The good times are rolling again

IT’S been a rough couple of years for restaurants, many of whom – beginning life bright-eyed and bushy-tailed – were stopped in their tracks by the credit crunch. High-gloss French restaurant Ambassade de L’ile and swanky Japanese restaurant Aaya were two casualties, along with Nobu’s sister restaurant Ubon in Canary Wharf.

But it’s a far cheerier world out there now, at least where wining and dining is concerned. People are spending, and doors are opening again. In fact, the last six months has seen a flurry of high profile new openings – many of them seriously worth checking out. Gordon Ramsay’s Petrus, formerly at the Berkeley, is perhaps the most high profile and is set to open on 29 March. If recession blues have kept you eating in, then it’s time to get back in the game. London’s gastronomical scene has life in it again, and we wouldn’t want you falling behimd. Here are some of the hottest new restaurants in town.

This eatery, modelled on a Venetian bacaro, fast became one of Soho’s most sought after spots and it’s always crowded. Jostle at the bar for simple Italian wine served in tumblers while waiting for a table, which you should layer in eclectic dishes ranging from snacks at £1.20 (the salt cod is great) to more serious meats, fish and pasta – cuttlefish in its ink and slow-roast duck are standouts. 41 Beak Street, W1F 9SB, tel: 020 7734 4479

Formerly chef Marco Pierre White’s stomping ground, this opulent neo-Byzantine style restaurant began life in 1873 but, after hitting hard times, was closed for a major refurb. It reopened last year to great fanfare and is certainly one of London’s grandest places to eat. Under award-winning gastro-pub chef Matthew Foxon, the menu is suitably extravagant, ranging from foie gras to oysters to ostrich.
224 Piccadilly, W1J 9HP, tel: 020 7930 0488

Hix heralded the rebranding of Soho as a culinary hotspot, and ensured Mark Hix’s stauts as London’s chef du jour. Food is a playful twist on best of British and is immaculately sourced. Fun starters include whipped squash with goat's curd, and wild duck on toast with salsify and pennywort; mains include grilled pilchards with three-cornered garlic and whole roast John Dory. 66-70, Brewer Street, W1F 9UP, tel: 020 7292 3518

In the former tea building on Shoreditch High Street, this is an ambitious space in which to insert a restaurant, for it could so easily seem cavernous. Not so, the Soho House Group has created a buzzy, well-priced restaurant that’s been hauling in hipsters and suits since it opened. Food is simple, generous and tasty, with an emphasis on pizza, all done with light, crispy crust and interesting toppings. Indispensable. 56 Shoreditch High Street, E1 6JJ, tel: 020 7729 1888

Terence Conran’s follow-up to the ultra successful Boundary in Shoreditch, this Irish-French restaurant has signalled a rebirth for the Fleet Street area. A gracious set of rooms within the old Reuters building, the main dining room is airy and colourful. Eccentric dishes such as lobster mousse jostle with solid roasts, great tarts and an impeccable wine list. 85 Fleet Street, EC4Y 1AE., tel: 020 7583 8385

One of the biggest openings of the year – certainly for City workers – this is the latest effort from Michelin-starred brothers Chris and Jeff Galvin. The church-like dimensions and features of the building were meticulously preserved and the result is stunning. Food is French with the odd Moorish twist, such as squab pigeon tagine and harissa sauce. 35 Spital Square, E1 6DY, tel: 020 7299 0400

A homey sort of place despite sitting in the heart of swanky Mayfair, Babbo nevertheless has earned plaudits for its heartfelt, expertly-executed Italian. The chef serves his granny’s lasagna recipe and this sets the tone for the rest of the menu, which features such (not cheap) stalwarts as roast rack of lamb, veal milanese, and Tuscan beef cheek in red wine sauce. All bread and pasta is home-made, naturally. 39 Albemarle Street, W1S 4JQ, tel: 020 3205 1099

Embodying the new trend for cabaret-style dinners, Circus features attractive, minimally-clad men and women doing everything from dancing with flaming torches to trapeze. Lights dim, forks go down and you watch, then it’s back to your southern-influenced American food – think delicious churasco sirloin marinated in chilli, hush puppies and ribs. Cocktails are great, and decor super-glam, making Circus the toast of WC2. 27-29 Endell Street, WC2H 9BA

Chef Bjorn Van der Horst used to turn out eclectic, first-rate food at Gordon Ramsay’s now non-existent La Noisette. Now, he and his wife Justine have gone solo and the result is superb. In the fine dining restaurant, food may well blow you away – calves’ brains, Orkney scallops and veal sweetbreads are mere staples here. The bistro serves affordable, classic French fare such as game terrine and coq au vin. 40 St John Street, EC1M 4AY, tel: 020 7490 9230

A super-glam restaurant and bar “concept” from one of Hong Kong’s most successful restauranteurs, there’s nothing subtle about this pair of Japanese and Spanish restaurants, but they are seriously buzzy. Set atop the former Dickins & Jones department store, stunning views and cocktails accompany inventive sushi and grills at Kyoto and tasty tapas at Nueva. 240 Regent Street, W1B 2EL, tel: 020 7478 0540

The Soho House Group has been busy this year and this is its finest result – a warm, stylish and cosy restaurant that’s permanently crammed since word got out about its delicious retro British food, of which the least expensive example is the rich, aromatic mince and potatoes at £10.50. Other delights are afternoon tea and a lovely breakfast. Toast of the town. 69-71 Dean Street, W1D 3SE, tel: 020 7434 1775