The ultra-pink room at the heart of Sketch

Where to Dine for Special Occasions in London

The restaurant scene across North America and Europe has seen several major movements that are shaping the culinary landscape. One prominent trend is a focus on back-to-basics, family-style shared plates that encourage shared dining. Think rustic dishes meant for passing and sharing among the table.

At the same time, comfort foods like burgers are getting an upscale, haute cuisine makeover. Gourmet twists like potato buns, specialty meat garnishes, white tablecloth service and real silverware elevate the casual burger to fine dining status. Another restaurant craze is the surge of Euro-inspired small plates with chalkboard menus listing dishes with names that may leave you unsure what to order. Fregola? Brandade? Better brush up on your menu French and Italian if you want to dine like a local.

Finally, the idea of “democratic” dining with no reservations and cafeteria-style service is growing popular, especially at trendy bare-brick eateries. Be prepared to queue along the sidewalks though, as these casual hotspots often have long lines of eager diners. From shared platters to remixed classics and Old World influences, the restaurant trends dominating the Western dining scene are all about updating traditions with an emphasis on conviviality and informality.

Sketch Gallery

Sketch London

The Gallery, Sketch London

Even after two decades, the restaurant remains the stylish restaurant destination for London’s well-heeled crowd. This cavernous space is truly an Instagram dream – images of pomaded hair, turtlenecks, and selfie flashes colliding with Yinka Shonibare‘s framed quilts, carved African masks, and India Mahdavi’s luxe strokes of gold and blonde decor.

Though the signature pinks that originally made Sketch so coveted are now gone, the surreal, fantasy vibe lives on. Futuristic bathroom pods evoke 2001: A Space Odyssey, adding to the immersive artistic fever dream ambiance. Chef Pierre Gagnaire’s acclaimed cuisine matches this whimsical vibe with imaginative, jolting flavour combinations that lean heavily into the imaginary. Dishes feature upended ingredient pairings like poached eggs with Oscietra caviar and smoked haddock, grilled scallops drizzled in bright clementine juice, and tempura-crusted langoustines. The artistic, avant-garde experience extends from the atmosphere to the plates themselves.

For heartier fare, the lamb navarin is a must-try. Onion rings accompany this rich dish. It pairs beautifully with a luscious Monbazillac Merlot carafe. The combination creates a blissed-out dining experience. Diners constantly snap endless selfies all around. However, an evening at iconic Sketch immerses you fully. You experience London’s art-meets-dining scene unlike anywhere else. This iconic restaurant combines visual and culinary artistry seamlessly.

Akoko

West African flavours are the heroes of one the best tasting menus in town

Akoko, Fitzrovia

London is riding a slowly breaking wave of West African flavours right now. And all the while bubbling away in the background was Akoko. Its latest executive chef, Ayo Adeyemi, is only adding to that buzz. Their elevated yet rooted spin is immediately apparent when walking into the Berners Street space, where walls are covered in earthy terracotta clay, glassware on the wooden tables is as fine as a leaf and work by Niyi Olagunju, a Nigerian artist who creates pieces using the pods of ekpiri seeds, is a textural pop of black and gold.

The five-course menu, developed over many months (Akoko is the Yoruba word for ‘time’), is a reimagining of the traditional dishes found in Nigeria, Senegal and Ghana in particular. The jollof rice has blue lobster tail and carrot terrine and the miyantaushe includes butternut squash, mackerel and honey. This is a spot that’s deservedly at the vanguard of bringing a whole new experience of West African food to London.

Hide

Hide, Mayfair

Hide, Mayfair

Londoners eagerly awaited Ollie Dabbous’ next move after Dabbous closed in 2017. Better things arrived with HIDE in 2018 – a three-storey, industrial-chic behemoth. Street level GROUND serves British-sourced dishes and houses an in-house bakery. Downstairs is dark cocktail bar BELOW and a hidden wine cellar. For true fans, head upstairs to ABOVE for a 9-course tasting menu. The steamed ikejime turbot is cooked to perfection in a bone sauce. Tail-to-gill cooking at its finest. Other highlights include roasted king crab with camomile honey, slow-roasted goose with birch sap, and barbecued Herdwick lamb. With London’s largest wine list, you’ll be served by skilled sommeliers. Cooking focuses on big, bold flavours for casual or elevated dining.

Sessions Arts Club

Sessions Art Club, Farringdon

Sessions Art Club, Farringdon

A £15 million renovation elevated the Old Sessions House’s foodie status. This discreet, gorgeous 18th-century Grade II listed building is partly responsible. We ascended four floors to the former vast judges’ dining room. Leather banquettes and a Gabriele Beveridge sculpture hint at the buzz below.

Polpetto alumni Florence Knight runs the kitchen. Knight prefers working with just a few ingredients per dish. A simple coppa di parma with pickled fennel stole the show. The meat-eater loved the purple sprouting broccoli with creamy cannellini dip. You may get recommended a £300 bottle from sommelier Sophie Liverman, but is just as excited to pour a £42 biodynamic Verdicchio. In this former harsh courthouse, the verdict is unanimously positive now.

Story Cellar

Story Cellar, Neal's Yard

Story Cellar, Neal’s Yard

A large part of Story Cellar’s French-tinged appeal is the heat. The grill gently grazes your cheek as you sit before the kitchen. It evokes feelings of a Galician asador or Tokyo yakitori. Or an early morning Missouri barbecue pit or British coastal afternoon. It’s one of London’s greater counter dining experiences.

Refuel on house terrines, daily grills and fish after shopping Covent Garden. The charcuterie falls apart effortlessly like a teenage marriage. Small plates like Isle of Wight tomatoes or lamb skewers with sheep’s yoghurt are great for lunch. Larger plates like dry-aged pork chop with brandy-pickled dates satisfy heavily. You can have several mediocre area meals for one excellent one here.

Menu standbys include pappardelle with girolles and burnt lemon. Hand-dived scallops get sweetened with cantaloupe. Whole Dover sole never disappoints, but you’ll return for the famous snail bolognaise. Thick, muscular red wine vinegar sauce piles over sourdough with wild garlic butter. It’s one of the finest mouthfuls of food imaginable. Cool down after with almond-dill soft serve for a summer afternoon feel.

@storycellarSirloin now on the menu 🔥🔥🔥 Add a few sides, sit back and enjoy.♬ original sound – StoryCellar

Brat

Brat, Shoreditch

Brat, Shoreditch

Walking upstairs past wine bottle rows, you’re greeted by wood smoke wafts. Bright chatter fills the long tables at Brat. Tomos Parry is the famed chef behind celeb hangout Kitty Fisher‘s. But, wood-paneled Brat feels more open, like an upstairs Spanish asador. Brat’s namesake turbot, around £55, is incredible – golden, tender perfection. Ditch forks and use fingers for this sharing feast.

Noble Rot’s Dan Keeling curated the changing, small producer wine list. Expect crisp Vinho Verdes, Albarinos and European gems. Get a bottle of sherry – the fino en rama pairs beautifully. It complements everything on Brat’s smoky, convivial menu exquisitely.

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