The best restaurants in Kensington, from Zaika to Jacuzzi

Going Out | Restaurants

The best restaurants in Kensington, from Zaika to Jacuzzi

Food fit for a king: Ben McCormack selects the best places to eat in the Royal Borough

With its twin Chelsea to the south, Kensington forms the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea. The royal bit comes from the fact that Queen Victoria was born in Kensington Palace, currently the London home of the Prince and Princess of Wales and their children, Princess Eugenie and her family and the former digs of generations of royals from Princess Margaret to Princess Diana. Numerous local restaurants claim to have been Diana’s favourite place to eat, while Princess Margaret gave her nickname name to Maggie Jones’s (temporarily closed after an electrical fire last year, and much missed).  

That visibly regal presence is why when anyone refers to the Royal Borough, they don’t mean Greenwich, Kingston or even Windsor and Maidenhead — they mean Kensington and Chelsea, a droit du seigneur that applies to a patrician local restaurant scene largely priced for local wallets and tourists here for the full London experience of museums and shopping, palaces and parks.  

W8 is the classic Kensington postcode, but the area extends to Earl’s Court (SW5) and South Kensington (SW7); click here for more places to eat around the V&A, Science Museum and Natural History Museum in South Ken, or if crossing the Fulham Road border into Chelsea, click here. Otherwise, read on for the best restaurants in Kensington and prepare for a right royal feast.


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Across the street from Imperial, up the road from the V&A and Science Museum and in the same building as the Polish Hearth Club, Ognisko is arguably the premier attraction in South Ken — though it would be easy to walk past an entrance that looks like any other monumental porch hereabouts. Once inside and Ognisko is the platonic ideal of a restaurant, with a high-ceilinged room of creamy plaster mouldings, balloon-backed chairs positioned at tables properly set with sparkling white cloths and shimmering cutlery, a terrace for fine weather overlooking a grand private garden and staff in black and white uniforms going about their business with professional good cheer. The food is Polish, but not overtly so; fluffy blinis (with smoked salmon or caviar) or steak tartare might be found in any modern European restaurant, while chicken Kiev and pork schnitzel are comfort food par excellence. The cocktail bar at the front, the best in Kensington, is a popular rendezvous for a pre-Albert Hall snifter or anyone in search of a super-civilised drink, with deep-filled pierogi dumplings to soak up all the alcohol (including Kavka, the excellent own-label vodka). Not such a surprise the Standard’s David Ellis named it as his favourite restaurant.

55 Exhibition Road, SW7 2PG,

Kitchen W8

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Ignore the plain name: it might sound like a canteen, but Kitchen W8 is the smartest restaurant around Kensington High Street, with longstanding chef Mark Kempson having been rewarded with a Michelin star for over a decade.  Kempson used to work at The Square with Phil Howard, who owns Kitchen W8 (and Chelsea’s Elystan Street) along with restaurateur Rebecca Mascarenhas, the sort of blue-chip pedigree that is catnip to well-heeled diners in search of confident modern cooking that won’t scare the horses. A signature starter of grilled Cornish mackerel with smoked eel, sweet mustard and golden beets, in which the classic combo of eel and hot sauce contrasts with the creamy flesh of the freshest mackerel, sums up the style. Flavours tend towards the intense, a characteristic which reaches its peak on autumn menus which showcase grouse and the other riches of the British game season. Prices, naturally, reflect the locale, but a three-course lunch and early-evening set for £34.50 is pitched towards locals, as too a Sunday lunch (£49.50) with a proper roast rump of beef with Yorkshire pud; there’s also a five-course tasting menu (£110) for special occasions.

1-13 Abingdon Road, W8 6AH,

Il Portico

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This venerable Italian claims to be London’s oldest family-run restaurant (six decades, four generations and counting), but forget any ideas about a Mamma Mia, mom-and-pop operation: this is a seriously classy High Street Ken local where siblings James and Francesca Chiavarini pay tribute to the specialities of their Emilia-Romagna heritage, with many ingredients sourced from the family farm in Kent. Where Il Portico also scores on the family front is cosy ambience and friendly charm in spades, and a loyal fanbase of locals who have been in the area for as long as the Chiavarinis and don’t raise an eyebrow at prices which hover around £30 for a main. Expect butterflied Dorset sardines, wild venison and pork belly ragu, and braised shank of Kent lamb braised in Barolo, matched to a carefully chosen all-Italian wine list. For a more French take on James’ passion for wild food, newcomer La Palombe next door offers wood-fired Basque cooking. And, like any hunter and forager, both restaurants are dog friendly

277 Kensington High Street, W8 6NA,

Cambio de Tercio

Nigel Howard

Kensington local Piers Morgan recently declared Cambio de Tercio to be the world’s best restaurant; a more authoritative seal of approval might come from Wimbledon champs Rafael Nadal and Carlos Alcaraz, who come here for Spanish cooking when they’re on the courts in SW19 or up the road at Queen’s in Barons Court. The likes of grilled Iberian pluma, roast monkfish with fideuà, and razor clams a la plancha come beautifully presented on smart white crockery, with flavours lightened up for the west London clientele, and enough injections of cheffy creativity to somewhat justify the steep prices — though a glance in the windows of nearby estate agents will reveal this is not an enclave for the impecunious. Tendido Cero over the road offers more of the same, while neighbouring tapas bar Capote y Toros serves sherry and small plates; the friendly Spanish waiters can be seen flitting between all three, especially in fine weather when there is pavement seating.

163 Old Brompton Road, SW5 0LJ,

Min Jiang

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A wholly unexpected view over the treetops of Kensington Gardens to the roof of the Royal Albert Hall, the London Eye and the skyscrapers of the City is one of the star attractions of this tenth-floor hotel restaurant; the other is roast Beijing duck carved tableside and served in two courses, a much-imitated dish that Min Jiang introduced to London (and must be ordered in advance). The luscious duck is first rolled up in a pancake and smeared with plum sauce and garlic paste, before whatever is left reappears in a lettuce wrap or stir-fry. The view, meanwhile, is at its nicest on autumn afternoons as the golden trees below blaze in the setting sun, which makes intricately crafted dim sum a good call here, though the à la carte is no slouch, featuring faultless renditions of Cantonese classics made from superior ingredients: stir-fried native lobster with ginger and spring onion, perhaps, or honey-roasted Iberico pork with fried garlic.  Do, however, turn a blind eye to the calorie counts of each dish displayed on the menu.

Royal Garden Hotel, 2-24 Kensington High Street, W8 4PT,

Da Mario

It might not serve the best pizza or pasta in London but this old-school Italian does send out what is quite possibly the finest garlic bread in the capital: thick pillows of dough not so much anointed in garlic butter as drowned. Da Mario’s other claim to fame is as Princess Diana’s favourite Italian restaurant when she lived up the road at Kensington Palace, a fact immortalised not only in a legend carved into the restaurant’s steps but an oil painting that is a rather more convincing likeness of the Princess of Hearts than the statue in the palace’s garden. The pizza and pasta are decently done — Margherita or marinara, pappardelle ragu or rigatoni amatriciana — and prices, while not exactly bargain basement, are not too bad for SW7. Book a couple of days in advance, or expect to queue, especially in summer when the pavement terrace is a far sunnier prospect than the basement dining room (the nicer ground-floor does benefit from natural light). The nearby Queen’s Arms pub in pretty Queen’s Gate Mews is a pleasant spot to while away the wait.  

15 Gloucester Road, SW7 4PP,



Like Ognisko, Daquise is a reminder of the days when South Kensington was home to London’s community of Polish emigres. These days it is the French who are most closely associated with SW7 (the lycée and consulate are here) but Daquise is a reminder not only of the capital’s post-war past — it opened in 1947 — but Swinging London, too: the restaurant played host to Christine Keeler and her lover, KGB spy Yevgeni Ivanov, during the Profumo affair in 1962. Not that you’d notice a hint of licentiousness in the rather plain dining room of stripped wood floors, tiled walls and perfectly starched linen, while it’s hard to imagine anyone having the energy to get up to anything naughty after a meal of pan-fried pork sausage with potato salad followed by beef goulash with brandy, and fruit-filled dumplings for pud. Have something to celebrate? Special dishes such as pork knuckle braised in beer or goose-leg confit can be ordered 24 hours in advance. 

20 Thurloe Street, SW7 2LT,


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This bank conversion is one of the few restaurants to make use of Kensington’s most obvious asset, the leafy expanse of Kensington Gardens — though you’ll need to ask for a table at the very front to see the trees swaying on the other side of High Street Ken. Still, there’s not a bad seat in a grandly proportioned room that gives it the full age-of-Empire experience with wood panelling, high ceilings and chandeliers. The food is rather more up to date, a reminder of the time when Zaika, like its Mayfair sibling Tamarind, was the first Indian restaurant to win a Michelin star. Neither restaurant still has the accolade, and is arguably all the better for it, with none of the tweaked and tweezered flummery that used to mark high-end Indian cookery in this country. Instead, the kitchen focuses on a clean-flavoured and ingredients-led approach with an emphasis on enjoying rather than impressing: whopping wild Madagascan tiger prawns with coriander, mint and chilli, say, or a chicken thigh roasted in the tandoor to slow-cooked succulence. Not in the mood for a full meal? Cocktails at the white marble bar are excellent, and there are spicy snacks to nibble on.   

1 Kensington High Street, W8 5NP,


Sam Harris

From the same more-is-more stable as Gloria in Shoreditch and Circolo Popolare in Fitzrovia, Jacuzzi is as frothily fun as a magnum of vigorously shaken Prosecco. Gianni Versace rather than Miuccia Prada is the mood-board inspiration of a flashy space where the loos are decorated with disco balls, there’s a retractable roof when the sun shines and every inch not hung with a chandelier is draped with greenery — including a full-size tree. First impressions that this is a restaurant not to be taken too seriously should be applied to food which lacks the sparkle of Jacuzzi’s decor. Still, if you’re in the mood for a good time, accessibly luxurious dishes such as truffle spaghetti, caviar pizzetta and lobster risotto should hit the spot, or there are veal Milanese and T-bone steak for two to share. Probably best suited to a hen night or birthday party than dinner with the parents: Jacuzzi can seat tables up to 14. 

94 Kensington High Street, W8 4SJ,


The SW5 stretch of Old Brompton Road, neither Earl’s Court nor South Ken, is dominated by the trio of Cambio de Tercio Spanish restaurants, but is also home to Thali, an excellent local Indian tricked out in contemporary decor. The menu is a thorough run-down of all the north Indian classics, done to a better-standard than at the more famous Noorjahan round the corner, and for slightly keener prices. The namesake thali steel plates come with veg, meat or seafood options; otherwise there are the likes of lamb rogan josh, chicken tikka, prawn biryani and paneer makani. Top shouts include crispy prawns fried in masala batter, well-spiced lamb karahi and garlicky saag paneer. Staff are sweet if not always on the ball, though get a pavement seat in summer and you’ll likely be grateful for leisurely service that allows lingering.  

166 Old Brompton Road, SW5 0BA,

Sichuan Popo

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Popular with anyone in Kensington in search of Chinese food without the Min Jiang price tag, Sichuan Popo is, as the name suggests, focused on the cuisine of the central Chinese region, but also its northern neighbour Shaanxi. That means decently done classics of dan dan noodles, mapo tofu and Xi’an biang biang noodles (the name of a sister restaurant in Covent Garden and the City), plus the signature dish of fried pork with Sichuan pepper, the melt-in-the-mouth meat given a blast of mouth-numbing heat to cut through the richness. The kitchen isn’t so purist, though, that it doesn’t serve dim sum, the daytime speciality of Guangdong, and in the evening, too, should one fancy siu mai, har gau or char siu pork buns for supper, while elsewhere the lengthy menu takes in everything from pig’s intestines to spring rolls. If you’re in the area for a Chelsea game there’s another branch near Fulham Broadway.    

35 Earl’s Court Road, W8 6ED,

Launceston Place


When Princess Diana wasn’t tucking into pizza and pasta at Da Mario she would often be found at nearby Launceston Place, which occupies a curved corner of one of the most ludicrously photogenic streets in Kensington. The kitchen is rather more ambitious than it was in Di’s days, with chef duties falling to extravagantly tattooed wünderkind Ben Murphy, who largely succeeds in injecting some humour into the fine-dining formula without making his dishes feel gimmicky; witness the signature dish of “egg and soldiers” with a slice of sourdough to dip into a truffle-topped foie gras custard. Tasting menus take in lunch (£75) and dinner (£105) options, with a vegetarian alternative available for the same price; terse descriptions such as “duck | purple beetroot | radish | timur” give little away about each intricately crafted creation. Anyone whose idea of a good time does not extend to 12 miniature dishes spread over four courses should walk on by, but for everyone else, Launceston Place is an accessible introduction to the new perspectives on flavour and texture a tasting menu can reveal. 

1a Launceston Place, W8 5RL,