100 BEST RESTAURANTS IN LONDON

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The Independent Culture
Just 10 years ago, visitors to London needed the skills of a detective to track down restaurants where the cooking was anything better than average. Today the city is heralded around the world as a great culinary capital. With so many places to pick from, we asked the team at the Time Out Eating & Drinking Guide to select London's 100 best restaurants, from haute-cuisine establishments to gastropubs. Every year Time Out celebrates London's restaurants, cafes and bars at a glittering awards ceremony where the policy is to reward all aspects of dining. This year's winners are included in our Top 100.

AMERICAN

Blues Bistro & Bar

42-43 Dean Street, W1 (0171 494 1966). Average pounds 20

The smallish restaurant is a lovely space, with simple cream walls and well-spaced tables. Choices include starters of Manhattan clam chowder; among the mains are salads, tuna steak, crab cakes and vegetarian dishes. The three-course set dinner (Monday, Tuesday, before 9pm Saturday) is pounds 10.

Cactus Blue

86 Fulham Road, SW3 (0171 823 7858). Average pounds 20

The decor is sophisticated, with muted desert colours, Native American fabrics and paintings and an under-lit marble-topped bar. The full palette of chillies, flavourings and regional ingredients that make up American Southwestern cooking is put to good use. The service is slickly professional, the tequila list long.

Christopher's

18 Wellington Street, WC2 (0171 240 4222). Average pounds 30

The elegant upstairs dining-room serves old and new American dishes - warm lobster carpaccio, crab cake, oysters, crab chowder and steak. Service is expert if formal.

Dakota

127 Ledbury Road, W11 (0171 792 9191). Average pounds 25

The new branch from the people who brought us Montana. Chef Daniel McDowell has Southwestern American food as his forte: the best corn bread in London, plus oddities such as barbecue-roasted duck carnita or Yucatan snapper.

BRITISH

Butlers Wharf Chop House

Butlers Wharf Building, 36E Shad Thames, SE1 (0171 403 3403). Average pounds 33

The Conran spin on British cuisine boasts a spectacular setting (in the evening the nearby Tower Bridge is spotlit) and a classic Conran interior. Dorset crab, fish and chips with mushy peas or an organic pork chop followed by upmarket crumbles and custard set the tone.

Lindsay House

21 Romilly Street, W1 (0171 439 0450). Set lunch pounds 21 three courses, set dinner pounds 34 three courses

You have to ring a bell to be admitted to this plainly decorated Soho townhouse, where the atmosphere is surprisingly informal. Richard Corrigan is a chef with a vision; diners are required to have a sense of adventure to get the most out of the experience. Try layered terrine of foie gras, sweetbreads with cured ham and truffle or ballottine of rabbit with black pudding and lentil salad.

RK Stanleys

6 Little Portland Street, W1 (0171 462 0099). Average pounds 17

Looking like a huge 1960s New York deli - all red leatherette banquettes and sauce bottles on the tables - RK Stanleys is a stylish home to both beer and sausages. British beers come bottled and also on tap; sausages include fish, vegetarian and Thai versions together with more conventional bangers. The portions are huge and the atmosphere is wonderfully convivial.

Rules

35 Maiden Lane, WC2 (0171 836 5314). Average pounds 30

An ancient establishment (founded 1798) with a sense of history that appeals equally to tourists and business people. Service is efficient and the food is beautifully presented and finely cooked. The bulk of the wines are "from the former colonies" including, somewhat cheekily, Aquitaine.

St John

26 St John Street, EC1 (0171 251 0848). Average pounds 20

The stark industrial feel of this converted smokehouse and the back-to- basics meat-based menu won't be to everyone's taste. But most people will be won over by the skilful way with which robust offerings such as jellied rabbit, roast bone marrow with parsley salad and Manx kippers are cooked. The bar is worth a visit too.

CHINESE

Fung Shing

15 Lisle Street, WC2 (0171 437 1539). Average pounds 26

Chef Wu, who made Fung Shing one of the best dining spots in Chinatown, died last year. The restaurant continues under Wu's protege, and its menu has been overhauled. You'll now find more traditional Chinese dishes together with the type of innovative cooking that first brought Fung Shing to the fore in the 1980s.

Golden Harvest

17 Lisle Street, WC2 (0171 287 3822). Average pounds 15

This Lisle Street newcomer has got off to a flying start. Its appearance may not excite, but the cooking expertly combines traditional flavours with new ingredients. Seafood is a speciality: pomfret, turbot, sea bass and carp are often available.

Golden Palace

146-150 Station Road, Harrow, Middx (0181 863 2333). Average pounds 9 dim sum, pounds 17 full menu

The dim sum - lunch-time snacks - at the Golden Palace are some of the most varied and skilfully prepared we have had. Highlights include: glutinous rice with sausages; steamed seaweed rolls; fish balls, and prawn-dumpling soup.

Magic Wok

100 Queensway, W2 (0171 792 9767/ 0171 221 9953). Average pounds 16

We know of no better place where non-Chinese diners can enjoy such a variety of high-class Cantonese food. Never again despair that Chinese cooking begins and ends with the stir-fry.

Mr Kong

21 Lisle Street, WC2 (0171 437 7341/9679). Average pounds 22

In the 1980s, Mr Kong, the chef, was at the cutting edge of Chinatown cuisine. The menus aren't so innovative these days, but dishes are executed with flair. Sliced pork, salted egg and vegetable soup provide an alluring mix of flavours. The cool attitude of the staff scarcely dampens enthusiasm for the cooking.

New Mayflower

68-70 Shaftesbury Avenue, W1 (0171 734 9207). Average pounds 17

The Mayflower can produce some of the finest cooking in Chinatown, although it's necessary to steer clear of the set menus for the best results. Try the hot pot of stewed belly pork and preserved vegetables: a classic version of a classic dish.

Oriental

Dorchester Hotel, 55 Park Lane, W1 (0171 317 6328). Average pounds 35 lunch, pounds 55 dinner

The Dorchester's Oriental restaurant is London's top venue for classic Chinese cuisine. Its main dining-room is restrained, not flaunting its expensive decorations. The labour-intensive dishes and luxury ingredients make best use of the Oriental's formidable kitchen resources. To cut the cost, try the set lunch - pounds 27 for a dim-sum banquet.

FISH

The Fish Restaurant at One Ninety

190 Queen's Gate, SW7 (0171 581 5666). Average pounds 28

After a refurbishment and a spell as a Modern European restaurant, the downstairs room at 190 is back on form as a fish restaurant. Great value table d'hote meals cost pounds 18.50 for two courses, pounds 22.50 for three.

Livebait

41-43 The Cut, SE1 (0171 928 7211). Average pounds 28

Although it changed hands last year and now has a Covent Garden branch, no negative effect been felt in Livebait's kitchens - the food is still making waves, and the service is as good as ever.

Sweetings

39 Queen Victoria Street, EC4 (0171 248 3062). Average pounds 25

Little has changed here since early this century when Sweetings started off as a fishmongers. The floor is mosaic, the counters marble-topped, and there is enough ice around to sink the Titanic. The menu is preserved in aspic - "real turtle" soup, potted shrimps, pudding of baked jam roll.

Upper Street Fish Shop

324 Upper Street, N1 (0171 359 1401). Average pounds 12

The menu changes regularly at what is arguably the best fish and chip restaurant in London. Own-made fish soup is uniquely creamy and bursting with fish flavours. Fresh fish is served in mammoth portions and with a huge supply of chips.

FRENCH

The Canteen

Unit G4, Harbour Yard, Chelsea Harbour, SW10 (0171 351 7330). Average pounds 27

A big glassed-in gallery overlooking the marina at Chelsea Harbour. Part- owned by Michael Caine, the Canteen has been through a few changes in the kitchen, but has stayed true to French-based but innovative modern dishes.

Chez Bruce

2 Bellevue Road, SW17 (0181 672 0114). Set lunch pounds 18 three courses. Set dinner pounds 25 three courses

Chef Bruce Poole and his assistants pull off something of a tour de force in these airy premises near Wandsworth Common. Extensive set-price lunch and dinner menus change daily. His cooking is smooth but complex, with an excellent selection of ingredients. Service is less polished.

L'Escargot

48 Greek Street, W1 (0171 437 2679). Average pounds 24 (ground floor), pounds 38 (first floor)

In the last 70 years this famed eating spot has known as many downs as ups but under executive chef Billy Reid the cooking is back on the rails. The first-floor dining-room is the place for formality; the magnolia-painted groundfloor restaurant, hung with abstract paintings, pulls in a more relaxed crowd.

Maison Novelli

29-30 Clerkenwell Green, EC1 (0171 251 6606). Average pounds 35

This is by far the classiest joint in chef Jean-Christophe Novelli's growing empire. The decor is a riot of clashing colours, while the solicitous French staff are sombrely dressed. Dishes sound fantastic - a starter of scallop and baby squid nage, chinese noodles, mustard cress and oyster froth, for example - and taste splendid.

Quo Vadis

26-29 Dean Street, W1 (0171 437 9585). Average pounds 35

A very pretty, serene space, with light-green walls, lots of flowers, gleaming glassware, and stained-glass windows. The menu is classic Marco Pierre White brasserie food (grilled sea scallops with calamares, ginger and sauce nero). The upstairs bar is decorated in a much groovier vein.

GASTROPUBS

The Eagle

159 Farringdon Road, EC1 (0171 837 1353). Average pounds 10

Time your visit to London's original gastropub to avoid the scrum, and you be able to enjoy robust, broadly Mediter-ranean dishes in relative comfort. All wines on the expansive list are available by the glass, or there's Gambrinus and Marston's Pedigree beer on draught.

Engineer

65 Gloucester Avenue, NW1 (0171 722 0950). Average pounds 18

A modish crowd regularly packs into the small L-shaped bar at this pleasantly decorated venue. The restaurant areas, upstairs and downstairs, and the commodious backyard are quieter, but you'll still need to book to sample the contemporary cooking.

Havelock Tavern

57 Masbro Road, W14 (0171 603 5374). Average pounds 15

A handsome, popular joint where the menu changes twice a day, but might include shellfish and tomato soup, pan-fried grey mullet, and poached summer berries.

HAUTE CUISINE

Aubergine

11 Park Walk, SW10 (0171 352 3449). Set lunches pounds 25, pounds 50, three courses. Set dinners pounds 50 three courses, pounds 65 six courses

Book well ahead for Gordon Ramsay's two-starred Michelin restaurant. Ramsey reinvents classic French cooking with an assurance matched by few of his peers. The tiny restaurant is run (by mostly French front-of-house staff) with unfailing skill; star-gazing is always an option.

Chez Nico at Ninety Park Lane

90 Park Lane, W1 (0171 409 1290). Set lunch pounds 34 three courses. Set dinner pounds 64 three courses

The atmosphere and decor are those of a very proper Mayfair drawing-room; tables are so far apart you can't eavesdrop. Nico Ladenis has always had a consummate mastery of constructing flavours, colours and textures. Go to Nico when you want to dwell lovingly on your food. If everything's on form, you'll eat the meal of a lifetime.

The Connaught

16 Carlos Place, W1 (0171 499 7070). Average pounds 60

The Connaught is grand in a clubby, deeply old-fashioned way: banquettes, chandeliers, mahogany fittings. The cooking is never less than cast-iron assured. Experience it inexpensively via the set lunch (pounds 27.50 three courses).

Le Gavroche

43 Upper Brook Street, W1 (0171 408 0881). Average pounds 70. Set lunch pounds 40 three courses including half a bottle of wine, coffee

Albert Roux has turned over the kitchen to his son Michel, who does an exemplary job of combining continuity with innovation - a meal here is something every Francophile should experience at least once (try the set lunch). The subterranean L-shaped room is dark, discreet, plushly understated; service is flawless; the wine list is fantasyland.

Interlude

5 Charlotte Street, W1 (0171 637 0222). Set lunch pounds 19.50 two courses, pounds 29.50 three courses. Set dinner pounds 29.50 two courses, pounds 34.50 three courses

New chef Paul Merrett has maintained the high standards set in these sunny dining-rooms. His food combines a light touch with bold flavouring, and desserts are unforgettable.

Mirabelle

56 Curzon Street, W1 (0171 499 4636). Average pounds 32

The most recent venture by Marco Pierre White. The once-famous Mirabelle has been resurrected: expect understated elegance and signature MPW dishes.

Pied a Terre

34 Charlotte Street, W1 (0171 636 1178). Set lunch pounds 19.50 two courses. Set dinners pounds 32.50 three courses, pounds 60 seven courses

The decor at this small restaurant is subdued, quietly modern, and can look cold, but the mood is friendly. The place has two Michelin stars, thanks to Tom Aikens' food: flavours are bold, presentation artful but not tricksy.

Stefano Cavallini Restaurant at The Halkin

The Halkin Hotel, 5-6 Halkin Street, SW1 (0171 333 1000). Average pounds 45

Cavallini cooks in a modern style, and does this very well - the high prices reflect the excellence of both food and service. Yet it's the place for haute cuisine without the excess - it's a cool restaurant which still manages to feel welcoming.

INDIAN

Cafe Spice Namaste

16 Prescot Street, E1 (0171 488 9242). Average pounds 20

The interior of this high-ceilinged Victorian building has been given a modern Indian makeover, and colours such as blue, orange and pink dominate. Cyrus Todiwala's food, from a long and varied menu, is one for aficionados to drool over; meltingly tender tandoor-cooked duck, the deep orange prawn curry or the Goan seafood pilau.

Chor Bizarre

16 Albemarle Street, W1 (0171 629 9802). Average pounds 30

Chor Bizarre evokes a bazaar with its assortment of carefully chosen but mismatched antique Indian furniture. The long menu is a refreshing read - not gimmicky, but with enough interesting dishes (many Kashmiri) to please both curry conservatives and connoisseurs. A real taste of the Indian subcontinent.

Kastoori

188 Upper Tooting Road, SW17 (0181 767 7027). Average pounds 14

The Kastoori is the best known and best regarded of the several east- African Gujarati restaurants in Tooting. Besides the more familiar south- Indian dosais and bhel poori dishes, are Gujarati dishes such as the mouthwatering tomato curry or the roasted-aubergine curry; African ingredients add further variety to this fusion cuisine.

Masaledar

121 Upper Tooting Road, SW17 (0181 767 7676). Average pounds 10

You can see the chefs at work over the tandoor, grill and karahi burners. The owners are Tanzanian Moslems, so the food incorporates East-African influences, but no alcohol may be drunk on the premises.

Rasa

6 Dering Street, W1 (0171 629 1346). Average pounds 18

This just-opened branch of an award-winning south-Indian vegetarian restaurant is grander and slightly pricier than its Stoke Newington parent, but its central location allows more people to discover the startlingly good Keralan food. From the tangy chutneys through to the brightly coloured main dishes, culinary flair and attention to detail is thrillingly apparent.

Sabras

263 High Road, NW10 (0181 459 0340). Average pounds 13

This tiny cafe in Willesden is the unlikely setting for some of the best Indian vegetarian cooking in London. Sabras' attention to detail and sheer joy of cooking lifts it above its competitors: don't miss the wonderful sev pooris or the very fine dosais.

Tamarind

20 Queen Street, W1 (0171 629 3561). Average pounds 35

This is one of the most beautiful basements in London with its gilded pillars, sand-coloured walls and seductive lighting. The menu is consciously low-fat with top-quality ingredients, the freshest and best spices, and an assured touch with the cooking.

Vama

438 King's Road, SW10 (0171 351 4118). Average pounds 25

This could be a smart Italian restaurant with its ochre walls and sand- coloured stone floors, but the concise menu has many unusual dishes which are attributed to Baluchestan (southern Iran) and the Pakistani borders with Afghanistan - essentially Moghul, or "north Indian" food.

Veeraswamy

Mezzanine Floor, Victory House, 101 Regent Street, W1 (0171 734 1401). Average pounds 30

London's oldest surviving Indian restaurant - established in 1927 - changed hands last year and this new incarnation is dazzling. The room itself is bright, colourful and stylish; the food is unmistakably Indian, presented in a lively, modern way. Winner of the 1998 Time Out award for Best Indian Restaurant.

ITALIAN

Arancia

52 Southwark Park Road, SE16 (0171 394 1751). Average pounds 6.50 lunch, pounds 14 dinner

The setting is spartan, the prices ridiculously low. Catherine O'Sullivan, former head chef of the Arts Theatre Cafe, is Irish, but turns out superlative rustic Italian fare. Don't leave without trying the bewitchingly good chocolate semi-freddo. Time Out's Best Small Restaurant 1998.

Del Buongustaio

283 Putney Bridge Road, SW15 (0181 780 9361). Average pounds 23

This small, parlour-like restaurant conceals one of the most interesting collections of southern-Italian dishes in London. The wine list (reflecting the owners' origins) is a good combination of Italian idiosyncrasy and Aussie approachability.

Enoteca

28 Putney High Street, SW15 (0181 785 4449). Average pounds 22

Enoteca looks like nothing special, until you spot the wine list. It's an exceptional, predominantly Italian list, balancing high price-tag, by-name labels with more moderately priced bottles from the country's trendsetting southern Marches.

Riva

169 Church Road, SW13 (0181 748 0434). Average pounds 22

Riva is a narrow wedge-shaped room with ochre walls, huge mirrors and a vibrant flower display. Classy Italian dishes are served by serious- looking staff to a loyal bunch of Barnes regulars, but should you make the trek, you'll be made welcome.

The River Cafe

Thames Wharf, Rainville Road, W6 (0171 381 8824). Average pounds 40

Superb modern Italian food served in a sleek, bare setting, made famous by the restaurant's two best-selling cook books. Only the very best ingredients are used, a fact reflected in the prices. Book well in advance for the Rose and Ruth gastro show.

La Spiga

84-86 Wardour Street, W1 (0171 734 3444).

Average pounds 15

Upmarket pizzeria where booking is essential, thanks to the lineage (out of Zafferano, below) and the food. Pizzas, pastas and assorted starters made with ace ingredients mean that this should be your first choice in Soho Italians.

Zafferano

15 Lowndes Street, SW1 (0171 235 5800). Set lunches pounds 16.50 two courses, pounds 19.50 three courses. Set dinners pounds 24.50 two courses, pounds 28.50 three courses, pounds 30.50 four courses

One of London's smartest and most celebrity-packed Italian restaurants, where the food also happens to be fabulous. In spite of the clientele, the place isn't intimidating. Chef Giorgio Locatelli is the man behind the well-nigh faultless food.

JAPANESE

Kulu Kulu

76 Brewer Street, W1 (0171 734 7316). Average pounds 12

This long, narrow space has a long, narrow conveyor belt and counter, in the middle of which stand the chefs, rustling up a river of nigiri and maki sushi which is complemented by non-sushi orders brought from the back kitchen. Winner of the 1998 Time Out award for Best Express Meal.

Matsuri

15 Bury Street, SW1 (0171 839 1101). Average pounds 20 lunch, pounds 40 dinner

Matsuri avoids the stuffiness of some other top-notch places, while the quality of food and service matches the very best. An emphasis on teppan means shared tables. The menu steers customers towards set combinations (all superb). Set lunches cost from pounds 6.50 to pounds 40, while set dinners go from pounds 15 to pounds 55.

Moshi Moshi Sushi

Unit 24, Liverpool Street Station, EC2 (0171 247 3227). Average pounds 12

This sushi bar started the new wave with its conveyor belt and colour- /price-coded plates; the site is a glass and steel box perched over trains rumbling off towards Essex. Besides the usual nigiri sushi there are daily specials (such as sea urchin) and vegetarian sushi. The branch at 7-8 Limeburner Lane, EC4 (0171 248 1808) is also very popular.

Nobu

19 Old Park Lane, W1 (0171 447 4747). Average pounds 30 lunch, pounds 57 dinner

After a wobbly first few months, Planet Nobu is now in a steady high orbit. The interior is pared down and minimal; the menu is perplexing, even for people who know Japanese food. The set meals are the simplest things to order, allowing you to work your way through the Peruvian-Japanese dish combinations.

Sushi-Hiro

1 Station Parade, Uxbridge Road, W5 (0181 896 3175). Average pounds 8 lunch, pounds 10 dinner

Just opposite Ealing Common tube is this little sushi bar which you could easily walk by without a second glance. However, the sushi is of the highest standards and puts many expensive West End places to shame. There are no conveyor belts, no video screens and no hype; no credit-card payments either though.

t'su

118 Draycott Avenue, SW3 (0171 584 5522). Average pounds 20

The sushi here (if sushi it be) sets the place apart. It's a modern eclectic take on Japanese cuisine, using presentation and ingredients you won't find in traditional sushi bars. The revolving sushi belt sits amid stylish SW3 surroundings.

MEDITERRANEAN & MIDDLE EASTERN

Albero & Grana

Chelsea Cloisters, 89 Sloane Avenue, SW3 (0171 225 1048). Average pounds 15 (tapas bar), pounds 35 (restaurant)

London's premier Spanish eating place. Award-winning chef Angel Garca is a superb meat cook, excelling at sophisticated variations on powerful Castilian country dishes, such as roast suckling pig or olla podrida (similar to a pot-au-feu). Fine tapas are served in the bar.

Istanbul Iskembecisi

9 Stoke Newington Road, N16 (0171 254 7291). Average pounds 12

An iskembeci is a purveyor of Turkish tripe soup, traditionally open until the early hours to serve this favourite hangover remedy to carousers. The menu here has been extended to include more traditional restaurant fare such as mezes, kebabs and grills. Vegetarians are also well provided for. Prices are very reasonable for the quality, making this the winner of Time Out's Best Bargain Meal Award 1998.

Lemonia

89 Regent's Park Road, NW1 (0171 586 7454). Average pounds 15

A lovely Greek-Cypriot restaurant with a Mediterranean vibe to it even in winter. Proper attention is paid to detail in execution and presentation of the dishes, and portions are large.

Moro

34-36 Exmouth Market, EC1 (0171 833 8336). Average pounds 18

Focal points here are the long metal-topped bar (where "mezze/raciones" are served) and the open kitchen, where carefully sourced produce is cooked up a storm. The innovative, frequently changing menu incorporates influences mostly from Spain but also from North Africa and other points around the Med. Winner of the Time Out Best New Restaurant Award 1998.

Pasha

1 Gloucester Road, SW7 (0171 589 7969). Average pounds 23

Beautiful Moroccan-style surroundings and a clever fashioning of a huge space into one where each table seems intimate. Everywhere is lit with subdued lighting, often by candles. The menu also has great appeal, and is good enough to convince that it isn't just riding a Maghreb fashion wave.

Patogh

8 Crawford Place, W1 (0171 262 4015). Average pounds 7

Not so much a restaurant as a New Age kebab shop, specialising in fresh Iranian grills using organic meat. The menu is kept simple: just a few dips, pickles, or cheese for starters, then a small selection of succulent, marinaded kebabs cooked to charred perfection. Patogh is a cash-only operation; no charge is made for bringing in your own alcohol.

Woz

46 Golborne Road, W10 (0181 968 2200). Average pounds 15 lunch. Set dinner pounds 24.95 five courses incl bread, mineral water, coffee

Woz (Antony Worrall Thompson) has gone brilliantly back to basics with this small restaurant. At lunch there's a short menu, in the evening you get what you're given (special diets can be accommodated).

MODERN EUROPEAN

Alastair Little

49 Frith Street, W1 (0171 734 5183). Set meal pounds 25 three courses

The softening of the once-spartan regime at Alastair Little Soho has worked wonders. A more user-friendly Italian-inspired menu (vegetarians can now eat here without apology) means that it's once again a delight to eat at this small restaurant. Little, one of the founders of Modern European cuisine, isn't always at the helm, but the kitchen runs efficiently without him.

Bank

1 Kingsway, WC2 (0171 379 9797). Average pounds 30

The product of a pounds 5 million investment, Bank is a noisy, busy success. The design is modern: bold colours, a Coney Island mural, a glass ceiling decoration. Christian Delteil's menu runs from breakfast through to dessert, via crustacea and some up-to-the-minute mains. Another plus: Bank makes a real effort with children (children's brunch menu, reduced-price portions at other times, high chairs, nappy-changing facilities).

Bibendum

Michelin House, 81 Fulham Road, SW3 (0171 581 5817). Average pounds 55

There's a sense of great anticipation about eating in the beautiful first- floor room at Bibendum. The high prices leave you expecting great things, and when the kitchen's on form you may just witness one of London's best eating experiences. The menu takes most of its inspiration from Europe. The set lunch is pounds 28.

Blue Print Cafe

Design Museum, Butlers Wharf, SE1 (0171 378 7031). Average pounds 27

The Blue Print has had its culinary ups and downs, but the setting - on the first floor of the Design Museum, overlooking the Thames - is so fabulous that the odd glitch in the Mediterranean-biased menu can be forgiven.

The Chiswick

131 Chiswick High Road, W4 (0181 994 6887). Average pounds 23

A contender for the perfect neighbourhood restaurant. Here, dishes are modern, but not over the top; there's an interesting wine list; and the olive-painted, open-fronted dining-room makes an appealing setting. The set meal (pounds 9.50 for two courses and coffee, available 12.30-2.45pm and 7-8pm) is amazing value for the quality.

Clarke's

124 Kensington Church Street, W8 (0171 221 9225). Average pounds 29 lunch. Set dinner pounds 42 four courses including coffee, service

Sally Clarke brought Californian-style cooking to London, and her small, well-rounded restaurant remains a leading light after more than a decade. The menus change daily, offering no choice for dinner. The high-quality ingredients and the precision of the cooking are impressive.

Coast

26B Albemarle Street, W1 (0171 495 5999). Average pounds 30

A stunningly designed goldfish bowl of a restaurant, with startling lime- green walls and details like chunky 1970s-style ashtrays. The adventurous menu usually succeeds, and the staff are charming. Oliver Peyton's audacious Coast is the winner of Time Out's Best Large Restaurant Award 1998.

Fifth Floor

Harvey Nichols, Knightsbridge, SW1 (0171 235 5250). Average pounds 30

A spacious, stylish restaurant on the same floor as the bar, cafe and food hall. Up-to-the-minute, globally-influenced dishes are served in an atmosphere a lot less raucous than the bar.

Granita

127 Upper Street, N1 (0171 226 3222). Average pounds 20

The lean, sleek Granita serves food impressive enough to survive the burden of being typecast as a New Labour favourite. Waiting staff wearing elegant uniforms serve the likes of wok-fried squid with a tamarind, lime and chilli sauce, or asparagus and prosciutto in filo.

The Ivy

1 West Street, WC2 (0171 836 4751). Average pounds 35

Booking a table at the Ivy is the only downside to an otherwise seamless experience - start trying weeks in advance. The V-shaped interior is decorated with oak panelling and stained-glass windows, and often a celeb or two. The menu is a crowd-pleasing mix of Welsh rarebit, hamburger, and salmon fish cake alongside more sophisticated dishes. Ser-vice is impeccable.

Lola's

The Mall Building, 359 Upper Street, N1 (0171 359 1932). Average pounds 24

The interior of Lola's is a slightly impersonal, cream-coloured space; all the excitement has to come from the plate - and it does. Juliet Peston's menu introduces foreign flavours in an intelligent fashion, but still has room for dishes such as calf's liver with black pudding, lentils and mustard sauce.

Mash

19-21 Great Portland Street, W1 (0171 637 5555). Average pounds 20

The bold new venture by restaurateur Oliver Peyton takes the form of a bar, micro brewery and restaurant. The look is futuristic urban cool, and it works. Food, overseen by chef Bruno Loubet, is a mixed bag of international ingredients.

Odette's

130 Regent's Park Road, NW1 (0171 586 5486). Average pounds 25

If it's good enough for Liam and Patsy's post-wedding soiree, it should be good enough for any couple in need of a memorable Anglo-French meal. With its gorgeous display of gilded mirrors upstairs, and cosy pockets of space downstairs, Odette's has romance in spades.

Quaglino's

16 Bury Street, SW1 (0171 930 6767). Average pounds 30

Conran's liner-like restaurant continues to steam ahead, the sunken dining- room is polished, gleaming and as impressive as ever. The deluxe brasserie menu provides plenty of choice, but the show's the thing here: from the cigarette girl teetering on her high heels, the kitchen-on-view and the theatrical crustacea "altar", to the diners themselves.

Ransome's Dock

35-37 Parkgate Road, SW11 (0171 223 1611). Average pounds 26

One of those rare breeds: a reliable and reasonably priced neighbourhood restaurant. Martin Lam's Battersea restaurant offers a monthly-changing menu, an admirably clear wine list, and a relaxed atmosphere. Children are welcome.

Stephen Bull

5-7 Blandford Street, W1 (0171 486 9696). Average pounds 30

One of the first exponents of Modern British cooking, the self-taught Stephen Bull started this, his original restaurant, in 1989. The cooking retains a dedication to that style, produced with skill and sophistication. The short menu changes twice daily. Staff combine professionalism with enthusiasm.

The Sugar Club

33A All Saints Road, W11 (0171 221 3844). Average pounds 27

One of London's most fashionable restaurants, in a street that's left behind its crack-dealing past. The decor is plain and simple, the food anything but. Peter Gordon's cooking is global in inspiration, with great attention to flavour and texture combinations. When he's in the kitchen, a brilliant meal is always assured. The Sugar Club is moving to 21 Warrick Street, W1 (0171 437 7776) at the end of July, while these premises will be relaunched by the same owners as Bali Sugar.

Teatro

93-107 Shaftesbury Avenue, W1 (0171 494 3040). Average pounds 29 incl pounds 1.50 cover

All the ballyhoo surrounding the opening of Teatro (the owners are actress Lesley Ash and ex-footballer Lee Chapman) can't obscure the fact that this is an impressive addition to the dining-rooms of London. The look is minimal, but comfortable; the modish food beautiful to look at and a gastronomic delight.

ORIENTAL

Kaya Korean

42 Albemarle Street, W1 (0171 499 0622/0633). Average pounds 25

Kaya is London's prettiest Korean restaurant. Waitresses ressed in traditional costumes shuffle along to traditional Korean folk music. Rather than trying to palm you off with the usual foreigners' food (barbecues),the waitresses may advise you to try dishes such as pibimbap and pickles; ask their advice about the chilli-heat of dishes.

Mandalay

444 Edgware Road, W2 (0171 258 3696). Average pounds 11

A cracking Burmese restaurant with a caff-like interior. The almost painfully polite Ally brothers welcome all-comers like friends, and cook intriguing, delicious food. The freshness of the ingredients is one of Mandalay's distinguishing features.

Melati

21 Great Windmill Street, W1 (0171 437 2745). Average pounds 15

Melati is the doyen of Indonesian restaurants, and survives the vagaries of Soho fashions. The long and reliable menu seems to be the key. Prices tend to be higher than usual, but portions are ample. Tables are close together and smoking can be a nuisance, but it's still the finest of its type.

Singapore Garden

154-156 Gloucester Place, NW1 (0171 723 8233). Average pounds 20

Still the flagship of excellence for Singaporean cooking in London. This and the Swiss Cottage branch (83-83A Fairfax Road, NW6, tel 0171 328 5314) exude the slightly staid air of established prosperity, but this takes second place to the food. Prices are surprisingly reasonable, the service unimpeachable.

Southeast W9

239 Elgin Avenue, W9 (0171 328 8883). Average pounds 20

The interior is ultra-modern, ultra-minimal and ultra-pleasant; Thai and other south-east Asian food is combined with contemporary London style by Vatcharin Bhumichtr. Dishes include Vietnamese spring rolls, Cambodian chicken wings, and a spicy beef dish from Laos.

Viet Hoa

70-72 Kingsland Road, E2 (0171 729 8293). Average pounds 10

This Vietnamese canteen-cum-community-centre is hugely popular locally, providing great food at low prices. The Vietnamese dishes are the best you'll find in London.

REST OF THE WORLD

Bah Humbug

The Crypt, St Matthew's Church, Brixton Hill, SW2 (0171 738 3184). Average pounds 13

Even though it's in a crypt, Bah Humbug hums with life. Cool music, ecclesiastical trappings and a lovely ambience make this one of the few vegetarian restaurants where you can make an evening of it. Occasionally the food lacks finesse, but it's always fresh and carefully prepared. Winner of the Time Out Best Vegetarian Meal Award 1998.

Belgo Centraal

50 Earlham Street, WC2 (0171 813 2233). Average pounds 20

Best described as Friar Tuck (the waiters uniforms) meets Blade Runner (the decor). Mussels, frites and beer are are to the fore, and the basement premises (descend in the giant service lift) are regularly jam-packed.

Mandola

139-141 Westbourne Grove, W11 (0171 229 4734). Average pounds 12

Booking is essential for this cosy Sudanese cafe-cum-restaurant. Food is simple, well prepared and uses fresh ingredients. Locals are fortunate to have this jewel of a restaurant on their doorstep; for the rest of us, it's worth a journey to Notting Hill to sample a taste of the Sudan. BYOB.

Mulligans of Mayfair

13-14 Cork Street, W1 (0171 409 1370). Average pounds 26

Expect well-bred besuited diners, tasteful shots of eminent Irishmen on the walls, a gentlemen's club atmosphere and excellent food. Dishes such as Strangford Lough oysters, herb-crusted rack of Wicklow lamb and baked fillet of Donegal salmon are all sure-fire choices.

Patio

5 Goldhawk Road, W12 (0181 743 5194). Average pounds 10

A nondescript facade masks this little gem. Enter and you'll be warmly greeted by Ewa the proprietress, and by the sight of long tables with paper cloths; this is a no-frills place. The pounds 9.90 three-course set menu with "Polish vodka on the house" is what people come for - make sure you're hungry.

World Food Cafe

Neal's Yard Dining Room, first floor, 14 Neal's Yard, WC2 (0171 379 0298). Average pounds 10

Inventive, globally inspired, totally vegetarian food in an oasis of calm above Neal's Yard. A relaxed vibe and a light-filled room lift the spirits; the fresh ingredients and puddings do the rest.

THAI

Bahn Thai

21A Frith Street, W1 (0171 437 8504). Average pounds 30

Bahn Thai has had its ups and downs over the years, but this long-established Frith Street eaterie appears to be back on form. The menu is still a lengthy tome worth serious study, with many unusual dishes, though in our experience the more popular choices are often the best executed.

Esarn Kheaw

314 Uxbridge Road, W12 (0181 743 8930). Average pounds 20

Esarn Kheaw specialises in spicy food from north-east Thailand ("Esarn"). For anyone familiar with the region, the flavours will transport you back to the banks of the Mekong. Not surprisingly people come from all over the city to eat at Esarn, and it gets packed, particularly at weekends.

Mantanah

2 Orton Building, Portland Road, SE25 (0181 771 1148). Average pounds 15

Tym Yeoh offers a wide-ranging menu that takes in the cooking of north- east Thailand and includes a large, distinct vegetarian section. Service here is hard to fault: conscientious and quietly friendly.

Thailand

15 Lewisham Way, SE14 (0181 691 4040). Average pounds 20

Thailand proves the exception to the rule that location is everything. It continues to serve food worth crossing London for - a beacon of taste and authenticity amid a moribund Thai scene. Don't be fooled by the name, though; the best thing about this restaurant is its Laotian influence.

Vong

Berkeley Hotel, Wilton Place, SW1 (0171 235 1010). Average pounds 30

This stylish restaurant is minimally decorated room on several levels. The dishes are modern interpretations of Thai flavours and ingredients. The "black plate" set meals (pounds 15-pounds 20, available 12-2.30pm, 6-7pm, and after 10.30pm) are good value.

THE GUIDE

The Time Out Eating & Drinking Guide, London's best-selling restaurant guide, lists over 1,000 places to eat and drink. Published annually, it costs pounds 8.50 and is available from book-shops and newsagents.

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