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Top 10 London Restaurants of 2013: Spiced Lamb to Goat in a Bun

Gymkhana's Guinea fowl breast is marinated in kashmiri chili, ginger garlic paste and mustard oil. It's served with the leg. Photographer: Gerber PR via Bloomberg

With this year’s bumper crop of new restaurants in London, it’s difficult to choose where to dine.

Here are 10 of my favorite new establishments.

10. Ape & Bird, Soho.

What? This is the first pub from Russell Norman and Richard Beatty, the creators of Polpo, a hip, New York-style venue with good food at low prices that helped change the direction of London dining in 2009.

Why? Chef Russell Oxtoby serves dishes that are full of flavor, including blackface mutton mince & dumplings at 12 pounds ($19.60). The view across Cambridge Circus is unbeatable, especially if you eat upstairs. Warning: Can be very noisy.

9. Casse-Croute, Bermondsey.

What? This is a tiny French bistro and wine bar created by veterans of some of London’s best restaurants. It’s the kind of place you count yourself as very lucky to find in France. The tables (25 seats) are packed in to keep the prices down.

Why? It’s authentic French food without the frippery of fine dining. The day’s menu is chalked on a blackboard and you may enjoy a great meal such as rillettes followed by poached chicken in a cream sauce, then floating island. Book well ahead.

8. Cafe Murano, St. James’s.

What? This is chef Angela Hartnett’s new trattoria. The influences of Gordon Ramsay are less obvious than at her flagship restaurant, Murano. The cafe is on the site of Ramsay’s former Petrus, where Hartnett worked. It might be rolled out as a concept.

Why? With most main courses for less than 20 pounds, the prices are low for such quality in London. The Italian cheeses and cured meats are delicious and the pasta dishes, in particular, beautifully prepared. The service is professional as well as friendly. Even the wine prices are O.K.

7. Little Social, Mayfair.

What? This is the baby brother of Jason Atherton’s Pollen Street Social. In place of the chef’s contemporary cooking over the road, Little Social serves classic French dishes such as a first-class country pate using mainly British ingredients.

Why? The menu is accessible and the prices affordable with mains starting at 12 pounds. If you can get one of the banquettes at the front, you can dine in comfort. The food is less adventurous than at Atherton’s new Social Eating House, but that restaurant can be cacophonous.

6. Brasserie Chavot, Mayfair.

What? This is new home of Eric Chavot, who held two Michelin stars at Capital. French-born Chavot is one of London’s most respected chefs. Although he calls this a brasserie, it’s a restaurant serving fine food without fussy service.

Why? Chavot is classically trained but his is an individual voice. Even familiar dishes such as a rack of lamb taste new once he has let loose his wizardry, with spicing that may include cumin, coriander, cinnamon, ginger and turmeric.

5. Berners Tavern, Fitzrovia.

What? One of three establishments opened by Jason Atherton in a year, this is the restaurant in Ian Schrager’s new London Edition hotel. It’s open for breakfast, lunch and dinner and has become an instant hit. Try getting a table and you’ll find out.

Why? The high-ceilinged dining room is the most dramatic newcomer in London since the Wolseley, a decade ago. As with the Wolseley, Berners Tavern is more about the buzz and the ambience than the food. Pappardelle with game ragout is a safe bet.

4. Hutong, London Bridge.

What? This is the London outpost of a Hong Kong restaurant serving the spicy dishes of northern China. Hutong is on level 33 of the Shard, Europe’s tallest building. The views across the city are spectacular. (I also enjoy Oblix, one floor down.)

Why? London is strong for Chinese food, especially Cantonese. There are fewer good examples of other regional cuisines. Hutong stands out for the quality and authenticity of dishes. With a menu at 55 pounds, it’s expensive, but worth it.

3. Foxlow, Clerkenwell.

What? This is the first neighborhood restaurant of the owners of Hawksmoor. There are fabulous steaks, but the small menu is less meat-centric. The prices are low so long as you stay away from fancy cuts of meat.

Why? There’s a very good feel to Foxlow, with staffers who are as friendly as they are efficient. There are good dishes such as a starter of crispy five-pepper squid and nice touches, such as the kimchi ketchup.

2. Grain Store, King’s Cross.

What? Chef Bruno Loubet turns classic French cooking on its head and puts vegetables at the center of each dish. This is not a vegetarian restaurant. It’s just a fresh approach to food. Grain Store is housed in a former warehouse and is very busy.

Why? It’s difficult to think of another restaurant with so many original dishes on the menu. Instead of just tweaking familiar favorites, Loubet transforms them. Pork belly, for example, is relegated to the side of a plate of quinoa.

1. Gymkhana, Mayfair.

What? This restaurant from the owners of Trishna and Bubbledogs seeks to recreate the ambience of the sporting clubs of the British Raj. Some of the world’s leading chefs have visited in the weeks since it opened to try the Indian dishes.

Why? Karam Sethi has produced a menu where every single dish and side and snack is individually imagined. My favorite may be kid-goat methi keema, a spice and minced meat mixture that you eat in a bun, with an optional 3-pound supplement for brain lumps. There is not a single dud. This is my restaurant of the decade so far.

(Richard Vines is the chief food critic for Bloomberg. He is U.K. and Ireland chairman of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants awards. Opinions expressed are his own.)

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