Evening Standard

21 of our favourite small restaurants, from The Palomar to Otto’s

With covers cut and pared-down passing trade, London’s little restaurants face big problems.

Whether chic and cosy or decidedly hole-in-the-wall, it’s the tiny tables that give this city soul — but they’re often those closest to collapse.

While chains seem to always find another creditor, independents and small restaurant groups are coming up short: rent is due, custom is slow (especially in the centre), and social distancing has a big impact on diminutive dining rooms.

But the best things come in small packages; here’s our pick of the places where eating out really is helping out.

Bocca di Lupo

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Home to the World’s Greatest Salad — shaved radish and celeriac with pomegranate, pecorino and truffle oil, since you asked — Jacob Kenedy and Victor Hugo’s buzzing little restaurant has sat in my top three London spots since day one. A changing menu of regional Italian dishes is perfect for a greedy pig like me. FYI, their fat olive stuffed with minced pork and veal is the filthiest, sexiest foodstuff known to man. Nancy Durrant

12 Archer St, Soho, W1D 7BB, boccadilupo.com

Sparrow

Location wise it’s unpromising, on a windy, noisy, ugly road opposite a building site. Inside, it’s a quiet, cosy haven. Husband and wife Terry Blake and Yohini Nandakumar serve up seasonal, sustainable, delicious globally-inspired sharing plates, from Keralan coconut mussels to meltingly soft burrata with rainbow chard. At weekend brunch, look out for Sri Lankan appam (pancake) made with fermented rice batter. ND

2 Rennell St, Lewisham, SE13 7HD, sparrowlondon.co.uk

Salon

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The scene of my engagements drinks, little sister’s 30th and many a happy occasion in between, Salon is the place I go to celebrate life’s good bits. It is all about simplicity and quality ingredients, often from Brixton Market in which it sits. The ’nduja croquettes have become local folklore and I once had an heirloom tomato salad that I continue to think about at least once a week. The wine list is a big draw too. Have something you like? Pop next door to the wine shop and pick up a bottle/case for the road. Suzannah Ramsdale

18 Market Row, Brixton, SW9 8LD, salonbrixton.co.uk

Llewelyn’s

It was the last place I went before lockdown and the first place I booked when restrictions were lifted. Bookends for the strangest time in my (anyone’s) memory. Sneaking off to Llewelyn’s the Sunday before we were all ordered to stay home, I needed one final bittersweet taste (a chilled glass of vinho verde for £5.40 — a steal!) of normality. This summer, I’ve been chasing my pétnat aperitif down with fresh ocean trout and buttermilk and blackberry ice cream. Come winter, I’m hoping to share their piping hot lasagne for two with a dear pal and toast the end of the year from hell. SR

293-295 Railton Rd, Herne Hill, SE24 0JP, llewelyns-restaurant.co.uk

Ceviche

(Paul Winch-Furness)

Responsible for my must-order-it-from-every-menu love of ceviche and my mild obsession with Peru, bright and buzzy Ceviche on equally bright and buzzy Frith Street is my idea of a perfect night. Start with tangy pisco sours, then shovel in cassava fries and crunchy toasted corn nuts, freshen up with, you guessed it, ceviche (my choice would be the classic Don Ceviche with seabass). Finish off (read: sober up) with lomo saltado – strips of tasty beef fillet, chips, tomotoes and onions. Pure joy. SR

17 Frith St, Soho, W1D 4RG, cevichefamily.com

Theo’s

Sourdough pizza isn’t reinventing the wheel, but at Theo’s in Camberwell it’s just better than everywhere else. Lucky for me, it’s down the road. Exciting toppings (even for vegetarians), a chewy base and that fiery, oily chilli sauce (buy a jar to take home and slather on everything). Also, the waiters are hot. My order? A wood-oven aubergine (with extra mushrooms), a Campari spritz and tiramisu to finish. Phoebe Luckhurst

2 Grove Ln, Camberwell, SE5 8SY, theospizzeria.com

Copita

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If I’m in town-town, it’s always Copita, and a window seat for Soho people watching. The simplest thing is to order everything — but especially the truffled goat’s cheese and fat king prawns in bisque foam. Add a glass of dry white. PL

27 D’Arblay St, Soho, W1F 8EP, copita.co.uk

Ganapati

Jaunty, pastelate furniture, Battenberg flooring and glitter ball signage: Ganapati is one of those street corner restaurants pretty enough to take a bite out of. Helpfully, the actual food is also delicious. Unctuous thali tins, masala-dunked lamb legs and cumin-sozzled vegetable curries are plates to attack with gleeful abandon. The conservatory seats are the best spots in the house. Order a lassi or I will personally question your good taste. Samuel Fishwick

38 Holly Grove, Peckham, SE15 5DF, ganapatirestaurant.com

The Little Viet Kitchen

This charming Vietnamese restaurant has a family feel: award-winning head chef Thuy Diem Pham and her husband Dave Kelly run it together, and Pham released her own cookbook in 2018 so you can try the recipes at home. Start with the crunchy pork spring rolls then try the slow braised beef short-rib, lemongrass and coconut curry. LVK gimlets and lychee martinis are served in cute copper jars. Katie Strick

2 Chapel Market, Angel, N1 9EZ, thelittlevietkitchen.com

La Poule au Pot

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An SW1 institution, with classic French cooking, dark candlelit corners, and rustic interiors that have hardly changed since the sixties - perfect for a bit of 2020 escapism and getting cosy on date night. Gastronomy bible Hardens calls it one of the most romantic restaurants of all time. First-timers must order the original house dish, which translates simply as “chicken in a pot”. Send a dine-in voucher to all your friends. KS

231 Ebury St, Belgravia, SW1W 8UT, pouleaupot.co.uk

Yak and Yeti

I’ve bullied a lot of people into going to the Yak and Yeti in Finsbury Park. The bullying bit is necessary to get them past the door, from which the restaurant looks dark, shabby, and occasionally flooded. When I went (immediately) after lockdown, half the floor was covered with buckets. Such things cease to matter once you have tried the food — specifically, the jhinga dal and lamb rogan josh. You won’t look back. Martha Gill

143 Stroud Green Rd, Stroud Green, N4 3PZ, finsburypark.yakandyeti.co.uk

Otto’s

(Alex Lentati)

The best restaurants bloom because their owners’ passion goes far beyond profit. Otto Tepasse adores his room in Gray’s Inn Road, and his affection is infectious; here, he and his redoubtable accomplice Elin run a riotous theatre, where both duck and lobster are pressed, and chickens have their skins stuffed with truffle. There is wine everywhere and always, deep kitsch and a dusting of eccentricity. All unforgettable. The show must go on. David Ellis

182 Gray’s Inn Rd, Holborn, WC1X 8EW, ottos-restaurant.com

Kebab Queen

Walk-in trade at Kebab Queen is an impossible dream, hidden as they are inside Maison Bab. A fluorescent front bearing the legend “Kebab Queen” looks much the way any spot in Archway Road might, save for a couple of spoilers: “fine wines” and “amouse bouche”. At this 10-seater, head chef Manu Canales offers seriously chic shish: variants on his six-course menu include monkfish, spit-roast duck and even foie gras. DE

4 Mercer Walk, Covent Garden, WC2H 9FA, eatlebab.com

Suzi Tros

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Simplicity is Suzi Tros. Tucked down a Notting Hill backstreet, this Greek - an offshoot of the more upscale Mazi - is a bright strip of happiness. It is somewhere to come for one of those unravelling lunches, where another bottle of crispy white wine always follows the first. It is a simple, unhurried spot, for grilled calamari and stuffed courgette flowers and thoughts of being out of town and by the sea. The dining room is buzzy, but the counter is the place to be.

18 Hillgate St, Kensington, W8 7SR, suzitros.com

Kitty Fisher’s

A droll move to name your restaurant after someone famous for being famous, but fortunately this Mayfair spot’s reputation is built on something more substantial. Seated by candlelight on the rose banquettes, a meal here has a furtive charm — as though, despite the big reputation, you’re in on a secret. A menu of modern British cooking may be short, but decisions are still difficult when the wood-grill is as good as it is. DE

10 Shepherd Market, Mayfair, W1J 7QF, kittyfishers.com

Kiln

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Awards aplenty, but seats? Not so. Its fiery, fast, northern Thai food stokes electric excitement, compounded by the minimal space beyond the kitchen. A thrill in the old days, but immovable bar stools mean the odd seat needs to stay empty, but this is compensated for by new al fresco seating out front. You can book now, but if there’s a queue, hold out: silky crab clay pot noodles, barbecue skewers and zingy curries are worth the wait. Ailis Brennan

58 Brewer Street, Soho, W1F 9TL, kilnsoho.com

The Palomar

A homage to the diversity and energy of Jerusalem’s restaurant scene, this spot put the merits of counter dining on the map in 2014. Reopening this week, a socially distanced rejig now fits only 24 in its diminutive dining room and up to 11 at the bar, where the chefs serve kubaneh, baba ganoush and Josper-grilled sea bass. AB

34 Rupert Street, Soho, W1D 6DN, thepalomar.co.uk

Breddos Tacos

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Once a “car park taco shack” in Hackney, the spirit of Mexican roadside taquerias lingers at this restaurant. Enjoying your baja fish and masa fried chicken tacos in its close quarters helps, but social distancing means its 38-seat capacity has almost halved. The communal table is divided by a “fence” of plants, and the odd bar stool will be left empty to space out couples. AB

82 Goswell Road, Clerkenwell, EC1V 7DB, breddostacos.com

Orasay

Jackson Boxer’s lauded Notting Hill restaurant remodelled itself as a takeaway service during lockdown, delivering potato buns stuffed with fried haddock, tartare sauce and sriracha across west London. Its intimate dining room has reopened, but had its capacity reduced by a third. Dine-in is the best way to enjoy Boxer’s prime British seafood – but ordering a sarnie (back by popular demand) is a gratifying way to support from the sofa. AB

31 Kensington Park Road, Notting Hill, W11 2EU, orasay.london

Hand

(East Village Portraits )

Hand is unassuming in all the ways: next-to-no online presence, tables populated with plastic school chairs, a barely decorated concrete home in Stratford’s ex-Olympic Village. Its food, however, is wonderful. Greek-inspired cafe dishes are deftly inflected with authentic Hellenic ingredients – think prasopita filo pies filled with grilled leeks and feta, or a sublime take on the eggs-avocado-bacon brunch, flavoured with fennel, oregano and Greek olive oil.AB

11 Victory Parade, Stratford, E20 1FS, eastvillagelondon.co.uk

Clarke’s

Sally Clarke’s eponymous Kensington eaterie has been serving delicious seasonal food for more than 30 years — and in my view has never been bested. Once Lucian Freud’s daily haunt, diners now eat surrounded by his pictures, and other titans of modern British art. New season Cep mushrooms and purple artichokes are followed by grilled Sicilian octopus or Correze veal chop. Deter-mined to make the most of the Covid crisis, Sally is about to open a new delicatessen in Notting Hill — get in line now. George Osborne

124 Kensington Church St, Kensington, W8 4BH, sallyclarke.com

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