the world” which is a tribute to Whitechapel but perhaps slightly insulting to much of the Islamic world (not to mention Tayyabs next door, with whom it vies for tandoori supremacy). Regardless, it is undoubtedly an East London icon, luring in diners in their droves with their Punjabi-style curries, kebabs and the BYO promise of a cheap night. The lamb chops are the star: tender meat, properly blackened crust, plenty of spice and the briefest douse of lemon upon serving. With IPL cricket and Bollywood movies blaring from the LCD TVs to add to the general din you’ll struggle to have a deep catch-up (or any sort of comprehensible conversation) but as a place to remind you what a raucous meal out used to be like, there’s nowhere better.
The Game Bird; Chicken Kiev
The stately Stafford Hotel is one of those places where you imagine yourself living when you’ve earned your millions and are no longer safe to be left alone near a stove. It has the same boutique intimacy as The Goring, and manages to somehow feel Christmassy all year round. The hotel restaurant, The Game Bird, opened in 2017 and aims to reinvent classic British dishes. It manages to not only rescue the retro classic, chicken kiev, but make one wistful for the 1970s. It’s an expert creation with Norfolk Black chicken, truffle butter and pomme purée. Best of all, it’s offered with a giant leather bib in case all the butter comes shooting out—though this is a kiev you wouldn’t mind soiling some Savile Row laundry for. Stagger a few yards for a digestif afterwards at The American Bar or opposite in Dukes.
Jikoni; Prawn toast scotch egg
Should a prawn toast scotch egg be a thing? No. But “Proudly inauthentic” is the title of Rhavinder Bhogal’s recipe book and this is the star product of her “No Borders Kitchen”. Served with Banana ketchup and pickled cucumber, it is the best possible start to a meal. Most of the menu is seasonal and so there’s no guarantee of being able to try another classic—the dosa with Chettinad duck and coconut chutney— but you can be satisfied with the stalwart signature dessert of Banana Cake with Miso Butterscotch, Peanut Brittle and Ovaltine Kulfi. Positioned bang next door to Michelin-starred Trishna, Jikoni has been giving its long-established neighbour something to think about since it opened in 2016. Long may the glorious rivalry continue I say.
The River Café; Ribollita
The pioneering creation of Ruth Rogers and Rose Gray, The River Café was at the vanguard of the renaissance of the London restaurant scene when it opened in 1987. Over the years Jamie Oliver, Theo Randall and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall have all passed under the kitchen’s tutelage. The interior space is much like the food—clean and beautifully simple— and the outdoor terrace with river views will be a boon so long as social distancing must persist. As for the menu, the authentic Italian cooking is at its best in the Tuscan summer ribollita: a sofrito base, enlivened with fresh tomato borlotti beans, chard, basil, bread, and lashings of Capezzana extra virgin olive oil.
Honey & Smoke.; Feta and honey cheesecake
Having met in a restaurant kitchen near Tel Aviv and moved to London to open their first restaurant, Honey & Co., in 2012 husband and wife duo Sarit Packer and Itamar Srulovich have been pretty much riding a wave of falafel-induced popular acclaim ever since. They’re a proper dream team: styling themselves “The Honeys”, Michelin-experienced Sarit was the one to answer my email enquiring when the signature dessert would be available again, and one got the impression Itamar (a former head chef at Ottolenghi) was whipping one up in the room next door as she typed. It’s a sublime mound of whipped up feta and honey on a kadaif base (think shredded wheat, but dreamier). Their Middle Eastern community now includes not only the original restaurant but a deli (Honey & Spice) and grill house (Honey & Smoke)—all in Fitzrovia— and it is at the latter where you will have the first post-lockdown opportunity to sink your face into the iconic dessert.
Brigadiers; BBQ butter chicken wings
When Brigadiers opened in 2018 as the latest project from the Sethi family’s JKS Restaurant empire, it felt like things had come full circle. The successful family trio consists of siblings Karam, a chef, Sunaina, sommelier, and Jyotin, the finance guy who covers all the boring stuff. And you can feel Jyotin’s influence in this expansive Indian barbecue pub-restaurant, smack in the middle of the City, which is designed to attract the banking set of which he used to be a part. The chicken wings with a blackened spicy crust and swimming in an unctuous butter sauce, typify the sumptuous menu. And they are the sort of thing the testosterone-heavy Goldman crowd will order five portions of while sinking beers at the pool table.
The Harwood Arms; Venison Scotch Egg
It’s cheering that London’s only Michelin-starred pub has not forgotten its roots, for—as the Michelin guide puts it— here “you get to enjoy the sort of dishes you always hope to find in such a place”. Hidden away in the back streets of Fulham, The Harwood champions British produce with a focus on game and wild food—think Crispy lamb sweetbreads, roast pollock with colcannon, and a marmalade ice cream sandwich for afters. The Venison Scotch Egg—yes another scotch egg, whose complaining?—is the king of pub snacks (though I’m still holding out for pork scratchings): gamey, properly crisp, and with a vibrantly orange runny yolk. And as it is listed on the menu as a pre-starter you can still proceed to enjoy three courses without feeling guilty. Long live the pub.