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Faye Gomes’ Guyanese Kaieteur Kitchen has returned in Walworth for collection, following its closure due to the COVID-19 pandemic two months ago in Elephant and Castle Tomas Jivanda/Eater London

The Best-Value Restaurants in Central London

Dominican fried chicken, Guyanese pepper pot, ramen, roti canai, bun bo hue, fish and chips — and more

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Quality, value, no queues: pick two. This is the essential compromise of central London dining. As property prices rise and investment flows into the city with a centripetal force, it becomes more and more difficult to find places where it’s possible to eat daily for a reasonable price. This is despite the overwhelming increase in the number of restaurants on the streets of the capital.

Central London may be slowly becoming a plaything for the rich, but a mixed economy remains and many of the best value restaurants are in places with communities of first and second generation immigrants: the Arab restaurants that line Edgware Road, the Malaysian cafes hidden between the shabby hotels of Paddington, a nascent Japanese scene of izakayas, sushi bars, and ramen shops in Camden, the comparatively unheralded Latin-American cafes and bakeries in Elephant and Castle and, somewhere at the centre of it all, Chinatown. For the purposes of these maps, “central London” is imprecisely defined as “anything that would be on a tourist map” or “anywhere covered by London’s cycling scheme.”

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Note: Restaurants on this map are listed geographically.

1. Normah's

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Normah's 23-25 Queensway Market, Bayswater
London W2 4QJ, UK

Queensway Market feels like it shouldn’t exist so central, an anachronism of a Zone 4 shopping centre pre-massive gentrification and the arrival of places recommending 5-6 small plates per person. But between the phone shops, an Uzbek restaurant and a sign saying ‘Russian Films’ is Normah’s, a cafe owned by Normah Abd Hamid that rivals Roti King as London’s best Malaysian caff. The roti canai here is arguably better, with the fluffy interior not compromised by the caramelisation she achieves on the crust, but people are mainly here for the assam pedas, a scarlet bloodbath of whole fish, as sour as tangy wine gums with tamarind, and lifted by a prickling chilli heat. All of Normah’s dishes work better if able to convince her or her nephew to cook them ‘pedas’ — spicy — but if she doesn’t, service is so charming that it won’t matter.

Assam pedas at Normah’s Cafe in Queensway Normah’s Cafe [Official Photo]

2. Bugis Street Brasserie

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Millennium Gloucester Hotel, 4-18 Harrington Gardens, Kensington
London SW7 4LH, UK

Bugis Street Brasserie may be the furthest lengths someone has gone to get a decent bowl of chicken rice outside Singapore. Although well reviewed by Jay Rayner, he did miss a trick that Bugis Street specialises in the most austere of all deeply pleasurable foods: Hainanese chicken rice. Here, all is correct, a comfortingly salty bowl of broth; rice glistening with lip-smacking fat; and a well poached chicken, cream on cream, with colour only interrupting in the form of ginger, chilli and soy condiments. From the rest of the menu the laksa, Nyonya style, is also a winner; a balanced broth that never becomes too intense, with bouncy fishcakes and prawns heated in the broth just to the point of cooked.

Hainanese chicken rice at Bugis Street Brasserie in central London Bugis Street Brasserie [Official Photo]

3. Paul Rothe & Son

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35 Marylebone Ln, Marylebone
London W1U 2NN, UK
020 7935 6783

There is old school and then there is Paul Rothe. This sandwich shop-cum-deli on a Marylebone side street has been preserved in amber, run by Paul — named for his grandfather who founded it —  and his son Stephen. Do not expect unusual ingredients or gigantic portions, but do expect quick, fresh to order and endlessly customised sandwiches, with hot soups and spreads produced daily on site, all set to the rhythm of greetings, small talk and ‘white, brown or granary?’. Fillings like liptauer and liver sausage nod to the Rothes German heritage, but it’s still one of the few places that manages to nail the much maligned colonial hangover that is Coronation Chicken. In a city of infinite Prets, there is something comforting and honest about Paul Rothe.

The white-painted exterior of Paul Rothe and Sons sandwich shop, one of the best value restaurants in central London Paul Rothe [Official Photo]

4. The Great Thai

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14 Riding House St, Fitzrovia
London W1W 7HR, UK

Ordering a great meal at the optimistically named The Great Thai needs a degree of single-mindedness. Ignore the set lunch menu, don’t mistake it with the takeaway shop round the corner, do not be distracted by the aunties trying to upsell. Stick to the boat noodles: ditchwater brown and dishwater clear, but full of flavour and the sharp nasal hit of white pepper. Also of note is the Hakka-influenced soup yen ta fo, lurid pink with fermented red beancurd paste, not complex in flavour but in textural assemblage — a bouncy prawn here and there, fried tofu, soft tofu, squidgy fish balls, fried fish roll, and crispy wonton wrappers. Also consider the saltfish fried rice with little pockets of dried fish interrupting the interplay between rice, egg and wok smoke. No, this isn’t going to compare to the boat noodles with pigs blood on a Bangkok side street, but it’s as good as it gets round the back of Oxford Circus.

Boat noodles and larb at The Great Thai in Fitzrovia, one of the best value restaurants in central London The Great Thai [Official Photo]

5. Seto

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5-6 Plender St
London NW1 0JN, UK

This family-run Japanese restaurant specialising in chuka moved from Kingly Street to Camden’s Plender St years ago, way before ramen was even a thing in London, and has still been quietly making one of London’s best soup noodles for under £8. Although it recently bowed to peer pressure and added a fatty tonkotsu to the litany of ramen soups, it’s their simple, crystal clear shoyu or miso stocks that shine. The negi ramen with a lightly oiled bushel of spring onion on top is particularly excellent, reminding Japanese customers of broths back home before ramen obsession spread wide and fell prey to otaku nerdery. Stick to ramen for the mains, but it’s hard to miss the plump gyoza crisped to a char on one side and dipped in homemade chilli oil, which possibly overshadow the noodles.

Tonkotsu ramen at Seto, a restaurant in Camden, London David Paw

6. Murger Hanhan Sackville Street

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8A Sackville St, Mayfair
London W1S 3DF, UK

The first Murger Han up in Euston predates the introduction of Xi’an Impression into London’s regional Chinese pantheon, but didn’t make much of an impact at the time in a city only just adjusting to the idea of Sichuanese cuisine. The second, incongruously in Mayfair, has noticeably upped its game in wake of the new restaurant landscape and now goes toe to toe on Shaanxi classics. Ignore the “murgers” — overly dry rou jia mo — here it’s all about the noodles. Parchments of biang biang and tensile hand-pulled la tiao zi come with toppings of tomato, egg sauce and various meats and chilli oils that add compelling textures and flavours in each pull. The rice noodles are also not to be missed, cold and elastic, steamed and served with vegetables and the balm of sesame sauce.

Liang pi at Murger Hanhan restaurant in central London Murger Hanhan [Official Photo]

7. Cafe TPT

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21 Wardour St
London W1D 6PN, UK

A standout among the dwindling Hong Kong daipaidong-inspired cafes concentrated on the west side of Wardour St, Cafe TPT is a template for how all Chinese restaurants of this type in London can and should be — competent at almost everything and exceptional at some. Fatty, creamy brisket curry on rice and Singapore noodles, elastic and smoky from the wok, are great options, but there are two dishes that are unmissable. The cornflake soft shell crab is not just a 3a.m. drunken idea but a masterclass in contrasts of crisp texture, giving way to yielding white crab meat, and the pork chop Macau-style with soft onions and a flood of cheesy bechamel is simply a chaise longue of a comfort dish. It’s best eaten with liberal helpings of chilli oil in the early hours of the morning, to soak up a Soho night.

Fried rice at Cafe TPT in Chinatown, one of the best value restaurants in central London Cafe TPT [Official Photo]

8. Roti King

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40 Doric Way
London NW1 1LH, UK

Kalpana Sugendran Sugendran’s Roti King is both one of London’s indisputable food success stories and a cautionary tale of how property has affected small food businesses  — from a small stall at Colindale’s ill-fated Oriental City, through short lived stints at East Ham’s market and Charing Cross Road’s now completely redeveloped Malaysia Kopitiam, to two successful restaurants: one in a Euston basement and the other at Victoria’s Market Halls. The roti canai, oily, flaky breads, charred and hilly, that soak in luxurious dal, meat, or fish curries is still the dish to order. The other Malaysian dishes have massively improved from opening, primarily due to one of the wok masters who splits his time between Roti King and Gopal’s Corner nailing the smokiness on the mee goreng. Order it, and add some of the kangkung belacan for health.

Roti canai at Roti King, reopened in Euston Ola Smit/Eater London

9. Alpino Cafe

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97 Chapel Market, Islington
London N1 9EY, UK
020 7837 8330

That the caff, the most British institution there is, has been sustained in London by Italians is not news: Regency and Pellici are the two most famous examples. What has gone relatively unheralded is the type of British-Italian cooking that sits alongside the fry-ups. British Italian cooking culture is taking a mound of perfectly cooked, saucy spaghetti puttanesca that any Italian would be happy with and then adding three liberal dustings of parmesan, a whole chicken escalope and a cup of tea into the mix, a blissful lunch that can be experienced at Dorino Tabrizi’s Alpino’s in Chapel Market, which has been doing the same thing for 80 years without fanfare. The escalope crops up again in bountiful baps and club sandwiches but don’t miss the austere option: grilled kippers, butterflied with dollops of butter, toast, and two poached eggs.

10. Kaieteur Kitchen

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335-336 Elephant and Castle
London SE1 6TB, UK
07466 616137

Friday is a blessed day in Elephant and Castle shopping centre because it’s the day Faye Gomes— the Guyanese aunty everyone wishes they could have — usually releases her pepper pot, a two day cooked stew of unbelievable bittersweet complexity, vinyl black with caramelised beef, oxtail, tripe and lamb and flavoured with orange rind and cassareep. But if it’s not Friday, or if she runs out, there are always great stews: oxtail or meatballs, as well as vegetable dishes of pumpkin and okra that are natural bedfellows to rice, noodles and roti. Another Friday special — the Portuguese-influenced garlic pork pickled in vinegar for a week then fried up — requires a week’s notice and Faye’s number, but it’s worth the wait. Keep an eye out for this stall once the centre is demolished later this year: with a bigger space Gomes is only going to get better.

Guyanese meat and rice at Kaieteur Kitchen in Elephant and Castle, one of the best value restaurants in central London Tomas Jivanda/Eater London

11. La Barra

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147, Eagle Yard Arch, Walworth
London SE1 6SP, UK

On the surface, it’s a Colombian cafe, but to those in the know, it’s one of London’s best fried chicken joints. Maria Luisa Riascos-Solis’s Colombian and Venezuelan dishes, including excellent beef empanadas, disguise the real speciality which is pica pollo — a Dominican obsession, KFC amped-up and given the full Latin American treatment. For £15, get five big fried pieces of brined, well spiced thigh, drumstick and wing, along with pork belly and bofes (lung jerky.) Make sure to wait until these cool down, or be prepared to nurse a burnt upper mouth for a week. The downstairs part of the arch La Barra is housed in normally closes around 8p.m., but the Dominican El Rincon Tropical upstairs will be a more than adequate back up .

London’s best fried chicken is at La Barra in Elephant and Castle. One of the best-value restaurants in London Cole Wilson/for Eater London

12. Hoa Phuong

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4 Hampton St
London SE1 6SN, UK

Hoa Phuong on the upper end of Walworth Road is one that adheres to all the cliches about mythic diaspora restaurants. Unassuming exterior? Check. One old aunty cooking? Check. Small blackboard menu and odd opening hours? Double check. But owner Phuong’s bun bo hue here puts almost everyone else’s to shame, a deep fiery broth with a marine funk from fermented shrimp paste, herbal, citrus, spicy, umami all in harmony, with well cooked beef meat and Hue sausage. The pork on rice or in summer rolls is done well here, with aggressive caramelisation and crusted with thinly chopped lemongrass, and the beef with pickled vegetable is an exceptional stir fry, but after one bowl of bun bo hue, the only temptation is to order another.

Bun bo hue noodle soup at Hoa Phuong in central London Tripadvisor

13. Fish Central

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149-155 Central St, King Square
London EC1V 8AP, UK

Somehow central, yet in the middle of nowhere, Fish Central is one of a select few London chippies in a tier just below actually going to the coast or moving North. Located on an estate just off Central St, like most of the best fish and chip shops in the city — Toff’s in Muswell Hill or the Golden Hind in Marylebone for instance — it is run by Greek-Cypriots preserving British traditions. In Fish Central’s case it’s owned by George Digby, who can still be found frying the fish or expertly tossing the chips in salt. Cod and haddock are usually fried fresh to order and steam gently inside their exoskeleton of batter, meaning they actually taste like fish. A restaurant is attached but best go for the takeaway option, and greedily eat the steaming chips out on the Barbican concrete;

Fried, battered fish and chips at Fish Central restaurant Quandoo

14. Rao Deli

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304 Borough High St
London SE1 1JJ, UK

Where is London’s best pho? Not in Hoxton where many of the restaurants have been living off their reputation for years; not in Deptford where the most exciting concentrated Vietnamese food scene in the city was razed by gentrification and immigration raids. No, the best pho in London may actually be on a street between Elephant and Castle and Borough that contains little else of note, at Rao Deli run by Trang Nguyen and Nhan Van Mac. There are pho that emphasise clarity and herbal aromatics: not this. This is a big beefy brute of a pho, simmered for 20 hours, full of liquid marrow with a slightly charred note that tastes like licking a cow in the best possible way. It is served without herbs, which may annoy purists, but actually it doesn’t need them. From the rice bowls, the pork belly is thick cut and generous, finished under the grill to order for about fifteen minutes to puff up the crackling — it beats most of the Cantonese siu yuk joints in Chinatown and Queensway.

Pho at Rao Deli, near Elephant and Castle and Borough Market — is one of the best Vietnamese restaurants in London, and also one of the best-value restaurants in any category in the capital. Rao Deli [Official Photo]

15. Catalyst

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48 Grays Inn Rd, Chancery Ln, Holborn
London WC1X 8LT, UK

From the outside it could be just another smart third-wave coffee shop, but Alexandros Gkikas and Vasilis Chamam are creating something special at Catalyst, with their version of Greek/definitely-not-Greek food that isn’t straitjacketed by moussaka and someone’s memory of what they had somewhere in the Cyclades in the 1990s. This part of Clerkenwell is inexplicably filled with questionable gyros and souvlaki joints, but the cleverness of Catalyst is to use expected ingredients in unexpected ways. Take the katsu sando, which is at heart a halloumi sandwich, except here three fingers have been breaded Birdseye style and come with a fried egg, plum ketchup, politiki — a pickled version of a cabbage salad whose name refers to Constantinople — and a coffee sriracha made from the grounds of whatever coffee is just in. In a single sandwich, references to Greece, Turkey, the UK, Australia and Thailand. The other sandwiches are as good: tartare sauce on thick cut bacon and egg; sausage with gravy and pickles; black pudding with XO sauce and Ogleshield oozing like cheese wiz; but it’s the bar snacks on late Thursday and Friday that set them apart in ambition. Whether it’s marinated raw prawns with persimmon and chestnut, monkfish with a pasta made from trahanas, a ferment of grains and dairy, or a whole côte de boeuf cooked on open flame, it’s soon apparent that Catalyst is not just a coffee shop, and is putting out some of the most inventive food in the Holborn/Clerkenwell area.

1. Normah's

Normah's 23-25 Queensway Market, Bayswater, London W2 4QJ, UK
Assam pedas at Normah’s Cafe in Queensway Normah’s Cafe [Official Photo]

Queensway Market feels like it shouldn’t exist so central, an anachronism of a Zone 4 shopping centre pre-massive gentrification and the arrival of places recommending 5-6 small plates per person. But between the phone shops, an Uzbek restaurant and a sign saying ‘Russian Films’ is Normah’s, a cafe owned by Normah Abd Hamid that rivals Roti King as London’s best Malaysian caff. The roti canai here is arguably better, with the fluffy interior not compromised by the caramelisation she achieves on the crust, but people are mainly here for the assam pedas, a scarlet bloodbath of whole fish, as sour as tangy wine gums with tamarind, and lifted by a prickling chilli heat. All of Normah’s dishes work better if able to convince her or her nephew to cook them ‘pedas’ — spicy — but if she doesn’t, service is so charming that it won’t matter.

Normah's 23-25 Queensway Market, Bayswater
London W2 4QJ, UK

2. Bugis Street Brasserie

Millennium Gloucester Hotel, 4-18 Harrington Gardens, Kensington, London SW7 4LH, UK
Hainanese chicken rice at Bugis Street Brasserie in central London Bugis Street Brasserie [Official Photo]

Bugis Street Brasserie may be the furthest lengths someone has gone to get a decent bowl of chicken rice outside Singapore. Although well reviewed by Jay Rayner, he did miss a trick that Bugis Street specialises in the most austere of all deeply pleasurable foods: Hainanese chicken rice. Here, all is correct, a comfortingly salty bowl of broth; rice glistening with lip-smacking fat; and a well poached chicken, cream on cream, with colour only interrupting in the form of ginger, chilli and soy condiments. From the rest of the menu the laksa, Nyonya style, is also a winner; a balanced broth that never becomes too intense, with bouncy fishcakes and prawns heated in the broth just to the point of cooked.

Millennium Gloucester Hotel, 4-18 Harrington Gardens, Kensington
London SW7 4LH, UK

3. Paul Rothe & Son

35 Marylebone Ln, Marylebone, London W1U 2NN, UK
The white-painted exterior of Paul Rothe and Sons sandwich shop, one of the best value restaurants in central London Paul Rothe [Official Photo]

There is old school and then there is Paul Rothe. This sandwich shop-cum-deli on a Marylebone side street has been preserved in amber, run by Paul — named for his grandfather who founded it —  and his son Stephen. Do not expect unusual ingredients or gigantic portions, but do expect quick, fresh to order and endlessly customised sandwiches, with hot soups and spreads produced daily on site, all set to the rhythm of greetings, small talk and ‘white, brown or granary?’. Fillings like liptauer and liver sausage nod to the Rothes German heritage, but it’s still one of the few places that manages to nail the much maligned colonial hangover that is Coronation Chicken. In a city of infinite Prets, there is something comforting and honest about Paul Rothe.

35 Marylebone Ln, Marylebone
London W1U 2NN, UK

4. The Great Thai

14 Riding House St, Fitzrovia, London W1W 7HR, UK
Boat noodles and larb at The Great Thai in Fitzrovia, one of the best value restaurants in central London The Great Thai [Official Photo]

Ordering a great meal at the optimistically named The Great Thai needs a degree of single-mindedness. Ignore the set lunch menu, don’t mistake it with the takeaway shop round the corner, do not be distracted by the aunties trying to upsell. Stick to the boat noodles: ditchwater brown and dishwater clear, but full of flavour and the sharp nasal hit of white pepper. Also of note is the Hakka-influenced soup yen ta fo, lurid pink with fermented red beancurd paste, not complex in flavour but in textural assemblage — a bouncy prawn here and there, fried tofu, soft tofu, squidgy fish balls, fried fish roll, and crispy wonton wrappers. Also consider the saltfish fried rice with little pockets of dried fish interrupting the interplay between rice, egg and wok smoke. No, this isn’t going to compare to the boat noodles with pigs blood on a Bangkok side street, but it’s as good as it gets round the back of Oxford Circus.

14 Riding House St, Fitzrovia
London W1W 7HR, UK

5. Seto

5-6 Plender St, London NW1 0JN, UK
Tonkotsu ramen at Seto, a restaurant in Camden, London David Paw

This family-run Japanese restaurant specialising in chuka moved from Kingly Street to Camden’s Plender St years ago, way before ramen was even a thing in London, and has still been quietly making one of London’s best soup noodles for under £8. Although it recently bowed to peer pressure and added a fatty tonkotsu to the litany of ramen soups, it’s their simple, crystal clear shoyu or miso stocks that shine. The negi ramen with a lightly oiled bushel of spring onion on top is particularly excellent, reminding Japanese customers of broths back home before ramen obsession spread wide and fell prey to otaku nerdery. Stick to ramen for the mains, but it’s hard to miss the plump gyoza crisped to a char on one side and dipped in homemade chilli oil, which possibly overshadow the noodles.

5-6 Plender St
London NW1 0JN, UK

6. Murger Hanhan Sackville Street

8A Sackville St, Mayfair, London W1S 3DF, UK
Liang pi at Murger Hanhan restaurant in central London Murger Hanhan [Official Photo]

The first Murger Han up in Euston predates the introduction of Xi’an Impression into London’s regional Chinese pantheon, but didn’t make much of an impact at the time in a city only just adjusting to the idea of Sichuanese cuisine. The second, incongruously in Mayfair, has noticeably upped its game in wake of the new restaurant landscape and now goes toe to toe on Shaanxi classics. Ignore the “murgers” — overly dry rou jia mo — here it’s all about the noodles. Parchments of biang biang and tensile hand-pulled la tiao zi come with toppings of tomato, egg sauce and various meats and chilli oils that add compelling textures and flavours in each pull. The rice noodles are also not to be missed, cold and elastic, steamed and served with vegetables and the balm of sesame sauce.

8A Sackville St, Mayfair
London W1S 3DF, UK

7. Cafe TPT

21 Wardour St, London W1D 6PN, UK
Fried rice at Cafe TPT in Chinatown, one of the best value restaurants in central London Cafe TPT [Official Photo]

A standout among the dwindling Hong Kong daipaidong-inspired cafes concentrated on the west side of Wardour St, Cafe TPT is a template for how all Chinese restaurants of this type in London can and should be — competent at almost everything and exceptional at some. Fatty, creamy brisket curry on rice and Singapore noodles, elastic and smoky from the wok, are great options, but there are two dishes that are unmissable. The cornflake soft shell crab is not just a 3a.m. drunken idea but a masterclass in contrasts of crisp texture, giving way to yielding white crab meat, and the pork chop Macau-style with soft onions and a flood of cheesy bechamel is simply a chaise longue of a comfort dish. It’s best eaten with liberal helpings of chilli oil in the early hours of the morning, to soak up a Soho night.

21 Wardour St
London W1D 6PN, UK

8. Roti King

40 Doric Way, London NW1 1LH, UK
Roti canai at Roti King, reopened in Euston Ola Smit/Eater London

Kalpana Sugendran Sugendran’s Roti King is both one of London’s indisputable food success stories and a cautionary tale of how property has affected small food businesses  — from a small stall at Colindale’s ill-fated Oriental City, through short lived stints at East Ham’s market and Charing Cross Road’s now completely redeveloped Malaysia Kopitiam, to two successful restaurants: one in a Euston basement and the other at Victoria’s Market Halls. The roti canai, oily, flaky breads, charred and hilly, that soak in luxurious dal, meat, or fish curries is still the dish to order. The other Malaysian dishes have massively improved from opening, primarily due to one of the wok masters who splits his time between Roti King and Gopal’s Corner nailing the smokiness on the mee goreng. Order it, and add some of the kangkung belacan for health.

40 Doric Way
London NW1 1LH, UK

9. Alpino Cafe

97 Chapel Market, Islington, London N1 9EY, UK

That the caff, the most British institution there is, has been sustained in London by Italians is not news: Regency and Pellici are the two most famous examples. What has gone relatively unheralded is the type of British-Italian cooking that sits alongside the fry-ups. British Italian cooking culture is taking a mound of perfectly cooked, saucy spaghetti puttanesca that any Italian would be happy with and then adding three liberal dustings of parmesan, a whole chicken escalope and a cup of tea into the mix, a blissful lunch that can be experienced at Dorino Tabrizi’s Alpino’s in Chapel Market, which has been doing the same thing for 80 years without fanfare. The escalope crops up again in bountiful baps and club sandwiches but don’t miss the austere option: grilled kippers, butterflied with dollops of butter, toast, and two poached eggs.

97 Chapel Market, Islington
London N1 9EY, UK

10. Kaieteur Kitchen

335-336 Elephant and Castle, London SE1 6TB, UK
Guyanese meat and rice at Kaieteur Kitchen in Elephant and Castle, one of the best value restaurants in central London Tomas Jivanda/Eater London

Friday is a blessed day in Elephant and Castle shopping centre because it’s the day Faye Gomes— the Guyanese aunty everyone wishes they could have — usually releases her pepper pot, a two day cooked stew of unbelievable bittersweet complexity, vinyl black with caramelised beef, oxtail, tripe and lamb and flavoured with orange rind and cassareep. But if it’s not Friday, or if she runs out, there are always great stews: oxtail or meatballs, as well as vegetable dishes of pumpkin and okra that are natural bedfellows to rice, noodles and roti. Another Friday special — the Portuguese-influenced garlic pork pickled in vinegar for a week then fried up — requires a week’s notice and Faye’s number, but it’s worth the wait. Keep an eye out for this stall once the centre is demolished later this year: with a bigger space Gomes is only going to get better.

335-336 Elephant and Castle
London SE1 6TB, UK

11. La Barra

147, Eagle Yard Arch, Walworth, London SE1 6SP, UK
London’s best fried chicken is at La Barra in Elephant and Castle. One of the best-value restaurants in London Cole Wilson/for Eater London

On the surface, it’s a Colombian cafe, but to those in the know, it’s one of London’s best fried chicken joints. Maria Luisa Riascos-Solis’s Colombian and Venezuelan dishes, including excellent beef empanadas, disguise the real speciality which is pica pollo — a Dominican obsession, KFC amped-up and given the full Latin American treatment. For £15, get five big fried pieces of brined, well spiced thigh, drumstick and wing, along with pork belly and bofes (lung jerky.) Make sure to wait until these cool down, or be prepared to nurse a burnt upper mouth for a week. The downstairs part of the arch La Barra is housed in normally closes around 8p.m., but the Dominican El Rincon Tropical upstairs will be a more than adequate back up .

147, Eagle Yard Arch, Walworth
London SE1 6SP, UK

12. Hoa Phuong

4 Hampton St, London SE1 6SN, UK
Bun bo hue noodle soup at Hoa Phuong in central London Tripadvisor

Hoa Phuong on the upper end of Walworth Road is one that adheres to all the cliches about mythic diaspora restaurants. Unassuming exterior? Check. One old aunty cooking? Check. Small blackboard menu and odd opening hours? Double check. But owner Phuong’s bun bo hue here puts almost everyone else’s to shame, a deep fiery broth with a marine funk from fermented shrimp paste, herbal, citrus, spicy, umami all in harmony, with well cooked beef meat and Hue sausage. The pork on rice or in summer rolls is done well here, with aggressive caramelisation and crusted with thinly chopped lemongrass, and the beef with pickled vegetable is an exceptional stir fry, but after one bowl of bun bo hue, the only temptation is to order another.

4 Hampton St
London SE1 6SN, UK

13. Fish Central

149-155 Central St, King Square, London EC1V 8AP, UK
Fried, battered fish and chips at Fish Central restaurant Quandoo

Somehow central, yet in the middle of nowhere, Fish Central is one of a select few London chippies in a tier just below actually going to the coast or moving North. Located on an estate just off Central St, like most of the best fish and chip shops in the city — Toff’s in Muswell Hill or the Golden Hind in Marylebone for instance — it is run by Greek-Cypriots preserving British traditions. In Fish Central’s case it’s owned by George Digby, who can still be found frying the fish or expertly tossing the chips in salt. Cod and haddock are usually fried fresh to order and steam gently inside their exoskeleton of batter, meaning they actually taste like fish. A restaurant is attached but best go for the takeaway option, and greedily eat the steaming chips out on the Barbican concrete;

149-155 Central St, King Square
London EC1V 8AP, UK

14. Rao Deli

304 Borough High St, London SE1 1JJ, UK
Pho at Rao Deli, near Elephant and Castle and Borough Market — is one of the best Vietnamese restaurants in London, and also one of the best-value restaurants in any category in the capital. Rao Deli [Official Photo]

Where is London’s best pho? Not in Hoxton where many of the restaurants have been living off their reputation for years; not in Deptford where the most exciting concentrated Vietnamese food scene in the city was razed by gentrification and immigration raids. No, the best pho in London may actually be on a street between Elephant and Castle and Borough that contains little else of note, at Rao Deli run by Trang Nguyen and Nhan Van Mac. There are pho that emphasise clarity and herbal aromatics: not this. This is a big beefy brute of a pho, simmered for 20 hours, full of liquid marrow with a slightly charred note that tastes like licking a cow in the best possible way. It is served without herbs, which may annoy purists, but actually it doesn’t need them. From the rice bowls, the pork belly is thick cut and generous, finished under the grill to order for about fifteen minutes to puff up the crackling — it beats most of the Cantonese siu yuk joints in Chinatown and Queensway.

304 Borough High St
London SE1 1JJ, UK

15. Catalyst

48 Grays Inn Rd, Chancery Ln, Holborn, London WC1X 8LT, UK

From the outside it could be just another smart third-wave coffee shop, but Alexandros Gkikas and Vasilis Chamam are creating something special at Catalyst, with their version of Greek/definitely-not-Greek food that isn’t straitjacketed by moussaka and someone’s memory of what they had somewhere in the Cyclades in the 1990s. This part of Clerkenwell is inexplicably filled with questionable gyros and souvlaki joints, but the cleverness of Catalyst is to use expected ingredients in unexpected ways. Take the katsu sando, which is at heart a halloumi sandwich, except here three fingers have been breaded Birdseye style and come with a fried egg, plum ketchup, politiki — a pickled version of a cabbage salad whose name refers to Constantinople — and a coffee sriracha made from the grounds of whatever coffee is just in. In a single sandwich, references to Greece, Turkey, the UK, Australia and Thailand. The other sandwiches are as good: tartare sauce on thick cut bacon and egg; sausage with gravy and pickles; black pudding with XO sauce and Ogleshield oozing like cheese wiz; but it’s the bar snacks on late Thursday and Friday that set them apart in ambition. Whether it’s marinated raw prawns with persimmon and chestnut, monkfish with a pasta made from trahanas, a ferment of grains and dairy, or a whole côte de boeuf cooked on open flame, it’s soon apparent that Catalyst is not just a coffee shop, and is putting out some of the most inventive food in the Holborn/Clerkenwell area.

48 Grays Inn Rd, Chancery Ln, Holborn
London WC1X 8LT, UK

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