A warm welcome back to the column which highlights the best dishes (or things) Eater London staff and/or contributors ate during the week.
Friday 16 December
Mince pies at Violet and the Dusty Knuckle
I’m a Chicagoan, I don’t celebrate Christmas, and despite reading every roundup of the Best Mince Pies I’ve ever crossed paths with, until this week I’d never had one. Raisins, sultanas, and dried currants also do little for me, so, hard to get it up for British Christmas baking. After sliding through slush to Violet after a blood draw on Monday, however — no queue, can you believe it? — there they were on the bottom shelf of the glass case, and like, I dunno, they were so small, and I’d never had one. The filling was smooth and predominantly cinnamon and citrus, things I do enjoy. Maybe, I figured, I like mince pies now?
A few days later, I mushed over to Dusty Knuckle. (Do Londoners not shovel and salt? It’s been like three days, you guys. I literally fell on my ass taking the garbage out yesterday.) This one was more what I’d pictured: hunks of dried fruit encased in pretty stiff shortcrust. It was like eating a hockey puck. (Excuse me, an ice hockey puck.) I’m not sure it was that much bigger than Violet’s, but the task of finishing it was burdensome — I guess that’s the British Christmas baking vibe, though: boozy, fruity, dense. Someone’s platonic ideal. Next ranking, I propose Violet’s as Best for the Mince Pie Novice. If I weren’t flying home for the holidays I’d go get a few more. — Rachel P. Kreiter
47 Wilton Way, Hackney E8 1BX
Kouign-amann at Little Bread Pedlar
When the mercury struggles to push above zero degrees, something deep within the human body calls out for butter. The bakers at Little Bread Pedlar understand this well. They answered this call — which reached a primal scream, one freezing morning this week — with a kouign-amann: a shallow pool of solid, just-burnt-enough butter at the bottom, and crispy, caramelised pastry on the top. December is all about layers: big woollen socks over long johns, and big folds of pastry over sugar and butter. — Sean Wyer
Unit 4, Spa Business Park, Dockley Road, Bermondsey SE16 3FJ
Minestrone at Cafe Deco
After many years working in the wine trade, I’ve come to the conclusion that the hangovers are, in reality, two-fold. It’s not simply about the dehydration, god knows it’s not about the sulfites. It is the continuous draining of one’s social battery when you spend long, rambling evenings chatting and boozing.
When you work for an importer, yes, having a winemaker in town is a lovely, festive cause to celebrate; a reason to visit some of London’s finest establishments. But picture this: day four of the winemaker visit. Three of us, haggard, broken, tired, out of things to say. Our winemaker has the glazed-over gaze of a war veteran. I’ve slapped on the strangest outfit ever compiled, and my importing comrade can’t bear the sight of alcohol. And here we are — trying to pull it together.
Enter Cafe Deco, a well-tiled fever dream, with its muted pastel tones and welcoming awning. After the classic starter, more mayonnaise than oeuf this time, I get a bowl of minestrone. And when it is placed in front of me I can feel it immediately: I am healed. The wrongs I have committed to my body over the last three days have been righted. There are bouncy little rounds of pasta and tender beans piled gently in broth along with finely cut veg and wilted morsels of kale. It is health; I am health. The two across from me are equally satiated by schnitzel and quiche, respectively. We leave Deco restored, and just in time — I have to bring our winemaker to the French House just after. The cycle continues. — Nathalie Nelles
43 Store Street, Bloomsbury WC1E 7DB
Friday 9 December 2022
Deep-fried bread-and-butter pudding at Cafe Cecilia
I don’t really like bread-and-butter pudding. Something about its soppy interior renders it more milquetoast than upper crust in my pudding rankings; perhaps all my childhood encounters were inferior.
But add a deep fryer to any culinary equation, and all alchemies of solution present themselves. At Max Rocha’s formidable Cafe Cecilia, time in bubbling oil lends a fairground aroma to a crackling, bruléed exterior, while the centre — formerly discernible bread, dried fruit, and custard — transforms into what can only be described as sweet goo. Surrounded by a pool of more sweet goo, only thinner, in the form of a fragrant custard, it would convert even the stalest of haters. —James Hansen
32 Andrews Road, Regent’s Canal E8 4FX
Blackcurrant-and-soy-sauce soft serve swirl at Bake Street
These two elements combined make an astoundingly harmonious dessert, which frankly I was not prepared for when I first tried it. A tang of acidity and crunchy black fruit from the blackcurrant offsets the rich, toffee roundness of the soy sauce ice cream, which on its own feels far more caramelised and deep than it does salty or umami. A long, lingering intertwining of the two flavours carries the whole thing on and on — it’s the type of thing you definitely couldn’t eat too much of, but god — you want to. —Nathalie Nelles
58 Evering Road, Lower Clapton N16 7SR
Chapli sizzler burger at Chaskaa’s
Nostalgia has a way of smoothing out the rough edges of trauma when it comes to food. As a kid, most large-scale family outings were coupled with tupperware filled with homemade food, to be eaten wherever we ended up. Fruit picking, nature reserve, car boot sale, it didn’t matter — the outing would be accompanied by a tin with roti, or a pack of bread rolls, (emphasis on the rolled r’s) and some pre-cooked round kebabs to put in them. You wanted a burger? Here was your burger: Condiments usually in a pot, or a squeezy bottle of Heinz if you were lucky. The resentment for not being able to eat from the food vans always simmered.
But now as I approach 40, sitting in the newly opened Chaskaa’s on Bethnal Green Road, I bite down on their Chapli sizzler and am magically transported back, through a flavour sensation that combines all the best and worst iterations of that homemade kebab in a bap, adorned with a slightly softened Dairylea single, the 90s cheese slice of choice. The slice is melted, and the chicken chapli sliced in half, so you get the full greedy kid treatment, the disintegrating bun egging you on to finish it without taking a breath.
Outside of the sizzler, Chaskaa’s has some excellent home-cooked Pakistani food, the restaurant being a family affair with mum making all the curries and rice dishes while the kids run the front. The lamb karahi echoes the golden years of wedding catering, when aunties still made the massive pots of food and the end result tasted like it had been cared for. The paratha, to go alongside, is a must. —Feroz Gajia
265 Bethnal Green Road, Bethnal Green London E2 6AH
Scrambled egg and prawns at Wong Kei
I’ve been struggling to eat anywhere other than Wong Kei lately, mainly because I’m fascinated by the atmosphere there and the vastness of its menu, which includes so many dishes I’m not familiar with.
This week I tried the one with scrambled egg and prawns for the first time, with its duvet of soupy egg, fist-sized prawns and scattering of spring onion, as green as garden peas. It’s a wonderfully satisfying thing to eat, like a big buttery bowl of risotto. —Isaac Rangaswami
41 — 43 Wardour Street, Chinatown W1D 6PX
Friday 2 December 2022
Ohn-no kauk swe at Lahpet
Sometimes I find it very difficult to choose between bread and rice, both carbs have captured my heart equally (although I always go for rice in the end). At Lahpet however, I faced a conundrum bigger than that — noodles or rice? If rice, then braised mutton curry to go with it. If noodles, then the ohn-no kauk swe with its galaxy of toppings. It is this that I went with in the end. Slippery egg noodles in a sharp broth spiked with paprika oil and containing perfectly juicy chicken, with a tousle of coriander leaves. A winner through and through on a cold autumn evening. Especially if your companion gets the braised mutton curry with rice and you both swap every few mouthfuls. —Apoorva Sripathi
21 Slingsby Place, Covent Garden WC2H 9JP
Agnolotti with Delica pumpkin, radicchio, chestnut, and sage at Brawn
Of all the dishes during a birthday lunch bathed in soft November light, this was the one I ate least of — a single bite, before my fiancée decided she wanted it instead. The deep purple bitterness of radicchio, brown sweetness of chestnuts, and fugitive green whisper of sage were all in service of one greater good: adding complexity to the plainspoken sweetness of pumpkin inside the agnolotti. This Columbia Road institution is on enviable form as the leaves turn and frosts descend — no matter whose plate you actually eat. —James Hansen
49 Columbia Road, Shoreditch E2 7RG
Chickpeas, paneer, and lamb meatballs at Devi Dhaba
Often the best finds happen with the least effort. Wong Kar-Wai spent two years and two million dollars making Ashes of Time, a film everyone seems to collectively pretend doesn’t exist, and in a two month break made his most beloved film, Chungking Express, on a shoestring budget. In the same vein, my ongoing quest to find great banh mi via a baroque Russian doll of tip-offs led me to La Banh Mi off Central Street this week, eating a sandwich you’d be pleased to have near your office but wouldn’t bother travelling for. And without really trying at all, I then found myself in Devi Dhaba #CurryClub right on the square opposite the second best chippy in London, Fish Central.
Devi Dhaba is a Rajasthani lunch spot that looks like a salvage shop, like if Lassco started serving chana masala. The format is almost exactly the same as the rice and three Punjabi cafés you find in Manchester: your choice of three microwaved curries on rice for a fiver, with a drink thrown in. Options on this day included lamb meatballs, chicken, paneer, chickpeas, and daal, though they vary through the week. I got the chickpeas, paneer, and lamb meatballs. On the first bite of meatball, which tasted like my mother’s spicy attempts at marinara, at once I felt at peace with my failed banh mi trip. All that was missing, really, was a chef’s salad. —Jonathan Nunn
King’s Square, 127 Central Street, Old Street EC1V 8AP
Cull yaw kofte with grilled apple at Mangal II
Everything is alchemy in Mangal II’s strikingly innovative take on the Turkish mangal, but the cull yaw kofte captures its essence by creating something novel without foregoing an obvious nod to the genre. It is still a grilled kofte, but made from cull yaw, a product exemplifying the transformation taking place in British farming. Its sublime flavour will have your eyes rolling back in ecstasy, and the elegant quenelle of apple sauce on the side serves its purpose in cutting through the fattiness. —Joel Hart
4 Stoke Newington Road, Dalston N16 7XN
Mushroom Quesadillas at Bodega Rita’s
Now that a mediocre sandwich or roll can set me back five or six pounds, I am increasingly finding that, if I have to eat a quick meal out, I’d rather spend a tenner on a great sandwich than resent the wasted pounds. I found myself in town and hungry last night with a craving for cheese on toast. I made a beeline towards St. John for rarebit but stopped a few hundred feet short, when I noticed that the hot pink lights of Bodega Rita’s were still glowing after nine. Trussed up with fairy lights and Feliz Navidad paper bells, it was a siren song. I picked the closest thing to cheese on toast: oyster mushroom quesadillas, which filled the room with sweetcorn air as they slid across the aluminium counter. The fried cheese and mushrooms combined to form coral sculptures that poked boldly over the edges of the tortillas. These were melded together further by a rich but passive mole coloradito that warranted plenty of dipping in Valentina hot sauce. The bodega is open late on Thursdays with a “Night Menu” throughout December. —Hester van Hensbergen
91 Cowcross Street, Farringdon EC1M 6BH
Banh mi at Bonu Cakes and Tea
This shop is located just off Tottenham Court Road station and is all about the classic banh mi. A crunchy baguette loaded with cold cuts including thin slices of boiled pork sausage, shaved grilled pork with its characteristic red edges — plus house-made pate, mayonnaise, pickled vegetables, pork floss, and coriander. —Tanita de Ruijt
11 Great Russell Street, Tottenham Court Road WC1B 3BQ