These restaurants all have the Michelin stamp of approval without the fine dining price tag
While Michelin reviewers officially keep their marking criteria a mystery, there are some tests that have breached the shrouds of secrecy. For example, there’s the trick of placing a spoon on the floor below the table and waiting to see if a server notices that a) a spoon is missing from the perfectly laid table, and b) there’s a spoon on the floor. But what has that got to do with delicious, adventurous food? I would happily be surrounded by spoons scattered all over the floor if I could taste some of the world’s finest culinary offerings.
"I would happily be surrounded by spoons scattered all over the floor if I could taste some of the world’s finest culinary offerings"
In 1997 Michelin created the “‘Bib Gourmand”: an award given to restaurants that weren’t perhaps in keeping with a “fine dining” setting, or indeed price tag, but nonetheless served a Michelin-grade menu. These are seven of the most exciting Bib Gourmand-awarded restaurants around the country that you can actually afford without selling a kidney.
Hoppers, 49 Frith Street, London
A hopper (here served with an egg cracked in) is a pancake-style bread that's crispy on the edges and soft in the middle
Serving Sri Lankan-inspired street food, the Hoppers menu includes unctuous, intensely flavoured curries, soft potato-filled dosas and, their namesake, crispy-edged, soft-centred hoppers- a Sri Lankan pancake-like bread made from fermented batter, and the perfect way to mop up every last nugget of delectable sauce, sambal and chutney.
While the portions may seem small, they are extremely mighty, and you certainly won’t leave hungry. This isn’t so much a place to while away a long evening- the food arrives, as if by magic, a few minutes after you order, and you’ll be hard pushed not to race your fellow diners to the bottom of your bowls. But it’s perfect if you fancy some seriously tasty food before heading off into the night for a show or a boogie.
Tropea, 27 Lordswood Road, Harborne, Birmingham
Tropea's focaccia is soft, pillowy and beautifully flavoured
Have you ever had a focaccia so pillowy you wanted to take a nap on it? Have you ever looked on at a plate of artfully piled fresh pasta covered in parmesan cream, scattered with truffle shavings, and shed a tear, knowing it will be in your belly in a matter of minutes and gone from your fork? No? Well then you best get yourself down to Tropea.
"Have you ever had a focaccia so pillowy you wanted to take a nap on it?"
A self-proclaimed neighbourhood Italian restaurant, it’s known the city over for its lush, rich pasta sauces and morning-fresh ingredients. While it would be very easy to spend all your lunch money on one meal, particularly if you dip into the wine list, if you’re a little careful you can enjoy the best of Tropea’s offerings and walk away fairly unscathed.
Bao, 53 Lexington Street, London
Bao has a queue down the street every day, and for good reason
Even if you’ve never heard of Bao, strolling around Soho, you’ll surely be familiar with the long winding queue down Lexington Street. Well now you know what they’re queuing for: soft squishy buns filled with the tenderest pork loin, spicy, crunchy daikon or even fried Horlicks ice cream. The atmosphere may be casual, but the food requires long, savouring breaths with eyes closed.
Beckford Bottle Shop, 5-8 Saville Row, Bath
Beckford Bottle Shop's food perfectly compliments their extensive wine list
As you might have guessed from the name, the food here is not the star of the show. But while the Beckford Bottle Shop certainly enjoys an extensive and sumptuous wine list, the food plays a very impressive second fiddle. Chef James Harris’ attitude seems to be that if a glass of wine is to be properly enjoyed, the accompanying food better be sensational. With a modest offering of small plates, charcuterie and cheese, locally sourced and seasonal ingredients are presented simply and beautifully. Tender chunks of duck nestle beside wild garlic cavatelli in a rich tonkotsu broth, Venison is lovingly seared and served with ribbons of blood red beetroot and a crunchy savoury granola. The bistro itself feels like a secret haven, all dark wood, squishy leather seating and large windows looking out on to the tucked-away Saville Row, perfect for people watching as you enjoy another glass or two.
Plaza Khao Gaeng, Arcade Food Hall, 103-105 New Oxford Street, London
Be prepared for serious levels of chilli at this incredibly delicious Thai restaurant
This is not Thai food as you may have experienced before. Making little to no concessions for nervous Western pallets, nearly everything on the Plaza Khao Gaeng’s menu is smack-you-in-the-face full of flavour and hot hot heat.
"Nearly everything on the Plaza Khao Gaeng’s menu is smack-you-in-the-face full of flavour and hot hot heat"
With plastic wipe-down tablecloths and lurid overhead lighting, you might not want to take a first date here, but after a fifth or sixth outing, once you already agree that good food trumps all unflattering lighting, come devour the Pik Gai Tord Khamin Deeplee- crispy chicken wings covered in crunchy turmeric onions and pepper- or the Miang Phuket, a hot, crunchy pile of coconut, cashews and palm sugar to be scooped up in peppery betal leaves.
As Jimi Famurewa wrote in his Evening Standard review, “this is food to quicken the pulse, dampen the brow and leave you gasping for more.”
The Yurt at Nicholsons, Nicholson Nurseries, The Park, North Aston
The Yurt serves simple, seasonal food done well
This is more of a holistic experience rather than a culinary adventure, but that’s not to say that the menu isn’t delicious. Situated on a 23-acre plot that also includes a beautiful plant nursery, this restaurant is in fact a yurt fashioned from upcycled materials and elegantly bedecked with greenery and candles.
The food is simple, letting the locally sourced fare speak for itself. This means, of course, that the menu is likely to change seasonally but you'll find such treats as perfectly fluffy cheese soufflé served with apples and hazelnuts, or delicately flaky hake hovering over a generous serving of brown shrimp and caper butter sauce. And once you’re filled to great satisfaction, you could easily while away the afternoon wondering through the lush nursery.
Padella, 6 Southwark Street, Borough Market, London
Padella's pasta is arguably the best in London
This is another long queue affair, but for very good reason. Having made a splash on opening in 2016, Padella has maintained its reputation for lovingly made fresh pasta in sharp buttery sauces, or filled with rich eight-hour beef shin. The menu is always simple and frill-free, so you know everything you order will be delicious and just as the chef intended. No matter what, I would recommend, nay insist, on you getting a pici cacio e pepe for the table- thick satisfyingly chewy noodles, generously coated in butter, parmesan and a whole lot of black pepper.
Read more: 10 Food critics you should know about
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