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Where to find London's best midnight munchies



Britain has never been good at late night dining. For far too long your only option beyond 11pm was a questionable takeaway (bucket of deep fried, unidentifiable meat pieces anyone?) or you had to wait until the greasy spoons opened at dawn. There were notable exceptions such as a number of excellent takeaways dotted about the city, a few late-opening restaurants in Chinatown and classic 24hr post-party spots like Chelsea’s VQ and the Polo Bar (don’t expect to get into either if you’ve had too many).

 

But the general rule was if a restaurant stayed open after hours it either sacrificed substance or style. Happily, times are a-changing. As the distinction between café, bar and restaurant becomes increasingly fluid, one venue fulfils multiple functions. Take the 24-hour Duck & Waffle, one of the much-hyped openings of 2013 in the Heron Tower: it can morph from breakfast business meeting to lunch date to evening cocktails to late night party place.

 

Looking to far more civilized models of dining on the Continent, restaurateurs are filling the gap in the market for late night meals. There’s a hoard of twenty-something foodies currently hungry on the streets of London, who want to make an entire evening of eating out, and places like the Coal Vaults or Spuntino with their cocktails and small plates are perfect for that. Now you can have your cake and eat it at any time of night you like. 


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This 24-hour café and diner in Chelsea has long catered to the most elegant post-2am party crowd in town. People don't come for the food, although there's nothing wrong with it, but they come because it's a laid back yet stylish place to keep the night going. Get a Beef Chilli Dog to soak up the booze, or more booze if you're not ready for that - indeed you can go full circle and order an all-day breakfast before bed. They've recently opened up a second branch in Bloomsbury (Great Russell Street) with the same diner style interiors but more space. Though be aware, both venues hike up the prices for the night shift and impose a nominal cover charge after midnight.

Read more about Vingt-Quatre →


The original Polo Café served up greasy spoon (that's a typical British caff for all who don't know) fodder since 1959. It was recently given a nicely done revamp embracing all that is retro and British from the OXO cube sign on the wall to the full English breakfast on the menu. Except unlike typical greasy spoon cafes, the ingredients here are all carefully sourced (local craft beers, Devon Rose beef etc) and it's spanking new inside. Slip into a red banquette and order anything from eggs benedict and a cuppa to cottage pie and a pint. And best of all, serving 24 hours a day, seven days a week, you can turn up at 2am for a glass of Cristal champagne and a cream tea if the fancy takes you.

Read more about Polo Bar →




This traditional Parisian bistro has been operating here for over 20 years and has become an elegant, bustling staple to Old Compton Street. In summer the pavement tables are perpetually packed, and in winter, it provides a retreat from the chaos outside from breakfast until the early hours. Food is typical French bistro fare: moules marinieres, escargots with smoked bacon, bavette steak etc. Part of the Soho House institution, it lacks the same pretension, but prices are a bit high and due to inevitable crowds, service can be slow, so come with time to spare.

Recommended for Late Night because: The late night menu is shorter, but with plenty to satisfy: whitebait, rillette, plaice goujons or steak frites.

Tyler's expert tip: The pavement tables are a great people-watching perch and worth loitering for. Amuse yourself at the bar in the meantime.

Read more about Cafe Boheme →


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Ace Hotel is the place to stay in NY's Midtown, so when it opened up its first UK branch in Shoreditch, it already had a placard of cool credentials. Tourists aside, the locals have come in on the action, hitting up the all-day brasserie Hoi Polloi for the casual, affordable dining from breakfast to cocktail o'clock. Enter via the flower shop, and you'll find yourself in this retro dining spot with Scandi style, good tunes and a sociable vibe. The soundtrack is a mix between electro and old school classics, but they keep it low for conversation's sake. The menu is seasonal modern British with the occasional contemporary twist and the cocktails have whatever artisan spirit everyone is now drinking.

Recommended for Late Night because: They serve supper until midnight every night and 1am from Thursday to Saturday, making it a great place to fuel up for a night out.

Tyler's expert tip: The booths have USB ports and plugs, and along with the free wifi this can easily double as your office for the day.

Read more about Hoi Polloi →




High dining in every sense, the much revered Duck and Waffle enjoys a delightful spot on the 40th floor of Heron Tower in central London with expected views of the iconic skyline. It's worth a visit for the rush of the elevator alone: 40 floors in about 30 seconds, especially at two in the morning after a few drinks. It's got a glammed up cafe vibe more like a club pretending to be a bistro. By day they serve small plates and have a raw bar, but the late night menu is decadent and rich, ox cheek grilled cheese for example. It is at its best at brunch however, whatever time of day you choose to eat it. Alas, the table game comes into play with lucky diners reserving weeks in advance.

Recommended for Late Night because: This is a high end restaurant (also geographically high) that happens to stay open 24-hours, a rarity in this country.

Natalie's expert tip: Do what it says on the tin: order the Duck & Waffle for a decadent brunch of sweet waffles, comfit duck leg and maple syrup at a reasonable GBP 12.

Read more about Duck and Waffle →


It opened to such hype in 2012 that one would think London had never seen a Mexican restaurant, but to be fair, they hadn't seen one like this. Disguised as a sex shop, you enter past the flashing neon 'Peep Show,' sign to be greeted by 'sex workers,' who hang your coat next to the bondage dummy, and lead you down into the vaults. Frequented by Soho media types, come for tarted up tacos and tequila-fuelled decadence in Day of the Dead style surroundings. Serving Mexican style street food (via New York and Texas), they also have a list of 25 tequilas and bespoke margaritas. The first UK venture of nightlife impresario Serge Becker of New York's infamous La Esquina, he's since opened up Casa Negra in Shoredtich.

Read more about La Bodega Negra →


Bar Italia


This is a Soho institution; one of the few survivors of old Soho, when it was seedy, slutty, a little dangerous and infinitely more fun. First opened in 1949 by Lou and Caterina Polledri as a hub for the local Italian community, Bar Italia remains a family run business three generations down the line. The distinctive green neon sign remains the same, as does the old cash register and pictures of football legends on the wall. They use the same blend of coffee from when they first opened made in the same Gaggia machine, and it's best taken as an espresso on one of the tables outside watching the Soho circus pass by. They also serve some mighty fine pizzas.

Recommended for Late Night because: They stay open until 5am, making it a perfect post-partying pitstop in Soho for a pizza.

Tyler's expert tip: Everyone from legendary film director Francis Ford Coppola to British comic Russell Brand has stopped by - check out the photos of famous faces.

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In the hipster heartland of London, the dogged late night zoo of Kingsland Road is fuelled until the early hours on pizza by-the-slice at Voodoo Ray's. Why it took East London so long to get a pizza by-the-slice joint is a mystery, especially one that stays open until you actually most need it. With blue tiled walls and concrete floor, it's stripped back in style. Head to the open kitchen counter to order from the range of giant 22" pizzas with names like Giorgio Moroder (goast cheese, sun blush tomatoes, zucchini), grab a can of Punk IPA or a margarita slushie and take a seat at the shared benches. Sister venue to Dalston Superstore, which acts as some sort of party vortex to those in the area, it's suitably popular.

Recommended for Late Night because: Open until 3am at weekends, they know that's exactly when you want a slice or three of pizza and a frozen margarita.

Tyler's expert tip: There's something called a Dance Tunnel downstairs. Go for it.

Read more about Voodoo Ray's →


They've got a skeleton in the hallway wearing a baseball cap and they've glued pennies to the floor of the toilets. Despite its cool décor - exposed brick, copper bar, refurbished wood, brooding lighting – the team behind Coal Vaults has a sense of humour, which is what makes it a good times' restaurant. They also have some serious skills in the kitchen. Chef James Knox Boothman (The French House, GRUB) devises an ever-changing menu of small plates each as tasty and surprising as the last. Working in conjunction with Jerome Slesinski behind the bar, they're spearheading the cocktail-pairing trend, with recommended cocktails to match each dish. They make as much as possible in house, from the bread to the bitters, using the best ingredients, and it shows. Sample as many dishes as you can, and then lose a couple hours at the bar.

Read more about Coal Vaults →




Brought to London by the restaurant king of Soho, Russell Norman, the man behind other lauded London eateries Polpo and Mishkins, it was always going to cause a stir. It opened right on the trend for American diner food with comfort dishes like the rich mac'n'cheese and gourmet slider burgers, but has sustained a serious following ever since. It's one of those supposedly 'in the know only' places with an unmarked door and no telephone number, and it looks the part too: glazed tiled walls, Brooklyn styled staff and low wattage hanging lights. But everyone knows about it, and with no reservations and affordable prices, expect to queue on peak hours.

Recommended for Late Night because: Open until 1am at weekends, this is the kind of food and vibe you hanker for after getting carried away in the bars of Soho.

Tyler's expert tip: The desserts are artery-clogging but worth it, like the PB&J 'sandwich' constructed with slabs of peanut butter ice cream and cherry jam. Good cocktails too.

Read more about Spuntino →


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Meet Tyler Wetherall

Tyler Wetherall is a freelance writer specialising in travel, food & drink, covering topics as varied as narcs in the Colombian jungle to cocktail drinking in Cuba. Tyler has lived in London...  More About Tyler

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