It’s been a year. Big Brother and football shirts and the Sugababes reunion led a noughties revival and everyone rediscovered Guinness and the dirty martini for some reason. Smoking imported cigarettes from that holiday in Greece outside the Spurstowe and wearing tabi shoes and failing to get a partner in time for cuffing season might become a series of cannon events but only time will tell. London had a bit of a moment too; for the first time in years, it felt back-to-normal busy — not like last year when Liz Truss was giving the UK a collective middle finger and we all got made redundant (no, just me?). This year things felt properly buzzing: the city was back.
Punctuating all of it was the resurgence of brilliant restaurant openings. Yes, a lot of crap came our way too (I’ll spare the story about being served raw chicken on one particular opening in Soho) but mostly it was good, and occasionally it was excellent. For those that missed out, or for anyone looking to add some fabulous places to their “must visit” lists for 2024, these were the finest, most notable restaurant openings of the year.
That chicken. That fu*king chicken. If you’ve seen anything about Story Cellar it’ll probably be a seemingly ornamental-only photograph of a picture-perfect rotisserie chicken. That chicken took the humble bird to new heights, it’s the unassuming star on a bistro menu in the heart of touristy Neal’s Yard. It’s the best reason to brave the thronging central London crowds for dinner, or better still, a long languorous lunch. The snail bolognese on toast is a stunning dish too, as is the onion agnolotti with girolles and lemon, but really, it’s all about that bird. It wasn’t the cheapest meal of the year (that whole chicken comes in at £56) but it was one of the best.
17 Neal’s Yard, London WC2H 9DP, storycellar.co.uk
So, you like Guinness? There are of course other things to drink at the Devonshire, the new Soho boozer by Oisin Rogers and Charlie Carroll, but not really — not when the Guinness is this good. The tiny upstairs dining room is home to only 10 or so tables — the main reason you can’t get a table — but if you do manage to nab one in the new year, the grill menu is superb, its brilliance a product of its simplicity. Straightforward langoustines arrive naked (no garlic, no butter, no nothing) and are all the sweeter for it; the meat is impeccable (butchered in house by master butcher George) and the Grand Marnier souffle is a thing to behold. Go here.
17 Denman Street, London W1D 7HW, devonshiresoho.co.uk
Borough Market can be a blessing and a curse. It’s thumpingly busy with bewildered tourists Citymapping their way to a £20 pulled duck sandwich and a £9 loaf of bread in the hopes of becoming some kind of international gourmand. Blessed are we to receive Kolae (pronounced go-lay) a southern Thai spot to savour instead. Questions of purported authenticity always swirl around hyper-regional, imported cuisines. At Kolae, the calibre of cooking puts all such queries to bed. Hogget chops, seabass gati curry and red kabocha squash with ajaad relish all stud the heat-filled menu. This is one of London’s most exciting new restaurants and makes the strongest case imaginable for anyone to brave the crowds and revisit Borough Market.
6 Park Street, London SE1 9AB, kolae.com
Adejoke Bakare opened her west-African Chishuru (V.1) in Brixton what seems like a lifetime ago now. Back in 2020, it was one of the most talked about restaurants, but a combination of the pandemic and the Brixton Village landlord forced a relocation. A residency in Borough followed and this year, the new, permanent site for Chishuru was finally realised. The space is soft and deeply inviting, and the immensely delicious fare has only improved since those early SW2 days. This manifests as sinasir — a kind of fried fermented rice cake with maitake mushrooms and fragrant yassa; guinea fowl with a heady onion and lemon sauce served with yaji peanut spice. This is undoubtedly one of London’s most original restaurants and with a £35 three dish lunch menu, remains miraculously good value.
3 Great Titchfield Street, London W1W 8AX, chishuru.com
There’s some secret witchcraft at work at the Anglo-French Bistro Freddie, the new joint from the team responsible for Crispin and Bar Crispin. It’s as if they’ve conjured all the best elements from my favourite restaurants and delivered them in one huge hospitable helping. The discreet artwork on the pale walls, the comfortable chairs, the paper tablecloths atop white linen, the candlelit intimacy of the space and, naturally, impeccable food. It’s every good thing from every good restaurant going, and the palpable warmth of the place is intoxicating. The unfussy, hearty food comes courtesy of Anna Søgaard with head of wine Alexandra Price putting it in the glass. The snail flatbread is deservedly famous as is the generous chicken and tarragon pie: both indicative of the restaurants’ inherent generous spirit. Bookmark this for date night and thank us later.
74 Luke Street, London EC2A 4PY, bistrofreddie.com
Tomos Parry’s follow up to BRAT was always going to be a showstopper, but few could have predicted just how brilliant Mountain would be. Opening in the heart of Soho, the Basque-via-Wales ethos still exudes the same unrelenting attraction as his east London outpost. Perhaps one of the more expensive new restaurants on this list (expect to drop at least £100 a head to do it properly) but for payday, or for when someone else is footing the bill, few things in town are more pleasing than that spider crab omelette followed by a whole john dory. If seafood is off the menu then the mutton chops or the jersey beef ribs, cooked over coals (naturally) will doubtless satisfy, and whilst the wine list isn’t London’s longest, the curated collection should keep even the most stubborn oenophile in the group happy.
16-18 Beak Street, London W1F 9RD, mountainbeakstreet.com
Restaurants with a view are usually hellish honey traps for a certain kind of feed-hungry diner whose only intention is to snap a shot and brag about it later. Not so here. The Portrait is a far more grown up joint, serving proper, old-school, caring hospitality, overseen on the restaurant floor by front-of-house legend Jon Spiteri and in the kitchen by Irish culinary legend Richard Corrigan. There isn’t much on the menu that doesn’t please, the food focusing on exceptional provenance as opposed to high-falutin technique. It comes as no surprise then that favourites include the homely poached haddock with potatoes and egg and the seasonal terrine (currently a turkey and ham special). Come for the charm of the space, the ease of the food and the imperious feel of being away from the madding crowd. Yes, fine, and the lovely view too.
2 St. Martin’s Place, London WC2H 0HE, theportraitrestaurant.com
Another west-African inspired restaurant makes the list, indicative of how progressive and dynamic this cuisine is in London, and equally Londoners’ collective appetite for its discovery. Akara – founded by the team behind the rightfully admired Akoko in Fitzrovia – is a straightforward yet refined affair. The eponymous fluffy buns are by way of Nigeria courtesy a quick hop over to Brazil and are topped with delicious things like tiger prawn, braised ox cheeks or scallop. Bigger plates include the coconut-infused Efik rice, a kind of Nigerian jollof dish sans the tomato, and ex-dairy cow which gets the suya treatment with hearty gusto.
Arch 208, 18 Stoney Street, London SE1 9AD, akaralondon.co.uk
Sonora’s legend was built during lockdown, providing the best corn tortillas and tacos imaginable: soft, yet robust, with enough structure to hold its contents without being tough. A permanent site was unveiled this year in Stoke Newington serving the most exciting barbacoa tacos and quesadilla around. This cult-followed hotspot rightly deserves every single one of its many, many plaudits.
208 Stoke Newington High Street, London N16 7HU, sonorataqueria.com
Despite Dalla’s young age, it’s achieved a rarefied thing. This latest Italian to hit the trendy neighbourhood between Homerton and Hackney has achieved something magical whereby the hard-to-book hype is more than matched by the exceptional fare. Everything from the plump, pillowy tortellini mantovani to the rich tagliatelle al ragu di coniglio are done just right. Yes, Google translate might be required to fully appreciate the menu, but if you’re going to learn Italian anywhere, there probably isn’t a better classroom in town.
120-122 Morning Lane, London E9 6LH, dallarestaurant.com
There’s no getting around it: Bambi is cool. It’s not cool to say the word cool or to describe something as cool, but it’s cool. The restaurant has elevated a kind of industrial music-hall look with subtly luxurious touches like Tannoy LGM speakers and gentle amber-hued lighting. The small space is fit-to-burst with as much character imaginable, a hangout that’s as much led by the music as it is the convivial-leaning sharing plates. It’s a menu built for ease and togetherness. The courgettes with whipped feta, the now famous chicken parm and the cauliflower cheese arancini all feature alongside a thoughtfully selected wine list of mostly natural and low intervention labels. The predominantly European list features some notable offerings from the Czech Republic and Hungary, next to more familiar bottles from France and Italy. It’s probably the best place to eat in E8 right now.
1 Westgate Street, London E8 3RL, bambi-bar.com