100 best dishes in London
All the food at Xu – a smart Taiwanese joint from the peeps behind cult hit Bao – is ace, although this little dazzler is the tops. Tiny jewels of smoked eel lie hidden within the cold soupy base. Floating on its surface are disks of crimson chilli oil, like blooming algae on a Martian pond, and there’s even an elegant coil of dried soy daikon on top. You’ll journey through salt and sweet, soot and tang… even the faintest hint of coriander-stalk soap. Enjoy the ride.
Is this the best reuben in London? In a word, yes. The rye bread is soft and caraway-flecked, the finely cut fresh ’kraut is mild and crunchy. But really, it’s down to the salt beef. Most London sarnie spots source theirs from one supplier, but Monty’s crew make theirs from scratch. They choose the fattiest cuts of brisket, dry-cure it for days in a secret spice mix, soak it overnight, then simmer it for hours. It’s rich, sweet and savoury… sigh.
It was a long, long 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 neighbourhood while respecting Japanese convention – swiftly gained pet status. The deep, rich goat-curry broth reveals chunks of spiced, braised meat, while accompaniments include 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 depth of flavour. No dessert required.
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.
You know that a vegan dish is special when you recommend it to a load of chest-beating City alphas with rib-eyes on speed dial and they all love it. That’s the deal with this salad at The Ned’s ‘California kitchen’. The coconut is fresh, chewy and served in long, lavish curls amid a tumble of green papaya, palm hearts, technicolour veg and zingy herbs with a fragrant Asian-style dressing. Your mouth AND body will thank you for it.
‘Have you had the coconut cream pie yet?’ That’s how most conversations about Jacob the Angel go. The jewel of the menu at this teeny Neal’s Yard coffee shop (from the people behind The Barbary and The Palomar), it’s a mini pastry case with a thick creamy coconut-studded custard filling (the texture is reminiscent of tinned rice pud). To top it off? An elegant swirl of not-too-sweet Italian meringue. Pudding perfection.
Hand-related things can be bad: hand balls; hand guns; hand-wash only. And don’t even get me started on handwiches (just Google them). But hand rolls, aka temaki, are awesome, especially at Jugemu, where chef Yuya Kikuchi makes them to order for punters sitting at the counter. He uses beautiful fillings matched with still-warm sushi rice, and hands each little package over the instant it’s ready, so that the seaweed wrapper stays brittle. Eat immediately.
A playful Thai twist on salted caramel, this ice cream from the duo behind Som Saa is fiendishly good – they get the palm sugar from a Thai-based sourcing company, owned by mentor David Thompson, that supplies Nahm in Bangkok and Heston’s Fat Duck in Bray. You could eat it on its own, but oh no. Instead, they take two scoops of this creamy, silky, salty, burnt-toffee deliciousness and 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, bitterness and spice, it’ll take your breath away.
This dish looks a bit like a Jackson Pollock sandwiched into a brioche bun: the squirts and drips of fiery gochujang mayo; the Asian 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.
You know those dishes that are absolutely delicious but enormously fiddly to make? Well, this is one of them (and that’s why restaurants exist). The signature dessert at Honey & Co is a creamy, vanilla- and honey-tinged, whipped feta filling loaded on to 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 the owners also namecheck this creation as ‘the one from Honey & Co’ on the menu at offshoot Honey & Smoke merely alerts you to its celebrity status.
£6 for one, £10 for two
Following Decatur’s departure, Dalston’s Pamela bar is now playing host to Club Mexicana – wacky purveyors of vegan Mexican street food. It’s all colourful, zingy, spicy stuff – although our top pick is its baja to-fish taco. An odd name, but it tells you all you need to know: the ‘to’ is tofu masquerading as ‘fish’, which is cleverly wrapped in seaweed and deep-fried.
Also available at Club Mexicana’s pitches on Camden Market and Dinerama in Shoreditch.
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.
After just one bite of this delicious morsel 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, plus a sweet, sticky sauce and crunchy deep-fried shallots. If your companion offers to share, just say no. 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.
Some swear by the pata negra jamón, but for us, a trip to 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 impossibly tender flesh – is like something you’d normally only get on holiday if you had a local to point you in the right direction. It comes plated up on a bed of the chunky masabacha (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.
If you could eat principles, this dish would already be off to a good start. The folks from eco hotspot Cub take whey from Neal’s Yard Dairy (where it’s a by-product of cheese-making destined for the drain), reduce and season it until it’s stupidly moreish, then serve it with whatever chubby root is in surplus that month. On top: wafer-thin slices of apple (again, whatever needs some love). Sustainable and delicious.
Kiln rocks. And what this hugely successful sibling to Smoking Goat is especially great at is 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 day-boat fish (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.
This one-time special is now a regular feature of Uchi’s menu, thanks to its pure deliciousness and veggie-friendly credentials. Comprising 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. Vegans: they’ll be kind enough to make you a batch without the mayo.
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.
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.
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.
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.
£3.50 (cold), £3.80 (hot)
Billed as a ‘pie deli’, this relaxed mini chain serves up its wares to all-comers, from King’s Cross creatives to footie fans en route to the Emirates Stadium. Obviously, everyone eats the pies, but our top tip for premiership stardom is the madras veggie scotch egg – a rich and warmly spiced offering made from chickpeas and beetroot that tastes a little like kedgeree. Despite the meaty connotations, they’re pretty hot on veggie, vegan and gluten-free stuff at Piebury – right down to a GF toffee apple pie and chocolate brownie.
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.
A fiery, smoky twist on an old-fashioned Brit chophouse that swaps the grill for a tandoor and adds a surfeit of Indo-Punjabi spices, TCH brings turn-of-the-century Bombay to Covent Garden. The menu scores a lot of sizzling savoury hits, although it saves its best till last, with a glittering prize of a pud. Dense as a brick, yet silky and smooth, Tandoor’s malted kulfi has an intense flavour – like sucking the inside of a Malteser after you’ve nibbled off all the chocolate. It’s delicious on its own, but there’s more: chunks of caramelised banana and, finally, some fragments of salted peanuts for contrast and crunch. A sinful, indecent and swoonworthy delight.
Although we still love Barrafina’s plump, gooey version of the humble tortilla de patatas, the roster of droolworthy 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 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.
Meraki takes the sun-drenched flavours of the Aegean islands and serves them up to businessmen in a Fitzrovia, with the help of solicitous Mediterranean staff and a menu of luxurious contemporary Greek dishes. Among its array of cold mezze brought to the table on a lovely wooden tray is one stellar kopanisti. Put simply (and that’s the way it is), this is an insanely good dip of barrel-aged feta, served with chilli pitta crispbreads and sprinkled with a little red ‘secret’ dust that tastes a bit like dukkah, but more seductively sour. The ideal accompaniment? Some sweet, deep-red fleshy Florina peppers. Glorious.
Venue says In Greece Sundays are for family, so honouring this tradition we're now open on Sunday. With special dishes and a kids' menu.
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 (like tiny canoes, cut lengthways) 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 sherbets.
Low-lit, inviting and simply brilliant, Santo Remedio’s new pitch on Borough’s Tooley Street finds its Mexican kitchen on sparkling form – just take a gooey bite of the classic quesadilla and you’ll be in heaven. The foundation for this beauty, a blue corn tortilla, is filled with chihuahua cheese, folded and fried – health freaks look away now – and each mouthful yields a blob of chewy, salty queso that creates pale, stringy strips when you pull it apart. All that’s needed is a dollop of salsa verde for added sharpness and vibrancy – plus a house margarita on the rocks and some Latin grooves in the air.
Venue says A vibrant Mexican restaurant with an upstairs tequila and mezcal bar, serving authentic regional Mexican cuisine and cocktails.
Don’t be fooled by the dull decor and hotel lounge muzak: this Korean barbecue restaurant on Shaftesbury Avenue is the real deal. When the food is this good, the uninspiring setting actually makes the whole experience more charming – and chief among Olle’s charms is meat cooked in traditional Korean style, on a grill built into your dining table. K-BBQ virgins needn’t panic, because Olle’s helpful and welcoming staff do the actual barbecuing, leaving you free to sit back and enjoy the show. Everything is cooked to perfection, but the absolute highlight is the beef bulgogi (literally ‘fire meat’). Its tender, caramelised flesh is so good, you’ll want to eat it straight off the grill with chopsticks.
Just before Peruvian food became the next big thing on the London food scene, there was trailblazer Martin Morales’s 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 a six-strong ceviche section. Its ozone-fresh sea bass and sharp, zingy ‘tiger’s milk’ sauce (dotted with limo chilli, sweet potato and red onions) are a tongue-tingling introduction to Peru’s culinary classic – and its healthy credentials make another pisco sour seem less sinful.
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.
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.
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.
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.
£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…
£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.
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’).
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.
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.
Venue says Our celebrated breakfasts are served every day from 7am during the week and 8am on the weekend.
Put away that collective ‘eeeeeuw’. Yes, there’s blood in the filling of this steamed dessert bun, but it doesn’t taste like any kind of horror movie. Actually, the ‘coagulant’ (you paid attention in science class, right?), is a natural thickener that makes the chocolate sauce gorgeously gloopy, while the iron gives it an oh-so-subtle depth. Bun House is super-casual and perfect for takeaways. Go on, grab one to go.
Flying across the globe, picking up titbits here and there, this Sparrow is a busy bird with a taste for adventurous curiosities. The printed menu and specials board are stuffed with imaginative hits, so sticking an unembellished curry into the mix might seem like a high-risk strategy. However, Sparrow’s rich, nutty beef massaman – made with brisket and served with scorched rice – is as good as anything eaten while schlepping through the Thai countryside.
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.
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.
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.
‘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…
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.
£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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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’.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Venue says It’s been a mad old week with Salt Yard’s makeover, but it hasn’t stopped us cranking out the new dishes.
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.
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…
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.
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.
£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’).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.