100 best dishes in London: 100-91
As Fräulein Maria von Trapp taught us, many of our ‘favourite things’ come in brown paper packages – and these gorgeous snacks are no exception. Presented in a bag, complete with a little red wax seal, what you get is a tumble of long, deep-fried piggy strips, with a warmly spiced barbecue flavour and plenty of crunch. Think pork scratchings, only much, much better. The fact that you can munch on them at any time of the day or night, all the while gazing out at breathtaking skyline views of the metropolis, is a big plus.
£9.50 (lunch)/ £10.50 (dinner)
Korean food may be fashionable, but it still remains largely impenetrable to your average Western diner. Soondoobu jjigae is a case in point – although this wibbly-wobbly cauldron of deep-red spicy seafood stew (jjigae) with curdled tofu (soondoobu) isn’t as scary as it looks (or sounds). The version served at this mid-priced Korean restaurant certainly has a kick, but it’s far from the three-chilli annotation next to its name on the menu. We’ve had this dish dozens of times and think it’s still the best in town: the hidden poached egg with its perfectly runny yolk is a yummy bonus.
Nopi, from the Ottolenghi stable, offers genre-bending small plates that cross culinary as well as geographical boundaries. And there’s genius behind the flavours and textures too. The mozzarella-like Italian burrata needs virtually no accompaniment, but here it’s served with toasted coriander seeds, seasonal soft fruit – perhaps clementine or fragrant nectarine – and a drizzle of lavender honey, all designed to 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.
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, adding influences from far and wide along the way – including British brassicas. If the very thought of cooked cabbage makes you queasy, you’ve never tried thoran – this side dish of thinly sliced leaves, stir-fried with coconut, mustard seeds, potatoes, lentils and spices, elevates the humble savoy to a proper delicacy.
As well as their renowned burgers, the Meat Liquor team’s deep-fried pickles are another US import done fiendishly well. Tangy, juicy dill pickles are coated in a crunchy batter, ready to become vehicles for an artery-clogging blue cheese dressing (one we think even blue cheese-phobes 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.
£6 for three
Ask people to name just one dish from this modern Chinese teahouse and most would plump for the macarons displayed in rainbow shades in the patisserie – they’re the most attention-grabbing and photo-friendly. However, it pays to delve deeper into the menu. Yauatcha’s executive head chef, Tong Chee Hwee, is highly innovative, as demonstrated in dishes such as the venison puffs (popular at both the Soho and City branches). Egg-glazed and garnished with sesame seeds, they look like char siu puffs with crumbly, samosa-shaped layered pastry, but bite into them and you get a very different, intense but sweet flavour. Life-affirmingly good.
The signature dish at Dinner by Heston Blumenthal, and no doubt one that will join the likes of ‘snail porridge’ and ‘bacon and egg ice cream’ as shorthand for the zany chef’s legacy. Lord, is it good! A beautiful orb with a shiny ‘skin’ of thin, sharp mandarin jelly encasing some of the lightest, creamiest chicken liver parfait known to man – a triumph of flavour, texture and vision that fills us with childish glee.
From £20 for five pieces
At Yashin, individual seasonings are paired with each piece of flesh to bring out the essential flavours of seafood or meat; some are also lightly blowtorched to create contrasting textures and smoky grace notes. Each meticulously crafted morsel has its own merits, whether yellowtail with black pepper or torched fatty tuna with a dollop of fresh wasabi. Consistently supple, well-formed rice completes the formula for Yashin’s perfect nigiri. A real treat.
Dean Street Townhouse is one of those Soho restaurants that attracts self-important media types, all big watches and loud voices. But the menu manages to ground most people with its line-up of old-fashioned British classics. One signature plate is particularly brave, having been traduced to a mockery by generations of school caterers… yes, mince and spuds. The version here is piquant, properly browned, full-flavoured, wonderful in texture, and tastes of, well, childhood. Order this dish if you want to show someone what everyday British food was like in decades past – it’s sure to receive a big nod of approval.
Kiwi-born chef Peter Gordon established himself as the king of fusion when he was at the once-famous Sugar Club, and as the brains behind The Providores. He’s arguably still London’s master of pick ’n’ mix cooking. Laksa – a spicy noodle soup from the Malaysian peninsula – has long been used by Gordon as a starting point for his creations. But what you won’t find in Penang or Singapore is a coconut-and-tamarind broth filled with smoked Dutch eel, green-tea-flavoured noodles, musky Scottish girolles and sweetcorn, all topped with a soft-boiled quail’s egg. Yes, it’s a lot of action on the tastebuds, but curiously, it works.
Antep is a town famous throughout Turkey for its excellent cooking, particularly kebabs and baklava. This Upper Street venture does justice to its namesake, and the dishes remain true to the flavours of south-eastern Anatolia. The alti ezmeli shish boasts particularly tender pieces of lamb atop rich tomato sauce, while the sogan kebabs – ground lamb with chargrilled shallots and pomegranate sauce – have the pleasingly sour-sweet flavours you can find along the Silk Road from Anatolia to Central Asia.
£3.90 for three
When ordering dim sum, it’s important to consider a balance of textures: after all, that’s what Cantonese cooking is all about. So, once you’ve chosen the slithery, sticky and doughy items (cheung fun, steamed dumplings and buns), make sure you ask for this delightful creation. Tiny pieces of mixed dried meats nestle at the epicentre of a deep-fried dumpling made from slightly sweet puréed yam. It’s light and crisp on the outside, chewy on the inside. You get three per plate, and they’re fairly rich, so you’re usually happy to let someone else try one. But not two. Oh no.
The first time we had this porcine cracker – one of the signature creations of the Salt Yard group – we were a little disappointed that it wasn’t easier to divvy up. Then we saw the light – this is a dish that’s too good to share. The belly comes in three layers: tender, juicy base; fatty, full-flavoured middle; and a thick, crunchy top layer of crackling (the bit that’s tricky to cut). All this on a bed of stewed, starchy cannellini beans with just enough rosemary running through them. Simple, but hugely comforting.
For decades, this East End institution has been serving up this signature Jewish snack to a happy, hungry crowd. It couldn’t be simpler: a big chunk of just-cooked juicy salt beef sitting on a fresh plain beigel, optionally spiked with some eye-wateringly strong mustard – all for a smidgen over £4 (add an extra 20p for pickles). No tables or standing on ceremony, just a pure, perfect salt beef beigel. Best of all, this gem of a place is open 24 hours a day: be prepared to queue whatever the hour, but rest assured it’s well worth the wait.
From £9.60pp (depending on fillings)
You know those indecisive diners whose FOFE (Fear of Food Envy) prompts them to ask, ‘Shall we order these two dishes and share?’ Well, this futuristic hotpot canteen has an innovative answer for anyone who demands swapsies at half time. Commitment-phobes can get together and order a ‘half and half’: a large pot filled with two types of broth. That’s the easy part: the umm-ers and aah-ers then need to pick from dozens of fillings sailing past them on the kaiten (seafood is our top tip). Dip, cook, eat and repeat – think of it as a fun form of decision-making therapy.
Few dishes evoke a notion of Empire as much as this one, brought to the UK by colonials returning from Raj-era India. In Queen Victoria’s time, kedgeree would be served in the morning, so it follows that you should enjoy it in the grand, clattering dining room of The Wolseley, arguably the capital’s ultimate breakfast venue. As it happens, this version, a heap of creamy curried rice punctuated by generous chunks of smoked haddock and topped with a runny-yolked poached egg, is so rich and buttery, that it would do very nicely for brunch or even an early supper. Just as well the restaurant is open all day.
Sometimes, only proper grab-and-go food will do. But if we have to look another egg and cress sandwich in the face, we may just implode. What we want is comfort and spice, at a decent price. Oh, and we don’t want to wait. Well then, it’s off to Wahacito we go. This takeaway counter (right next door to the Charlotte Street restaurant) will build you a burrito while you wait. They’re all good, but our favourite is the one with the terrific slow-cooked Wahaca pork pibil in the middle. Add this to fluffy green rice, homely black beans and service with a smile, and you can just about forget your cares for a few minutes.
From £7.50 (takeaway box); £11.50 (eat in)
Most of the grilled skewers on the menu at this busy backstreet Turkish restaurant are great, but the beyti is our favourite for its delicious simplicity. It’s not much more than a kebab of minced lamb, chilli, parsley and garlic, but the skill of the always-occupied barbecue chef and the intense smoky heat of the coals elevate it to something truly special. Some fine Turkish bread and a basic salad is all you need as accompaniment – and that’s what’s provided when you order it in a box.
Shackfuyu has turned out a heroic number of Instagrammable dishes since opening in 2015, but this one – the lovechild of a sinfully crisp prawn toast and a mayo-drizzled Japanese filled pancake – has stuck in our memory the longest, thanks to its topping of bonito shavings which dance in the heat like some fantastical living creature. Now that Shackfuyu is running as a permanent site (rather than a limited-edition pop-up), you’ll also have plenty of time to explore the fantastic miso aubergine and the french toast with green-tea ice cream.
At Herman ze German, sausages are everything they should be: fat, juicy and made with the highest quality ingredients – they’re actually imported from a German butcher called Fritz, don’t you know? Choose from chilli beef, classic bratwurst (minced pork and veal), or our favourite – the bockwurst (made with smoked pork). With its delicate flavour, springy texture and plenty of ‘knack’ when you bite into it, this beauty needs nothing more than ketchup and mustard – though the optional free topping of crispy onions and a dollop of sauerkraut (50p) or curry-tomato sauce (£1) are jolly nice, too.
We’ve encountered similar versions of this dish, but none as tender or as explosively flavoursome 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 a dab of truffle ‘salsa’. Insanely good and worth every penny.
Long before the rest of London started coming over all unnecessary about patties of meat sandwiched in a bun, one burger was worth seeking out above all others: Daniel Boulud’s gourmet beef version, topped with melt-in-the-mouth, barbecue sauce-laden pulled pork and a judicious helping of shredded cabbage doused in jalapeño mayo, all served in a cheese-crusted brioche bun (with french fries, of course). Despite London’s dedication to the dude-food cause in the intervening years, this dinky slider still surpasses much of the competition – plus, it’s an affordable way to gain access to the Knightsbridge dining scene.
Back in the days when Borough Market was still wholesale-only, a handful of food enthusiasts banded together to create an irregular fine-food collective selling directly to the public. Among them was Leila McAlister, who created this now-iconic chorizo sandwich. She’s since moved on to Shoreditch to head up the excellent Leila’s Shop and café, but her buns live on. Join the salivating queue waiting for the renowned griddled Spanish Alejandro chorizo treats, drizzled with olive oil and complemented by silky piquillo peppers from Navarra and pungent British rocket – all for a very reasonable £4.95.
Venue says We've been the authentic home of Spanish food in Borough Market since 2004 and one of the first to bring the tapas culture to London.
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-crafted to order, each of these huge, savoury-sour pancakes is eerily perfect: uniformly round, paper-thin and crisp. Made from a batter of ground rice flour and black lentil flour, they come with various veg-based fillings, fresh coconut chutney or sambar (a thin, spicy lentil ‘soup’).
A croqueta is a croqueta is a croqueta, right? Wrong. Wrinkled Spanish abuelitas will tell you sternly that while the little buggers are a cinch to gobble up, they’re a fiddle to make – and they can end up a stodgy disaster in the wrong hands. For granny-approved croquetas in London, Caravan’s Bankside branch is a safe bet: here, they’re served piping hot with the requisite crunchy coating to counterpoint their creamy filling – béchamel sauce stirred with melted San Simón (smoked Spanish cheese) and studded with proper chunks of jamón ibérico. A real treat. The accompanying saffron mayo is a nice touch, but one best concealed from the purists.
£13 (charcuterie and baby potatoes, for dipping, cost extra)
It’s Gallic accents a go go at this specialist cheese shop and restaurant in Spitalfields, where the pièce de résistance is a selection of fondues. The ‘classic’ version is a classic for a reason: a bubbling mixture of salty, nutty comté and buttery emmental in which to dunk your baguette and drown any sorrows (this is pure comfort food). Variations made with one or more of the month’s seasonal cheeses are also well worth the potential heart attack: in winter, we go dippy for the ‘moitié-moitié’ (half and half) featuring gruyère and vacherin mont d’or. There’s usually also a blue-cheese option, for maximum pong.
The younger sibling of hip Italian restaurant Bocca di Lupo across the way, this gelateria prides itself on doing things differently. Sure, there are one or two predictable offerings (hazelnut, say), but most of the gelato creations – from ricotta and sour cherry to pine nut and fennel seed – will blow your mind. And none more so than the blood orange sorbet, a dark, deeply intense ice experience made using only fresh Sicilian fruit and cane sugar. It’s outstanding, but not a permanent fixture on the ever-changing seasonal menu – so if you see it, order it.
Okay, so you think butter chicken is merely a high street curry-house staple made with that boring old bird – a ubiquitous protein that’s much better breaded and deep-fried. Wrong. At Chai Ki, they steep the thigh meat overnight in a tandoori marinade, before simmering it in a sauce where they’ve dialled up the heat and the depth, adding crispy spinach, melon seeds and miso (for extra umami, aka ‘mmm’-factor). We think it’s the best butter chicken you will ever eat – in your life.
The chaps at Pizza East, perhaps sensing an approaching zeitgeist, wisely got on board the salted caramel bandwagon back in 2009. Their launch menu included this pud, and it’s still as popular as ever – both at the original restaurant in Shoreditch and at its younger siblings, Pizza East Portobello and Pizza East Kentish Town. The pastry base is plain, and a good thing too: the filling is so rich that it’ll make your eyes roll into the back of your head – especially if you finish each mouthful with a little of the accompanying crème fraîche. Share it with a loved one. Or not.
£1 each (minimum order four skewers)
The bold flavours and unpolished interiors of this popular Camberwell canteen really bring out the backpacker in us – and supper on a shoestring is every self-respecting traveller’s speciality. Cue Silk Road’s lamb skewers, based on a recipe hailing from the far north-western Chinese territory of Xinjiang. These fatty, salty cubes of cumin-and-chilli-crusted lamb are unfeasibly moreish; at £1 a pop, they’re also excellent value. The minimum order is four, but believe us, this is a blessing. In fact, we defy you to order only four…
Choose your Gymkhana dining partner carefully, because this deluxe take on the biryani is big enough for two, and so damn tasty you’ll be engaged in a fork duel as soon as you’ve broken through the domed, golden-brown pastry crust and started to scoop out the fragrantly spiced, perfectly cooked rice grains and strips of tender venison layered beneath. Once you’ve piled your fair share on to a plate, drizzle over the pomegranate-and-mint raita, whose zing prevents the richness of the dish from being overpowering. After this experience, no curry-house biryani will ever make the grade again.
If you’re one of the surprisingly large number of people who just can’t seem to cope with coconut in any form, then you should probably look away now. Because what’s magical about the calamari-with-a-twist at this stylish Vietnamese street-food joint is that the golden-battered crust is distinctly nutty, with delicate candy notes giving the tender squid inside a whole extra dimension. Factor in the house-made sweet-chilli-and-herb sauce, served in its own dinky bottle, and the result is quite glorious.
Truth be told, if you were to pinpoint the main reason for choosing to dine at Chiltern Firehouse, it wouldn’t be a single dish – despite superchef Nuno Mendes’ wizardry in the kitchen. No, the food at this glamorous, clubby hotspot is undeservedly upstaged by its A-lister clientele. Happily, anything you order will do its damnedest to divert your attention from whoever might be sitting at the surrounding tables. The crab ‘donuts’ are a case in point: the airy dough is stuffed with lightly dressed white crab meat and sprinkled with intensely fishy coral ‘dust’, with wasabi and chopped egg as surprising additions. They’re like posh popcorn for your shameless rubbernecking.
Roka still impresses with its mastery of the Japanese-style robata grill – so grab a ringside seat by the knotty-grained-wood counter overlooking the action at this capacious high-decibel rendezvous. The culinary pyrotechnics cover everything from lamb cutlets with Korean spices to sea bream with miso and red onion, but we’re suckers for the inch-thick skewered scallops – each one given a sweet, peppery lift with dainty shiso cress and wasabi cream. Shochu cocktails and rare sakes are the drinks of choice.
London drizzle – pfffft! It gets properly cold up in the peaks of the Peruvian Andes, so despite us associating the country with sunshine and sours, it also has an abundance of comfort-food staples for chillier days. This is Casita Andina’s take on one of them: a canoe of sweet and starchy steamed corn transporting a rich, chilli-fired cargo of pulled-pork adobo, with a tomato salsa garnish to lift all that lovely stodge. As a dish, it’s a bit of a Benedict Cumberbatch: not traditionally good-looking, but with an army of blindly adoring fans. Once you get a taste for it, you’ll return, rain or shine.
Yes, yes – that joke. Again. A deep-fried breaded chicken dish with the initials KFC. But the Keralan fried chicken at this teeny Indian with a Brit twist (formerly a hip Brixton pop-up) is no laughing matter. Served with pickled mooli and a dinky pot of mild curry-leaf mayo, it’s just the armadillo that a perfect KFC should be: crunchy on the outside (but without a trace of grease), mouth-wateringly soft and juicy in the middle.
Not content with making his own cheese, Kappacasein’s owner Bill Oglethorpe set about creating the daddy of all toasted sandwiches, for which queues form outside the Dairy’s stall on the corner of Stoney Street. Poilâne sourdough bread is covered with a mixture of 60 percent Montgomery cheddar, then, depending on the season, either 15 percent Ogleshield (Oglethorpe’s sweet, nutty, alpine number) or his equally delicious London raclette, with 15 percent comté and 10 percent Bermondsey Hard Pressed (another Kappacasein invention) for good measure. Chopped leeks, and up to three kinds of spring onion are added for extra oomph.
£7 for four
Chefs have been sending out peerless Punjabi grills at this chronically busy restaurant for over 40 years, and despite the crowds, their quality never falters. Go at the weekend or for lunch to avoid the longest queues; once you get a table, make sure that a plate of these smoky, sticky, spicy, gingery, charred and fiery beauties is the first thing you order. Tayyabs’ lamb chops have legendary status – when some geezer tried to send a lamb chop into space back in 2014, and it was recognised as coming from Tayyabs, the video went viral (and fans duly mourned ‘the one that got away’).
From £5.65 (lunchtime, small)
It may seem a bit of a cheat to include a dish as simple as houmous on our list. But while the one served by 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 large selection of toppings, with plenty of vegetarian choices (or chicken and beef options, if you prefer). For extra zing, help yourself to the fresh garlic or lemon juice dotted around the communal tables in tiny plastic cups.
The menu at this dinky little offshoot of Exmouth Market’s acclaimed Moro changes all the time, but this dish has been there – more often than not – since day one. Morito does bright, bold things with the kinds of vegetables you once told your mother you’d never eat. The beetroot here is prepared like Iranian borani, the sweetness of the crushed root offset by a splash of red wine vinegar and a daring amount of garlic, then layered with chopped walnuts, a sprinkling of black sesame seeds, sprigs of fresh dill and morsels of crumbly, salty feta. Grab a piece of flatbread and get dipping.
Back in the noughties, many of London’s Spanish restaurants got hooked on dishes from ‘la plancha’ – the hotplate grill. José Pizarro’s tiny tapas bar in Bermondsey didn’t arrive on the scene until 2011, but it has a good plancha, and if you’re in the right spot you can watch the chefs at work in the mini galley kitchen. From the day’s specials board, you might find morsels of market-fresh octopus cooked to order. Other top-quality market ingredients to get the plancha treatment include red king prawns, ‘presa’ pork fillet and superb razor clams, but we cling to the eight-tentacled slitherer.
When this Fulham gastropub opened in 2008, the heart of many a food pilgrim was set aflutter by the simple brilliance of its signature bar snack, the venison scotch egg – from the warm, oozing yolk to the toothsome casing of top-quality shredded venison fresh from Berkshire. Fast-forward ten years and The Harwood Arms (now Michelin-starred) is Fulham’s worst-kept secret, which makes dining tables really hard to come by. Thankfully, fans of the scotch egg simply need to bag a seat in the bar with a pint of ale or a glass of classy wine by its side.
There are many reasons for visiting Hawksmoor’s six London branches, but if you’re in for cocktails rather than a three-course, beef-based blowout and merely after some sustenance, then head to the Spitalfields Bar. Within its walls lies sandwich perfection: braised short-rib with Ogleshield Jersey cow’s milk cheese, layered in a slightly sweet brioche roll, served with an order of mahogany bone-marrow gravy, which is the delicious ‘dip’. While you’re there, it would be rude not to sample a cocktail or two – you won’t regret it, even if next day’s hangover tries to convince you otherwise…
Koya’s springy wheat noodles are made on the premises every day, and have remained consistently excellent since the place opened in 2010. Our favourite dish has to be the vegan ‘walnut miso’ udon: a ‘why didn’t I think of that?’ combination of intense nuttiness, in which sweet-salty red and white misos are mixed with walnut purée. Dissolve a small spoonful of the powerful paste mixture into the soup for each mouthful. Toppings might include seasonal mushrooms or hispi cabbage. Tip: it’s even better if you add a slow-cooked ‘onsen tamago’ (literally ‘hot-spring egg’) into the mix, though of course it then becomes veggie, not vegan.
If a friend were to offer you a dessert made from pork fat and egg yolks, you’d probably puff theatrically, pat your tummy and claim you couldn’t eat another bite. But some dishes are much more than the sum of their parts, and in the talented hands of Nuno Mendes, these frog-like ingredients are transformed into one princely dessert: a glistening golden ingot of super-smooth, slow-cooked egg yolks in a pool of pink-hued port caramel, with a beguiling yet irresistible flavour and a richness surpassed only by Richard Branson surfing a wave of lottery balls.
This raw-food restaurant in Westbourne Grove really sticks it to anyone who ever dared to label healthy eating dull. On the menu, you’ll find gourmet versions of croquetas, pizza, cheesecake and more – although nothing is as it seems. The sushi, for example, arrive at the table disguised as typical maki rolls; upon closer inspection, you’ll discover that the ‘rice’ is in fact grated kohlrabi, and the filling combines shredded cucumber, carrot, pickled enoki mushrooms and alfalfa sprouts. They’re just as rich and their flavour is as balanced as the real deal. Dip them into the accompanying ponzu sauce, or lavish them with wasabi and avocado ‘mayo’. Raw-some!
Salt Yard’s frilly-edged courgette flowers are jammed with monte enebro (a salty goat’s cheese with ‘blue’ notes) before they’re tempura-battered, deep-fried, and drizzled with lavender honey. Versions of this dish are widely available elsewhere, but we still think that the ones served at Salt Yard (and its younger, sexier siblings Dehesa, Ember Yard and Opera Tavern) are worth seeking out for their perfect balance of creamy and crispy, sweet and salt undertones.
The folks at this Thai barbecue dive on muso mecca Denmark Street play fast and loose with their menu, which is a fusion interpretation of northern Thai cuisine (and none the worse for it). Seeing its signature starter on the menu, you’d be forgiven for wanting to pass: pongy fish sauce with fried chicken? But trust in the Goat: the fish sauce is caramelised (which removes some of its in-your-face odour while retaining its pungent complexity) and amped up with garlic; the chicken wings are covered in a deliciously crisp rice-flour batter that refuses to turn to mush under its cloak of sauce. You’ll lick the plate clean.
Considering that pork is rarely eaten by most of India’s population, this dish is a bit of an in-joke – but also a perfect representation of Brit-Asian fusion. A take on the classic bacon buttie, Dishoom’s version comprises freshly made naan encasing sugar-cured, cold-smoked, grilled back bacon, a slick of chilli-tomato jam, yoghurt and sprigs of coriander. The Indian components add freshness to an otherwise heavy breakfast standby, while the slightly charred naan is a great pairing with the smoky slices of pork. To drink, a builder’s brew just won’t do – opt for a glass of the house chai instead.
Is there anything you can’t do with cheese? Apparently not, according to the owners of the Cheese Bar (a spin-off from the legendary Cheese Truck, hidden beneath a burlesque club in Camden). Yes, there are oozing grilled sandwiches and messy riffs on raclette, but the real food porn is a sweet/savoury sundae involving blue cheese lusciously laced with quince, honey and shards of honeycomb. A lactose-laden flavour bomb that’s off the scale for impact as well as subtlety.
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, eclectic flavours. Here, squidgy roasted aubergine slices are combined with zhoug (‘crazy hot green sauce’), amba (mango pickle), tahini and pitta croûtons for added crunch. Exact toppings change throughout the year – your version could be made with sweet-sour date yogurt, pickled lemons, nuts and basil, or combined with spiced yoghurt, coconut and chilli. Either way, this dish never fails to impress.
Ignore the ‘smack’ connotations and trot over to this Soho fast-food joint (from the people behind Burger & Lobster) for its incredible and incredibly good-value lobster rolls – our favourite is the exceptional Seven Samurai. Picture a lightly toasted brioche generously filled with sweet, succulent lobster meat, the crunch of Japanese cabbage, a lick of Japanese mayo, some finely sliced spring onion, pickled ginger and a final sprinkling of togarashi (‘seven spice’). The price may have leapt up since launch (when it was a bargainous tenner), but this is still a seriously moreish, unashamedly decadent sandwich.
When St John Bakery started selling its decadent custard-filled doughnuts at its Druid Street arch on Saturday and Sunday mornings, queues formed. These pillowy, deep-fried treats, pumped with glossy, vanilla-speckled custard, are available from 9am and sell out fast. Or pop round the corner to St John Maltby, a wine bar-cum-restaurant that sells its own stash alongside champagne and coffee. Or – and we’re just thinking out loud here – order a batch of 24 for home delivery (within London) and tell the driver that your friends are on their way round. We won’t judge.
This is a dish that you smell before you see it: almost every table in Jacob Kenedy’s bustling Soho Italian orders it, and each time one wafts past you, heavy with the scent of truffle, you know about it because your senses go all jingly-jangly. ‘That truffle salad’, as it’s known to the restaurant’s fans, has been on the menu since opening back in 2008. We love the combination of earthy radish and celeriac, pops of tangy sweetness from the pomegranate seeds, with the umami from the truffle-oil dressing and the saltiness from crumbly pecorino bringing it all together. A real taste of la dolce vita.
After a bowl of this potent garlicky soup, you’ve more chance of a three-way with Alexander Skarsgård and Brad Pitt than of pulling a real vampire. It doesn’t stop us, though – there’s something hypnotically appealing about the addition of crunchy garlic chips and caramelised black-garlic oil to Shoryu’s umami-rich broth laden with barbecued pork belly, vegetables and a nitamago egg. Just make sure your other half orders the same thing, or you’ll get it in the neck later on.
Venue says Get two-for-one Shoryu buns every Monday when purchasing any bowl of ramen.
A perfect platter for the charcuterie-lover, Bull & Last’s own-made offerings range from deliciously umami-packed duck ‘prosciutto’ to chicken liver parfait with a bit of body. There’s fantastic chunky ham hock terrine too (great with the tiny gherkins), while the celeriac rémoulade is a good foil for the rich rabbit-and-prune rillettes and meaty pig’s head croquettes. Tiny pepper radishes, watercress, chutneys and toast complete the deal at this smart spot. Also make sure you leave room for one of the desserts – they’re amazing.
We’d put almost everything that leaves the kitchen of this stylish Indian small-plates joint on our ‘best dish’ list if we could, but decorum prevents us. However, here’s the headline: dinner here wouldn’t be complete without a nibble on one of their delicious savoury ‘doughnuts’. A crunchy, golden sphere whose coating is made from crisp-fried vermicelli threads, it yields to a melt-in-the-mouth centre of intricately spiced minced venison – the balance of texture and flavour is spot-on, especially with the accompanying fruity sauce. Trust a restaurant called Gunpowder to deliver a flavour bomb like this one.
It’s Pancake Day all year round at this bubbly outfit on Flat Iron Square, which specialises in flipping perfect buttermilk beauties with a just hint of sourness. All kinds and variants are up for grabs here – although we’re sold on the Instagram-ready ‘Dutch babies’. These yorkshire-pudding lookalikes are baked in the oven, served up in a heavy black frying pan and dotted with fruity or savoury accoutrements: goat’s cheese, parmesan and cheddar, plus some frazzled strips of bacon, perhaps.
Venue says A not so traditional pancake house serving good, honest sweet and savoury food and beautiful craft ciders.
The menu varies from day to day and from visit to visit, but ajo blanco is usually a mainstay at this congenial Soho tapas bar. One of the restaurant’s many tiny, but thrilling dishes, this Andalusian white soup is made from almonds with a hint of garlic (ajo), and here it comes topped with walnuts, dill and beetroot. The portion is barely enough to fill an eggcup, but its flavours will transport you right back to Seville. Scoop it on to the restaurant’s excellent bread and pair it with a glass of bone-dry sherry.
It’s the ultimate Brit pub snack: deep-fried whitebait. Only this time, the folks at hip Battersea kebab joint Bababoom have given it an all-the-rage Middle Eastern twist, coating these oily little fish with dukkah (an exotic ‘dry dip’) – something they were inspired to do while on a trip to Turkey. There’s no precise recipe for dukkah – it’s the kind of thing mothers argue about – but the one made at Bababoom is banging. It uses crushed toasted hazelnuts and sesame seeds (for crunch), aleppo chilli (for heat), dried mint and sumac (for aroma), plus cumin, coriander and fennel seeds (for more aroma, of the spice trail variety). Smothered on to the fish and deep-fried, the results are dangerously addictive.
What Pablo Escobar was to the cocaine trade, Dominique Ansel is to the art of patisserie: his trademarked Cronut is as addictive as crack and promises its own sugary high. For his first London bakery, the chef unveiled a vast menu of beautifully presented sugar-laden treats – including some London-only signatures such as the curiously named ‘banoffee paella’. Taste it and you’ll put aside any gripes about its supposed Britishness: this is a banoffee pie built upside-down in a paella pan (caramelised bananas, then dulce de leche cream, then cookie crumbs). At the very last minute, it’s flipped on to plates for the customer – to prevent the very British fear of ‘soggy bottoms’.
You know when the first dish you taste is so good that it makes you want to cancel everything else you’ve ordered so you can eat it on repeat until you burst? Well, Rök’s scallop, ’nduja and samphire riff is one of those ‘marry me’ dishes: served still sizzling in its shell, it’s cooked in oil rendered from Calabria’s spicy Italian sausage, so its flavour packs a smoky chilli heat. The result is mouth-watering and moreish – but limit yourself to one (or two) each, because the rest of the menu won’t disappoint.
There’s so much to love about this neighbourhood Italian on Peckham’s boho-bourgeois Bellenden Road. It manages to serve genuinely excellent food while remaining astonishingly affordable and resolutely down to earth; it also serves daily pasta specials whose homemade strands are so fresh that you risk getting all emotional after your first bite. These ever-changing dishes have simple garnishes that let the quality of the carbs do the talking: from spaghetti with garlic, oil and chilli, or linguine with anchovies and capers, to seasonal thrills such as fresh heritage tomatoes and basil. Best of all, a ‘small’ but generous portion costs just £7.
Here’s a funny thing about venison. It’s so naturally lean (being from wild, free-roaming deer) that if you used it to make a burger on its own, it might be too dense and bland. Step forward, Highland cattle. These bovine beauties contribute the ‘moo’ part of the double-headed ‘veni-moo’, which comprises one lean, top-notch venison patty and one fashioned from juicy, fatty beef. Melted cheese, sweetly caramelised onions and a creamy béarnaise sauce add more gourmet flourishes, although the soft bun is reassuringly old-school American. This is burger brilliance at its best.
Picture a cheesy cube with the chew-and-bounce of a ’mallow and you’re halfway there. To make this brilliant little snack, the chefs at Peruvian hotspot Chicama (the Chelsea sibling to Pachamama) soak tapioca pearls in milk, then stir in a heap of full-flavoured parmesan. Next, they press it in a tray, wait for it to set, cut it into ’mallow-shaped cubes, dust it with tapioca flour and deep-fry it. Because, let’s face it, everything tastes better deep-fried. The crisp-edged, chewy-in-the-middle cubes are pretty damn delicious on their own, but also come with blobs of ocopa (a faintly cheesy sauce spiked with fruity amarillo chillies and even blended fresh marigolds). This is tapioca, but not as you know it.
Gajar halwa is a bit of an Indian staple – the kind of dish you’ll recognise as soon as it arrives. Only this one, at hidden gem Talli Joe (naff name, awesome food), is something quite different. Quite special. First of all, it’s been given a Brit twist by using ‘black’ (actually more like dark purple) heritage carrots, which creates a daring, deliciously sinister look. The veg are cooked very simply with ghee (clarified butter) and milk, then seasoned with cardamom, fennel and sugar, before finishing with cream. But then, just when you think this gooey, buttery pud couldn’t get any more delicious, they go and add some peanut brittle for crunch and nutty saltiness. It’s sublime.
Venue says Have you booked a brunch date yet? Get 90 minutes of spicy plates, good vibes and bottomless prosecco every Saturday at Talli Joe, noon-3pm.
It’s a long, long way from spaghetti and meatballs, but you can indulge your deepest ‘Lady and the Tramp’ fantasies by ordering this Asian ode to Italian trattoria richness at ritzy Park Chinois. Its ‘carbonara’ is a surprise package involving slippery Inaniwa udon noodles, a rich orange-yolked egg (cooked at 65 degrees), umami-packed sea urchin and pancetta, with adornments courtesy of pansies and nori dust. Perfect for the restaurant’s slinky, jazzy, Shanghai boudoir glitz.
Venue says Park Chinois is an entertainment restaurant that pays homage to the opulence and decadence of 1930’s Shanghai, with exquisite Chinese food.
The decor’s more silk than souk, but there’s no arguing with the Anglo-Indian culinary mash-up on offer at this streetwise Covent Garden sibling of Westminster’s patrician Cinnamon Club. Foodwise, star billing must go to its spirit-lifting take on shepherd’s pie – a dish of cardamom-infused lamb rogan josh topped with buttery mashed potato. No pub lunch or ‘meal for one’ ever provided such comforting warmth and spicy satisfaction.
Channelling the vibe of Hong Kong’s teahouses, this tiny café is a diamond in the rough with two dead-cert blasts bookending its tasty line-up: epic prawn toast ‘revisited’ at the beginning, and equally epic ‘cha chaan teng’ french toast at the end. The latter is a fried peanut-butter sandwich by another name, and comes paired with a painfully good, kulfi-dense caramel-and-soy ice cream. Elvis lives in every bite.
£6.50 for two
You may have to hang around for an hour or so before bagging a seat at this taco joint from the Hart brothers (Barrafina et al), but good things come to those who wait. In particular, hold out for the signature ‘al pastór’ taco – a jumble of 24-hour marinated pork shoulder, caramelised pineapple, guacamole taquero, white onion and coriander, all loaded into native corn tortillas made in house each day.
Just like pide (pronounced like ‘bidet’), lahmacun is a kind of Turkish pizza. What makes it different is the fact that you add veg or salad and roll it up like a hot wrap. The version at this stylish modern Turkish outfit balances a crisp base and beautifully spiced meat with a zingy, crunchy DIY salad filling of parsley, red onion, baby gem and pickled cauliflower. It’s a ‘pizza wrap’, and then some.
It’s easy to see why this dish has amassed a cult following in London – and why it was one of the culinary calling cards that the owners of Trullo decided to include on the menu at their second restaurant, Padella. Wide, thin strips of light and stretchy pappardelle – rolled that same day, just before opening – are tossed with a delectably garlicky ragù that has been simmered for eight hours to make the beef melt-in-the-mouth wonderful. A light coating of freshly grated parmesan, and it’s ready to be devoured (after its Instagram photocall, obvs). A slow-cooked scene-stealer that will keep you coming back for more.
So simple. So stunning. We’re talking about a snack here – a combination of olives, labneh, chickpeas and homemade dukkah, to be precise. At Lilliputian Popolo, the olives are given the ‘pane’ treatment (dusted in flour, rolled in egg and a coating of fine breadcrumbs) and then deep-fried. You bite into the crunchy shell and lo! – there’s a jewel of shiny, purplish kalamata inside. It’s a premium olive – gutsy, briny and brilliant.
Venue says New wines? Come and find out as we have some delicious raw wines from our special suppliers.
‘Pass the tea leaf salad’ – a eyebrow-raising request, but not at all uncommon at this Burmese joint in a reconfigured London Fields warehouse. Said collation comes laden with textures – crunchy purple cabbage, split peas, sesame seeds and pickled tea leaves (a bit like really delicate capers), the whole thing cut through with an extraordinary homemade nutty confection that tastes a bit like bombay mix on crack. A head-spinning plateful indeed.
‘Going underground’ at Neil Rankin’s smoky, greasy and downright thrilling barbecue joint reaps rich rewards, especially if you order the strangely alluring aged cheeseburger tacos. The hand-pressed ‘shells’ are made with corn ground on site and they’re loaded up with rough-cut meat, crispy provolone cheese, dollops of chipotle sour cream and green sauce. We reckon they knock most orthodox burgers out of the park.
Venue says New breeds of cow are coming in every week – come and find out which is your favourite…
It’s not a cake and it looks almost too pretty to eat, but this evocatively named dessert is totally extraordinary: in essence, it comprises umeshu (plum wine) poured over two ‘drops’ of translucent agar jelly garlanded with cherry blossom and gold flake, creating an otherworldly confection that simply begs to photographed. We’d urge you to sample it too – the effect is almost transcendental. As for the rest, Sakagura is smart and swish, with Japanese food that’s fit for healthy and wealthy appetites.
Venue says Feast on a bottomless brunch with a Japanese twist with all you can drink Champagne, house wine and Japanese bloody Marys.
You won’t have room for every ready-to-eat dish doing the rounds at trendy Magpie, so watch the trolley for this bad boy: glistening hand-cut beef and a lick of French’s, plus shards of cornichon and shallot. To the side: an egg yolk emulsion for mixing, and even some truffle crisps, just because. It’s like a swanky no-bun Big Mac. You need it in your life.
There’s so much more to this dish than meets the eye. First, the ’nduja sausage is painstakingly homemade: slabs of pork belly are skinned, salt-cured, minced and paprika-marinated before being turned into sausage, then hung and smoked. Finally, they’re split open and the contents are brought to room temperature, hand-whipped and spread in a fat smear on the side of the plate. They make the equally addictive potato bread with creamy buttermilk, adding soft cubes of maris piper. For a final flourish, they spoon a dollop of tangy cultured cream on one side. The fact that you get to eat this in an ultra-cool, ultra-relaxed counter canteen, for the bargain price of £4, just makes it taste that much better.