New Year’s resolutions – what could only be called “goodwill” in any other month – are often equally admirable and anemic. Personal development is great, but does it have to be this hard?
Starting over, going for a run, eating some better food and calming down a drink should be kept in the haze and heat of summer, when it’s easy to get out in the pleasant breeze and stick to whitefish in oil droplets. January—especially this one, with its frozen mornings and creaking nights—to curl up by bar fires, drink midweek wine, take refuge in restaurants specializing in comfort.
Such places are not places where mid-century cool and light portions and racing towards the bill. Heartwarming, joyous operations, operations that always offer another drink and tell you that going out for half an hour won’t kill you, and that you’re also an adult now.
Still, fun is no excuse for sloppiness. Below are nine of our favorites where expertise is readily available, but the instinct to show it off is hidden behind the preference for generosity over large supply. The hallmark of them all is culinary excellence and the staff’s dedication to fun. These are places to linger, so do it.
There is tolerance and then there is Otto. An old-fashioned French restaurant may not seem like an unlikely place to spearhead London’s restaurant scene, but in its own way; Not only has it brought to life the pressed duck and pigeon – now served at the Ritz – but its critically admired spectacle approach seems to have caught on all over the capital. Owner Otto Tepasse and his team are always pouring champagne, carving the table and setting things on fire (usually not their customers). The dishes made with an increasing specialty are indulgent things, usually cooked with about seven kinds of spirits, but there is also art and skill in all of them. It can be a hangover; There will almost certainly be a sense of wonder.
182 Grays Inn Road, WC1X 8EW, ottos-restaurant.com
Fish Wings and Tings
Anyone who walks into Brixton Market to buy cod fritters at Fish Wings & Tings will know the restaurant’s knack for fostering bad behavior. Saltine fritters—and a pile of warm, guava-soaked wings, by the way—are very tenderly paired with one of owner Brian Danclair’s famous rum punches (Danclair pictured above), generously made with Wray and Nephew over-proof rum. Connoisseurs will switch to the even more obscene rum and Ting, and they will be a definitive pioneer in the fight against the relentless nonsense called Dry Hearth.
3 Granville Passage, Coldharbour Lane, SW9 8PR, fishsandtings.com
Despite his fine cooking, Andrew Edmunds – not the much-missed owner – has long earned a reputation for his bohemian style and top-notch wine list. As I wrote elsewhere, “the restaurant of first dates, anniversaries, relationships”. A sort of French bistro thing deployed to devastating effect in Racine, it offers a jug-side atmosphere, a tremendous sense of fun, and some ingenious cooking. But it is the wine that cheerfully misleads guests: a list of carefully selected, graciously priced, recommended wines with side smiles that are hard to ignore. A haven, a paradise.
46 Lexington Street, W1F 0LP, andrewedmunds.com
Noble Rot Lamb Channel
Noble Rot’s sophisticated boundaries need not deter those with plans to get drunk. Visitors who value wine as well as food should sit at the bar rather than in the dining room, because there snacks and small plates – yes, small plates, relax – sit very comfortably next to a multitude of lesser-known produce. . The thing is, Noble Rot pops up and starts off timidly, but it’s perfectly set for a dose of delirium.
51 Lamb’s Conduit Street, WC1N 3NB, soylu.co.uk
Although closed for renovation – Standard understands it will be back later in the year – L’Escargot is one on the list. It’s perhaps not so surprising that Brian Clivas’ restaurant is a charming old world, with origins dating back to the last days of the 19th century. All these years later, it still shines as golden and beautiful as champagne. There’s a winking sense of fun here amongst the luxury surroundings; Amongst Paris’ great brasserie dishes, between slices of fillet steak topped with truffles and foie gras, there’s a soft, whispery incentive to order another glass, a bone-dry martini, before savoring fine wines from the old house. Come wisely and solve it slowly, cheerfully.
48 Greek Street, W1D 4EF, lescargot.com.tr
St John’s Bread and Wine
St John’s casual sister on Commercial Road is a regular outpost of many faces of the culinary world. But don’t be put off, because there are few better venues for those conquering long lunches that shake one’s senses and are always a positive idea. The space the restaurant provides is cave-like and relaxing as it is, constantly commanding necessary excess. Think of a plate of smoked anchovies, another plate of ox tongue with caper sauce and there’s nothing left to do but drink. Also don’t forget to order the vodka sorbet: one of the best desserts in London.
94-96 Commercial Street, E1 6LZ, stjohnrestaurant.com
JKS opened its latest restaurant late last year as a tribute to Bangkok’s bustling Chinatown bars. Restaurants that complain about the proper temperature should stay away; the more pleasant among the locals can head upstairs to play pool while having a glass or two of Jelly Bia, an inviting and frozen blend of ginger, kalamansi and Singha beer. Then there will be any number of excellent food and a tower beer recommendation. And yes, beer towers are easily refilled.
30 Rupert Street, W1D 6DL, speedboatbar.co.uk
Drink enough at Darby’s and the mass of water drifting between two tall residential blocks in Stockwell becomes even more impressive. An engineering marvel, isn’t it, Sky Pool? And beneath that, there’s something like a hidden oasis in Embassy Gardens: a ridiculously well put together restaurant that wants nothing more than to send Guinness, champagne, and oysters any direction. Preferably in the mouths of interesting people.
3 Viaduct Gardens, SW11 7AY, darbys-london.com
upstairs in french house
Gastro pub? Don’t even try. The French are the somewhat aristocratic of Soho’s furry, scuffy bars; there is a certain non-Jewish touch to everything. With Neil Borthwick at the helm, the restaurant is a noisy room where the food changes daily but the brightness is given. Oysters and confit garlic can start, the aligot is usually on one side, the main course usually includes brill or maybe a skate wing or maybe an ox cheek. The wine list is concise but careful; There always seems to be Fernet Branca. The room, with its facing windows and innumerable paintings, is a room to spend hours in; luckily – and to their everlasting reputation – it seems like no one is in a hurry to fire anyone. Then the downstairs pub for the last half.
49 Dean Street, W1D 5BG, frenchhousesoho.com