Counter dining in London is bigger than ever. We've seen some wonderful counter spaces appearing in the past year and we just love the up-close-and-personal nature of it. So we've rounded up some of the best spots for counter action in London.
45 Jermyn St, St. James's, London SW1Y 6JD
Sure the glamorous tomato red booths are fun here, but there's a lot of buzz up at the extensive counter in this modern take on a traditional St James spot. Nestle in between art dealers and folk up from the country while you sip a perfect martini before summoning the caviar trolley.
Dish to have: If you're eschewing the caviar, then the braised ox cheek and stout pie with mash and green sauce will set you up for the day.
31 Windmill St, Fitzrovia, London W1T 2JN
If you don't want to join every foodie tourist in London in the Soho queue for some of the best bao buns in town, head to Bao Fizrovia where the upstairs is entirely counter dining.
Dish to have: The classic bao is obviously worth trying if you haven't had it before, but trotter nuggets and the charmingly direct pig blood cake are also must-orders.
16 Neal's Yard, London WC2H 9DP
When the Palomar opened (by the same team), the place to be was by that boistrous bar. The tables at the back are fine - but they were missing some of the atmosphere. No problem with that at The Barbary where it's counter dining only. There's plenty of interaction with the chefs (you might have a drink with them) and a Barbary coast menu that's worth waiting on the sidelines for.
Dish to have: Definitely make sure you save room for the hashcake dessert - and the flaming lamb cutlets for a bit of that showmanship.
Soho, Covent Garden and Strand
With three Barrafinas in town, all of them serving some of the best Spanish tapas in town, where do you choose? Well we rather like the Drury Lane, if only for the fact that it's marginally easier to manage a seat here than the Adelaide or Dean Street branches. Either way, the fact that you've managed to score one of the rare seats here, will make you feel like king of the world.
Dish to have: Anything from the day's specials
12 Archer St, London W1D 7BB
One of London's older counter dining scenes, the seats up at the pass at Bocca di Lupo have always been the best in the house. And it also still serves some of the best Italian dishes in town.
Dish to have: It'll sound crazy with all this amazing pasta, but the radish, celeriac, pomegranate and pecorino salad with truffle dressing is the dish to start with.
82 Goswell Rd, London EC1V 7DB
Tacos are a very big thing in London these days and if you want some of the best, then Breddos is the place to be. Plenty of counter dining at this Clerkenwell spot makes it easier than ever to pop in and get your taco fill.
Dish to have: As many tacos as you can handle, to be honest. With a special shout-out to the Pig's head cochinita pibi.
Unit 93, 94 Camden Stables, London NW1 8AP
Who wouldn't want to come to a restaurant that's all about cheese (and much more than toasties too). This is the permanent spot from The Cheese Truck and they've gone all counter dining with the restaurant (hence the "bar").
Dish to have: When there's SO MUCH cheese on the menu, how can you go wrong? But you will want a grilled cheese sandwich, that's for sure (and some poutine for some added chips and short-rib).
Winnett St, Soho, London W1D 6JY
In her review, Marina O'Loughlin urged readers to "sit at the counter and order the made-to-order hand rolls that aren’t available at the tables" at this idiosyncratic sushi joint in the heart of Soho. So do what the woman says.
Dish to have: everything. But definitely anything with eel.
70 Charlotte Street, London W1T 4QG
Every seat at Kitchen Table is a counter seat where you get to see the day's menu being created in front of you by chef James Knappett and his team. An ultra high end experience, with a price tag to match, but the food IS amazing.
Dish to have: The menu changes every single day, so all of it really.
58 Brewer Street, London W1F 9TL
You can grab a table downstairs at Kiln, but it's really all about the counter here, stretching all the length of the restaurant. We think you'll want to grab something towards the back, where watching dishes come out of the oven becomes rather hypnotic. From the same people as The Smoking Goat, it's a more pared back Thai dining experience.
Dish to have: Food at Kiln can be spicy but you can always ask them to take it down a notch if you can bear to ask. But otherwise, the "Clay pot baked glass noodles, Tamworth belly & brown crab meat" is the must-have dish.
58 Brewer Street, London W1F 9TL
The original Kricket in Brixton isn't blessed with counter dining (there isn't much room in a shipping container) but the permanent spot in Soho has one of the best examples in town. Grab a spot and slowly work your way through the Indian small plates menu.
Dish to have: The samphire pakora as soon as you sit down and, if it's on the menu, the duck leg kathi roll (as it's something to watch them create in front of you).
76 Wilton Rd, Pimlico, London SW1V 1DE
Tucked in behind Victoria station, this independent restaurant serving up modern, beautifully thought out food, is a beacon of light in the area, particularly if you're after something that's not in the Nova development. If you can, try and come for their set lunch or early evening menu which is super value.
Dish to have: Right now it would be the lamb sweetbreads served with Roscoff onions and cauliflower
225 - 227 Hoxton Street, London N1
Monty's have been a big hit at Maltby Street and this sees them going north of the river to set up their Jewish diner - with all the pastrami, salt beef and pickles that this brings.
Dish to have: You'll want a salt beef sandwich for sure, or perhaps their Reuben.
195 Hackney Road, London E2 8JL
The east London expansion of Moro is considerably bigger than its sibling and it's dominated by this central counter. This is the place to eat here, in our opinion, making it easy to order the small plates as you go.
Dish to have: Fried aubergines with date molasses and feta, our fave dish by far.
27 Poultry, London EC2R 8AJ
Most of the eight restaurants on the ground floor of The Ned - Soho House's massive new hotel/club/restaurant space in the City - have counter dining, however we reckon your best bet is Zobler's, their New York-style deli and diner.
Dish to have: Kick off with some devilled eggs and follow that up with the classic pastrami sandwich on toasted rye.
107 Lower Clapton Rd, Lower Clapton, London E5 0NP
Whether you're sitting up at the main counter, or out looking over Lower Clapton Road, you know is that you're going to get a startling meal at wine shop/restaurant P Franco. Particularly, given the size of the kitchen - we say kitchen but really it's just a couple of induction hobs. Right now the chef is Giuseppe Belvedere, former Head Chef of Brawn but he's swapping with George Tomlin (ex-Clove Club and Laughing Heart) from 22 Feb onwards.
Dish to have: We really want to try the Milk parfait & green almond syrup from George's new menu
6 Southwark Street London SE1 1TQ
Getting any seat at all at this much-loved pasta restaurant is generally rather tough, but the counter seats are much sought after. Watching the chefs at work was "a joy to behold" enthused Chris Pople on his Cheese and Biscuits blog. It's also turns out to be a good spot to prise iPhone-dependent teens away from their device to watch the prep and plating.
Dish to have: Either the ravioli or the pici cacio e pepe.
34 Rupert St, London W1D 6DN
This Jerusalem cuisine restaurant offers one of the best counter experiences in town. Yes, you can book the back room, but so long as you're not a group larger than three, there's no way you'd want to be sitting anywhere other than the counter. Fizzing with energy - it's impossible not to have a good time here.
Dish to have: it's a Marmite dish, but we loved the jar of polenta with asparagus and truffle oil and you'll want an opinion on it.
71 Aldwych, London WC2B 4HN
A lot of folk will pick out the Mayfair branch of this swanky sushi company as a top counter dining spot, but there's not much in the way of restaurant theatre in Holborn so if you are based in this part of town it's a great place to take more adventurous clients to sit up at the robata grill here.
Dish to have: the lamb cutlets with Korean spices.
35 Heddon Street, London W1B 4BR
Nieves Barragan and José Etura have taken the magic they wrought at Barrafina and turned this Heddon Street restaurant into one of the hottest Spanish restaurants in town. The asador upstairs will take bookings, but right now the real seats to have are around the kitchen on the ground floor.
Dish to have: Probably the Arroz con Salmonete although the potatoes with sobrasada were amazing too.
61 Rupert Street, Soho, London, W1D 7PW
With so many new openings, it's easy to forget what a big deal Spuntino was when Russell Norman first opened it seven years ago. Tucked in among the lairy bars and sex shops of Soho it became an instant hit, offering a hit of NYC/Brooklyn style and it was ALL about the counter.
Dish to have:The sliders have always been good here, but the classic dish is the truffled egg toast.
12 Jerusalem Passage, London EC1V 4JP
To be fair, we haven't been to Sushi Tetsu, you probably haven't been to Sushi Tetsu and only a handful of the better-organised foodies in London have managed to get a seat here. But that doesn't stop it (allegedly) being one of the most amazing places in town to watch a master sushi chef at work.
Dish to have: Not that we'd know - presumably anything chef Toru Takahashi puts in front of you.
25 Broadwick St, Soho, London W1F
Temper is the first solo restaurant from Neil Rankin and it's all about the meat. Plus that, frankly astonishing looking, central counter space. It's clearly the place to be, watching the chefs up close. And you'll end up being hypnotised by the inflating flatbreads if you're near that section. Also try the counter scene at Temper City for some curry action.
Dish to have: As much meat and flatbreads as you can handle - and the desserts are brilliant too.
55 Jermyn St, St. James's, London SW1Y 6LX
Just come into a minor inheritance or won big on the Lottery? Or maybe you've just been saving up to treat yourself to something a little bit special. There's not much that lunch sitting up at oyster bar at Wiltons wouldn't fix. It would probably be just as good for helping ease a broken heart or to celebrate a promotion.
Dish to have: Oysters, silly. Half a dozen West Mersea Natives and maybe some of their amazing wild smoked Scottish salmon to follow.
9 Duke Street, London W1U 3EG
The downstairs room is where all the action takes place in this Argentine restaurant round the back of Selfridges. Order a large glass of Maalbec, book the rest of the day off and enjoy a top lunch chewing the fat with chef Diego Jacquet
Dish to have: the Argentine Rib eye steak with those amazing chips "Provenzal"
Bentleys - often shucking up to 1000 oysters a day, this Piccadilly seafood spot is a lovely place to sit up at the bar and enjoy some natives with a glass of fizz.
Foleys - Sure the upstairs room at this Fitzrovia spot is always crazily busy and a lot of fun, but head downstairs to where the real cooking action is and pull up a stool at the bar to watch the fireworks happening.
Evelyn's Table - has only just opened but given the team behind it (Palomar and Barbary) you can bet it's going to be good.
The Other Naughty Piglet - The curved counter dining has the best light in the room - perfect for Instagrammers. Right now we'd want the XO linguine with egg yolk and something from their amazing wine list.
Sushi Atelier - there's been a lot of love for this newish sushi spot, not least because it's not hideously expensive. Don't miss out on the three types of tartare.
Yen - this new temple to Japanese food by the law courts makes much of its freshly made soba noodles, but if it's sushi you want, head for their counter.
La Fromagerie Bloomsbury - this newest branch of the cheese shop has an atmospheric basement dining room, but we preferred eating our cheese platter upstairs at the counter.
Chiltern Firehouse - Giles Coren may have dismissed these seats as “dork-chairs” but when the kitchen is this beautiful it's easy to see why fellow chefs and foodies would prefer a view into this kitchen rather than gazing at the starry clientele.
Donostia - perch up at counter here and work your way through some cracking Basque pintxos - the wine here is very good too.
Social Eating House - Head down to the basement of Jason Atherton's Soho restaurant for the ‘Employees Only’ dining space looking into chef Paul Hood’s kitchen. Eating here means taking on the full 9 course tasting menu experience which begins with drinks and appetisers upstairs at the Blind Pig first.
Counter Culture - Robin Gill's (from The Dairy next door) pinxtos-style bar sees them prepare every bit of the eight or so course menu in front of you.
Stockwell Continental - run by the same guys behind The Canton Arms, pitch up here with someone and share The Continental which starts with pizza and ends with pizza oven roasted meat.
Peckham Refreshment Rooms - it's almost too easy to head out of the station and straight in here to enjoy some decent wine and maybe some of their chicken liver crostini
Andina - Pop yourself up at the counter at Martin Morales' Shoreditch restaurant with a glass of Pisco Sour and enjoy watching the various Andean specialities of the day being prepared.
Del 74 - We loved our trip to Del 74 in Clapton where it's all about tacos. There are just a handful of seats up at the pass, but they're the ones to grab.
Legs - the counter by the window at this Hackney restaurant is just the place for some serious people watching - particularly good for weekend brunch gawping.
Passo - communal, normal, counter - there's all manner of choice on where to sit at this new City Road Italian restaurant. We think the counter looked the most fun though.
Bar Boulud - Head through the bar and first part of the dining room at Daniel Boulud's London spot to find yourself a seat at the counter, separated from the kitchen by a glass wall. It's pretty voyeuristic but fun to watch the terrines being turned out.
Hedone - there aren't many seats up at the pass - six in total - but if you're a serious foodie, come to pay homage, this is where you want to sit.
Up in Crouch End, popular neighbourhood spot Nickel has a vibey small plates counter scene.
Also in Crouch End, Irvin Bar Grill knocks out Italian food using Scottish produce to a loyal neighbourhood crowd.
Galley on Islington's Upper Street is a sophisticated little seafood spot - and the seats in front of the pass here put you in the heart of the action
Photo of Bocca di Lupo courtesy of Bon Vivant