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Your best London recs -- high end and low end?

I'm heading to London with friends between Christmas and New Years. While I will definitely spend the next week pouring through the reviews here (ahem, and working of course) I was looking to solicit your favorites, Chowhounders! We are looking for a couple of high end spots and then some good lunch or casual spots. Fair to include markets, pubs and Indian, though we will probably not hit too many other non-Continental cuisine ethnic places (live in DC, so we have lots of fine options for that here!) Definitely need one spot at least for "traditional" British fare (read: organ meats.) Thanks!

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  1. Sadly, you are coming to London at a time when many restaurants will be closed. When you do choose places to eat, do check ahead that they will be open. Unlike cities in America, in England it's the custom for a lot of food and other shops to close.

    That said, many high end spots will be fully booked if open. I hate to be pessimistic, and I'm sure some folks here will know of a few choice places you can try.

    1 Reply
    1. re: zuriga1

      I agree with zuriga. Many restaurants - particularly city centre ones - take the opportunity to close between Xmas & New Year. I suppose the offal place of choice for North Americans would be St John and that does appear to be shut (or, at least, OpenTable has no tables available). Rules is open but only seems to have tables available at either 4pm or after 10pm - not as big on offal but certainly big on "traditional"

    2. Don't pass by an Indian meal. I lived on the East Coast for most of my life before moving to England, and I never ate an Indian meal, even in Manhattan, that could compare to what's found here.

      3 Replies
      1. re: zuriga1

        Thanks, Indian is definitely on the list. Seems like about half the places I have checked out so far are closed, but a fair amount seem to be open (probably not the higher end spots, but maybe that's a good thing for our budget?) I'll check out Rules too. Thoughts on Brawn? Looked promising.

        1. re: jinksdc

          Some places to check out for Indian:

          Weekend brunch at Bombay Brasserie
          Quilon
          Benares
          Trishna
          Cafe Namaste

        2. re: zuriga1

          We really enjoyed Maharani Soho. We ate there twice and really enjoyed it. They are open 12/27-31. Enjoy! London and Indian are a perfect match. I wouldn't think of visiting London without an Indian meal.

        3. Brawn is excellent, highly recommended.

          There are places open at that time. For fine dining Alyn Williams is going from strength to strength and has tables available. Or Koffman's for historic French cooking.

          Perhaps Moti Mahal or Quilon for high end Indian both of which are open. Or Hakkasan for Chinese.

          I can't find it for certain online but I would be very confident of the east end Pakistani places of Tayyabs and Lahore being open.

          Depending on where you're from I'd try either Ottolenghi or the fine dining version Nopi.

          8 Replies
          1. re: ManInTransit

            Is Hakkasan really destination eating for anyone with U.S. quality Chinese food? A much better Chinese suggestion would be Min Jiang since the quality is so high that it is difficult to compete with on dim sum, XLB, duck, etc plus the view is amazing.

            Less extravagant places will invariably be open through the holidays. Needoo, Tayyabs and Lahore Karahi are all alright. If I had to choose one I'd go with Needoo though there is far better Pakistani food further east.

            Similarly, its cold and the place is borderline outdoors, but I do not think a single place in Brixton Village (or Brixton in general) is closing their business for the holiday season. Brixton's also very central in terms of tube journey times (it takes something like 2/3 of a second to get to Oxford Circus... ok its more like 10 minutes, but it's extremely close for an area that gets a lot of people raising their eyebrows over journey times as if its Croydon or something.) As you're from the DC area I would avoid anything in Brixton that even vaguely involves hipster BBQ (which can be defined roughly as "some guy in a backwards baseball cap and plaid has decided to make BBQ because it sounds like it'll sell, he proceeds to use a bad online recipe to make it and he opens a place in Brixton Village the next week) and other vague nods to America. Instead hit up Franco Manca for a level of Neapolitan pizza which is extremely rare in the U.S. and shop around the place in general. Cannon and Cannon has a lovely selection of U.K. meats and cheeses which I only recently dipped into.

            If your Indian meal needs to be served on a white table cloth within the hallowed boundaries of Zone 1 then I'd have to second the above recommendations for Quilon or Bombay Brasserie.

            Another non-continental cuisine, but both 101 Thai and The Heron are centrally located establishments which serve exceptionally good authentic Thai food.

            1. re: JFores

              I can't recommend Min Jiang personally as I've never been. I only suggest Hakkasan as when I went dim sum hunting in Manhattan I was told in no uncertain terms that London was far better than NY.

              Re-reading the original post though I think it can be struck off the list.

              1. re: JFores

                Hilarious on the BBQ--I totally agree! Having also lived in NC, and owning our own smoker, we are pretty snobby about our BBQ. I feel the same way about crab cakes. I only like them from Maryland. The Thai rec is good too, thank you--we LOVE Thai, and my usual complaint is (like Chinese food) it is hard to get authentic Thai. Will add that as well.

              2. re: ManInTransit

                Quilon looks great! I'll put that on the list for sure. Anyone been to Tamarind? Their lunch menu looked good, but wasn't sure if it was worth it (a little pricey.)

                Never had Pakistani food--what should we expect?

                1. re: jinksdc

                  I've not been to Tamarind - purely because on reports Quilon, Trishna, the Cinnamon Club and even Benares tend to be preferred. Moti Mahal is another 'posh' Indian that I really enjoyed (review here http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/872503) but that also got a poor writeup from a visitor recently.

                  Pakistani/Punjabi food in the east end will be a hugely different experience to posh Indians in central London. Needoo, Tayyabs and Lahore are bustling informal bring-your-own alcohol restaurants but are a highly recommended experience. As to the food it is characterized by use of a tandoor and there will be more focus on meat than in Keralan and Gujarati food. The curries on the menus are often Karahi style.

                  1. re: jinksdc

                    The chef that headed the kitchen at Tamarind is now at Benares. Since his move, I haven't heard people talking as much about Tamarind, but I'd bet it's still very good. I'd head for Benares as I like the style of cooking that Atul Kutcher demonstrates on TV from time to time.

                  2. re: ManInTransit

                    Alyn Williams looks incredible. We made a reservation there. Also made a reservation for L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon which looked interesting. Thanks for the tips!

                    1. re: jinksdc

                      Great, really glad to be of help. I think Alyn Williams is the best value fine dining in London and it's a good room as well. The service is also excellent - they let us substitute anything we wanted from the ALC in and out of the tasting menu, so we put the langoustines in.

                      Barrafina is fantastic for tapas but allow time especially on a weekend, after 7pm on a Saturday expect a minimum one hour queue - somewhere to hit at off-peak hours!

                      An alternative for Spanish/Italian small plates would be the Opera Tavern which you can book.

                      Personally I would advise against Maze which I think lived off Atherton's legacy (so much so that the Good Food Guide didn't score it) and has now plunged downwards in quality.

                  3. For a high-end seafood meal, I would recommend J. Sheekey, which is between Covent Garden & Trafalgar Square. It is a very lively place, the seafood is very fresh and the service is professional in the best sense of the word.

                    http://www.j-sheekey.co.uk/

                    For a more casual meal, I have enjoyed dining at Great Queen Street, which is on Great Queen Street.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: DavidT

                      Thanks David, Great Queen is definitely on the list, looks great, as does J Sheeky!

                    2. Maze was amazing and their pre fixe lunch is a spectacular deal. Marroush was awesome for a quick sandwich, super fresh and o so tasty..had a good time at ceviche and barrfina, both in Soho...

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: yuyu

                        Barrafina looks awesome, and Spanish food is always a treat. Definitely on the list. Love that it is a tapas place so I don't have to count it for a meal, we'll just call it snacks.

                      2. Totally second Brawn, either lunch or dinner (or both!) If it's a bit out of your way, their sister restaurants Terroirs or the Green Man & French Horn, both in Covent Garden would be worth checking out and are a bit more central.

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: pj26

                          My husband is really into wine, so Terriors and Vinoteca both made his short list of places to check out (I don't mind indulging his hobby!) And I was looking at Green Man and French Horn which does look good and is convenient to where we are staying.

                          1. re: jinksdc

                            Went to FH & GM last night; difficult to get a table but I persevered. I had the gurnard & friends had the partridge; all were executed perfectly. We elected to share the cheese board which was very good - only gripe was the relatively small portions.

                            Both Terroirs and FH & GM are excellent and consistent regular dining places in central London; haven't tried Brawn as it seems to be a carnivores' delight.

                        2. Never left the final tally--we ate like kings the whole week! Boxing day was tough and there were a number of places closed for lunch that week, but we made out ok and didn't have a single bad meal.

                          The stand outs were Bull and Last, Quo Vadis and St. John Hotel, with St. John Hotel being one of the best meals I have ever eaten. Went to Laughing Gravy for an excellent brunch, the cafe which I am forgetting the name of right now for brunch another day at Spitalfields Market, and hit Borough Market for a great lunch one day (pies from the Pie Minister and some venison sausage hit the spot on one of the colder days). All in all a terrific experience, thanks for your suggestions!!