My bank balance is testament to the fact that over the last fifteen years of working in central London I’ve visited a lot of restaurants. While there are many great places to go for classy but casual dining, the two that really stand out for me are The Riding House Café and The Dean Street Townhouse. Both offer a relaxed atmosphere in smart surroundings and, while there’s no doubt they’re trendy, they lack the snob factor that comes with some London venues.
The restaurants are fairly similar in style – think dark paneling, luxe wallpaper, low lighting, exposed brick and cosy, velvet seating – but the menus are different enough to warrant a visit to both (like we need an excuse).
The restaurant at The Dean street Townhouse is in bustling Soho and, with its bold furnishings and dazzling chandeliers, is the most sumptuous of the two. It’s frequented by celebs and media types and the walls are adorned with artwork by Tracey Emin and Damien Hirst. As a result it does fancy itself a bit but is by no means pretentious; most of the clientele are ordinary folk like you and me looking for a bit of glamour. Equally, The Riding House Café is a media favourite due to its close proximity to the BBC on Portland Place. Of the two, this is more understated and chilled out, and during the week it tends to play host to those wining and dining clients rather than people looking to see and be seen. This makes it a great venue for those who prefer an unfussy atmosphere whilst still appreciating slick interiors.
What to wear
Neither restaurant has a dress code (although Soho House & Co – the company that own The Dean Street Townhouse – have a ‘no suits’ thing going on in their members clubs). Elegant with an informal twist is the way to go. Jeans or chinos and a shirt work well for the fellas while us ladies could try Reiss or L.K. Bennett for a smart but relaxed look. Don’t despair if funds don’t stretch to this, though; you can easily pass in a bit of pimped up Primark (I speak from experience).
Whatever you wear, make sure it’s something you feel comfortable in, as in both venues you have to walk the length of the bar to visit the loo and you don’t want to be regretting those 6 inch heels by doing your best Bambi impression on the way.
Where to sit
The best place at The Riding House Café has to be the sharing table. This seats twenty and offers the perfect opportunity to break bread with total strangers. I accept that the prospect fills most Londoners with horror, though, so alternatively I’d go for a table by the window where you can take in the buzz of the restaurant from a respectably British distance.
At Dean Street you want either a circular booth-style table for dinner or one of the cosy armchair tables for afternoon tea. Personally I’d go for the latter as these have a luxurious feel and are the perfect place to sit back and people watch whilst pretending to be one half of Mr and Mrs Smith (who did, incidentally, review this hotel for one of their books).
They also have a terrace where you can relax in the sunshine on vibrant Dean Street and get a good view of who’s coming in and out. Whatever you do, avoid the tables near the bar unless you want to spend the evening getting more acquainted with the waiters’ elbows than your companion.
What to eat
Having eaten at both places before I started blogging I don’t have any photos of the food (these pics were taken when I whipped in and out over the weekend.) But take my word for it, the chorizo hash brown at Riding House is divine; smoky sausage, runny poached eggs and lovely, crispy coated potato. For a different take on dessert grab the strawberry and mango lasagne. At Dean Street, try the Roast Banham chicken which you can share between two, followed by the chocolate tart with pistachio ice cream. I still dream about it to this day…
What to drink
Both restaurants serve a mean cocktail. Go for the Miami Vice at Riding House for a hit of gooseberry infused Tanqueray gin, and try Caroline Marches On at Dean Street for the perfect drop of summer fizz.
What’s the damage?
You’re looking at around £100 for two guests both having a main, dessert, side dish and two cocktails. Admittedly this is somewhat more than you’d pay in Pizza Express but it’s definitely worth it if you’re looking for somewhere that little bit special, perhaps for a celebration or just an unexpected surprise for a loved one (hint hint hubby…) You can also just drop by for a drink if you’d prefer but get there before the rush; seats at the bar are like gold dust in both venues.
I hope this has been helpful in giving you some ideas for smart but accessible places to eat in central London. Have you got any favourites of your own? Give me the goss.