Best Local Restaurant

Six signs you're in a great local restaurant
Published 17 July 2024

Six signs you're in a great local restaurant

When Best Local Restaurant nominations closed in May, our real work began. From 60,000 nominations there were, of course, many that we knew well because they were included in the Guide, but many, many more were new to us. Your passionate reports and some of our own research helped us draw up a plan to visit, anonymously, the best contenders.

Everyone’s interpretation of a great local is slightly different. To some, it’s about superb cooking on their doorstep, to others, it’s a place to be warmly welcomed any day of the week. But here’s what we found united many of the brilliant places included in this year’s list.

About Us

A website is the first place we start digging. In addition to checking out the style and price point of the menu (fine dining restaurants and tasting menus aren’t what we’re looking for here), there’s usually an interesting story filed under an ‘about us’ section of the website. It’s where we discover a chef had been Raymond Blanc’s right-hand man for more than a decade or where the episode of Asma Khan’s Chefs Table catalysed a career change into cooking. It’s where we find out why on earth the people behind the business are putting themselves through the endless difficulties of making a living in hospitality.

Owners present and correct

Lots of small neighbourhood restaurants take bookings over the phone or email, rather than paying a fee to an instant booking platform. The best places diligently called us back to confirm our table, or had the chef juggling with emails to let us know they were looking forward to welcoming us. We loved seeing talented chefs from top establishments putting in a solid Wednesday lunch shift in their own solo venture – and in some truly off-beat locations. There’s no B-team in these restaurants.

Everyone’s welcome

Without exception, a great local is filled with a varied clientele. It’s heartening to look around a dining room and find older couples, young families and groups of friends all united by their love of great food, a comfortable, warm setting, and an accessible price point.

Talking points

Restaurants with real warmth and personality help you brush off a gruelling journey within seconds of walking through the door. Prompt attention, a glass of water poured and a menu in hand and your shoulders drop as you anticipate the pleasant meal ahead. Also, the best teams have a knack of moving beyond the perfunctory interactions when taking your order and serving your meal. At the very least, they will ask where we’ve travelled from, or confide that they’re not bold enough to dine alone but respect the customers that do. Others have taken the time to share a bread recipe. We’ve even strayed into discussing the merits of a TV adaptation based on the book we were reading. The underlying message is: you’re seen as a person, not just a customer.

Happy eaters

It’s easier to listen out for happy eaters when dining alone, but during our final run of inspections we noticed there was always a soundbite from a neighbouring table — a sigh of appreciation at a particularly beautiful elderflower granita perhaps — that confirms you’re not the only one enjoying your meal. We heard some customers patting themselves on the back for their brilliant discovery and, more than once, we heard diners booking to come again the next day.

This must be the place

After any inspection for The Good Food Guide, we ask ourselves ‘would I come back here and spend my own money?’ (The Guide pays for all inspection meals.) But in search of Britain’s best local restaurants, the question is also whether this it’s a place we would kill to have on our doorstep. Even in an unfamiliar area, a couple of hours spent among fellow happy diners gives you a good sense that this is the place to be, especially if there is a sign on the door saying ‘Sorry, we’re full tonight’