Harden’s unveiled the winners of its definitive 2021 London Restaurant Awards at a glittering gala ceremony in the Grand Ballroom of The Langham, London, sponsored by England’s finest sparkling wine, Gusbourne, and with the support of Haysmacintyre, BluRhapsody, Purezza Premium Water and Exmoor Caviar.

Tom Aiken’s “bijou and cosy” Belgravia HQ, Muse, scooped the Top Gastronomic Experience award sponsored by BluRhapsody pasta. It was a very tight decision, as Core by Clare Smyth put in a particularly formidable performance in the Harden’s diner survey this year. But, the editors felt that, in keeping with the awards’ aims of recognising more recently established restaurants, Tom’s “genius, light fresh flavours” should carry the day. In winning, he also pipped to the post his former collaborator David Moore of Pied a Terre (“sheer class”) – likewise nominated for the top slot – and Victor Garvey’s So|La, which was praised for “superb and creative” Pacific West Coast cuisine.

As Top Newcomer, sponsored by Purezza Premium Water, husband-and-wife team Woongchul Park and Bomee Ki triumphed with their brave London Bridge opening, Sollip.

The Canton Arms – also nominated in previous years – finally carried off the award for Best Bar & Pub, sponsored by Innis & Gunn on account of an “intriguing seasonal menu that’s always different and surprising (watermelon gazpacho anyone?) from chef Trish Hilferty”.

The Best for Business winner, sponsored by Exmoor Caviar, went to Galvin La Chapelle: “nowadays the City’s No. 1 destination for business entertaining. And it helps that the service is utterly professional, discreet and attentive too.”

The Harden’s Outstanding Achievement award, sponsored by haysmacintyre chartered accountants, broke the mould this year. In past years, presentations have been made to chefs and restaurateurs – last year to Karam, Jyotin and Sunaina Sethi for their impressive portfolio of hit-ventures: JKS Restaurants. But for 2021, the editors felt it was right to acknowledge Kate Nicholls of UKHospitality for her work in defending the hospitality industry’s interests against the challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic.

For a second awards in succession, Alexis Gauthier won the category for Top Vegetarian or Vegan. This time, it was not his original restaurant, Gauthier Soho that won the award, but his much more accessible 123V in Mayfair: “although it’s entirely vegan, frankly, you would not realise it: the flavours he gets from vegetables are amazing!”

Noble Rot Soho was the winner for Most Interesting Wine List, and also shortlisted for the Best for Business award. This is the second time Dan Keeling and Mark Andrew have won the award, with the original Noble Rot winning the same category five years ago for their first Noble Rot venture.

Andy Beynon’s Behind won Top Fish & Seafood, described as “seriously knowledgeable about fish cookery and delivering brilliant fish dishes and accompanying wines over the many courses”. Behind was also shortlisted as Top Romantic destination, which went to the “exciting and very intimate” new NoMad Hotel.

Despite the bias to recognising new talent, established operators were far from ignored. As well as Galvin La Chapelle’s win for Best for Business (noted above), The Savoy Hotel’s Thames Foyer won Best Afternoon Tea (“no matter how many sandwiches they give you… it’s not enough”); Corbin & King’s The Delaunay won Best Breakfast (“really indulgent, it feels like a real treat to sit in one of the spacious booths”); Blacklock W1 won Top Steak & Grill (“If you love good quality, flavourful meat, you’ll love Blacklock”); and Camberwell’s Silk Road was Top Cheap Eat (“fabulous, flavour-packed, spicy ‘Chinese’ food from China’s Muslim northwest”).

In the Street Food category it was Ex-Pidgin chef, Elizabeth Haigh, who carried the day for Singaporean hawker cuisine at her Borough Market stall Mei Mei of a quality that almost defies the category. “You get enough garlic to kill a vampire but beautiful flavours throughout and fans say a meal here is London’s best value”.

Peter Harden, co-founder of Harden’s and host of the awards, commented:

“After the extreme challenges of the pandemic, it is a joy to be able to gather London’s top chefs and restaurateurs again and to celebrate their successes.

The last year was tougher for the London Restaurant trade than any in history. It has been inspiring to watch the resilience and creativity of the trade in the face of such a challenge. And it is in this context that Kate Nicholls is such an appropriate winner for our Outstanding Achievement Award, sponsored by haysmacintyre, for the superb way she has spoken for the industry.

Congratulations also to all our other winners and shortlisted restaurants, who show that – far from being down and out – London remains at the forefront of excitement and innovation in dining out globally.”

The fifth awards ceremony was presented by the BBC’s Nigel Barden, and took place amidst the luxurious surroundings of The Langham, London. The complete list of nominees and winners: