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.
This is a bad week. The election results are sinking in; it’s dark; it’s cold; it’s wet; the new Cats film is bewildering; and there are precious few days left to fit in the final bits of Christmas shopping. It is easy to spiral into a consumerism based malaise that will last until Boxing Day if that shopping means a trip to Westfield, but if shoppers feel the spirit of Scrooge creeping up, a quick trip round the corner to Prairie Fire will cheer even the most despondent of grinches.
The restaurant specialises in Kansas City-style barbecue that delivers hard on its “low and slow” promises. For the vegetarians, there are sweet and spicy jackfruit “wings” and burgers; for the carnivorous, there are falling-apart sandwiches of smoky brisket or fraying pulled pork, and exceptional hot dogs piled high with chilli and cheese. Messy, delicious and comforting food, perfect to forget about it all. —Leila Latif
Arches 88-89, Wood Lane Archways, Wood Lane, W12 7LH
In a year when St. John celebrates 25 years it’s only fitting that somewhere all but forgotten by Instagram-happy visual obsessives has suddenly become the best bakery in town. Again.
In the early 2010s E5 Bakehouse was the bakery favoured by the earliest of early-adopters in the food world. Best sourdough, best bagels, best bakes, best Viennoiserie, it was the forerunner of a movement. Then it went through growing pains, quality dropped, and inconsistency crept in. But as of late it has had a renaissance and now leads the pack on bakes and bread. Being a first-mover on milling its own grains, which are chosen for flavour rather than yield has given them time to perfect the bread, make great buckwheat pancakes, and employ Sarah Marie — who makes sweet-savoury galettes, buns, and Danishes to make Parisians jealous and a pain au chocolat that is easily the best in the city. Flavour first through and through and, right now, ahead of contemporaries like Flor and Jolene, this is the future of great bakes in London. —Feroz Gajia
Location, location, location. That’s what the industry wonks say is the most important thing about a restaurant, isn’t it? It’s why Leroy is thriving in an area of east London in a way it didn’t in a slightly different part of east London, and why another restaurant, Bright, has used that space to attract the younger, slightly hipper Mare Street crowd. Match the restaurant to the location is a cardinal rule — so why has Survivor, one of Dalston’s best Jamaican takeaways, opened on a side street in Camden?
Even disregarding the lack of a significant Caribbean community, it’s always been a troublesome spot on the corner of Delancey Street and Arlington Road — up until recently it was an Italian restaurant which always seemed to be empty. If Survivor lives up to its name the word has to get out there that it is currently one of the best takeaway options in Camden. Ackee and saltfish is sometimes all ackee, requiring a magnifying glass to identify pieces of saltfish. Not here where it comes in generous chunks, a foil to the pillowy ackee and the heat of scotch bonnet. Patties are the size of purses, a little irregular and homemade, callaloo for the virtuous, and beef with cheap orangey cheese for a heroic snack. Pepper prawns come with a warning after hot sauce is ordered: “they’re already hot,” and with a cold coming on they are a sinus clearing, three-tissue problem, a fierce prickle of heat blooming in the mouth that tempts one back for more: more crunchy prawn heads, more of that rosy sauce to soak up with rice and peas. A good lunch here costs about £6/7. £10 could add on a patty, or a cows foot hiding inside a red pea soup, melting into it like an affogato. £20 and an army could ride out on it. Go. —Jonathan Nunn
98 Arlington Road, NW1 7HT
Sleepy Sidcup in Zone 5 isn’t what one would normally call a culinary destination — until now, its biggest claim to fame is being the source of the tap water that Coca Cola bottled as Dasani. Indeed, apart from a handful of Indian and Turkish restaurants, every establishment seems to be some kind of bistro. But directly opposite the station, underneath a particularly ugly Travelodge and next to a heaving branch of the ice cream diner Kaspars, is the dream of four Sri Lankan friends Thilina, Dimada, Buddhika, and Asanka that became real in August — The Elephant Bar and Restaurant. The friends say that The Elephant is intended to represent their motherland and introduce people to their culture, traditions, and the beauty of the island — certainly, the feature wall of colourful Sri Lankan masks serve as a striking accompaniment to a meal.
Asanka is the brains behind the menu which includes Sri Lankan classics like devilled dishes and three types of kotthu, one of which, the “Big Man’s Special” of mutton, cheese, and chicken often defeats the hungriest diner (they’re happy to provide doggy bags). The “Sharers’ Delight” ensures an array of short eats including fantastic pol roti, fish cutlets, and mutton rolls, and on Fridays and Saturdays, they make the crispest egg hoppers to order.
Save room for dessert, as the menu has some rare treats, including kiri pani — a soothing palm sugar treacle and curd pudding — and watalappan, a baked coconut custard that requires a bit of notice.
The extensive drinks menu is also worthy of investigation — the Elephant offers Necto, a bright pink Sri Lankan soda that tastes like candy floss and regret; Sri Lankan Lion Lager; and a whole range of cocktails made with Ceylon arrack, a traditional spirit distilled from the sap of the coconut flower (the special comes in a ludicrous elephant-shaped jar). The venue itself does tend to cater more towards the cocktail and beer crowd, with the bar taking up most of the room and lots of standing tables, but it’s still cosy and fun, which is another big part of the Elephant’s ethos as they’ve embedded themselves into the Sidcup community, most recently putting on special events for Hallowe’en and Christmas. —MiMi Aye
101 Station Road, Sidcup, Kent
Part of a mini-chain of hugely popular north London pizzerias, this bright, light, spacious Golders Green branch is the youngest in the family. The pizzas are as big as an Italian mamma’s hospitality, with a thin, crisp base covered with charred, bubbled surface and generous toppings. The pastas are even better, made with flavoursome, intensely savoury sauces and good ingredients; and the perky salads have a spring in their step. The restaurant doesn’t do anything different from the very many Italians that have been opening all over north-west London, but what it does, it does very well — with warm welcome and a huge smile. —Sejal Sukhadwala
76 Golders Green Road, NW11 8LN.