The last 18 months saw the closure of many old favourites from the London dining scene, which makes the efforts of those willing to roll the dice on a new opening all the more admirable. Here's where you should snap up a table in the coming months:
Kudu Grill – Nunhead
Kudu Collective, the small group helmed by Amy Corbin and chef Patrick Williams, has moved into a former pub near Peckham Rye. In addition to giving the old boozer a new look, they’ve installed an impressive wood burning grill in the kitchen in an effort to bring South African braai to South London. Put simply, braai is South African barbecuing informed by the various food cultures that have swept through that part of the world over the years. But ask anyone who grew up on it and they’ll invariably get a hungry look in their eyes and start to tell you about how it’s so much more than just barbecue.
Like the original Kudu over by Queen’s Road, the South African influence here is combined with classical technique and some very modern presentation. There’s a selection of smart starters and snacks including a pastrami-like biltong, oysters with tomato dashi, and curry crab with dill and cucumber – a nice allusion to the east Indian contribution to South Africa cooking. But what’s notable here is that while it’s all very slickly put together, the grilled meat and fish remain rugged and elemental. Aged T-bone steak and black bream come charred, juicy, and seasoned with wood smoke to appeal to the cave person in all of us. In the event that your inner Neanderthal happens to be a vegetarian, the menu has you covered with a braai cauliflower, goat’s curd, and kale. Pair the above with a glass or two from the tidy wine list and a follow it up with a creamy choux bun and rooibos tea poached pear and you’re set. Another great addition to the South East London restaurant scene.
Sachi at Pantechnicon – Belgravia
This multi-story operation contains shops stocked with ruthlessly elegant pieces of Japanese and Nordic design, a bijou whisky bar, and an outpost of international coffee chain Café Kitsuné. The final addition to the complex is Sachi, a modern Japanese restaurant that has taken up residence in the site’s large, vaulted basement.
The sushi counter that dominates one wall is turning out some very clever food indeed. The chef’s moriawase – a selection of sashimi that varies with the market and seasons – recently featured generous slices of delicately sweet lobster, translucent seabass, and an unusual but spot on bit of Scottish trout. The fish has been given time to relax and dry slightly so that it it’s well-textured and oily. Maki rolls made with tuna belly and spring onion are encased in well-seasoned rice lent crunch and nuttiness by a peppering of toasted buckwheat.
Some of the food does feel like you should eat it with a napkin over your head for modesty – it’s seriously decadent but very good fun. Gunkan – the so-called battleship sushi – topped with high-test Wagyu beef are show-stopping, as are the thick slabs of fatty tuna tataki in dashi and ponzu. The rest of the menu is diverse and surprising, featuring treats like little monkfish nuggets coated in puffed rice and served with tartare sauce, and a scallop, grain and artichoke dish you’d happily order two of. The list of cocktails, sake, and wine is extensive, leaving you somewhat spoiled for choice at first. However, the staff have all done their homework and are fantastic help when it comes to narrowing it down. It may have taken a while to get off the ground, but Sachi doesn’t disappoint.
Bao Noodle Shop – Shoreditch
The latest opening in the Bao restaurant dynasty brings Taiwanese beef noodle soup to Shoreditch. The trim menu is built around two variations on the classic formula: a rich Taipei style broth topped with slow cooked rib and cheek and a lighter Tainan style option that comes to you with thin slices of rump steak. In both instances the fresh noodles are just the right texture and the broth is deep and healing.
Those two bowls – plus the dan dan tofu option for veggies – would be enough to build a restaurant around. But you can also order a couple of the famous bao buns, a smacked cucumber upgraded with umami-rich eel, and boiled dumplings filled with cull yaw – intensely flavoursome meat from ex-breeding ewes. This is the ovine equivalent of those dairy cow steaks that arrived here in the mid-noughties and have now become the gold-standard of beef. The dumplings come on top of a puddle of crispy chilli oil and under a little pile of onions. They are unmissable.
Cave Cuvée – Bethnal Green
The new wave wine bar Top Cuvée went into lockdown as a successful neighbourhood joint with a local cult following. But the team’s commitment to supplying the nation with natural wine through its darker months have seen it emerge as a larger, more ambitious beast than before. Their latest project is a physical incarnation of their online arm Shop Cuvée featuring a not-so-secret neighbourhood wine bar with snacks.
This isn’t a place to come expecting five courses and petit fours, but if you’re looking for some well-executed Frenchie small plates to cushion a few glasses of wine you can do much, much worse. There’re olives, and oysters, and whipped smoked cod roe with ready salted crisps – all of which are ideal drinking food. For larger plates there’s a very well put together steak tartare – nicely aged and not overdressed – a dish of punchily seasoned braised green beans, and a terrine of the day. Lately, it’s been pork, pistachio and apricot, flecked with little black threads of trumpet mushroom and dosed with Cognac. The hard work here was done by George Jephson of Meat Fish Cheese, a local butcher, charcutier, and pork wizard.
It’s worth turning out just for the tartare and the terrine but the wine selection really seals the deal. You can crack any bottle in the shop for a £15 corkage fee but there’s lots of fun to be had working through the rotating selection available by the glass. Top of your hit list should be the Tillingham Wines SC20, a dry sparkler made with Pinot noir, Pinot Meunier, Chardonnay, and apples. It sounds a bit out there but it’s intensely drinkable.
Pali Hill – Fitzrovia
After lockdown rendered Pali Hill’s initial launch a false start, the central London newcomer came back strong last May. The site was lately occupied by the legendary Gaylord Restaurant – which served solid northern Indian food to Fitzrovia locals and BBC staffers for more than 50 years. The new residents are led by head chef Avinash Shashidhara – seen lately at River Café – who fields a menu of seasonal dishes that draw inspiration from various regional cuisines.
Standouts include Chettinad style veal shin and Cornish lamb biryani, both excellent entries from a chef that clearly cares about provenance. The real heroes though are seafood dishes, the sweet langoustines dressed with chilli, lemon, and anise scented ajwain – the spicy Mangalorean crab sukka that’s scooped up with little banana buns – and the homestyle fish curry with tamarind and coconut.
But what really sets Pali Hill apart is that the focus is not just on those headliner ingredients. The dal, the rice, the pickles, and the paratha all remind you just how special those things can really be. They’re all absolutely on the money and clearly made by people who care. Each of them, a couple of mains, and some time to work your way down the cocktail list and you’re in for a very nice evening indeed.