A warm welcome back to the column which highlights the best dishes (or things) Eater London staff and/or contributors ate during the week.
Look back on previous best dishes of the week here.
Christmas Sandwich at Jolene Colebrooke Row
I have now eaten the Jolene Christmas sandwich three times in just over a week. For someone who doesn’t, as a rule, like Christmas novelty dishes, this should be a special kind of hell, like the personal nightmare endured by Forrest MacNeil in the peerless ‘Pancakes, Divorce, Pancakes’ episode of Review. But here’s the thing: the Jolene Christmas sandwich is just a very, very good sandwich masquerading as a Christmas sandwich. It’s a Ship of Theseus of the genre, asking the deep philosophical question of how many ‘typical’ Christmas ingredients you can remove — and how many supporting ones retain — whilst still passing the “yes, this is definitely a Christmas sandwich” test. To wit: no turkey, but smoked chicken. No sprouts, roast potatoes or carrots, but zippy red cabbage. No gravy, or bread sauce, but stuffing — a sage and onion one, run through a mayonnaise. Just three ingredients, in excellent, properly chewy bread — in a festive season so often characterised by excess, it’s bracingly puritanical, carols sung in Latin in a clamour of Mariah Careys. It may, indeed, not be excessive enough for some, especially when the Quality Chop House (a masterpiece of the genre) is only a short bus ride away. But the repeat visits don’t lie; I can’t seem to get enough of it. —George Reynolds
16 Essex Road, Islington N1 8LN
Pigeon Maltagliati at the Plimsoll
Maltagliati means badly cut. It’s the ugly-sexy pasta shape: uneven four-sided leaves, that look as if they’ve been roughly severed with a blunt knife. Other things that are maltagliati - equal parts ugly and sexy - include: mullets, mismatched floral crockery, people snogging at the pub in 2021, and a chaotically tinsel-strewn Christmas tree that’s been guillotined to fit it inside. The Plimsoll had all of these in abundance on Monday night. There was edible maltagliati too: soft slabs of pasta piled high with a deep, time-softened pigeon ragú and a topknot froth of Parmesan curls. It was a highlight in a meal that included their holy triptych of a pint, a Dexter cheeseburger, and fried potatoes. If that turns out to by my last meal out of the season, I wouldn’t want to change it for a better cut. —Hester van Hensbergen
52 St Thomas’s Road, Finsbury Park N4 2QW
Breakfast Taco at Sonora Taqueria
Big week for the team!
This was, alas, a week in which a breakfast at Koya Ko was eaten, yes. It was also a week in which the Eater London Christmas “party” — lunch for two — took place at Lyle’s (where – mussels, lovage, turnip tops (!!!); game liver parfait (!!); mallard, quince, bitter leaves (!); and a dessert (!!!!!) which is among London’s finest and about which you can read more below. And, this was the week when the piebeast Will Lewis brought Willy’s Pies to an arch in London Fields. These pies — especially the rabbit, lardons and Breton cider one — are very proper and probably worth waiting 30 minutes in a queue full of North Face Nuptsed bros for.
But, but, but. What was the best thing? Well, it is absolutely certain that the week in which omicron closed restaurants en masse for Christmas will be remembered by few as the one when Sonora taqueria introduced the breakfast taco for the first time. And yet, this is potentially a big breakfast moment for London. Because even by the extraordinarily high standards of chefs Michelle Salazar and Sam Napier, the taco comprising broken, fried Mexican chorizo — a loose smoky, paprika-heavy pork mince — egg a la plancha, and salsa inside a butter flour tortilla is, I think, the best thing I’ve eaten by them. It is apparently a limited edition Christmas special; let’s hope it comes back and sticks around for 2022.
Netil Market, 13-23 Westgate Street, London Fields E8 3RL
Caramel ice cream, espresso, and meringue at Lyle’s
If an absolutely cardinal menu sin is a dish that reads better than it eats, then this now iconic dessert is heaven-sent. On first scan, caramel, coffee, and meringue is the most basic of trios: broad brushstrokes of sweet and bitter, with the unspoken chocolate crumb a similarly obvious route to textural contrast. Boxes ticked, plate it up, out it goes.
But this is where the skill of the pastry chef lies, and this dish’s majesty has persisted beyond the departure of its creator, Anna Higham. It’s a reminder that textural contrast isn’t just soft and hard: the liquid espresso, Brylcreem stretch of meringue, and chewy ice cream play off each other. The cold of ice cream — sorry, back on my bullshit, scroll down to the vanilla soft serve entry — tempers the caramel sweetness and exaggerates that of the meringue, when they could have so easily been pappy, bland versions of themselves. And the use of liquid espresso creates a pleasantly coating bitterness, rather than overbearingly staccato counterpoint. A dessert that is so much more than the sum of its parts.
The Tea Building, 56 Shoreditch High Street, Shoreditch E1 6JJ
Fish Goujons Filet from Catalyst Cafe
The best kind of fish finger sandwich is the one that you consume after a heavy Techno night as a headache pounds on your skull with all the might of Joseph rapping on the door of every inn in Bethlehem. That’s not up for debate. But if you’re looking for the best fish finger sandwich for when you’re out and about in London then the fish goujons filet from Catalyst Cafe is your star in the East. Dressed with a dill-forward tartar sauce and tucked in a shiny bun under a comfort blanket of cheese, the goujons in this sandwich are piping-hot and flaky-fleshed yet still firm enough to not fall apart after a couple of bites. Yes, it’s a sandwich, but it’s also a lesson in how big flavours and textures can work in tandem with subtler ones. Nothing is masked in this yassification of the Filet-O-Fish — everything is enhanced. —Lucas Oakeley
48 Grays Inn Rd, Chancery Ln, London WC1X 8LT
Undhiyu at Mumbai Local
Sometimes it’s difficult to dislodge an image from your head once someone has placed it there. A throwaway comment about the existence of chilli paneer pizza at Jai Durga Mahal in Harrow from Shekha Vyas immediately had me checking the timetables of the quickest semi-fast Metropolitan Line train. Having got on the wrong train twice, I’m not sure any pizza could have lived up to the billing and the journey. The pizza tasted like every single hot and spicy pizza you’ve ever tasted, with the addition of paneer, by which I mean it was delicious (although I have a suspicion it would be even better if you ordered the chilli paneer separately and spooned it on top).
A brisk walk, one paratha, one kulcha, and a bus journey later, I was at the polar opposite end of the Gujarati spectrum ─ from the absurd to the wholesome. At Mumbai Local, a north-west London mini chain, Feroz Gajia introduced me to undhiyu, a bottle-green, mixed-vegetable dish typical of Gujarati home cooking, verdant and pleasingly bitter, with peas, beans, jalapeño-sized slices of aubergine, dumplings and geodes of purple yams. So wholesome in fact, if given half a chance, ASAP’s Pam Yung would have certainly put it on a pizza.
207 Station Rd, Harrow HA1 2TP
Cachorrinhos da Batalha at Cafe Gazela, Porto
[Regular contributor Angela Hui was away this week but is committed to the cause. Here, then, is some travel writing.]
Technically, this is cheating. But who cares about rules?! What’s described as a “special hotdog” on the menu, truly is something special. Crisp, lightly toasted bread that’s reminiscent of banh mi baguette bread filled with two types of sausage (linguiça and another saus I didn’t catch the name of, soz, but it was super juicy, with a slight spicy kick) and topped with melted cheese. The hot dog is lightly grilled in the same way as a Cubano sandwich would be but the sandwich isn’t pressed down, so keeps its shape. It’s then chopped into bite size pieces and is made for drinking with cold beer. It’s no wonder this place got the Bourdain seal of approval (they even have a picture of him on the wall). Gazela was teeming with locals on my visit and I wish in the U.K. we had more a culture for going out, sitting at the bar, and snacking on mini hotdogs and chips (yes, I am five, but shout out to those light, crunchy golden boys, too.) —Angela Hui in Porto
Rua de Entreparedes N 8 10, 4000-434 Porto, Portugal
10 December 2021
Nasi Kandar at Putera Puteri
The Roti King queue has recently become a kind of Tartarus where Kalpa Sugendran Sugendran as Zeus metes out divine punishment on people who, in a previous life, have refused to wait for their food. I’m not going to tell you it’s not worth the hassle of scanning a QR code and a descent into purgatory for some roti canai, but it is time to be real for a second: There are other Malaysian restaurants in London. I’ve eaten lighter, flakier roti canai recently at Hawker’s Kitchen, very good murtabak (and exceptional roti john) at Malay Fellas, while the most satisfying roti canai was at Putera Puteri in Queenway ─ rejuvenated under new ownership ─ where the crispiest, most buttery roti is paired with a curry of potato and long simmered chicken, which imparts its soul to the sauce.
But no, that wasn’t the best thing I ate this week ─ it was the nasi kandar, a mixed rice dish named after the kandar (pole) Tamil Muslim vendors would balance on their shoulders to carry portions of food. No poles are extant here in west London, but the nasi kandar is carefully portioned out onto a plate and a bowl. The plate is a Trivial Pursuit board of rice, prawn crackers, spiced cabbage okra, sambal, egg and daging masak hitam (a beef curry so full of sweet soy sauce that it’s been cooked down to the colour of high-quality latex). The bowl is full to the brim of fish curry, so you can judge the ‘wetness’ of the dish, flooding the tomato-rich curry and aubergine alternately onto your rice and into your mouth, while peeling off the chewy skin until all you’re left with is a Tom and Jerry cartoon version of a fish bone. The only thing that might improve it? A side of that roti. —Jonathan Nunn
179 Queensway, W2 5HL
Two vegetable fritters at Global Vegan Fusion Creole
The cold winter afternoon pottering around the Walthamstow Sunday market always calls for a snack, and seeing the smokiness coming off a very hot, big pan spelt good things, even before reading the sign above. “Two veg fritters £3.” I walked away without finding out much detail, focused on the veg of my own I needed from the market, so I can’t give details on what was inside. But oh my god, it was so so good! Crispy on the outside, fluffy on the inside, packed with veg: greens and various roots. Entirely vegan, too, and I don’t know how they kept the structure together without an egg. A very rich and spicy sauce was an ideal foil, and they were so enormous that I kept the second fritter for a later afternoon snack, which was still great heated up in the oven. Now I need to go back and try their other snacks — the cakes look great —Anna Sulan Masing
Walthamstow Sunday Market, High Street, Walthamstow E17 7JN (and other locations)
Pao de batata, chouriço at the Brazilian Centre Mare Street
The best thing I ate this week was a handheld hot item from the hot counter at the Brazilian Centre supermarket on Hackney’s Mare Street. In truth, I did not know what I was ordering beyond the fact it would be a robust and fortifying carbohydrate with “cheese, olives, and sausage inside.” Absolutely why not!
This is a great hot item: good bread and better filling. A filling that is reminiscent of the cheap-but-excellent flavour profile of pizza nostalgia itself. The combination of melted cheese, bits of onion, green olives, and slices of saveloy-esque smoked sausage, which snapped on each bite was a thrilling eating experience. And a comforting one, too. —Adam Coghlan
223 Mare Street, Hackney E8 3QE
Roti John at Malay Fellas
I often go somewhere purely because they do a certain dish you can’t find elsewhere. London’s being weirdly resistant to the single dish model (for many reasons) doesn’t reward these chance takers, with even the most fiercely singular brands of restaurant and street food businesses guilty of menu creep in order to appease the largest possible customer base.
In a different London, Malay Fellas would be a roti John stand. The other cooking is good to great, but the roti John is the crown jewel. The etymology and origin of roti John as with any modern dish is hotly contested, but the most popular theory is that John was the generic name for a white male customer and roti meant bread, so his order was a roti John. The slightly more amusing anecdotal story is the cashier would call roti John when the customer was a foreigner and the cook would know to only break one egg under the counter for the order, while locals would get two in their omelette.
The sandwich itself goes beyond a simple omelette between bread thanks to all the little touches Malaysians love in their street food: the egg mix is enlivened with chopped meat and onions; there are minimal but important herbs and salad; the fluffy but substantial white sub roll is toasted in just enough fat; there are multiple textures of onion; and most importantly the slightly sweet but piquant sauce that makes you finish the sandwich in seconds. It’s billed as a sloppy joe, but that’s underselling it massively.
“You don’t realise how bad other sandwiches are until you have a well constructed one” said Jonathan as we nodded in agreement while polishing off a second roti John. —Feroz Gajia
16 Inverness Street, Camden NW1 7HJ
3 December 2021
Pumpkin spice latte at Prufrock Coffee
A marriage between seasonal fun and the importance of ingredient quality and traceability, Prufrock’s pumpkin spice latte is based on a recipe from co-owner James Hoffmann. There is a not new, but growing London consciousness of the need to introduce frivolity to a cafe sphere whose excellence can sometimes veer into po-facedness, and a very easy way to do that is take something gloriously basic and make it excellent. Yes, there’s a simplicity to the harmony between espresso, friskily warming aromatics, and a billow of sweetened coffee cream that sits proud on the top lip, but the constituents of pumpkin spice — here cinnamon, cassia, ginger, nutmeg, clove, and allspice — map on to coffee in ways that go beyond flavour affinity. The trade of both is intrinsically fraught with colonial history and exploitation, and so this recipe made with traceable, high quality spices and coffee beans alike is perhaps a more meaningful tribute and introduction to the ways in which food and drink can change perceptions of what’s important than any straight shot of espresso. —James Hansen
23 — 25 Leather Lane, Farringdon EC1N 7TE
Tamal at El Inca Plebeyo
The fairy lights and stockings strung up in the window at El Inca Plebeyo might be just for Christmas, but this restaurant is festive by nature: the dining room is decked with bright Ecuadorian fabrics, there’s salsa and reggaeton on the radio, and lengths of sugar cane ready to be pressed into fresh juice. It’s a party waiting to start — any moment and the big plates of ceviche and slow roasted pork could be gliding out to boisterous tables of revellers. But on a cold Wednesday evening, all that’s missing are the customers. El Inca Plebeyo is a remedy to winter with generous starchy and citrus dishes that eat like stored sunshine. The tamal, crumbling and steaming, is served with a bright-eyed coriander sauce. The real serotonin kick is in a nest of caramelised plantains, though, which are mingled with brightening furls of lime-pickled onion, tomatoes, and flakes of freshly made cheese. For anyone looking for a last minute advent dinner reservation, El Inca Plebeyo promises to keep you in high-spirits. —Hester van Hensbergen
162 Essex Road, Islington N1 8LY
Masala fish roll at Salim Caterers
Getting a good filet o’ fish in the current McDonald’s setup is very difficult. Grumbles about badly slapped on cheese, sputum like tartare, overcooked/refried fish squares and dry buns fill my DMs yet we still order and hope for that platonic ideal. This week myself and two (2) other Eater writers happened to have our filets at exactly the same time and yet only mine was the pinnacle of fast food fish, my first good filet o’ fish in months was my triumph for the week, along with my first mince pie, also from the golden arches. Salim’s is known for better than average kebab rolls, done the way you would have found a decade ago, double kebab-mint sauce-chilli sauce-raw onion-tandoori naan. The consistency of the kebab roll is variable based on how busy they are but the masala fish roll is ordered rarely and as such cooked to order so just like you would in a fish n chip shop you order what isn’t ready in the display counter, get the masala fish roll. The accoutrements are the same and yet somehow works just as well with the soft flaking fish, the sweet tang of mint jelly in the mint sauce balancing the salt and chilli sauce with the raw onion being the foil for the whole thing inside a pillowy naan. —Feroz Gajia
90 Palmerston Road, Walthamstow E17 6PZ
Garlic kheer at Manthan
Like Jonathan Nunn last week, my best dish this week was also flower-shaped and garlic-flavoured. I tried the garlic kheer at Manthan, Rohit Ghai’s smart new restaurant that replaces Lucknow 49 in Mayfair. Before you go, “ew, garlic in a milk pudding!” — which would have been my reaction, too — let me say that the garlic has been soaked and boiled so many times to remove its pungent, slightly metallic taste that it’s barely discernible. In fact, you may not notice it at all unless you’re paying close attention, a little whisper of it coming in waves as an aftertaste. The kheer, which is curiously snow-white despite the milk being reduced and thickened by repeated boiling, which should give it a pale cream colour, in fact tastes pleasantly of its other ingredients: rich, clotted cream-like dairy with almonds, pistachios and rosewater. It’s attractively presented in a porous biscuit pastry flower on a brass plate that looks like it’s been designed by an antique jewellery maker. So what’s the point in cooking something with garlic that’s not meant to taste of garlic? The dish dates back to the seventeenth century Mughlai era, when chefs of rival kitchens of the fading Delhi court and increasingly influential Lucknow court were creating more and more unlikely and outlandish dishes to out-dazzle each other. The original — known as benami kheer, literally ‘kheer with no name’ to keep its main ingredient a secret — was made with slices of garlic that were supposed to trick the diner into believing they were eating almond slivers. Here there are no garlic pieces in the kheer, only almonds, but it’s no less impressive for it. —Sejal Sukhadwala
49 Maddox Street, Mayfair W1S 2PQ
Sichuan-spiced chicken wings at Ling Ling’s
Ling Ling’s sums up everything that I think the London dining scene should be about: fun and freewheeling food. Having taken over the hobs at The Gun on Well Street, Jenny Phung and sous chef James Shepherd are bashing out quality plates of modern Chinese-inspired cooking. I’d call them small plates but that’d honestly be doing the size of the portions a grave injustice. While the salt and pepper fried potatoes proved that crisp-on-the-outside and fudgy-in-the-middle spuds will always be a hit, the standout dish for me is the Sichuan-spiced chicken wings. Four immense wings (sourced from what I can only assume to be a breed of chicken actually capable of flight) are coated in a coarse málà crust that sends your palate on a fruity, spicy, and sweet crash course of flavour. Hot wings and cold beer? Still impossible to beat. —Lucas Oakeley
The Gun, 235 Well Street, Hackney E9 6RG
26 November 2021
Borscht at Albina
I decided to put my pores through their paces last night: First a steam and a schmeiss on a Canning Town industrial estate, and then, once they thought it was over, a Ukrainian meal up the road at Albina where the copious use of raw garlic makes Richard Olney look like a coward. Scrolling the menu at Albina will make you think: “Just miss once” ─ cold herring and onion, beef tongue and mayonnaise, liver in “delicious sauce,” chicken Kiev (surely an in-joke), and, most appealingly of all, lard with garlic. I don’t know what anyone expected but what came was lard with garlic: The lard ─ salo ─ unnecessarily wrapped like a marzipan cake decoration into a pork fat flower, and served with chopped raw garlic on the side.
Even better was the borscht, that infinite soup which here uses chicken stock and tomato as its base, ruby hued, pungent with dill, with an island of sour cream that spreads into an archipelago over the course of eating. It is, of course, served with a clove of raw garlic which should be nibbled in between gulps. “If one of you has it, you all have to have it,” the waitress advised. “Otherwise it’s unfair.” So three more cloves of raw garlic were brought over and for the second time that evening, over several shots of homemade vodka and a steaming bowl of soup, we collectively sweated it all out. —Jonathan Nunn
239 Barking Rd, London E13 8EQ
Boudin Noir with pommes purée, watercress and pickled grapes at Quality Wines
Chef Nick Bramham is such a bastard. I cannot believe he invented the most perfect dish to counteract these recent subarctic temperatures. The super satisfying black pudding tastes like a fatty, herby juicy sausage without a hint of the strong metallic taste usually present in a blood sausage. As for the mash — creamy, silky, and such a warming embrace that lingers. The watercress added a peppery slap and the pickled grapes gave a sharp kick to cut through the richness. I licked the plate clean. Of course, Nick puts care and attention into balance, but it’s as if he threw this together like it’s nothing and does it exceptionally. Like I said, absolute bastard. £22. —Angela Hui
88 Farringdon Rd, London EC1R 3EA
Vegan Pork Chop Bun at Mao Chow
The most satisfying thing I ate this week was the soul soothing Haggis, neeps and cabbage from 40 Maltby street, bobbing in a lamb gravy so sticky it left you with a lanoliny lip balm to face the brisk Bermondsey winds. But the best thing I ate this week was probably the vegan pork chop bun from Mao Chow in Shoreditch (via delivery), a patty of seasoned omnipork (the meat substitute of choice for chains in Hong Kong and mainland China) is glazed perfectly in the style of a Macanese pork chop bun paired with ginger scallion sauce and white onion. The chop seasoned well and worked so that it is juicy and has that slight bounce you’d expect from meat, it’s a great bun. A fine addition to the Mao Chow repertoire. —Feroz Gajia
2-10 Bethnal Green Road Unit 56 Boxpark Retail Mall, E1 6GY
Ankou Bubu Arare / Wagyu Gunkan at Sachi at Pantechnicon
There are many reasons to visit Pantechnicon, with its interplay of Nordic and Japanese influences that weave through retail, bar, and dining spaces, providing inspiration for all five senses. Sachi, the latest restaurant addition, however, from head chef Collin Hudson (Dinings, Roka) and Pantechnicon’s executive chef Chris Golding (Nobu, Zuma, Dinings), on the lower ground floor, is definitely a standalone draw.
Whether it’s taking in the atmosphere from the barrel-vaulted dining room, or observing the action at the sushi bar, every corner has beautiful design-led touches. The sushi is decent, as expected, but the most memorable dishes are two of Sachi’s small plates. They embody the recurring theme that I think has been in so many best dishes lately: Soothing, nostalgic flavours and textures but with the added dimension of interesting execution. Wagyu Gunkan, a seasoned parcel of finely-chopped, nori-wrapped rare wagyu with its delicate smoky umami, is melt-in-the-mouth and gone too soon. While Ankou Bubu Arare, discs of tender flaked monkfish — embellished with a honeycomb of spherical rice crispies — are playful; simultaneously redolent of childhood comfort but, paired with a tangy tartare sauce, become lifted to adult sophistication. —Shekha Vyas
Sachi at Pantechnicon, 19 Motcomb St, SW1X 8LB
Classic Miso and rice at Koya Ko
First, an apology from a creature of habit. Last week, I wrote about the greatness of Koya’s Japanese breakfast. Well, this week, I must write about the “classic miso breakfast” instead. Right now, in the damp, freezing cold weather, it might just be a better choice. In fact, it might be the best cold weather day-starter in the city. Whatever, it was the best dish I ate this week. So good in fact, I ate it twice, once as a birthday present to self.
Again, there’s a selection of goodness in this breakfast: The main event is a bowl of house miso, loaded with ginger pork, strips of ginger, spring onion, and watercress — an umami-rich, salty bowl of hot brilliance. Next to it, a bowl of perfect rice and a pickled plum. And, finally, those pickles, whatever they may be. Perfect.
Last week, I wrote: “Pure restorative and warming goodness.” Well, sorry, but this week I’m saying it again. —Adam Coghlan
19 November 2021
Bánh mì đặc biệt at Viet Populaire
I could probably go on and on about the very hit-and-miss le colonial/my first time in Vietnamese gap yah interior vibes, but let’s focus on the food here. First up, the bánh mì đặc biệt (£10): A proper good bread, this, and probably what makes the sandwich sing. It’s clearly not a baguette; rather a sub-like roll with a crackling, flaky crust and fluffy soft interior that doesn’t cut up the roof of your mouth when biting into it. For the filling, a series of cold cuts, creamy pâté, pork floss, crackling, chillies, rau ram, pickled carrots, mooli, cucumber, and spring onions. Everything works in harmony, with each ingredient able to be tasted individually helped by a big emphasis on the fresh herbs. In all, a truly outstanding piece of work. But it would be rude not to talk about the real star of the show here: the crinkle cut chips (£5). Do you realise how rare it is is to find a golden, crispy and not soggy crinkle cut chips? The grooves instantly add ten fun points and the very good tofu sriracha mayo dip that comes with it clings to the chip’s groove. Although a bit heavy handed on the salt. I had to down a pint of water immediately after. —Angela Hui
30 Rupert St, London W1D 6DL
Popeyes’ Chicken Sandwich
Fried chicken is the great equaliser in the London food scene. Stop me if you’ve heard this one before; it’s a cliche but a valid one. An thus no place in recent memory has elicited more reactionary DMs from as wide a cross-section of London as my preview meal at Popeyes (courtesy of an invite from a fellow Eater London best dish contributor) this week. Yes, for us chicken hypebeasts out here, this is the big one — the huge hype already surrounding the industry breaking chicken sandwich did not prevent it from living up to the billing.
A buttermilk-brined breast so chunky and juicy you’d be taken back to your first viewing of [insert Megan Thee Stallion hit here] but with enough crunch to stand up to the ultimate distillation of toppings (just mayo and two pickle slices). Then there are the KFC-beating hot wings, spiced thoroughly throughout, incorporating Popeyes shatter crunch coating (lol) and brined perfectly. They were so good, one aficionado contemplated divorcing the Colonel. Replacing a KFC inside Westfield Stratford feels like an apt passing of the torch, Popeyes minus any of their seafood and no red beans and rice has somehow ascended to the top of the fried chicken landscape without even trying. As the empire inevitably expands, one day Popeyes will make it to Limerick, and then Blindboy will pit them against the ghost of Harland Sanders via Chicken Hut at which point the fried chicken wars will be truly decided. —Feroz Gajia
Westfield Stratford City, Montfichet Rd, E15 1AZ
Pumpkin with crunchy chestnuts and thyme butter at 40 Maltby Street
“I think you need this” were the assured words of chef Steve Williams as he set down an unassuming plate of pumpkin on our already full bar perch on Friday night. I politely ignored him — too busy mooning over the turnip quiche and eating more than my fair share of the rouille-slicked fish stew. Until my friend interjected, “Have you tried the pumpkin yet? It tastes like pizza! In the best way!” And it did. Something about the glossy thyme butter and the sweet pumpkin, tasted like eating a New York slice, grease and dried herbs spilling joyously down my chin. If only a dollar pizza could come topped with the crunch of Williams’ forest crackling chestnuts. —Hester van Hensbergen
40 Maltby St, SE1 3PA
Japanese Breakfast at Koya Ko
For a long time, the Japanese breakfast at Koya Soho has ranked among the city’s best meals to begin the day. Now, the new outpost of Koya, just off Broadway Market, one of east London’s trendiest thoroughfares, is offering more of the same. Pure restorative and warming goodness. It can be eaten inside, on the covered terrace, or taken away. Enjoyed either way, it will serve its purpose. One of the great things about this breakfast is the multiple components, a selection box breakfast that is as fun as it is delicious. At the centre of it is a piece of grilled fish — this week an exquisite miso-soy glazed fillet of fatty mackerel; alongside it a bowl of steamed rice with a loan pickled plum sitting on top of it like the cherry on a cherry bakewell; a plate of pickles (this week, daikon), and a cup of hot fish dashi. Nothing beats this. —Adam Coghlan
Broadway Market Mews, E8 4TS
1 October 2021
Laing sticky rice by Luto at Gnarly Vines
At the heart of so many cultures is rice, and the heart of so many South East Asian cultures is sticky rice: best when eaten with hands, used almost as a tool to pick up barbecued pork or charred vegetables.
There are many ways to cook sticky rice, and Mary San Pablo of Luto makes a version she calls “Laing.” It is steamed in banana leaf with ginger and chilli, as well as kale that has been slow cooked in coconut cream. The kale is softened, all steeped in the coconut cream, but still with the lovely sharp bite this green is known for and a very clear — but delicate — heat from the chilli and ginger. Laing is a Bicolano dish, from the Bicol region in the Philippines, made with taro leaves and meat or fish cooked in coconut milk with ginger, garlic, lemongrass and chilli. I imagine Mary’s sticky rice is a play on this. It is delicious. —Anna Sulan Masing
Mary’s Luto has regular supperclubs at St J’s, 18-20 St James Street, Walthamstow E17 7PF
Tomato rice at Lighthaus Cafe
I try to be grown up when eating out, adding in some “for health” courses to a meal heavy with plentiful proteins and rich soups. Usually a couple of interesting vegetable dishes, or at worst, fried things with whichever emulsion the chef deems fit to send.
At Lighthaus, with the cooking of ex-40 Maltby Street chef Alex Vines, the danger for me is always the desserts. It’s a rare day when I don’t order both at least once, and chastise anyone who suggests the cheese course. Over the last few visits, I’ve had the bakewell of the now departed summer, so delicious, light and tender you could eat the whole tart and not know it (then lay twitching on the floor, unremorseful.) A honey custard tart so pure and delicate that the fresh fruit was deemed a distraction; a choux stuffed with apple curd ripple ice cream that could put many an apple pie to shame and Müller corner out of business.
But back to being grown up but not really: the tomato rice. A blate (bowl plate) of rice moored in a lake of wonderful tomato broth, surrounding jutting rocks of tomato and pickled walnuts, a dollop of strained yoghurt and some fried onions giving respite from all the umami. A trombetta gratin came close to stealing the show with its crispy corners and perfectly cooked squash standing in for the pasta, but consistency relegates it to the second best dish. —Feroz Gajia
11 Argall Avenue, Leyton E10 7QE
Almost the entire breakfast menu at Cafe Cecilia
I had an epiphany about breakfast this weekend while sitting down at Cafe Cecilia, Max Rocha’s spartan restaurant by the canal in London Fields. I was there because I was (and I can’t believe I’m typing these words) judging a tiramisu competition (guillotine) nearby at 1:30 p.m. and I wanted to get in a meal in before I turned into a puddle of mascarpone.
Strangely, Cecilia is a restaurant that currently has no dinner service but does have a breakfast one, and makes a point of it. The breakfasts are influenced by Rocha’s Irish heritage in a more explicit way than the lunches — Guinness bread, Coolea cheese and boiled egg, a dense, almost chewy homemade black pudding, and kippers on toast. With only tiramisu in my immediate future, I ordered pretty much everything: that Guinness bread, yoghurt, granola and a puréed compote of sweet plums, one of Sam Kamienko’s bagels topped with fresh figs and cream cheese, a ramekin of tart brown sauce, a milky coffee, a cold glass of pale pink Discovery apple juice, and best of all, a morning roll with one glossy egg and fat sausages. As I sat down to eat, I read a trenchant line from Fernando Pessoa’s The Book of Disquiet: “Wasting time has its own aesthetic.” There is currently no better restaurant in London right now to waste a whole morning at and look good while doing so. —Jonathan Nunn
32 Andrews Road, Hackney E8 4RL
Snacks at Peg
A decade-plus-old hot take: The true reason for El Bulli’s success was the Adria brothers’s understanding of how all humanity really wants to eat is snacks. The restaurant snack is where even the most po-faced fine dining kitchen gets to have some real fun — more often than not, the end of this opening salvo is the point at which things start to go downhill. This is not the case at Peg, where standards on its new fixed-price menu remain remarkably high throughout the piece, but the flurry of tiny bites that start things off are still deserving of special attention. This is a treatise on textures both crisp (raw cucumber) and crispy (teensy fried potato cakes), and a knowing nod to pre-pandemic Peg (chicken offal skewers feature, as does the wondrous fried tofu) that also makes the case for Peg 2.0 as a brand new and entirely thrilling entity. The overall effect is of a tasting menu where all pretence and pomposity has been stripped away, and where only the best bits — basically, just eating a succession of really delicious things — remain. The courses that follow bring the nuance and capital-t Technique, but it’s the snacks that set the scene, and steal the show. —George Reynolds
120 Morning Lane, Clapton E9 6LH
10 September 2021
Peach Louise Cake at Cafe Deco
There is probably no bad time to go to Cafe Deco, Anna Tobias’s serene European restaurant on Store Street, but a quiet weeknight with a book or a close friend is my preference. Eating there can feel like going on retreat: nourished by schnitzel and potato salad, and soothed by the careful approach of the staff. As the meal ends, I half expect one of the smiling, sun-kissed waiters to suggest I come through to the back to take the waters. I settle for fresh mint tea, and then the peach louise cake, masterminded by sous chef Augusta Hood, and presented in all its flouncy glory by Tobias. It is both girlish and elegant: three layers of moist coconut cake, juicy peaches, and glistening almond meringue. A giddy end to a very good dinner. —Hester van Hensbergen
43 Store Street, Bloomsbury WC1E 7DB
Soft shell crab with butter herbs at Cafe TPT
I’ve had the soft shell crab with butter herbs twice at Cafe TPT, and on both occasions my dining partner — the first time one of London’s most accomplished chefs, the second one of its best food writers — have been stopped in their tracks. The reaction is always the same: Brows furrow in contemplative mastication, before saying, to no one in particular “what IS this? what have they done here?”
It’s not that the dish is strange really, but it’s a three-bite problem to work out exactly where that butter richness is emanating from, to resolve the appearance of chilli and floss flecked cornflakes, and how TPT have made soft shell crab - a culprit in so many of London’s laziest dishes and worst burgers - a showstopper, with crunchy shrapnel of battered crab that resemble what I imagine a Filet o Fish exploding a deep fat fryer would taste like. It is a salve for jaded palates which have otherwise tasted it all. —Jonathan Nunn
21 Wardour Street, Soho W1D 6PN
Dave’s Single at Wendy’s
The end of summer means the end of festivals, the end of outdoor events and the end of endlessly queuing for everything (hopefully.) Meatopia is a queue-fest, but it can bested by making a plan of attack: head straight to the back upstairs and order everything that sounds good while you scope out what has the smallest queues and what will be reserved for later when you don’t care anymore. Mark these words for 2022.
These tactics led me to have the two actual best dishes this week, the first an excellent cop sis tantuni by Hasan Semay, a.k.a. Big Has, brightened immeasurably by a grip of fresh mint and parsley. The second being the unbelievably well judged beef rump with tattie scone by Roberta Hall-McCarron, of Edinburgh’s Little Chartroom. A simple reminder of how good Scottish beef is, how everything is better with a tattie scone, and how underrated salad cream is.
Now the third. I’d attempted to order Wendy’s three times, only to be faced with an hour queue. I’d turned away the first two times but on the third attempt I noticed the buzz of blue, black and orange couriers. A quick flick through the apps surfaced Wendy’s (no pickup option) and an order was placed for delivery to “standing outside KFC.” 25 minutes later and the bag was walked over by a bemused courier; the burger consumed on a bench. Better than the king and the clown? Easily. More satisfying because I didn’t queue? Definitely. —Feroz Gajia
52 Broadway, Stratford E15 1NG
Beef and sour cherry manti at Oklava
Dumplings are — in all their many different shapes and forms — a strong contender for being one of the greatest foods on the planet. These manti, freshly made on the daily at Selin Kiazim’s Shoreditch restaurant, are stuffed with a mixture of beef and sour cherry that eats like an Anatolian mincemeat pie. Comprised of three chubby dough pyramids that sit in a pool of cooling yoghurt Zorro’d with a zig-zag of piquant tomato-chilli butter, it’s a well-balanced dish that acts as a showcase of the restaurant’s Antonio Banderas in Spy Kids to The Skin I Live In-level of range. —Lucas Oakeley
74 Luke Street, Shoreditch EC2A 4PY
27 August 2021
Yassa at Sunu Food
Anyone who has cooked Towpath Cafe’s chicken Marbella must try the yassa at Sunu Food, a small Senegalese stall on Brixton’s Station Road. This is a street unusually stacked with distinguished peripatetic eating options — curry goat from Jeff the Chef; exceptional waakye, stew and spaghetti from a Ghanaian stall; an Afghan van selling chapli kebabs; and an Algerian baguette van. Sunu may be the stand out: Yassa is sunshine bright, melding the sweetness of at least two onions more than you might consider necessary for a stew, along with the type of lemons and olives acidity that gets your salivary glands flooding. Make sure to get it with the homemade chilli sauce, but a lick of mustard also wouldn’t go amiss. —Jonathan Nunn
Brixton Market, Brixton Station Road, Brixton SW9 8PD
King crab puff at Park Chinois
Before ordering, my dining companion tells me that dim sum head chef Kin Min’s specialty lies within the fried section. I was skeptical because how can a person specialise in dunking things in a deep fat fryer and be called master at it? But when presented with the trio of delicate puffs that’s shaped like money bags sitting on top of a bed of puffed rice and edible flowers, I was proven wrong, so, so wrong, because you understand and see the intricate hard work that’s gone into it. It is art. It’s expertly fried to a rich golden brown hue that looks almost too pretty to eat. Almost. The layered flaky pastry skin is crunchy beyond my wildest dreams and biting into the loose, airy and light exterior reveals the true treasure inside. Filled to the brim with chunks of buttery, fat snowy white king crab speckled with streaks of red and hints of vibrant green celery. A sweet, mild filling balanced with the slightly salty, oily skin. After inhaling our dumplings, we asked ourselves whether these were worth £6 a piece? And the answer is yes, a thousand times yes. They’re shaped like money bags because I am that Fry meme and I want Park Chinois to shut up and take my money. (£18 for three) —Angela Hui
17 Berkeley St, London W1J 8EA
Sea snail salad at Imone
Salads require correct texture and construction. An interplay of flavours to be memorable and of course the freshest produce to truly shine. This doesn’t always require seasonal, locally grown, biodynamic, meticulously preened allotment produce to achieve (though it helps).
A smart cook picking the best of the best available to them and storing it well can compensate, especially when they have a deft hand at seasoning. Grocery store foraging is an art being quickly forgotten, it powers your favourite kitchens so remember it well.
So often the effect dressing has on your lovingly prepared veg is forgotten, a tower of salad wilting to a puddle of leaves in mere minutes. At Imone I ordered a spicy sea snail (aka whelk salad) expecting the pan fried variety but got a towering structure of super crisp interlocking Iceberg (!), alliums, peppers and pear along with perfectly firm whelks and a dressing so well balanced that not a single morsel was wilted, not a drop was left on the plate and it packed enough flavour to keep you coming back. Remember to dress lightly and last minute and your super crisp produce will shine too. —Feroz Gajia
169 High Street, New Malden KT3 4BH
Onglet and chips at Cafe Cecilia
Ceci n’est pas un steak frites. —James Hansen
32 Andrews Road, Hackney E8 4RL
20 August 2021
Eel, potato, crème fraîche, and roe at Sessions Arts Club
The team at Sessions Arts Club have had 18 months to prepare for their long-postponed opening day, and it shows. It’s there in the beautifully dilapidated room, which instantly joins London’s most transportive. It’s there in the front of house, impeccably drilled and dressed but warm and appealingly cheeky with it. Most of all, it’s there in Florence Knight’s food, which has the supreme self-confidence to do a lot while saying very little. A trompe-l’oeil pairing of squid with calamarata pasta just so happens to feature a perfectly judged, immaculate sauce; a petit aioli is shockingly unadorned but every component is exactly where its temperature and texture needs to be.
And “Eel, potato, crème fraîche & roe” suggests, perhaps, the usual lozenge of protein and a fancy garnish for the spuds, not the showstopper that appears. Initially, it looks like the kitchen forgot the eel entirely, subbing it out in favour of an extra confit-style potato borrowed from Quality Chop House or St. John up the road. But then, realisation hits: the eel is inside the potato, pressed between its bronzed layers like a fossil in sedimentary rock. Everything else on the plate — a splodge of tart crème fraîche, some saline pops of roe, a peppy side salad — has a clearly defined role and adds nuance and variety to what could otherwise be a bit one-note, however delicious.
The end result is a dish rooted in simplicity and culinary common sense, that also feels like one of the most special things it’s possible to eat in London. Don’t let the discreet entrance on Clerkenwell Green fool you: Four floors up, Knight and co are painting a masterpiece. —George Reynolds
24 Clerkenwell Green Old Sessions House, EC1R 0NA
Crab, chilli, coriander at Towpath Café
The weather this year may have been a spectacular washout, but there is a corner of the Regent’s Canal that is forever summer. Newly open for dinner on Fridays and Saturdays, Towpath Café continues to do what it does best: simple, sunny, effortlessly seasonal plates. Parmesan biscuits, still warm from the oven and endearingly flopsy under their own weight, were almost entirely cheese — all the better to offset the ozone tang of crisp cups of lettuce filled with freshly picked crab, chilli and coriander. —Emma Hughes
42 De Beauvoir Crescent, Haggerston N1 5SB
Mint chocolate ice cream at Towpath Cafe
If you want to eat at Towpath on a warm Sunday, its best to wait for a late lunch. While there’s a danger of losing some of the menu (I’m still sorry I missed the brown shrimp), the reward is the chance to linger once the kitchen has closed and the café winds down to a slower pace. As tables empty out, less urgent tasks come to the fore – watering the plants, cleaning out the oven, and offering round the last of the week’s cookies. Dessert itself is a welcome lull: softly whipped mint ice cream, with a subtle tangle of chocolate sauce underneath. It tastes like a cold bath and a cup of sweet fresh mint tea on a hot summer’s night. With an espresso or the dregs of the wine, it’s impossible not to sink into its delicious calm. —Hester van Hensbergen
42 De Beauvoir Crescent, Haggerston N1 5SB
Espresso soft serve at Rosslyn Coffee
Soft serve summer is in full swing, just as August’s embers start to flicker. Bake Street co-owner Feroz Gajia is spinning the likes of pineapple soft serve and roast pineapple sorbet with muscovado, or snozzberry sorbet with milk ice cream, which get swirled around each other in two-tone harmony. The Ealing Grocer’s Andy Harris is capturing the heady scents of melon and saffron, while Leila’s Shop moves between vibrant fruits and pallid creams. And at Rosslyn — one of London’s outright best coffee shops — the taste profile of the affogato is taken from fission to fusion with an espresso soft serve, bittersweet and adult. The natural next move is to take the Xzibit approach and put the espresso in the espresso. Stay tuned. —James Hansen
78 Queen Victoria Street, the City EC4N 4SJ
Peas and fine beans, roasted garlic oil, crispy shallot, fennel, and dill on focaccia at Dusty Knuckle, Dalston
There have been a lot of words written about a lot of sandwiches since the onset of the pandemic in March 2020. Many Londoners generally and restaurant owners specifically realised over and over again — as if they needed reminding — there are fewer things better and more economical than good stuff stuffed between good sliced bread.
The sandwich enjoyed a deserved renaissance under the conditions stipulated by lockdowns, when handheld and filling convenience foods to takeaway were in demand. Historically, sandwiches by and large come up short: They are often under-seasoned, on poor bread, without enough textural contrast, or overdressed with condiments.
And here we are now, a month and a bit since “freedom day” and the technical full reopening of London. Fortunately, great sandwiches have not gone the way of restrictions. 40 Maltby Street remains the standard bearer down in Bermondsey — a revelation last spring/summer with a weekly changing duo of focaccia efforts. But, lesser known are the creations of the low-key but brilliant kitchen at Dusty Knuckle bakery in Dalston.
This week, the highlight was a sandwich stuffed full of fried beans, squished overcooked podded peas, crispy shallots, lots of garlic, and enough perfume and watery crunch from herbs and leaves had earthy depth, lots of textural contrast, enough salt, fat, perfect acidity, and freshness. It was delicious, it was moreish, and it was hard to imagine being bettered. —Adam Coghlan
Abbot St, London E8 3DP
21 May 2021
Tsofi at Bang Bang Kitchen
Obsession over food discoveries peppers my life as they do most eaters, inquisitive or not: Lamb ribs, mangoes, dhal, tacos, fried chicken, and tsofi — the smoked and fried turkey tails available at many Ghanaian restaurants in London. But it’s the time that follows that fully erases the hurt of having lacked a taste, aroma, or texture, and for me, with tsofi, it was a threefold experience. First, the duality of biting into something crisp and previously smoked, enveloping the olfactory receptors as it simultaneously enlivens the tongue. Second, the experience of a new type of fat, a savoury gush of liquid cholesterol so satisfying it’s been banned in several countries. This highly calorific fat, evolved for preening the turkey’s feathers, makes for the third moment: being left with an empty plate full of tail bones, fat on your lips and a grin on your face. Bang Bang Kitchen’s tsofi were neither my first, nor my second, but the memory hasn’t lost any potency — and the restaurant sensibly offers a portion big enough to give the whole group a taste, but not big enough to make you regret finishing it on your own, with that empty plate of bones and a grin. —Feroz Gajia
Unit 9, The Aylesham Centre / Peckham Mall, Rye Lane, Peckham SE15 5EW
Spatchcocked poussin at The Duke of Richmond
It is lucky that eating indoors has coincided with such spectacular weather shifts between spring showers hail, and thunder, and the pub has felt like the right environment to take cover. My first meal “back” on an outside terrace was at Duke of Richmond in Hackney, and my first meal indoors was there too — not only is the food great, but Meryl Fernandes and Tom Oldroyd and their team have done so much work supporting their community that it’s really lovely to be able to support them in turn.
So: Monday night, having a lovely bottle on Pinot Noir, ordering all the sides reasonable between two people, and finding my dish of the week: spatchcock poussin with spring vegetables, Madeira & tarragon jus. It was from the wood-fired grill section. and this was why it was so good: You could really get the flavours of the wood and the fire, and on a blustery day, this was the comfort I needed. But it was the jus that really made it for me. Tarragon and fowl are my favourite combination, and the jus had also taken on the smokiness of the grill. I ended up eating with my hands — you need to with small birds — dipping, trawling, and smothering the vegetables and poussin through the jus before each bite, coating its flesh in all that silky smokiness. —Anna Sulan Masing
316 Queensbridge Road, Dalston E8 3NH
A gilda at Quality Wines
On any other day, the best dish at the newly renovated Quality Wines could have been the hake, shorn of its skin, pearly and glistening, with a dark molasses of fennel and crab sauce; or it might have been the new season asparagus, boiled and served with hollandaise and a shaving of golden bottarga; actually it would have probably been the veal and pork dolmades in a silky emulsion of avgolemono, to shore up Nick Bramham’s growing reputation as the best Greek chef in the city. But this wasn’t a normal day. Instead it was a single gilda, a cocktail stick of olive, anchovy and chilli curled around each other, to be eaten in one bite, given unbidden and unasked for. A gesture of spontaneity in a world that has been starved of it for so long. —Jonathan Nunn
88 Farringdon Road, Clerkenwell EC1R 3EA
White asparagus and brown crab at Ducksoup
When I got to Ducksoup for my first indoor meal of the year, I found myself hovering just outside the door, like an especially anxious vampire. “You can come in now, you know,” the server laughed. I felt the same confusing hesitancy when I was handed the menu. After so many months of limits upon limits, suddenly there were none: I could have anything I wanted. What did I want? I was paralysed by choice. The answer turned out to be asparagus. Not the kind that heralds the start of rubber band season, but a stack of fat, pearlescent spears dressed in an almost potted brown crab butter, with waxy lemon-braised potatoes, a judicious scattering of dill and exactly twelve capers (it’s been a long year.) By the time I’d finished I felt almost back to normal — although I did keep my coat on throughout. —Emma Hughes
41 Dean Street, Soho W1D 4PY
7 May 2021
Vanilla soft serve at the Ealing Grocer
Ice cream is cold. Before the Captain Obvious memes roll in, the obviousness is the point: the very best ice cream makers know that temperature is a modulator of flavour, a factor to balance when composing a dish — and when the entire thing is designed to start at sub-zero and unfurl meltingly into lukewarm, choices need to be made. At the Ealing Grocer, a newish, wondrous food store from Andy Harris and Katie Millard, soft serve summer is just beginning, and it’s starting with the classic of the genre. Here the dairy is so pallidly unmessed with, and the vanilla so warmly, fatly round, that the fact that ice cream is cold acts like a squeeze of lemon on fish or vinegar on chips — the jolt the palate needs to balance everything in harmony. Ice cream is cold: don’t forget it. —James Hansen
18 St Mary’s Road, Ealing, W5 5ES
Hazelnut soft serve at Leila’s Shop
My first drafts, as a rule, run long, but even I knew I’d fucked up when I submitted 3,371 words on the subject of Kitty Travers to an aghast American editor expecting roughly a third of that figure. But I couldn’t help myself! Ice cream — the unhelpful, borderline misleading blanket term — is a pet obsession; speaking to one of the global authorities on the subject was too good a chance to miss. Anyway. There is, I think, an ice cream that Kitty Travers would very much like on sale at Leila’s in Shoreditch at the moment; an ice cream that only someone with an artist’s appreciation for the medium could truly appreciate in its fullest. It’s nominally a soft serve — whimsical Mr Whippy curlicues and all — but the texture hints at something else: the gummy, almost mastic resistance offered by nut-based ice creams (again, blanket term) in Northern Italy, not the insubstantial confections of powder and ice cranked out in vans across the country. At one of those vans, I’m pretty sure I saw a double 99 with a flake coming in at over four quid recently; the Leila’s one costs £3.80, which really isn’t very much at all for a few fleeting bites at perfection. All signs point to a soft serve summer (cf. the excellent ones cranked out at Flor); we may already have our contenders ready to fight it out. —George Reynolds
15 — 17 Calvert Avenue, Shoreditch E2 7JP
Sliders at Bintang
Having the option to eat almost anywhere again brings up a wealth of choice, but also brings you back to places you know, ready to see what the pandemic configurations have done to their menus. For some this means more time to spend on the details and produce honkingly garlic rich brandade in crisp delicate pastry (40 Maltby Street) or superb soy-poached chicken (Mr Ji). What unites these is chefs messing about at home, practicing new skills in the service luxe comfort. For Bintang, recently opened sibling bakery in Panadera translates that comfort into a slider. The new arrival brings appropriately fluffy pandesal; a new in-house meat grinder means better cuts of beef; and the chef’s penchant for something satisfying and small means a short rib slider with toyomansi burnt onions, a little American cheese and the obligatory house/special/secret sauce. They come in pairs, with what was once just a staff snack now sitting quietly sit in the starter section punching well above their weight. —Feroz Gajia
93 Kentish Town Road, Kentish Town NW1 8NY
八寶鴨 | Eight treasure (hulu) duck by Mama Wang’s Kitchen
Before Chet Hanks inaugurates white boy summer, let’s say a fond farewell to Asian mum spring ─ a flowering of food entrepreneurs whose business model has essentially been to monetise their mother’s home cooking. If you follow Jessica Wang on Instagram (or read her article last year for Vittles) you should be aware of Mama Wang’s culinary prowess, as her step by step processes and iterations are intimately caught on camera. But does the real thing live up to the images? After a 90 minute round trip to the very fringe of London and back, I can tell you that the answer is yes: where else in London has the patience and skill to do eight treasure duck? The duck is deboned and marinated, before being stuffed with layers of glutinous rice, dried shrimp, chestnuts, onions, shiitake, dried prawns and salted egg yolk, all in metamorphic strata, before being knitted together in the shape of the hulu bottle gourd, that gives this version its name. It is then immersion baptised in hot oil to tighten the skin, emerging round and bronzed, its two bloated chambers like a BB-8 droid. The ostentation of the presentation obscures that this is a dish all about balance, perfectly judged seasoning and texture; at heart it is a truly exceptional rice dish, served in the guise of a duck — a literal canard. If you want to wait until Imperial Treasure put their own version out, then do so by all means; otherwise, this is an additional piece of evidence that the best Chinese food can currently be found in Barnet, in the kitchens of restaurants and of homes. —Jonathan Nunn
Mama Wang’s Kitchen — check Instagram for order announcements
Pepperoni pizza from Bad Boy Pizza Society
A pizza, when it’s made well, is a simple and beautiful thing. And the neo-Neapolitan pizzas slung out of the oven at Bad Boy Pizza Society’s snazzy new unit in Vinegar Yard are simply beautiful things. It might not be an “authentic” or austere pizza that’s got a thick Naples accent and obsession with Maradona — more Cambridge United FC than I ciucciarelli — but this banging pepperoni hit on everything I want from a pizza. A thin and crispy char-dappled base, a chewy crust, and plenty of cute pepperoni cups that turn into miniature teacups of flavour? Pair that with a pint and you can’t go wrong. —Lucas Oakeley
72-82 St Thomas Street, London Bridge SE1 3QX
30 April 2021
Pollo a la canasta at Brunchies
While some of us were raiding Deliveroo-only dark kitchens in railway arches for fried chicken (“o tempura, o mores”), others were doing it the old fashioned way ─ through deep knowledge of and Keir Starmer-esque respect for flags. A red, yellow and green Bolivian flag hung on a corner of Coldharbour Lane suddenly made me notice Brunchies, a restaurant I had previously blocked out of my otherwise panoptic vision due to its name. More fool me, because while Brunchies does usually deal with generic brunch fare, it also has an all Bolivian kitchen starting to tentatively branch out into hearty meat platters. The coating of their pollo a la canasta ─ BFC ─ was rugged and craggy, with a well-seasoned ordinance survey map of ridges, peaks, and valleys. It came on top of the holy trinity of chips, rice and plantain, all of which I had to leave because it was already my third lunch of the day. The idea is that the future menu will be split in two and never the twain shall meet, but I’m secretly hoping for some kind of hybridisation: If so, a lechon benedict might see me finally eat brunch. —Jonathan Nunn
1 Valmar Rd, London SE5 9NG
Fatteh at Toum & Tahini
There’s nothing like diving spoon-first into a bathtub of Syrian fatteh and that velvety combination of garlic, tahini, and yoghurt — ladled out in generous portions by the folks at Toum & Tahini. It was just what my head needed on a brisk spring day last weekend. A sturdy foundation of khobez flatbread soaked up the garlicky goodness of the yoghurt it came swaddled in, taking on that much sought-after “crispy gone soggy” consistency, as the contrast between soft, buttery chickpeas in the thick of the fatteh and the crunchy, fried chickpeas on top kept textures balanced throughout each bite. Finished with a sprinkle of parsley and a slick of ghee, this dish was a reassuring hand on the nape of my neck — a “well done, son” for my taste buds that let me know everything was going to be OK. The stall, run by Laila Chamsi-Pasha and her partners Lydia and Saam Mehdizadeh, can be found at Fulham Farmer’s Market and Brook Green Market. Go. —Lucas Oakeley
St John’s Church, Fulham, St Johns Church, North End Road, SW6 1PB
Passionfruit beignets at 7 Saints
I’ve never ordered a dish twice in the same sitting, until I had the passionfruit beignets at 7 Saints. And, the fact that passionfruit would be my last meal/is my morning sunshine/a go-to midnight snack...has little to do with it. The small, sugar-dusted, misshapen dough packets are filled with a velvety passionfruit curd, and stacked on a dollop of the same. The beignets were warm and soft, as they should be, and the curd was nectarean — a platonic balance of tangy and sweet, like the perfect passionfruit. I augustly glooped down six pieces and would have licked the plate clean if I wasn’t in polite company. —Maazin Buhari
7 All Saints Rd, London W11 1HA
Whole fried chicken at Angel Fried Chicken
Fried food does not deliver well. Corporations have spent millions trying to create better packaging for chips but what usually suffers most is chicken. The once crisp batter softening and slipping away with every droplet of moisture that clings to it. Suffocating in that robin egg blue food coffin, bound to disappoint those on the receiving end.
A Lambeth arch filled to the brim with food businesses all frying chicken in some way was where we headed to sample a whole fried chicken and a fiery hot chicken filet that came with an 18+ only warning. We gave in to temptation to order the assorted fried things box which had correctly breaded and pleasantly spiced tofu, mushrooms, spring rolls, and the signature bed of unadorned kale. While waiting for the chicken to fry we had speculated how big it was going to be for £15 — surely a poussin or baby chicken. The box revealed a chicken the size of the average rotisserie bird, splayed out and perfectly coated in a hot wing-like batter, juicy throughout and enjoyable to eat until the end. What state it arrives to homes is for someone else to figure out; all I’m thinking about is the time well spent ripping apart a whole fried chicken atop a planter in a council estate. Oh, the 18+? It was suitably hot but the average zip card holder could have taken it. —Feroz Gajia
Unit 4, 187 Hercules Rd, London SE1 7LD
Cinnamon bun at Tromsø E7
The cinnamon bun — or kanelbullar — is a noble pastry, in my humble opinion. It’s my favourite breakfast and I seek it out wherever I go. Working with cinnamon is tricky as the anti fungal properties can delay the proofing of the dough. Visiting the Tromsø cafe in Forest Gate has been a weekly ritual during lockdown — it is with delight that I can now get coffee and a bun and sit outside the cafe with both. The visit usually happens on a Friday — run a 5K around Wanstead flats to Tromsø: Get coffee and bun and relax outside in the sunshine. Today’s run was not a success, I was too focused on the end result, so I gave up half way through and slowly wandered straight to the cafe. The bun has a slight texture of a heavy doughnut, so it feels perfectly indulgent. Sometimes I pick up one of the baked cheesecakes for the evening’s dessert, to have with whisky. —Anna Sulan Masing
Arch 432 Avenue Rd, London E7 0LB
Prawn cheung fun at Dim Sum and Duck
After months of lockdown and being sick of my own terrible cooking the one thing I missed most was dim sum. Sure, there’s frozen dim sum from Asian supermarkets and there are takeaways and deliveries (imo, it doesn’t travel well). Ultimately, eating dim sum at home is not the same and is best enjoyed straight out the steamer basket at a restaurant.
I was in the King’s Cross area for work and wandered by Dim Sum and Duck, which opened late last year, on my own after hearing only good things about the handmade dim sum. The prawn cheung fun is so silky, smooth, and glossy that it practically glistens like Edward Cullen on my outdoor table in the afternoon sun. Only less lame vampire, more delicious springy, chewy noodle. Inside, the prawns were fresh and bouncy chopped into mince with bigger chunks left in, which added more bite and texture. All of it doused in a sweet soy sauce, which made it the best way to reintroduce myself back into society. —Angela Hui
124 King’s Cross Rd, London WC1X 9DS
23 April 2021
Chana masala dal puri at Roti Rolls Hut Taste
Roti Rolls Hut makes Ealing’s residents earn the right to see the care that goes into their work. This Mauritian takeaway unit doesn’t just do the standard “stand outside and wait,” but has a tantalising sliding door, pulled to-and-fro as the order progresses. There’s the welcome — which might reveal a bubbling pot of chicken curry, or lamb boti charring; the door closes. There’s the fleeting agony of seeing someone else’s parchment present being handed out, as another pair of hands flips a buttercup yellow dhal puri, blistering angrily, ready to be rolled around a pilchard curry or muscular, unadorned chana masala; the door closes. And finally there’s the pay-off — your own parchment present, passed out with a smile, ready to unrolled at home or recklessly bitten into on the walk ahead, pliant cushioned roti flaking in the mouth, thoughts turning to calling ahead next time, for rougaille or a biryani special; the door closes. —James Hansen
Unit 2a, 33 New Broadway, Ealing W5 5AH
Siu Yuk at Tea House
The re-opening of restaurants mainly gave diners with strong social media followings a chance to virtue signal their allegiances, like a Myers-Briggs test for people with too much disposable income. “Are you a Rochelle Canteen person or a 40 Maltby St person?” Glamour magazine may well have asked in a flow chart. But outside the centre, things have mainly continued as normal, which is why my first stop was Tea House in Deptford following a tip off about some siu yuk. I had been to Tea House previously in March 2020, just as lockdown was imminent. Nothing I had from their extensive menu of dim sum and Sichuanese dishes compared to the joy of thick slabs of pork belly, cooked just to the right side of burnt, eaten with a side of rice cakes, sat on a park bench with the smell of fresh growth in the air. Outdoor dining isn’t back ─ it’s been here all along. —Jonathan Nunn
13a Deptford High Street, New Cross SE8 4AD
Prawn in toast at Mr Ji
A double play — on Taiwanese coffin bread and on the Hongkongese dim sum dish of prawn (on) toast — this is a lovingly fried brioche stuffed with prawns, with mountainous heap of shaved Parmesan. It looks like a cake. It is definitely a treat, like cake. When you cut into it the prawns in the bechamel with sweetcorn seeps out in a wonderful gooey mess. It’s sumptuous, like the M&S food-advert voiceover, which is the voice I hear when I think about this dish. It goes very well with my other favourite dish of the week, the rice martini. —Anna Sulan Masing
72 Old Compton Street, Soho W1D 4UN
Braised cuttlefish and wild garlic on toast at 40 Maltby Street
Not having the luxury of seating hasn’t slowed down the number of great meals had, just diversified the setting and eating configuration. Eating exceptional guinea fowl suya from Alhaji Suya on a planter in a car park; a plethora of baguette based eats from around London while sitting on low walls — including a particularly good tortilla filled one from Walthamstow’s Lighthaus Cafe. They have their charms, but that first sit-down meal with people, with time to talk and eat leisurely and the option to order more was what signalled the end of winter — even if no one had told the weather. An exceptionally strong opening blackboard full of delights came in waves: Fritters, croquettes, nettle tart, salad, 2x cuttlefish, gratin, fritters, sirloin, cuttlefish, croquettes, ice, choux, 2x rhubarb tart. Everything sang like the first time at this arch, but especially that cuttlefish, braised to such meaty firmness with toast, proper use of wild garlic, and just enough broth to leave you wanting more. It was ordered thrice. —Feroz Gajia
40 Maltby Street, Bermondsey SE1 3PA
Braised faggots and mash at Rochelle Canteen
The Hendersons were in the house on Rochelle Canteen’s first Friday back since lockdown started to lift, holding court outside and chain-drinking gins-and-tonic. It was a little odd to see Fergus surrounded by the Canteen’s verdant walled garden, rather than the whitewashed corridors of St John, like spotting a monk at an amusement park. It was equally odd to see braised faggots and mash lay out their unignorable stall towards the bottom of the list of main courses — a dish that scanned, on the surface at least, as pure St John. When they arrived, still trailing caul fat, we might have been a mile or two across town, in Clerkenwell. And then every few bites, barely perceptible at first but increasingly strident – was that… Coriander seed? The dish as a whole was perfect, of course; with a glass of claret and some poky mustard, as good a plate of food as anyone could wish for (plus one which very few, tellingly-and-perhaps-not-that-coincidentally, could knock up for themselves at home). But it also illustrated how unhelpful it is to consider these two great restaurants in terms of opposites — his and hers, austere and generous, internal and outdoors — when really, like any successful marriage, they’re two facets of the same thing. —George Reynolds
16 Playground Gardens, Shoreditch E2 7FA
22 January 2021
Pot au Feu from The Quality Chop House
In a world where innovation is key, an interesting phenomenon about the new language of takeaway is that is very much sounds like the old language. Sandwiches and pizzas are one thing ─ they’re just childhood throwbacks. Retro. But what to make of pot au feu, that assemblage of meat and vegetables cooked in a pot of infinite provenance, “the foundation glory of French cooking” as A J Liebling once put it, suddenly appearing on the shelves of Quality Chop House Shop? Liebling loved pot-au-feu because the rich snob, bred on filet mignons and oysters, would never see it, never understand that real cooking means pushing humble ingredients as far as they can go. It was already dying out in his Paris, but here it is in this London: rose-pink brisket with chiffons of white fat; two carrots; a potato; a turnip; a quarter head of cabbage; two golf ball sizes sweetbreads. All in a life-giving broth. History repeats itself endlessly, just this time it comes in a vac pac. —Jonathan Nunn
88 — 94 Farringdon Road, Farringdon EC1R 3EA | Available in-store, for collection, and for local and national delivery.
Fish sando at Milk
Two thick and chewy slices of cumulus shokupan made the perfect air mattress for a panko-fried fillet of pert red snapper in this killer sando from Milk. The fish was perfectly timed, teetering on the edge of translucency, with the shichimi tōgarashi-studded batter it came coated in working a treat with the sweet crunch and funk of fukujinzuke pickles. Kewpie mayonnaise and a housemade tonkatsu sauce added a slickness that slightly threatened the structural integrity of the sandwich but, honestly, it wasn’t around long enough for me to worry about that. —Lucas Oakeley
18 — 20 Bedford Hill, Balham SW12 9RG | Available for takeaway, collection and local delivery.
Beef massaman from the Thai Garden Cafe
it started as an off-menu secret‚ prepared initially for the all-Thai staff of a family-run restaurant whose motto is “Real Thai Food, Cooked by Thais.” Then customers in the know caught wind, and it’s finally joined the cult Greenwich restaurant’s permanent menu. This beef massaman is pure comfort: umami-rich, nutty, and with a satisfying degree of heat. One of London’s best by far, it’s easy to see why it has generated hype in SE10 and beyond. —Chris Cotonou
93 Trafalgar Road, Greenwich Peninsula SE10 9TS | Available for takeaway and delivery.
Chicken with morels from Bright
Getting absolutely buzzed on a school night and making drunken impulse purchases online is usually a recipe for a serious case of buyer’s remorse the next day. Just this once, though, I can highly recommend it. During one final Instagram doomscroll before lights out just before midnight last Wednesday, I chanced upon a Story from Will Gleave, featuring the unmistakable beige gloop and Loch Ness Monster-esque partially submerged lifeforms that are the hallmarks on one of the great dishes of more-is-more French cuisine: chicken with morels and Vin Jaune. Faster than you can say “Arbois-Pupillin,” I’d bought two orders’ worth; slowly blipped and blopped back to life in a Le Creuset the following evening, and served with a stick of Pavilion’s baguette, they made for one of the most purely pleasurable meals I’ve had in months — as well as a reminder of the dangers and the upsides of letting Google know your credit card details. —George Reynolds
1 Westgate Street, London Fields E8 3RL | Available for collection and local delivery.
4 December 2020
Assam Sambal Prawns from Chu Chin Chow
The wonders of the off-menu menu Chu Chin Chow are hardly a case of “IYKYK” now and for good reason. But, what exactly does someone, like me, who walks into this miraculously good “local Chinese” on a whim to celebrate the end of lockdown order when those pre-order only specials are not an option? Well, I can tell you that the assam sambal prawns — which you can find on the standard menu — will stand up against all of their banquet dishes on any given day. Oh, and when it comes to selecting your prawn size, be sure to go “grand.” —Jessica Wang
7 Cat Hill, East Barnet EN4 8HG
Stuffed falafel pita from Pockets
Some weeks are stuffed full of so much good food you just can’t choose what to write about, you start playing a game of “guess who?” in your head trying to narrow down the choices. Should I mention the amazing panettone in a Catford garage? He’s already sold all his preorders, that would just be mean. Maybe the Sichuan vada pav at Shree Sai in Wembley? A high octane hot item but best had in the company of a plate of bhajias and a few other snacks. What about the return visit to the expanded Sonora taquería? The deliciousness quotient was very high but many have already waxed poetic about the barbacoa and chile verde.
No, the best thing to talk about was the huge falafel pita at Pockets, a recommendation by the aforementioned Sonora. The fluffy steamed pitas are stuffed with a rainbow of salad, freshly fried falafel of the smooth textured kind, hummus, tahina, zhoug, a fried battered slice of potato just to gild the lily and on request Itamar’s amba. He seemed worried about people liking it but I will say it’s the mellowest and brightest tasting amba I’ve had, mango pickle with pops of lemony acidity. The wrap may have been big enough for two sensible people to share but for me it served as the perfect main course between taco shaped starters and dessert, There was dessert after that, too. Weekends only. —Feroz Gajia
Netil Market, 12-23 Westgate Street, E8 3RL
Pissaladière from Café Deco
Anna Tobias’ new Bloomsbury restaurant and deli Café Deco wraps its pissaladière like a present; first in parchment, and then in a brown paper bag. When handed over, it almost feels like there’s nothing else in the bag. But then you find a bench on Bedford Square — or Fitzroy Square, for those with greater patience than I — and unwrap your present. At the centre is a slice so thin it could be pressed into a book, so friable that you feel you should be wearing gloves to handle it, with a stern curator sniffing over your shoulder. Where Cafe Deco’s ham focaccia is pneumatic and direct, its pissaladière is so fragile that the salt of the anchovy and olive hits like sitting bolt upright from the plush bedding of caramelised onion; the base so crumbling with butter that it sublimates on the tongue. Some will admire its gossamer beauty and know not what to do; some will fold it in on itself like a concertina and cram it in in one greedy go. In between is a place of comforting awe, which is exactly where Anna Tobias’ food so often lands. —James Hansen
43 Store Street, Bloomsbury WC1E 7DB
Sandwiches from Café Deco
Choosing a favourite between the fried chicken sandwich at Café Deco and the cauliflower fritter sandwich at Café Deco was impossible because they are basically the same thing. The frying was perfect, as you’d expect from a cook who has mastered the dark arts of the brown and the beige. The mayonnaise-like condiment on both — a dill-heavy sauce gribiche on the former; an unobtrusively spiced coronation dressing on the latter — was perfectly apposite. The bread was unimpeachable, the rare showcase for focaccia-as-sandwich-bread where the end result isn’t as hefty as a Sunday broadsheet. Fair warning: these are now off rotation, but no matter the filling, even the size of these sandwiches seems precision-engineered to court delight: at about the size of a modern smartphone, one is a perfectly sufficient light lunch, two is perfectly satisfying (but not overwhelming). So don’t choose: get both.—George Reynolds
43 Store Street, Bloomsbury WC1E 7DB
St Emilion au Chocolat from Quo Vadis at Home
The quality of London restaurants’ finish-at-home deliveries is almost uniformly impressive, but not many are as flamboyantly on-brand as Quo Vadis’s. So much of what makes the restaurant itself is there in the box, from proper ceramic bakeware (for keeps, but return them and there’s a free drink on offer) to a paper tablecloth printed with John Broadley illustrations. The finale of a truly decadent menu (baked salsify; terrine and sourdough; cured salmon with pickles and dill sauce; pie with ludicrously buttery mash; pouches of ready-mixed negronis) is a St Emilion au Chocolat: a perfect slice of two-layered chocolate torte with an almost ganache-like layer merging into a boozy biscuit base. A top three 2020 dessert that preceded a top three lifetime hangover. —Emma Hughes
26 - 29 Dean Street, Soho W1D 3LL
13 November 2020
Hot Donut Oreo Kit from Treats Club
After a week lasting 20 days, the hot donut Oreo kit from Hackney based Treats club dessert bar was the perfect end. The kit arrived with everything you need (except oil) — it even included squares of baking parchment. Hands-on time was about 10 minutes, including frying. Post-frying, the Oreo, buried inside the orb, transformed into a squidgy delight. I’m not going to lie, we stayed standing by the pan — dipping, smearing with boys tears (marshmallow fluff), cinnamon sugar, sprinkles, chocolate sauce, and more. Heaven. Find them here. Nationwide delivery £18.50+delivery. —Gemma Croffie
Netil Market, 12-23 Westgate Street, E8 3RL
Cheesecake bun from Buns from Home
This is the only reason to walk down Portobello Road on a Saturday, since traipsing around Notting Hill makes me wonder if I’m in an imagined Franken-town juxtaposing Los Angeles and bourgeois London. Barney and Gabriel started baking for their neighbours during the first London lockdown; what started off as a productive distraction for the brothers has thankfully evolved into a dreamy Talbot Road fixture, selling babka loaves, a variety of rotating croissant buns flavours (including a fantastic vegan one), and massive focaccia slices.
Watching the mini phalanx in their laboratory kitchen is like watching poetry in motion. The cheesecake buns, filled with luscious (but not-too-sweet) cream cheese, topped with a berry compote and sprinkled with crumble, are indulgent but not excessively so — I’d eat one, then take two to go. —Maazin Buhari
128 Talbot Road, W11 1JA
Beef Pasty from 40 Maltby Street
I now spend my Wednesdays furiously updating Instagram, waiting for the 40 Maltby Street sandwiches to be posted like an Ariana-stan waits for an album drop. This week’s offering provoked a tactical selection: I got the cheaper, healthier option (pumpkin fritters, ricotta and kale) to fit in a ‘beef pasty’, a Cornish pasty in all but name, a big, fat zeppelin of peppered beef chunks, onion, potato and swede, juices already oozing from its base. Next time though, tactics be damned ─ I’m getting the fish finger sandwich. —Jonathan Nunn
40 Maltby Street, SE1 3PA
Beef, pickled greens on rice from Hoa Phuong
Food crawling during lockdown has not changed much. Insatiable hunger for one more great bite of food remains, but now is coupled with a desire to check-in and support the businesses we love more than ever. But the small amount of extra time afforded and change in work habits also means being able to try places and recommendations that you’d never make it to normally. Hoa Phuong is a tiny takeaway that currently sits behind a JCB digger, singly staffed and quietly putting out amazingly good Vietnamese food — slightly more central in style than many Vietnamese restaurants in London. A pick from the best-value map meant I’d had previous conversations with that map’s author about what was “must order.” It also meant I’d decided on this meal almost a year ahead of time: A container piled high with rice, sweet pickled mustard greens, stir-fried beef with a surprising hit of lemongrass, and the house chilli oil. It marked the end of a day filled with 10 courses of excellent eats, but was consumed with a fervour usually reserved for the first bite. Moral of the story is: Travel but don’t travel, eat out but stay at home, explore but stay safe and please don’t all go to the same markets at the same time. —Feroz Gajia
4 Hampton Street, SE1 6SN
Admittedly, I saw an instagrammer posting about Peg’s fried chicken on his Stories the day before. After interrogating him about it, I just knew I had to have it in my body, so off I went to Bright the following day: £7 for two thigh pieces served with a single wedge of lime. An excellent, crispy batter coating that’s light and seasoned well throughout, but the succulent white meat is the star of the show. As the chicken hypebeast pointed out, it’s rare for fried chicken to be served without any condiments, and here, juiciness is the only condiment it needs. In fact, it’s so juicy it needs a serviette to wrap around to catch any liquid runoff and to prevent from further embarrassment. Now, this is influencing done right. —Angela Hui
1 Westgate Street, E8 3RL