Gyoza Bar, St Martin’s Lane
If there’s one thing we can’t say no to, it’s gyoza. Which is why olive was one of the first food magazines to visit Gyoza Bar, a new Covent Garden restaurant that professes to be an expert in the wonder that is Japanese dumplings.
It’s a small, minimalistic space with blocky tables, patterned wooden walls and exposed, bright orange pipes in the corners. Gyoza Bar is deliberately un-fussy and informal, an attitude that’s reflected by the at-ease waiters who made us feel relaxed and welcome.
Despite its name, Gyoza Bar offers far more than dumplings – there’s also ramen, small plates (including edamame and deep fried pork samosas) and bao buns to choose from, and everything comes out when it’s ready. As nice as it is to have piping hot food to order, tables are too small to hold everything at once – so ask your waiter if they can stagger dishes for you…
Click here for the full review of Gyoza Bar
Frenchie, Henrietta Street
During his time at Fifteen restaurant, Greg Marchand was nicknamed ‘Frenchie’ by Jamie Oliver, and has so named his bistro in Paris after gaining further experience in New York, London and his hometown of Nantes, France. More recently, Greg has popped back over la Manche to bring his modern French cooking to Covent Garden in his new branch of Frenchie.
This chic, two-floor restaurant is an excellent fit in the buzzy West End, with set designer Emilie Bonaventure’s light, bright interiors, exposed brick walls, contemporary lighting and soft leather bench seating. Bag a soft grey bar stool at the impressive, marble-topped bar and be entertained by Rudi Carraro’s impressive cocktail skills – look up to catch this mixologist, formerly of the Artesian, pouring steady streams of spirits, bitters and syrups from a staggering height.
We try Once Upon a Time No.2 – a refreshing mix of Ketel One vodka, Mirabelle plum and citrus with a foamy top; and lightly-sparkling Ms. Bubbles, an elegant glass of silky-sweet Tagliatella (aromatic cherry brandy), hazelnut and champagne…
Click here for the full review of Frenchie
Lima Floral (for breakfast), Garrick Street
Early morning is the best time of day in central London. Time it perfectly (post-suit stampede, pre-tourist crush), and Covent Garden is an oasis of quiet activity as traders set up for the day ahead. If you find yourself in town at this golden hour, our advice is to avoid the chains and head to Lima Floral for a Peruvian-style breakfast.
Sister restaurant to Virgilio Martinez’s first London restaurant, the now Michelin-starred Lima in Fitzrovia, Lima Floral is a more relaxed version with a much more affordable price tag. Weekend brunch here is nothing new, but breakfast, served from 8.30-10.30am daily is a welcome addition, with a menu that covers everything from a cold buffet of continental favourites such as fruit and pastries, to familiar European dishes given a playful Peruvian twist (you’re going to have to wait until brunch for ceviche, I’m afraid)
If you’re feeling virtuous, head chef Robert Ortiz has created Andean cereal ‘porridge’ made with toasted quinoa, kiwicha and kañwa, with almond milk and served with chancaca syrup – a typical Peruvian sauce made from unrefined sugar. For something more familiar, there is good old Scottish oat porridge given a twist with physallis caramelised with yet more chancaca…
Click here for the full review of Lima Floral
Compagnie des Vins Surnaturels, Neal’s Yard
Sommelier Julia Oudill used to work in three-Michelin-star French restaurants where the service made guests squirm. Opening, decanting and pouring wine was a hushed ceremony, during which, she says: ‘nobody breathed.’
The vibe at Compagnie des Vins Surnaturels, a chic Neal’s Yard bolt-hole where Julia is now general manager, couldn’t be more different. ‘Whether the bottle is £30 or £3,000, I want to sit with the guests, open it and talk about the wine. We serve wines alongside great food, with hip hop on the sound system.’ Compagnie des Vins is determined to make wine appreciation fun and affordable. ‘Great wine,’ insists Julia, ‘doesn’t have to cost a month’s rent’…
Click here for the full review of Compagnie des Vins Surnaturels
Billy and the chicks, St Anne’s Court
There is a new wave of restaurants serving one thing and doing it well. First it was burgers, then ramen, and now fried chicken. Friends Sam and Billy and their ‘chicks’ are all about old-school comfort food served in a simple way, and they do it rather well in their stripped-back restaurant.
The exposed brick walls and industrial lighting look may feel overdone to those that dine out regularly, but Billy and the Chicks manages to make its Soho fried chicken joint all about the food, the music and the culture. Owners and staff are incredibly down to earth – no ‘I’m too cool to serve you’ types – so you can relax for as long as you want on wooden benches and stools while a DJ spins hip hop, funk and soul on the turntables in the corner – our soundtrack for the night included N.E.R.D, Nelly and Tupac.
Black and white paper menus give plenty of choice – for under a tenner you can get a meal deal, with a choice of fried chicken pieces, hot wings or ribs along with sides of crisp chips and a choice of homemade gravy made with ham bones, chicken stock and cream, or finely shredded spring onion and red cabbage slaw to liven things up…
Click here for the full review of Billy and the Chicks
Gauthier, Romilly Street
More Regency townhouse than restaurant, Gauthier’s swish exterior – shiny black door, sash windows and gold signage – doesn’t intend to intimidate; brave the doorbell and you’ll be greeted by a small team of polite, affable waiters who help make this dining experience one of the most relaxed in Soho.
It’s been open since 2010 and, perhaps surprisingly for a French restaurant, has always offered a ‘vegetable tasting’ menu that reads just as well as its carnivorous counterpart: saffron egg with fondant beetroot, rolled cep mushroom cannelloni, and butternut squash cream with sage tempura are just three of eight courses on the autumnal menu, for £65 per head.
The dining room, complete with elaborate fireplace, has half-a-dozen or so tables and as such the atmosphere is hushed (more romantic dinner for two than party of five). It’s a white-linen tablecloth kind of place, but with quirky additions including graffiti squash decorations on the tables and a Moulin Rouge-style bathroom upstairs – you have to strain to see beyond all that reddish light…
Click here for the full review of Gauthier
Mele e pere (for breakfast), Brewer Street
Best known for its homemade vermouth and superb squid ink gnocchi, Mele e Pere on Brewer Street has launched into the unknown with its first breakfast menu. It’s served on the ground floor, quite apart from the dining room downstairs, in a warm and cosy space decorated with gnarled wooden tables and a wall-to-wall display cabinet of beautiful Murano glass apples and pears.
It’s a relaxing place to be, sat on a comfy bar stool with a view of bustling Soho streets outside. Inside it’s quiet and calm – you’ll only hear the espresso machine, and maybe some soft Belle & Sebastian albums playing in the background. Start the day with a freshly squeezed orange juice and coffee from The Terrone Coffee Company – an olive favourite…
Click here for the full review of Mele e Pere
NY Fold, Charing Cross Road
There are appetisers – the burrata with cherry tomatoes is excellently creamy and sweet, New York style focaccia sandwiches include the excellent chicken cutlet with romaine lettuce, tomato, provolone and pesto aïoli. There are New York italian specialties such as spaghetti ragu bolognese with meatballs.
As authentically New York as the above treats are, the reason to come here is the pizza (margherita £3.75/slice, £20/16″ all others £4.20/slice £23/16″ pizza): the dough is made using a two-part fermentation, over 48 hours, and results in an ultra-crisp and airy base – the sauce uses 12 fresh herbs and spices and is deliciously rich as a result.
Don’t miss Grandma’s pie: roast garlic, fresh tomatoes, mozzarella, pecorino romano, parsley and rope frantoio extra virgin olive oil; and the Hot Italian: fresh pinched sausage, sliced white onion, roasted sweet bell peppers, hot calabrese peppers and hot oil. But the star for us was the Brooklyn point: chopped fresh clams, garlic, pancetta, charred lemon, mozzarella, basil, Sicilian oregano and Frantoio extra-virgin olive oil – it won the title of The Food Network’s Best New York Pizza in the NYC Food & Wine Competition – and we could see why…
Click here for the full review of NY Fold
Pilau, Walker’s Court
Less a restaurant, more a grab-it-and-go joint, Soho’s Pilau is the realised dream of friends George Pitkeathley and Ollie Norman, son of Polpo owner Russell Norman. Don’t expect Venetian cicchetti, though; Pilau’s style is Indian street food wraps, inspired by the co-owners’ trip to India last summer.
‘We stumbled across these amazing night markets in Mumbai,’ says Ollie. ‘They were open from 1-4am and we had excellent chicken tikka wraps there… we didn’t want to copy what they did – it was more a case of being influenced by what we ate – so we came home and came up with our own filling ideas.’
Here’s the concept: pick a size (try as we might, ‘the big one’ was too much for us); a filling – butter chicken, lamb and marrow, or spiced paneer –; four toppings – lettuce, red onion, fresh chillies, slaw, pickled ginger and shoestring bhaji – and a combo of sauces, including a chutney, mint and coriander yoghurt, and very spicy chilli. Oh, and there’s a portion of fluffy pilau rice in every wrap, too…
Click here for the full review of Pilau
Melt Room, Noel Street
It’s time to wake up and smell the cheese, as they might say in the US. Melt Room has brought the ‘grilled’ (read ‘fried in butter’) cheese-stuffed sandwich to London’s Soho. Bustling Noel Street provides the perfect fast-paced setting for this grab-and-go cheese-fiend’s paradise, with a suitably cheesy-dairy feel to the décor – white and yellow tiles, yellow-aproned staff, and 10 chairs with buttery-yellow leather for those with multiple sandwiches to tackle.
There are even cheesy portraits – Scotty from Star Trek, Michael Bolton in full mullet and Jane Fonda lolling energetically in gym garb, her lycra-d legs aiming heavenward, and a soundtrack of 80’s cheese.
There’s a lot to like about their actual cheese, farmhouse and artisan as it is, ensconced in pillowy sourdough, fried to a golden-brown sheen on the outside. The Classic (£4.50) is a secret mixture of cheeses (with good reason – anyone with tastebuds would want the recipe) – try getting one of their sauces (50p) to dip it in – Melt Room relish is a perfect, fruity, vinegary chutney, and Friend of Cheese sauce is a lot like ramped-up HP (warning: getting both may cause a condimental breakdown, leaving you manipulating your sarnie as if it were a canoe paddle)…
Click here for the full review of Melt Room
Bone Daddies, Peter Street
When it comes to service, there’s a fine line between attentive and annoying. But at Bone Daddies, it’s judged just right. OK, this ramen joint is at the more laid-back end of the dining spectrum, but this was my fourth visit.The first two were quickies, I was in and out within 20 minutes. A longer lunch came next. In every case, service was swift and smiley. Staff are keen without being cloying.
A few months back, ramen bars were all but unknown in the UK, despite being more religion than food in Japan, available in myriad form on every street corner.They’re the ultimate booze food and you’ll find wobbling salarymen slurping up these noodles (which are actually Chinese) before stumbling for the last train home. Now, though, there are three very decent ramen shops in the capital, and London is the richer for it. Good ramen is all about the broth; chicken or pork bones slow-cooked until the resulting, silky liquid seduces the taste buds and coats the mouth.
Of course, fresh noodles; thin, pert and springy, are important. But mess up the broth and all is lost. Luckily, owner Ross Shonhan knows a thing or two about Japanese food. His tonkotsu ramen is blissfully rich, the pork bones simmered for 20 hours. The chashu pork is soft and fatty in the best way, the whole thing made just the right side of obscene by an extra pipette of pure pork fat for 50p.The boiled egg has an oozing yolk while various vegetables provide crunch.This is a bowl filled with class, contrast and comfort.
Click here for the full review of Bone Daddies
Pho & Bun, Shaftesbury Avenue: restaurant review
Hidden bang in Central London between the lanterns of China Town and Shaftesbury Avenue’s chain restaurants teaming with pre-theatre goers, Pho & Bun is taking the bao bun to the next level with Vietnamese bao burgers (we’re betting that this is the next big food trend). Already a staple amongst Berlin’s hipsters, these revolutionary burgers are new to London, and an exciting addition to owner Andy Le’s new outpost of popular street food joint Viet Eat, Holborn.
The restaurant does as it says on the tin, and the menu is short and simple, split into starters, vermicelli, pho and buns. Start with rolls – minced crab and pork spring rolls are wrapped in a crispy crackly golden net, and fresh summer rolls encase meaty tiger prawns, Vietnamese leaves and herbs in rice paper. Impeccably sourced meat from butcher HG Walter is used in the pho and buns – 28-day, dry aged Aberdeen Angus beef is served rare in a big bowl of fragrant pho broth cooked for 18 hours with freshly chopped thick noodles. Beansprouts, chilli, coriander and mint come on the side so you can drop them in as you please.
Click here for the full review of Pho & Bun
shackfuyu, old Compton Street
Good news for Bone Daddies fans: their new Old Compton Street pop-up, Shackfuyu, is just as brilliant as the original ramen shop down the road. But totally different in style.
It’s a deceivingly big space, with rows-upon-rows of wooden tables and speakers in every corner blaring out rock ‘n’ roll in true Bone Daddies style. Our waitress knew the menu well and advised sharing a main (there’s only one on the menu at any time), and six-or-so sides. Although it’s still Japanese cuisine, don’t expect slurpy bowls of noodles – it’s on-trend fusion food (“what they’re eating in Japan right now,” we were told), with a heavy input from Italy.
Food comes out as it’s ready, so our main of USDA beef picanha was last. Incredibly tender and pepped-up by a side of kimchee tare butter, it was well worth the wait. And not willingly shared. As for the sides, the winner was sticky sweet miso aubergine, made more interesting with a topping of bubu arare – little Rice Krispies-style balls that popped in the mouth…
Click here for the full review of Shackfuyu
Bao, Lexington Street
I’ve queued for Bao before at their Hackney bar, so I didn’t mind queuing for them again – even though it took 25 minutes to get a seat (they won’t let you in until your whole party has arrived). They recognised me straight away* and sent over a complimentary cold brewed tea with a whipped cream top – it was pretty weird, even for me!
It’s a sharing concept, with a recommended 3/4 dishes per person. The menu is small and everything but the century eggs (eggs that have been left to cure and ferment in salt until the whites turn transparent and the yolks crumbly) looks fantastic. Nothing is more than £6, and baos are around the £5 mark – great value, in my opinion.
Our first xiao chi dish was a caramelised scallop, still spongy in the middle, served with a yellow bean and garlic sauce that you slurp out of the shell – a strong start. Next, crispy trotter nuggets with a fatty, porky centre, and a pig blood cake studded with rice and spice. The latter is topped with an egg yolk that’s been cured in vintage soy sauce – I thought I’d love it, but it was too salty. Fried chicken came with a chilli sauce that stung my lips…
Click here for the full review of Bao
Ethos, Eastcastle Street
Things were pretty hectic at Ethos when doors opened last year. It was an encouraging idea – strictly vegetarian, affordable dining just minutes from Oxford Street – but a lack of organisation and food that all-too quickly ran out left us wanting.
But time is a great healer, and a recent visit impressed. The self-service, pay-by-weight concept is still there, but now starters, drinks and desserts are delivered to the table if you so wish. A good thing in our opinion: it gives diners a chance to relax into their surroundings before negotiating the buffet.
It helps that the starters (there are always three on the menu) are decent – squeaky halloumi had the right level of char and was served prettily with cubed pineapple; and caramelised mushroom tostadas was satisfyingly sloppy, with a warm chilli hit.
It’s an attractive buffet – hot and cold food is on separate podiums, and it’s far more colourful than your average vegetarian spread. In fact, aside from coconut-y sweetcorn fritters and sweet potato fries (both of which would have been better if piping hot), nothing was beige. All the cold salads were well-seasoned and interesting – cauliflower triumphs in a creamy tahini dressing; green apple and paper-thin fennel is wonderfully fresh; butternut squash has those gloriously crisp, caramelised edges in a feta and spinach salad; and baba ganoush (watery when we visited last year) is now earthy, rich and smooth…
Click here for the full review of Ethos