New Year’s resolutions – which in any other month you might call “good intentions” – are all too often as admirable as they are anemic. Self-improvement is very cool, but does it have to be such a mob?
Starting again, running, eating a little better and not drinking, be sure to save them for the mist and heat of summer when it’s easy to step out into the blissful breeze and stick to white fish in a drizzle of oil. January – especially this one, with its seemingly endless series of frostbitten mornings and grinding nights – is perfect for curling up around campfires in pubs, drinking wine in the middle of the week, and taking refuge in restaurants that specialize in comfort.
Places like this are not mid-century cool and light servings and rushing towards the bill. They’re warming, joyful operations, the kind that always offer you another drink and explain that another half-hour out won’t kill you, and you’re an adult now.
Having fun, however, is no excuse for being sloppy. Below are nine of our favorites where expertise is within reach, but the instinct to show off is hidden behind a preference for being generous in large amounts. What sets them all apart is the brilliance in the kitchen and the dedication to fun among the staff. These are the places to stop, so do it.
There’s indulgence, and then there’s Otto. A traditional French restaurant might seem like an unlikely setting for the avant-garde of London’s restaurant scene, but in its own way it is; not only has he brought the pressed duck and pigeon to life – which are now served at the Ritz – but his critically acclaimed approach to spectacle seems to be being adopted at various venues around the capital. The owner Otto Tepasse and his team are always pouring champagne, carving at the table and setting things on fire (usually not customers). Food that is prepared with more and more knowledge is indulgent stuff, usually cooked with about seven types of alcohol, but there is also art and skill in all of this. A hangover may occur; a sense of amazement almost certainly.
182 Grays Inn Road, WC1X 8EW, ottos-restaurant.com
Fish Wings and Tings
Anyone who has driven into Brixton Market for a serving of breaded cod fries at Fish Wings & Tings knows that the restaurant can cultivate wicked behavior. By the way, the salty pancakes – and, incidentally, the mound of hot, guava-soaked wings – pair so delicately with one of owner Brian Danclair’s famous rum punches (Danclair pictured above), generously prepared with Wray and Nephew’s overproof rum. Experts will switch to rum and Ting, even more lascivious, and a certain vanguard in the fight against the unrelenting nonsense that is dry January.
3 Granville Arcade, Coldharbour Lane, SW9 FP8, fishwingsandtings.com
Despite its fine dining, Andrew Edmunds – the place, not the much-missed owner – has long had a reputation for a good sense of bohemianism and top-notch wines. It is, as I wrote elsewhere, “a restaurant of first dates, anniversaries, romances”. It offers a carafe atmosphere, an amazing sense of fun and top-notch cooking, a sort of French bistro that is used to devastating effect at Racine. But it’s the wine that happily leads guests astray: a list of carefully selected vintages, priced kindly, suggested with slanted smiles that are hard to ignore. Paradise, heaven.
46 Lexington Street, W1F 0LP, andrewedmunds.com
Lamb of Noble Rotten Cord
Noble Rot’s sophisticated framework need not be a deterrent to those with intoxicating intentions. Visitors who are as keen on wine as they are on food should sit in the bar instead of the dining room, because that’s where they’ll find the snacks and plates – yes, plates, relaxation – that sit so comfortably alongside so many lesser-known vintages. The thing is, Noble Rot shows up and starts timidly, but he’s perfectly prepared for a dose of delirium.
51 Lamb’s Conduit Street, WC1N 3NB, Noblerot.co.uk
Though closed for refurbishment – Standard understands it will be back at the end of the year – L’Escargot is on the list. Since its origins date back to the last days of the 19th century, perhaps this is not such a surprise. Brian Clivas Restaurant is a charmingly old world place. After all these years, it still sparkles, golden and beautiful as champagne. Amid the exclusive surroundings, there is a winking fun atmosphere; Between the dishes of a great Parisian brasserie, between pieces of sirloin steak smeared with truffles and foie gras, there is a soft, whispered invitation to order another round, drink a dry martini before savoring the fine wines of the old houses. Approach wisely and slowly, cheerfully, unravel.
st. Grecka 48, W1D 4EF, lescargot.co.uk
Bread and wine of St. John
The informal sister of St John’s on Commercial Road is a regular outlet for many faces of the food world. But don’t be put off, there are few better places to enjoy one of those raucous long lunches that tickle the senses and are always a good idea. The space offered by the restaurant, cavernous and relaxing, constantly requires the necessary excess. Think of a plate of smoked sprats, beef tongue in caper sauce and there’s nothing else to do but drink. And don’t forget to order the vodka sorbet: one of London’s best desserts.
94-96 Handlowa Street, E1 6LZ, stjohnrestaurant.com
Motor boat bar
JKS opened its newest restaurant late last year, a tribute to Bangkok’s bustling Chinatown bars. Guests who complain about adequate heat should stay away; those who like more can head upstairs to play pool with a glass or two of Jelly Bia, a tantalizing and iced mix of ginger, calamansi and Singha beer. It will be followed by any number of delicious dishes and a tower of lagers. And yes, lager towers can be easily filled.
st. Ruperta 30, W1D 6DL, speedboatbar.co.uk
Drink enough at Darby’s and the body of water that drifts between two towering blocks of flats in Stockwell will be even more impressive. It’s a feat of engineering, isn’t it, Sky Pool? And underneath it, tucked away in the Embassy Gardens, is something of an oasis: a ridiculously well-appointed restaurant that wants nothing more than to send Guinness, champagne and oysters in any direction. Preferably in the mouths of interesting people.
3 Viaduct Gardens, SW11 7AY, darbys-london.com
Upstairs in the French House
Gastro-pub? Do not even try. The Frenchman is a bit aristocratic from Soho’s shaggy, chaotic pubs; the whole thing has a certain non-Jewish accent. Headed by Neil Borthwick, the restaurant is a lively venue where the food changes daily but the glamor is given. Oysters and garlic jam may be a starter, aligot is often an accompaniment, main courses usually include marigold, skate wing or ox cheek. The wine list is concise but careful; they always seem to have Fernet Branca around. A room with gaping windows and countless paintings is a place where you can spend hours; fortunately – and to their eternal glory – no one seems to be in a hurry to overtake anyone. Then the pub downstairs for the last half.
49 Dean Street, W1D 5BG, frenchhousesoho.com