London’s food scene has bounced back, with a slew of exciting new openings due over the next few months
Spring is here, so we hope you’ll forgive us a little optimism. After a gruelling couple of years, the effects of which are still hitting London’s restaurants, bars and cafés hard, we might have hoped for a few green shoots of recovery at best. But actually, this season, there’s been a full-blown flowering of creativity. There are always new restaurants – London just can’t seem to get enough – but it’s the nature of them that’s so promising. Old friends, new faces, cult names and exciting independents are all championing, in their own way, a twenty-first-century model of hospitality that’s open-hearted, outward-looking and truly original. Step into spring.
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1. Set sail for Regent’s Canal
Ahoy, landlubbers! All aboard the good ship Caravel, a floating restaurant moored on the Regent’s Canal at Hoxton. The beautiful old Dutch barge belongs to brothers Fin and Lorcan Spiteri who grew up in the hospitality biz (their old man, Jon, a legend among maître ds, co-owns Sessions Arts Club). Lorcan (ex Quo Vadis, Rochelle Canteen) is on the stoves, cooking good hearty stuff like pork belly with anchoïade, crab tagliatelle and prawn toast with spiced tartare, while Fin’s on drinks. Rum ’n’ Coke Old Fashioned? Consider our boat floated. Wednesday to Saturday evenings only for now.
172 Shepherdess Walk, N1 7JL. Open now.
2. Heaven is a place on earth
LA chef Julian Denis’s cult Sichuanese Mao Chow on Mare Street has transformed the vegan scene. Now it’s moved to a larger site just 50 metres round the corner, where it has been reborn as Facing Heaven. This is Denis’s chance to really push his cooking, explore other Chinese regions and dig into his Portuguese-Haitian-Puerto Rican heritage. Very exciting. Order Macau-style baked ‘pork chop’ (using crispy oyster mushrooms), whole sizzling aubergine or spicy and numbing twice-fried jerusalem artichokes. The Hot Pot Sundays are going to be big.
1a Bayford St, E8 3SE. Open now.
3. A love letter to Lisbon
Portuguese chef Nuno Mendes, best known for the Michelin-starred Viajante and Hollywood-starred Chiltern Firehouse, is an honorary Londoner, but he’s a ‘lisboeta’ (a person from Lisbon) at heart. His new restaurant, Lisboeta, sits across three storeys of a Charlotte Street townhouse and is a celebration of all things Portuguese. At street level, there’s a bar and kitchen, serving petiscos (small plates), vindalho pork pies and giant Algarve red prawns with garlic and piri piri and wine from coastal Lisboa. Upstairs is a stylish homage to the tasca, those traditional, often family-run restaurants for communal eating. The Adega, a glass-walled kitchen and wine cellar, follows later in the year.
30 Charlotte St, WC1B 4AF. Opens Mar 21.
4. Arcade fire
Chef and grower Luke Farrell may not yet be a household name but his new place Plaza Khao Gaeng is a major signing for JKS (the restaurant group behind Bao and Hoppers) as it prepares to reopen Arcade Food Hall at Centre Point. Farrell, who supplies Europe’s best Thai restaurants with recherché Southeast Asian roots, shoots and leaves from his tropical greenhouse in Dorset, has modelled his flagship on Southern Thailand’s curry rice shops. On the menu: gaeng tai pla with mackerel, fermented fish innards and Thai aubergines, and a scorching stir-fry of prawns, sator beans and shrimp paste. Also at Arcade, an Indonesian street-food kitchen called Bebek! Bebek! is another Farrell project.
103-105 New Oxford St, WC1A 1DB. Opens Apr 8.
5. A shining example
A gold star if you knew the word ‘apricity’ before chef Chantelle Nicholson named her new restaurant after it? Derived from Latin, it means: ‘the warmth of the sun in winter’. Apricity, in Mayfair, is the New Zealand-born chef’s feelgood follow-up to pandemic pop-up All’s Well and Tredwell’s in Covent Garden (where she won a Michelin green star). Sustainability is the guiding principle at Apricity, exemplified by koji-glazed barbecue oyster mushrooms with fermented emmer wheat; Cornish mackerel, mussels and sambal butter; and roasted squash with miso aioli. We’re looking forward to the zero-waste cocktails. The Kimchi Margarita – sorry, what? – sounds insane.
68 Duke St, W1K 6JU. Opens Apr 12.
6. Mexican magic
Following her successful residency on the Dorchester Hotel’s roof last summer, Mexican chef Adriana Cavita will launch her debut solo restaurant, Cavita, in Marylebone this May. Like her countryman Santiago Lastra, who has just picked up a star at Kol, Cavita (formerly of Mexico City’s Pujol, a World’s 50 Best listee) favours British ingredients and Mexican flavours. For her, this means Carlingford oysters with clamato (tomato and clam) oil and jalapeño vinaigrette, street-style birria tacos, whole brill cooked over the coals and such regional specialities as tlayuda, aka Oaxacan pizza, with duck fat, pumpkin and cheddar.
56 Wigmore St, W1U 2RZ. Opens May 6.
7. East is east
Fields. John and Yee Li’s Dumpling Shack and its fried chicken spin-off Sichuan Fry have found a for ever home. Next to Elliot’s, across from Bright, and a minute from Sonora Taqueria, the twin-pronged venue will see Spitalfields’ Dumpling Shack sizzling its famous pan-fried soup dumplings downstairs, while Sichuan Fry upstairs slings fried chook in soft, pillowy potato buns. Until the full menu reveal, we remain glued to Instagram where frankly erotic images of chilli-smothered mapo mala chicken, spring onion pancakes with steak and cheese and Hong Kong milk tea doughnuts hint at what may be to come.
2 Westgate St, E8 3RN. Opens end of May.