It’s miserable, wet and cold in January, and you’re still thinking wistfully/shudderingly (delete as appropriate) about what you got up to in the run-up to Christmas, to say nothing of the day itself, and on New Year’s Eve. Some of you might have sworn off going out for meals and drinking alcohol during this month, to which all we can do is sigh, shake our heads and suggest that you wait until either February (alas, 29 days this year) or Lent to practice abstinence.
For the rest of us, it’s an opportunity to go to a London restaurant that’s not only offering some of the most comforting meals imaginable, but where you’ve got a considerably better chance of getting a table at short night. Here are three of our favourite new openings of last year, that offer superb food at more than reasonable prices, and which are designed to gladden even the glummest heart in this underwhelming season.
Bar Rioja at Camino King’s Cross
It’s often been said that Brits taking the Eurostar arrive in Paris’s Gare du Nord and swiftly become overwhelmed by the cornucopia of culinary offerings ahead of them. Well, it has to be said that Parisians don’t do too badly when they arrive at King’s Cross, either. Not only are there the manifold delights of the Coal Drops Yard development, but literally a stone’s throw from the station is the ever-excellent Camino King’s Cross, which has recently welcomed a new aperitivo bar, Bar Rioja, which brings a 40-cover bijou sensibility to the existing tapas bar and restaurant.
If you want to sample small plates done with some style by executive chef Nacho del Campo, you won’t be disappointed; highlights included the Arroz Negro, black rice served with cuttlefish and squid ink, and some exceptionally fine croquettas, and the suckling pig of dreams. Wash the whole lot down with a bottle of superb Pazos de Lusco Albariño, and make sure that you leave space for dessert, too; the baked Basque cheesecake and the chocolate ganache are truly superlative and will warm you up on these miserable cold evenings.
Bar Rioja, 3 Varnishers Yard, Regent Quarter, London N1 9FD. For more information, please visit www.barrioja.co.uk.
Gaucho Covent Garden
In the first decade of this millennium, Gaucho restaurants were ubiquitous; the combination of excellent Argentine beef, fine Malbecs and cocktails and buzzy, fun restaurants made them the place to be. Over the course of the past few years, though, their star seems to have waned slightly, as any number of other steakhouses have arrived on the scene to offer some serious rivalry. This new Covent Garden opening then – the first London restaurant to join the group in a decade – has a lot to live up to, and, judging by the buzz and excitement on our visit, it’s in pole position to reclaim its crown.
We’re whipped through everything from starters of sea bass ceviche and sauteed prawns to the MVP, superlative cuts of ribeye and sirloin that are brought to our table for inspection before being perfectly cooked and served with a cornucopia of sides and dips including – naturally – superb chimichurri. It is almost obligatory to order a Malbec when you come here, and if you plump for the Viña Patricia, you’re going to leave here cooing and sighing in rapture and delight. Which is, frankly, exactly as it ought to be.
For more information, and booking, please visit www.gauchorestaurants.com. Photo by JW Howard.
Fish Game (main photo)
Canary Wharf has, surreptitiously, become one of London’s most interesting places to go and dine over the last couple of years, which means that even those who don’t do their Masters-of-the-Universe act round here might venture East, courtesy of the swishy Elizabeth Line. When you reach here, there’s a particular treat in store in the form of Fish Game, an offshoot of the excellent Macellaio group. Situated close to one of the many wharfs and skyscrapers that make up the area, the menu is- as the name suggests – heavy on both fish and game, the former of which makes up a brace of outstanding starters, in the form of chargrilled squid with spicy cavolo nero and octopus and bone marrow.
We then opted for an unusual but delightful main to share, a Milanese steak on the bone, and the meal concluded with a very fine tiramisu, made fresh at the table. Wine selection by the glass is excellent; try the Vermentino to start, and then the Brolo with the main courses, the altogether more inexpensive (but nonetheless impressive) cousin of the rather pricier Barolo. There’s a buzz and a heady atmosphere here that’s miles away from ideas of what we usually associate with the ‘Wharf; it’s a true pleasure to visit.
Fish Game, 14 Water St, London E14 5GX. For more information and bookings, please visit www.fishgamerestaurant.co.uk. Photos by Matthew Hague.