5 Restaurant Openings of 2013 That Mattered Most

By Mary Anne Evans  |  December 17, 2013

It’s been a good year for London, with a slew of openings ranging from a trio of restaurants in The Shard to Mexican, Indian and French restaurants that emphasise the cosmopolitan nature of London’s dining scene. Here is our selection of the openings that mattered most in 2013.

  • Fitzrovia: Berners Tavern

    Top chef Jason Atherton is riding high. He’s already seduced us with Pollen Street Social, its spin-off Little Social and Social Eating House, but these were small compared to big, beautiful, over-the-top Berners Tavern. A huge hit from the day it opened in Ian Schrager’s London Edition Hotel, its plush decor - white wedding-cake-style ceilings, huge chandeliers, and gilt-framed paintings and prints that cover the walls - makes you feel like you're on a film set. The modern British all-day menu using native ingredients like Orkney scallops and lamb from Kent, cod from Cornwall and pork from happy pigs at Dingly Dell in Suffolk comes courtesy of Atherton’s long-serving right-hand man, Phil Carmichael. The Edwardian/contemporary feel and the inventive menu established a benchmark for perfect British style.

    10 Berners St., W1T 3LF; 020 7908 7979

  • Tower Bridge: Hutong

    Hutong was a hit from the day it opened in May 2013 in The Shard, Europe’s tallest building. Inspired by the eponymous and legendary restaurant in Hong Kong, the London version offers Northern Chinese cooking at prices as sky-high as its 33rd-floor location. Of course, it’s beautiful, with wooden latticework, black lacquer and red lanterns, but all this has to compete with the spectacular view. At lunch, dim sum is the order of the day: delicate dumplings filled with vegetable and bamboo pith, crab meat, scallop and pumpkin; pan-fried chicken; or crispy shrimp rolls with thousand-year egg. At dinner, if you want a dish to match the panorama of London sparkling below you, choose Peking duck, carved at the table with style and skill. Hutong is expensive (that Peking duck is £58), but the pure theater of the setting combined with the skill of the cooking makes this a splurge-worthy experience .

    Hutong is not the only restaurant in the Shard with that view. Oblix on the 32nd floor takes its cue from the skyscraper setting for a menu of New York dishes from Rainer Becker, while the 31st-floor venue aqua shard, serving a modern British menu, has the most enviable wow factor with its three-storey high atrium bar.

    33rd Floor, 1 St. Thomas St., SE19RY; 020 3011 1257

  • Mayfair: Peyote

    In the same way that Indian (and then Chinese) restaurants moved beyond flocked-wallpaper-and-paper-lantern decor, striving for something a little more up-market, Mexican restaurants in London have been dramatically improving. The recent November opening of Peyote in Mayfair was the final confirmation that Mexican cooking has now come of age. As part of the stable of restaurants owned by Tarun Mahrotri and Arjun Waney (Zuma, Roka and The Arts Club), Peyote is smart in an offbeat way with wooden floors, banquette seating and beaded skulls as decoration. Executive chef Eduardo Garcia from Máximo Bistro in Mexico City, and Hili Sharabani have put together a sophisticated menu divided into different sections. The idea is to share the likes of cactus salad, crab avocado tostada, rib-eye with salsa, and churros with chocolate sauce. Tequila and mescal fans take note - the bar has around 100 varieties. After opening the highly successful Peruvian restaurant Coya earlier in the year, the canny duo of Tarun Mahrotri and Arjun Waney are conquering another continent.

    13 Cork St., W1S 3NS; 020 7409 1300

  • Mayfair: Brasserie Chavot

    Brasserie Chavot has joined the long list of excellent London brasseries that make Parisians wonder whether they are in their own capital rather than that of les rosbifs. But then again, it’s run by the French chef Eric Chavot, who’s returned from the U.S.A. to open here in the Westbury Hotel. The restaurant looks almost the part with its tiled floor, the requisite banquette seating and dark wood tables, though the columns and the chandeliers are a bit too posh and formal for authenticity. But it’s the sheer skill of Eric Chavot’s cooking that puts this brasserie on our list of memorable new restaurants. It’s not complicated stuff, but it’s perfectly executed: steak tartare with capers and mustard dressing; snails with small meatballs on a smooth potato purée for starters; a rich satisfying daube of beef or grilled tiger prawns with a fiery harissa for mains, and classic desserts like a vanilla crème brûlée that takes you back to the first time you ate one... in a Parisian brasserie.

    41 Conduit St., W1S 2YF; 020 7078 9577

  • Mayfair: Gymkhana

    Fans of chef Karam Sethi’s Marylebone restaurant Trishna rejoiced at the opening this autumn of Gymkhana in Mayfair. A gymkhana is not a pony club competition in the home counties, but a grand Anglo-Indian sports club from the days of the Raj. So the restaurant has dark wood panelled walls, ceiling fans, dark-brown leather seating and sepia photographs of Indian games like cricket. Start in the downstairs bar with a cocktail to kick-start a meal in the main restaurant that sets the standard for superb Indian cooking. Dishes are made for sharing: duck curry with coconut chutney and dosa to scoop up the rich sauce, and Keralian mussels with curry leaf and garlic naan. Main courses are divided into kebabs and tikkas, curry and biryani, game and chops with highlights like suckling pig vindaloo, and crab richly covered with garlic and butter taking center stage. There’s a lot of competition among high-end Indian restaurants in London, but the new Gymkhana has bowled us over.

    42 Albemarle St., W1S 4JH; 020 3011 5900