Few areas in London make you feel like the real McCoy quite like Clerkenwell does. This is an old fashioned part of London that somehow always feels new. You might be here looking at rings on Hatton Garden, or you could be here, physically at least, stumbling out of Fabric at 6am, or maybe you’re out getting industrial quantities of bacon from Smithfield. Basically there’s a lot going on around here, and that extends to restaurants.
A lot of the restaurants in Clerkenwell are real go-tos. The kind that you tell people they ‘ab-ser-loot-lee’ must visit. But that doesn’t mean they’re all white tablecloth numbers. There’s everything from whole suckling pig options, to a three course fish and chip meal for under £20. That’s just the kind of area Clerkenwell is.
St. John is one of our highest rated restaurants for good reason: it’s an absolute London must. It serves classic, old fashioned British food. Think simply and excellently prepared meat, offal, and fish. And then a bit of spotted dick to wash it down. This, the original location, is best for lazy lunches and boozy dinners. If you only go to one restaurant in London, this could be it.
Surely it’s not just us who wakes up now and again and thinks, ‘I feel like living like a Tudor monarch today’. When it happens to you you should be getting to the Quality Chop House pronto. This restaurant knows how to be a restaurant. Meaning you’re going to be fed and watered very, very well. It’s hearty and it’s refined, so you’re just as likely to be eating a venison here, as you are some excellent pasta. And it suits both lunch and dinner. There’s no excuse not to go. Not one.
Saying a London area is rich in pubs is a bit like saying a provincial high street is rich in chippies and children riding BMXs in circles. It’s a given. But Clerkenwell really is rich in pubs, a lot of them are especially good, but The Eagle is our favourite. This is a pub that knows its food. Options change daily, it’s mostly kind of Mediterranean-inspired, but their steak sandwich is always on and is the stuff of legend.
There are several reasons why we like The Drunken Butler, and only one of them is because it sounds like the finale of a game of Cluedo. This place on Roseberry Avenue could very well be filed under ‘dream retro dining room’ on that Pinterest you keep for ‘motivation’. Think, a huge marble centre table, vases of wild flowers, stacked bottles of wine, and a constant cool soundtrack in the background. Their excellent French meets Persian food is available by the course at lunchtime, but in the evening it’s all about their £49 or £69 tasting menus. It changes daily but expect exquisitely presented dishes like mint lamb shoulder with tahini, halibut with miso and saffron mussel sauce, and affogato. Be warned, they’re only open from Wednesday to Sunday.
Moro is another ‘permanent fixture’ restaurant in London. It’s been serving delicious Mediterranean-inspired food to Londoners for over 20 years, and it’s an every life stage kind of restaurant. As in, people will come here for a first date and share some escabeche, then come for an anniversary and a whole chargrilled halibut. Before they know it, there’ll be a couple kids next to them shovelling chicken fatteh into their mouth.
Morito is Moro’s tapas sibling next door. Like all the best and most memorable little brothers or sisters, it’s small, loud, and absolutely non-stop. The tapas here is very good, and it’s a perfect date spot. Just be wary that it gets very busy, very quick. Even on days you might not expect it to. So book ahead. Otherwise you’ll be looking at that crispy lamb, or patatas bravas, from the outside in.
If you’re looking for a restaurant experience that makes you feel as classy as an embossed business card then Luca is where you want to go. This an extremely proper Italian restaurant. Not bow tie proper. But sit down and pay good money for some good food proper. Although it’s pricey, it is worth it (especially for the parmesan fries). Anyone you bring here will be seriously impressed.
Every area in London needs at least two excellent fish and chip options. Clerkenwell has that, plus one that does karaoke an evening a month. That’s just one reason we really like Fish Central. The food here won’t blow you away: perfectly cooked scallops, some crispy scampi, a decent bit of haddock. But it’s the old school atmosphere that makes it. This is a ‘Fish Supper’ kind of restaurant, where generations old and young will sit down and have a good old fashioned beige meal.
If you’re anything like us then you’re always looking and actively ready to consume some pasta. It’s a natural inclination. It’s like breathing. Palatino is a reliable spot when you’re feeling like that. The cacio e pepe is a must. As is the agnolotti. We wouldn’t bother with anything else here, but we don’t need to tell you that when pasta’s on your mind.
London isn’t amazing for walk-in spaces that are excellent for a few drinks and a bite to eat, but don’t get packed to the brim. That’s the kind of itch Fare scratches. The upstairs bar is basically a coffee shop by day, but it also serves very tasty, snack-sized pizzas, and has a choice of wines, beers, and cocktails on tap. The downstairs restaurant is a slightly different deal. It’s cosy and attractive, and it fits in with the area perfectly, but there are better local options if you’re looking for the kind of slightly serious meal it serves.
London isn’t known for the best sushi in the world. In fact, when you leave here and try fairly mediocre stuff in, say, LA, you feel like you’ve just woken from The Matrix. Only without all that gooey stuff. That said, London does have at least one sushi spot that’s a bit of a gem, and that’s Sushi Tetsu. It only seats seven people, and bookings for the two seatings a day go fast, but if you want to spend big money on serious sushi in London, this is the place to go.
Quality Wines is a small wine shop and grocery tacked on to the Quality Chop House. By day they serve excellent sandwiches and other baked things, but it’s the wine and small plates set up in the evenings here that makes it a place you want to go to eat. Come with a few of your closest friends, crowd around one of their four or five cafe tables, and order some small plates to go with the wine you pick from the shop shelves. Dishes like bitter leaves with navel oranges, pine nuts and pecorino, or a roast pheasant crown are all great. The whipped lardo on toast is unmissable.
The Exmouth Market spot was Caravan’s first, and it’s still one of our favourite ‘good for anything’ spots in London. Although it made its name doing brunch, it’s one of those places that you can rely on when your mind is blank, your friend is difficult, or you’re with a child who is about to go nuclear.
Granger is where you go if there’s a line at Caravan, or if you want something clean, slightly refined, and 100% inoffensive. The Clerkenwell branch is what happens if a mood board for design-conscious EC1 was magicked into life, and it’s the kind of place where everything from the prawn, XO and nduja fried rice, to the crispy chicken burger, comes topped off with a big handful of coriander, making everything taste zingy, fresh, and a lot healthier than it probably is.
The name Coin Laundry might be triggering for you if your washing basket looks anything like ours. It’s okay though. There’s no need to be afraid. This laidback bar/pub/restaurant is actually a chilled place to go to for some decent British and European food. Swing-by at lunch for some top flatbread or chicken broth, and get a little merry. Come in the evening, bring friends, have some whipped beetroot, the pork belly cheeseburger, and get a lot merry. There’s also a basement bar area that’s perfect for an after work cocktail, a lowkey birthday, or a Sunday afternoon game of Scrabble.
Anglo is one of those restaurants that makes very fancy-Dan looking food, the kind that looks like it could either be art, or an ant’s dinner. However, it does it at very accessible prices. The seven course tasting menu is around £50-£60 and the food itself is pretty good. If you’re looking for a fine dining experience in London that isn’t going to lead to a month of Cup-A-Soup dinners afterwards, this is your place.
When was the last time you ate some cheese? No not standing in front of your fridge, drunkenly munching on a block of cheddar. We mean sitting at a table showing a Mont d’Or the respect it deserves. If it’s been a while, head straight for La Ferme. This spot on Farringdon road is full of nick-nacks and mildy questionable floral tablecloths, but serves an all you can eat raclette for £27 per person. Come here for a candlelit date night, or to eat your bodyweight in cheese with some friends.
Like the sun, and a general feeling of contentedness, tacos is something a lot of people crave in London, but don’t have a lot of. That doesn’t have to be the case though, and while Breddo’s Tacos may not provide UV rays, it’s got plenty of tasty and unusual taco options that are ‘Mexican-inspired’. The combinations here are a little surprising, like kung pao pork and octopus al pastor, but you can’t argue with the flavours.
Exmouth Market is full of spots where you can have a fun and casual meal, but when we need all our flavours dialled up to 11, we go to Berber and Q’s Shawarma Bar. It’s a compact little spot so you’re going to be sitting fairly close to whoever you come here with, and it’s probably best if you all share. A portion of Iraqi hummus, and a couple of shawarma pitas go a long way here, but you’re better off getting a bunch of meze for the table, and something like the chicken shashlik with slaw and pomegranate from the grill and rotisserie menu, along with some mejederah and salad.