Best-selling cookbook author, food columnist, chef and sustainability champion, Melissa Hemsley has been a powerhouse on the London food scene ever since she founded bespoke food service Hemsley and Hemsley with her sister, Jasmine, almost a decade ago. Here, she reveals her favourite dining destinations that she can’t wait to revisit now that lockdown has lifted.
Cornerstone is one of those restaurants which is lovely for a date but also great in a big group – it always has the most amazing playlist on in the background. I came here for my first dinner out post lockdown because I love the way it helps you be more experimental with the fish you eat. Here, you never just opt for fail-safe salmon or seabass.
Chef Tom Brown also uses really interesting flavours in his food – I had plaice cooked in a chicken butter sauce, for example, which was as tasty as it was unusual. It’s also one of the few places where the desserts are as good as the main dishes. I don’t have a huge sweet tooth, but I always save room for pudding when I come here.
3 Prince Edward Road, Hackney Wick, E9; cornerstonehackney.com
Stoney Street by 26 Grains
This was the last place I went out to eat before lockdown came into effect. It was a special event for International Women’s Day, where they got six brilliant women chefs to come and takeover the kitchen. Chef Henrietta Inman is a lovely person – she used to be my neighbour and ran one of my local restaurants.
I love Stoney Street’s huge front window, which looks right into the very heart of Borough Market. The restaurant uses lots of produce from the suppliers in there, like indigenous pulses and heritage grains from Hodmedod’s. I really like that Henrietta shows you how good these interesting, seasonal foods can be, like the British-grown chickpeas she uses in her salad.
2-3 Stoney Street, Borough Market, SE1; 26grains.com
This is where I’m headed tonight for a double date – it’s just off Carnaby Street. I’m a huge fan of Sri Lankan food, so we ordered takeaways from Kolamba a lot during lockdown.
I’m a little bit obsessed with pickles and preserves, and their dishes also come with three different types of chutney, including an unbeatable date and lime one. I’m not particularly good with very spicy food, so I really like it when dishes let you tailor your level of spice with some cooling chutney on top.
21 Kingly Street, Soho, W1B; kolamba.co.uk
Chef Ravinder Bhogal is one of my really good friends, and I love what she calls her ‘inauthentic immigrant’ food. It melds together her mixed Indian and Kenyan heritage to create a freestyle kind of fusion. She makes a really good, fragrant kedgeree, but the dish I always order is her incredible dhal sweetened with apple. I love how she always puts an interesting spin on her dishes like that.
During lockdown, Ravinder launched ‘Comfort & Joy’ – her meal box delivery service – so I ate her food a lot. But I’m excited to be able to eat at Jikoni again. It’s such a beautiful space, filled with vibrant printed fabrics and linens. There are also loads of comfy colourful cushions, which make you feel like you’re in her home on her sofa.
19-21 Blandford Street, Marylebone, W1U; jikonilondon.com
What I love about Silo is that it’s the type of restaurant where you can go and really learn something. Chef Doug McMaster’s goal is to be zero waste and the food here is predominantly vegetarian, but last time I had a gorgeous slow-braised piece of retired dairy beef.
The idea is that even if a cow was used for dairy, it can then become meat to ensure it isn’t wasted. It’s just one of the ways Silo’s food is so considered. Doug is someone I look up to immensely and his food is, of course, delicious. For anyone interested in sustainability, Silo is a must.
Unit 7, Queens Yard, Hackney Wick, E9; silolondon.com
Honey & Co.
I adore Honey & Co.’s Middle Eastern food – I’ve been coming here for years. The restaurant is family run, and it always feels vibrant yet homey. Last time I went we had this mouth-watering roast lamb dahl, where the shoulder of lamb is cooked over the lentils in a tray bake so that the fat from the lamb melts into the lentils. Delicious.
But we also had an exceptional, gutsy red wine from the Bekaa region of Lebanon called Chateau Musar with our meal. I’d never had Lebanese wine before, but when I mentioned it online, so many people got in touch to say it was the best wine in the world. I think I agree.
25a Warren Street, Fitzrovia, W1T; honeyandco.co.uk
The ethos of Luminary Bakery is what brings me back time and time again. It’s a social enterprise which provides women escaping gender-based violence with both a safe space and training to empower them. Their cauliflower cheese muffins are my favourite – next month I’m doing a cook-along with them to celebrate the launch of their new book so I’m hoping to make these!
I used to live in North London and still have a lot of friends there, so I love meeting up at Luminary Bakery’s Chalk Farm out-posting. It’s also my go-to whenever someone asks me to bake a birthday cake – the team there are much better bakers than I am, and their seasonal creations never fail to impress.
47 Chalk Farm Road, Chalk Farm, NW1 8AJ
71-73 Allen Road, Stoke Newington, N16 8RY
This is probably the fanciest restaurant of my list, so it’s a great place to go if you’re celebrating a special occasion. It’s in Covent Garden and is run by Chantelle Nicholson, who is very much sustainability-led in her cooking and works “hyper seasonally”.
I last went with a vegan friend, and together we had a whole plant-based menu, which was excellent. I had the miso-grilled cabbage with miso aioli and crispy linseed – Chantelle uses lots of brilliant umami flavours like this. There was also an incredible chocolate sorbet – it was hard to believe something so creamy could be dairy-free and vegan.
4a Upper St Martin’s Lane, Covent Garden, WC2H; tredwells.com
I love Darjeeling Express – it’s an all-women team, each one of whom is an immigrant to the UK. Founder Asma Khan doesn’t expect these women to have a restaurant background; she trains them up and gives them the skills they need to work either with her or elsewhere.
Since lockdown, Asma has been running Biryani supper clubs – I actually went to one last week. The food she serves is full of love and character, and she always gives you loads to take home afterwards. Now that restrictions have lifted, Asma is opening a new permanent premise on Garrick Street in Covent Garden this October so watch this space.
Melissa Hemsley’s new cookbook, Eat Green: Delicious Flexitarian Recipes for Planet-Friendly Eating, £22, is out now; waterstones.com