Inevitably any of these lists recommending somewhere to take someone are forced to rely on a series of assumptions about the readers and their intended guests, be they first dates, old flames, big groups or, well, parents.
For this, I can only apologise: I know parents are people too — as individual as anyone else, I’m told — and that they are not all in need of a restaurant that isn’t too loud, too dark, too experimental or experiential or, God forbid, far away from the centre of town.
To this end I have tried to present a range of options to accommodate a range of parents, whilst assuming (wrongly? who knows) they will want to be able to both hear their offspring, and see and understand the menu. Here’s just hoping they’ll foot the bill to boot.
Bedales of Borough, Borough Market
Bedales has always been the best place for a pitstop during the obligatory parental tour round Borough Market. Its list of wines by the glass is extensive and reasonable — by London standards: out-of-town parents may still raise a brow — and its staff genuinely enthused at the prospect of pouring them. Moreover, it sources its bread, cheese and charcuterie from Borough Market, so diners can have the best of the market’s produce without fighting people off. In recent months, Bedales has gone one step better by introducing a range of small plates encompassing a variety of European cuisines, changing with the season and the produce available. Think burrata, wild mushroom tartlets, duck rillets, sauteed clams and stuffed courgettes: beautiful ingredients combined with enough creativity to keep one entertained, but not so much to put off a picky parent.
5 Bedale Street, SE1 9AL, bedaleswines.com
Lanesborough Grill, Knightsbridge
Lanesborough Grill is not a “grill” — at least, not so far as what most outside the M25 understands as one. There are some grilled dishes — the likes of Dover sole and Orkney scallop are both odes to simplicity — but to call it a grill is like calling the Wolsey a café just because it serves coffee and toast. So don’t tell your parents you’re taking them to a grill, tell them they’re going to a nice restaurant in Knightsbridge, filled with plump sofas and plush cushions and housed in a grand Regency townhouse. Tell them the food comes on filigreed trolleys and the tawny port in bottles the size of small child, ably wielded by tall, charming sommeliers. Maybe also give them a heads up that such service, in such a setting, comes at a price. And then smile very sweetly.
Hyde Park Corner, SW1X 7TA, oetkercollection.com
Drapers Arms, Islington
I’d like to say my mother and I visit all the places on this list on rotation; more often than not, however, we end up at the Drapers Arms, and not just because it is nearby. The wine list, carefully curated by landlord Nick Gibson, is better than most wine bars let alone pubs and restaurants, but it’s the menu that keeps us coming relentlessly back. It changes constantly: as I write, the nectarine with dattarini feta is shouting out; last time I went it was courgette salad with chilli, herbs and pine nuts. Yet there’s consistency as well as creativity here; whilst the menu changes, there’s always some sort of steak, a whole fish dish, a classic pub pie, and a great vegetarian option. And with a garden and a good pub fire, it’s a pub for all seasons, as well as all parents. Even the tricky ones.
44 Barnsbury Street, N1 1ER, thedrapersarms.com
As dogs often look like their owners, so restaurants often reflect the nature of the people running on them. Carousel is one of them. As its founders, the Templeton brothers, are just the sort of friends parents would love, so too with their restaurant: a light, bright and friendly wine bar with food at the front, sandwiched together with an entertaining chef residency space behind. To dazzle, book the guest chef space, where a revolving line up of chefs come from across the world to present a set menu of intriguing, innovative dishes. To delight, opt for the wine bar, where Ollie Templeton draws upon his dual Spanish and London heritage and the experience of cooking with literally hundreds of global chefs over the years to deliver a charming selection of small plates. The crisps with preserved lemon and Cantabria anchovy and the fried chicken with haberono honey are particularly good.
19-23 Charlotte Street, W1T 1RL, carousel-london.com
Unless — like me — you were born and brought up in London, your parents may well regard coming “into town” as a bit of a holiday. Heighten the holiday feels by taking them to Jose’s on Bermondsey Street: a Spanish tapas bar with high outdoor tables which, on a sunny day, transports occupants straight to Extremadura, the eponymous owner’s Spanish home. Jose Pizarro is that owner, and his food is a life force, conveying not just the taste of tapas, but the personality of it too: the pace, the slow, easy joy, the temptation to roll from lunch to dinner to sherry. Don’t miss the fried goats’ cheese with honey and, of course, the tortilla: warm, slightly fudgy and deeply golden. Bear in mind the Bermondsey branch is walk in only; if that’s going to perturb the parents, head down the road to Pizarro, Jose’s bookable alter-ego.
104 Bermondsey Street, SE1 3UB, josepizarro.com
Cin Cin, Fitzrovia
Sometimes something comes along that is both compelling and comforting enough to lure mum and I away from the Drapers Arms; that thing is Cin Cin, a modern, aperitivo-style Italian in Fitzrovia. In summer, the al fresco terrace is worth the ticket price alone. The prices of the pasta plates are eye-widening, but the portion sizes are waist-widening enough to put parents’ minds and wallets at ease, and their quality is second to none. Besides, there’s no need to have pasta. Stick to the more reasonably priced starters and snacks, like the crispy polenta with caponata, arancino with brown crab aioli and burrata, and save space and money for a signature negroni and a boozy raisin affogato.
21 Foley Street, W1W 6DS, cincin.co.uk
Luca is a place for Londoners to be strangely, vicariously proud of, despite having had no role its conception — something stepparents may appreciate. It is gorgeous — expensive wood and dark leather and marble and vintage glass — and somehow understated; set behind a chic but unassuming façade on St John Street like any old local Italian, though its prices and dishes are anything but. The cooking is generous and deft. There are nods to classics (that pork sausage ragu) and wild riffs on them, like sea bream crudo with gooseberries. The service is as fun as it is solicitous, and the Negroni comes with a signature L-stamped ice cube; a finishing touch that prompted a very parental exclamation of “oh my word, look!” ...from me.
88 St John St, EC1M 4EH, luca.restaurant
Few parents could fail to be pleased by Bentley’s, with its noble 100-year history, classic feel and fresh seafood superbly presented on sliver platters, or monogrammed plates which are whiter only than the starched tablecloths. Seemingly the whole sea is here: from Beluga caviar through to pan-seared turbot, via fish pie and fish and chips for the traditionalists. Meat-eaters won’t suffer at all, with carefully sourced lamb and beef and a range of excellent sides, but it’s the pescatarian parents who are best served here, with whole sections of the menu devoted to Dover sole and lobster. Don’t miss the Irish soda bread; proprietor Richard Corrigan claims it’s the best in town.
11-15 Swallow St, W1B 4DG, bentleys.org
Bubala, Soho and Spitalfields
Those looking to persuade their parents of the merits of vegetarianism should look no further than Bubala in Soho and Spitalfields. Their charred oyster mushroom skewers, corn ribs with black garlic and now-fabled pan-fried halloumi with honey seem almost purpose built to prove that — in the right hands — plants can do most things that meat can do and much more besides. Main dishes vary between the two branches, but those staples remain along with pillowy piles of laffa bread, bowls of burnt butter hummus and potato latkes masquerading as triple cooked chips. The staff are cheerful, the vibe is comforting and even the most diehard vegetable refuseniks will find comfort in those carbs.
65 Commercial Street, E1 6BD and 15 Poland Street, W1F 8QE, bubala.co.uk
Popham’s Bakery, Hackney
Taking the parents for fresh pasta in London these days feels like a no-brainer. Taking the parents for fresh pasta in London in a place that isn’t eye-poppingly pricy, poorly lit or prone to long queues and fast turnarounds... well, that requires some thought. Enter Popham’s. Sure, it’s in London Fields, but if anything that’s a selling point: nearby Broadway Market is built for parents, boasting a bookshop, a baker, plenty of handmade candles — not to mention the Fields themselves, which are lovely in every light. To top all that off, there’s Popham’s: warm, affordable and home of the happiest plate of pasta I’ve ever had. Truly, the doppio ravioli with beetroot and gorgonzola made me laugh out loud in pleasure. The dishes are discernible at the same time as being creative, thanks to the staff’s cheery readiness to explain everything, and desserts a sweet reminder that Popham’s are queens of bread and pastries by day, pasta by night.
197 Richmond Road, E8 3NJ, pophamsbakery.com
Fallow, St James’
Prices are more special occasion than every day at Fallow — but then, so is the food, which in its sourcing, sustainability and witty originality epitomises the “conscious creativity” tagline that chefs Will Murray and Jack Croft use to define their food. The menu isn’t for the faint-hearted: whipped salmon belly comes served in a marrowbone, their signature dish is a cod’s head with homemade siracha and mutton abounds. But then, there are more familiar-sounding dishes, like burrata, burgers (plant and beef) and in-house charcuterie. Besides, this is London 2022: zero-waste cooking and nose-to-tail is up there with Buckingham Palace on the list of London must-dos and Fallow itself is a real experience, with an open kitchen, counter seating, mushrooms and seaweed growing above the pass and a team who seem genuinely thrilled to be part of a restaurant that is a bit different, while at the same time everything a good restaurant should be.
2 St James's Market, SW1Y 4RP, fallowrestaurant.com
Quo Vadis, Soho
Refined yet rakish, conventional yet capricious, quintessentially British yet deeply European, Quo Vadis will take its diners in whatever direction they are open to travelling in. If that’s a legendary pie, pomme frites and bed, so be it. If that’s a dozen oysters and half a dozen Martinis, strap in; nobody does it better than executive chef Jeremy Lee and his accomplished bar team. This is the place for conventional parents, utterly wild ones, and conventional-seeming parents whom you have long suspected of having a wild side that just needs the right habitat to flourish. Quo Vadis could be this, particularly if you’re lucky enough to find yourself in the upstairs dining area, with its velvet seats and dizzying cocktail list, though the old school downstairs dining room also has an air of classic comfort tinged with expectancy. This is the place for a quick catch up somewhere central; a long, boozy celebration; and anything in-between.
26-29 Dean Street, W1D 3LL, quovadissoho.co.uk
Café Murano, various locations
There aren’t many places left in London where you’re likely to see the celebrity chef who backs the restaurant behind the pass. Angela Hartnett’s Café Murano is one of them. If she’s not cooking, she’s chatting to the team in full cycling gear as she prepares to make her way to another of her restaurants. In short, dining at any one of Hartnett’s three Café Muranos is likely to entail a glimpse. Plus, the food is great: classic Italian fare inspired by seasonal British ingredients, deftly executed by Hartnett’s dedicated team, if not by the leading lady herself. Each Café Murano is light, calming yet buzzy and has a private dining room perfect for big family gatherings.
Across London, cafemurano.co.uk
An aversion to sharing plates is up there with good acoustics and lighting as three of the more common denominators when it comes dinner with parents. Happily, Toklas provides the answer to all of them, together with a spacious, sunny terrace (weather conditions apply) overlooking a street encapsulating three entirely distinct periods of London. The menu is clearly delineated: starters are starter-sized, main courses are main course sized. Dishes change weekly, but recent standouts include bortolotti beans with golden bottarga, a Caesar salad popping with sweet English peas and a flaming pink wild trout lit up with rainbow chard. It’s a lovely post- gallery option, not least on account of its own carefully curated collection of art on the walls, but the River Café-level quality of the food makes it worth a trip in its own right.
1 Surrey Street, Toklas, WC2R 2ND, toklaslondon.com