Tess Ward is a busy lady. As well as splitting her time between London and Berlin, Tess also divides her working weeks, balancing a career as a Cordon Bleu-trained chef, author, model, podcast host and Fairtrade ambassador. Now that lockdown has lifted, she’s planning to visit some of her favourite restaurants in the capital. These are the eight at the top of her list.
Aquavit looks quite gilded and imposing, which isn’t necessarily my style, but the food here is the real draw. Last time I went, I had smoked eel with chard and crispy cabbage in an amazing broth. There are very few dishes I find mind-blowing, but this is one of them.
I really enjoy the flavours of Scandinavian food, but I never tend to cook it, which is why I love this restaurant. I feel that Nordic cuisine isn’t that widely eaten in the UK – it’s no where near as popular as say French or Italian food – so Aquavit is the place to go if you want to get to know it better.
Aquavit, St James’s Market, 1 Carlton Street, Westminster, SW1
I’m so fortunate that this is my local restaurant. The chef, Ben Marks, was on Great British Menu – I reckon he’ll get a Michelin star at some point soon. His modern European food is always so interesting and beautifully presented. Plus I really like the cool, nature-inspired interiors here, too.
Last time I went was back in February before lockdown and I had an amazing mushroom tart, made using a whole-wheat short crust pastry and a cauliflower mushroom on the top, which looked like a creature from the deep! They also serve an incredible seaweed sourdough, which I always order.
1-3 Green Lanes, Newington Green, N16
I first met founders Rick and Will through an ex who was a school friend of theirs. I’ve always supported what they’ve been trying to achieve, even before they first opened at Pop Brixton. They have a huge passion for Indian food and have created a restaurant which is really interesting with phenomenal dishes.
It was Will who introduced me to Bhel Puri, which is a crispy rice with sev, peanut and a coriander chutney on top – I always order it now. I’ve been to two of the three Kricket restaurants (in Brixton and Soho), and although I haven’t been for a while, I always know the food will be good.
Kricket Soho, 12 Denman Street, Soho, W1
I grew up in Balham, and I wish this place had been open back then when I was a kid. Milk is probably one of the most interesting places to get breakfast in London. The food there is super creative – buckwheat pancakes is one of their staple dishes which they pair with different things, like ricotta, roasted figs or different types of honeycomb.
But they also make the best corn bread in the world. It’s something I try not to make at home simply because it’s full of butter and sugar and I end up eating all of it. So when I go to Milk I order it there – it’s one of the nicest things to have with poached eggs because it’s sweet and salty at the same time.
Milk Café, 18-20 Bedford Hill, Balham, SW12
This was opened by a good friend of mine, Merlin Labron-Johnson, who is arguably one of the best chefs in the UK today. It’s basically a more relaxed version of Portland, its Michelin-starred sister restaurant on Great Portland Street. Merlin isn’t at Clipstone anymore, but his brilliant ethos still is present in the food.
Merlin is very involved with his dishes – everything from growing his produce himself to unusual flavour combinations. I find a lot of chefs rely too much on fat or salt or one particular dominant flavour, but Merlin’s food is always wonderfully balanced. Nothing about it is every too heavy, which is what I love about Clipstone’s dishes.
Clipstone Restaurant, 5 Clipstone Street, Fitzrovia, W1
I worked here for a few months while I was studying and I was so impressed with the energy in the kitchen and the ability of the chefs there to design and create new dishes. They do the best, elevated version of traditional English pub food – everything is seasonal and delicious.
I used to make their scotch eggs when I worked there so I’d always order one of those – they are the size of your fist, but they really good. The menu changes often, but it’s the perfect place to go on a rainy Sunday, have a delicious, cosy roast with lots of red wine, then roll home to bed.
Harwood Arms, Walham Grove, Fulham, SW6
This place is a classic – it’s got the most consistently good food. The menu changes daily in accordance with the seasons, but you’re guaranteed brilliant Italian food whatever time of year you come. I also really like that you can order Italian wines from across the whole country.
Essentially, the amazing quality ingredients, light-filled space and relaxed atmosphere make River Cafe a favourite, but in the summer months, it’s wonderful to eat outside overlooking the Thames. It’s the kind of place you go for a really spoiling treat.
Thames Wharf, Rainville Road, Hammersmith, W6
I love Berners Tavern, mostly for the elaborate decor and the sexy lighting – I never get bored of staring at the art on the walls and that incredible ceiling! But the modern British food is always excellent too – it’s under the direction of Jason Atherton so you know you can expect good things when you go there.
And, if you are looking for a buzzy bar to have some good cocktails with friends before you eat, this is it. There’s also a champagne trolley that lets you order by the glass, which is fun. Plus, the central location close to Soho makes it an ideal place for dinner to start your night.
Berner’s Tavern, 10 Berner’s Street, Fitzrovia, W1