London is huge, and full of tourist traps. But it's also full of absolute gems waiting patiently to be discovered. The trick is to build a collection of firm favourites to plan your evenings, weekends and special occasions to get "bang for your buck" (one of my most overused phrases, I can only apologise). It's always good to have an eclectic roster of restaurants up your sleeve, especially when you have friends and family coming to stay, taking the pressure off the decision-making process.
So, I thought I'd pull together my top five favourite spots and their mouth-watering signature dishes:
Rosewood London, 252 High Holborn, London WC1V 7EN
This hotel, located in Holborn, is quintessentially British without being cliché. It offers next level luxury without showing off. Yes, this is one of the world's most respected ultra-luxury hotel groups, but is it intimidating? Nope; it's welcoming, warm and humble in it's list of offerings. I recommend the breakfast hosted usually in the Mirror Room (a striking salon adorned with mirrors) and in particular the eggs 'royal' which comes with potato rosti and gorgeous smoke salmon. For dinner, the Holborn Dining Room is a hidden gem with a killer menu; my favourite being the Roast rib eye "club cut" with pepper sauce and crispy onions. The dessert menu is classic with unique twists, such as the warm chocolate poached pear presented in a lovely tea cup. The prices are not extortionate (a main at around £26, sides £4 each), and I promise you'll be commenting on the stunning surrounding decor for most of your meal. After dinner, you'll probably start to hear music and chatter coming from the iconic Scarfes Bar where you'll find complimentary live jazz.
Sweet Thursday, 95 Southgate Road, London N1 3JS
I love places that cater for pit-stop catch ups with friends. This lovely café slash wine shop has a mixed menu of small snacks or bigger meals. It's extremely relaxed, they serve Neapolitan style pizza from 12pm every day (which you can eat in or take away), or you can just order their delicious dough balls with yoghurt and herb dip or olives along with your coffee. The big open stove in the back corner permanently warms up the open plan room; perfect for a winter.
Forge & Co, 154-158 Shoreditch High Street, E1 6HU
Forge & Co is a lot of things all rolled into one. It's a 'social space' and that means it suits us millennials down to a T, offering food and work spaces for those wanting to work on their blog posts or freelance work. There is an incredible selection of spirits and liqueurs "from Japanese whiskeys to artisan aperitifs" (not recommending you mix these with your work deadlines, however). The Sunday roast is rather excellent, I recommend the whole Devon chicken in butter beans, tomato & rosemary which is set at a reasonable price for two at £30.
Homeslice Pizza, 13 Neal's Yard, London WC2H 9DP
Homeslice began with just a hand-built wood fire oven in the middle of an East London brewery, and it's pretty much still that same set-up but now located in iconic Neal's Yard. This can't really count as a secret spot as it's location is partly outside making it difficult to miss; it's busy, noisy and full of hustle and bustle. The Prosecco and wine is given to you by the bottle and you just pay for how much you drink. Clever, as you often end up tucking into most of the bottle. The pizzas are wood-fired, huge and absolutely delicious. IMHO, the best pizza outside of Italy.
Joe Allen, 3 Exeter Street, WC2E 7DT
This is one of my all time favourite restaurants in London. Despite having now lived here for almost five years, it still gives me that new "big city" buzz again and again. This restaurant first opened in 1977 and since then has always been a dinner venue before or after theatre. It is relaxed, informal and they welcome very late dining (booking a table at midnight is the norm). The staff are training actors, producers and directors and the cast and crew of the West End's best theatrical productions adding an extra layer of electricity to the atmosphere. The food is very American; I recommend the eggs benedict, perfect for a light evening snack guaranteed to fill you up.