The 10 Best New London Restaurants of 2015
This hasn't been a stellar year for restaurants in London.
Yes, they have opened in record numbers. Yes, there are some exceptional new establishments. And yes, it's great that there are more casual places where you can eat well without paying through the nose.
But some of the most-anticipated openings were disappointments, and there has been a marked lack of originality. Trends have been followed rather than set. (How many more barbecue joints will the market take?) The third outlet of Barrafina was more exciting than almost all the "new" restaurants.
Most disturbing has been the spread of ageism, whereby restaurateurs turn up the volume to a level where only young people can stand it. White noise has replaced White Heat.
Despite all this, there were some great additions to the London restaurant scene. Here are the 10 best new places where I ate in 2015.
This small Soho cafe serves dishes from Sri Lanka and Tamil Nadu and stood out from the crowd in 2015. The cuisine is little-known in central London and the cooking is stunning. It is so good, you may have to queue for a couple of hours to get to taste it. The bone marrow, varuval, roti (at £4.50/$6.83) is particularly good, as is the black pork kari (£5.50). The owners - chef Karam Sethi and his siblings in JKS Restaurants - have opened a bunch of original establishments, including Gymkhana, Bao and Bubbledogs.
In short: Hoppers is London's finest new restaurant of 2015.
This low-key restaurant has achieved prominence based on quality rather than publicity. The seasonal dishes are original and well-balanced, with just a few ingredients. The wine list is adventurous and keenly priced, and the service is professional while appearing casual. Snacks such as white truffle and Gruyere macarons, and crispy chicken skins with liver parfait, candied walnuts and muscat grapes cost just £3 each.
In short: This is London chefs' favorite restaurant.
This is an unlikely best new restaurant as it traces its history to 1917. But The Ivy is exceptional since it reopened after a six-month refurbishment. I keep going back. It is glamorous, it is buzzy and the menu is as Catholic as I was in my years as an altar boy. I keep ordering the bang bang chicken (£9.75) and the crispy duck salad (£11.50) . The departure of some diners to the blingy Sexy Fish (I always want to say Essex Fish) has improved the crowd at the Ivy.
In short: Addictive and fun.
No-one was more surprised than the owners when this small Mayfair establishment (which opened late in 2014) quickly became London's hottest restaurant. First-time diners may be surprised by how unshowy Kitty Fisher's is. There's a bar and a few tables on the ground floor and the main dining room and kitchen are squished into the basement. Chef Tomos Parry cooks on a wood grill, and the Galician beef (from old dairy cows) is a must. Kitty Fisher's is special.
In short: Warm hospitality, cosy ambience, great ingredients and a vibrant atmosphere.
This restaurant and bar at the back of Fortnum & Mason represents a contemporary take on old-fashioned glamour. It's a welcome haven from the no-reservations smaller venues that are proliferating in London. (I like a lot of them, but not all the time.) The menu offers treats such as a classic Welsh rarebit (£9.50) and knickerbocker glory (£12). The place is also fun just to go for cocktails.
Also: The seats at the far end of the bar are the best in the house.
Snuggled among the pseudo-KFC outlets of East London, Chick 'n' Sours stands out like a gourmet destination. It just doesn't look or feel like one. No money was wasted on fancy furnishings or designs at this local fried-chicken shop. All the effort has gone into sourcing great birds and then expertly seasoning and cooking them. Just try House Fry: drumstick & thigh with seaweed crack seasoning and pickled watermelon (£8).
And: The cocktails are good, too.
The movement of street food indoors is one trend greatly to be welcomed. Bao was a stall on Netil Market in East London before the Sethi family backed its opening as a cafe in Soho. Bao serves Taiwanese snacks, particularly steamed buns with fillings such as slow-braised pork in soy sauce or lamb shoulder with coriander sauce and garlic mayo. As at Hoppers, you may face a long wait for a table.
In short: The menu is short and simple. The main drink on offer is tea.
Chef Jose Pizarro serves some of the finest Spanish food in London. It's not just that he can cook, which he certainly can. More important is the fact that he sources wonderful ingredients and refrains from messing about with them. His Presa Iberica shoulder cut of pork is epic, with a flavor so deep you seem to drown in it. A starter of pan-fried chicken livers with garlic, shallots and dry sherry is as rich as Donald Trump and much more palatable.
One more thing: The wine list is also enticing.
Portuguese food is little-known in London and chef Nuno Mendez's new taverna is a homage to the country of his birth. He has traveled Portugal in search of the best produce and wines. His menu here (with head chef Antonio Galapito) reflects his love of the cuisine. The custard tarts (£2.50) he serves at breakfast are epic and so soft you need to eat them with a spoon. Other favorites include the runner-bean fritters with clam and coriander juice (£5) and the cheese and charcuterie.
In short: One chef's passion on a plate.
This tiny restaurant at POP Brixton, where you squeeze onto communal tables, serves small plates of Indian food, centered on Goan cuisine. The plates are among the prettiest I've seen and the flavors are complex and layered, with chili heat generally remaining in the background. The dishes are so good that it's best just to order the lot, though the Keralan fried chicken is particularly good, as is the kichri, which features smoked haddock and a raw egg yolk.
In short: Stellar food in unlikely location.
One to Watch: Park Chinois
This ultra-luxurious Mayfair establishment resembles a 1930s Shanghai nightclub where Chinoiserie meets Art Deco. Every detail speaks quality and taste. The restaurateur is Alan Yau, who helped revolutionize Chinese when he created Hakkasan in 2001. His attention to detail is extraordinary, from design through uniforms to food. The cooking here is impeccable, and the live music just right. Park Chinois has just opened, so it is too early for a full verdict, but it looks like becoming London's sexiest and most glamorous restaurant, a rival to Bob Bob Ricard.
Basically: Sophisticated and expensive.
Richard Vines is Bloomberg's chief food critic. Follow him on Twitter @richardvines