Berners Tavern

Modern British
Address: 10 Berners Street, W1T 3NP (MAP)
Transport: Tube: Tottenham Court Road (Northern and Central Line) or Oxford Circus (Bakerloo, Central and Victoria Line).
Website: www.bernerstavern.com. Follow them on Twitter.
Price: ££££

The food. To celebrate my 32nd birthday, I was looking for a restaurant that had something special. You know, the kind of place one can’t (sadly) go every week! And when I saw Berners Tavern’s beautiful interiors and interesting menu on their website, I knew that was exactly what I was looking for, so I decided to give it a try and book a table. I had already gone to Jason Atherton’s Social Eating House and it was a glorious experience, but I have to admit this time, even if it was coming from the same team, I was a bit afraid that it was one of those beautiful restaurants where style is more important than substance. Berners Tavern proved me wrong: this is not only about the place, the food was incredible too. We made a start sharing a very rich beef tartar with wild garlic salsa verde and duck egg that was to die for, but the best was still to come. What can I say about the Roast duck with caramel apples, pickled plum puree and turnips? Or the glorious Pork chop with fig chutney and toasted hazelnuts? Don’t expect the kind of originality from other Atherton’s restaurants. Here, the food is earthy, with a classic touch. It is made of those flavours that bring you memories, but with such a good quality and execution that I could not feel less than impressed by the results. The warm cinnamon donut we had as a dessert was nice but there was nothing very remarkable about it, but why should I complain when there was on the table the most amazing coconut crème brûlée with Malibu sorbet I’ve ever had? So refreshing and exotic I don’t really know why I didn’t order an extra one! And if that was not enough, the wine selection was spot on. I’m seriously tired of restaurants offering boring Chardonay and Sauvignon. Berners Tavern’s wine list is fantastic too. At the end of the day, it is not an easy task to find good Albariño in London! They completely made my night. The are a lot of vegetarian options, but I have to say I will go back again for their fantastic meats.

The place. It’s luxurious, decadent and a bit over the top. So beautiful I couldn’t stop looking at the room at any time. This is obviously not the kind of restaurant where I usually go, and although sometimes I felt a bit out of place, I can’t deny the restaurant has a lot of charm and personality. I honestly couldn’t have enough of those beautiful painting and pictures on the walls. It was magical, you have to be there to experience it.

The service. It was everything one can expect from a place like this: really efficient, fast and very attentative. There was four waiters just serving our table and making sure every detail was perfect, and they did an incredible job. Sometimes I would have liked the staff to be more approachable, but I assume this is not what their habitual posh clientele is looking for. Probably one of the best services I’ve had in London so far.

The value. A starter to share, two main courses, two deserts and drinks around £130, including service. Yes, my wallet is still crying but it was totally worth it. The portions are generous, the food is ridiculously good and the service top class. Did I pay more money because it is a very charming place at a five star hotel? Absolutely, there is an extra cost to pay. But I’m not going to deny I had an incredible time and I found everything so close to perfection that I didn’t even think about it. Would I come back? Once my finances are back to normal I’ll definitely do it. I really can’t wait, but I’ll obviously wait until a very special occasion.

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Boquería

Spanish
Address: 192 Acre Ln, SW2 5UL (MAP)
Transport: Tube: Clapham North (Northern Line).
Website: www.boqueriatapas.com. Follow them on Twitter.
Price: ££

The food. Being from Spain, I find really hard to value Spanish food out of my country because, as it usually happens, it’s very easy to feel disappointed. In fact, in my effort to show some of my friends the great things of our cuisine, I have been very picky selecting a proper restaurant where we could have those Spanish flavours I was looking for. Thankfully, Boquería was a great success. We decided, and I don’t think that’s a surprise for anyone, to order several tapas to share. The Chorizo with cider transported me straight back to my grandma’s kitchen, and just for that reason it has to be my favourite plate. Actually, every meat we tried was excellent, especially the Iberian Pork and the Beef with foie and Pedro Ximenez wine, probably the highlight of the night. And, as a recommendation, you shouldn’t go without trying a couple of (my favourite) jewels of the Spanish comfort food: tortilla and croquetas.The letdown came with the Patatas Bravas and Huevos rotos, two dishes that I adore but that didn’t meet my expectations. But I guess I’m being too hard to please, since all my non-Spanish friends seemed to love them! We finished our gorgeous meal with some very typical desserts that everybody loved, like Crema catalana and Santiago tart. Have you ever tried fried milk? Well, it sounds odd but I can assure you it is delicious.

The place. It is probably too nice and minimalist to be the classic Spanish tapas bar but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have charm. In fact, the atmosphere was vibrant and very animated, and we all absolutely loved it. The main space is quite small and the tables are very close to each other, which made the room very crowded and the temperature quite hot inside. Just as if you were at a bar in Madrid!

The service. All the personnel is Spanish, which means they could be a bit slow and take their time to serve, but they’re incredibly welcoming and friendly. There was a lot of waiters serving all the tables and everything looked pretty well organised. And something that I really appreciated was that they invited us to a round of Orujo liqueur shots after the desserts, so my friends could complete their meal the Spanish way. A top class service helped by a fantastic staff.

The value. All the most traditional tapas are around £5-7, but they’re a bit on the small side, so it is necessary to order around 3 or 4 plates per person. What made our dinner more expensive was a couple of fantastic bottles of Ribera del Duero red wine, £25 each. The tricky thing is that I know those dishes (and wine) would cost much less and the portions would be bigger in my country. But considering we are in London, having a proper Spanish experience with such a fantastic food, I think the price was right. Would I come back? I would love to take all my non-Spanish friends there!

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Barnyard

American
Address: 18 Charlotte St, W1T 2LY (MAP)
Transport: Tube: Goodge Street (Northern Line). Buses.
Website: www.barnyard-london.com. Follow them on Twitter.
Price: ££

The food. The trick of the small plates wrongly called tapas (I am from Spain, I know what a tapa is) is spreading all over London like a bad disease. It’s always the same story. Looking at the menu they all look like affordable, interesting restaurants, but the reality is that when you need at least 3 or 4 of those dishes per person to have a decent meal, I don’t really know if I’m in front of a new culinary trend or just a simple deception. In some cases, when the food has something different and exciting to offer, it is a gorgeous experience. But the problem with a restaurant like Barnyard is that, although the food is good, it doesn’t blow me away to justify the size of the portions… and some prices too. Because apart from the corn bread, they were all ridiculously small and, in some cases, like the short rib and the roast pig, even laughable. No, those dishes are not like a good perfume that needs to be taken in small doses, it’s not creative or amazingly modern, it was just good comfort food and, as it happens with comfort food, it needs to be made with a completely different purpose. Even if I don’t have any complain about the flavours and the quality of the ingredients, we all finished our dinner feeling as if we tried a lot of stuff but nothing in particular. For me, it is the wrong concept for a restaurant that had a lot of potential. But as this trend is getting very popular in the city right now, I assume not everybody will agree with me. NOTE: Sorry about the quality of the images, you can find better ones on their website.

The place. It is (surprise!) inspired in a barnyard, but the restaurant screams “Made in Brooklyn”. Wood all over the place and a modernised rustic decoration makes it a really lovely space. Yeah, it can be a bit cheesy, but the restaurant is cleverly decorated and every detail has been chosen with special care. On the other side, it is very dark at night and that’s a pity, because it would be very interesting to appreciate the space with a better lighting. Barnyard is quite small and I’ve heard it’s so popular that there’s always a long wait, but we went on a Tuesday night and were lucky enough to have a table at the moment.  

The service. That’s the difficult part, because everybody was very nice, but our waiter in particular was trying so hard to look cool that he was giving the opposite impression, showing an ego and arrogance that wasn’t exactly making him being very approachable. Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure he is a nice chap and it’s unfair to judge a whole service for just one person, but we had a couple of awkward conversations and I just didn’t like the way he talked to us. But to be perfectly fair, they had an issue with our dessert, that took longer to go to the table, and they invited us to it. For that reason, I think our experience would have improved a lot with a different person serving our table.

The value. The problem with the small dishes is that you end up paying more money but eating less food than if you were having a proper plate. Most of the vegetarian options are fairly priced in my opinion (around £4-6), but it’s in the minuscule pieces of meat where it becomes an expensive restaurant. Just to put an example, the pork was £11 and the short rib £12, and you know that for a couple of pounds more you can have a nice piece of meat in a lot of good restaurants. It is a place I really want to love. The drinks were nice, the food was lovely and the place is quite charming too. But in the end, Barnyard is just an average place hidden under a layer of sophistication, the perfect place for the cool kids of London: too much style, but lacking in substance. And it could be much more than that. Would I come back? Sorry, but the philosophy of the restaurant would need to change a lot to make me go there again.

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The Phoenix Victoria

Gastropub
Address: 14 Palace St, SW1E 5JA (MAP)
Transport: Tube: Victoria (Victoria, Circle and District Line). Train: Victoria Station. Buses.
Website: www.geronimo-inns.co.uk. Follow them on Twitter.
Price: ££

The food. I’m sure you’ve been before in that situation where, even though you really enjoyed the food in a restaurant, the experience was completely ruined by a service that didn’t meet your expectations. Because, let me say this first, among all the wrong things about this gastropub in Palace St, the food was not one of them. In fact, the chicken roast we had for two was really lovely. It had all the ingredients that a roast should have: good meat, nice vegetables and those flavours that make you feel home. Maybe some parts of the chicken, especially the thighs, were a bit overcooked, and I probably missed more vegetables on my plate but, apart from those little details, it was a more than decent roast chicken.

The place. Nothing notably remarkable, but it was a lovely place made with a lot of good taste. It’s a big, open space with a nice bar at one side, all decorated with wooden floors and rustic furniture. The tables are quite big and there’s a lot of room between them, and there are sofas all over the place to make it look more inviting. The atmosphere is slightly posh, which works very well with the style they gave to the main area. 

The service. It was a disaster, but it was not the waitress’ fault. I can forget the fact that, even when we arrived on time, they gave our booked table to another people, which made us wait for an extra 15 minutes. I didn’t mind that the woman who was in charge of the restaurant ignored us completely at first. But there was literally 6 waiters working at the pub and just one of them serving all the tables. She was so stressed and upset I can’t blame her for not giving a decent service. She tried her best. When we finished and they took our plates, they completely forgot about us and, even when we would have liked to order some desserts, we decided to go to another place, pretty frustrated by the lack of attention.

The value. A roast chicken for two and drinks for £20 per person, which would be a good value if it wasn’t because the service totally ruined our meal. Would I come back? No. And this is not me talking as a customer, but as a person who can’t tolerate how some owners put enormous amounts of pressure on their workers, creating those stressful situations that conclude in a terrible service. That place needs more people working there, or a better organisation. And obviously, their waitress deserves much more respect.

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The Lockhart

American
Address: 22-24 Seymour Pl, W1H 7NL (MAP)
Transport: Tube: Marble Arch (Central Line).
Website: www.lockhartlondon.com. Follow them on Twitter.
Price: ££

The food. Chicken and waffles have a place in my heart. It reminds me of those Sundays having brunch in Harlem, great memories of the time when I was living in New York City. For a long time I’ve been looking for a place in London that could transport me back there, and I am really happy to say I finally found it in The Lockhart. The menu is small but perfectly balanced with modernised versions of the classic jewels of the Southern US cuisine. But I went there for the chicken and waffles, and I didn’t even have to ask for them: that’s the first thing they recommended to us. The waffles were really tender, and the addition of some pecans gave them a nice crunchy touch, but it was the chicken the star of the day. Golden, crispy, tasty chicken that, combined with maple syrup and their delicious home made butter, became a total winner. If I have to be a bit picky, I wouldn’t have minded if the portions were slightly bigger, but apart from that, that was gorgeous, brilliantly executed comfort food. How could it be more perfect? With a rich chocolate calas to share as a dessert. Forget the diet, you’re going to The Lockhart to feed your stomach… and your spirit.

The place. I can honestly say this is the loveliest restaurant I’ve been in London so far. It smells like vintage and wood, but it’s still very contemporary. Everything has been decorated with such a good taste it’s impossible not to be comfortable there, and every detail, from the furniture and tableware to the staff clothes, has been selected with a lot of care. The restaurant is in Marylebone and of course the atmosphere is slightly posh, but it doesn’t look pretentions at all. In fact, I think the space has a very eclectic and interesting personality. I simply loved it.

The service. Probably that won’t be a surprise, but the service was top class too. Attentive, helpful and really efficient. For me, nothing can beat a restaurant where the staff is so passionate about what they’re doing. They truly believe they’re offering a great experience, putting a lot of effort in making everybody feel comfortable, and that was something I couldn’t appreciate more.

The value. Chicken and waffles (£14), a glass of orange juice and a dessert to share for £23, including tip. Cocktails are around £9, in case you feel feistier than me! It is obviously not a cheap restaurant, but they put so much care in every detail and evertything was so delicious that I would happily pay that again. Would I come back? I think I’ve just said so!

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Po Chung Ma Cha

Korean
Address: 56 St Giles High St, WC2H 8LH (MAP)
Transport: Tube: Tottenham Court Road (Central and Northern Line). Buses.
Price: £

The food. Korean is a pretty new cuisine to me. In fact, the first time I tried it was here in London not so long ago but, since then, I’ve become almost addicted to it. Let me say first I’m not an expert, and I’m sure there are plenty of classic dishes I still don’t know, but everything I tried so far it’s been delicious, and the food I had in Po Chung Ma Cha is not an exception. Located behind the Centre Point in the popular St. Giles High Street, this humble restaurant offers fresh and tasty Korean food without pretentions. After a very nice Kimchi we shared as a starter, I had the classic Spicy pork bibimbap, served in a hot stone bowl with chilli sauce. The ingredients, flavours and spiciness were perfectly balanced and the portions quite generous too. Maybe some rice at the bottom of my bowl was dry because of the hotness of the plate but, apart from that, it was a delicious meal that made me absolutely happy.

The place. The restaurant is divided in two floors. The top one has a lot of charm, and a really interesting and authentic feeling (a lot of Korean people go there, which is always a good sign), but we were seated downstairs in a smaller room. It is true that it wasn’t as nice as the top floor but, on the other hand, the atmosphere was more relaxed. Apart from the sometimes loud K-pop music, it was a pretty enjoyable dinner, something that I really appreciated.

The service. They were nice but slightly lazy too, as they didn’t put a lot of effort in having any kind of interaction with us. It’s a very busy restaurant, so they make sure you leave your table as soon as you finish, to make space for the people who is waiting outside (they do not accept reservations). For that reason, they were pretty efficient too, and they brought our food to the table very quickly.

The value. Kimchi to share, bi bim bap and a beer for £14, including tip. Main dishes can vary from £6 to £20, depending on the ingredients and the portions. I’ve tried different Korean places in the same area and, even if some of them are cheaper, it’s fair to say this is probably a better value. Would I come back? There are still a couple of Korean restaurants I want to try first, but I don’t see any reason why I wouldn’t do it!

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Pizza Pilgrims

Italian
Address: 11 Dean St, W1D 3RP (MAP)
Transport: Tube: Tottenham Court Road (Central and Northern Line). Buses.
Website: www.pizzapilgrims.co.uk. Follow them on Twitter.
Price: £

The food. (Almost) Everybody knows the Pizza Pilgrims. After a successful TV show, van and book, this little pizzería in Dean St has become one of the most talked about places in Soho. A pretty well baked dough base and good ingredients make this pizza, in terms of flavours, one of the best I’ve tried in London so far, but it’s in the small details where Pizza Pilgrims fails to impress. I ordered a salami and mushroom calzone which was absolutely fantastic except for the fact that 1/3 of it was basically dough. Sadly, I had the same experience with the Nutella and mascarpone ring we ordered as a dessert, half of it fabulous comfort food, the other half completely empty. There’s no question, the quality is there and I enjoyed the food a lot, but I can’t deny I expected more care and attention to detail when it comes to their product. It looked like made in a rush.

The place.  It’s not different from those italo-american restaurants that every tourist has visited in New York before, including the neon sign. But what it catched my attention, probably because I always thought they had a really good image and branding, was the lack of personality imprinted in their place, making it look like unfinished. The restaurant, divided in two floors, is small and quite busy, but even if it wasn’t amazingly comfortable, it still was quite enjoyable.

The service. It is, as it happens with their food, a reflection of what it could have been. It is really odd that a personnel that is so enthusiastic and sympathetic, acted that lazy and uninterested most of the time. Three waiters just upstairs and it couldn’t look more chaotic, in part because they were really not paying too much attention of what was happening there. They do not accept reservations, and the restaurant is so popular that finding a table from 7pm could be an impossible mission.

The value. All those little things I didn’t like could be understandably forgettable if it wasn’t because I found Pizza Pilgrims very overpriced. Beer, calzone and a Nutella ring to share for £20 per person, including tip. A Margherita Pizza is £8. Maybe our experience was just bad luck, but it was in those little details when I couldn’t stop asking myself if maybe Pizza Pilgrims are victims of their own success, and they don’t pay too much attention to those issues because they already know their restaurant is going to be packed. It’s clearly a neighborhood restaurant trying to charge the customers an extra just because it’s popular. Would I come back? I could never say no because the food was good, but I honestly can find pizzas in London for a better value. And much more care.

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