From stodgy, cheesy plates of goodness to steaming hot curries; from bowls of hot noodle broth to classic British pies, the capital has options to satisfy any comfort food craving. Cosy up with the most warming dishes that London has to offer.
There are side dishes that are quickly forgotten, and side dishes that will go ahead and unintentionally upstage all the main courses, just when they’re all least expecting it. With its breadcrumbed topping and cute cast iron pot, this dish may look fairly girl-next-door, but dig a little deeper and you’ll find four kinds of cheese (stilton, mozzarella, Ogleshield and cheddar), giving it remarkable depth, stretchiness, and brilliance. Because nobody puts side dish in the corner.
For the food equivalent of being brought in from the cold and wrapped up in an ochre-hued cashmere blanket, stick your spoon into this warming fish curry. The coconut-topped hake sits in a bowl of creamy, delicately spiced sauce, with tendrils of samphire for added crunch. There are only two tables in this teeny spot in groovy container park Pop Brixton, and they’re both communal, so if you’re still feeling chilly, you can always cosy up to your neighbour.
If you didn’t think the words ‘whole cauliflower’ and ‘mind-blowingly good’ belonged together, then you’ve obviously never had the one at hip Haggerston hangout Berber & Q. It takes 20 different ingredients to contribute to its gooey, sweet-and-spicy, charred moreishness – from the warming Levantine ‘shawarma butter’ they slather it in before barbecuing, to the terrific final topping of pomegranate seeds, pomegranate molasses, parsley, pine nuts and rose petals. You can get smaller portions too, but that would just be stupid.
Ah, poutine. Canada’s answer to chips ‘n’ grer-vey (phonetic spelling, for those of you not from ‘oop North’), it’s pure stodge-on-a-plate. Or in this case, stodge-in-a-save-the-planet-paperboard-container. Soho street vendors Hot Mess Poutine top chunky triple-cooked chips (parboiled, then double-fried) with a rich veal gravy (more depth and meatiness than a chicken gravy, sweeter and tangier than beef), and sprinkle in soft cheese curds, made from organic, unhomogenised milk. As they’d say in Bolton, ‘I love poutine, me.’
11am-3.30pm, Thursday-Friday, Street Food Union, 51-53 Rupert St, W1D 7PQ
Hands up if you haven’t had Sheekey’s fish pie. WHADDYAMEAN?!? It’s only about as iconic as it gets (not counting The Ivy’s shepherd’s pie, another comfort food classic). And if you eat it in the Oyster Bar it’ll cost £2 less than at big sis J Sheekey next door. Succulent fish (smoked haddock, halibut, salmon), an English mustard-laced sauce, a parmesan mash topping, all dished up in a glorious art deco setting. Well, what are you waiting for?
Who says sibling rivalry is a bad thing? At Dishoom, each branch has a signature ‘chef’s special’ unique to that location: at King’s Cross, it’s the terrific Nalli Nihari. A gutsy on-the-bone lamb curry served with onion seed naan and optional bheja (lamb’s brain), the meat is so soft it falls to pieces the moment it spies the faintest whiff of cutlery. As for those three sisters, the lamb raan (Shoreditch), the sali boti (Carnaby Street) and prawn moilee (Covent Garden) are pretty cockle-warming, too.
In the bleak midwinter, nothing beats this Straits noodle soup for warming from within. Here, the Singapore-style laksa – which has a thinner, less ‘curry-ish’ base than Malaysian versions – is made by pouring a warm soup base (home-made chilli-and-shrimp paste, chicken stock, coconut milk) over blanched rice noodles, then adding chicken, fish balls and fried tofu; and finally, all ‘the crunchy stuff’: fresh mint and coriander, fried shallots, and poached prawns. Oh, and a blob of fiery sambal on the side. Toasty.
Forget any notions you may have about polenta being one of the ‘good’ carbs – not the way they make it at the Palomar, it’s not. Born out of food-loving, count-no-calories Israeli culture, this ‘Jerusalem-style’ polenta is made with butter, cream and parmesan, before being layered with fried mushrooms (more butter), olive oil-drizzled asparagus, extra Parmesan and a final drizzle of truffle oil for good measure. It’s unbelievably delicious. Because that’s just what adding five kinds of fat does.
When it comes to affordable brasserie fare in glitzier-than-you’d-expect surroundings, it doesn’t get much better than BZ. And when it comes to comfort food, it doesn’t get much better than a hearty bowl of stew with a big dollop of buttery mash on the side. The boeuf Bourgignon is proper farmhand fare: slow-braised beef simmered in a garlic, onion and red wine sauce, with rustic chunks of carrot to boot. Peasant food never had it so good.
Voila, le grand fromage of all fondues. While many fondue-makers add both rind (which is around ¼ of the cheese) and kirsch (to cover up the taste of the rind), the Androuet brothers are rightly proud of their ‘pure’ cheese and white wine version, made with their own reserve Comté and an Emmental grand cru. For an extra 50p you can also have a three-cheese version, adding either a blue, or some rare ‘cheese of the week’. Oof.
Let’s imagine a world where you have a gran that’s a) still alive; b) nearby; and c) Scottish. Sadly most of us don’t live in that world (give us a shout if you’re one that does), but we do live in London. Home of Dean Street Townhouse. Home of probably the best (intensely beefy) mince and (boiled) potatoes in town. What’s also nice is that this dish is still the cheapest main course on the menu. Granny would definitely approve.
Find more comfort food in London
Old man winter really is a bastard. Not content with robbing you of daylight and rendering useless your fine collection of designer shorts, the months that bookend each year bring with them frosty chills and massive amounts of misery. But the fightback starts here. Not with scarves and mittens and thermal underpants (ergh – itchy!), but with desserts.
Fried chicken. In London it’s schoolkid crack, peddled in plain sight up and down high streets everywhere. It’s a toxic synthesis of salt, fat and capitulated meat that sends our city’s boroughs flying up the obesity tables with every mouthful. (It’s also the bane of urban dog-walkers, as anyone who has felt that tug-tug-tug on the lead accompanied by the canine crunching of discarded pavement bones will be able to attest to.) As a food, it has a monopoly on certain of our postcodes. London runs on fried chicken in the way it used to run on oysters. And like oysters, fried chicken has been reappraised for the discerning set. All over London new poultry purveyors have opened claiming their birds’ range to be the free-est, their buttermilk soaking to be the most luxurious, their batter to be the crispiest this side of the Atlantic. Every day, it’s a battle of the birds. Tottenham’s Chicken Town is a chicken shop, but it’s different. For a start, it’s non-profit, which is tantamount to communism in 2015’s London. The chicken is free-range. It’s steamed, then quickly fried to crisp up the coating (and is, by the way, delicious). Sides include the likes of sweet potato wedges and kale – try asking for that in Delaware Fried Chicken. By night, it’s a restaurant proper, complete with sit-down menu and table service, but one that deliberatedly chosen not to be a yuppie hipster joint, but to appeal to the local community, right down to the affordable price tags. Two pieces of chicke