I have a shortlist of must eat places that I visit every time I am back in town. Places that offer comfort, deliciousness and that make me feel right at home. Bowls of loveliness and pies of joy, spicy fabulous curries and fatty fabulous seekh kebabs. This is not a list of anything specific, like my favourite fine dining or cheap eats, but a list of the places that I think about when I travel and head straight for when I get back.
I always promise that I will share these, but I never do. (I don’t know why, I suspect it is because I find things like this a bit of a Sophie’s Choice). There are restaurants that I love that aren’t on here as they are more occasion type places for me (L’Anima, Racine & The Ledbury, for example). They are centred around Soho, and in South London where I live, but these are places that I travelled to before I lived here from the North and East and are destinations for me. I wouldn’t recommend them otherwise.
So, here you are, enjoy. I know you will love them as much as I do. I have eaten at each one many times. (Photos are random and are a mix of camera phones and random cameras – I will update with proper photos as I go).
Koya – the best udon in London, these are as good as any (and better than some) in Japan. Made fresh daily using the traditional 5 hour under-the-foot method, bonito is shaved fresh for the soup stock (which goes a little way to explaining the flavour and vibrancy). Everything is good here, and don’t ignore the specials. I recently had a divine udon with tempura hake, wild garlic and leek, and I just can’t stop thinking about. When ordering udon, be sure to order tanuki (crispy tempura bits) and onsen tamago (slow poached egg). Served cold may sound odd, but when cold they have terrific texture. I let the weather choose whether I go cold or hot. The drinks list has some lovely sakes, wine, beer and cider. I try to stick to sake when I go. When in Rome (or in London) etc.
Koya, 49 Frith St, London, Greater London W1D 4SG, United Kingdom, no reservations
José & Pizarro – I can’t mention one without the other, José and Pizarro are two restaurants owned by Spanish chef José (yes) Pizarro. José is a relaxed tapas and sherry bar on a street corner in Bermondsey, always full and with a brilliant atmosphere. All of the food is great but especially good are the tortilla, jamon, gazpacho and croquetas. With a glass of sherry, of course (the list is excellent). A 5 minute walk away sits the younger sibling, although it feels a little more mature. A touch more formal, although really not by very much, Pizarro serves a more structured menu and an excellent and great value Menu del Dia during the week.
José, 104 Bermondsey St, London SE1 3UB, United Kingdom, no reservations
Pizarro, 194 Bermondsey St, London Borough of Southwark, London SE1, United Kingdom
Bone Daddies Ramen Bar – Bone Daddies is fierce. It is the type of ramen that grabs you by the chops and wrestles you into submission. Big flavours, lots of heat, and rich broths, this is the real deal and is really considered. The tantanmen was my favourite until I became too weak or it became too hot. Now I favour the super rich and silky tonkotsu, and the kimchi tonkotsu when it is on special. With punchy kimchi, corn, and some fine grated parmesan, it hits every spot, even some that I didn’t know I had. Soft serve ice cream is a must. The flavours change daily, I have had the green tea and I hear that the black sesame is very good. There is a great sake list and this is where I focus my attention, although the Fever Tree ginger beer is pretty good too.
Bone Daddies Ramen Bar, 31 Peter St, London, Greater London W1F 0AR, UK, no reservations
Lima – my favourite Peruvian food in London and great cocktails too. The ceviche (sea bream) is the best in town, as is the pisco sour. Braised tender octopus with bubbles of bitter rich olive and suckling pig with lentils are divine, and the chocolate with blue potato crystals – trust me – is a must. I need to go back and familiarise myself with the rest of the cocktail list, I rarely stray from the sours.
Lima, 31 Rathbone Pl, London W1T 1JH, United Kingdom
Abbeville Kitchen – local to me, but worth the journey, Abbeville Kitchen is a perfect local restaurant. Modern British, I love to go with friends and order some of the food to share, from Desperate Dan style pies (my favourite was venison and pickled walnut) to rib of beef, chips and bearnaise to share. Starters are lovely too, the charcuterie is particularly good. House cocktails make a perfect aperitif and the wine list is very fairly priced and accessible.
Abbeville Kitchen, 47 Abbeville Rd, London SW4 9JX, United Kingdom
Trinity – great food, great wine, accessible prices. Possibly the best priced tasting menu in town. Chef Adam Byatt and his team make many delicious things, but their taramasalata is the best I have ever tasted and their signature trotter dish is divine. Wine matching is excellent, and the prices aren’t intimidating. I brought a friend last year and he goes back now all the time with anyone that he can find that hasn’t been there yet.
Trinity, 4 The Polygon London SW4 0JG, United Kingdom
Lahore Karahi – a small and way too bright Pakistani restaurant tucked away in a corner of Tooting, the Lahore Karahi is one of my favourite curry houses in London. I started obsessing about the lamb chop masala, four tandoor lamb chops in a thick, rich lamb masala sauce. I would always have these with the lamb seekh kebabs, and the chicken and fenugreek ones. But then I discovered the haleem. Which is a divine concoction of 3 types of lentils and lamb, smooth as silk and rich as velvet. It is only available at the weekends which is just as well. The prices are brilliant, with main courses circling £7 or less. BYO & no corkage, treat yourself to a visit.
Lahore Karahi, 1 Tooting High St, London SW17 0SN, United Kingdom
Jen Café – I go here for the dumplings and the bubble tea in hungry moments in Chinatown. The dumplings are very simple, Beijing dumplings with pork, steamed and sometimes, if I am in the mood, fried. Always with a dipping sauce fashioned from the condiments on the table: black vinegar, (often a little too much) chilli oil, and a little soy sauce for sweetness, salt and balance. Never more than £10 and always satisfying. Althhough the staff can be quite rude, and they are inconsistent. (Update October 2013 – I now prefer to go to Leongs Legend Continues around the corner for the Xiao Long Bao, which are some of the best in London, and a cup of tea).
Jen Cafe, 4-8 Newport Place London WC2H 7JP
Gelupo – gelato and granita, in cups, cones or sourdough donuts, there is very little not to love at Gelupo. Blood orange granita is a must, although the recipes are seasonal so be sure to explore. Look beyond the counter to the fridge for some chocolate covered ice cream, ice cream cakes and bon bons. At one point the even sold (terrific) charcuterie from sister restaurant Bocca di Lupo across the road.
Gelupo, 7 Archer St, London, Greater London W1D 7AU
Chilli Cool – I am adding this at the end and slightly tentatively as I used to love it here but haven’t been in a bit so including it here is slightly risky. I do often think of returning for the firey grouper and tofu hotpot, smothered in chillies and spiky sichuan pepper corns, a piece of fish or tofu rescued from the oils beneath is delicious. I was first brought here by a friend of a friend from Chengdu who loves it and did all of the ordering. I have been hooked to Sichuan food since. I last brought a friend who was so shocked by how hot it was – despite my pleas for him to drink aloe vera juice to soothe his palate – that he insisted we leave half way through. If you like hot food, you will love it. I do.
Chilli Cool, 15 Leigh St, London WC1H 9EW
Have you any favourites that you think should be on this list? Let me know in the comments :)
Coming soon: more favourite London places, incl for fine dining, posh lunch, cheap eats, coffee, wine, brunch etc.