2021 will go down as many things, and none of them will be particularly warm. They say the British default to speaking about the weather when times are tough and, frankly, having eaten dinner in an apocalyptic, billowing marquee in Soho during a friendly April bout of gale force winds, we think we’re well within our rights to revert to type. Yes, 2021 has been chilly. And testing. But it’s also brought us a new kind of appreciation for restaurants big and small, old and new.
Given the wintry year in mood and weather, it’s no surprise that our picks from the last of these groups, the fresh-faced new restaurants, all have something in common. Not cuisine or ownership, nor location or choice of bathroom hand soap, but a certain warmth. What all these incredible new restaurants have in common is their ability to get your blood flowing and your pulse racing. They’ll excite you and cheer you, comfort you, and transport you. These are our Best New Restaurants in London 2021.
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First impressions may not be everything, but the one Sessions Arts Club makes upon everyone cannot be understated. The feeling is wonder. Pure, unadulterated, Disney-ish wonder. Not at big mouses or giant turkey legs, but at a towering balconied room. A home to waltzing candle flames and charming staff who serve nonchalantly elegant food made for swilling and seducing over. This is an adult kind of wonderment: at improbably long panisse, lusciously interchangeable squid and calamarata, a wine list that wills you to stay forever, columns that would have Kevin McCloud keel over, and the wondrous feeling of hours flying by in a perfect restaurant on Clerkenwell Green.
Like finding a tenner in some long-lost jeans, coming to Bibi feels like making the ultimate discovery. Tucked into a corner just seconds away from the chaos of Oxford Street, this Indian spot is small but significant, with a menu of incredibly designed dishes, from melt-in-the-mouth orkney scallop in a tangy lemonade dressing, to a tender grilled chicken in a cashew and yoghurt whey sauce that you’ll want to lick off the plate. We could tell you about the counter seating, or the fun gola cocktails, but the reason you should come here, and the reason you’ll return, is for the sensational food.
Sumi is a place that’s sure of itself. Not in a “we have royal oscietra caviar on the menu” type of way, even though they absolutely do, but in a “we make some of the best sushi in London and we know it” type of way. The high quality food is unsurprising, seeing as it’s the second restaurant from the eponymous sushi chef from Endo at the Rotunda, but one of the best things about this Notting Hill spot, after the excellent temaki, is the laid-back nature of it. The Muji-esque interior, casual high tables, and charming terrace, paired with the exceptional things they’re doing with fish, all make this a destination for sushi.
Kol is a fever dream. Actually, technically, it’s a restaurant in Marylebone serving Mexican tasting menus. But we’re not here to tell you about technicalities, we’re here to tell you that Kol is crafting the kind of genius - yes, genius - dishes that will confuse, delight, and make you want to pick the brain of the chef who somehow made British gooseberries into a sexy salsa. Their warm terracotta dining room is the perfect holiday postcard setting for a meal that is memorable for all the right reasons: smoky mezcal broths, deeply satisfying carnitas, and a fine dining experience that is never fussy, only fantastic.
Nobody doubts that opening a restaurant is hard business. Harder still is opening one that’s good. And yet, when you go to Brutto, you can’t help but think they’re making it all look so easy. If there is such a thing as a naturally-gifted footballer (who has trained tirelessly for years) then Brutto is a naturally-gifted restaurant (which is the result of tireless hard work from many people). The Tuscan-inspired trattoria around the corner from Farringdon station is so relaxed in its own skin it imparts a natural feeling of scialla into all its diners. So sit back, get comfortable, and finish with a wedge of London’s best (and most generous) tiramisu.
No matter which colleague sent you a snappy email or which latest Hinge experiment stamped on your precious little heart, some restaurants will always make you feel confident. Kudu Grill in Peckham is one of them. It might be the green velvet booths, the kiss-me-now dimmed lighting, or the flames in the open braai kitchen, but this irresistible South African restaurant will make you feel irresistible too. The third restaurant from Kudu Collective, nothing on their menu of fire-grilled meats and whole fishes feels like second best. After sharing a treacle bordelaise steak and a round of smoky vermouth cocktails, you won’t either.
There’s something undeniably cool about being effortless. Even when it’s with exaggerated finger quotes because it’s referring to a dimly-lit dining room in the basement of a five-storey Japanese-Nordic concept store in Belgravia with white stucco columns at the entrance - which, now we come to think about it, is about as effortless as a 27-step skincare routine. Because even though this Japanese spot has relaxed service, a calm, laid back atmosphere, and an incredible setting, there’s nothing effortless about the top-quality sushi here. Cuts of sashimi that melt in the mouth, and nigiri you’ll want to double down make this a place that you’ll want to spend hours in.
How does a bakery find its way onto a list of the best new restaurants of 2021? By churning out excellent cheesy flatbreads, topped with all sorts of delicious things that have officially made brunch hot again, that’s how. This spacious bakery in Victoria has mastered the art of creating somewhere you’ll want to spend all your time in. With a menu of things like merguez and aioli, and burrata and burnt honey-topped flatbread, great coffee, and its neighbourhood-y energy, the only surprising thing about Chestnut Bakery being on this list is that it feels like it’s been around for a lot longer than just a year.
If you’re yet to have been hit with a barrage of yakitori then you’ve clearly never been to Humble Chicken. The Japanese skewer specialist in the heart of Soho has turned a bombardment of poultry into one of 2021’s most thrilling restaurant experiences. Wave after wave of chicken on a stick is presented to you straight from the flames. Shoulder, inner thigh, breast and other euphemistic-sounding bits of bird. It’s a parade of individually marinated parts, an adrenaline-rush of a meal that, from the vantage point of sitting at the countertop, turns a full-on assault of juicy skewers into something more like theatre.
Beige food, brown food, call it what you like, Café Deco is a restaurant that serves this type of stuff alongside warmth and comfort in ladlefuls. This tranquil space by Goodge Street is more akin to a tasteful dinner party than a wine bar and restaurant. The lights are low and the wine is lacking in sulphites. The staff smile and serve you like an old friend, before presenting you with something curing and comforting: chicken broth and plump dumplings, gnocchi with the freshest olive oil, steamed pudding surrounded by custard or cream. It’s a nourishing place that we’re thankful to have.
The idea of going to a pub vs. opening a pub are two very different things. So when Four Legs launched a fundraiser to help reopen the former Auld Triangle in Finsbury Park as The Plimsoll we looked on in equal parts awe and trepidation. We should’ve known better. These guys are fearless and fun. It’s one thing doing up a boozer, telling longtime locals you’re going to be making seafood escabeche and wishing them luck. It’s quite another telling them all that and promising it will still be a place for them. But it’s just that and more.
Seaweed is the ultimate vehicle for rice. At Temaki it’s also the perfect vehicle for some BBQ eel that we would ghost a BBQ chicken wing for. We truly mean that. And yes, we are as shocked as you. Honestly, the affordable temaki here is so good that we no longer accept handshakes, just otoro handed over from their chef. A sleek, minimalist restaurant hidden in Brixton Market, this is the kind of low-key, counter-only spot that you desperately want to drag that person you’re seeing to just so they know that you’re very, very - once more for luck - very cool.
‘In the midst of darkness, crispy rotisserie chicken skin persists’. Please do join us next week for more Ghandi x The Infatuation inspirational quotes. Until then, what you need to know about Sidechick is that it’s a lockdown delivery operation turned wooden boothed chicken haven and officially the kind-of casual catch-up, affordable date spot, chill family meal swiss-army knife of great 2021 restaurants. Did we mention the unmissable crispy potatoes and vegetable side dishes? Yup, they’re pretty fantastic too. Mates, dates, an aubergine and breadcrumb medley that will put a smile on your face, Sidechick can do it all.