London's Cultural Guide

5 top places for lunch, from Soho to Stoke Newington

Some current faves, from The French House and Barrafina to Brat, Top Cuvee and The Clarence

Soho: French House

French House
Lamb cutlets at French House. Photos: SE

Neil Borthwick, the partner of Murano chef Angela Hartnett, took over the kitchen here before Covid, giving new life to this W1 institution’s dining room (main pic, above). Recently, we slunk in for a leisurely lunch at about 230pm on a Saturday afternoon – no booking required. Sitting in the window, the noise of the street below, the sun streaming in, was a genuine pleasure, and the short, handwritten menu deceptively simple. We devoured crispy cod cheeks and aioli, before a roast rack of crisp-edged lamb cutlets, pink and buttersoft, with sweet Datterini tomatoes and al dente green beans. Some of the best frites in recent memory, too. This is a place that gives you hope that whatever happens, Soho will always retain a residual bohemian spirit. The French House, 49 Dean St, London W1D 5BG

King’s Cross: Barrafina

Barrafina
Octopus a Feira at Barrafina. Photo: SE

It was a while since I’d enjoyed lunch at the capital’s legendary Spanish micro-chain. And yet revisiting the Coal Drops Yard outpost (originally reviewed here), with its big windows and chilled mid-afternoon vibes, it seemed, quite remarkably, better than ever. Of its many delights, why does it always come back to the sensational pan con tomate? The Galician octopus with paprika (pictured)? Those blackened tender chicken thighs with nutty romesco? And the infamous patatas bravisimas, essentially smothered in aioli? This is a brand, like Hawksmoor, that doesn’t appear capable of wavering. Respect due. Barrafina, Coal Drops Yard N1C

Hackney: Brat

Brat
Saddleback pork chop at Brat. Photo: SE

There are two Brats, of course, but Tomos Parry’s London Fields outpost is housed in a particularly scenic railway arch just off London Fields, with a spacious covered courtyard and cosily dark dining room and counter, perfect for all seasons. On a stuffy August Sunday lunchtime we ticked off a roll call of classics from the chalkboard menu: melting beef tartare, briny oysters with tomato and seaweed, crisp anchovy flatbread, whole grilled mackerel with green sauce – and the crowning dishes, an incredible Saddleback pork chop (pictured), sliced tenderly. Even the sourdough was the best I’ve ever tried, with its whorl of burnt onion butter. Service is flawless, the cocktails potent. Brat, Climpson’s Arch, London Fields E8

Highbury: Top Cuvee

Top Cuvee
Bavette with spring onion. Photo: SE

A perfect find away from the thrum of Finsbury Park – always, somehow, a little too manic – this awesome corner spot on Blackhorse Road joins a handful of other foodie joints like the also-wonderful French bistro Patron. Here, on on a sweltering summer day, it was all about bavette: sliced medium-rare, on a rich parsley butter, with grilled spring onion, it’s decent-priced (£21) and best enjoyed sitting at the window counter. Don’t forget the chips and radicchio salad, too. It’s a vibe, for sure, with good people-watching on the lively pavement beyond. Top Cuvee, 177B Blackstock Rd, London N5 2LL


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Stoke Newington: The Clarence Tavern

The Clarence
Sardines and mackerel pate. Photo: SE

A constant go-to when I find myself meeting friends in N16, this corner pub, under the same owners as the Anchor & Hope in Waterloo and the Canton Arms in Stockwell, is low-key and effortless. Think grilled sardines dotted with tapenade (catching a ray of midday sun in the covered, heated garden, above), smoked mackerel pate, a small hunk of roast hake, its skin seared crisp, on a warm tartare sauce, capers and spinach adding seasoning and texture. It sets you up for a beer or two afterwards at the famous Auld Shillelagh opposite. The Clarence, 102 Stoke Newington Church St, London N16 0LA

Stephen Emms is the founder of Gasholder and writes about food & drink for Time Out, The Guardian, Lonely Planet and more.

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