Service here is appallingly slow, waiting times are completely inaccurate – on a busy Saturday night anyway – and it does take itself a tad too seriously, but El Almacén is a pretty little spot for some Argentinian grilled meats, Mexican and Spanish-influenced dishes and a tight New World wine list. The spinach, cheese and corn enchiladas are heavenly and the mussels surprisingly well-flavoured. Paella and short ribs are excellent choices and for dessert the panqueque seemed to be a hit too.
Fifty-two beers on draught, good food – Gorgonzola fondue (hot cheese dip with truffle oil) and chickpea fritters (not-quite-falafel) were perfect snacks – and decent no-frills cocktails in a spacious room with low lighting and so-so service. We spent a few hours here going through the ales and stouts, and looks like we’ll be going back again soon.
This became a London mainstay a decade ago in Charlotte Street, and this branch just off The middle of Oxford Street has cemented its reputation for nouvelle Japanese cuisine. Service is perfectly charming and efficient but the food comes out in the order it wants to. The lamb cutlets were thick and sublime, the fried aubergine a hearty surprise, and the chicken unlike any poultry I’d ever eaten at any Japanese restaurant anywhere – supreme. For desserts, we enjoyed the creme brûlée with Yamazaki ice-cream so much we ordered it twice.
The wine and cocktail selection is comprehensive as well as imaginative. This is a pricey place, but it really is special; funkier than Nobu, more upmarket than Sumosan and comparable to Zuma, it really has found its groove in London.
Tube: Bond St / Marble Arch
After initial disappointing reviews of Trishna, invariably comparing it to its namesake – Mumbai’s most famous seafood eaterie* – this Marylebone restaurant, a few rungs above a regular curry house, has become a neighbourhood favourite. There is in fact very little connection with the Mumbai one, and that’s a good thing; this little restaurant lacks the soul food edge and the greasy joy of Punjabi street grub, not quite making up for it with its refined styles. So in short, we can’t compare them – but this is nothing like the original. We did the express lunch, and starters were decent: partridge pepper fry and spicy Hariyali sea bream the highlights. In the mains, the sides were very disappointing: a dull Hyderabadi dal and undercooked aloo hara pyaz with some very average mixed naans, not even served hot. But the Andhra lamb masala was absolutely excellent, overshadowing the tasty smooth Moplah seafood biryani and a moreish Kerala jheenga prawn curry. But it was the ras malai for dessert that really bowled us for six, with its cherry coulis streaks and rich cream sauce. Overall, not so bad after all.
* The legend of the Delhi businessman who gets regular deliveries of king prawn curry flown in from Mumbai persists to this day; for most connoisseurs, Delhi has no equivalent for seafood cooked in this way.
Tube: Bond St
A community venue that has acoustic, folk and reggae nights, film screenings, meetings and even a library. The raucous Friday night gigs are great, spread over two floors with East London’s hipsters all over the roots’n’culture vibe until 4am. Drinks are ethically sourced, with Samuel Smith organic beer and Dalston Cola the popular choices.
The Japanese eaterie Koya – rather than Piccadilly’s Peruvian coya – is just a long bar facing the kitchen, traditional ramen-joint style, seating approximately 20, with inevitable queues forming at lunchtime and again from 7pm. With the tinny radio playing and the unadorned walls, they’re certainly not here for the atmosphere. Food is excellent, with the braised pork belly in cider one of the best dishes I’ve ever tasted in any restaurant anywhere. The smoked mackerel sashimi is exquisite, and the buta-udon has a thick rich broth. Prices are not low, with portions unsuitable for sharing and ranging between £8 and £13, and bottles of Kirin ichiban for £4.60 each. But you’ll remember the delicious layered fat and slow-cooked meat of the cuts of pork for years to come.
Tube: Leicester Sq / Tottenham Court Rd
This place is addictive. Burgers are a little thinner than other chains such as Byron’s and Shake Shack, but the choice of free toppings (grilled mushrooms! Jalapeños!) make it worthwhile, and at very competitive prices – £4.75 for the cheapest one, a ‘little hamburger’, £8.75 for a full-size bacon cheeseburger – it’s easy to just stop in for ten minutes on the way out to somewhere else, rather than make it a part of your evening. Decor is red and red, and that’s all; no one is hanging out here for the atmosphere. Food is definitely a couple of grades above Burger King but not quite at gourmet burger level. Queues can get long, but there are free peanuts to munch on!
Tube: Leicester Square