tom aikens

It’s a no-brainer: you want to ensure that you have a pleasurable experience when you go out to a restaurant. Unfortunately this is not always the case and we all run the risk of leaving somewhere feeling somewhat disappointed with the level of service or the quality of food.

In a modern world where fine dining is available on even the smallest budgets, this is a situation that I believe is truly unacceptable. I have extraordinary ‘luck’ as a food writer which often leads to impeccable service, but also take a lot of time to sniff out the places which promise excellent food and good service at every turn.

So, how do you find these top quality restaurants? We need to take a look at the features used to identify them from lesser establishments:


In a good restaurant, one telltale sign of its quality is that your server will come to meet your needs (orders, cheques, etc) quickly. There is nothing worse than sitting down for a meal that you know you will pay a lot for only to be ignored by the waiters and waitresses around you.


You can normally base the quality of a restaurant on its acoustics. It seems like a small-fry, but these are all things that a dedicated restauranteur will consider when opening a restaurant. You may be able to get a quick and decent bite in somewhere that is overcrowded, but superior quality will come with great people and sound control (case in point – Meat Liquor is dark and small but keep their queue outside. They understand the full experience).

These days, obviously, it is fair to keep in mind that  live performances are available in many restaurants and can really add to the dining experience. If you want to enjoy your meal with Live Music London restaurants offer live shows that are sure to impress (and perhaps bend the sound rule).


The most important sign of restaurant quality is, indeed, the food. Food should be seasonal, fresh, and – at least in my case – taste like nothing you could make at home. It may sound silly, but the quality of the bread at the beginning of the meal usually sets a precedent for the meal. If it hasn’t at least been baked fresh that day, there is little reason to put it on a table.

Thanks to food blogs and food columns by honest individuals (word, Lela London here), a little research means it is almost impossible to end up in a restaurant with dishes of poor quality.


Quality usually comes with location. If you are looking for the culinarycream of the crop then you will almost certainly want to look to London. I definitely have a bias living here, but will safely assure anyone that you can find good restaurants scattered across the entire city. If anything, we Londoners are  spoilt for choice.


Sonnys Kitchen London
Last year the Michelin star-collecting team of Rebecca Mascarenhas and Phil Howard (Kitchen W8 prodigies, to refresh your memory) took charge and revamped Barnes’ culinary wunderkid, Sonny’s Kitchen. Last week, I stiletto-stomped my way south of the river to finally get in on the action.

Surprisingly, Sonny’s Kitchen was no way near as ‘city’ as the duo’s previous projects. With eclectic art lining the walls and a sunken dining area creating an intimate dimension, the tablecloth-free environment was both exceptionally welcoming and relaxed. Fellow patrons included young and old, couples and friends, families and free-flying foodies: all smiling.

Smiling is rather contagious around dishes like these (come on – LOOK AT THE PHOTOS!). The Fiancé turned into something of a Cheshire Cat as he tucked into his warm wild mushroom, onion and thyme tart, pausing sporadically to tell me ‘this is going to be the best…this is going to be the best…’ like some sort of deranged mushroom fanatic. With that said, I’m almost positive I got googly-eyed over my starter of foie gras and chicken liver parfait. When layered with rhubarb and blood orange jelly on top of perfect slices sourdough toast, a blast of rich flavour coated each bite.

After taking a few incredible chomps of The Fiancé’s faultless steak, I focused my attention on my own plate. My main – an ugly composition of roasted veal atop thyme spatzle, jerusalem artichoke and chanterelles – could be the tantamount example: you do not judge a book by its cover. In fact, I could only reiterate Giles Coren’s tweet while he dined at Sonny’s in 2012: ‘I am having one of the meals of my LIFE’. Caps and all.

Desserts, as you would be right to assume, were equally excellent. First – a crème fraîche tart with wafer-thin fresh pastry that practically vanished into thin air. Second (but in no way second best) – a creme caramel with golden raisins and Sauternes which offered a succulent, fruity, and nutty layer to what is usually my least favourite pudding. Not this time.

Hidden gem alert.

Sonnys Kitchen London
Sonnys Kitchen London
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