Here it is, a countdown of the capital's most coveted plates. No more need to agonise over the menu; dive straight in as we reveal dishes to die for at London's best restaurants and street food market stalls. The 100 best dishes 2016 picks out sophisticated signature dishes, indulgent desserts and sweet treats, finger-licking street food and restorative plates of breakfast food. Our list also celebrates 2016 food trends – from fiery curries to fried chicken. Tuck in to our top 100 below.
Produced by Laura Richards
List and reviews by Tania Ballantine and Nicola Arencibia
100 best dishes in London: 100-91
Meatballs are rarely sexy, and never pretty. But they can be very, very good. These versions, which first appeared at the ultra-trendy original Soho branch, sparked a meatball-loving trend across the capital. They are surprisingly light, and the hit of fennel is a revelation. Once you’ve had three, and mopped up the smooth tomato sauce they arrive smothered in, you’ll feel deeply comforted. If waiting for a table isn’t your thing, go at lunchtime instead – you can book until 4pm.
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.
Venue says: “Special offer - 20% off food (excludes desserts and drinks), applies Sun-Wed only, 5.30-6.45pm.”
£8.50 (lunch)/ £10.50 (dinner)
Korean food may be fashionable, but it’s also a cuisine that remains largely impenetrable to your average western diner. Soondoobu jjigae is a case in point. But the 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 here dozens of times and think it’s still the best version in town: the hidden poached egg with its perfectly runny yolk is a yummy bonus.
£15 (half, for one)/£29.50 (whole, for 2-3)
Watch out – this chook has its claws out. That’s right, the whole roast chicken at Tramshed (and Hixter, Tramshed’s more mainstream spin-off), arrives upright with a stick up its bum, its legs in the air, and its talons still very much on. But don’t worry, this isn’t a Chinese restaurant, so you don’t actually have to eat the feet – just divvy up the juicy, crisp-skinned meat and herby bread stuffing between you and a couple of mates (by the way, given the price, this works out as a total bargain). There are no roasties, but this chook does come with proper skinny fries, which are actually pretty damn great for dunking in the accompanying gravy.
Born, legend has it, in Belem just outside Lisbon, these delectable Portuguese egg custards feature rich, chewy pastry and a still-richer vanilla-sweet filling. Lisboa’s exemplary versions have been baked on the premises since 1982, and you’ll find no finer north of the Iberian Peninsula. If you’re lucky, your visit to this simple little café will coincide with the tarts emerging hot from the oven, but throughout the day you can guarantee they’ll be freshly baked; sprinkle them with cinnamon and order a bica (espresso) to counteract the sugar. A famous pit-stop away from the Portobello market kerfuffle.
If you’ve got the seasonal blues and a soothing bowl of comfort food is called for, then the beef pho at Cay Tre’s Soho branch, made with a combination of hanger steak and brisket, will fix you, body and soul. Pho (pronounced ‘fuh’) is Vietnam’s iconic soup noodle dish, made with soup stock that’s clear in the Hanoi style – and which tastes intensely of beef marrowbone. Here, as there, the rice noodles are sheer, and fresh, aromatic herbs decorate the surface. A side dish of sawtooth leaf, Asian basil, fresh chilli and beansprouts is provided to stir in: a nice authentic touch.
This Thai café in Brixton Village Market is a good place to relive the backpacker experience. KaoSarn’s som tam (green papaya salad) is just how the street vendors in Thailand would make it – complete with slivers of bird’s-eye chilli that assault your palate with their heat. The sharp citrus crunch of green papaya is given sour notes by the addition of ground dried shrimps, with crushed peanuts adding nuttiness. It’s on the menu at the airy St John’s Hill branch, too, but somehow – and maybe this is in our heads – it tastes better in Brixton.
A staple at modish Lebanese café Yalla Yalla, the pan-fried chicken livers (sawda djej) aren’t going to scoop first prize at any beauty pageant. But if you’re looking for big, bold flavours, give it a whirl. Glistening pomegranate seeds add glamour to an otherwise brown mass, but in a single mouthful you’ll get the lingering hit of chopped sautéed liver and mellow garlic, ahead of the faintly sweet aftertaste of the fruit molasses. Best eaten with warm flatbreads and the fresh and feisty house tabbouleh.
£3.75 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 standard slithery, sticky and doughy dishes (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.
Dean Street Townhouse is one of those Soho restaurants that attract self-important media types, all flash watches and loud voices. But the menu grounds most people, as it’s old-fashioned and British – in the best sense. One signature dish is particularly brave, having been traduced to a mockery by generations of school caterers… yes, mince and tatties. The version here is piquant, properly browned, full-flavoured, wonderful in texture, and tastes of, well, childhood. If you ever want to show someone what everyday food in Britain was like in decades past, yet leave them with a favourable impression, order this dish.
100 best dishes in London: 90-81
£6.50 for three large rolls
Many people head straight to Hackney when they get a craving for Vietnamese food. By comparison, our suggestion of a meal in an unprepossessing café located in a car park in Surrey Quays may seem underwhelming. Sometimes, however, it pays to be a bit more adventurous. At Café East, the kitchen team uses super-fresh ingredients – and this commitment to savvy sourcing shines through in every dish. The cold ‘summer’ rolls are a winner: they’re filled with baked crushed rice, vermicelli noodles and shredded pork skin as well as the usual aromatic herbs and crisp veg, which gives them a fantastic soft/crunchy texture and an intense piggy flavour.
Thanks to the quality of their porky wares, the folks from Pitt Cue Co are now managing to court both high-end diners in the City and their original followers, who used to queue for hours at this tiny Soho site, their first permanent home. Since relaunching the venue as Little Pitt, the kitchen has, to its fans’ delight, returned to its food-truck roots. Which means smoky, tender pulled pork. Only this time, served in a toasted brioche bun and topped with crisp red-cabbage slaw and juicy pickles. If you’re going to eat only one pulled pork bun in London, make it this one.
Despite not being right in the New Malden Korean heartland, Cah Chi is the jewel in the crown of south-west London’s Korean restaurant scene, and produces the full range of Korean home-style cooking. Blood pudding or hot chilli dishes aren’t for everyone, so we recommend starting with something simpler, such as pa jeon. There are three pancakes on the menu; all are served sizzling hot, then cut at the table with scissors. Our favourite is filled with spring onion and seafood – it’s light and delicate, with a freshness imparted by the frying process that is distinctively Korean. Staff are happy to choose dishes for you, if you’re not sure what to order.
£5.30 for three
Many people, if asked to name just one dish from this modern Chinese teahouse, 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 a crumbly, samosa-shaped layered pastry on the outside), but bite into them and you get a very different, intense but sweet flavour. Life-affirmingly good.
£15 for two
These sticky ribs are the closest thing you’ll find to the perfect rib outside of the American Deep South. Prepared in an imported wood smoker stoked with hickory and applewood – which gives the Norfolk-sired meat an intense smokiness – the juicy ribs are covered in a sweet, sticky glaze and nicely charred. We can’t think of them without salivating. To offset the density of the meat, the ribs come with creamy coleslaw and tangy pickled red onions. Messy finger lickin’ guaranteed!
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 – this side dish of thin-sliced cabbage, stir-fried with coconut, mustard seeds, potatoes, lentils and spices, elevates the humble savoy to a delicacy.
From £20 for five pieces
At Yashin, individual seasonings are paired with each piece of flesh to bring out the flavours of the seafood or meat; some pieces are lightly blowtorched, resulting in contrasting textures and smoky flavours. Each meticulously crafted morsel has its own merits, whether yellowtail with black pepper, or torched fatty tuna with a dollop of fresh wasabi. Consistently well-formed, supple rice completes the formula for perfect nigiri. A real treat.
These are more a snack than a dish, but oh, what a snack they are. Arriving in a little brown paper bag (and, as Fräulein Maria taught us – ALL of our favourite things come in brown paper packages), 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 day or night, all the while gazing out at the breathtaking skyline views, is a big bonus.
Kiwi-born chef Peter Gordon became the king of fusion while still at the Sugar Club, and arguably he remains London’s master of pick ’n’ mix cooking. Laksa – the spicy noodle soup from the Malaysian peninsula – has long been used by Gordon as a starting point in his creations. But what you won’t find in Penang or Singapore is a coconut-and-tamarind soup base 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 taste buds, but curiously, it works.
Venue says: “Heading to the theatre in Covent Garden this month? Our tapas menu of small plates is perfect for a quick pre-theatre or post-theatre meal!”
The first time we had this tapa, one of the signature creations of the Salt Yard restaurant group, we were a little disappointed that it wasn’t easier to divvy up for sharing. 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. Simple, but hugely comforting.
100 best dishes in London: 80-71
A bit of an in-joke of a dish, considering pig is rarely eaten by most of the population of India, but at the same time a perfect representation of British-Asian fusion. A take on a classic bacon buttie, the Dishoom version comprises freshly made naan encasing sugar-cured, cold-smoked, grilled back bacon, a slick of chilli-tomato jam, yogurt and sprigs of coriander. The Indian components add freshness to an otherwise heavy breakfast dish, the slightly charred naan a great pairing with the smoky slices of pork. To accompany this dish, a builder’s brew just won’t do – opt for a glass of the house chai instead.
From £9.60pp (depending on chosen 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 that can be 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 (the seafood is our top tip). Dip, cook, eat and repeat – think of it as a fun form of decision-making therapy.
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 restaurant (part of hip Brixton container park Pop Brixton, and coming soon to bricks-and-mortar Soho) is no laughing matter. Garnished with deep-fried curry leaves, and served with a dinky pot of mild curried mayo, it is just the armadillo that a perfect KFC should be: crunchy on the outside (but with not a trace of grease) while mouth-wateringly soft and juicy in the middle.
This East End institution was waaay ahead of the current trend for one-dish operations. For decades, it has been serving up this signature Jewish snack: a big chunk of just-cooked juicy salt beef, sitting on a fresh plain beigel (that’s beigel – we dare ya to order a bagel in here), optionally spiked with some eye-wateringly strong mustard – all for less than £4. No pickles (they’re 20p extra), no tables or standing on ceremony, just a pure, perfect salt beef beigel. Best of all, it’s open 24 hours a day. Be prepared to queue at almost any hour, but rest assured that these are well worth the wait.
Read it on the menu, and this starter at elegant Marylebone high-flyer Texture may seem a gimmick. When the dish arrives, gloriously adorned with an intact pigeon leg (claw and all), it may even shock. But the substance more than matches the style: this is an intelligently composed, superbly executed creation. Fat little slabs of ruby-middled pigeon flesh meet with an intense red wine jus. Charred pieces of corn and a delicate sweetcorn purée offset the subtle gaminess of the bird. And a few pieces of ‘bacon’ popcorn (flavoured with bacon powder) round it off. Taste? Sublime. Texture? You betcha.
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 (£12.50) boasts particularly tender pieces of lamb atop rich tomato sauce, while the sogan kebabs (£11.50) – 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.
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 mackerel and topped with a runny-middled poached egg, is so rich, so 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 moments.
Venue says: “Soho is our first restaurant-style home with seated areas throughout and ze basement offers rest-bite from the buzz of Old Compton Street.”
At middle-class supper parties across the capital, guests will press you into hearing about their favourite houmous recipe or how to get your quinoa just right, but ask them about sausages and they may just recoil with horror. But these people need to get out more, and try the ones at Herman ze German. Everything a sausage should be: fat, juicy, and made with the highest quality ingredients, they’re imported from a German butcher (called Fritz, wouldn’t you know). Choose from chilli beef (made with pork, beef and chilli), classic bratwurst (made with minced pork and veal), or our favourite – the bockwurst – made with smoked pork. With a delicate flavour, a springy middle and plenty of ‘knack’ when you bite into it, it needs nothing more than ketchup and mustard, though the optional free topping of crispy onions, and a dollop of sauerkraut or curry-tomato sauce at 50p a pop are jolly nice, too.
From £6.50 (takeaway box); £10.50 (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.
100 best dishes in London: 70-61
NOPI, from the Ottolenghi stable, offers 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 toasted coriander seeds, seasonal soft fruit – perhaps blood orange, miyagawa (a Japanese satsuma) 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 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 an exterior of thin, sharp mandarin jelly encases some of the lightest, creamiest chicken liver parfait known to man – a triumph of flavour, texture and vision that fills us with childish glee.
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 the dab of truffle ‘salsa’. Insanely good and worth every penny.
Venue says: “We have just launched our new menu at the Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park, based around dishes from Provence.”
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 patty, 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 burger still surpasses a lot of the competition – plus, it’s an affordable way to gain access to the Knightsbridge dining scene.
£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 backpacker’s speciality. Enter 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 skewers, but believe us, this is a blessing. In fact, we defy you to order only four…
From £29 (as part of prix fixe menu)
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 £29 three-course, prix fixe weekday lunch menu (the same menu at dinner is £46). Whatever you order, you can expect dish after dish to wow with its balance of flavours and subtlety of expression.
Back in the days when Borough Market was still a wholesale market, a handful of food enthusiasts banded together to create an irregular fine-food market selling directly to the public. Among them was Leila McAlister, who created the 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 buns, drizzled with olive oil and complemented by silky piquillo red pepper from Navarra and peppery British rocket – all for a very reasonable £4.50.
An ice cream sundae with a heap of other desserts on top? Are you freakin’ serious? Yes we are – and you better be too, as Molly Bakes has armies of fans who don’t mind queuing for their sugar fix. This wizard idea hails from Oz, but here it’s transformed into edible art (see Instagram for further deets). Choose one of the four shake flavours (peanut butter, chocolate, raspberry or salted caramel) then make yours unique with more-is-more toppings, from Ice Cream Union ice-cream sandwiches to homemade lemon tartlets and toasted marshmallows. It’s about as far from clean-eating as you can get… and we like it.
Venue says: “Every day from noon-6.30pm and 10pm onwards, Shackfuyu offers an express menu with one small dish, one large dish and a drink for £19.”
Shackfuyu has turned out a heroic number of Instagrammable dishes since opening in 2015, but this one – the love-child of a sinfully crisp prawn toast and a mayo-drizzled Japanese filled pancake – stuck in our memory the longest, thanks to its topping of bonito shavings that dance in the heat of the dish to resemble a fantastical living creature. Shackfuyu was originally launched as a year-long pop-up, but the good (yet unsurprising) news is that it is now permanent rather than limited edition. That gives you plenty of time to also explore the fantastic miso aubergine and the French toast with green-tea ice cream.
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 made from a mixture of ground rice flour and black lentil flour and come with various stodgy fillings, fresh coconut chutneys or sambar (a thin, spicy lentil ‘soup’).
100 best dishes in London: 60-51
A croqueta is a croqueta is a croqueta, right? Wrong. 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 abuela-approved croquetas in London, Caravan’s newest branch is a safe bet: here, they’re served piping hot with the requisite crunchy coating to counterpoint their creamy filling. Said filling is a treat: the béchamel is stirred with melted san simón (smoked Spanish cheese) and studded with proper chunks of jamón ibérico. The accompanying saffron mayo is a nice touch, but one best concealed from purists.
£13 (charcuterie and baby potatoes, for dipping, cost extra)
It’s Gallic accents a gogo at this specialist cheese shop and restaurant in Spitalfields, whose pièce de résistance is its selection of fondues. The classic 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.
This gelateria – the younger sibling of hip Italian restaurant Bocca di Lupo, just opposite – prides itself on doing things differently. Sure, there are one or two predictable offerings (hazelnut, say), but most of the gelato creations – from ricotta, coffee and honey, to lavender and white chocolate – will blow your mind. And none more so than the blood orange sorbet, a dark, deeply intense ice experience made using only fresh 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. Or try your luck at the second, larger branch of Gelupo, on Cambridge Circus, where it’s produced in bigger batches using a special machine.
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.
Take everything you’ve ever thought about butter chicken, from the fact that it’s a high street curry house staple, to the fact that it’s just boring old chicken (which as we all know has to be breaded and deep-fried to become fantastically exciting). Now throw that all away. Because here, they tandoori marinade the thigh meat before simmering it in a sauce where they’ve dialled up the depth (adding miso for extra umami, aka ‘mmm’-factor) and the heat. It’s the best butter chicken you will 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 when you finish each mouthful with a little of the accompanying crème fraîche. Share it with a loved one. Or not.
Given London’s recent frenzy for all things chicken, it was only a matter of time before a chicken denuded of meat would become the next big thing. But trust us, this is no foodie version of ‘The Emperor’s New Clothes’. Instead, it is the perfect bar snack – a Chinese riposte to westerners’ pork scratchings that also ticks the on-trend street food box. Said carcass is heavily marinated before being deep fried and rubbed with herbs and Sichuan pepper – grab some friends, get the beers in, order this, then descend like vultures upon the crisp, spiced meaty scraps that cling to the bones.
Truth be told, if you were to pinpoint the main reason you’d chosen to dine at Chiltern Firehouse, it wouldn’t be a single dish – despite superchef Nuno Mendes’ wizardry in the kitchen, the food at this glamorous, clubby restaurant is undeservedly upstaged by it’s 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’. They’re like posh popcorn for your shameless rubbernecking.
Roka still impresses with its mastery of the Japanese-style robata grill, which dominates the capacious dining room, and unsurprisingly, grills are highlights of the menu. Order the inch-thick scallops, peppery and sweet thanks to their dainty topping of shiso cress and wasabi cream; or the satisfyingly crisp and umami-packed spiced chicken wings with sansho-pepper salt and lime (£5.90). The rest of the menu features signature dishes such as yellowtail sashimi with truffle yuzu dressing (£16.60), creamy, risotto-like rice hotpots, and black cod dumplings (12.90).
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. Unfortunately, as a result of this, its other top-quality meat and game dishes, and its warm, unfussy ambience, The Harwood Arms is Fulham’s worst-kept secret, which makes dining tables really hard to come by. So it’s especially gratifying that to sample this speciality you just need to bag a seat in the bar.
100 best dishes in London: 50-41
London drizzle – ha! 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.
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 Kappacasein’s new premises on 1 Stoney Street just as they used to at its former Borough Market stall, a (ahem) stone’s throw away. 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 three kinds of spring onions 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 chops 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.
If you’re one of the surprisingly large number of people that 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 coconutty, with delicate candy notes giving the tender squid inside an extra dimension. Factor in the house-made sweet chilli sauce, served in its own dinky bottle, and it’s quite glorious.
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 six-year-old you 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 pieces of 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.
Dishes from ‘la plancha’ – the hotplate grill – was one of the trends to be embraced by London’s Spanish restaurants in the noughties. José, a tiny wine bar in Bermondsey that arrived in 2011, 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.
There are many reasons for visiting any of Hawksmoor’s six London branches, but if you’re in for cocktails rather than a three-course, beef-based blowout and merely need some sustenance, then head to Spitalfields Bar. Within its walls lies sandwich perfection: braised short-rib with Ogleshield Jersey cow’s milk cheese, layered in a slightly sweet finger roll, served with an order of mahogany 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…
Since opening, the ‘British one’ in Jason Atherton’s ‘Social’ empire has gone from strength to strength, with dishes getting more intricate and interesting all the time (thanks in no small part to the skills of chef patron Paul Hood and his dedicated team). The cocktail bar’s regularly changing dessert sundaes are vices in waiting: moreish concoctions might include a makeover for 90s’ student shot the B-52, made with a Kahlua-soaked chocolate brownie, a boozy scoop each of Grand Marnier sorbet and Bailey’s ice cream, and a shot of espresso syrup. Because espresso martinis are soooo last century…
Salt Yard’s frilly-edged courgette flowers are jammed with Monte Enebro (a salty goat’s cheese with blue cheese notes) before they’re tempura-battered, deep-fried, and drizzled with honey. Versions of this dish are widely available elsewhere, but we still think that the one at Salt Yard (and its younger, sexier siblings Dehesa, Ember Yard and Opera Tavern), with its perfect balance of creamy and crispy, sweet and salt, is worth seeking out.
100 best dishes in London: 40-31
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 the onsen tamago (literally ‘hot-spring egg’, slow-cooked) into the mix, though of course it then becomes veggie, not vegan.
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 – but nothing is as it seems… The sushi 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 with wasabi and avocado ‘mayo’. Raw-some.
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 sea of lottery balls.
Venue says: “Make something special from your day with our delicious rolls to go, starting at £8.”
Don’t talk smack. Don’t take smack. And don’t smack your kids. But DO trot on over to this Soho fast-food joint (from the people behind Burger & Lobster), for the 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 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.
The folks at this Thai BBQ 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.
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 come drizzled with cumin yogurt and sprinkled with fragrant coriander and earthy curry leaves, with a slick of herby chilli oil for extra oomph. Exact toppings change throughout the year – your version could be made with sweet-sour date yogurt, and served with pickled lemons, nuts and basil, or combined with spiced yogurt, coconut and chilli – but rest assured that whatever its guise, this dish never fails to impress.
Choose your Gymkhana dining partner carefully, because this deluxe take on the biryani – the Indian version of a good old-fashioned pie – 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 onto a plate, drizzle over the pomegranate-and-mint raita, whose zing prevents the richness of the dish from overpowering. After this experience, curry-house biryanis will be spoilt for you forever.
When St John Bakery started selling its decadent custard-filled doughnuts (previously only available at the Clerkenwell bakery) 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 or 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: 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 base broth laden with barbecued pork belly, vegetables and a nitamago egg. Just make sure your other half orders the same thing, or you’ll catch it in the neck later on.
100 best dishes in London: 30-21
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 – and the celeriac remoulade 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. (But leave room for one of the desserts too – they’re amazing).
Smokin’. That’s the word we would use to describe the signature dessert at Ollie Dabbous’ dressed-down Fitzrovia restaurant. It may look like a Mr Whippy sans cone but, this being Ollie Dabbous, a lot of work went into making the culinary in-joke taste anything but funny. The milk is infused with toffee popcorn, then blended and frozen à la Mr Whippy. As for the topping, there’s not a Flake or a syrup swirl in sight: instead, you get a jug of warm fudge sauce – made with smoked butter – to pour over your ice cream, adding Bonfire Night appeal to the final flavour.
We’d put almost everything that exits 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 these delicious savoury ‘doughnuts’. A crunchy, golden orb 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.
Venue says: “Weekend brunch, Saturday and Sunday, 11am-4pm. Roasts every Sunday. Bottomless brunch cocktails, £18pp, every Saturday and Sunday, 11am-4pm.”
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 cow. These bovine beauties contribute the ‘moo’ part of the Veni-moo, which is one patty lean, top-notch venison; one patty juicy, fatty beef. Melted cheese, sweetly caramelised onions and a creamy béarnaise sauce add yet more gourmet flourishes, although the soft bun is reassuringly old-school American. This is burger brilliance at its best.
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 restaurant’s many tiny, but thrilling, dishes, this Andalucian white soup is made from almonds with a hint of garlic (ajo), and here it comes topped with walnuts, dill and beetroot. The portion size is barely enough to fill an egg cup, but its flavours transported us right back to Seville. Scoop it onto the restaurant’s excellent bread and pair with a glass of bone-dry sherry.
£9 (Trullo)/£8.50 (Padella)
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 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 ragu 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.
It’s the ultimate Brit pub snack: deep-fried whitebait. Only this time, the folks at hip Battersea kebab restaurant Bababoom have given it an all-the-rage Middle Eastern twist, coating these oily little fish with dukkah (a middle Eastern ‘dry dip’), something they were inspired to do while on a research trip to Turkey. There’s no precise recipe for dukkah – it’s the kind of thing everyone’s mothers argue about – but the one made at Bababoom is pretty 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 onto the fish and deep-fried, the final dish is dangerously addictive.
What Pablo Escobar was to the cocaine trade, Dominique Ansell 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. Curiously, one is banoffee paella. Taste it and you’ll put any gripes about its supposed Britishness aside: it’s banoffee pie built upside-down in a paella pan (caramelised bananas, then dulce de leche cream, then cookie crumbs), which is flipped onto plates for the customer at the last minute to prevent the very British fear of soggy bottoms…
This dish looks a bit like a Jackson Pollock sandwiched into a brioche bun: the squirts and drips of fiery gochujang mayo; the slaw splurging out; the crisply bubbled batter coating the buttermilk-bathed thigh meat... For those who think that gourmet fried chicken, like Pollock, is still somehow counter-culture, this is a work of art – and tastewise, it’s also priceless. Just don’t go dressed in your date-night finery, as your favourite duds will also be mercilessly Pollocked as you try to eat the bastard with dignity. (In fact, did we say date? Scratch that – this is food that should be kept strictly between mates).
Just before Peruvian food became the next big thing on the London food scene, there was trailblazer Martin Morales’ Ceviche. To fully appreciate the spirit and buzz of the Soho original, here’s what you do: get there before you’re properly hungry, then wait it out for a stool at the ceviche bar. Next, order a pisco sour (obvs) and the Don Ceviche, the straight-man in the six-strong ceviche section. Its sharp, zingy ‘tiger’s milk’ sauce (dotted with limo chilli, sweet potato and red onions) and ozone-fresh seabass are a tongue-tingling introduction to Peru’s culinary classic – and its healthy credentials make another pisco sour seem less sinful…
100 best dishes in London: 20-11
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, giving the end result a daring, deliciously sinister appearance. These 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 only go and add some peanut brittle, for crunch and nutty saltiness. It’s sublime.
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, Rok’s scallop and ’nduja is one of these ‘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 mouthwatering and moreish – but limit yourself to one (or two) each, because the rest of the menu won’t disappoint.
To think this dish almost didn’t happen. One day, Clipstone’s head chef Merlin Labron-Johnson (best name EVER) got a call from a supplier saying they were fresh out of escargots for his snails on toast. So instead, he recreated a dish from his days living in Belgium: calves brain meuniere on toast. The delicate meat (soaked overnight in milk, then poached in bouillon for exactly seven minutes and pan-fried in butter), is silky and rich, and wobbles on homemade sourdough. The sauce is a thickened version of the bouillon, but also with added veal jus, capers, fresh parsley and a squeeze of lemon juice). It’s moreish and melt-in-the-mouth. Just have a little faith, get over your squeamishness and try it for yourself.
If you like your food as messy as it is flavoursome, then the full-throttle hoggett shawarma at this all-day neighbourhood café in Stokey will be right up your street – especially if you actually live in N16. It’s served as a game of two halves: a puffy flatbread on one side of the plate, and the fillings – a pile of juicy, slow-braised hogget; bright pink, chilli-laced cabbage; preserved lemon-infused labneh; some garlicky hot sauce; and a handful of herbs – on the other. The challenge is to stuff everything into the bread ‘mitt’, and get it into the goal (your mouth) without incident. Impossible, of course – but practice makes perfect…
This one-time special has become a permanent fixture on Uchi’s menu thanks to its pure deliciousness and veggie-friendly credentials. A mixture of crunchy fried peppers, shredded carrots cooked with sesame seeds, meaty shiitake mushrooms, lightly battered broccoli and a lick of mayo, all wrapped in super-healthy violet-hued black rice and a strip of salty nori, it’s a brilliantly orchestrated jumble of textures and flavours - it's also a technicolour dose of your five-a-day that’s as pretty as the Pinterest-worthy dining room in which you eat it. Meat-eaters: don’t miss out. Vegan? They’ll be kind enough to make you a batch without the mayo.
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 – first soak tapioca pears 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 final, crisp-edged-on-the-outside-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 chilis and even blended fresh marigolds… yes, the flowers not the washing-up gloves). This is tapioca, but not as you know it.
Just like pide (pronounced pi-day, as in ‘bidet’, rather than peed, as in ‘peed myself’), lahmacun is a kind of Turkish pizza. What makes it different to a pide is that you then add veg or salad and roll it up to eat like a hot wrap. The one at this stylish modern Turkish joint 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.
Being ‘obsessed with rice’, the husband-and-wife team at Ta Ta couldn’t resist turning it into a homemade ‘ricecream’, too (they toast the rice, then infuse milk with it for the base). They then make a heap of malty toasted cornflakes (tossed in milk crumbs, butter, sugar and salt), which get folded into the ricecream just before it’s served, so they never go soggy (smart, very smart). Next layer? Seasonal berries – strawberries are best – served two ways (a mashed-up ‘syrup’ plus fresh, diced), then plump barley grains. Finally: a drizzle of olive oil, to finish off this riot of tastes, textures and unadulterated deliciousness.
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 home-made 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 generous portion costs £6.
Some swear by the pata negra; but for us, a trip to Israeli hotspot The Barbary isn’t complete without the Galician octopus. Braised in its own juices along with black peppercorns, bay leaves and oranges, until it’s soft enough to eat with a spoon, it’s then slung on the grill for one last fiery finale. The end result – crisp edged tentacles with an impossibly tender middle – is like something you’d normally only get on holiday, and then only if you had a local to guide you. It already comes on a bed of the chunky msabacha chickpeas (a ‘whole chickpea’ houmous), so all you need to order is one of the sensational ‘naan’ breads and you’ve got yourself a pretty perfect meal.
100 best dishes in London: the top ten
Although we still love Barrafina’s plump, gooey version of the humble tortilla de patatas, the roster of drool-worthy dishes served at the Drury Lane outpost deserves a huge shout out, too. The loudest holler goes to the Galician-style empanada, whose rich flaky pastry gives way to intensely savoury, tender-as-anything, ink-soaked cuttlefish – it’s a must-order. The gloriously messy street food-style crab bun (£8.80), and market specials such as dark-red salt-baked prawns so big they have to be seen to be believed, can also get a whoop-whoop.
£5 (quarter), £8 (half), £12 (whole)
Think cauliflower is ‘basic’? Think again: it’s been the brassica of choice at hip restaurants for a while now. For this stellar dish from Haggerston barbecue hangout Berber & Q, they parboil an entire head of cauliflower, then slather it in an incredible 20-ingredient Levantine butter, before sticking it on the griddle for flame-grilling (basting with more butter the whole time, obvs). It’s then topped off with molasses, parsley, pine nuts, pomegranate seeds and rose petals. Taste it and weep (with joy), bitches.
A playful Thai twist on salted caramel, this ice cream from the duo behind Som Saa is so fiendishly good (they get the palm sugar from a Thai-based sourcing company, owned by mentor David Thompson, that supplies Nahm in Bangkok and The Fat Duck in Berkshire), you could eat it on its own. But oh no, to two scoops of creamy, silky, salty-and-sweetmeats-burnt-toffee deliciousness, they add chargrilled, caramelised, only-just-ripe banana halves (first marinated in coconut cream, pandan leaves and fresh turmeric); plus a final sprinkle of sesame seeds. With alternating moments of salt and sweet, creamy and crunchy, plus hints of bitterness and spice, it’ll take your breath away. (The delicate poached jackfruit pud is pretty great too, by the way).
There’s so much more to this dish than meets the eye. First of all, the ‘nduja sausage is painstakingly homemade: slabs of pork belly are skinned, salt-cured, minced and paprika-marinaded before being turned into sausage, 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 homemade potato bread with a creamy buttermilk, adding soft cubes of maris piper. For a final flourish, they add a dollop of tangy cultured cream on one side. The fact that you get to eat it in an ultra-cool, ultra-relaxed counter restaurant, for the bargain price of £4, only makes it taste that much better.
After just one bite of this delicious dish you’ll be a convert to the Tao of Bao. The milk bun is so soft and pillowy it’s like eating a cloud (we imagine), while inside there’s impossibly tender slow-cooked pork; a sweet, sticky sauce and crunchy deep-fried shallots. If your dining companion offers to share, just say ‘NO’ and stab them with a chopstick. After all, now that you’re here, the aim of the game is to fill up on as much of the menu as possible in order to avoid navigating that queue again any time soon.
Kiln rocks. And what this instant success of a restaurant (and sibling to Smoking Goat) is especially great at is coming up with creating new dishes with stripped-back, edgy, Thai-inspired flavours, but without coconut cream. This fragrant, fiery curry is no exception: made ‘dry’ (more of a stir-fry, really), it uses the freshest fish (when they say they use ‘day boat’ fish, they really mean it, with no more than eight hours from ocean to plate), three kinds of rare chilli – one of the few things they import – and a punchy curry paste, bashed by hand every day in a pestle and mortar. The clean, bright flavours are phenomenal: you’ll want to lean across the counter and kiss the chef.
You know those dishes that are absolutely delicious but enormously fiddly to make? Well, this is one of them (and that is why restaurants exist). The signature dessert at Honey & Co is a creamy, vanilla- and honey-tinged, whipped feta filling upon a crisp base of kadaif pastry, topped with herbs, nuts and seasonal fruit. Sounds a breeze but it’s a dish best left to the professionals. The fact that, on the menu of new restaurant Honey & Smoke, the owners namecheck this creation as ‘the one from Honey & Co’ alerts you to its celebrity status.
It was a long, long, looong time coming, but when ‘MasterChef’ winner Tim Anderson’s Nanban finally opened in a former pie-and-mash shop in Brixton, it was an out-and-out hit. This inspired Japanese-Caribbean fusion dish – which playfully roots the restaurant in its surroundings while respecting Japanese convention – swiftly gained pet status. The rich goat-curry broth of Lazy Goat Tsukemen, whose depths reveal chunks of spiced, braised meat, is served with a plate of fat, wiggly dipping noodles and some eye-wateringly fiery bamboo shoots (pickled with scotch bonnet chillies). A sprinkling of ‘seafood sawdust’ and a tea-pickled egg add yet more rich depth of flavour. No dessert required.
So you think you know bone marrow. You’ve tried it under onions at Hawksmoor, in mash at Pitt Cue, on pizza at Homeslice (and don’t even get us started on St John). But until you’ve had it at this funky Sri Lankan street food specialist, you haven’t lived. Here, the calf bones (cut lengthways, like tiny canoes) come smothered in a terrific dry curry sauce, making every mouthful a heavenly mix of fat and spice. Make no bones about it: this upstart starter aims to upstage the main-event hoppers (try saying that after a couple of sherberts…).
£7.50 for three
For all of you who think oysters are too posh, too slimy, or too likely to have you chucking up within hours, this dish is the one to convert you. You, and everyone else in London who’s tried them and become obsessed by them. Created by the Decatur crew (in residence at Pamela bar until December 23; then Druid Street Market), they take fresh, juicy oysters; slather them in butter, garlic, pecorino and hot sauce; then give ‘em all a good grilling. The result – a beautiful marriage of British bivalves and New Orleans-inspired flavours – is everything you want from a bar snack: salty, buttery, cheesy, chewy and fiery. Tick tick tick tick tick. These are oysters to change your life.
How many have you eaten?
'Escocesa’ is Spanish for ‘Scottish’ – a clue to the set-up at this new Stoke Newington tapas bar. It’s the second restaurant opened by Ayrshire-born, ex-record producer Stephen Lironi. (Crouch End’s Bar Esteban was his first.) For this more sleekly decorated but equally laidback N16 gaff, he’s stuck with executive head chef Pablo Rodriguez (who trained at Jean Luc Figueras in Catalunya, then Barrafina and Moro/Morito here in London), and Bilbao-born manager Naroa Ortega. Church Street is roughly a third of the way from Sauchiehall Street to La Rambla, and Escocesa is clearly two-thirds Spanish. Menu staples include juicy pan con tomate, piquant patatas bravas and tortilla that yields easily under the fork. The fried baby squid is crisp not greasy. Still, the Calendonian accent is strong, with Scottish seafood among the specials: scallops from Ullapool, langoustines from Lochinver. Highlights like these (and a borderline-obsessive sherry list) show Escocesa’s serious passion for good sourcing. This is the kind of London local that believes quality isn’t just for la-di-dah Zone One restaurantland. On a rainy midweek evening, Escocesa was already buzzing by 7.30pm. Still, when the waitress realised she’d given me a table for four and the booking was for two, she insisted I stay put, and didn’t hover impatiently while my friend’s bus crawled up from Essex Road. There is no wild experimentation here, but the flavours work. Flaky salt cod came with succulent beetroot and oran
Venue says: “Our chefs visited the best arrocerias of Valencia to uncover the secrets of great paella. Available for lunch at the weekend. Muy buena.”