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[London] Great food for a special weekend

I will be spending a weekend in London in early September with someone who is very dear to me. We'll be coming from different parts of the world and neither of us are familiar with the restaurants in London. We both enjoy good food. As this weekend is very special for us, I'd like the food to complement the occasion.

I don't mind having one lavish meal but that's not what I'm looking for. I'm looking for relatively inexpensive, no frills, solid cooking and interesting dishes. I would really like to hear any thoughts, suggestions, or recommendations since I'm flying blind right now. Here's what I have so far:

Day 1 (arriving midday)
Lunch at Hibiscus

Day 2 - unplanned

Day 3
Lunch at Harwood Arms
Dinner at St Johns Bread and Wine

(leaving early morning Day 4)

We also plan on going to Tayyabs one night for dinner. I'm a little afraid after reviews that I've read here that Hibiscus might be too sterile and corporate. I would love to find a place that's relaxed, cozy and laid back with good food near Russell Square for lunch on Day 1. I'm coming in from New York City so I get enough of good Japanese and Italian (both pizza and pasta). Other than those, all ethnic eats are fair game.

Thanks in advance! Any guidance would be much appreciated.

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  1. I'd suggest you have at least one 'Indian' meal - perhaps a lunch. I'm from the NYC area originally, and I don't know how you feel, but I never was very happy with any of the Indian meals I had there. In London, it's an entirely different story. There's a new, casual place called Dishoom near Leicester Square and Covent Garden... very friendly service and lots of dishes to choose from. It was quite empty the one time I stopped there for a mid-day snack. I intend going back this Saturday before seeing a play.

    Enjoy your stay - sounds very 'special.'

    1. "I'm a little afraid after reviews that I've read here that Hibiscus might be too sterile and corporate."

      Looking at your other ideas and what you've written, I suspect that you would indeed find it too sterile and corporate.

      I have an affection for the place from before Bosi moved to London and it remains my favourite place in the country. I would eat there again like a shot (and will be in a few weeks) but it is a place that doesnt see to suit many people who post on Chowhound.

      2 Replies
      1. re: Harters

        Relaxed, cosy and laid-back are not what I'd call Hibiscus either, but staid and corporate are not it either - how about modern and elegant with very exciting and sexy food. All aspects being in the eye of the beholder of course.

        1. re: buttertart

          "how about modern and elegant with very exciting and sexy food"

          Works for me as a description.

      2. what about bistro bruno loubet for your day one lunch? the food (french bistro but not too traditional) is excellent and when i went for lunch it had a relaxed bustling atmosphere. lots of reviews on here already.

        1. The Russell Square area is a bit poor from a culinary perspective. The abundance of tourist hotels and university students is perhaps the problem. I live in this area.

          I'd recommend walking a bit East into neighboring Clerkenwell. There's an active thread right now on recommended places to eat there:
          http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/724383

          Exmouth market, in particular is fairly laid back. Or you could try the nearby Coach & Horses.

          2 Replies
          1. re: r.vacapinta

            Anyone have any news on one Michelin star Chef Chris Staines who was the Chef at Foliage in Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park? ? Where has he gone to?
            It was disgraceful what they did to him which was, basically, they threw him out to make way for Heston Blumenthal's 1st London restaurant.. This, despite his success and Foliage making money for the hotel. Sorry & sad!
            There's gratitude for you. It is a Chef eat Chef world now in the world of gastronomy.
            To echo Cdr. Bond...James Bond in 'Goldfinger':

            "Shocking, positively shocking."

            1. re: thetravellinggourmet

              After leaving Foliage, he was reported to be joining Heckfield Place in Hampshire as executive chef. Google tells me that it is currently closed for a major refurbishment which may mean he's still an employee or he may now elsewhere.

          2. Thanks so much for the advice. Clerkenwell sounds like a great place to spend time eating and I will be looking into Bistro Bruno Loubet.

            I recently read in a different post that Harwood Arms is more of a restaurant than a pub. If I am looking for a more pub-like setting (dark/dim, stuffed seats, wood paneling, lots of good beer), should we head to Charles Lamb, Coach and Horses, The Eagle, Bull & Last or any other alternative?

            Appreciate all the help!

            4 Replies
            1. re: casskous

              The setting of the Harwood Arms is somewhat pub-like (if less than the others), but the food is styled more like restaurant dishes; they do have a bar menu with more pub grub.

              For a more pub setting -- The White Horse in Parsons Green (great beers, very good food); Charles Lamb is roughly in the same category. The Eagle is probably a little better food wise and weaker beer wise. My personal favourite is the Bull and Last, but largely on the virtue of the remarkable food; it does have a satisfying selection of beers.

              The Coach and Horses has different sides -- a table area that is more restaurant like, and a space in front of the bar than is more pubby. Food is somewhere between pub and restaurant food.

              As a rough guide, when one of my old-time NYC chowhound buddy was stuck here due to the Iceland volcano, we ate at Indian Zing (Maharastrian), Bull and Last, and Sedap (Penang style Nyona -- don't mention them in the same breath as Penang and its affiliates in NYC -- completely different level of cooking and different repertoire).

              1. re: casskous

                Hearty recommendation for Bistrot Bruno Loubet, but it's quite a way from Russell Square - not really walking distance.

                For somethign a little different, you could look into Abeno - it is japanese but a style of food that I don't believe is common in NY - in fact at least a few years ago Abeno was the only place outside Japan that did this style of food.

                http://www.abeno.co.uk/

                Alternatively, Charlotte Street is the best road near your hotel for restaurants. BamBou is a personal favorite - asian fusion.
                http://www.bam-bou.co.uk/

                Also check out Camino - terrible website, but great spanish food
                http://www.camino.uk.com/

                1. re: uniqueusername

                  I've had okonomiyaki decades ago in Singapore, so I don't think Abeno was the only place making this type of food outside of Japan. I do like Abeno, although it may be a tad pricey for something that is supposed to be "economical" --the name is apparently onomatopoeic.

                  Been curious about Bam-bou for a while but haven't had a chance to eat there. Any favourite dishes there that one should look out for?

                  1. re: limster

                    I really enjoy the cured spicy salmon, and the lamb with steamed buns, to start, and on the mains, the scallops and pork belly is to die for, and I also like the duck and the seafood curry. I normally forgo dessert in favour of a sweet fruity cocktail; they have a great barman!