The London Film Festival kicks off this week. Time to travel the globe and fall down the rabbit hole for a dozen wonderful days.
Here are a few suggestions for hangout spots for a drink after whilst you pour over those ‘what did it all mean‘ and ‘my cat can act better than that’ conversations. We could all do with a little help around the South Bank and Leicester Square areas, for fear of ending up in a 1980s Haagen-Dazs and Bella Pasta timewarp.
Leicester Square and Surrounds:
Rules Cocktail Bar
LOVING Rules. Flippin’ expensive but if you luck out they’ll bring you ‘free’ cheese n bics to help the martinis go down. It’s old, has swirly carpets and sits above London’s oldest restaurant – opened in 1798. So it’s only 22 years younger than the USA.
Good for: a unique experience. Bad for: moody ambience – can we have some ‘rules’ about bright lights?
35 Maiden Lane, WC2E 7LB
020 7836 5314
Angel & Crown
New/old pub opposite the Salisbury.
Good for: a Leicester Square pitstop. Bad for: jostling at the bar.
58 St Martin’s Lane
020 7748 5244
Good, cheap, fast. And it looks it, but who cares. This is a great pit stop just off the Gerrard St Chinatown strip. Malaysian food is brilliantly rich and flavoursome – rendangs, satays, the works. Yes, bring on the saturated fats.
Good for: flavours and budget diners. Bad for: nice n moody lighting, calorie counters.
5 Macclesfield Street, W1D 6AY
020 7734 1382
Empress of Sichuan
Another Chinatown recommendation. Come for heat. All kinds of heat. And hot pot. Slightly slicker surroundings than some of the neighbouring restaurants.
Good for: cold weather. Bad for: unadventurous eaters.
6 Lisle Street, London WC2H
020 7734 8128
For those who have walked the red carpet, you’ve got a choice of two swish bars here.
Good for: glamour. Bad for: getting a table.
The Strand, WC2R 0EU
020 7836 4343
Experimental Cocktail Club
A French export, this is a fairly flash joint. Previously on this site was a really dodgy late night bar where the worst types of waifs and strays gravitated on a school night, once Soho had turfed everyone out. Obviously I never frequented the place – what a thought! Now it does what it says on the tin. When I went the staff were very chatty and willing to dispatch their worldly wisdom while you imbibe with gusto. For more than two people it’s best to book to be sure. I’m not really into this booking lark but if it’s a case of in or out, I’d sooner be in.
Good for: I know – cocktails! Bad for: the crowd, can get a bit towny.
13a Gerrard Street, WC2
Hawksmoor Seven Dials
Good for: anaemics. Bad for: ummm – vegetarians?
11 Langley Street, WC2H 9JG
020 7856 2154
Convivial, great wines, froggy food. Small plates, oh so many small plates. In fact they were an early adopter (culprit) of the small plate innovation. Tons of good wine choices, great service. Nice zinc bar. Good in the day or eve, when it’s very bustly.
Good for: wine hopping, cold cuts, ambience. Bad for: one plate of food all to yourself (remember ladies, men hate sharing).
5 William IV Street, London WC2N 4DW
020 7036 0660
Just a classic London pub brimming with original etched glass and mahogany.
Good for: a simple pub drink. Bad for: food, probably.
90 St Martins Lane, WC2N 4AP
A recent addition to the immediate area around Leicester Square, opposite the former Photographers’ Gallery. Sartori is a smart, clean and bright Italian, but offering that ideal and quick post or pre cinema meal – a really good quality Napoli style pizza. You could opt for a myriad of Italian chain restaurants around WC2, but this is authentic, albeit modern.
Good for: good pizza, avoiding the tourist traps so close to Leicester Square. Bad for: cosy ambience.
15-18 Great Newport St, WC2
Been around since the dawn of time (well 1964), this is a humble snack bar offering salads, falafels and salt beef. Very handily located just across the road from Leicester Square, this does eat-in or take away and is a much better option than the Burger King on the corner if you are cramming some swift munch between a double bill. Recently threatened with closure by Westminster council, oi va voi! Gaby’s had a bit of a reprieve it seems, and lives to fight another day, so do your bit and support an independent trader.
Good for: cheap and quick, veggies, bar mitzvahs (not really). Bad for: a date.
30 Charing Cross Road. London, WC2H 0DB
020 7836 4233
Les Deux Salons
This two–floored grand Parisian-style brasserie offers robust, classic French cooking in a big bustling environment of dark green leather banquettes, mosaic marbled flooring, aged mirrors and globe lights.
Good for: buzzing atmosphere, convincing rive gauche ambience. Bad for: quiet dining.
40 – 42 William IV Street, WC2N 4DD
020 7420 2050
This is a private club, but a bit of nous, nerve and charm might help you get in the door. It’s a thesp’s hangout in a lovely, skinny Georgian building down an alley slipped off St Martin’s Lane. Lots of little rooms clustered around fires offer a very cosy environment. Food menu looks heavenly. The trick is to say you’re thinking about joining, and is there any chance of a look round and a quick drink?
Good for: going back in time. Bad for: getting in – it’s a members’ bar.
45 Saint Martin’s Lane, WC2N 4HX
020 7240 7659
Bedford & Strand
I’ve got big love for Bedford & Strand, a basement wine bar and bistro serving traditional British and French dishes. Very well priced: it used to be one of the only decent places in the area for a bit to eat amongst all the tourist tat, but the dining landscape of WC2 has radically changed since this opened in 2005. Still looks good, feels good, tastes good. And doesn’t feel very London either.
Good for: popping in, quick drinks and food. Bad for: natural light.
1a Bedford St, London, WC2E 9HH
0207 836 3033
If you’re shuttling between Leicester Square and the NFT you’ll no doubt trot down Villiers Street, at the bottom of which lies Gordon’s wine bar. You would be right to call this an institution, home to many a secret tryst and nights on the swerve. Think subterranean dark cellar arches, candles, dripping wax and er….wine. In the summer it has a terrace for completely the reverse! (except the wine). It is said to be one of London’s oldest wine bars.
Good for: hiding, illicit affairs, darkness, atmosphere. Bad for: beer drinkers; getting your stuff pinched in the gloom – keep tabs on your bag.
47 Villiers Street, London WC2N 6NE
020 7930 1408
NFT, South Bank and Surrounds
The King’s Arms
If you choose to stay south of the river after an NFT screening, this is the pick of the Waterloo pubs. Perfectly located on one of the best preserved streets of railway cottages in the city, as you walk down it you feel like you are going back in time. The battered old Citroens parked along it only add to the effect. No wonder it’s firmly on the map as a film set location. Once inside, you have a double saloon bar with plenty of wood. Out the back is an added space mainly for eating but less atmospheric.
Good for: finding Waterloo’s pretty little-known backstreets. Bad for: grabbing a seat.
25 Roupell St, SE1
Tucked away from view behind The Cut, the proprietors of the railway arches along this street have joined forces and transformed it into a traffic free oasis – literally, it is stuffed to the gills with plants and flowers and each establishment has plenty of outdoor seating. Having an alfresco drink here you really feel like you are on holiday – there’s is an overwhelming ex-pat atmosphere here on a balmy night. For great value eats, EV does solid Turkish food with plenty of covers so you rarely have to book. Further along the drag are a few bars if you want to make a night of it.
Good for: alfresco, escaping the traffic. Bad for: fine dining.
EV 97-99 Isabella Street SE1 8LF
020 7620 6191
Gingham in abundance, trinkets everywhere. And to top it all off, they have resident cats. Purrrr.
Good for: something altogether different. Bad for: slick, Gucci glamour.
132 Lower Marsh, Lambeth, SE1 7AE
020 7620 1421
Maison don Felipe
Way too bright, way too busy, but if you do catch it at the right time you can prop up the bar and tuck into tapas and pretend you’re very far from the commuter frenzy outside. Except that this place is full of ‘em. Very amenable little place, it feels authentic and has really stood the test of time, having opened way back in 1987 – that’s positively ancient in restaurant years. You can even catch a spot of live Spanish warbling if you’re lucky.
Good for: Teleporting you straight to the backstreets of Jerez. Bad for: getting through the door.
53 The Cut, SE1 8LF
020 7928 3237
You know when you wake up and could kill for some pickled herring and beetroot soup? Well, this is the place. No seriously, the food is great, it’s on that Swedish/Polish axis. I love the drama of entering into the space which opens up at the back into a very bright and contemporary barn with beautiful amber chandeliers cascading down. Unsurprisingly, they take their vodka cocktails very seriously which go down very well with some of the gigs they host. Check the site for the lowdown.
Good for: a unique and contemporary dining environment. Bad for: Med food lovers.
74 Blackfriars Road, SE1 8HA
020 7928 1111
Not outstanding, but if you want fresh fast food with bite this will do just fine. Thalis hit the mark. From the owners of the Painted Heron which is a high-end Indian restaurant in Chelsea.
Good for: budget dining in a contemporary environment. Bad for: a slow-food experience.
103-105 Waterloo Road, London SE1 8UL
020 7021 0866
Anchor and Hope
This was a gastropub before the term was coined, and is still a perennially popular hot spot on The Cut’s dining scene. Robust British fare right across food and drink, but you may have to wait for a table as bookings are only taken for Sunday dining.
Good for: Brit meat, Brit beers, solid cooking. Bad for: large groups who want to be sure of a table.
36 The Cut, SE1 8LP
020 7928 9898