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.
In its native Swedish, “lagom” is one of those Northern European phrases — like “hygge” or “gezellig” — that are devilishly difficult to translate fully into English. Chef Elliot Cunningham’s food is similarly hard to pin down: it sells itself as (deep breath) “a British-Swedish live-fire fusion of the best in Scandinavian and traditional British cooking,” but is also clearly indebted to American barbecue, the Ottolenghi-ish impulse for tarting up once-overlooked vegetables, and the freewheeling pyromaniac fantasies of Francis Mallmann.
Whether it arrives as great slumping batons of butternut squash dressed in fried herbs and cheddar, roast slabs of celeriac pepped up with hazelnuts and salsa verde, or an outrageous whole fried cauliflower with assertive, jerk-inspired seasoning, this is food that hits pleasure centres first, and leaves the more cerebral stuff for later. Cunningham translates Lagom as ‘the perfect amount’ — tack on a beef brisket bun or a hunk of smoked chicken, order a few different beers from the Hackney Church Brew Co which owns the premises, and, as winter closes in, it’s hard to imagine being better sated. —George Reynolds
17 Bohemia Place, E8 1DU
Retsina and Mousaka
There’s a small stretch of the Uxbridge Road in Ealing so densely lined with restaurants and pubs that diners could ricochet between them like greedy pinballs. Less a crawl, more a game of food pong (1972, Atari.) That’s one strategy: the other is to take measure of a single culinary vernacular for an evening, submit to its edible idiolects, and return another day.
Retsina and Mousaka, run by Cypriot couple Angelo and Maria, at once captures the transportive energy of an island taverna and a raucous, affably belligerent family kitchen — where overcooking the sheftalia would be both a mortal sin and something to be laughed about over pita maybe thirty seconds later. Humming with coriander seed and grill-blistered caul, there’s no such concern here — meanwhile souvla, blushing not just from perfectly judged grilling but its massaging with red wine and oregano, is in a slanging match with kleftiko about who is more tender. The best way to settle the grudge is to order both, before realising, happily, that the next day’s lunch and dinner will be packed into takeaway boxes as a result. Start with tarama, rich like a marine face pack and served in great bowlfuls, as it was before every London chef betrayed its abundant richness into dinky fashion, and come the end, file out into the cold, leftovers clutched to chests, and plan the next meal. —James Hansen
7-8 Culmington Parade, Uxbridge Road W13 9BD
That London has an abundance of Turkish restaurants is well known — as this map of terrific Turkish food in the city notes, there are few bigger food success stories in London food than that of Turkish cuisine. It’s essential almost. This unassuming restaurant on Mare Street is not hard to miss, with chefs, customers and locals smoking outside, but given that Mare Street has a plethora of excellently-rated places to eat — Green Papaya! Bright! Mao Chow! — it’s easy to assume that Anatolia might be grasping at straws. But really, one basket of warm bread — which is further replenished once it becomes cold — changes all of this. The hot mixed meze is warm comfort on a rainy night: tender squeaky halloumi, crispy falafel, pieces of spicy sucuk, and feta pastries, which can be hit or miss, are accompanied by hummus that still has some texture to it. But of course, large portions of kebabs are the star. Especially the aubergine kebab, that’s mixed with lamb and herbs, and comes with buttery rice — enough to satisfy two voracious souls. Pick up some baklava to go. —Apoorva Sripathi
251-253 Mare St, E8 3NS
There is a romance to a tiny restaurant, with the intimacy of a dinner party. Sushi Tokoro, set on a restaurant-lined cobbled street in Hampstead, is not so much a dining-room as a nigiri-lined cupboard, with Ikram the chef/owner set up in the corner behind a stack of melon ramune & Meiji Hello Panda biscuits. Despite the obvious restrictions, he churns out a steady stream of excellent and well-priced sushi for the lucky few who have found a seat. Sweet soft salmon bento boxes offer change from £12, perfectly spicy and citrusy yellowtail rolls and buttery fatty tuna nigiri disintegrate instantly on the tongue. A steady stream of take-out keeps the lights on, but if the opportunity to pull up a pew arrives, diners should keep their elbows close to their sides and submit to this teeny tiny delight. —Leila Latif
2 Broadwell Parade, Broadhurst Gardens NW6 3BQ
Kingsbury is a colourful glimpse into north-west London’s Gujarati community. There’s Kingsbury Fruit & Veg, which sells fresher and more varied Indian produce than anywhere in Wembley: wood apples, palmyra fruit, jujubes in colours of a setting sun, and obscure leafy greens that few people cook anymore are delivered daily. Across the road, Kingsbury Library is where Gujarati aunties huddle together, reminiscing over 1970s Indian cookbooks. They go to VB & Sons up the road to buy pulses, papads and ayurvedic hair oil; and even further up, to Pick ‘N Save for a snack range so massive it would keep a typical Gujju in ‘chai and nashto’ for weeks on end. On Indian festive days, there might even be impromptu dancing, singing and music in an unoccupied garage space near Kingsbury Circle, with random invitations to one of the auntie’s houses for continued revelry afterwards.
Back to the greengrocer, where this popular Gujarati café sits across the road, with one of London’s largest menus of over 300 items. There are the usual Gujarati, Punjabi, South Indian and Chinese options, but the thing to go for is dudhi bhajia, not found anywhere else in London. Pale green dudhi, also known as lauki or bottle gourd, looks like an alien’s cricket bat and is widely available in supermarkets. It’s bland and soft, and like all such mundane vegetables, transformed when dipped into chickpea flour, spices and onions and deep-fried into hot, crispy pakoras. They arrive in a large pile, and should be eaten with rose falooda. The party tunes of garnet-hued rose syrup, frothy cream, tukmaria seeds, thin vermicelli, chopped up turkish delight, good-quality vanilla ice cream, flaked almonds, crushed pistachios and glace cherries are so flamboyant they’d put a wedding saree-clad Gujarati auntie to shame. —Sejal Sukhadwala
532 Kingsbury Road, NW9 9HH