Autumn in London's Restaurants

However much we claim to admire light, healthy cooking and crisp organic vegetables, the LondonTown.com restaurant team have butter flowing in their veins, and our dreams tremble with semi-liquid cheeses and salty pork products. For most of the year, we reflect our readers' desire to avoid coronary heart disease, but as the cold autumn nights draw in, frankly, nobody much fancies sushi. Hot roasts, rich spices, and shameless gluttony are the order of the day (though there is also plenty of low-fat seasonal cuisine, particularly healthy fish and game dishes). Below are ten of the most comforting, warming places to indulge yourself on a damp autumn evening.

Autumn in London's Restaurants
 

The Cinnamon Club

The Old Westminster Library, 30 Great Smith Street, SW1
Best for Exotica
When it opened in 2001, The Cinnamon Club changed the way we look at Indian food. While most gourmet Indian restaurants focus on authentic regional cuisine, The Cinnamon Club glories in the endless possibilities that open up when you mix and match these dozens of cuisines, and throw in a few European ideas as well. The menu changes daily and at this time of year it's full of fabulous autumnal concoctions like a saddle of Scottish red deer subtly pickled in fresh Cochin spices, or grouse flavoured with cloves in a black lentil sauce. It's all housed in the old Westminster Library, a high-vaulted Victorian bastion of learning that feels bright and airy on the most miserable November evening.
 
The sheer ambition of the cuisine means that an occasional disappointing dish can creep in, but it also means that you can get the kind of light, delicate dishes that Indian restaurants are traditionally very bad at. It's worth asking the knowledgeable staff for advice, because on a good day - and especially at this time of year - this is one of the most extraordinary dining experiences available anywhere in the world.
 
 
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Autumn in London's Restaurants
 

J Sheekey

St Martin's Court, WC2
Best for Tradition
From the moment you step into the understated elegance of the dining room, you know that you're in for a serious slice of traditional Britain. Unlike its sister restaurants The Ivy and Caprice, Sheekey's is welcoming and unpretentious, with charming staff and a menu that doesn't require fluent French or a food encyclopaedia. The gentlemen's club atmosphere is further enhanced by deliciously stodgy puddings - spotted dick, treacle tart and other nursery fare - and an insistence that smoking is allowed anywhere in the room, which makes it a favourite with actors and media types.
 
Fish is J Sheekey's specialty, and you won't find it fresher anywhere in the capital, their menu changing daily to reflect the best of the catch. In general, the ingredients are left to speak for themselves, in the simplest and most perfectly prepared mounds of shellfish, whole crustaceans, and fried fillets. However, if you really want a proper autumn comforter, there is only one place to go: the Fish Pie. This miracle of a dish wraps mind and stomach in a satisfied glow that drives away all thoughts of chill autumn air.
 
A faultless restaurant and very reasonably priced considering the quality.
 
 
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Autumn in London's Restaurants
 

Square Pie Company

Spitalfields Market, 16 Horner Square, E1
Best for Takeaway
The three major autumn food groups of meat, gravy, and pastry are all to be found in their most perfect form in the outstanding pies of this Spitalfields staple. There are usually a dozen or so different pies on the menu, currently including such oddities as Piri-Piri Chicken, and Mushroom and Asparagus, but on a chilly lunchtime in autumn, when breath steams and fingers freeze, there is nothing that can beat the classic Steak and Ale Pie. A light, flaky pastry bursts open to reveal a magnificent stew of British organic beef and nut-brown gravy.
 
The Lamb and Rosemary is also superb, redolent with herb flavours, and their seasonal offerings are often equally impressive. It's a bit pricier than your local chippie, but these pies are as good as anything you'll get served in a modish gastropub, with the added sensual pleasures of takeaway food. A meal that always seems to end with you licking pastry flakes and gravy off your fingers, and feeling about 5 degrees warmer than when you started.
 
 
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Autumn in London's Restaurants
 

Morgan M's

489 Liverpool Road, N7
Best for Haute Cuisine
Morgan Meunier set up his restaurant in an abandoned ex-pub at the wrong end of Islington, and worked a quiet culinary miracle. The French/British menu owes a great deal to the Ramsays and Rhodeses of this world, with simple ingredients combined in glorious ways. Meat is free range, organic and mostly from the UK, the fish is magically fresh, and there's even a full vegetarian tasting menu, with plenty of seasonal treats like pumpkin and fungi. The presentation is gorgeous too.
 
I suspect that there are three things keeping this place from a Michelin star: the service is laidback and charming; the location is unfashionable; and the prices are sensible. None of these should keep you from visiting immediately and enjoying one of London's most impressive seasonal tasting menus.
 
 
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Autumn in London's Restaurants
 

Hache

24 Inverness Street, NW1
Best for Burgers
Summertime is for Soho and the South Bank, outside tables and busy street life, but in autumn, it's the packed pubs and smoky fug of Camden that draw us in. The area is still a little bit of a desert for fine-dining, but since Hache opened this hardly matters because there really is no reason to go anywhere else.
 
I've eaten many posh burgers in my life (including a single bite of Zuma's 55 wagyu beef burger), but Hache's Aberdeen Angus on ciabatta bun is simply the best. Black outside, pink and juicy in the centre, lean enough to have real texture, fatty enough that there is no trace of dryness, large enough that it only just fits into your mouth, and accompanied by a home-made mayonnaise that turns me into a Homer Simpson clone whenever I think about... mmmm... mayonnaise... unghhhh... drool.
 
The chips were good, too.
 
 
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Autumn in London's Restaurants
 

St John

26 St John Street, EC1
Best for Meat
This gory restaurant often slips into those "best 50 restaurants in the World" lists, as much because foodies love to shock the squeamish as through the quality of their cooking. And shocked you will be, if you're the sort of person who thinks it's disgusting leaving the heads on fish. Brains, marrows, snouts, whole heads, muscles, tails and odd little squiggly bits that even a vet wouldn't recognise form the basis of this rich and filling menu.
 
For a convivial autumn meal, the best thing to is order in advance from the feasting menu, which gives your whole table a single dish to share, like Whole Roast Suckling Pig, or a huge Pigeon, Beef and Trotter Pie. The advance ordering allows them to time their baking and roasting to perfection.
 
They also do a nice line in foraged food, with leaves, dandelions, and wild mushrooms often available on the specials board, and puddings plucked from hedgerows and woods. In fact, they even have some very decent vegetarian options... so long as you don't mind what your carnivorous neighbours are eating.
 
 
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Autumn in London's Restaurants
 

The Bull

13 North Hill, N6
[date[Best for Relaxing
This is definitely more of a restaurant than a pub, with its efficient table service and no smoking policy, but they've managed to keep some of the friendliness of a traditional boozer, which makes it a fine place for a long weekend lunch, or for a sturdy fill in front of the open fire after a damp day admiring the autumn colours on Hampstead Heath. They've got a great selection of bitters, and they don't object to drinkers using the dining areas, which adds to the cheery atmosphere. There's also the chance to play in the most elegant pool room we've ever seen.
 
Though there were complaints about the uneven standards of the food when it first opened, the glitches have been ironed out. Chef Jeremy Hollingsworth won a Michelin Star 10 years ago at Quo Vadis, and though he'll never repeat the feat at this unfussy operation, he's conjured some bewitching gastropub fare from his repertoire. If you're going to visit for a meal, you need to phone in advance and check the game pie is on the menu. It's not that there's nothing else worth having, but you really are missing out if you don't get the chance to sink your teeth into this scintillating melange of dense meats.
 
 
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Autumn in London's Restaurants
 

Cafe des Amis

11 Hanover Place, WC2
Best for Late-Night Dining
Short autumn days encourage you to stay up later in the evening, the bright lights and warm conversation drawing you into clubs, bars and restaurants. There's nowhere better for a post-theatre meal than this legendary French restaurant, hidden in a side-street behind the Royal Opera House and open until 1:00am.
 
There are few concessions to the English palate here, and you may be shocked by the powerful kick of vinegar in many dishes, or by the presence - especially at this time of year - of so many cold dishes on the menu. This is authentic French cuisine, with all the powerful flavours and buttery richness you would expect.
 
Once you have finished feasting on fruits de la mer, flash-fried foie gras and confit leg of Barbary duck, there's a cosy wine bar underneath - a favourite with the stars of the Royal Opera and Royal Ballet - where a superb list of French and New World wines should drive away any remaining autumn chill.
 
 
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Autumn in London's Restaurants
 

The Quality Chop House Farringdon

94 Farringdon Road, EC1R
Best for Breakfast
The immaculate restoration of this Victorian chop house - the 19th century equivalent of the greasy spoon - is a significant part of its appeal. The convivial wooden pews, shiny tiled floor and original fittings feel like a step back to an earlier era, when hot roast meat was a rare treat for most people, and a visit to a chop house was a celebratory occasion. The menu reflects both the working class origins and the current wealth of the area, with solid food and simple presentation married to top quality ingredients.
 
It's good at any time, but it really comes into its own at breakfast. The "St George's" breakfast features (deep breath) two eggs, a grilled lamb chop, juicy back bacon, black pudding, butter-soaked mushrooms, tomato, and melting calves liver. The "Martin Johnson" breakfast, has poached egg, bubble and squeak, honey-roasted ham, lamb chop, great steak, black pudding, sausage and tomato. If 17.50 seems a lot to pay for the first meal of the day, you should keep in mind that you're unlikely to want to eat again for about a week. Or do anything much else.
 
 
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Autumn in London's Restaurants
 

Arbutus

63 - 64 Frith Street, W1D
Best for Foodies
This year's most accomplished new opening has the crisp minimalist modernity that comes when a serious amount of money has been spent on design. Not exactly cosy, but comfortable, and a far cry from the usual Soho options of chintz or pointless bling.
 
The menu takes French peasant fare, adds a dash of British, Italian and Spanish haute cuisine, and produces something that slips beyond fine dining into the realm of fine art. Weighty delights like slow-cooked lamb shoulder mingle with lighter fare including a miraculous smoked eel with beetroot.  There's plenty of game and offal, including rabbit, sweetbreads, trotter, braised pigs head and tripe. The emphasis on seasonality means autumn is the best time of year to visit. 
 
The other reason to visit immediately is that prices cannot possibly stay this low for long. Maybe I'm maligning them unfairly, but it's a fairly standard technique to open cheap and then bump prices up once the word of mouth gets round. Take advantage now, and I guarantee you won't regret it.
 
 
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