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.
Burnt Norton is the kind of cafe whose footfalls echo in the memory, resolute against the airspace aesthetic and attitude and existing entirely for its local community, many of whom walk around the corner from Ealing’s Walpole Park with dogs in tow. So, there’s sourdough, but one of its own, with a crust like the surface of a planet, dry concrete, brown edged, the interior neither too dense nor so pockmarked that anything on it tumbles through the gaps. There’s speciality coffee, but of the apostatic Monmouth school, offering a spectrum of origins to try and compare over one, revered roast.
More dough makes assertively spiced cinnamon scrolls to give dentists nightmares and is wrapped round almonds like an optical illusion, a spiral so involving that it might cause dizziness. Time present and time past live in books that line the walls, including Jane Grigson and Gabriel García Márquez, with breakfast “things” chalked up on blackboards that promise eggs and chorizo and cheese. It has a kind of spare but lyrical austerity that perfectly fits what inspired its name: T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets. Oh, and the owner is a certified Google Reviews reply guy in all the right ways. —James Hansen
18 St Mary’s Road, Ealing W5 5ES
Deli Ninety Eight
To grow up in Stamford Hill or Golders Green in the 90s, was to experience a type of Jewish food a world away from the new-Jerusalem paradigm that dominates London today: A cuisine of grilled meats, of hummus with freshly baked Yemeni bread, of za’atar and pomegranates. No, before that, Jewish food in London was a realm of fried things, of pickles and of cold herring, a cuisine born of Mitteleuropa, an eking out something from scarce and unpromising ingredients. Ottolenghi’s Plenty this was not. That food, for better or worse, feels like it is dying out here, but can still be experienced at Deli Ninety Eight, one of the very few delis of its type that still caters to the Haredim of Stamford Hill. Thursday is the best time to come when their larder is fully stocked ahead of Shabbat and everyone is taking home bags laden with cholent, mustard herring, and compot. There is a Yiddish word, sometimes used pejoratively, that describes this food well: “heimish”, homely.
The dishes that most people eat-in are remarkably similar to a home-cooked meal or canteen food: meat and two veg, stews, latkes, mashed potato, potato balls, potato blintz, potato kugel. There’s even lo mein and General Tso’s nuggets, in a nod to the well documented Jewish love of Chinese food. For Gentiles, the menu that makes the most sense is the sandwich one: a New Yorker chock with steak thins, pastrami, fried egg, and dill mayo, or a sweet pulled beef number. Best of all is the hot dog, burly and beefy in a soft challah bun (all new wave sandwich shops could exponentially improve their offerings through sourcing good challah), all smoke and snap, loaded with chosen condiments: pickles, sweet mustard, chillies of course. Deli Ninety Eight isn’t exactly the last of its kind, but it’s a welcome monochromatic contrast to the variegated, explosive colours of London’s new “Levantine” joints: it’s a reminder that sometimes the best choices are between five types of roast chicken, seven types of potato, and a decent mustard. —Jonathan Nunn
98 High Road, Stamford Hill N15 6JR
Of all the African cuisines, Ethiopian is the most vegan-friendly, because approximately one-third of the Coptic Christian calendar has meat- and dairy-free days. The lack of dairy means niter kibbeh is omitted, the spiced aged butter that gives many of the wots their characteristic fermentation funk and an intriguing backnote of slight rancidity that harks back to an ancient era. On the plus side, the butter is an acquired taste, so without it dishes are more suitable for the contemporary palate and those who’re new to the food. Tufnell Park’s pioneering Ethiopian restaurants Lalibela and the Queen Of Sheba have been serving excellent vegetarian options for decades; now a family-run Ethiopian grocer and butcher nearby has changed direction to become a vegan daytime café. Its name refers to a small bread made from the last piece of dough.
This cosy no-frills venue taps into two emerging trends: first, that of vegan Ethiopian eateries quietly opening across the capital; and second, formerly omnivore businesses relaunching as vegan. Here there’s a choice of between six to eight wots, priced at £6 for three, £7.50 for four, and £9 for five, with a side of either injera or rice. Spinach and whole green lentils scented with cinnamon and garlic, and green beans sweet with onions and yellow peppers, are the perfect foil to the spiciness of misir kiki — a stand-out brick-red split lentil stew warm with its berbere spicing of cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, fenugreek, and dried red chillies. Soft rolls of injera, here made with teff and brown rice, look like steamrolled Staffordshire oatcakes and, like in many Ethiopian restaurants, are available to buy. There’s also a proper coffee ceremony, featuring heirloom variety beans from Ethiopia’s most storied growing regions: Harrar, Sidamo, Jimma, and Yirgacheffe. —Sejal Sukhadwala
143 Fortress Road, Tufnell Park, NW5 2HR
La Cantina Sociale Caffè Pizzeria
Arancini spots and pizza places have ballooned in London like a well-risen crust in recent years. But another regional, circular snack, popular in Italy, has proved more difficult to find. Pucce, or puccia — the Apulian answer to an ancient global tradition of eating bread with almost any other fresh, local ingredient around — has been sadly overlooked in the city. The small, slightly puffy discs made of leftover pizza flour are griddle-cooked to create a simultaneously airy, chewy and cripsy dome, in which to stuff anything the heart desires. Traditionally, this entails sun dried tomatoes, salt, cheeses, herbs and cold meats or fish — all creatively muddled together to form a multi-textural showcase of the area’s seasonal highlights. Pucce is what La Cantina Sociale does best. Freshly made to order and filled with a carnival of different flavours, these sandwiches are among some of the best value in London, a steal at £6. A version with rocket, mozzerella and salami is a creamy, peppery delight. Pizza at the small Bethnal Green restaurant, which also stocks a range of Italian groceries, is also unsurprisingly solid, being made from the same base as the pucce. There is structural integrity here to hold a variety of toppings, but enough diaphanous crunch for several helpings. —Shekha Vyas
E2, Railway Arches, 300 Cambridge Heath Road, Bethnal Green E2 9HA
101 Thai Kitchen
For a taste of north eastern Thai food in West London, look no further than 101 Thai Kitchen. Specialising in cuisine from the country’s landlocked Isaan province, Suttichai Se-Upara and his wife Dujdoa opened the restaurant back in 2004. It’s still just as much a family affair today. Chef Bee Byrne (aka ‘Auntie Bee’) runs the pass while Suttichai’s sister, Parptawan Pukdeethai, keeps things smooth at the front of house.
101’s coral exterior leads on to the restaurant’s equally fuchsia insides, where a glut of classics and deep cuts warm diners’ insides. Som tum; ผัดเผ็ดปลาดุก (spicy stir-fried catfish). Som turn pu is the pick of the papaya salads — pounded till its fragrant flavours leak into one another as home cooked bpoo kem, salted crab, provides a pleasant saline nip on the finish. Ordering the laab ped roi et — an unholy marriage of duck meat and chicken giblets that singes lips like a three hour snog — is a real veteran’s move. As is giving those plates a portion of traditional Isaan sausage for company. Those fermented franks arrive in a pert trio; pungent with enough garlic to put a nix on any actual snogging later. Not that it’ll matter, as diners leave 101 feeling full, content and part of the family. —Lucas Oakeley
352 King Street, Hammersmith W6 0RX