This weekly column suggests London restaurants to try over the weekend. There are three rules: The restaurants must not be featured in either the Eater London 38 Essential map, or the monthly updated Heatmap, and the recommendations must be outside Zone 1. In need of even more London restaurant recommendations? Head to the 5 to Try restaurant recommendation archive.
About 10 to 15 years ago, weekend ‘dosa crawls’ often started at this small, lilac-hued cafe: groups of friends would first get together here, then gradually work their way through the dosa menus of Tooting’s other South Indian and Sri Lankan restaurants. Now that the action has moved to East Ham — home to London’s best South Indian cuisine — how does this old stalwart measure up? Pretty well, actually. With a supermarket car park across the road and a bus stop plonked right outside, it won’t win any location awards, but the dosas are still reliably good. There’s spongy kal with unusually papery edges and spicy Mysore — both made from rice and urad lentils — crisp rava, and a few varieties stuffed with chicken, mutton and eggs, which come with flavourful chutneys and sambar. This Tamil venue also has a large number of other dishes ranging from soothing-as-comfort-blanket curd vada, to spicier Chettinad chicken and fiery mutton kothu. The venue might not be as busy as before, but it’s still worth a visit — especially as the staff are lovely. Time for another dosa crawl? —Sejal Sukhadwala
68 Tooting High Street, SW17 0RN.
After a winter day’s walk exploring London’s waterways, it’s time for hot tea, a bowl of soup, a wodge of coffee and walnut cake. E5 Roasthouse at Poplar Union on Limehouse Cut is just the place to find them. Child-friendly, dog-friendly, everybody-friendly, this easygoing arts centre café is the sibling of Hackney’s E5 Bakehouse, so anything baked is a good bet — and both bakeries provide training programmes for refugee women. Start early with a pain au chocolat — exceptional — or breakfast bun with soft boiled egg and bacon. Or stop by at lunch, when the scrawled blackboard menu extends to include the likes of kimchi and cheddar toasties and spicy fennel, cabbage and split pea soup with a dollop of labneh. Pick up a loaf of sourdough and a bag of coffee beans roasted on site. —Hilary Armstrong
2 Cottall Street, E14 6TL
A Japanese fusion restaurant on Trafalgar Road in Greenwich, Zaibatsu lacks the lavish opulence of Sexy Fish and its environs fail to deliver on the appeal of a fizzy night in Mayfair. But it has much better sushi and a far cheaper menu. Diners would be forgiven for passing Zaibatsu by, but behind the faded blue tiles; tired signage; and aluminium-framed glass door is a buzzy, family-owned establishment, full of colour and excellent Formica tables. Service is occasionally hectic but always pleasant and fun; it’s BYOB and cash only. Everything is set up for eating a lot of kaitadi prawn, tightly wrapped in pastry and served with zingy yuzu mayo; chicken gyoza; and tako yaki octopus all with Asahi in hand, before traversing an eclectic, exceptional sushi menu.
Beginning with the ‘three-kind sashimi’, where the chef chooses three types entirely dependent on what the restaurant gets in that day, would be wise. Later, experts might choose between nigiri, maki and temaki, but those less bothered might submit to the generous sushi sets. Rolls of snowy rice tickled by vinegar sit beneath delicate, springy fish — one mouthful of a circa £1 tuna roll, and it really does put sushi into perspective. —Josh Barrie
96 Trafalgar Road, Greenwich Peninsula, SE10 9UW
Bright lights and a familiar metallic clanging that signifies the preparation of one of Sri Lanka’s most famous fast foods add life to the dreary pavement in front of this restaurant. As expected, kothu is a specialty at this new branch of Royal Chef, an altogether larger, slicker operation than its High St North counterpart. A mutton roti kothu is pleasingly and surprisingly varied in texture, with crispy pieces of parotta mingling nicely with tender meat and fiery pieces of chopped green chilli. A vibrant rendition of chicken 65 is well spiced and salty, while peppery rasam and pillowy appam are perfectly in sync. With an extensive menu and breakfast and lunch deals that take in a vast array of curries, devilled meats and biryanis, this new incarnation of an existing classic is undoubtedly here to stay. —Shekha Vyas
407 Barking Rd, E6 2JT
To truly know whether a restaurant is good or not can require more than one visit. No one can ever do all the work themselves, so the ideal situation is to be introduced to a restaurant by someone who knows the menu inside out. Tian Tian in Stepney has had few reviews, but Guan Chua’s blog also one of the first to publicly talk about the Singburi blackboard— is the invaluable resource, explaining with authority what the chef does well and what he doesn’t; what is made from scratch, and what is an afterthought.
It’s difficult to tell exactly what Tian Tian is supposed to be, taking in influences from Sichuan, Xinjiang and Dongbei via Singapore, all to cater for the Chinese students of the nearby Queen Mary University. The best dish is the first on the list: aubergine — written as brinjal, a nod to the chef’s time spent in Singapore and Malaysia — sliced into batons and fried with pork floss until they are little furry cushions of sweet and savoury; comfort food performed with absolute precision. Cereal prawns come with a child’s sandcastle worth of cereal, salty and scented with curry powder, which can be spooned over plain rice to perk it up. A dish of cumin ribs Xinjiang style, slick with numbing oil, slips straight off the bone, braised in advance then deep fried to keep the inside soft and the outside crisp. After three fried dishes, a simple bowl of steamed vegetables with both salted and century egg is a judicious respite, while a jowly looking plate of brown that arrives gratis turns out to be deliciously salty brisket cooled almost to the texture of jelly. Come here another time and the meal might be very different, so either follow this advice to the letter, or ask the chef for his recommendation, and a great meal is almost guaranteed. —Jonathan Nunn
166 Mile End Rd, E1 4LJ