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Socarrat: The nutty edges of toasted paella at Arros QD in Fitzrovia, one of the best scorched rice dishes in London’s restaurants
Socarrat: The nutty, toasted edges of toasted paella at Arros QD in Fitzrovia
ArrosQD/Instagram

Where to Find the Best Scorched Rice in London

Whether buttery tahdig, toasty nurungji, or the nutty edges of paella, here’s where to find the city’s best versions of scorched rice

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Socarrat: The nutty, toasted edges of toasted paella at Arros QD in Fitzrovia
| ArrosQD/Instagram

All over the world, children fight over it: whether for the popcorn butteriness of the tahdig crust, the nutty kernels at the base of the paella pan, or the toasty edge of Korean nurungji. Scorched rice is a big deal. In the cuisines that venerate it, it’s usually something to eat at home, a happy accident and a byproduct of preparing rice in a large pot on the stove. It’s an essential bargaining chip over family lunch: If the kids behave and eat quietly, they’ll get some of the buried treasure. At a restaurant, it might be worth asking the waiter if, on the off-chance, they have some going spare, but more often than not, it’s already been eaten by the people that know its true value — the cooks. Jollof kanzo, the burnt bottom of jollof rice, popular in Ghana; or pegao, literally the rice that “sticks” to the bottom of the pot in Latin American rice dishes; aren’t likely to be listed on any menu in London. Perhaps it’s only a matter of time, though, until a savvy PR decides to turn Jollof Kanzo into a London event.

For a few dishes, the word is already out. In more and more Persian restaurants, it’s possible to order rice with tahdig or even just pure tahdig — a dense web of brittle, flavoursome grains — for the table. Socarrat, the singed bottom of a paella, is now more than leverage for parents with naughty children; it’s become something of an obsession for some of Spain’s best chefs. Nurungji, or Korean scorched rice, is so desirable that a prepackaged version has made it on to supermarket shelves for those looking for convenience or the comfort of home. When bibimbap is served in a hot dolsot stone bowl, the rice will keep cooking and nurungji will form at the bottom. For anyone seeking the hit in London, here’s the best Spanish, Korean, and Iranian restaurants offering socarrat, nurungji, and tahdig — each as distinctive as the rice varieties they are made with.

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Note: Restaurants on this map are listed geographically.
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Yami Restaurant

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Of all the Korean restaurants on the high street in New Malden, aka London’s K-Town, it is Yami that has the best nurungji offering. Customers may come for the theatre of the barbecue, but there’s something a little more understated on the menu for scorched rice fans. Nurungji porridge is made by boiling up crunchy well-cooked rice into a milky, starchy soup. It’s the perfect comfort for a colder day. Yami also serves dolsot bibimbap, with vegetarian and raw beef to choose from. Those who want to try sungyung (toasted rice tea) can head down the road to Imone in three minutes flat and be holding the hot stuff in ten. 

Mahdi Restaurant

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Spacious and heavily bedecked, Mahdi in Hammersmith has big energy, big portions, and a big menu. There’s a lot to take in, including several forms of tahdig. Order rice as a side, and it comes with a potato tahdig crust. Or simply mainline a hefty portion of tahdig as a starter with stew. For something a little different, it’s worth trying tahchin — a baked saffron and yoghurt rice with chicken and aubergine folded in. There’s an extensive grill list, but for even more delicious rice, try the baqala polo, rice with broad beans and dill, with lamb shank. Save space for the kashke-bademjan, a sour yoghurt and aubergine dip and close cousin to baba ghanoush. Leftovers to take home are a near certainty. 

Mahdi Restaurant/Instagram

Albalou London

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Newcomer Albalou is a family-run Persian restaurant on North End Road with a roster of daily specials that make multiple visits worthwhile. Groups sit inside under the bower of an artificial cherry blossom tree (Albalou means sour cherry) with a stuffed peacock staring out imperiously from the corner. There are also a few tables roadside for singles and pairs. The tahdig on the menu is a generous golden nest of rich and crispy rice, which can be ordered on its own as a side, or with stew. It pairs particularly well with the refreshing herbs and acidic dried limes of ghormeh sabzi. To be clear, this isn’t particularly authentic. It’s not common to find a dish of pure tahdig (just the goods at the bottom of the pot) without the accompanying mass of fluffy rice in a Persian household. For one-track tahdig lovers, though, Albalou has got things covered. 

Albalou

Cambio De Tercio

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Cambio de Tercio in Kensington has been serving up some of London’s best Spanish food since 1995. These days, the tortilla is ramped up with black summer truffle, the gazpacho is laced with cherries, and the patatas bravas are dainty turrets stuffed with brava sauce and aioli. The restaurant maintains its high standards when it comes to paella, which has plenty of concentrated crunch, though it’s always worth letting the waiter know if socarrat is especially desired. Beyond the food, there’s a wine list worth mooning over. Cambio de Tercio is the spot for a slow Sunday lunch; a place to sip dessert wines or a strong gin and tonic once the plates have been cleared and contemplate heading home for a siesta.  

Korean bar and grill Gogi sits on the canal in London’s Little Venice. The restaurant has the industrial-chic look of the year it opened: 2013. That means black leather banquettes, exposed red brick, and a strong window-to-wall ratio. The silver hoods looming over each table aren’t merely aesthetic, though. They are part of an elaborate extraction system that runs throughout the dining room keeping things cool. For the tabletop Korean barbecue, there are beef and seafood platters ideal for sharing. Solo diners, vegetarians and scorched rice lovers need not be put out, though. With the hotplate directly to hand, Gogi’s dolsot bibimbap promises a good nurungji. There’s a fair choice of toppings, ranging from kimchi or tofu to raw beef.

Arros QD

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Richard De La Cruz and his sous chef Alvaro Reche run the kitchen at three Michelin-starred chef Quique Dacosta’s Fitzrovia restaurant dedicated to rice and fire. With hunting lodge woodsmoke wafting across the black lacquer and liquid amber light surrounds, this isn’t the environment for reliving that summer holiday paella and Estrella. Best enjoyed in rainy day luxuriance, the star among the rice dishes is the Iberian presa (pork shoulder steak) which comes medium rare, glistening with salt crystals and its own mottled fat. This is paella of the acorn forest, served with earthy black garlic aioli and a floral smattering of broccoli and cauliflower. Socarrat is key to this restaurant, with dishes finished over burning orange and grapevine wood. The exception is the cuttlefish, which is cooked melosa (gently) without the characteristic crunch.

Socarrat: The nutty edges of toasted paella at Arros QD in Fitzrovia, one of the best scorched rice dishes in London’s restaurants ArrosQD/Instagram

Berenjak

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Berenjak is a fun and frivolous modern Iranian kabab restaurant in Soho. Booming Persian pop, spiked sharbat — the other kind of pop — cocktails, and bar tops cluttered with silver dishes make this place feel bustling even under distancing regulations. When head chef Kian Samyani wants to cut corners, he does it in style. Dessert is a work of filthy genius: a baklava ice cream sandwich brought in from Darlish and singed with a blowtorch on site. The yoghurt may not be strained in-house, but it comes from Neal’s Yard. The kitchen has solved the mass catering issue of tahdig by playing fast and loose with the concept. It’s a kind of deconstructed version: fresh fluffy rice, a good slab of butter, saffron for a punch of colour, and yesterday’s rice fried then sprinkled liberally on top. Not one for the purists, but sure to please everybody else.

Berenjaklondon/Instagram

Boqueria

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Neighbourhood favourite on the Brixton-Clapham border in an on-off relationship with the Michelin guide, Boqueria is a fairly solid bet for paella. At £14.90 per head with a minimum of 2 persons, the filling seafood paella is the most expensive dish at this reasonably priced tapas restaurant. It comes with king prawns and mussels, but the chipirones (baby squid) steal the show. Chef Julian Gil Rivera and his team will do a good socarrat if requested. Other notably good value items include the Iberian presa, lamb confit, and suckling pig, all of which come in at under ten pounds each. Guests seated towards the back of the dining room near the courtyard can expect a little cigarette smoke mingling, not entirely unpleasantly, with the meal as they sip their sangria.

boqueria_london/Instagram

The Drunken Butler

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One of Yuma Hashemi’s earliest food memories is of tahdig. His mother would divide it up carefully, ensuring both Hashemi and his sister got an equal share of the precious substance. Now it’s a regular feature of the table on Persian Sunday, the changing weekly tasting menu at his restaurant, The Drunken Butler. The butler may be apocryphal but Hashemi himself will be in the open kitchen close by, cooking cheffy versions of the food that reminds him of home. There are classic dishes like kashke-bademjan (sour yoghurt and aubergine dip) and plenty of Iranian stews. The tahdig at the bottom of the rice pot isn’t always made with rice, it might be done with bread, potato, or even fish skin — anything that crisps up beautifully. The pleasure of Persian Sunday, for lunch or supper, costs £55 without wine pairings, which is a hair cheaper than the French dinner menu (£65) available Wednesday through to Saturday. 

thedrunkenbutler/Instagram

L'Oculto Cocina - Wine Bar -Shop

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Saturday lunchtimes at L’Oculto in Brockley now mean paella, a new feature of the multitasking tapas restaurant, wine bar, and shop. Service starts at 1 p.m. for takeaway. The restaurant is currently open for dining-in Thursday evening through to Sunday lunchtime. L’Oculto shop is open in the early afternoon and it’s the ideal retailer for gourmand preppers anticipating another lockdown. There are plenty of high-end canned goods (a peculiarly Spanish obsession), including squid, mussels, sardines, and partridge, as well as cheeses, and an excellent selection of biodynamic wines. 

Paranhodu Korean Restaurant

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The best things on the menu at New Cross gem Paranhodu involve a lot of sizzle. The pan-fried dumplings, kimchi or seafood pancake, and the sticky, sweet Korean fried chicken are all worth trying. Then there’s the dolsot bibimbap, which arrives crackling away in its hot stone pot. Douse with gochuchang sauce, muddle, and wait. Patience will be rewarded with a satisfying singe by the end of the meal — not just on the rice, but on the fine curls of carrot, courgette, and bean sprouts too. This relaxed restaurant is great for those with varied dietary requirements — most items on the menu have vegan or vegetarian options. It’s small, so book ahead to avoid disappointment. Lunchtime will be quieter and cheaper. Paranhodu is closed Sundays and for lunch on Monday. 

Yami Restaurant

Of all the Korean restaurants on the high street in New Malden, aka London’s K-Town, it is Yami that has the best nurungji offering. Customers may come for the theatre of the barbecue, but there’s something a little more understated on the menu for scorched rice fans. Nurungji porridge is made by boiling up crunchy well-cooked rice into a milky, starchy soup. It’s the perfect comfort for a colder day. Yami also serves dolsot bibimbap, with vegetarian and raw beef to choose from. Those who want to try sungyung (toasted rice tea) can head down the road to Imone in three minutes flat and be holding the hot stuff in ten. 

Mahdi Restaurant

Mahdi Restaurant/Instagram

Spacious and heavily bedecked, Mahdi in Hammersmith has big energy, big portions, and a big menu. There’s a lot to take in, including several forms of tahdig. Order rice as a side, and it comes with a potato tahdig crust. Or simply mainline a hefty portion of tahdig as a starter with stew. For something a little different, it’s worth trying tahchin — a baked saffron and yoghurt rice with chicken and aubergine folded in. There’s an extensive grill list, but for even more delicious rice, try the baqala polo, rice with broad beans and dill, with lamb shank. Save space for the kashke-bademjan, a sour yoghurt and aubergine dip and close cousin to baba ghanoush. Leftovers to take home are a near certainty. 

Mahdi Restaurant/Instagram

Albalou London

Albalou

Newcomer Albalou is a family-run Persian restaurant on North End Road with a roster of daily specials that make multiple visits worthwhile. Groups sit inside under the bower of an artificial cherry blossom tree (Albalou means sour cherry) with a stuffed peacock staring out imperiously from the corner. There are also a few tables roadside for singles and pairs. The tahdig on the menu is a generous golden nest of rich and crispy rice, which can be ordered on its own as a side, or with stew. It pairs particularly well with the refreshing herbs and acidic dried limes of ghormeh sabzi. To be clear, this isn’t particularly authentic. It’s not common to find a dish of pure tahdig (just the goods at the bottom of the pot) without the accompanying mass of fluffy rice in a Persian household. For one-track tahdig lovers, though, Albalou has got things covered. 

Albalou

Cambio De Tercio

Cambio de Tercio in Kensington has been serving up some of London’s best Spanish food since 1995. These days, the tortilla is ramped up with black summer truffle, the gazpacho is laced with cherries, and the patatas bravas are dainty turrets stuffed with brava sauce and aioli. The restaurant maintains its high standards when it comes to paella, which has plenty of concentrated crunch, though it’s always worth letting the waiter know if socarrat is especially desired. Beyond the food, there’s a wine list worth mooning over. Cambio de Tercio is the spot for a slow Sunday lunch; a place to sip dessert wines or a strong gin and tonic once the plates have been cleared and contemplate heading home for a siesta.  

Gogi

Korean bar and grill Gogi sits on the canal in London’s Little Venice. The restaurant has the industrial-chic look of the year it opened: 2013. That means black leather banquettes, exposed red brick, and a strong window-to-wall ratio. The silver hoods looming over each table aren’t merely aesthetic, though. They are part of an elaborate extraction system that runs throughout the dining room keeping things cool. For the tabletop Korean barbecue, there are beef and seafood platters ideal for sharing. Solo diners, vegetarians and scorched rice lovers need not be put out, though. With the hotplate directly to hand, Gogi’s dolsot bibimbap promises a good nurungji. There’s a fair choice of toppings, ranging from kimchi or tofu to raw beef.

Arros QD

Socarrat: The nutty edges of toasted paella at Arros QD in Fitzrovia, one of the best scorched rice dishes in London’s restaurants ArrosQD/Instagram

Richard De La Cruz and his sous chef Alvaro Reche run the kitchen at three Michelin-starred chef Quique Dacosta’s Fitzrovia restaurant dedicated to rice and fire. With hunting lodge woodsmoke wafting across the black lacquer and liquid amber light surrounds, this isn’t the environment for reliving that summer holiday paella and Estrella. Best enjoyed in rainy day luxuriance, the star among the rice dishes is the Iberian presa (pork shoulder steak) which comes medium rare, glistening with salt crystals and its own mottled fat. This is paella of the acorn forest, served with earthy black garlic aioli and a floral smattering of broccoli and cauliflower. Socarrat is key to this restaurant, with dishes finished over burning orange and grapevine wood. The exception is the cuttlefish, which is cooked melosa (gently) without the characteristic crunch.

Socarrat: The nutty edges of toasted paella at Arros QD in Fitzrovia, one of the best scorched rice dishes in London’s restaurants ArrosQD/Instagram

Berenjak

Berenjaklondon/Instagram

Berenjak is a fun and frivolous modern Iranian kabab restaurant in Soho. Booming Persian pop, spiked sharbat — the other kind of pop — cocktails, and bar tops cluttered with silver dishes make this place feel bustling even under distancing regulations. When head chef Kian Samyani wants to cut corners, he does it in style. Dessert is a work of filthy genius: a baklava ice cream sandwich brought in from Darlish and singed with a blowtorch on site. The yoghurt may not be strained in-house, but it comes from Neal’s Yard. The kitchen has solved the mass catering issue of tahdig by playing fast and loose with the concept. It’s a kind of deconstructed version: fresh fluffy rice, a good slab of butter, saffron for a punch of colour, and yesterday’s rice fried then sprinkled liberally on top. Not one for the purists, but sure to please everybody else.

Berenjaklondon/Instagram

Boqueria

boqueria_london/Instagram

Neighbourhood favourite on the Brixton-Clapham border in an on-off relationship with the Michelin guide, Boqueria is a fairly solid bet for paella. At £14.90 per head with a minimum of 2 persons, the filling seafood paella is the most expensive dish at this reasonably priced tapas restaurant. It comes with king prawns and mussels, but the chipirones (baby squid) steal the show. Chef Julian Gil Rivera and his team will do a good socarrat if requested. Other notably good value items include the Iberian presa, lamb confit, and suckling pig, all of which come in at under ten pounds each. Guests seated towards the back of the dining room near the courtyard can expect a little cigarette smoke mingling, not entirely unpleasantly, with the meal as they sip their sangria.

boqueria_london/Instagram

The Drunken Butler

thedrunkenbutler/Instagram

One of Yuma Hashemi’s earliest food memories is of tahdig. His mother would divide it up carefully, ensuring both Hashemi and his sister got an equal share of the precious substance. Now it’s a regular feature of the table on Persian Sunday, the changing weekly tasting menu at his restaurant, The Drunken Butler. The butler may be apocryphal but Hashemi himself will be in the open kitchen close by, cooking cheffy versions of the food that reminds him of home. There are classic dishes like kashke-bademjan (sour yoghurt and aubergine dip) and plenty of Iranian stews. The tahdig at the bottom of the rice pot isn’t always made with rice, it might be done with bread, potato, or even fish skin — anything that crisps up beautifully. The pleasure of Persian Sunday, for lunch or supper, costs £55 without wine pairings, which is a hair cheaper than the French dinner menu (£65) available Wednesday through to Saturday. 

thedrunkenbutler/Instagram

L'Oculto Cocina - Wine Bar -Shop

Saturday lunchtimes at L’Oculto in Brockley now mean paella, a new feature of the multitasking tapas restaurant, wine bar, and shop. Service starts at 1 p.m. for takeaway. The restaurant is currently open for dining-in Thursday evening through to Sunday lunchtime. L’Oculto shop is open in the early afternoon and it’s the ideal retailer for gourmand preppers anticipating another lockdown. There are plenty of high-end canned goods (a peculiarly Spanish obsession), including squid, mussels, sardines, and partridge, as well as cheeses, and an excellent selection of biodynamic wines. 

Paranhodu Korean Restaurant

The best things on the menu at New Cross gem Paranhodu involve a lot of sizzle. The pan-fried dumplings, kimchi or seafood pancake, and the sticky, sweet Korean fried chicken are all worth trying. Then there’s the dolsot bibimbap, which arrives crackling away in its hot stone pot. Douse with gochuchang sauce, muddle, and wait. Patience will be rewarded with a satisfying singe by the end of the meal — not just on the rice, but on the fine curls of carrot, courgette, and bean sprouts too. This relaxed restaurant is great for those with varied dietary requirements — most items on the menu have vegan or vegetarian options. It’s small, so book ahead to avoid disappointment. Lunchtime will be quieter and cheaper. Paranhodu is closed Sundays and for lunch on Monday. 

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