Find it hard to choose food from the menu when you go out? Us too. Behold these restaurants specialising in small plates, where you don’t have to choose just one dish. Here are the best small plate restaurants in London…
Tucked behind Notting Hill Gate on Ladbroke Grove, just before the road winds through West London’s leafiest neighbourhood is the local favourite, ULI. If you fancy fresh, healthy and flavour-loaded Asian food spanning Malay, Singaporean, Chinese and Thai disciplines in a laid-back setting, this is where to come. Not only is the menu MSG-free (so you can forgo the gooey Chinese hangover), but all the dishes are made from scratch, even the stock. And gosh does it shine through, from the crispy aromatic duck pancakes to the asparagus with black bean, chilli and ginger, this restaurant is a much-needed reminder that healthy eating need not be confined to the overpriced orbit of almond butter balls, kale salads and culinary gloom. It can be a rich, hearty and inclusive affair. It helps that the interior design is as deliciously fresh as the cavalcade of dishes painting the white tables, the relaxed but conscious aesthetic typifying the area. It comes as little surprise then that this unsung hero of Notting Hill has been firing up aromatic glee since 1997.
Fancy Indian food is taking London by storm, with its opulent colonial décor and curiously ‘tapas’ style giving taste buds a journey through India as opposed to settling on the traditional ‘one curry’. Tamarind Kitchen Soho (sister restaurant to the Michelin-starred Mayfair haunt of the same name) is no exception to this. A simple spot with decadent trimmings within Soho’s bustling food quarter, Tamarind Kitchen harks back to the Maharaja era with mahogany hues, velvet sofas and the yesteryear flicker of an oil lamp on tables.
It’s more relaxed here. Start with a cocktail – their passion and chilli martinis are punchy. Exotic small plates to start, from lighter Mango and Avocado Salad to heartier Tandoori lamb Sheekh Kebabs come in small or regular sized portions. The Lotus Root Kebab with dates and plum chutney is highly recommended, as is their carefully curated wine list. Those resolute on a curry can start light and graduate to the ‘Late Arrivals’ section where they’ll find familiar (but adorned) favourites such as Kerala Prawn Curry, Chicken Chettinad Biryani or Nizami Vegetable Kofta curry (the vegetable dumplings in this dish are divine). The warm welcome you receive as you enter the restaurant is as sweet and refreshing as the Gulab Jamun Indian milk dumpling pudding.
‘The problem with London’, the New Yorker says, ‘is that everything shuts at midnight, save a few dubious clubs’. Well, not at Latin American restaurant-bar-club haunt MNKY HSE. While they’ve clocked this gap, they’re also aware that no one enjoys eating succulent wagyu tomahawk with chimichurri sauce next to Jimmy Choo’s chipping away at the dance floor; the restaurant is sectioned off from the bar and dance floor upstairs, but open enough to let the buzz flow throughout. And there’s a real buzz here amidst a moody Latino setting.
The music gradually picks up and by the time you’re good friends with the mixologists and on Pisco Sour no. 5, the place is practically on its feet. Drinks, dinner and dancing… Embrace the flash Mayfair party scene, leave your snob at home and just let go. You can really park yourself here and enjoy the evening without fussing over Ubers or herding friends onto the next stop. Head chef, Mark Morrans (latterly Group Head Chef at Senor Ceviche,) has combined those lively Latino classics with seasonal British produce, condensing this into a tapas menu to be paired with punchy cocktails. Highlights include the beef brisket tacos, Prawn tostadas with chorizo cider mayo, baby chicken marinated in spices and chu-toro ceviche. The staff’s mission is to make sure you’re having fun. If you want to lift your Thursday/Friday above the flickering candles of a lukewarm restaurant, head to MNKY HSE (and remember the Choos).
Tapas is increasingly synonymous with uncomfortable stools, overpriced small-plates and squashed soirées. The Kitchen concept (including May Fair Kitchen, Leicester Square Kitchen and Monmouth Kitchen) caters to those loath to sacrifice a sophisticated setting and comfortable chairs in the name of tapas. As their flagship, May Fair Kitchen sits just off Berkeley Square, a chic and warm space wrapped in floor to ceiling windows to let the light spill in. Naked bulbs hang over jagged wooden tables with plush chairs (no wonky hipster stools here). The open kitchen is both immersive and tantalising (tasty smells waft towards you when you enter).
Delectable Italian and Spanish small plates are combined with a few Mexican dishes from Monmouth Kitchen & Leicester Square Kitchen. From gnocchi and spinach gorgonzola to smoked lamb carpaccio with crème fraîche, jamón and manchego croquettas to robata pisco-glazed smoked paprika ribs, the choice is a little overwhelming but perfect for larger groups. Ask to pair your choices with their impressive wine list and sit back for a Mediterranean-style lengthy lunch or dinner. The setting here is so beautiful, you’ll want to park yourself for at least a few hours. Make sure you pin this elegant but easy restaurant to the map as it’s perfect for client lunches and friends and family soirées alike.
The Holborn Dining Room at The Rosewood Hotel assumes a Jekyll and Hyde identity – British brasserie by day; plush, vibrant haunt by night with opulent wafts of a member’s club. The hotel itself is a Holborn oasis, surrounded by lawyers, business meetings and Covent Garden tourists. The atmosphere in the restaurant is warm and decadent, smart enough to dress up for, yet relaxed enough to offer a new ‘pie menu’ (and be proud of it). Think well-heeled pub food with a few (almost Aussie) options for those on the healthy-hearty bandwagon. Their Monkshill Farm scotch egg epitomises why you get serious bang for your buck here, simple food cooked well with the very best ingredients (expect tender, verging on fluffy pork wrapped around a perfectly cooked egg).
From grilled octopus to parsnip and thyme soup, the menu oscillates between traditional British food and something ‘a little exotic’ or brasserie inclined for those with refined palates. And in the city that has everything, nothing says exotic more than a return to tradition. The pie room, spearheaded by Executive Head Chef and pastry expert, Calum Franklin, harks back to classic British comfort food and will operate as a kitchen by day and a private dining room by night (the décor is reminiscent of a scene from Sweeney Todd just with marble worktops and smart decanters). Curried mutton to the classic steak and kidney are wrapped by pastry Picassos, epitomising the grand back-to-basics gastro-movement sweeping London. If a hearty pie doesn’t appeal, perch up at the seafood counter and usher in the oysters. The gin here is a reason to come alone, Holborn Dining Room’s gin bar offers an infinite choice from international brands to small-batch and local distillers – try the sloe gin cocktail, it hits the spot.
As groovy as a restaurant may be, as soon as the staff doesn’t know the dishes or forgets about your table, the bubble pops and the chagrin of falling victim to London’s trendy restaurant scene rears its head. Restaurants of this nature, take note from Omar’s Place, which is everything a trendy eatery ought to aspire to. Omar’s Place boasts a staff that is knowledgable, attentive and as characterful as the restaurant’s sophisticated Mediterranean interior. After ordering your first Omar’s Bellini (Pomegranate Juice, Limoncello, Grenadine, and Prosecco) it’s easy fall into step with a mellow, Mediterranean pace, enjoying the unique breeziness of the open interior that spills out onto a stylish, outdoor terrace on a corner in Pimlico.
Mallorcan born, Vicente Fortea leads the kitchen where he has created a menu made up of contemporary tapas that have been selected form the coast towns of the Mediterranean. Dishes include a selection of hot and cold tapas, meat and seafood grilled over charcoal, plus playful desserts. Must-try plates include the Carabinero Prawn with Crispy Rice, 45-day Aged Galician Beef and Caramelised Bread and Butter Pudding with Coffee Ice-Cream. Dishes are served in inventive ways, from hummus that comes in a light, papery wrap instead of a dip to a selection of bread, cheese and meat that arrives in carefully pre-assembled bites: stacked, grated, and toasted. They’ve thought of everything here.
Wild by Tart is the latest venture from Lucy Carr-Ellison and Jemima Jones, the foodie duo behind boutique catering company Tart London. After a few years spent feeding the world’s fashion elite, they set their sights on transforming a former power station in Belgravia into a manifestation of their blossoming brand. This is comprised of a deli, event space, photography studio, retail store, and the most recent addition: an all-day restaurant. There’s a touch of New York to this endlessly cool spot, which is in fact where the pair first met – think industrial-inspired interiors, high ceilings and plants galore. When asked what kind of food they cook, Lucy and Jemima simply say they make what they love. Wild by Tart is a farm-to-table style restaurant, with a menu focused around seasonal and local dishes designed to be shared. Expect vibrant colours and big flavours: we particularly loved the grilled halloumi with honey, lime, chilli and coriander; the flamed lamb chops with red curry paste and peanut; and the pumpkin, gorgonzola and pickled chilli flatbread, cooked in the wood oven. Everything has a wholesome feel – though it’s not overly healthy, and the dessert menu is well worth exploring: there’s a particularly delicious miso caramel cookie skillet, designed to be shared between two. The intimate corner tables make for ideal date settings, while the long communal tables are perfect for bigger groups – and wherever you sit, you’ll be in view of the long open kitchen, which is a lovely touch.
The second restaurant from the Pachamama group, Chelsea’s Chicama is a charming restaurant named after a coastal town in Peru – not the word chic, although that does describe it well. Unlike its sister, Chicama is meat-free, focusing instead on fish served small plates-style. Seafood is delivered daily from Cornwall and given a South American twist – the squid is marinated in garlic and ají panca, for instance, while the trout is cooked in banana leaf and served with red quinoa. But there are also plenty of delicious, flavoursome vegetarian options, like the fried aubergines with plantain miso (our highlight) and the smoked mushroom ceviche with ceps tiger’s milk. Don’t knock the tapioca marshmallows before you’ve tried them: made without eggs or sugar, these bitesize snacks have the texture of fluffy marshmallows but the flavour of cheese – they’re made with deep-fried parmesan, and served with a chilli sauce. Pisco Sours are the natural drink of choice, though the Spicy Margarita shouldn’t be overlooked. Eat al fresco on the lovely plant-filled outdoor terrace, or watch the chefs working their magic up close from the pastel pink marble counter, which looks onto the open kitchen.