Gone are the days when a place at a restaurant’s counter was a last resort – the stools overlooking the kitchen are now often the best seats in the house. Whether you’re after a quick lunch or an all-engrossing evening of gastronomic theatre, we’ve picked our favourite places to perch with a full view of the action.
104 Bermondsey Street, Bermondsey
Now with three eponymous ventures, José Pizarro started out his solo journey with this tiny tapas bar in 2011. It has limited seating, but loyal patrons are more than happy to stand and balance plates of calamari and garlic prawns on the upturned barrels or nab one of the places at the tiled bar. You won’t find any innovations here – it’s all about doing the classics to perfection and nothing on the menu is short of excellent. Pictured top
34 Rupert Street, Soho
Squeeze onto a stool at The Palomar’s marble-topped counter and you’ll be bombarded with the flavours, sound and smells of North Africa, Spain and Israel. It’s this collision of cultures that brings so much life to the place and you’ll have front row seats as the fun-loving kitchen staff create, plate and serve dishes that wouldn’t be out of place in any of Tel Aviv’s hippest dining spots. Pictured
16 Neal’s Yard, Covent Garden
Once you’ve ticked The Palomar off your list, make space in the diary to visit its sister venue in Seven Dials. There are just 24 seats and a strict no-reservations policy, making the spaces at the horseshoe-shaped counter some of the most in demand in London, but a bit of patience pays off. Head chef Eyal Jagerman scoured the Middle East in search of age-old recipes which he’s lovingly revived on a menu that channels the flavours of the sun-drenched Northwest African coast.
12 Archer Street, Soho
When this opened in 2008 chef Jacob Kenedy introduced a menu designed to sate adventurous diners by offering almost every dish in small or large portions. Traditionalists can stick to a time-honoured starter-main-dessert format, but the selection of dishes deserves to be explored and shared, tapas-style. At the counter, it’ll be hard to resist the grilled rib of Tuscan beef with parmesan and rosemary as you watch the meat being perfectly charred.
28-34 St Martin’s Court, Covent Garden
The horseshoe counter at the centre of the dining room affords an equally good view of the open kitchen and your fellow diners as they slurp away at the nine varieties of oysters or tuck into the excellent fish pie or surprisingly delicious shrimp and scallop burger. Thankfully the stools have back rests, meaning you can lean back and take a break in between gorging sessions. Crisp whites and champagne take centre stage on the wine menu.
12 Stoney Street, Borough
This rustic spot under the arches in Borough Market has been leading the charge for ingredient-led cooking and its menu is shaped by what the traders across the cobbles are peddling that day. There are cosy candlelit tables to the rear but we love the buzz around the bar area at the front, especially for a quick bite to eat and a glass of fizz after shopping.
1 Upper St James Street, Soho
From looking at the outside of this venue, you couldn’t even begin to imagine what’s inside. Picture the elegant booth dining of the Orient Express and add plenty of gold art deco lines with a splash of electric blue. While most of the tables have a button to request more champagne, a seat at the counter means you can be kept topped up at all times by the pristine bar staff.
58 Brewer Street, Soho
Just a stone’s throw from his knockout Denmark Street restaurant, The Smoking Goat, Ben Chapman didn’t stray far to open his second barbecue restaurant. Taking the same fiery approach to cooking, he’s concentrated on the flavours of Thailand and the results are very impressive. The counter spans the length of the kitchen and with a fierce kiln burning away, clay pots filled with fragrant curries sizzling and a grill at full flame, there’s action at every swivel of the stool.
Last updated on 1 February 2017