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.
When it feels like nearly everyone has lost their mind, it’s necessary to hold on to something solid. Raymonds in Eltham is an anchor in a world that’s gone adrift, a nearly 30-year-old institution that’s the very definition of grounded.
In this busy little cafe just off Eltham High Street, punters queue at the counter to order double portions of pie and mash — with some cheeky jellied eels on the side — or fry-ups and roast dinners, as well as countless configurations of all-day breakfasts, and then find a wooden booth to camp in until a waitress calls out their name.
The pie and mash is exemplary; ice-cream-scooped balls of fluffy potato sit with crisp-topped pies in generous pools of green liquor and the bottles of home-brewed chilli vinegar on every table lift what is already great into something utterly wonderful. Even better, though, are the juicy home-made faggots with well-seasoned pease pudding: Every forkful is a glimpse into a past which may never have existed, but somehow tastes of home. —MiMi Aye
10 Passey Place, Eltham SE9 5DQ
With Indian food in the U.K. widely regarded as far superior to that in the U.S., it’s rare for an American Indian restaurant chain to open in London — The Kati Roll Company is the only other that comes to mind. So it’s intriguing to find the Utah-based, five-strong Saffron group opening its first London branch in Swiss Cottage. The U.S.-based owner Lavanya Mahate shares a similar background to this branch’s U.K.-based managing director Satish Kumar who, in turn, is friends with the owners of the previous Indian restaurant Guglee on the same site — and perhaps it’s the symbiosis of these factors that’s made this venture possible. The contemporary pan-Indian venue boasts handsome good looks, with shiny upholstery, framed photos of staff’s mothers and aunts, ornate murals based on a fictional love story, and the sort of strikingly beautiful floor tiles that were commonplace in Indian households a hundred years ago. Nepalese chef Santosh Shah is the executive chef; he was last found cooking at Baluchi at the Lalit near London Bridge, where a meal a few months ago proved disappointing. Perhaps Shah is better able to express his creativity here because the food is good. It’s rarely worth ordering paneer dishes in restaurants because the cheese is almost always bought-in and rock-hard, but here the soft, fluffy, slightly wobbly own-made paneer in both tikka and not-to-be-missed rasmalai has an outstanding texture. Tangy, savoury, crunchy chaats and street food snacks are a strong point; plus there are smoky kababs and rich curries like baby lamb shanks perfumed with cardamom, saffron, rosewater and cashew paste. The spicing in dishes like aloo jeera is pretty individual and doesn’t follow the generic “broadly North Indian” template. Carrot halwa is another must-try dessert: so fresh, light and bright, it seems to have been conjured up by fairies minutes before serving. —Sejal Sukhadwala
7 New College Parade, Finchley Road NW3 5EP
People who love food generally fit two categories. The first think the most important part of a xiao long bao is the thinness of the skin. The second know that it is the soup. The first category value precision and virtuoso technique above all else. They have a solid argument perhaps — when the translucent skins droop like the membrane of raindrops ready to fall, you know that they will dissolve in the mouth delivering a seamless hit of salty broth and pork. But this means nothing if that broth isn’t worth it. The second group value something else ineffable, soul or whatever hippy-dippy thing, and are well served at Tea Garden in Surrey Quays where the dim sum isn’t perfect but the people and the room and the enthusiasm paper over any minor faults. Those skins for instance: a bit too thick and a little gluey in the mouth, but a companion goes into a reverie on the broth, pronouncing that it has 上海的味道 — a true Shanghai taste, a taste noticeably missing from many other London examples. All the other dim sum are homemade, a little irregular, and idiosyncratic; shui jiao in a sweet chilli sauce don’t quite work but the beef and cheese spring roll inspired by McDonalds is evil incarnate.
The couple who run Tea Garden are from Fujian and have a few specialities hidden away — Fuzhou fishballs which have been sourced impeccably, as well as Putian noodles, with crispy pork, prawns and peanuts all in a comforting broth. The bulk of the menu is more a reflection of the chef’s training, having worked with a xiao long bao specialist for a year, as well as the chef at Royal China Harrow and at Jun Ming Xuan in Colindale when it was good. Tea Garden has a perfect five star rating on Google and that reflects on the owners as much as the food, as well as the pleasant surprise that dim sum like this exists on a local level. One more hit like La Chingada and Surrey Quays has the making of what could be called A Scene. —Jonathan Nunn
166 Lower Road, Surrey Quays SE16 2UN
It’s an unexpected deviation from the regular East End pie and mash places — no mince or liquor to be found here — but Pie Republic’s hearty fillings and rich, buttery casings still make it a go-to for this all-important comfort food. Names and flavours reflect the community’s diversity as well as London’s history. The Hakka is a warming medley of lamb, carrots and rosemary encased in a crumbly shortcrust, perfect with minty mushy peas and thick cut chips. A Royal Victoria, creamy with chicken and chestnut mushrooms, comes with a lovingly crisp puff lid. While the Cox’s Bazaar is a thing of unique beauty; chicken and baked beans meld together in a bhut jolokia sauce, which pulses with just the right amount of heat, tempered by coriander and melted cheese. An annoyingly understated £20 minimum card spend dampens the experience but come with cash and enjoy excellent value with two sides, from mash to coleslaw, thrown in with every pie. —Shekha Vyas
80 Upton Lane, Forest Gate E7 9LW
Pizzeria da Valter
There’s something magical about a crisp, ethereally light frittura even when it is served by Wandsworth Common rather than the Italian seaside. At Pizza da Valter, prawns and courgettes make for happy devouring in wispy batter, as does a generous starter of aubergine parmigiana with the kind of rich and comforting tomato sauce that a proper nonna would be proud of. Wood-fired pizzas hit the right balance of crisp and chewy with just enough crust and a decent char, and there is no stinting on the quality of the toppings with buffalo mozzarella, good prosciutto and more. The menu includes risotto, chicken and salmon cooked with considered flair too. There’s a generosity of spirit both in the food offering and the kind, cheerful service that feels genuinely Italian, distinguishing it from many a high street pizzeria. —Sudi Pigott
7 Bellevue Road, Wandsworth Common SW17 7EG