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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:

          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.


                Alternatively, Charlotte Street is the best road near your hotel for restaurants. BamBou is a personal favorite - asian fusion.

                Also check out Camino - terrible website, but great spanish food

                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!

              2. Not that keen on Tayyabs myself but it would be an interesting experience for you. I prefer something rougher and more London style, like Sweet & Spicy on Brick Lane or Meraz (Hanbury St) - home style cooking, cheap, simple, no fuss - everywhere else on Brick Lane is awful really. http://www.viewlondon.co.uk/restauran... and

                I admit to going to the chain places in Brunswick Square myself (opposte Russell Square tube station) - the GBK burger place has some great choices - I know...burgers but... I like the charcuterie plate and whatever yummy dessert I can find in Carluccios and they make a good risotto - most other things are ho hum. The Fiorentina thick chocolate, a coffee. There, I said it. Chain places are just fine when you're in a hurry and don't want any fuss. But not Giraffe (ugh) and only occasionally Nando's. LOL.

                7 Replies
                1. re: Calam1ty

                  Appreciate the insight. Sometimes, it's just as important to know where to avoid, as well as where to go.

                  My latest idea for our Day 1 lunch is Chilli Cool, near Russell Square. I love good Szechuan food with lots of peppercorns and I don't get it often enough! We were both brought up on spicy food so I think our tastebuds will enjoy it. The added bonus is that it will be very close to our hotel. Is there any reason to avoid the place? Also, please tell me that it really is spicy, rather than red and oily/greasy.

                  1. re: casskous

                    casskous - do you like middle eastern food like lebanese or iranian? do consider launceston place (modern british), quilon (keralan) and the bombay brasserie (varied, but mainly north indian) as stellar lunch choices around the mid 20's per head price point.

                    launceston place is nestled in one of londons most spectacular n'hoods, fwiw.

                    1. re: howler

                      I'm not that familiar with Middle Eastern food but always up for new culinary experiences.

                      Forgive my ignorance - can you tell me the main differences between Quilon and Tayyabs? I understand that it is different regional cuisine but not sure what the differences are. Also, would it make sense to try Quilon for dinner? I'm thinking we might go there after or before a visit to Tate Britain.

                      I'd love to make it out to Launceston Place but not sure if we will have time!

                      1. re: casskous

                        I agree with the suggestion of Indian food as it is about the one cuisine NYC doesn't do well. i liked Tayybs a lot but they may have unusual opening hours during ramadan. The food is Pakistani / N. Indian in style, with a focus on the grilled meats, and rich sauces. Quilon is Kerelan i believe so the dishes are focused more on vegetables and seafood, dishes are generally lighter and sometimes more fragrant. just as hot though.

                        I didn't dislike Hibiscus' room and i enjoyed the food a lot. If the menu appeals then i would go. Harwood arms is very good but is a sophisticated take on rustic british food.

                        If you are thinking of St john, hereford rd might interest you as an alternative option.

                        Russell square isn't great, it is close to Euston where you can find a very good Gujarati restaurant Diwan Behl Poori and also a good pub, the bree louise. They do great pies and have a great range of beers. Don't know much about Chilli Cool but Chinese food can be hit an miss in England especially in comparison to NY.

                        I would also not go out of your way for middle eastern food unless there is a specific recommendation as i think very good examples can be found in NY. especially in Astoria around Steinway.

                        1. re: Hasan

                          Not sure why people love St John, but we went there and had an awful meal. The service and atmosphere were fine, but the food was terrible.

                          For starters, the bone marrow salad did not have much flavor except for an overwhelming amount of parsley. The brown shrimp salad was equally flavorless other than having a strong taste of vinegar.

                          As if things couldn't get any worse, the main courses were a disaster. The pork was very dry and the skin was rubbery. The pigeon, which they had said was medium rare, came out raw and dripping in blood. The skin was mushy and gross to even look at, and it had absolutely no flavor at all. We thought it might have been an off night for the kitchen, but a quick online search revealed that other people had exactly the same complaint about the pigeon. Unbelievable.

                          In contrast, our meals at Hereford Road have been consistently hearty and satisfying over the past couple of years. We liked everything we tried, from the potted crab to the razor clams, to the pork belly and the duck leg pot roast. The food is always seasoned perfectly and cooked just right. As if that weren't enough, Hereford Road is significantly cheaper than St John, which makes it a better value in every way.

                        2. re: casskous

                          If you can, make time for Launceston Place. The lunch deal (30 pounds for 3 courses when we were there in March) is awesome, and the food really superb. We enjoyed it more than our lunch at Hibiscus the same week.

                      2. re: casskous

                        i would definitely recommend chilli cool, you'll love it

                    2. For intimate and cosy, you might consider Andrew Edmunds in Soho. It definitely ticks the solid, no frills boxes, and it's definitely not sterile and corporate.

                      1. Hello,
                        I am from London, and can suggest the following places for good food, relaxed atmosphere, and all not in the West End.
                        1. Barrafina - Spanish tapas at a marble bar. You can't reserve, but it is worth it, and you can have a bottle of wine while you wait.
                        2. Polpo. Venetian small plates. Again, can only reserve at lunch, but the atmosphere is really great and buzzy. They have also just opened a place in the restaurant upstairs from the French House, a great thespian pub in Soho too.. Worth checking out.
                        4. HIX. Two restaurants, but HIX is responsible for creating a classic cool Brit style of cooking.
                        EAST END
                        4. Bistrotheque. In the east end of London, but very unique and great fun.
                        5. St Johns Bread & Wine . You already are going, but this is my favourite restaurant. They also have a great lunch time only place in a hard to find location called Rochelle's Canteen. Worth the hunt though.

                        That should keep you busy for a while at least!
                        Enjoy. x

                        1. Done Pied a terre yesterday for lunch , 3 course set lunch will set you back £29.50.
                          Heres the pics on flickr http://www.flickr.com/photos/24726943...

                          10 Replies
                          1. re: sped98

                            Pied a terre Lunch

                            1. re: sped98

                              Unfortunately, the lunch is only available M-F, and the OP stated that they are coming for a week-end. I personally wouldn't recommend a more formal meal as my first meal off the plane (in case arriving on Fri), but it depends on how well the two parties travel/ jet lag etc.

                              For a v. diff take on Indian, I would recommend one of the vegetarian restaurants round the back of Euston, which specialise in chaat-style and thali food. Alternatively, at the other end of the spectrum, veeraswamy does fantastic indian (as opposed to pakistani/bangladeshi) cuisine.


                              1. re: trueblu

                                trueblu - the scene at drummond street is awful - except of course for pataks, the indian grocery store.

                                indian zing in hammersmith is the real deal as is quilon. at a pinch, veg at any good lebanese should be delish.

                                1. re: howler


                                  Much as I agree with you about the general quality of Drummond Street, I'm sure you used to mention one place as OK. Raavi/Ravi?

                                  1. re: Harters

                                    aaah quite right you are. raavi (fyi one of the original five rivers giving punjab its name) is quite allright. i was thinking of the sad vegetarian lunch buffet at the bhel puri house i saw last time i was there.

                                    1. re: howler

                                      You see. I DO listen to what you tell me :-)

                                      I've had a couple of lunches on Drummond Street when straight off the train and needing something to eat. Veggie buffet - place about halfway down on the right (from Euston). Maybe called Chutney. Not good but not vile. And certainly not a place I'd recommend to the OP who is coming for a special trip.

                                  2. re: howler

                                    OK, I'm posting as a Brit who now lives in Boston so I'm not 100% up to date, but I do visit Blighty often enough. But when I lived in Fitzrovia, I did used to frequent Drummond street, and rather liked it. It wasn't as good as Ealing or Wembley, but I would not recommend the OP to trek across there. It's of course possible that things have deteriorated over the years.


                                    1. re: trueblu

                                      I can't speak for anywhere but DB, but they where doing good dosas last time i ate there. Sure there are better places to eat in Greater London, but if someone is asking for recommendations in the area i think it is decent.

                                      1. re: Hasan

                                        Just for calibration -- if you have tried, how does their dosa compare with the ones at Ragam?

                                        1. re: Hasan

                                          hasan, diwana bhel puri house is really pretty bad. not great, but notches better is the indian chain, woodlands, which is not a hundred miles away in marylebone lane.

                                2. Here's where we ended up:

                                  Day 1 - only meal of the day: Chilli Cool
                                  Absolutely loved it. I thought the food could be more spicy and I think we didn't order very well because none of the dishes had the peppercorns that I love but all in all a solid meal and great discovery. We were dining pretty late so we missed out on the tripe appetizer.

                                  Day 2 - Lunch: Japan Centre
                                  Soy ramen with BBQ pork was just so-so. Would highly recommend getting it without the pink ginger. The ginger overpowered everything! The small packaged sushi (mackerel, squid, eel) tasted fresh and good though. We were also excited to find frozen mochi sold individually in one of the back glass freezers. Our eyes being bigger than our stomaches, we got two and could not finish both.

                                  Dinner: Tayyabs
                                  The lamb chops were great and I liked the mango lassi a lot. Also, peshwari naan! It's so hard to find in the States that I think I ate most of the whole thing on my own. The curry was a slight let-down but otherwise it was a good meal and one that we were set on going for.

                                  Day 3 - only dine-out meal of the day: Dinner at St John's Bread and Wine
                                  Had very high expectations but found myself a little perplexed. The food was good and also interesting but not amazing. The ox hearts did not taste very different from other cuts of beef, albeit it looked like it had been pounded/flattened. The sauce on the ox hearts was good. The foie gras duck liver app took me by surprise - I did not expect it to be slathered on the bread! I'm perfectly capable of doing that myself. The serving seemed a little stingy. We had one other smaller dish that completely escapes me at the moment. I suppose that means that it was not very memorable. We both tried grouse for the first time. It was really interesting though at first it looks so bloody we were horrified. Gamely, we ate on... and came across a few shotgun pellets. Again, horrified, then reassured that it was simply shotgun pellets and "a risk of eating any game." It was a fun experience.

                                  Here's a question for London 'hounders: at St John Bread and Wine, the bill stated VAT as a separate line item. Why? We found it very confusing!

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: casskous

                                    Because if I am eating out as a travelling employee of a UK company, my employer claims the VAT back. When I put in my claim, someone has to work out the VAT component so some places provide the calculation on the receipt.

                                  2. I really like Hereford Road


                                    Great British food. Somewhere between St Johns and Le Cafe Anglais but half the price!