£3.95, Copita, 26 D'Arblay St, W1F 8EP
One of our top ten dishes
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On a second visit you may not see any of the same dishes from the first, but the ajo blanco is usually a mainstay at this congenial Soho tapas bar. One of the many tiny but thrilling dishes, the Andalucian white soup is made from almonds with a hint of garlic (ajo). The portion size is barely enough to fill an egg-cup, but the flavours transported us right back to Seville. Sup it with a glass of bone-dry sherry.
£8, St John's Square, 86-88 Clerkenwell Road, London, EC1M 5RJ
Bruno Loubet is one of the most talented chefs currently working in London, and his restaurant is consistently satisfying. Among his many stand-out dishes is the beetroot ravioli with fried breadcrumbs, Grana Padano cheese and a rocket salad. The pasta of ravioli is rolled wafer-thin yet remains firm, the filling of beetroot visible through the translucent cases. This is heavily garnished with the rocket leaves, fried breadcrumbs and a well-balanced dressing. Ask for the cheese garnish to be omitted from the dish if you are a strict vegetarian.
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£12, 21 Warwick Street, London, W1B 5NE
NOPI, from the Ottolenghi stable, is a sparkling addition to Soho’s dining scene, offering genre-bending small plates that cross culinary as well as geographical boundaries. And there’s genius behind the flavour and texture combinations. The mozzarella-like Italian burrata needs virtually no accompaniment, but here it’s served with the inspired accompaniments of toasted coriander seeds and slivers of blood orange, which complement the creaminess of the soft cheese. The rest of the menu is even more unpredictable, assembling a diaspora of ingredients on tiny plates. Order multiple dishes, and prepare for a large bill.
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£3.60, 55 Stoke Newington Church Street, London, N16 0AR
The dishes served at the original Rasa in Stoke Newington (opened in 1994) champion not just the vegetarian cuisine of Kerala in south India, but specifically the food of one caste, the Nairs. They’ve had a few thousand years to refine their cooking, making it among the most sophisticated on the planet. But the caste wasn’t averse to ‘new’ influences. The Portuguese brought New World ingredients like chillies, tomatoes, potatoes, aubergines – and the British brought their brassicas, such as cabbage. If you think you dislike cabbage, you’ve not had a thoran – thin-sliced, stir-fried with coconut, mustard seeds and spices, this side dish elevates the humble savoy to a delicacy.
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Around £14/£19 for a starter/main course, 8 Seymour Street, London, W1H 7JZ
Considering the celebrity clientele and steep price tags, it may come as a surprise that one of the many star dishes at this swanky Italian restaurant was born of post-war rationing. A shortage of wheat flour after World War II meant that chestnut flour was used instead, thus creating a new breed of pastas and breads. Locatelli’s version is anything but austere, though – it uses lots of egg yolks to produce a rich, silken texture, while five varieties of earthy wild mushrooms complement the delicate sweetness of the tagliatelle.
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Start at £1.95, 68 Tooting High Street, London, SW17 0RN
Many of Tooting’s numerous South Indian restaurants proudly offer a selection of dosas, but none can rival those served at Dosa n Chutny. Despite being hand-made to order, each of these huge, savoury-sour pancakes is eerily perfect: uniformly round, paper-thin and crisp. The standard dosa batters are fermented, from ground rice flour and black lentil, but some use semolina – ‘rawa’ – to change the texture. All are delicious, and come with various stodgy fillings, fresh coconut chutneys or sambar (a thin, spicy lentil ‘soup’).
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From £3.50, 88 Wardour Street, London, W1F 0TJ
It may seem a bit of a cheat to include a dish as simple as houmous on our list. But while the one served at hip chickpea fanatics Hummus Bros may be simple, it’s anything but dull. Creamy and smooth, it’s spread out into plain white bowls before being finished with a slick of intense tahini (sesame paste), a drizzle of olive oil, and a sprinkling of smoked paprika. There’s a choice of toppings, with plenty of vegetarian options (or chunky beef if you prefer). For extra zing, help yourself to the fresh garlic or lemon juice dotted around the communal tables in tiny plastic cups.
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£3.30, 129 Ealing Road, London, HA0 4BP
A landmark on Ealing Road, Sakonis attracts a cross-section of the local Indian vegetarian population. It’s a huge, café-style operation. Gujarati and South Indian dishes abound, and such is the throughput of customers that most buffet choices remain fresh and (where appropriate) crisp. There are various bhelpuris, all of them a sour-sweet confection of deep-fried puffed rice and diced vegetables, made tangy by tamarind sauce. Our favourite is the panipuri – crack open the deep-fried shell and fill the crisp interior with a mix of chickpeas, potato, onion and chat masala. Before it goes soggy, pop it whole into your mouth.
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£7.50, Caravan, 1-13 Exmouth Market EC1R 4QD
One of our top ten dishes
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The Antipodean breakfast culture is epitomised by this chilled-out venue at the base of Exmouth Market. From the extensive and interesting breakfast/brunch menu, one of our favourites is the grilled coconut bread, spread with a thick layer of lemon curd cream cheese, then topped with rhubarb (or, when in season, strawberries); divine.
£2.80 per 100g take-away, £9 dinner, Ottolenghi, 287 Upper St, N1 2TZ
One of our top ten dishes
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Anyone who has ever eaten at this smart café-deli will recognise its trademark style: dishes that deliver sunshine on a plate, full of colour, texture, and bright, bursting flavours. Here, roasted aubergine, fresh basil and pomegranate seeds are dressed with a north African-inspired turmeric yoghurt. Exact ingredients change throughout the year as this particular version is only available during the winter months. Other seasonal varieties include saffron yoghurt, or even a chilli-spiked one – but whatever the time of year, it’s a dish that never fails to impress.
£3.60, 3-4 Portman Mews South, London, W1H 6HS
Roti Chai is a hip canteen that celebrates the street food of India from its many regions. Kabli channa (spicy chickpeas), a Punjabi classic, is outstanding for its smoky character, a fab complement to a fried base of golden-hued onions cooked with astringent ginger and garam masala. Pair it with some of the excellent breads or rice and transport yourself direct to India.
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£7.70, 32-34 Monmouth Street, London, WC2H 9HA
Kopapa is a smart, New Zealand-style café on Seven Dials, Covent Garden. The team behind it – including top Kiwi chef Peter Gordon – also runs the Marylebone fusion cuisine beacon Providores. The kitchen excels at creating refreshing alternatives to the usual breakfasts, so if you must get eggy for brekkie, try Kopapa’s bowl of Turkish eggs, poached and served with whipped yoghurt and hot chilli butter; fabulous.
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