15 restaurants that show off the culinary best of the UK and Ireland

The United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland boast some of the world’s most dazzling dining scenes. Their restaurants regularly sit on top of World’s Best lists, MICHELIN guides, and more. In the hands of the region’s very talented chefs, top-notch seafood and fresh-as-it-gets produce are transformed into unforgettable meals.

Whether you live in the area or make a regular culinary pilgrimage there, meals at these restaurants are extensions of the unique cities they call home. 

Read on for a guide to the 15 restaurants that have shaped what it means to eat out in the UK and Ireland.


Opheem (Birmingham)

Two Indian-inspired dishes adorned with flowers and fresh herbs sit on top of a table at Opheem, a restaurant in Birmingham.

Local produce is transformed into artistic Indian dishes at Opheem. Credit: Opheem

Chef-owner Aktar Islam’s South Asian heritage inspired some of the menu at MICHELIN-starred Opheem. Islam pushes all sorts of culinary envelopes, taking cues from The Ni’matnama, a 15th-century Indian recipe collection, along with Persian and Arabian nuances. Case in point: Opheem’s tisria dish finds roots in West Bengal and features Orkney scallop, tomato rasam, and radish, while its pickled pink fir potato amuse bouche originated in Delhi. The result is an edible geography lesson that blends British ingredients with deep-rooted Indian traditions—and is unlike anything else in Birmingham right now.

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Imad’s Syrian Kitchen (London)

A table at Imad's Syrian Kitchen in London is topped with plates of Middle Eastern appetizers such as cauliflower, aubergine, and pita bread.

Feast on mezze-style dishes served with warm pita bread and Syrian wines at Imad’s Syrian Kitchen. Credit: Imad’s Syrian Kitchen

Syrian chef, entrepreneur, and refugee Imad Alarnab debuted his Soho restaurant after running successful pop-ups in 2021. At his brick-and-mortar, Alarnab brings slices of his home country to London’s Soho neighbourhood via striking blue-tiled interiors and pitch-perfect Middle Eastern delicacies. Expect skewers of lamb marinated in sumac, olive, and orange oil, and strips of juicy grilled chicken with paprika crisps and tomato mayo. In addition to the Damascus-inspired menu, Imad’s also stands out for the chef’s humanitarian commitments: Alarnab taught refugees cooking skills as he made his way across Europe to the United Kingdom and regularly raises funds for good causes through special dinners and supper clubs. 

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Shanahan’s on the Green (Dublin)

A wooden board with slices of bread and a triangular cuts of butter at Shanahan's on the Green, a restaurant in Dublin.

House-baked cheese and onion bread served with corn muffins and butter is offered as a welcome treat at Shanahan’s on the Green. Credit: Shanahan’s on the Green

Shanahan’s on the Green is renowned for some of Ireland’s finest steaks and seafood. In addition to the New York strip sirloins, across-the-pond influences show up in the form of creamed sweet corn and crispy fried onion strings. The interiors are just as delicious: There’s original plaster work, antique treasures, and plenty of leather accents, plus Shanahan’s Oval Office bar, which features memorabilia honouring US presidents with Irish ancestry. (That’s because Shanahan’s was founded by American Irish entrepreneur John M. Shanahan.) St. Stephen’s Green views—the Georgian building is practically synonymous with the Irish capital—round out this must-visit Dublin spot.

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Forage & Chatter (Edinburgh)

Wild Scottish ingredients are the name of the game at this Edinburgh mainstay. The menu is made up of foraged and local produce, including berries from the city centre and mushrooms and seaweed from the Scottish coastline—all sourced within a 25-mile radius. That local bounty is transformed into sumptuous seasonal dishes such as beef fillet tartare and lamb rump with couscous, smoked carrots, and mint yoghurt. Forage & Chatter’s forest green interiors, stone walls, and tweed furnishings are also nods to the great outdoors and make it a reliable haunt for relaxed date nights and catch ups with friends. 

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Pensons (Tenbury Wells)

Tables set for dinner service are flanked by floor-to-ceiling windows at Pensons, a restaurant in Tenbury Wells.

Natural light floods the gorgeous dining room—a former barn—at Pensons. Credit: D.LOFTUS, Pensons

It’s not just a MICHELIN-starred menu that attracts diners to this Netherwood Estate restaurant. A meal at Pensons also includes a tour of the charming kitchen garden and a stop at the onsite artisanal homeware store. Those coming just for the food, however, are in for a unique countryside feast. Chef Chris Simpson’s menu is fueled by the grounds’ own apples, rapeseed oil, flour, and honey. The offerings change on a daily basis, but recent standouts have included red mullet with potato and saffron, and duck with turnip, chicory jam, and pink peppercorn. Your bucolic meal unfolds in a restored barn, decked with agricultural artefacts and views of the surrounding farm. 

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WOOD (Manchester)

2015 Masterchef winner Simon Wood leads the kitchen at this quintessentially British hotspot and is known to greet diners regularly. Come for his expert riffs on regional classics such as hen’s egg with truffled chips and ham and spring lamb with buttered leeks, cabbage, and bacon. Wood’s mains pair exceptionally well with the restaurant’s iconic wine flights, a globetrotting selection of bottles from Chile, Ukraine, Israel, and—of course—the United Kingdom. Book the chef’s table for an extra-special occasion, and you’ll be treated to a glass of sparkly English rosé. 

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St. JOHN Smithfield (London)

A group of madeleines are arranged in a floral shape at St. JOHN, a restaurant in London.

Madeleines are a St. JOHN delicacy. Credit: Harriet Langford, St. JOHN

St. JOHN is a bastion of London’s restaurant scene, most known for championing nose-to-tail dining in the English capital. Founders Trevor Gulliver, Fergus Henderson, and Jon Spiteri now operate three restaurants, a bakery, a winery, and a wine company in the city—though it’s St. JOHN’s Smithfield location that scored a MICHELIN star in 2009. Its decadent British menu is rewritten for every service, but diners flock here for signatures such as the bone marrow on toast (a favourite of the late Anthony Bourdain) and deep-fried Welsh rarebit. Not to mention the desserts: fluffy madeleines and Eccles cake, a rich currant-studded puff pastry, have gained this city staple a cult-like following. 

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Midsummer House Restaurant (Cambridge)

White cloths drape the circular dining tables at Midsummer House Restaurant in Cambridge.

Midsummer House Restaurant’s elegant dining room is set in a Victorian villa. Credit: Midsummer House Restaurant

This two MICHELIN-starred stalwart brings British cooking to sophisticated heights. The exquisite meal takes place in an airy dining room in an elegant Victorian villa—an ideal setting to savour a technically sound menu featuring plenty of luxe ingredients from chef-owner Daniel Clifford and head chef Mark Abbott. For the ultimate Midsummer experience, go for the 14-course tasting menu, which wows with freshwater prawn, gazpacho mousse, and French rabbit with prunes, duck liver, and lovage. Don’t leave without a drink on the first-floor lounge and terrace, where sweeping River Cam views add to the restaurant’s stylish yet evergreen appeal. 

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Gaijin Sushi (Birmingham)

Three salmon nigiris on a black plate at Gaijin Sushi, a restaurant in Birmingham.

Torched salmon is a highlight at Gaijin Sushi. Credit: Gaijin Sushi

Gaijin Sushi’s immersive omakase experience quickly scored it household-name status after opening in 2018. The restaurant is considered a Japanese trailblazer and also stands out for its chefs, who regularly talk diners through the menu, crack jokes, and answer questions. Sample the restaurant’s greatest hits by getting the chef’s selection, complete with thinly sliced yellowtail carpaccio with chile, ponzu sauce, and flying fish roe. Or take the a la carte route and dig into seared nigiri and dragon rolls (tempura prawn, eel, and avocado) for a taste of Gaijin’s MVPs.

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Ralph & Finns (Glasgow)

The wood-panelled Whisky Room at Ralph and Finns in Glasgow

Cosy up with a post-dinner dram at the Whisky Room at Ralph and Finns. Credit: Ralph and Finns

Meet one of Glasgow’s chicest restaurants. When the family behind popular Urban Bar & Brasserie rebranded the sprawling spot (once the Scottish headquarters of the Bank of England) in 2020, they turned it into a bold and beautiful place decked with marble, plants, and parrot-patterned wallpaper. Locals can’t get enough of Ralph & Finn’s impeccable cocktails—poured behind a 22-metre bar—including the sage and pomegranate margarita. The global menu packs a punch, too. Chef John-Paul Lappin dishes up cosmopolitan mains such as chicken Kiev with crispy pancetta and red wine sauce or pork belly with crispy potatoes and celeriac and apple slaw. Add live music on weekends, and you’ve got a city-centre charmer. 

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Host (Dublin)

A white table with a plate of sliced meat at Host, a restaurant in London.

Tuck in to hearty grilled Irish meat, seasonal sharing plates, and fresh pasta at Host. Credit: Host

Some of Dublin’s best shared plates and fresh pasta keep diners returning to this beloved Italian venue. Bring a group to do justice to Host’s hefty Mediterranean grilled meat platters. For a more intimate occasion, settle into one of the restaurant’s cosy charcoal booths and split the tagliolini with creamy pecorino and black pepper. Wines spotlighting smaller natural vintners make ideal accompaniments to your meal. Host is owned by Chloe Kearney and her partner, co-owner and head chef Niall McDermott (who worked in London kitchens including gastropub The Drapers Arms), and the duo’s penchant for simplicity and subtlety are the restaurant’s most enticing features. 

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Rosso Restaurant (Manchester)

This Italian institution (co-owned by football legend Rio Ferdinand) really brings the party. Mancunians adore Rosso for its live music and opulent Grade II-listed dining room, decked with grand marble domes and Renaissance-inspired accents. They’re also here for superb southern Italian plates including wild mushroom and sliced summer truffle crostone topped with slices of lardo di Colonnata and smoked beef short rib agnolotti. Don’t miss a glamorous photo op by the mirrored walls, which have earned Rosso its Instagram stripes. The sceney spot is also known for one of Manchester’s best wine selections, picked from some of the oldest wineries in the world.

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Gauthier Soho (London)

A trio of tables with blue and white tablecloths stand against a red carpet at Gauthier Soho, a restaurant in London.

The intimate dining room at Gauthier Soho is made for special occasions. Credit: Gauthier Soho

Acclaimed chef Alexis Gauthier shook up London’s fine-dining scene when he opened a namesake spot in 2010, widely recognised as the first classical French vegan restaurant in the United Kingdom. A Regency townhouse setting and silver service add elegance to its tasting menus, and Gauthier takes an eco-conscious stance by ditching ingredients with large carbon footprints. The ever-changing selection could feature seasonal beauties such as a leek terrine with plant caviar, dulse seaweed, and an oyster leaf beurre blanc, plus tomato ravioli with hydroponic Genovese basil. Gauthier (and its casual Oxford Circus counterpart 123V) are green game-changers, bravely redefining vegan cuisine in the British capital. 

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SY23 Restaurant (Aberystwyth)

This little jewel of a restaurant is nestled in the seaside town of Aberystwyth and was awarded a MICHELIN star for its breathtaking foraged, pickled, and fermented creations. The glittering crystal installation on the restaurant’s staircase makes a fitting prelude to the awe-inspiring spread served here. Chef Nathan Davies (winner of the BBC’s Great British Menu) works his magic on a ten-course tasting menu, featuring a who’s-who of Welsh ingredients such as scallops with seaweed and burnt butter and Penhelyg cheese, cauliflower, and autumn truffle. Much of the hyper-regional produce is sourced from the SY23 postcode, underscoring Davies’s reverence for Welsh farmers and fishmongers.

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Fontana (Holywood)

It’s not easy to be a community favourite and tourist hotspot, but Northern Ireland’s Fontana is the ultimate crowd pleaser. The contemporary European restaurant is loved for its friendly service, lunch specials, and exceptional housemade bread. Head chef and owner Colleen Bennett is passionate about locally sourced specialties, including native lobster and 28-day dry-aged Irish steaks. Enjoy it all in a dapper dining room, all crisp white linen and modern art—grab a perch on the terrace or herb garden when the weather allows—and you’ll understand why Fontana is a treasured neighbourhood gem. 

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Shekha Vyas is a London-based reporter, writing about business, lifestyle, and food. Follow her on Instagram at @shekhav or on TikTok at @tastingbritain.