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London’s best Caribbean jerk: Smokey Jerkey restaurant on New Cross Road
Jerk chicken at Smokey Jerkey restaurant on New Cross Road
Riaz Phillips/London

The Best-Value Restaurants in South East London

Peerless Kurdish mezze, Nigerian suya, Jamaican seafood, and more

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Jerk chicken at Smokey Jerkey restaurant on New Cross Road
| Riaz Phillips/London

No area of London has been as unfairly ignored as its south east. Perhaps it’s the big blank white space on a tube map that means many north Londoners’ conception of the city stops at Bermondsey (hint: just get the rail). Perhaps it’s because the communities most visible in the south east are those whose food lies at the bottom of what food theorist Krishnendu Ray calls “the hierarchy of taste” and haven’t yet convinced British “tastemakers” and “gatekeepers” that certain cuisines are yet worth eating, talking, and writing about.

Although their restaurants rarely receive exposure, the backbone of south east London is its West African and Caribbean communities. Their restaurants, cafes, takeaways, bukas, suya spots, jerk centres and roti huts are what Korean strip malls are to LA and Jewish delis are to New York City. Nigerian London doesn’t stop at Peckham but stretches out like fufu, following the Thames all the way to Erith, while Caribbean communities run deep, to Thornton Heath even, where there are craftspeople putting out barbecue several degrees better than anywhere in central London that charges north of a tenner for burnt ends.

Amid this, exist small pockets of Nepalis in Woolwich, Vietnamese in Deptford, Ethiopian and Eritrean all over, and some of the best British greasy spoons and pie shops run by Italians and Cypriots.

Start at London Bridge or Victoria, and the south east is a Londoner’s oyster.

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Note: Restaurants on this map are listed geographically.

1. The Electric Cafe

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258 Norwood Rd, West Norwood
London SE27 9AJ, UK
020 8670 3114

Truly, there are only so many ways you can fry a sausage, so the real make or break for a greasy spoon connoisseur is the choice of carb to form a buffer between the solids (bacon, sausage, black pudding) and the gloops (egg yolk, beans). Toast is compulsory so it doesn’t count, therefore the standard options are chips (for lunch and for children), hash browns (for Americans and for children) and bubble (correct). Bubble is the aficionado’s choice, and those who subscribe would travel a long way for a breakfast based around it — to Tulse Hill perhaps. Electric has been going since 1932 and like the other great London caffs — Pellicci, Regency, and Alpinos — is run by a proprietor with origins outside the U.K., in this case Stavros Tsoukkas whose Greek-Cypriot family has owned it since 1978. The bubble here shows a little bit of that Mediterranean touch, intensely herby with big enough chunks of Savoy cabbage to stave off scurvy for a day or two, all moulded into a big soft patty fried to a char on both sides that cuts through the oil and fat like a strong cup of tea. Eat it in a setting that feels like is hasn’t changed for donkey’s years, surrounded by wooden signs and assorted arcana from halcyon days, old boys with old accents tucking into liver and onions, and feel grateful that at least someone is preserving it.

2. Little Ochi Seafood Restaurant

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113 Dulwich Rd, Herne Hill
London SE24 0NG, UK
020 7737 7329

Time and space tend to behave themselves in London, but around a small room in Herne Hill, things warp unexpectedly. For one, there’s no menu given at this Jamaican seafood restaurant; instead, it is stuck up on the far wall near a fridge. Actually, there’s no real indication of what to do at all. So here it is: walk directly to that fridge, and pick a fish — red snapper, bream, and sea bass among others. Tell the chef how to cook it: steamed in a sauce made of tomato, thyme, and okra, fried with a side of bammy, or in brown stew with rice and peas. The price will depend on the size of the fish; there are sides: prawns and lobster. Take a seat, and wait. This is a place where whiling away an hour drinking Red Stripes is to partake in the community of a place, not to wait anxiously for a meal; by the time that meal arrives, there is nothing in London that better hits the spot. This is not a restaurant everyone will enjoy, but for those who get it, this is the kind of unaffected simplicity people spend money travelling to Italy and France for, right on Brockwell Park’s doorstep.

3. Zeret Kitchen

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216-218 Camberwell Rd, Camberwell
London SE5 0ED, UK
020 7701 8587

Tafe Beleynah is a magician. Here on a small Brutalist housing estate off the Walworth Road she works alchemy with lentils that any number of molecular gastronomists or meat-free burger companies would sell their soul to learn the secret of. Although this is not a vegan restaurant, it’s easy to have a completely meat- and dairy-free meal here, where Beleynah’s Ethiopean and Eritrean dishes can be soaked up by the thousand eyes of teff-based injera, made in-house, of course. The no-brainer to get is the house special vegan selection, which gives a generous amount of all of Beleynah’s vegan stews, including the misir wat — lentils spiced with berbere — which has the uncanny meaty depth of a slow-cooked ragu. Of the house selection, the defin misir wat, a much milder lentil stew, has a rich, acidic butteriness that approximates a cottage cheese, while actual cottage cheese crops up in an outstanding kitfo that only just cooks the small cubes of beef until they are bouncy and rich. Despite all this, the best dish may actually be the dulet, the most obviously meaty thing on the menu, that combines kidneys and tripe finely chopped into springy, savoury anonymity that could convince even the most ardant offal sceptic.

Injera with Ethiopian stews Rich Kaszeta

4. Tasty Jerk

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88 Whitehorse Ln, South Norwood
London SE25 6RQ, UK
020 8653 3222

Biting into a piece of jerk pork at Tasty Jerk, a smoke-filled shack in the shadow of Selhurst Park, it’s possible to taste the long, careful cooking of the meat, the complexity of the marinade, the sting of scotch bonnets, the breakdown of connective tissue, the fat rendering and crisping, soft as chicharron and sweeter and more delicious than any siu yuk in the city. But it’s possible to taste more than this. It’s possible to taste the seasoning on those three blackened drums, notes of char, of soot, of black oil and petroleum, of the dying embers whose smoke penetrates every strand of meat and rushes into the nose and throat at first bite. To know that Murphy Lawrence, one of Tasty Jerk’s owners and a son of Portland, Jamaica, is related to Uton Burke, a legendary jerk master who many of Boston Bay’s most famous spots still proudly claim apprenticeship of, is to taste not just cooking but craftsmanship, to taste heritage that should be protected by UNESCO, to trace a lineage running back to the First Men who decided that with enough wood and space they could cook a whole pig on a spit. Oh, and the chicken’s good too.

5. Nandine

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82 Vestry Rd, Camberwell
London SE5 8PQ, UK

A January listing of this restaurant said: “if London was New York, then this Kurdish cafe would be the subject of food pilgrimages and glossy weekend magazine features”. Since then, Pary Baban and her family have slowly built a Camberwell/Peckham empire, adding a restaurant on Church Street to the Vestry Road cafe, Peckham Levels concession, and an Elephant and Castle coffee stand — and two glossy magazine features. What marks Nandine apart is the level of soul, skill, and care put into the food on an almost microscopic level: it’s one thing to make hummus well, but it’s another to nail each of the eleven components of their vegetarian mezze, from the vine leaves to the qawarma. Even simple rice or cabbage dishes are elevated through judicious use of fresh herbs like dill, mint, and parsley. Boreks, both triangular and spiral, can be bought from the counter, and a Kurdish breakfast comprising in-house yoghurt, white cheese, fig jam, honey, bread, and salad is somehow simultaneously frugal and completely luxurious.

A Kurdish mezze platter at Nandine Nandine [Official Photo]

6. Alhaji SUYA

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15 Peckham Park Rd
London SE15 6TR, UK
020 7732 3900

When Abdullahi Maikano opened Alhaji Suya just over a year ago it was a huge deal for the London Hausa community who finally had one of their own owning and operating a restaurant dedicated to a Hausa speciality. In that time Maikano has become the indisputable king of suya in London. Beef, lamb, and chicken are the standard options here, cooked on the long barbecue at 45 degrees, flattened into Bible page sized parchments of meat, rested then finished to order on an electric grill to develop a crust. There are also, occasionally, gizzards and kidneys, but it’s the fatty cut of tozo (beef), veal-like in its colour and texture, which melts on the tongue, providing it is eaten straight off the grill while the homemade yaji is still aromatic and volatile, provoking a nasal rush that is almost ecstatic. Always ask for kilishi if he has it, a type of jerky made from dried, flattened muscle, the bright purple colour of a bruise, that packs a sweet heat that builds and builds and builds. Not just a great suya spot but one of the best takeaways of any kind in London.

A spread of Hausa suya, grilled beef spiced with yaji, served on white plates with a salad of lettuce, tomato, and raw onion. Alhaji Suya/Uber Eats

7. Smokey Jerkey 2 London

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158 New Cross Rd
London SE14 5BA, UK
07946 233176

Half an hour after opening, the jerk lamb has run out at Smokey Jerkey in New Cross and three young customers are distraught. “Nah, chicken is dead fam,” one of them replies on being told of the alternatives. Of course, the chicken here isn’t “dead” — it is good — but to understand his pain it’s necessary to taste the lamb first. If the pork and chicken are as good as any other jerk shop in London, then the lamb is untouchable: long marinated in cayenne chillis instead of scotch bonnets and slow cooked in big cuts on owner Louie MacPherson’s custom-made furnace that thrives on hickory wood and charcoal smoke. The lamb is then presented chopped up — breasts, ribs and chops — sweet chewy bark giving way to soft meat marked by a pink perimeter under the char, an emphasis on the taste of flesh, fat, smoke and the hours long breakdown of connective tissue that defines the best barbecue. The meats here can stand up by themselves but those who do want heat can add Louie’s scorpion sauce at the counter which rather than burning slow and long on the tongue, is capable of piercing right through it.

London’s best Caribbean jerk: Smokey Jerkey restaurant on New Cross Road Riaz Phillips/London

8. Eat Vietnam bar-b-grill

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234 Evelyn St, Deptford
London SE8 5BZ, UK

Once upon a time, around 2010 or so, south east London was home to the most impressive concentration of Vietnamese restaurants in the city, essentially holes in the walls of Deptford High Street. Quan Viet’s La Vong fish that even made a virtue out of dill, the devil’s own herb; Chung Viet’s noodle soups of astonishing clarity, the kind that would quell homesick Parisians; Pho Hanoi’s light and crispy banh xeo stuffed with bouncy prawns and beansprouts. All those meals will be lost in time, like tears in pho. Time to move on. On Evelyn St there is a new flourishing: Cafe Mama Pho for those in the mood for soup and Eat Vietnam, a barbecue specialist. Nem nuong nha trang come correct as dense, adana-like pork skewers, to be wrapped in lettuce and herbs, while suon heo nuong from the BBQ section is a whole rack of crunchy back ribs, the sweetness of the glaze almost evoking Americana if it wasn’t for the sobering hit of anise. The chef is from south Vietnam and its the Vung Tau specialist banh khot that shouldn’t be missed here: small cups of batter the same size and shape as Anna Higham’s brown butter cakes at Flor, sweet with coconut milk and fried with a splayed prawn as the literal icing on top. It’s not exactly a crowded field but this is one of London’s best Vietnamese restaurants right now.

Eat Vietnam is one of south east London’s best value restaurants Eat Vietnam [Official Photo]

9. Manze's

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204 Deptford High St, Deptford
London SE8 3PR, UK

Manze’s is never going to change anyone’s opinion on pie and mash. While places like Goddards in Greenwich are innovating with various degrees of success, adding different pies (welcome), extra spicy chilli vinegar (extremely welcome) and baked beans (an atrocity), Manze’s sticks to the two “indigenous” London foods that it’s been serving since Italian Michele Manze came over from Ravello and opened up shop in 1902: pie, mash and liquor, and eels. Either you were brought up on this food and buy into its lore, the fork and spoons (knives are provided solely to weed out the daytrippers), the gummy pies and pappy mash, smeared round the edge of the plate, a bulwark to keep out the seepage of mucilaginous Kermit-green liquor. Or you regard it as the culinary equivalent of Brexit. Manze’s is nostalgia, it’s baby food nonpareil, it’s lineage and tradition, it’s London culture to the hilt. The fact of whether it’s good or not (and to be clear, it is actually very good) is almost immaterial, it should be compulsory for any Londoner who likes food to go to Manze’s at least once a year and order a double pie and mash, dowse it with the oddly Chinese condiments (chilli vinegar and white pepper) and pray that they don’t all move to Essex.

Manze’s pie and mash shop, one of the best restaurants in Deptford, south east London Photo by Oli Scarff/Getty Images

10. Chaconia

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26 Deptford High St, Deptford
London SE8 4AF, UK

Deptford is often spoken about as the new Dalston by those who think another Neo Dalston is a good thing. Walk around the station and the taprooms and cafes show a side of Deptford unrecognisable even ten years ago, such is the pace of change. But there are names, like the ravens in the Tower, whose presence means there is still a bit of old Deptford left. To the names of Manzes and AJ Goddard (RIP) it’s possible to add another: Una. Chaconia, named for the flower of Trinidad, is Una’s baby, and it is often treated as a labour of love or a hobby with erratic opening hours and a menu which is never quite always fully available. There is a lot of generosity too, but this “is still a business, not a church”. Both the rotis themselves, pliant and pillowy, and the fillings of perfectly spiced goat curries or potato and spinach, are completely made in-house, and are fuel for the whole day, especially when paired with a fried bake and Una’s pepper sauce. [Una is currently on a well deserved holiday and will update her hours as soon as she’s back.]

Best Indo-Caribbean roti in London: Chaconia restaurant in Deptford Chaconia [Official Photo]

11. Everest Curry King Restaurant London

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24 Loampit Hill
London SE13 7SW, UK
020 8691 2233

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single Londoner in possession of a tenner must be in want of a restaurant somewhere on a pedestrianised section of an A road. Before it becomes a dual carriageway, the Lewisham section A20 is home to one of south-east London’s certified gems in Everest Curry King — a Tamil canteen where curries are arrayed behind glass and heated up,  authentically, in the microwave to order. The best thing to do is get a selection (four vegetable or a meat/fish and two vegetable) and choose between skilfully spiced pumpkin, okra, and beetroot curries or comforting yellow daal. The highest compliment to give the kingfish curry is that it tastes completely homestyle, without any showboating, but the best of vegetarian options is an outstanding aubergine and chickpea number: the aubergine cooked beyond the point of Maillard reaction until it has the bitter chew of licorice with skin the texture of Japanese lacquerware. Outside of this, the kothu puttu rotis are a highlight, made to order (listen out for the machete clanking in the back), and uplifted by the heat and crunch of raw chilli and onion, while the highlights of the snacks is a bulging, breaded cutlet of mashed fish, pregnant with a whole boiled egg.

Lamb curry and chickpea curry with white rice at Everest Curry King, one of the best places to eat in Lewisham Fowl Mouths Food/Instagram

12. Kailash Momo

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79 Woolwich New Rd, Woolwich
London SE18 6ED, UK

Walk from Plumstead to Woolwich to read the signs of the significant Nepali community that has built up here, in this pocket of London where the Thames grows wide. The Pashupatinath temple just off Winn’s common is the first of its kind in Europe and from here to Royal Arsenal (once a munitions factory and now an arch, a couple of pub chains, luxury riverside homes, and a farmers market) the Gurkhas who were granted housing in the area make their presence known not with kukris but with momos and soup noodles. Kailash Momo near the station is one of the busiest in the area, and the extensive menu has something for everyone, soaking up Tibetan, Nepali, Indian, and Chinese influences. The namesake momos are actually not the strongest point; better to get set lunches of “crazy” fried meats to be eaten with dried chiura (flattened rice), as well as generous thalis with adroitly spiced lamb, chickpea and lentil curries and pickled potatoes (aloo ko achar). Those in the mood for thukpa should head back down the road to Plumstead’s D Namaste, but the thenthuk is excellent, with ribbons of thick cut noodles similar to Chinese dao xiao mian all in a complex, acidic broth.

The best restaurants in Woolwich and Plumstead Hill, south east London: Kailash Momo Kailash Momo/Facebook

13. Blue Nile

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73 Woolwich New Rd, Woolwich
London SE18 6ED, UK

It seems to be no coincidence that one of the most beautiful London cafes has been created by an architect couple from Asmara, Eritrea’s capital whose unique Art Deco architecture has outlasted the Italians who designed it. Indeed Eritrea has been more willing than other countries to embrace their colonial rubble by turning them into heritage, and this is as visible in the food as the buildings. Inside Blue Nile, sensitively restored by Jon and Nina from the old W. Geller sausage shop, there are white tiles, low lights, Giro d’Eritrea posters, and a chart translating Ge’ez script into English. Meanwhile, Italy punctures the now-familiar menu of stews and injera with unfamiliar berbere-spiced pastas, tiramisu, affogato, and Peroni.

Jon’s mother Shewa is responsible for most of the cooking here, tending towards (but not exclusively) vegetarian with complex, nimble spicing in a dish of tumtumo (lentils) and a heavier hand in the brick-red silsi that serves both as a sauce and a dish in itself, enlivening a mixed platter of mixed vegetable dishes served on wine-gum sour injera, made in-house. Make sure to end (or begin) with some kemem tea — which is not a tea but a grounding infusion of many of the spices used in the cooking itself.

14. Maya DD's Restaurant

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25 Anglesea Rd, Woolwich
London SE18 6EG, UK

Where, in the pantheon of dumplings to put momos, then? Those Iced Gem pleats that can be served boiled, fried, souped, drenched in sweet chilli, or bobbing in a tangy Nik-Nak orange pickled curry? Quite highly, to be honest. In fact its their versatility that put them close to god tier, the fact it’s possible to order four or five variations and still not feel fatigued. The best dumplings in Woolwich are found at Maya DDs, round the corner from Kailash Momo and Blue Nile, where the jhol momos (that pickled number) is the pick of the bunch. Tripe (bhutan) can be ordered stir fried but is even better in the deep fried crispy version, coming out as Cthulhu-like tentacles, crisper than chicharron due to the high fat content and the surface area where each frill has turned into a little spike of batter. Of note are also the chatamari, often called Nepali pizzas by people who have never seen a pizza. In actual fact these rice crepes are more like Vietnamese banh xeo, stuffed with beans, potato and chicken mince and served with a mutton curry on the side to cut through the stodge. If any Nepali restaurant in Woolwich is worth the DLR ride it’s this one.

The best restaurants in Woolwich and Plumstead Hill, south east London: Maya DD’s Maya DD’s/Facebook

15. K's Spice African Restaurant

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13 Pier Rd
Erith DA8 1TA, UK

Mention Erith to a Londoner and you will get a few stock responses. “Where?” is the most common, “Isn’t that in Gondor?” is another. Lena Dunham might fall asleep and wake up on Brighton Beach, but a Londoner might mistakenly take the night bus all the way to Erith in a drunken stupor, where the buildings melt away and the mighty Thames looks like a sea separating Kent and Essex. Sometimes it’s worth riding buses to their termini — Erith feels like Kent but it has one of the biggest Nigerian communities in the U.K. And an unlikely restaurant scene. While creamy lamb rib suya can be found over at Korede’s Suya Spot, at K’s African Spice the focus is on Yoruba soups and stews. A steady stream of customers come to take away fierce pepper soups or complex stews made from egusi or okro, while there are uncles and aunties eating in who can expertly mould glossy balls of pounded yam the colour of unhewn marble into improvised scoops with more sprezzatura than any Italian. Perhaps Erith is too far away and not concentrated enough to be a restaurant destination...yet, but it is a reminder that London is still London right up until the ends, and the ends of the ends.

K’s Spice K’s Spice [Official Photo]

1. The Electric Cafe

258 Norwood Rd, West Norwood, London SE27 9AJ, UK

Truly, there are only so many ways you can fry a sausage, so the real make or break for a greasy spoon connoisseur is the choice of carb to form a buffer between the solids (bacon, sausage, black pudding) and the gloops (egg yolk, beans). Toast is compulsory so it doesn’t count, therefore the standard options are chips (for lunch and for children), hash browns (for Americans and for children) and bubble (correct). Bubble is the aficionado’s choice, and those who subscribe would travel a long way for a breakfast based around it — to Tulse Hill perhaps. Electric has been going since 1932 and like the other great London caffs — Pellicci, Regency, and Alpinos — is run by a proprietor with origins outside the U.K., in this case Stavros Tsoukkas whose Greek-Cypriot family has owned it since 1978. The bubble here shows a little bit of that Mediterranean touch, intensely herby with big enough chunks of Savoy cabbage to stave off scurvy for a day or two, all moulded into a big soft patty fried to a char on both sides that cuts through the oil and fat like a strong cup of tea. Eat it in a setting that feels like is hasn’t changed for donkey’s years, surrounded by wooden signs and assorted arcana from halcyon days, old boys with old accents tucking into liver and onions, and feel grateful that at least someone is preserving it.

258 Norwood Rd, West Norwood
London SE27 9AJ, UK

2. Little Ochi Seafood Restaurant

113 Dulwich Rd, Herne Hill, London SE24 0NG, UK

Time and space tend to behave themselves in London, but around a small room in Herne Hill, things warp unexpectedly. For one, there’s no menu given at this Jamaican seafood restaurant; instead, it is stuck up on the far wall near a fridge. Actually, there’s no real indication of what to do at all. So here it is: walk directly to that fridge, and pick a fish — red snapper, bream, and sea bass among others. Tell the chef how to cook it: steamed in a sauce made of tomato, thyme, and okra, fried with a side of bammy, or in brown stew with rice and peas. The price will depend on the size of the fish; there are sides: prawns and lobster. Take a seat, and wait. This is a place where whiling away an hour drinking Red Stripes is to partake in the community of a place, not to wait anxiously for a meal; by the time that meal arrives, there is nothing in London that better hits the spot. This is not a restaurant everyone will enjoy, but for those who get it, this is the kind of unaffected simplicity people spend money travelling to Italy and France for, right on Brockwell Park’s doorstep.

113 Dulwich Rd, Herne Hill
London SE24 0NG, UK

3. Zeret Kitchen

216-218 Camberwell Rd, Camberwell, London SE5 0ED, UK
Injera with Ethiopian stews Rich Kaszeta

Tafe Beleynah is a magician. Here on a small Brutalist housing estate off the Walworth Road she works alchemy with lentils that any number of molecular gastronomists or meat-free burger companies would sell their soul to learn the secret of. Although this is not a vegan restaurant, it’s easy to have a completely meat- and dairy-free meal here, where Beleynah’s Ethiopean and Eritrean dishes can be soaked up by the thousand eyes of teff-based injera, made in-house, of course. The no-brainer to get is the house special vegan selection, which gives a generous amount of all of Beleynah’s vegan stews, including the misir wat — lentils spiced with berbere — which has the uncanny meaty depth of a slow-cooked ragu. Of the house selection, the defin misir wat, a much milder lentil stew, has a rich, acidic butteriness that approximates a cottage cheese, while actual cottage cheese crops up in an outstanding kitfo that only just cooks the small cubes of beef until they are bouncy and rich. Despite all this, the best dish may actually be the dulet, the most obviously meaty thing on the menu, that combines kidneys and tripe finely chopped into springy, savoury anonymity that could convince even the most ardant offal sceptic.

216-218 Camberwell Rd, Camberwell
London SE5 0ED, UK

4. Tasty Jerk

88 Whitehorse Ln, South Norwood, London SE25 6RQ, UK

Biting into a piece of jerk pork at Tasty Jerk, a smoke-filled shack in the shadow of Selhurst Park, it’s possible to taste the long, careful cooking of the meat, the complexity of the marinade, the sting of scotch bonnets, the breakdown of connective tissue, the fat rendering and crisping, soft as chicharron and sweeter and more delicious than any siu yuk in the city. But it’s possible to taste more than this. It’s possible to taste the seasoning on those three blackened drums, notes of char, of soot, of black oil and petroleum, of the dying embers whose smoke penetrates every strand of meat and rushes into the nose and throat at first bite. To know that Murphy Lawrence, one of Tasty Jerk’s owners and a son of Portland, Jamaica, is related to Uton Burke, a legendary jerk master who many of Boston Bay’s most famous spots still proudly claim apprenticeship of, is to taste not just cooking but craftsmanship, to taste heritage that should be protected by UNESCO, to trace a lineage running back to the First Men who decided that with enough wood and space they could cook a whole pig on a spit. Oh, and the chicken’s good too.

88 Whitehorse Ln, South Norwood
London SE25 6RQ, UK

5. Nandine

82 Vestry Rd, Camberwell, London SE5 8PQ, UK
A Kurdish mezze platter at Nandine Nandine [Official Photo]

A January listing of this restaurant said: “if London was New York, then this Kurdish cafe would be the subject of food pilgrimages and glossy weekend magazine features”. Since then, Pary Baban and her family have slowly built a Camberwell/Peckham empire, adding a restaurant on Church Street to the Vestry Road cafe, Peckham Levels concession, and an Elephant and Castle coffee stand — and two glossy magazine features. What marks Nandine apart is the level of soul, skill, and care put into the food on an almost microscopic level: it’s one thing to make hummus well, but it’s another to nail each of the eleven components of their vegetarian mezze, from the vine leaves to the qawarma. Even simple rice or cabbage dishes are elevated through judicious use of fresh herbs like dill, mint, and parsley. Boreks, both triangular and spiral, can be bought from the counter, and a Kurdish breakfast comprising in-house yoghurt, white cheese, fig jam, honey, bread, and salad is somehow simultaneously frugal and completely luxurious.

82 Vestry Rd, Camberwell
London SE5 8PQ, UK

6. Alhaji SUYA

15 Peckham Park Rd, London SE15 6TR, UK
A spread of Hausa suya, grilled beef spiced with yaji, served on white plates with a salad of lettuce, tomato, and raw onion. Alhaji Suya/Uber Eats

When Abdullahi Maikano opened Alhaji Suya just over a year ago it was a huge deal for the London Hausa community who finally had one of their own owning and operating a restaurant dedicated to a Hausa speciality. In that time Maikano has become the indisputable king of suya in London. Beef, lamb, and chicken are the standard options here, cooked on the long barbecue at 45 degrees, flattened into Bible page sized parchments of meat, rested then finished to order on an electric grill to develop a crust. There are also, occasionally, gizzards and kidneys, but it’s the fatty cut of tozo (beef), veal-like in its colour and texture, which melts on the tongue, providing it is eaten straight off the grill while the homemade yaji is still aromatic and volatile, provoking a nasal rush that is almost ecstatic. Always ask for kilishi if he has it, a type of jerky made from dried, flattened muscle, the bright purple colour of a bruise, that packs a sweet heat that builds and builds and builds. Not just a great suya spot but one of the best takeaways of any kind in London.

15 Peckham Park Rd
London SE15 6TR, UK

7. Smokey Jerkey 2 London

158 New Cross Rd, London SE14 5BA, UK
London’s best Caribbean jerk: Smokey Jerkey restaurant on New Cross Road Riaz Phillips/London

Half an hour after opening, the jerk lamb has run out at Smokey Jerkey in New Cross and three young customers are distraught. “Nah, chicken is dead fam,” one of them replies on being told of the alternatives. Of course, the chicken here isn’t “dead” — it is good — but to understand his pain it’s necessary to taste the lamb first. If the pork and chicken are as good as any other jerk shop in London, then the lamb is untouchable: long marinated in cayenne chillis instead of scotch bonnets and slow cooked in big cuts on owner Louie MacPherson’s custom-made furnace that thrives on hickory wood and charcoal smoke. The lamb is then presented chopped up — breasts, ribs and chops — sweet chewy bark giving way to soft meat marked by a pink perimeter under the char, an emphasis on the taste of flesh, fat, smoke and the hours long breakdown of connective tissue that defines the best barbecue. The meats here can stand up by themselves but those who do want heat can add Louie’s scorpion sauce at the counter which rather than burning slow and long on the tongue, is capable of piercing right through it.

158 New Cross Rd
London SE14 5BA, UK

8. Eat Vietnam bar-b-grill

234 Evelyn St, Deptford, London SE8 5BZ, UK
Eat Vietnam is one of south east London’s best value restaurants Eat Vietnam [Official Photo]

Once upon a time, around 2010 or so, south east London was home to the most impressive concentration of Vietnamese restaurants in the city, essentially holes in the walls of Deptford High Street. Quan Viet’s La Vong fish that even made a virtue out of dill, the devil’s own herb; Chung Viet’s noodle soups of astonishing clarity, the kind that would quell homesick Parisians; Pho Hanoi’s light and crispy banh xeo stuffed with bouncy prawns and beansprouts. All those meals will be lost in time, like tears in pho. Time to move on. On Evelyn St there is a new flourishing: Cafe Mama Pho for those in the mood for soup and Eat Vietnam, a barbecue specialist. Nem nuong nha trang come correct as dense, adana-like pork skewers, to be wrapped in lettuce and herbs, while suon heo nuong from the BBQ section is a whole rack of crunchy back ribs, the sweetness of the glaze almost evoking Americana if it wasn’t for the sobering hit of anise. The chef is from south Vietnam and its the Vung Tau specialist banh khot that shouldn’t be missed here: small cups of batter the same size and shape as Anna Higham’s brown butter cakes at Flor, sweet with coconut milk and fried with a splayed prawn as the literal icing on top. It’s not exactly a crowded field but this is one of London’s best Vietnamese restaurants right now.

234 Evelyn St, Deptford
London SE8 5BZ, UK

9. Manze's

204 Deptford High St, Deptford, London SE8 3PR, UK
Manze’s pie and mash shop, one of the best restaurants in Deptford, south east London Photo by Oli Scarff/Getty Images

Manze’s is never going to change anyone’s opinion on pie and mash. While places like Goddards in Greenwich are innovating with various degrees of success, adding different pies (welcome), extra spicy chilli vinegar (extremely welcome) and baked beans (an atrocity), Manze’s sticks to the two “indigenous” London foods that it’s been serving since Italian Michele Manze came over from Ravello and opened up shop in 1902: pie, mash and liquor, and eels. Either you were brought up on this food and buy into its lore, the fork and spoons (knives are provided solely to weed out the daytrippers), the gummy pies and pappy mash, smeared round the edge of the plate, a bulwark to keep out the seepage of mucilaginous Kermit-green liquor. Or you regard it as the culinary equivalent of Brexit. Manze’s is nostalgia, it’s baby food nonpareil, it’s lineage and tradition, it’s London culture to the hilt. The fact of whether it’s good or not (and to be clear, it is actually very good) is almost immaterial, it should be compulsory for any Londoner who likes food to go to Manze’s at least once a year and order a double pie and mash, dowse it with the oddly Chinese condiments (chilli vinegar and white pepper) and pray that they don’t all move to Essex.

204 Deptford High St, Deptford
London SE8 3PR, UK

10. Chaconia

26 Deptford High St, Deptford, London SE8 4AF, UK
Best Indo-Caribbean roti in London: Chaconia restaurant in Deptford Chaconia [Official Photo]

Deptford is often spoken about as the new Dalston by those who think another Neo Dalston is a good thing. Walk around the station and the taprooms and cafes show a side of Deptford unrecognisable even ten years ago, such is the pace of change. But there are names, like the ravens in the Tower, whose presence means there is still a bit of old Deptford left. To the names of Manzes and AJ Goddard (RIP) it’s possible to add another: Una. Chaconia, named for the flower of Trinidad, is Una’s baby, and it is often treated as a labour of love or a hobby with erratic opening hours and a menu which is never quite always fully available. There is a lot of generosity too, but this “is still a business, not a church”. Both the rotis themselves, pliant and pillowy, and the fillings of perfectly spiced goat curries or potato and spinach, are completely made in-house, and are fuel for the whole day, especially when paired with a fried bake and Una’s pepper sauce. [Una is currently on a well deserved holiday and will update her hours as soon as she’s back.]

26 Deptford High St, Deptford
London SE8 4AF, UK

11. Everest Curry King Restaurant London

24 Loampit Hill, London SE13 7SW, UK
Lamb curry and chickpea curry with white rice at Everest Curry King, one of the best places to eat in Lewisham Fowl Mouths Food/Instagram

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single Londoner in possession of a tenner must be in want of a restaurant somewhere on a pedestrianised section of an A road. Before it becomes a dual carriageway, the Lewisham section A20 is home to one of south-east London’s certified gems in Everest Curry King — a Tamil canteen where curries are arrayed behind glass and heated up,  authentically, in the microwave to order. The best thing to do is get a selection (four vegetable or a meat/fish and two vegetable) and choose between skilfully spiced pumpkin, okra, and beetroot curries or comforting yellow daal. The highest compliment to give the kingfish curry is that it tastes completely homestyle, without any showboating, but the best of vegetarian options is an outstanding aubergine and chickpea number: the aubergine cooked beyond the point of Maillard reaction until it has the bitter chew of licorice with skin the texture of Japanese lacquerware. Outside of this, the kothu puttu rotis are a highlight, made to order (listen out for the machete clanking in the back), and uplifted by the heat and crunch of raw chilli and onion, while the highlights of the snacks is a bulging, breaded cutlet of mashed fish, pregnant with a whole boiled egg.

24 Loampit Hill
London SE13 7SW, UK

12. Kailash Momo

79 Woolwich New Rd, Woolwich, London SE18 6ED, UK
The best restaurants in Woolwich and Plumstead Hill, south east London: Kailash Momo Kailash Momo/Facebook

Walk from Plumstead to Woolwich to read the signs of the significant Nepali community that has built up here, in this pocket of London where the Thames grows wide. The Pashupatinath temple just off Winn’s common is the first of its kind in Europe and from here to Royal Arsenal (once a munitions factory and now an arch, a couple of pub chains, luxury riverside homes, and a farmers market) the Gurkhas who were granted housing in the area make their presence known not with kukris but with momos and soup noodles. Kailash Momo near the station is one of the busiest in the area, and the extensive menu has something for everyone, soaking up Tibetan, Nepali, Indian, and Chinese influences. The namesake momos are actually not the strongest point; better to get set lunches of “crazy” fried meats to be eaten with dried chiura (flattened rice), as well as generous thalis with adroitly spiced lamb, chickpea and lentil curries and pickled potatoes (aloo ko achar). Those in the mood for thukpa should head back down the road to Plumstead’s D Namaste, but the thenthuk is excellent, with ribbons of thick cut noodles similar to Chinese dao xiao mian all in a complex, acidic broth.

79 Woolwich New Rd, Woolwich
London SE18 6ED, UK

13. Blue Nile

73 Woolwich New Rd, Woolwich, London SE18 6ED, UK

It seems to be no coincidence that one of the most beautiful London cafes has been created by an architect couple from Asmara, Eritrea’s capital whose unique Art Deco architecture has outlasted the Italians who designed it. Indeed Eritrea has been more willing than other countries to embrace their colonial rubble by turning them into heritage, and this is as visible in the food as the buildings. Inside Blue Nile, sensitively restored by Jon and Nina from the old W. Geller sausage shop, there are white tiles, low lights, Giro d’Eritrea posters, and a chart translating Ge’ez script into English. Meanwhile, Italy punctures the now-familiar menu of stews and injera with unfamiliar berbere-spiced pastas, tiramisu, affogato, and Peroni.

Jon’s mother Shewa is responsible for most of the cooking here, tending towards (but not exclusively) vegetarian with complex, nimble spicing in a dish of tumtumo (lentils) and a heavier hand in the brick-red silsi that serves both as a sauce and a dish in itself, enlivening a mixed platter of mixed vegetable dishes served on wine-gum sour injera, made in-house. Make sure to end (or begin) with some kemem tea — which is not a tea but a grounding infusion of many of the spices used in the cooking itself.

73 Woolwich New Rd, Woolwich
London SE18 6ED, UK

14. Maya DD's Restaurant

25 Anglesea Rd, Woolwich, London SE18 6EG, UK
The best restaurants in Woolwich and Plumstead Hill, south east London: Maya DD’s Maya DD’s/Facebook

Where, in the pantheon of dumplings to put momos, then? Those Iced Gem pleats that can be served boiled, fried, souped, drenched in sweet chilli, or bobbing in a tangy Nik-Nak orange pickled curry? Quite highly, to be honest. In fact its their versatility that put them close to god tier, the fact it’s possible to order four or five variations and still not feel fatigued. The best dumplings in Woolwich are found at Maya DDs, round the corner from Kailash Momo and Blue Nile, where the jhol momos (that pickled number) is the pick of the bunch. Tripe (bhutan) can be ordered stir fried but is even better in the deep fried crispy version, coming out as Cthulhu-like tentacles, crisper than chicharron due to the high fat content and the surface area where each frill has turned into a little spike of batter. Of note are also the chatamari, often called Nepali pizzas by people who have never seen a pizza. In actual fact these rice crepes are more like Vietnamese banh xeo, stuffed with beans, potato and chicken mince and served with a mutton curry on the side to cut through the stodge. If any Nepali restaurant in Woolwich is worth the DLR ride it’s this one.

25 Anglesea Rd, Woolwich
London SE18 6EG, UK

15. K's Spice African Restaurant

13 Pier Rd, Erith DA8 1TA, UK
K’s Spice K’s Spice [Official Photo]

Mention Erith to a Londoner and you will get a few stock responses. “Where?” is the most common, “Isn’t that in Gondor?” is another. Lena Dunham might fall asleep and wake up on Brighton Beach, but a Londoner might mistakenly take the night bus all the way to Erith in a drunken stupor, where the buildings melt away and the mighty Thames looks like a sea separating Kent and Essex. Sometimes it’s worth riding buses to their termini — Erith feels like Kent but it has one of the biggest Nigerian communities in the U.K. And an unlikely restaurant scene. While creamy lamb rib suya can be found over at Korede’s Suya Spot, at K’s African Spice the focus is on Yoruba soups and stews. A steady stream of customers come to take away fierce pepper soups or complex stews made from egusi or okro, while there are uncles and aunties eating in who can expertly mould glossy balls of pounded yam the colour of unhewn marble into improvised scoops with more sprezzatura than any Italian. Perhaps Erith is too far away and not concentrated enough to be a restaurant destination...yet, but it is a reminder that London is still London right up until the ends, and the ends of the ends.

13 Pier Rd
Erith DA8 1TA, UK

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