Jackson Boxer: the best London restaurants for solo dining

It feels like Jackson Boxer has been a central part of the London food scene forever. Incredibly, he's not yet 40, but Boxer has helmed Rita's in Hackney and the short-lived but much-loved St Leonards, as well as two London stalwarts: the joyously maximalist Brunswick House in Vauxhall (where you eat in an antique-stuffed Georgian mansion), and his highly regarded Notting Hill seafood joint, Orasay. He's now taken on what might be his biggest challenge yet: overseeing the food at one of England's loveliest country house hotels, Cowley Manor in the Cotswolds, which reopened in July following a top-to-bottom transformation by the wildly brilliant Experimental Group. We talked to him about the best places to dine solo in London.

Koya, Soho

The most simple and straightforward place for the solo diner in London is Koya in Soho. It’s accessibly priced and incredibly democratic, with counter dining and walk-ins only, all of which makes it perfect if you’re eating alone. I have been a devotee of the place since it first opened, when Junya Yamazaki was basically running it single-handedly. Shuko Oda now runs the food and she’s a genius who has managed to stay true to Junya’s vision. When I’m there, my classic order is always a few small plates from the blackboard and then a bowl of cold udon noodles with cold broth, which is the best way to eat them. 


The Sea, The Sea, Haggerston 

The Sea, The Sea is one of the more expensive dining options in London but it’s worth it as Leo Carreira has been one of the most consistently interesting chefs working in the capital for the past decade. It’s a chef’s table counter, which is great for solo diners, and it does a no-substitutions 15-course menu using the most supreme shellfish from all around the UK. Leo is Portuguese and his genre of cooking, Iberian modernism (which otherwise doesn’t really exist in London), is very technical. But in the right hands, such as his, it can be incredibly poetic and romantic. 


St John, Clerkenwell

I have two places that I always recommend to people who are coming to London for the first time and want to know what British food is all about. The first is St John, which is nearly 30 years old and is still utterly true to its original vision. Its unique trick has been to marry its assertively brutal approach to what a British bistro could be, with a wonderful generosity of spirit. And it still has all its magic and majesty. For a sense of the place that it occupies in everyone’s hearts, go into the dining room, especially at lunch, and you will see numerous tables of solo diners enjoying lunch by themselves. 


Quo Vadis, Soho

The other place I always recommend is a counterpoint to St John’s utilitarian minimalism: the wonderful Quo Vadis, which has all the trappings of a classical kind of brasserie, with leather banquettes, beautiful white tablecloths; everything is heavy and comfortable. And then, of course, there’s Jeremy Lee’s romantic cooking, which uses the very best British produce to create an intuitive vision of what British cookery can be. It’s perfect for solo diners because it’s an old-fashioned, cramped Soho dining room, which is constantly busy and buzzing, and amazing for people-watching. 


Follow Jackson on Instagram here
Or head to Cowley Manor to eat his food: cowleymanorexperimental.com

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