If you’re coming to London anytime soon and want to book a table at the hottest handful of restaurants in town, you can’t. And that’s not me sticking my tongue out and going, “Nyeh nyeh nyeh, these places are so exclusive that only celebrities and restaurant critics like me can get in”—it is because the most fashionable places in the city this year simply don’t take bookings. The really cool ones don’t even have a telephone—so you can’t call up to humiliate yourself by begging for a table. And the really, really, really cool ones don't even have tables.
London is all about street food now. There has been a democratization of the food scene that has rendered it almost unrecognizable to any visitor who has been away for more than two or three years. London is not about the Connaught or the Dorchester or the Savoy Grill anymore, or even the Ivy or Le Caprice—these are all now part of dull chains or chefed by French has-beens coasting in second gear. All the energy is on the street, a multiethnic palimpsest of flavors, from Pakistani naan bread wraps and Taiwanese milk buns to spit-roasted chickens and Japanese soul food.
And the restaurants have followed suit, dragging the best of the street performers indoors in the trendiest areas and making the perverse paradox of the “street-food restaurant” the sine qua non of fashionable eating. There are no bookings, no fripperies; you just show up, queue, and hope.
And the smokingest ticket in town is Dinerama (19 Great Eastern St.; streetfeastlondon.com), a former bullion vault and armored truck depot near Old Street, sandwiched between the edge of the financial quarter and Shoreditch, home of the hipsters. Once inside the unique gastronomic arena (and if you come early the queue is sometimes survivable), you’ll find six diners, five street-food shacks, six bars, and two assorted food and drink trucks. The standard of cooking is unbelievable, the music is pumping, the vibe is immense. This is where food replaces booze, sex, and dancing as the central concern of all fashionable people. There is nothing like it in the world, which is probably why its roster of celebrity investors includes Jamie Oliver and Nigella Lawson.
But if you feel a bit old for all that (and I certainly sometimes do),then you should be at Kitty Fisher’s (10 Shepherd Market; 44-20/3302-1661; kittyfishers.com), the single standout restaurant success of 2015. It is in Shepherd Market, in the heart of Old Mayfair, and named after a famous good-time girl of the mid-18th century who used to frequent the area. Coproprietor Oliver Milburn runs the bar with the charm and suavity only an actor and old Etonian could muster. Although the atmosphere is classic old-London bohemian, the food from former Best Young Chef of the Year Tomos Parry is at the cutting edge of current style—lots of charring and ash-focused dishes, plus a rib-eye of 12-year-old Galician dairy cow that is widely regarded as the finest steak ever served in London—this is post-hipster East London 21st-century gastronomy for grown-ups. And also for the prime minister, David Cameron, who comes with his wife, Samantha, on his nights off.
If even that is too edgy for you, then head for the Colony Grill Room (8 Balderton St.; 44-20/7499-9499; colonygrillroom.com), at the Beaumont hotel. Opened last fall by Chris Corbin and Jeremy King, the men who launched the most marvelous restaurant of the naughties, the Wolseley, in Piccadilly, the reverential pastiche of a 1920s Manhattan hotel diner has the best art, the best service, and the most comfortable seats in town. It’s also the best place for brunch anywhere, and they definitely have a telephone.
Photo Credit: Scott Grummett