The Good

Bong Bong Manila Kanteen

Grace Dent, writing for the Guardian, praises the “slightly chaotic but warm-hearted Filipino street-food joint” for its pleasing bowls of aubergine kare kare (a turmeric, coconut, and peanut curry) and crispy pata (pork hock with liver sauce), daikon noodle salads, and other dishes. She recommends it as a place to take friends and family to and warns that at this “get stuck in kind of joint” it might get messy. The “childlike […] but also very confident” restaurant serves hot, crisp banana and cinnamon spring rolls with a scoop of vanilla ice cream for dessert.

Address: 460 Hackney Rd, London E2 9EG

Oklava Bakery + Wine

This Fitzrovia joint is not new but it has been renamed, redesigned and reopened. A high table in front of the restaurant is now used in the morning to roll out pasta and at night for more space for dining. Try Tottenham-based Kupros Dairy’s feta three ways or some oklava bread with Medjool date butter. Künefe for two with clotted cream and pistachios is the perfect sweet culmination to a scrumptious meal.

Address: 64 Grafton Way, Bloomsbury, London W1T 5DP

Circolo Popolare

“Intoxicatingly cheeky Italian is the hottest place in town,” writes Jimi Famurewa about Circolo Popolare in the Evening Standard. The 280-cover Sicilian plaza with climbing plants, spirit bottles stacked to the ceiling, and twinkling festoon lights offers diners meter-long rectangular pizzas, fruit-clogged fishbowl cocktails, and one-liter sundaes. Famurewa is won over by the “mad, thrusting spectacle of it,” by the atmosphere of “boisterous, cluttered, Italianate razzle-dazzle.” He recommends the Orlando Blue pizza with an inner tube of speckled, chewy crust and a topping that packs a “balanced blast of sunshine” with its speck ham, fresh peaches, and gorgonzola.

Address: 40-41 Rathbone Pl, Fitzrovia, London W1T 1HX

Muse

The “delicious talking therapy” Grace Dent experiences at Muse is “the sort of pretentious [she lives] for.” Diners have to wire a £200 deposit before their booking is honoured, because dinner for two with 10 courses, a cocktail and several glasses of wine each will cost in excess of £400. Each course, inspired by nostalgia and pivotal moments in chef Tom Aikens’ life, is given a title such as “Conquering the Beech Tree.” But Dent feels to dissect each dish in print would be impolite, it would ruin the surprise. You’ll just have to go yourself (or have someone take you) to realise why Muse is “a cathartic rumination on life.”

Address: 38 Groom Pl, Belgravia, London SW1X 7BA

Bar Douro City

The second Bar Douro restaurant from Max Graham, Bar Douro City is larger than the original, with tables as opposed to stools. Women predominate at the stoves, notes Fay Maschler in the Evening Standard. The dishes on the menu, divided into Snacks, Garden, Sea, Land, Clay Pots, Cheese, and Desserts, are for sharing. The suckling pig in bolo do caco, a Madeiran sweet potato circular bread is “lush, juicy and finely balanced.” The most expensive dish is Arroz de Sapateira (crab rice) in a clay pot for £20. We’re excited by the pastel de nata and the Tarte de amêndoa which Maschler describes as having “the lightest of the casing and a winningly chewy filling” – both served with ice cream.

Address: 1 Finsbury Ave, London EC2M 2PF

The Questionable

Madera

Fay Maschler is not impressed by the Mexican restaurant Madera in Marylebone. The £17 Los Muertos cocktail her party orders is “unthinkably, undrinkably sweet,” while pico de gallo with warm tortilla chips is so bland she has to ask for salt and pepper. Maschler struggles through the mains and realises that “any link to real Mexican cooking seems tenuous.” A restaurant with “the air of a chain restaurant in the departure area of an airport,” it seems like one to avoid until they make some changes and get back in the game.

Address: 14-15 Langham Pl, Marylebone, London W1B 2QS

The Yard by Robin Gill

The Guardian’s Jay Rayner gives Yard by Robin Gill a poor review, calling it “the worst new restaurant from a critically acclaimed chef [he has] ever reviewed” – ouch! A £14 bowl of cavatelli pasta on a sweet pumpkin sauce with amaretto and “under pickled shallots that are more sugar than acid” is the dish he finds “most infuriating.” Even though the context isn’t well-suited, Rayner at least acknowledges the restaurant’s laudable attempt of rehabilitation through art with its display of paintings and sculptures by current UK prison inmates. An expensive exhibition, it seems.

Address: 3-5, Great Scotland Yard, Westminster, London SW1A 2HN

Lina Stores

According to Grace Dent, Lina Stores at King’s Cross is let down by “forgetful service and forgettable food.” Although the new branch is “undeniably beautiful,” a cool, retro, mint-green diner with a sit-up bar, the food is everything but. The problem seems to lie in the failure of time management in this big space that seats 100 diners. Polenta is overcooked, brioche is served semi-stale, and the pasta with its stingy sauce is equally disappointing. To top it all off, on Dent’s visit “the mood of the staff was a war of attrition against the public.” She will continue going to the original branch in Soho, because sometimes “smaller really is better.”

Address: 20 Stable St, Kings Cross, London N1C 4DR

The Ultra-Delicious

Mei Mei

The counter café in the style of a Malaysian or Singaporean Kopitiam coffee shop which opened in October 2019 sits inconspicuously under a railway arch at London Bridge’s Borough Market. It is the product of Michelin star-winner Elizabeth Haigh, has only 14 seats and barely a dozen items on the menu, but it already has glowing reviews.

UK restaurant critic Jimi Famurewa writes in the Evening Standard that despite its perhaps uncomfortable seating situation and position under the clatter of a railway bridge, Mei Mei “might be one of the best new operations of any size currently trading in the capital.” A “small, smiley team of chefs” tend to the place, with food that makes “everything else melt away.” The less instagrammable Hainanese chicken rice does not get lost on Famurewa either, but he decides to focus on how it “only amplifies the life-changing flavour.”

The Financial Times’ Tim Hayward describes Mei Mei’s Kaya toast as “flat-out, howl-at-the-moon filthy good” and he’d sell his mother, or at least a younger sister, for a whole meal of the carrot cake, a radish dish with “something halfway between hard scrambled eggs and a disintegrating omelette.” Hayward fears that London may initially have difficulty understanding the beauty of cold, barely cooked poached chicken with hot white rice, which could be the very definition of bland, but is, “as they say, so not.”

Ibrahim Salha from The Independent is on board as well. He makes sure to tell us that the poached chicken, which “is wonderfully tender, yet has the firmness of an older, properly raised bird,” is from neighbouring butcher Ginger Pig. For Salha the real crowd-pleaser is the nasi lemak, a rice dish cooked in coconut milk which comes served with peanuts, sambal, tiny fried anchovies, and a fried egg. He highly recommends to order a fried chicken cutlet to go with it, it’s the food he can’t stop thinking about: “crispy on the outside but cooked so you can cut it with just a spoon.”

Address: Mei Mei Unit 52, Borough Market Kitchen, Jubilee Pl, London SE1 9AG

Casa do Frango

In the Sunday Times, Marina O’Loughlin calls the Southern Portuguese restaurant’s chicken and chips dish the best in town.

Address: 2 King John Ct, Hackney, London EC2A 3EZ

Coming soon

Big Jo

Jolene’s new Big Jo bakery is set to open in North London’s Hornsey Road in May this year. It will be huge, with everything from grain silos to pizza ovens and even a small fermentation lab for drinks.

D&D

For those of you in the Stratford area, get ready for another gigantic opening, the ‘flying saucer’ restaurant which will welcome diners at the entrance to Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park within the next year. The new landmark building, called The Pavilion, will be a three-floor restaurant with a ground floor café and brasserie, first-floor restaurant, and a rooftop bar with views over the park.

Park Row

A new immersive dining experience of hitherto non-existing grand proportions is coming to London town this spring. And it’ll be Batman-themed, along with inspiration in décor, food and 3D projections from the other movies set in Gotham City (Superman, The Joker, you know the drill).

Talad

This Northern Thai ‘perma pop-up’ to open in Chelsea next month draws on the ‘flavours, textures, and memories’ of owner Natalie Tangsakul’s upbringing in Chiangrai, at the northern most tip of the South East Asian country of fragrant, mouth-watering foods. We’re excited about the fresh clams with basil chili jam and tum lao shiitake papaya salad that will be on the menu.

A Slice of Blue

Brace yourselves, Clapton will be home to a pizza pub by the end of this month. A Slice of Blue is the culmination of the founders of Santa Maria and Firezza getting together and focusing not just on the food, but also the beer, music, and atmosphere to go with it.

Black Box

Comic book fans rejoice, Seven Dials’ Orbital Comics is due to get a new late-night café and dessert shop addition to its store. At Black Box, you’ll be able to enjoy tiramisu, brownies and coffee kanten, a Japanese coffee jelly, with cakes using local flour from Windmill in Brixton.