The Counter at Sabor, serving Balearic dishes in London

The UK’s hottest counter dining options

We look at how off-the-pass action is becoming the new way to eat out in UK restaurants

For true food aficionados, there’s nothing better than booking seats at a restaurant kitchen counter where you can chat with the chefs, watch them work and eat their food straight off the pass. For one night, you’re part of the gang, sharing tasters and pro cooking tips while eating delicious food. Are you feeling that, too? Then let us introduce you to some of Britain’s hottest counter dining options.


Evelyn’s Table, London

Fan as he is, chef Luke Selby is conscious that “counter restaurants can become overly cheffy”. Located in a former beer cellar at Soho’s The Blue Posts pub and run by Luke and his chef-brothers, Theo and Nat, the 10-cover Evelyn’s Table is deliberately “laid-back but high-quality. We play music we curate together – you’ve got the atmosphere from the whole venue and everyone involved is engaging. We want people to ask questions”.

Each service is a performance of sorts, as the trio present ingredients to guests, demonstrate processes or dress dishes in their snug galley kitchen: “Part of the theatre of it is watching us dance around each other. We’ve good synergy.”

Crucially, because Evelyn’s serves so few guests face to face, its five-course menu (think seasonal UK produce and Japanese influences such as variations on Kentish strawberries with sake-dressed savarin cake) can utilise small amounts of incredible, delicate ingredients sourced directly from producers and served at their absolute peak. Evelyn’s has previously offered a sashimi of hand-dived Devon scallops harvested less than 12 hours earlier. “Having something of that quality would be almost impossible in a bigger operation,” says Luke. “And it’s not waiting on the pass – we serve it straightaway.”

£75 pp; theblueposts.co.uk


Maru, London

“If I’m sick we cannot open,” laughs Taiji Maruyama, creative architect behind this incredibly personal experience. The Fukushima-born chef creates Maru’s flower arrangements, made its crockery and, like an elite athlete pursuing marginal gains, is constantly interrogating every detail of how he feeds six people per sitting at this luxurious counter venue. “Maybe 0.01 becomes 0.1,” says Taiji. “In fine dining, 0.1 is important.”

Temperature, explains Taiji, son of several generations of sushi chefs, is key to a 20-course omakase or ‘chef’s choice’ menu, and his utilises exceptional UK seafood in various nigiri and temaki, or dishes such as Cornish king crab in a jelly of crab and kabosu citrus fruit. Sat at a maple counter flanked by custom-made fish-ageing cabinets, guests are sometimes invited to eat seafood using their hands: “With chopsticks, you cannot feel the temperature. From the hand, you have a better understanding of taste.”

Counter dining is common in Japan but where its high-end venues can be quiet, sober environments (“Japanese people judge by taste, they don’t need much entertainment”), Taiji makes Maru chatty and convivial. “I explain everything or email guests recipes later. It’s like theatre. They see almost everything cooked in front of them.”

£170 pp; marulondon.com

Chef Taiji Maruyama preparing food ahead of the evening at Maru

Eleanore, Edinburgh

Originally, the four counter seats at Edinburgh’s The Little Chartroom (TLC) were a practical solution. Chef-owner Roberta Hall-McCarron needed to create a separate cold starter and dessert prep area, and, in such a small restaurant, seating people at it was a no-brainer. She was initially nervous (“Chefs are awkward creatures. We don’t know how to speak to people,” she laughs) but came to “love” the “amazing feedback” and how those counter diners defined the restaurant’s feel: “You get fantastic people who’re quick to have a good time, and chefs who love cooking. It creates a different, clubby, neighbourhood vibe.”

Consequently, this month, as this Leith Walk venue re-emerges as Eleanore (TLC has since moved to new premises), it will do so with high tables and the counter at the forefront, with long-term plans for a fully open kitchen. Chefs Hamish McNeil and Moray Lamb, who ran TLC’s Portobello Promenade takeaway, will deliver a menu of sharing plates (oysters with fermented cucumber, pickled apple and horseradish oil; barbecued pork neck with chicory and quince; wild mushroom tacos with salted egg yolks) accompanied by exciting wines. “A buzzy, busy atmosphere,” says Roberta. “That’s the aim.”

Plates £5-£20; eleanore.uk


Vanderlyle, Cambridge

When Vanderlyle opened in 2019, chef Alex Rushmer had spent his career hidden “in hot, pressured kitchens”. He and fellow chef-owner, Lawrence Butler, were done with it. They wanted to interact with their guests: “It was a fundamental that the kitchen would be open and people would be able to sit at the pass, watching what was going on.”

Today, at each 26-cover service, four guests do just that. They enjoy not just 11 courses of finely tuned, highly creative, plant-focused cooking – ranging from a playful smoked celeriac “hot dog” to savoury variations on Cambridge burnt cream – but the chance to talk recipes, techniques and restaurants with the chefs. Our tip: ask about “the matrix”, hieroglyph-like charts written on the tiles by the pass that control the order of service.

This all requires Vanderlyle’s chefs to work a certain way: “Our food has always been prep-heavy, service-light. The kitchen needs to look calm and organised. At 6pm, the curtain goes up and we’ve got to perform. But it’s good fun. I love that extra element. It’s not just food. It’s about the whole experience the kitchen can provide.”

£65 pp; vanderlyle-restaurant.com


Kitchen Table, London

James Knappett has worked in the world’s best restaurants, often without ever meeting the diners or witnessing their reaction to his food: “I felt that last connection was missing.”

Therefore, in 2012, when James and his wife Sandia Chang opened Kitchen Table (it recently relaunched after a swanky refurb), he designed a horseshoe-counter kitchen for 18 guests where the chefs are able to enthuse about the cooking skills on display, their foraging or fastidious sourcing (for instance, of rare Cornish blue lobsters served with vanilla brown butter and pickled beach roses). “We wanted to put across the work that goes into the food,” says James. “Some people won’t ask another question. Some want to know everything. We can talk about it for days.”

The 20-course menu changes daily and has bagged Kitchen Table two Michelin stars. It’s a unique environment, one of instantaneous creativity and constant scrutiny that only suits certain chefs. “I’ve had chefs move on because they can’t deal with being in front of guests. They have to have elegance, an aura of finesse. Banter, noise, banging pots: there’s none of that with us.”

£250 pp; kitchentablelondon.co.uk


More hot off-the-pass action

La Mesa at Barrio Comida, Durham

Bag one of four counter seats at this hip new Mexican. £55; lamesadurham.com


The Counter at Sabor, London

Balearic bangers from Nieves Barragán. From £6.50; saborrestaurants.co.uk


Chef ’s Table at Crockers, Tring

Up close with Scott Barnard’s modish fine dining. Dinner £115 pp; crockersuk.com


Cin Cin, Hove

David Toscano’s island kitchen Italian is a counter classic. Mains from £15; cincin.co.uk


Holm, South Petherton

New all-day Somerset spin-off from London’s Salon and Levan team, with a six-seater dining counter. Mains from £16; holmsomerset.co.uk


Skosh, York

An open-kitchen seat at Skosh is arguably the most fun you can have in York. Mains £8-£17; skoshyork.co.uk

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