River Cafe, Hammersmith
Best for: seasonal Italian menus with river views
¡®Who needs a restaurant? Well, cities do,¡¯ says Ruthie Rogers, founder of legendary Thameside restaurant the River Cafe. ¡®They are places of comfort where people come to be looked after.¡¯ In spite of the restaurant¡¯s dedicated efforts to provide loyal customers with high-quality takeaways throughout lockdown, many are desperate to return to the riverside terrace. With its manicured gardens, blue chairs at linen-covered tables and some of London¡¯s best pasta dishes, the restaurant never fails to deliver its guarantee of comfort in its most elevated form.
Throughout its 34-year history, the River Cafe has been home to some of Britain¡¯s top chefs. Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, Ben O’Donoghue, Theo Randall, April Bloomfield and Jamie Oliver have all concocted Italian-inspired dishes in the River Cafe¡¯s kitchens. Now, under the helm of head chef Sian Wyn Owen, the menu is as creative as ever. Antipasti include carciofi alla Giudia (deep-fried whole Roman artichokes with Amalfi lemon) and mazzancolle al forno (Scottish langoustines wood-roasted with parsley and garlic). Primi pasta dishes major on fresh, seasonal ingredients ¨C the spring-menu ravioli is stuffed with courgettes and their flowers, buffalo ricotta and mint ¨C while secondi courses of meat-centred recipes make you wish you hadn¡¯t eaten so much pasta.
The River Cafe¡¯s wine list is an homage to Italy¡¯s vineyards from around 20 different regions, including a Curtefranca Bianco-Chardonnay from Lombardy and a Barolo-Ravera from Piedmont. Olivia Morelli
Address: River Cafe, Thames Wharf, Rainville Road, Hammersmith, London W6 9HA
Telephone: +44 20 7386 4200
Open: Monday 12 April 2021
Westerns Laundry, Highbury
Best for: farm-fresh plates and funky natural wines
When lockdown part three hit, the team behind this Highbury neighbourhood gem quickly shifted its focus to a weekly farmers¡¯ market ¨C offering quality ingredients from its sustainable and regenerative suppliers and farmers for north London residents. It was so popular that the queue stretched hungrily down Drayton Park on Sundays and the flaky pastries (some from Jolene and Big Jo nearby), breads and colourful jars of preserves sold out by midday. Part of the same family as the beloved Primeur and Cornwall destination restaurant Fitzroy, Westerns Laundry has long stood as one of the best restaurants in the city.
There is a slight Spanish influence on the menu and whether you¡¯re dining on larger sharing plates or small nibbles in the olive tree-filled courtyard, it¡¯s definitely worth spending a large chunk of an afternoon here. You might find thinly sliced lardo on toast, salted sardines, creamy langoustines with classic marie rose sauce or flaky salt cod with peppers. Dishes run on the smaller side so save room for the rum baba for two ¨C a delicious sultana-packed piece of fluffy yeast cake.
Natural, organic, biodynamic, and low-intervention wines are the speciality. It can be overwhelming to know what to pick so speak to the team and get their suggestions on a zingy Italian or bold Austrian ¨C or something completely new. Katharine Sohn
Address: Westerns Laundry, 34 Drayton Park, Highbury East, London N5 1PB
Telephone: +44 20 7700 3700
Open: Tuesday 13 April 2021