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.
Through a crowded kitchen hatch Nobuhisa Takahashi looks out on a dining room that could easily be someone’s living room. His wife, Yuko the conduit for everything he wishes to communicate to their guests during an omakase meal. The absence of a traditional bar is soon forgotten.
Fish, cold. Rice, warm. Wasabi.
Season it yourself
True in most cases but here Taka, as he is known, adds flourishes to the impeccably sourced produce. Jalapeño with tuna zuke, Greek basil with French black bream, winter tomatoes with Danish sweet shrimp, black truffle with various cooked states of salmon. Simple and effective punches of flavour during a barrage of fish-based bites.
Clear broth holds aloft
Umami hugs you
After the excellence of expertly smoked salmon and toro tartare, a cleansing broth arrives see diners through, a bridge to what waits before dessert. Here it’s a miso soup clearer than fresh spring water, with impeccable maitake mushrooms. Drink, bite, drink the soup for what could happily be eternity, because there is no just reason to stop. It ends, expertly fried tempura arriving before dessert.
Vert matcha whisked
Anyone can make a fondant, it’s basic. Making a great fondant is a little trickier, making an exceptional matcha fondant is harder still. Balancing purity of flavour, sweetness, texture of the sponge and the molten core is something that requires patience. Patience from the chef to get the timing right and patience from the guest as they struggle to concentrate on their conversation in the face of continuous wafts of slowly caramelising tea-tinged sponge. Order a second as the first hits the table. —Feroz Gajia
228 Merton Road, South Wimbledon SW19 1EQ
Finchley’s Ballards Lane has been turning into mini Iran in recent years, with its parade of Persian patisseries and theatre of sangak bread — stretched, shaped and slapped onto marble surfaces by bakers all too conscious of passers-by peering through plate glass windows. There are shops crammed with exquisite dried fruit and nuts, deep-red rose petals, fragrant flower waters, thick creamy yoghurts, and steep piles of pomegranates. None of those things are the main attraction at this cosy, contemporary restaurant in nearby Regents Park Road, however, so give the standard mezes a miss, and head straight to the main courses section.
Here, classic stews based on lamb, pulses and vegetables with the texture of a comfort blanket have more depth of flavour than in most other Persian restaurants in London. Split peas with optional lamb pieces, topped with supermodel-slim slices of aubergine, startles with the intensely fruity, complex tartness that comes from dried pomegranate powder, what tastes like sour grape juice, dried lime powder, and the gift of a single dried black lime hiding in its midst. It’s bright, earthy, and perfumed with cinnamon; served with a mountain of steaming white rice, capped with a patch of saffron-painted grains. —Sejal Sukhadwala
225 — 227 Regents Park Road, Finchley N3 3LD
Walking out of the DLR station it’s clear that tales of Fu Manchu and Thomas Burke have long left Limehouse, leaving behind only phantoms: street names; faded characters on walls; Chinese restaurants. If D.W. Griffith was setting seminal 1919 silent film Broken Blossoms in Limehouse today, it would feature John Cho taking Lillian Gish for dinner, perhaps for yang xiezi soup at Shanshuijian.
The yang xiezi — lamb scorpion —is a calling card, the spine of a lamb from neck to tail boiled up until it leeches every bit of its marrow — to call it a soup or broth is underselling it; it arrives pitch black: blacker than vinyl, blacker than Bovril. Stare into it and it seems to stare back, reflective oil spots on the surface giving it the metallic sheen of a Song Dynasty tea bowl. If chicken soups can cure the common cold, this tastes like it might stop cancer in its tracks.
Elsewhere there are plenty of Dongbei specialities: home style tofu, a creditable version of kimchi, a stew of fatty chicken, pine needle mushrooms and vermicelli that has the texture of veloute. There’s one dish on the menu that gets overlooked that shouldn’t be missed: Guo bao rou, a real Dongbei version of sweet and sour. Glossy Jeff Koons slabs of crunchy pork, with a fruitiness that is more tart than sugary — forging a small link back in time to those adventurous souls who jumped ship over 100 years ago, and on this very spot tried to create a new version of home. —Jonathan Nunn
562 Commercial Road, Limehouse E14 7JD
In a quiet corner of Lewisham, just under the railway bridge, a short walk from the train station, is Maggie’s, a wonderfully traditional cafe established almost 40 years ago. The menu is long and handsome, with sturdy all-day breakfasts, classics like boiled ham and liver and bacon, hefty sandwiches replete with generous fillings — think tuna mayo, think plump prawns in seafood sauce — as well as hefty omelettes, chilli con carne, sausage and mash, chicken curry, lasagna and the like. The food is homely and warming and diners will always get change from a tenner, even with a mug of tea — maybe even with a bottle of Stella. The food has all been carefully created by the cafe’s eponymous owner, Maggie, from Cork, who is an institution unto herself since setting up the business with her Indian husband Monid Khondoker, then a caterer, in 1983. London is full of places like Maggie’s. They are diverse, hospitable, and class defying. And they are special. Lewisham’s is up there with the best. —Josh Barrie
320 — 322 Lewisham Road, Lewisham SE13 7PA
Shola Karachi Kitchen
Shola is nestled in a chain-lined avenue in one of bright yet brutalist developments that sprawl across White City. It is small, and would be easy to miss were it not for the steady stream of ecstatic patrons practically skipping out the door to a bright pastel cocoon from the dreary winter: Visual prozac. The food is fittingly joyful for such a lovely space, with chef Aida Khan drawing from the cosmopolitan Karachi food scene and interpreting it through a modern London lens. Lamb shoulder comes beautifully tender and smoky with black cardamom and a sweet, crunchy slaw; sourdough naan is light and buttery; vegetable pakora is perfectly spiced, crisp with a juicy interior; and the chicken malai boti is delicate but fiercely aromatic. Every dish is thoughtfully presented and the service is warm and enthusiastic: this place delivers on every conceivable front. —Shekha Vyas
Unit 6 Media Works, White City Place, Wood Lane W12 7FP