Looking for Covent Garden restaurants? Check out our favourite places to eat around Covent Garden for pre-theatre dinners, post-shopping meals and drinks in the West End.
Frog By Adam Handling
Frog by Adam Handling is the Scottish chef’s second solo restaurant focusing on British seasonal food (with a few Asian twists) paired with unique pre-bottled cocktails and unusual wines. Choose between the five-course (£65) and eight-course (£80) tasting menus, and pair with wines (£70) or matching cocktails (£65). The set menu changes fortnightly, but some of Adam’s signature dishes stick around. You can also choose from an à la carte menu.
The tagline for Covent Garden’s newest Italian restaurant, just minutes from Trafalgar Square, might be “pasta, prosecco, espresso” – but it’s those first little mouthfuls of arancini from the antipasti that you’ll be raving about, come home time. Created by head chef Louis Korovilas – whose CV lists training under Giorgio Locatelli, at Locanda Locatelli, and Pied à Terre – the arancini arrive as three golden nuggets. Their crisp armour gives way to the lightest rice, still just al dente, no stodge, and bags of flavour – first (on our visit) earthy mushroom, next creamy dolcelatte, and finally saffron with a fiery heart of ’nduja.
It’s hard not to be mesmerised by the rest of the menu, though, particularly if you sit at the marble-topped, brass-trimmed bar, overlooking Louis and his team at work. Fresh pasta, which is made and rolled upstairs, is flash-boiled before being tossed with any of the 10 sauces on offer. Chitarra – guitar-string like spaghetti – is slicked with cacio e pepe and topped with a crisp, peppered cheese wafer.
Oxtail ragu (best ever ragu recipes here), slow cooked for 10 hours until sticky and sweet, clings to bouncy folds of pappardelle. Simple, quality ingredients – the bedrock of good Italian cookery – are shown proper respect. Hispi cabbage is charred and dressed with red chilli, garlic and 2017 Planeta olive oil. Chicory and beans are held up with sweet and sour onions, and a deeply savoury anchovy crumb.
Classic negronis with the right amount of chunky ice and a twist of orange are just as well received as the prosecco, and don’t leave without a palate-cleansing, retro-tastic Amalfi lemon syllabub (recipe below) and granita served in its original host. Holiday vibes for the win.
Authentic’ is overused on London’s restaurant scene, but Saiphin Moore has managed to do the word justice with her traditional Laotian cooking in newly opened Covent Garden restaurant Lao Café. After successfully running seven branches of cool and casual Thai restaurant Rosa’s, Saiphin’s mission is to bring traditional home cooking from her original Laotian roots to Londoners. After a tip from friend and Bangkok-based Thai food expert Chris Wotton as “the best Lao and Northern Thai food outside of Thailand”, we headed to this little café just off Leicester Square.
“I’m sure there are traditionalists out there who think I’m the devil himself, but I’d rather be knocked for trying something new than just roll out someone else’s recipes – I never saw the point in that,” says Neil Rankin, explaining his philosophy at Temper Covent Garden.
This is a restaurant that likes to push the boundaries when it comes to Italian-rooted food, from the aged beef-fat tallow and pesto ravioli to the wood-fired ‘Detroit’ pizza with its topping of goat ragu, mozzarella, London-cured Cobble Lane pepperoni and San Marzano tomatoes.
“I love traditional pizzas and pastas, but London is full of great places doing both – so I wanted to explore a different side to both and have a little fun. For me, food shouldn’t have restrictions and rules past deliciousness.”
Other standout dishes at Temper Covent Garden include the crab okonomiyaki pizza with crab, fennel, langoustine mayo, hoisin, sesame and katsuobushi.
Neil says: “Certain flavour profiles are almost set in stone, but there is always room within those borders to create something new. I like to see connections between cuisines because they’re all related and when you get an obvious crossover it’s fun to exploit that. Especially in London, which is a multicultural, mixed bag of cuisines.”
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…
If you’re heading to Neal’s Yard latest addition, Barbary (sister restaurant to the acclaimed Palomar, you need to leave all London attitude at the sliding door of Covent Garden’s tube station. Don’t get angry about the crowds (despite the warning on the tube map). Don’t get mad when you realise, 30 steps out of 193 in, that skipping the queue for the lift to climb the equivalent of 15 storeys was potentially the worst idea of your life. Don’t get miffed about then having to queue (while in recovery) to even get inside Barbary – this is yet another no-reservation restaurant. Put your happy face on and swiftly order a vermouth (there are two to choose from).
In a nutshell: Cora Pearl brings modern British plates with Parisian accents to Covent Garden.
Who’s cooking? The latest project from the team behind award-winning restaurant Kitty Fisher’s, in Mayfair, chef George Barson (Dinner, Viajante) has moved from the latter to head up the kitchen.
What’s the food like at Cora Pearl? Dishes are simple but impeccably executed, using beautiful ingredients. The kitchen’s way with vegetables especially impressed; creamy goat’s curd, in a generous pool of grassy olive oil, came with lovage and perfectly seasoned tomatoes (click here for more goat’s curd recipes). After this came soft, yielding agnolotti filled with more curd – cow’s this time – on a velvety pea purée, with perfectly pitched earthiness from summer truffle. Best of all was a deeply savoury and surprisingly rich main of courgettes – pickled, puréed and charred –with aubergine, black garlic (roasted whole and as a gel) and Ticklemore cheese. Dessert, as per the rest of the menu, was expertly crafted, our poached peach lusciously rich, paired with an intensely flavoured yet delicate earl grey sorbet.
olive tip: Do start your meal with plate of on-trend yeasted butter and bread, which tasted like a luxe version of marmite on toast.
The Ivy has been a London institution for over a century but in all that time, it has never welcomed guests for breakfast. Until now, as executive chef Gary Lee and his team have broken with tradition and created a menu that allows you to kick-start your day in style.
The newly opened Henrietta Hotel, from the Experimental Group (Compagnie des Vins Surnaturels, Experimental Cocktail Club, Joyeux Bordel), sees acclaimed chef Ollie Dabbous shaking off the industrial décor of his eponymous Fitzrovia restaurant.
Smart buckwheat (soba) noodle restaurant opens up on The Strand in London. Expect stylish contemporary décor with handmade noodles, sushi and Japanese dishes. The soba noodles are handmade twice daily in a small glass room in the middle of the restaurant. Head in at 5.30pm to watch noodle guru Katsuki Sakurai or Maruno Hidenori roll freshly ground buckwheat dough (imported from Japan and ground in house on a traditional stone mill) to 1.2mm thick, before folding and finely chopping. This is a true art form, and both trained with the soba master Takahashi Kunihiro in Yamanashi, Japan, before becoming soba masters themselves.
In a nutshell: A refined restaurant in central London focussing on seasonal produce and Italian flavours, the second restaurant from reputable Petersham Nurseries in leafy Richmond.
What’s the vibe? A peaceful haven in Covent Garden, ideal for a celebratory treat. An expansive flower-covered courtyard is peppered with rustic iron table and chairs, while the impressive restaurant space is decorated with grand chandeliers, antique mirrors and contemporary artworks. Palm trees and ornate vases of flowers brings a colourful sense of the outdoors.
What’s the food like? The menu focusses on dishes that combine Italian produce along with locally sourced ingredients. Fish and meat play a large part along with seasonal vegetables. We loved the appetisers of crisp buttery pastry tarts filled with smooth pea purée and quinoa that came alongside bowls of fresh heritage radishes served with a creamy crab dip.
A fresh salad of subtle Portland crab and thinly shaved fennel followed, alongside slightly too al dente parcels of pasta filled with creamy ricotta di bufala, nettles and citrusy marjoram and came soaked in a rich butter sauce.
For main, order the juicy roast Haye Farm chicken with creamy Mayan Gold potatoes, salty, earthy chunks of mushrooms and pungent wild garlic for a main, but be sure to leave room for exceptional desserts.
We loved the quenelles of smooth Original Beans chocolate ganache and rich, grassy Zisola olive oil ice cream sit side by side, surrounded by chunks of chewy honeycomb and shards of slightly bitter chocolate. Or, for a light dessert, order the baked vanilla cheesecake with sweet chunks of poached rhubarb, or a bowl of refreshing, toasty hazelnut sorbet.
And the drinks? The all-Italian wine list, split into reds, whites and rosés, can be easily decoded by the enthusiastic sommeliers – the suggested Fonterutoli chianti classic with warm plum notes worked well with the meaty main course. Visit the well-stocked on-site cellar after your meal to buy your favourite bottles.
olive tip: Order a glass of the Petersham rose petal prosecco as an aperitivo – the sparkling wine is infused with sweet, floral honey notes and has a gentle fizz.
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…
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’…
Anyone who is a fan of kitsch kitchen accessories and garish Japanese packaging should make a beeline to the Japan Centre in London. Hidden up an escalator, just off Piccadilly, is a whole floor of shelves stuffed with brightly coloured foil packaging, Japanese bento box accessories, and a section dedicated to fresh sushi, sashimi and delicious takeaway gyozas and Japanese dishes.
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…