London continues to amaze with its eclectic and superb culinary offerings. What a change from my arrival in the capital twenty years ago where it was tough to even get a decent cup of coffee. Now there are new restaurant openings every month, too many to keep up with but here are five new restaurants that really impressed me this year.
1. Inko Nito, Soho
I’m a big fan of Rainer Becker so I was curious to find out if a more casual, less expensive incarnation of his excellent Roka and Zuma Japanese restaurants would be up to scratch. In fact, Inko Nito is not simply a cheaper version of either; it’s intended to be a fusion of Japanese and Korean cuisine. Ambitious yes but it works. Headlining the menu is Nigaki, a new style sushi featuring roasted nori (edible seaweed) with sushi rice and a topping – we chose “the hottie” with a topping of fried shrimp, spicy Korean miso and sesame.
Cobia collar (a delicious, delicate white fish), cooked in brown butter ponzu and lemon was a revelation and the scallops with shiso (a herb from the mint family), sweet soy, yogurt were also a favorite. The menu offers a range of lovely veggie dishes including grilled aubergine in garlic lemon miso and spring onions. The kimchi rice with Korean miso, spring onions, sesame, egg yolk made for an excellent side dish.
2. Rüya, Mayfair
Rüya, a stylish new restaurant and bar in Mayfair proves that Turkish cuisine offers much more than kebabs (or kebaps as they are called at Ruya). One of my favorite dishes at this new venture, headed by Turkish restaurateur Umut Özkanca and Chef Patron Colin Clague (formerly of Zuma and Caprice Holdings), is lamb manti, tiny spicy lamb pasta dumplings. Rüya offers a range of contemporary Turkish dishes from the various Anatolian regions, stretching from the Mediterranean to the Black Sea. Kebabs are on the menu but are nothing like the fast food version on London’s high streets. The Adana kebap is a flavorful mix of spicy minced lamb and burnt tomato. Likewise, the lamb cutlets with smoked aubergine, tomato and minted yoghurt are a great choice from the grill section of the menu. A Turkish “Spoon Salad” with chopped vegetables in a pomegranate dressing makes for a light and refreshing accompaniment to the heavier meat dishes. Just when I thought I couldn’t be more impressed with Turkish cuisine, dessert arrived. Çikolata ve Türk Kahvesi is a smooth and delicious combination of dark chocolate and salted caramel kibbeh with dark chocolate sorbet, Turkish coffee cream and cardamom – incredible.
The interiors (by Conran and Partners) of Rüya are bold and bright without being ostentatious as is The Mekan, a bar inside the restaurant, which translates to “place” literally meaning the place to hang out. The cocktail menu is also divided by the seven regions of Anatolia: Marmara, Aegean, Central Anatolia, Black Sea, South East Anatolia and East Anatolia.
3. The Petersham, Floral Court, Covent Garden
Following in the footsteps of the brilliant former Petersham chef Skye Gyngell must have been a tough act to follow but Joseph Fox is doing a fine job at the second branch of this popular restaurant. Respecting the slow food philosophy on which Petersham Nurseries in Richmond was founded, this new restaurant in bustling Covent Garden focuses on seasonal produce and Italian flavours offering lunch and dinner. And last month, they started serving an afternoon tea with an Italian twist. Despite being in bustling Covent Garden, the Petersham is an oasis of calm with gorgeous interiors and a lovely, large interior patio filled with plants and flowers, unusual for central London. Drawing inspiration from the family home, Petersham House in Richmond, the interiors demonstrate the owners’ passion for contemporary art and Murano glassware.
The centerpiece of the afternoon tea is a beautiful hand blown Florentine cake stand which showcases the sweet and savory delicacies. And on top is a bouquet of seasonal flowers. The savories include milk bun sandwiches with delicious fillings like cheese and chutney and prosciutto. The sweets are Italian inspired with pistachio, chocolate and orange cannoli and a lemon polenta cake as my favorites. Scones and warm bombolini (donuts) complete the food offering. In addition to hot beverages, light, tea-infused cocktails with elderflower, chamomile, cardamom and rose are an inspired addition to the menu.
French chef Laurent Tourondel is well known for his eponymous LT restaurants in the United States and for his popular New York restaurants, The Vine and L’Amico. Hotel Café Royal are fortunate to have him at helm of their new venture, Laurent, a sushi/grill restaurant. Menu highlights include the best-selling Poke bowl with blue fin tuna, gin-cured salmon sushi and the “popover,” a French version of the English Yorkshire pudding. And not to be missed is what might be the best dessert in the capital, a moreish milk chocolate peanut butter croquant.
5. Brigadiers, Moorgate
The expansive dining areas at Brigadiers, a new upscale Indian restaurant in the financial district of London was loud and buzzy the night we dined there and apparently it’s busy every night so reservations are advised. It is very loud so perhaps not the place for an intimate meal but the food is excellent. The Tandoori and grilled dishes are superb. We ordered the mixed grill sizzler for two which was a delicious pile of perfectly cooked and spiced guinea fowl, chicken and lamb. And don’t miss the genius dish, chilli chicken lettuce cups.