The original branch of the Rasa chain is still going strong, serving the vegetarian dishes from Kerala with which it broke the anglicised curry-house mould in 1997. The hot-pink interior sees a roaring weekend trade, thanks to the great Indian cooking at very reasonable prices. Following snacks (not just poppadoms, but achappam and pappadavadai too) with pickles, you could have a masala dosa, but that hardly seems the point.
A noticeboard crammed with adverts for gardeners and yoga classes reinforces Blue Legume’s local vibe. You get the sense that everyone eating here lives within a five-minute radius. Weekends see a younger crowd healing hangovers with a standard breakfast menu. Grilled cumberland sausages, crispy hash browns, tiny button mushrooms, smoked bacon, a perfectly poached egg and a dollop of baked beans populated a generous plate. Thick scotch pancakes soaked up a pool of maple syrup, while the scrambled eggs were rich with cream.
One of a collection of neighbourhood cafés on Stoke Newington High Street, Bodrum is a homely spot with canary-yellow walls and flyers advertising local events. It packs in the punters for filling weekend breakfasts – both English and Turkish versions are available – as well as lunchtime omelettes, burgers and the like. By evening, the menu turns Turkish, with a wide range of grills alongside dishes like ískender (meat baked with tomato sauce and yoghurt, and served on bread).
Paellas bristling with chicken, chorizo and seafood and served in the pan are the real deal here, popular with locals seeking a change of cuisine. A tapas bar in a Turkish stronghold, El Olivo only concedes defeat when it comes to the bread – which is not Spanish but lovely, warm, locally baked and indispensable for scooping up aubergine cooked to melting softness or tender albóndigas with red peppers. No surfeit of oil to mop up, mind. While tapas can be tired and oily, these taste fresh and perky.
An attractive spot on Stoke Newington Church Street gives Il Bacio an instant advantage, and very reasonable pricing also helps secure it as a firm local favourite. The menu has a Sardinian bias, with plenty of seafood and regional specialities among the usual trattoria classics. Sardinian flatbread adorns the bread basket, and the distinctive Sardinian semolina and saffron alternative to potato-flour gnocchi also crops up. Calamari piccante came with a sauce not so piccante as to overshadow the squid, and the dough for our campagnola pizza was robust and well seasoned; the topping (olives, rosemary and Sardinian salami) was perhaps a little miserly, but tasty all the same.
The pair of oriental beckoning cats on a shelf, who greet customers with a smile and a wave, are one of the few giveaways as to this local eaterie’s cuisine. You certainly wouldn’t pick it from the otherwise nondescript and coldly modern interior – wooden floor, plain walls, bare wooden tables. Still, the sweet and friendly service warms the place up. The overly long menu trips across Japan, Thailand, China and Vietnam, picking up mostly obvious choices along the way. It’s ideal if, say, you fancy a Thai and your partner has a yen for Japanese.
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