The first things that spring to your mind when you hear the words "Covent" and "Garden" are probably hazy memories of over eager street performers and overpriced tat. Mimes walking on knee-high tightropes and magicians haranguing snap happy tourists – that sort of thing. Well, we'd like to change that association. Because when we hear the words "Covent" and "Garden" our minds race to plump xiao long bao, hunks of fresh turbot and addictive bacon scones. Yep, Covent Garden is actually something of a haven for the hungry.

After all, it's not like the area doesn't have a storied history with food and drink — the Sublime Society of Beef Steaks was established at Covent Garden's Theatre Royal in 1735. It's just that, somewhere along the line, Covent Garden grew an unwieldy reputation as an area saturated by sub-par chains and tourist traps. Which is way harsh in our opinion because there's a lot of top-notch nosh to be had there, too.

Away from the buskers and overly busy business lunches, there are a lot of excellent restaurants and cafés to eat and drink in Covent Garden. Whether you're in the mood for a pre-theatre dinner, a post-theatre cocktail or thoroughly detest all forms of live entertainment and just want to eat something nice, we're sure that at least one of these fine locations will be up to your exacting standards.

The 17 best restaurants in Covent Garden

Frenchie

16 Henriette Street, WC2E 8QH

Why? Frenchie is a modern French brasserie that will slap you round the chops in the flavour department and offer a real injection of Parisian culture into the heart of Covent Garden. Terrine and foie gras hold the fort when it comes to the Gallic classics while a brave range of locally sourced meat, fish and game underline what old Blighty has got to offer in the food wars. No matter which side of the channel you hold your allegiance, don't leave without a bacon scone. They're so good, you'll never Google 'things to do in Covent Garden again.' Viva la Frenchie.

frenchiecoventgarden.com

Toklas

1 Surrey St, Temple, WC2R 2ND

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It should be a given that any restaurant from the founders of Frieze is probably going to be tasteful. Toklas, however, is not just a beautiful space that attracts a crowd of equally as beautiful people, but also a restaurant that serves up some wonderful. The kitchen is helmed by Yohei Furuhashi who spent nine years at The River Cafe, and the restaurant’s subtle decadence and focus on impeccable ingredients shines throughout the menu at Toklas.

toklaslondon.com

Ave Mario

15 Henrietta St, WC2E 8QG

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You may have seen an influx of neon-trimmed mirror selfies on Instagram last year. It’s likely the culprit was Ave Mario, the latest outpost from the Big Mamma group. As bonkers and wacky as it’s predecessors, Ave Mario brings big interiors, bold flavours, huge plates and more than a few down-the-rabbit-hole moments. Buckle up and expect a wild ride.

bigmammagroup.com

Kebab Queen

4 Mercer Walk, WC2H 9FA

So often misinterpreted as quick-scoff food that lacks thought or care, kebabs get the full, fine-dining treatment at this secret restaurant below Maison Bab. Served directly onto the countertop in front of you, this is food that turns its back on the typical ideals around fine dining, foregoing fine china and encouraging you to eat with your hands where possible. Crucially, it gives credit to the humble kebab, pushing the boundaries of what this unique sector of food can really mean.

eatlebab.com

Spring

Somerset House, Lancaster Pl, WC2R 1LA

Housed in one of the most beautiful dining rooms in London, Spring is an homage to beautiful produce. Skye Gyngell made a name for herself cooking out of a small shed at Petersham Nurseries, winning a Michelin star for her ingredient-led cooking there. Spring is an extension of this approach, celebrating seasonal dining in beautiful ways. Opt for the ‘scratch’ menu, a series of dishes that are created entirely from food waste.

springrestaurant.co.uk

J Sheekey

28-32 St Martin's Court, WC2N 4AL

J Sheekey, with its firetruck red exterior, is hard to miss. This seafood restaurant, which opened in 1896, is something of a London icon, having served hungry diners for over a century. It’s quality shows no sign of abating, and it remains a special spot to park up with a heaping plate of oysters, a plate of fruits de mer or a glistening fillet of dover sole with bearnaise sauce, washed down with a glass of fizz or two. This is olde world London at its best.

j-sheekey.co.uk

Lao Cafe

60 Chandos Pl, WC2N 4HG

Often overlooked in favour of neighbouring Thailand and Vietnam when it comes to international culinary popularity, Laotian cuisine is just as worthy of attention and cult following. It features the same flavours that you’ll recognise (think lemongrass, fiery chilli, lime) but in new and unique combinations. Expect fragrant, punchy dishes that seem familiar, but still manage to surprise.

laocafe.co.uk

Tandoor Chop House

8 Adelaide St, WC2N 4HZ

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The clue is kind of in the name here – this is a restaurant to come for plates piled high with gloriously flavourful, charred chops. That is, of course, an oversimplification. The selection of small plates are impressive too, but if the lengthy tandoor section of the menu doesn’t give it away then let us tell you: grilled meats are definitely king here. Paired with a buttery naan and a creamy black daal and you have the meal of dreams.

tandoorchophouse.com

The Oystermen

32 Henrietta Street, WC2E 8NA

Why? Friends and fellow seafood aficionados Matt Lovell and Rob Hampton founded The Oystemen together in 2016. What started as a two-man wedding party oyster shucking operation turned into something a lot more tangible after the opening of The Oystermen Seafood Bar & Kitchen in Covent Garden in 2017. Daily fresh oysters are an obvious must whenever you make a visit to the oyster boyz but we'd also recommend that those with an appetite take on the whole undressed Devon brown crab. It is after all, a wholly messy, wholly delicious and wholly rewarding affair to wheedle out every last morsel of the crustacean's sweet, sweet meat.

oystermen.co.uk

Hawksmoor Seven Dials

11 Langley Street, WC2H 9JG

Why? Is there a more reliable purveyor of meaty meals in the city than Hawksmoor? That's certainly a question which is up for debate when considering how just about every one of the city's steak specialists is just as good as the last. There are so many amazing things to do in Covent Garden, but located in the old Watney-Combe brewery, Hawksmoor Seven Dials is a must-try thanks to its consistently strong quality.

Claw your way through a juicy haunch of cow and you'll immediately feel pity for anyone following a plant-based diet. The express menu option to dive head first into two courses for a mere £26 is also a bargain you'll want to make the most of.

thehawksmoor.com

Din Tai Fung

5 Henrietta Street, WC2E 8PT

Why? 250 seats, a queue that can last over an hour on a busy night, and a glass box full of masked dumpling engineers crimping your dinner as you walk in – chances are high that you've already heard Din Tai Fung hailed as one of the best places to eat in Covent Garden. The popular Taiwanese import specialises in Huaiyang cuisine and tender soup-filled xiao long bao. The expansive menu at doesn't skimp out on quality – yes, you can find more economic dumpling joints in Chinatown, but who said dumplings have to be cheap? If a high-end Spanish restaurant can charge £6 for a plate of padrón peppers, then why can't Din Tai Fung do the same for four lovingly constructed thin-skinned soup children?

dintaifung-uk.com

Balthazar

4-6 Russell Street, WC2B 5HZ

Why? On the corner of Russell Street and Wellington Street sits Balthazar. Inside of Balthazar sits an innumerable number of tourists looking for a properly glam dining experience. They're sort of in the right place. The Covent Garden remix of the original New York brasserie fulfils the same sense of satisfaction when it comes to its lush interior, grand scale and excellent service. The food might not exactly be as stunning as you'd expect from its price point, but if you're going to Balthazar for the food alone: you're going for the wrong reason.

balthazarlondon.com

Parsons

39 Endell Street, WC2H 9BA

Why? This little Endell Street restaurant is the epitome of classic. Every plate is well-balanced; every eavesdropped conversation is fascinating. Everything is done just right at Parsons: a restaurant where delicate dishes of fresh fish and shellfish changes on a daily basis.

By keeping an eye on sustainability and using unloved species of fish like huss, dab and ling, owners Ian Campbell and Will Palmer are trying their damndest to keep the ecosystem that their restaurant (and we as a species) inhabit better off. Parson's Inverawe smoked salmon? Excellent. Parson's wine list? Excellent. Parsons? Yeah, excellent.

parsonslondon.co.uk

Barrafina

43 Drury Lane, WC2B 5AJ

Why? Tapas is good when it's fine and astounding when it's great. So it's really something when we say that the tapas at Barrafina is probably the best in Covent Garden, if not, in London. And, as most of us know, things that are heralded as "the best" when it comes to food (or at least fit the criteria of what "the best" is according to a group of fussy tyre merchants) tend to get Michelin stars. While the Dean Street version of the restaurant has got one of those shiny Michelin stars to its name, it lacks any of the pretensions usually associated with such an honour. Barrafina is relaxed as they come. No reservations means you'll have to queue no matter how much clout you have.

Once inside, however, you'll find any irritation about the wait melting away almost immediately like a page of Ibérica ham slowly dissolving onto your tongue. When it comes to ordering, you can't really do wrong either. The Ibérica ham and croquetas are the obviously reliable meat and potatoes of the small plates world but everything from the quail to the fennel, radish and pear is worth your utmost attention.

barrafina.co.uk

Lady of the Grapes

16 Maiden Lane, WC2E 7NJ

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Why? 'Lady of the Grapes' is the nickname we wish we had at uni. Which seems rather fitting seeing that Lady of the Grapes is a wine bar we wish we had the opportunity to drink at while at uni. This Maiden Lane wine bar focusses on organic, biodynamic and low intervention wines that have been carefully selected by its house sommelier. Accentuating that feel-good ethos, more than 70% of the wines on the list are made female in to pay homage to – and support – women in the industry. It would be a disservice not to swing by for a few glasses of excellent wine and a range of the bar's small plates and charcuterie. Because, c'mon, positive female-powered wine AND a deli counter? It doesn't get much better than that.

ladyofthegrapes.com

The Barbary

16 Neal's Yard, WC2H 9DP

Why? Sister to Soho favourite The Palomar, The Barbary was one of the biggest openings of 2016 – although it was also technically one of the smallest, as the restaurant only seats 24, occupying a space in the picturesque surrounds of Neal's Yard. There's a similarly Levantine feel to the menu, although The Barbary is specifically inspired by The Barbary Coast, an area in the Atlas Mountains that was once roamed by pirates. The restaurant leverages the region's romantic heritage to create dishes that showcase the flavours and cooking techniques of the Spice Route, from North Africa to Jerusalem. It's not big but it is clever.

thebarbary.co.uk

Petersham Nurseries

31 King Street, WC2E 8JD

Why? Set in an Italy-meets-old-London Covent Garden courtyard that's all very, very gorgeous, The Petersham – all towering floral displays, distressed mirror tiles and sexy modern art – is at the heart of it. The cooking here's very much in the Italian tradition of letting great ingredients do a lot of the hard graft, and the menu's dripping with evocative names (cuore del Vesuvio tomatoes, Culatello di Zibello ham, Amalfi lemon) and namec hecks for Haye Farm in Devon, run by Harry Boglione (whose parents own Petersham ) and his partner, Emily. Dishes are predictably pretty and the layering-on of flavours is subtle; when it works it's a winner. And it oh, so often works.

petershamnurseries.com