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Carol Sachs

Here Are London’s Best Live Fire Restaurants

Monkfish tails licked by flames, smoky barbecued meats, spicy, sticky jerk chicken — and more

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It’s practically unthinkable to open a restaurant in London without installing a grill in the kitchen. Live fire cooking is a hot trend and there’s been a stream of exciting openings from chefs who love to harness the power of smoke and flame. Why is this method of cooking so attractive? Smoke adds another dimension to food; wood smoke in particular releases flavour compounds as different parts burn; a good old-fashioned grilling is just as transformative. From Jamaican jerk to northern Thai, these restaurants know how to get the best from a barbecue.

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Note: Restaurants on this map are listed geographically.

Formerly Known as Black Axe Mangal

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No-one can decide what type of restaurant FKABAM is but that’s ok — just know that the food is exhilarating and essential at this Islington winner. The sourdough flatbreads are a must-order, piled with smoked lamb shoulder or chunky offal and finished with yoghurt and chillies both pickled and charred. Flavours are dialled up to ten and live fire cooking adds an important extra dimension of drama, as well as flavour.

A lamb offal flatbread and pork crackling at Black Axe Mangal, featuring flowery tablecloths Ola Smit

Berber & Q - Grill House

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Josh Katz has created an experience akin to eating in a cavernous, smoky nightclub but the food more than makes up for his antisocial approach to the volume dial in Haggerston. Thrilling from the moment the tray clatters onto the table, piled with fire-flashed chops, colourful salads and sauces that hark back to the best Middle Eastern kebab shops. Be sure to order the whole cauliflower shawarma with tahini, rose and pine nuts.  

Cauliflower shawarma at Berber and Q in Haggerston, one of London’s best live fire restaurants Berber & Q/Instagram

The menu at Tomos Parry’s Basque-inspired Brat is deceptively plain — the best ingredients are cooked over fire and served quite austere, but there’s some serious skill in this kitchen. The whole turbot has been all over Instagram and it’s special, stickiness coaxed from the bones thanks to slow and watchful grilling. The ‘beef chop’ is underrated, however — a deeply funky piece of meat given a lick of fire and smoke.

Whole turbot at Brat restaurant, one of London’s iconic dishes Ben McMahon/benjaminmcmahon.com

SMOKESTAK

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Barbadian chef-patron David Carter mans the grill at moody Shoreditch barbecue restaurant Smokestak, which made the leap from street food stall to permanent site in 2016. It’s not a traditional American barbecue restaurant, so don’t expect paper-lined trays of protein — this is far more bells-and-whistles. The brisket (available in a roll with pickled chillies or sliced) remains the best in London, despite the fact that former “brisket guy” Roberto has moved to Monty’s Deli.

The Barbary

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Every seat is a good one at this Covent Garden institution, with its dramatic, horseshoe-shaped bar. Chefs expertly flip protein around the various levels of the grill while diners eagerly await the results, ripping into magnificent puffy naan breads and electric, tongue-tingling zhoug. Don’t miss the octopus mashawsha, a warmly spiced chickpea stew topped with a tender, charred tentacle.

Carol Sachs

There’s no electricity or gas used to cook in this kitchen. Clay pots stacked with charcoal glow underneath hand-hammered woks, and the grill is constantly busy with rows of dinky skewers and slowly blistering fish. Everything is good, especially the aged lamb, smoked sausage and slow-grilled chicken, schmaltzing on to the coals below from the very top of the grill.

Aged lamb skewers at Britain’s best restaurant, Kiln in Soho, also one of central London’s best snacks Kiln [Official Photo]

Smokey Jerkey

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One of very few genuinely first-rate jerk joints in London, this ramshackle spot in New Cross can be smelled from twenty feet away thanks to the smoke swirling from the back. The jerk has plenty of sweetness to balance the heat and spice and is powerfully present, unlike so many sterile imposter versions. Don’t forget the hot sauces decanted into unmarked plastic bottles on the counter.

Jerk chicken at Smokey Jerkey in New Cross, one of London’s best live fire restaurants Helen Graves

FM Mangal

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F M Mangal may not be the best all-round Turkish grill in London but a few standout dishes make it worth the trip. Best of these is the Adana kebab — a hot, spitting, glorious mash of minced lamb and spice that splurges hot fat onto the chin with each bite. Grab a wrap (double adana) from the takeaway section at the front, and a package the size and weight of a small baby will appear, marking the beginning of a deeply meaningful, lifelong relationship.

Andana wrap at FM Mangal in Camberwell, one of London’s best live fire restaurants Helen Graves

Formerly Known as Black Axe Mangal

A lamb offal flatbread and pork crackling at Black Axe Mangal, featuring flowery tablecloths Ola Smit

No-one can decide what type of restaurant FKABAM is but that’s ok — just know that the food is exhilarating and essential at this Islington winner. The sourdough flatbreads are a must-order, piled with smoked lamb shoulder or chunky offal and finished with yoghurt and chillies both pickled and charred. Flavours are dialled up to ten and live fire cooking adds an important extra dimension of drama, as well as flavour.

A lamb offal flatbread and pork crackling at Black Axe Mangal, featuring flowery tablecloths Ola Smit

Berber & Q - Grill House

Cauliflower shawarma at Berber and Q in Haggerston, one of London’s best live fire restaurants Berber & Q/Instagram

Josh Katz has created an experience akin to eating in a cavernous, smoky nightclub but the food more than makes up for his antisocial approach to the volume dial in Haggerston. Thrilling from the moment the tray clatters onto the table, piled with fire-flashed chops, colourful salads and sauces that hark back to the best Middle Eastern kebab shops. Be sure to order the whole cauliflower shawarma with tahini, rose and pine nuts.  

Cauliflower shawarma at Berber and Q in Haggerston, one of London’s best live fire restaurants Berber & Q/Instagram

BRAT

Whole turbot at Brat restaurant, one of London’s iconic dishes Ben McMahon/benjaminmcmahon.com

The menu at Tomos Parry’s Basque-inspired Brat is deceptively plain — the best ingredients are cooked over fire and served quite austere, but there’s some serious skill in this kitchen. The whole turbot has been all over Instagram and it’s special, stickiness coaxed from the bones thanks to slow and watchful grilling. The ‘beef chop’ is underrated, however — a deeply funky piece of meat given a lick of fire and smoke.

Whole turbot at Brat restaurant, one of London’s iconic dishes Ben McMahon/benjaminmcmahon.com

SMOKESTAK

Barbadian chef-patron David Carter mans the grill at moody Shoreditch barbecue restaurant Smokestak, which made the leap from street food stall to permanent site in 2016. It’s not a traditional American barbecue restaurant, so don’t expect paper-lined trays of protein — this is far more bells-and-whistles. The brisket (available in a roll with pickled chillies or sliced) remains the best in London, despite the fact that former “brisket guy” Roberto has moved to Monty’s Deli.

The Barbary

Carol Sachs

Every seat is a good one at this Covent Garden institution, with its dramatic, horseshoe-shaped bar. Chefs expertly flip protein around the various levels of the grill while diners eagerly await the results, ripping into magnificent puffy naan breads and electric, tongue-tingling zhoug. Don’t miss the octopus mashawsha, a warmly spiced chickpea stew topped with a tender, charred tentacle.

Carol Sachs

Kiln

Aged lamb skewers at Britain’s best restaurant, Kiln in Soho, also one of central London’s best snacks Kiln [Official Photo]

There’s no electricity or gas used to cook in this kitchen. Clay pots stacked with charcoal glow underneath hand-hammered woks, and the grill is constantly busy with rows of dinky skewers and slowly blistering fish. Everything is good, especially the aged lamb, smoked sausage and slow-grilled chicken, schmaltzing on to the coals below from the very top of the grill.

Aged lamb skewers at Britain’s best restaurant, Kiln in Soho, also one of central London’s best snacks Kiln [Official Photo]

Smokey Jerkey

Jerk chicken at Smokey Jerkey in New Cross, one of London’s best live fire restaurants Helen Graves

One of very few genuinely first-rate jerk joints in London, this ramshackle spot in New Cross can be smelled from twenty feet away thanks to the smoke swirling from the back. The jerk has plenty of sweetness to balance the heat and spice and is powerfully present, unlike so many sterile imposter versions. Don’t forget the hot sauces decanted into unmarked plastic bottles on the counter.

Jerk chicken at Smokey Jerkey in New Cross, one of London’s best live fire restaurants Helen Graves

FM Mangal

Andana wrap at FM Mangal in Camberwell, one of London’s best live fire restaurants Helen Graves

F M Mangal may not be the best all-round Turkish grill in London but a few standout dishes make it worth the trip. Best of these is the Adana kebab — a hot, spitting, glorious mash of minced lamb and spice that splurges hot fat onto the chin with each bite. Grab a wrap (double adana) from the takeaway section at the front, and a package the size and weight of a small baby will appear, marking the beginning of a deeply meaningful, lifelong relationship.

Andana wrap at FM Mangal in Camberwell, one of London’s best live fire restaurants Helen Graves

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