Counter dining is not a particularly new or revelatory concept in London, but is one which has steadfastly held a compelling charm on the city’s multifaceted culinary scene. There’s just something about the intimate set-up which has an entrancing effect, elevating a meal by experiential notches. Gathered here are my favourite spots in London, where the best seats are by an open kitchen, as you watch the chefs in agile action…
#AccidentlyWesAnderson interiors meet the perfect plates of pasta at this welcoming restaurant from Lina Stores, the Soho stalwart which have been long-standing purveyors of high-grade Italian ingredients. It’s a wonderfully welcoming spot, softly clad in the brand’s iconic mint hues. While there’s table seating in the basement, it’s all about counter dining on the ground floor. Watching head chef Masha Rener at work here, is as joyful as the plates of handmade pasta she adeptly hands over herself! Full review, here.
Lina Stores, 18 Brewer St, Soho, London W1F 0SH | https://www.linastores.co.uk/restaurant/
Possibly one the most fascinating restaurants in London, Scully in St James’ is helmed by eponymous chef, Ramael Scully.
Defying any singular label, his menu is inspired by the vastly-different culinary traditions of his mixed heritage (which can be traced from Bali to Ireland) and background (he was born in Malaysia and grew up in Sydney). Expect seasonal British produce transformed by Asian cooking techniques and a bewitching bevy of house-made spices, extracts, pickles and preserves. These binding factors are proudly on display by the entrance; and if you pull up a seat by the kitchen counter, you can watch as Scully and his team work their magic on the different elements… with rather ravishing results! Read the full review, here.
Scully, 4 St James’s Market, St James’s, SW1Y 4QA | http://www.scullyrestaurant.com
If you fancy journeying along the vast regions of Spain, hop on over to Calle de Heddon (just off Regent Street), where the former executive chef of Barrafina, Nieves Barragan Mohacho, has just set up her first restaurant, Sabor.
There’s an asador (grill) upstairs, while the ground-floor tapas bar centres on a gleaming kitchen counter surrounded by vibrant Andalucían tiles. The informal and intimate tone – matched by the disarming affability of the staff – lends itself to a wonderfully laid-back affair, propped up by unfettered flavours suffused with all the warmth of the Spanish sun. Just don’t miss out on the rhubarb and mascarpone tartaleta for dessert – it’s a striking symphony of cream and crunch with just that right touch of sweet tartness!
35-37 Heddon St, Mayfair, London W1B 4BR | http://www.saborrestaurants.co.uk/
Of course I’d be remiss to leave out mention of Barrafina. With locations across London, there’s still an immutable buzz surrounding the marble-drenched counter of this iconic institution. Expect thrilling (Michelin-starred) tapas and a deep wine and sherry list to get stuck into, soundtracked by the music of modern-day Spain! Barrafina, various locations.
The Barbary is one of my all-time favourite restaurants for it’s adventurous assemblies of big and bold flavours originating from along the Barbary Coast, married with Israeli influences. Practically every dish here is a thing of joy – from the Jerusalem bagel (studded with sesame seeds) and Naan-e-Barbari which double as a medium to sop up the lusty starter-dips, through to the wonderfully-naughty knafeh for afters. Expect a highly-charged setting too, with the passion and energy of an open-kitchen fizzing along the surrounding dining counter which seats just 24. Given the immutable buzz around it, a bit of a wait is inevitable here but effortlessly eased by the promise of small plates and a sesame-strafed Jerusalem bagel while you do! Full review, here.
The Barbary, 16 Neal’s Yard, London WC2H 9DP
Evelyn’s Table, Chinatown
Cosseted below Chinatown, this eleven-seater kitchen bar from the team behind The Palomar and Barbary, adds yet another dimension to the city’s compelling counter dining culture. The concise yet convincing menu is loosely inspired by Southern European influences. Daily-changing fish dishes are a headlining act, the stars of which are the fresh catch of the day bought at auction from Cornish suppliers in the Looe Harbour. Veggie options are relatively limited, but no less enthralling… Truffled tagliatelle with butter and parmesan, anyone? Oh and there’s plenty to whet your whistle too – as Evelyn’s Table is part of The Blue Posts, which also boasts a cosily clandestine cocktail lounge tucked away at the top! Read the full review, here.
28 Rupert St, London W1D 6DJ | https://theblueposts.co.uk
The Pizzeria Harrods
The only thing better than a pair of new heels from Harrods, is a pair of new heels followed by a black-truffled pizza at the gleaming counter of Harrods’ Pizzeria & Canti Prosecco Bar. The front-row seats are in particularly high-demand over the weekends when the head chef himself regales diners with his soulful renditions of Italian arias! As for the dishes, well they’re as devilishly-decadent as you’d expect given the location. How to spend a day in Harrods, here.
Harrods, 87-135 Brompton Road, Knightsbridge, London SW1X 7XL| https://www.harrods.com/en-gb
The curvaceous robata grill counter at Roka’s chic Mayfair outpost is another covetable spot and where I’m often found gossiping with the girls over endless rounds of lychee martinis, as we feast on their vegan twist on Japanese staples. Think veggie nigiri, aubergine glazed with mirin and miso, fiercely-grilled tofu skewers and a decidedly meaty rice toban (hot-pot) loaded with truffles and Japanese mushrooms. Truth be told, sometimes there’s nothing which hits a more richly-gratifying note. More Japanese restaurants in London, here.
30 N Audley St, Mayfair W1K 6ZF |https://www.rokarestaurant.com/home-mayfair
Also part of Zuma and Roka’s family of restaurants, this unconventional Japanese robatayaki in Soho follows on the heels of a successful launch of the first branch of Inko Nito in downtown L.A. The concept constellates on counter dining, with the unique design manifesting in counter tables arranged across different heights, each providing a unique view of the robata which has pride of place at the centre of the capacious room! Full review, here.
Which are your favourite counter dining spots in London ?