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The 100 best dishes in London: Small plates

Small plates are still on-trend and we reckon these are the best in London

Natto maki at Atari-ya

There’s a growing trend in London’s faux-Japanese restaurants – the ones that aren’t Japanese-run, and serve Japanese food to Western tastes – to do away with the more challenging textures and flavours. The result is bowdlerised menus. Not so at Atari-ya, which has stayed faithful to traditional Japanese tastes and offers many delicacies, including natto. This fermented soybean has a distinctive flavour and is best enjoyed raw, perhaps in the maki (hand-rolled sushi): six pieces cost a mere £2.50 here.

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Classic tortilla at Barrafina

The humble tortilla may seem a peculiar choice for such a swish tapas bar, particularly when alternatives include the likes of razor clams, grilled quail and giant tiger prawns. All of these are excellent, but that’s partly down to the high-quality ingredients. The tortilla, however, reveals the skill of the chefs, who will cook it right in front of you. A plump, golden cushion of perfectly seasoned omelette with a soft, oozing centre, this is Spanish peasant fare at its very best. Glam it up with chorizo or spinach if you like, but it really doesn’t need embellishment.

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Shredded pork summer roll at Café East

Many people head to the Vietnamese hotspots in Hackney when they get the craving, but a trip to this unprepossessing café in a car park in Surrey Quays will yield much joy for the more adventurous diner. These cold ‘summer’ rolls are filled with crushed roasted rice and shredded pork skin as well as the usual herbs and veg, which gives them a fantastic soft/crunchy texture and an intense piggy flavour.

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Surrey Quays

‘All Balls’ at Cinnamon Soho

Of all the balls we’ve bitten this year, these are the best. Created by executive chef Vivek Singh at his latest Indian restaurant, they show off his trademark style: fusing Indian spices with European presentation. Five tiny balls are lined up on an elegant slate, each one perched on a smear of fragrant home-made chutney. Of the collection, the delicate crab cake, potato bondas (a kind of Indian potato croquette), and tiny spiced scotch quail’s eggs are the winners.

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The chips at Comptoir Gascon

Comptoir Gascon, a French bistro, traiteur and pâtisserie, is an accessible offshoot of the phenomenally successful fine-dining restaurant Club Gascon opposite Smithfield Market. Appropriately for a restaurant specialising in the food of south-west France, the french fries are cooked in duck fat. But careful choice of fat is not the only bit of Gallic polish the kitchen adds to these chips magnifiques. The tatties are hand-cut 8-10cm long and 1cm square (un petit peu thicker than better-known french fries). The final flourish is fleur de sel salt and piment d’Espelette pepper.

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Wagyu beef nigiri at Dinings

Sushi of Shiori does a strikingly similar version, but it’s not as tender nor as explosive as the one at Japanese restaurant Dinings. A lightly blowtorched piece of fatty beef lies on perfect rice, which is then topped with salty-sharp cubes of ponzu (citrus) jelly that melt on the tongue. Overarching this luxurious mouthful is the dab of truffle ‘salsa’ – insanely good and worth every penny.

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Baker Street

Baby gem salad with anchovies and pancetta at Fino

Salad isn’t something we usually get excited about. Too often, it’s merely a derisory nod to calorie-counters. But every so often, a salad comes along that deserves attention. Such is the baby gem assembly at this upmarket Spanish venue: tiny, bitter-centred baby gems layered with a sharp shallot and sherry vinegar dressing; soft, subtle anchovies; and crispy pancetta. If the prices are a little out of your league, here’s a tip: sit up at the bar (where you get a great view into the kitchen) on any Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday lunchtime, and you’ll get 50% off your food bill. That’s the kind of maths we like.

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Deep-fried pickles with blue cheese dressing at Meat Liquor

As well as their renowned burgers, this is another US import done fiendishly well by the Meat Liquor team. Tangy, juicy pickles are coated in a crunchy batter, ready to become vehicles for an artery-clogging blue cheese dressing (one we think even blue cheese phobics will like). We preferred it when they served them sliced up into dippable medallions rather than as long unwieldy slices, but it’s still a darned good snack.

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West End

Duck egg tart with red wine sauce at Medlar

Medlar is a modern French restaurant at the unfashionable end of King’s Road. Although the menu changes frequently, you can bet almost everything on it will be delectable. The duck egg tart is a case in point. Robust flavours are introduced here with the red wine sauce, lardons and sautéed duck heart accompanying a fried duck egg – one of several starters on the £27 three-course, prix fixe weekday lunch menu (dinner is £45). Whatever you order, you can expect dish after dish to wow with its balance of flavours and subtlety of expression.

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Sea urchin sushi at Nizuni

There are some essential flavours of the Japanese kitchen that you’ll never find in Pret A Manger, and uni is one of them. These orange-yellow ovaries and roe of the sea urchin are a great treat for connoisseurs, but they’re best not attempted in budget establishments; ‘cheap sushi’ is not the way to go. Instead, try uni somewhere mid-range, such as Nizuni. The sushi here is well-made, and the uni speaks reassuringly of decent sourcing; the creamy roe tastes clean and sweet, with none of the musky, fishy odour of less-than-fresh versions.

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