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Kabuli pulao at Namak Mandi, a sweet and savoury rice at meat dish, with Afghan influences, served at Namak Mandi, a Pakistani restaurant in Tooting, south London
Kabuli pulao at Namak Mandi
Ejatu Shaw

The Best-Value Restaurants in South West London

London’s best Korean restaurants, Trinidadian doubles, Pakistani karahis, and mofongo

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Kabuli pulao at Namak Mandi
| Ejatu Shaw

Does south west London have a fixed identity? Does any area of London? South west never gets coded as anything in particular — one rarely hears of the “south west metropolitan liberal elite”, or of a hip south west London bar. Nor does it have the perpetual underdog status south east London has. This swathe of London contains within it the affluence and banality of Wimbledon, Richmond, and Clapham, but it’s also where Dave rolled around on Mitcham Lane between Streatham and Tooting. And Wiley wasn’t caught slipping in East Sheen. South west London is fragmented, in identity and in area, and so is its food. Rumours that Bourdain wanted to film a Parts Unknown episode in Croydon remain unfounded, but south west’s uncharted territory and offside postcodes means many of its best restaurants have slipped between the cracks and not been picked up — that pocket of Peshawari restaurants in Norbury, a new Somali enclave in Streatham, Latins and Caribbeans in post-gentrification Brixton, Little Ghana in Mitcham and Sutton, a Tooting that can count two markets, a mayor, and some of London’s most exciting Pakistani food, and best of all, the urban prank that places London’s K-Town about five kilometres away from Surrey.

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Note: Restaurants on this map are listed geographically.

1. Imone

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169 High St
New Malden KT3 4BH, UK

The way Londoners speak of New Malden is like the way the British talk about Ireland. They know it’s close, they know it will do them good to visit, they constantly chide themselves for not going, but they never actually go. Part of the problem is that very few people apart from locals go there enough to compare the restaurants, to find out what each one specialises in, who is on the rise and who is in decline. Imone is currently, by a head, the best Korean restaurant in New Malden. The modulation on the banchan betrays a level of care that few places anywhere in London are putting in — a kimchi not fridge cold and not over-fermented but just below body temp, a seasonal pickle like courgette or spaghetti strands of radish that snap with a refreshing acidity. The best dishes on the menu are fish based. Saengsun jjim is a showstopper, a whole whiting in a deeply savoury, spicy sauce, leavened by herbaceous and bitter chrysanthemum greens, while maeungtang has a cleanness and restraint that the very best Korean broths have, backed by a dry anchovy kick and more pearlescent fish. Get on that train.

Saengsun jjim: whole whiting in “a deeply savoury, spicy sauce, leavened by herbaceous and bitter chrysanthemum greens” at Imone, the best restaurant in New Malden
Saengsun jjim: whole whiting in “a deeply savoury, spicy sauce, leavened by herbaceous and bitter chrysanthemum greens”
Jonathan Nunn

2. Chick and Beers

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282 Burlington Rd
New Malden KT3 4NL, UK
020 8942 1932

Korean fried chicken has historically been too sweet, too dry, too wet, undercooked, overcooked, battered incorrectly and just generally put through the wringer in London. Chick and Beers is maybe the first to nail it. There are those who will instinctively go for the sweet and spicy yangnyeom as a matter of principle, the kind of people who will order anything on a menu with five chilli symbols next to it, but this is more sweet than spicy. Instead the simple fried is the best option to start with, plainly seasoned, but worth searching in between the bones for. Really it’s the ganjang —soy — that is worth the journey, the batter sweet enough to be redolent of the honey cornflake cakes that every primary school child has attempted to make, yet saved from overwhelming sugariness by the pungency of garlic and crisped onion, the batter pitched somewhere between craggy and hyper-glossy. A new menu luridly promises fried sticks of spam, an innovation which, when it comes, will make Chick and Beers New Malden’s destination restaurant.

Chick and Beers
Chick and Beers/Facebook

3. Chef Jojo Manalo

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Broadway Market, 1936 Unit, 52 Tooting High St, Tooting
London SW17 0RJ, UK

Walking into Tooting’s markets is like entering a time warp to 2009, when foodies from all over London were flocking to an embryonic Brixton Village, dining at small restaurants taking advantage of low rents. What’s happened to Brixton can be a warning sign for Tooting, but for now modern British and small plates sidle up to diaspora cafes eking out a living at what Jonathan Gold would call the “centre of entry-level capitalism.” Chef Jojo Manalo is one of these cafes: one of three tiny Filipino spots in the market, and currently the best. A regular caterer for Chelsea Football Club, Manalo’s food tends towards the homestyle items even London’s more progressive Filipino chefs miss — a whole whiteboard of -silogs, the breakfasts of sticky garlic rice and fried eggs. Pair them with magenta bullets of sweet longanisa — longsilog — made in house, or oily white fish, split in two and crisped up on the grill — bangsilog. The whiteboard promises specials like pork nilaga, whose soothing garlic and white pepper broth adds necessary levity to rich mains and an astonishingly good kare-kare. Oxtail disintegrates from the bone and melts into sauce sweet with peanut butter and briny from a concentrated, salty hit of chilli and shrimp paste. There are many great dishes in the market, but Manalo’s kare kare is worth a journey all of its own.

Chef Jojo Manalo
Chef Jojo Manalo/Facebook

4. Namak Mandi

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25 Upper Tooting Rd, Tooting
London SW17 7TS, UK
020 8767 6120

Come to Namak Mandi late on a Friday and Saturday night, and the restaurant will still be bustling with well-managed chaos — groups of young men in the carpeted window seats sharing hot, sweet tea, families arguing over who got there first. But waiting is part of the experience at this outstanding Pakistani restaurant specialising in Pashtun cuisine. Everything here is done on a huge scale: the karahis that start their life as a bobbing mass of lamb and whole tomatoes, steamed until they lose their skin and dissolve into the sauce; chapli kebabs like funeral boats in a sea of animal fat, so they arrive moist with a solid centimetre of blackened crust. Only the rooms are small and private, full of people reclining over a communal mat eating sharp charsi karahi or platters of grilled meat. The essential dish is gola karahi, loose and aggressively spiced minced meat kebabs that add a note of char to complete a flawlessly layered sauce shiny with lamb fat. One of London’s best dishes at one of London’s best restaurants.

Kabuli pulao at Namak Mandi, a sweet and savoury rice at meat dish, with Afghan influences, served at Namak Mandi, a Pakistani restaurant in Tooting, south London Ejatu Shaw

5. Pizzeria Pellone London

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42 Lavender Hill, Clapham
London SW11 5RL, UK

There are two schools of thought when it comes to pizza. One says that pizza is a beautiful marriage of bread, tomato sauce, mozzarella and basil, and that all attempts to improve on this have been fools errands. This school also thinks that vanilla is the best flavour of ice cream, and that the invention of salt and vinegar crisps may have been a step too far. The second is those who view the success of a pizza in terms of how many of the toppings would make an Italian nonna cry. Antonio Pellone, with two generations of pizzaiolos behind him on Lavender Hill, may look like the former but is secretly the latter. Yes his margherita is great, his cornicione blistered and his dough both light and digestible, but it’s the second menu of sauceless white “gourmet” pizzas where he shows his mastery. An outstanding signature pizza cossets folds of fatty mortadella offset by the sweetness of a pistachio pesto, hot pink and lemon yellow, perhaps a tribute to Mr Blobby. Or the bufalina gialla, a dance with acidity, lactic from the buffalo mozzarella, malic from sweet yellow datterini, and citric from a spritz of lemon zest. These are inventive, playful pizzas, one degree away from trad but flawlessly executed — even a nonna might laugh, not cry.

Mortadella, basil, and cheese on a pizza seen from a birdseye view, at Pizzeria Pellone
Pizzeria Pellone
Pizzeria Pellone [Official]

6. Somali Town Restaurant

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10 Gleneagle Rd, Streatham
London SW16 6AB, UK
020 8835 8406

Around Streatham rail station, a Little Mogadishu is slowly building, reflecting an influx of Somali immigration, with Somali Town the most promising of all the cafe/restaurants in the cluster. There’s little to announce it as a restaurant, apart from a kitchen in the back but get talking to the owner who will let diners know what he has on the go: normally a choice between chopped meat, steaks and fish served with either rice or pasta — a reminder of that Italian colonial influence. Maraq is provided gratis, a plain, brown cloudy broth of exceptional savouriness, with acidity provided by chunks of lemon. A chopped beef braise comes with onions and the right ratio of lean to fatty meat, with a half portion of rice cooked in meat stock and a half portion of red sauce spaghetti for the indecisive. Three things to note: one, this is best eaten with hands; two, the green bottle on the table is a chilli sauce called basbaas and should be used liberally, and three, don’t be surprised to be served a banana with the meal — how to use it is entirely the diner’s prerogative.

7. Mikrus

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264 Streatham High Rd, Streatham
London SW16 1HS, UK

It’s a shame that Polish food has so often been mischaracterised as cold and austere, a dreary iron curtain hangover, when so much of Polish food culture is such an enormous amount of fun. At Mikrus on Streatham’s resurgent high street, low blue lighting and disco balls make the perfect setting for turbo-folk and sledzik, pickled herring, flush with white onions, white vinegar and dill, the mortuary cold flesh tasting of the icy depths of the North Sea from whence it came. Potato cakes, placuszki, are rosti on protein shakes, thick, light and crunchy, dipped in a small bucket of sour cream or gravy or ideally, both. Mains could feed an army — a knuckle of pork comes with the stickiest, sour molasses of cabbage, catching all the fat from the pork, as if the chef scraped up the caramelised remnants of ten pans just for one portion. Or an escalope the size of Dominic Cummings’s head crowned with salty cheese, or that old stager beef roulade stuffed with bacon and gherkins. Whatever the order, praise the owner’s homemade kompot and expect to receive some very necessary shots of cherry liquor to settle the stomach on the bus ride back.

Mikrus Polish restaurant serves Potato cakes that are “rosti on protein shakes”
Potato cakes: “rosti on protein shakes”
Jonathan Nunn

8. Roti Joupa

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12 Clapham High St, Clapham
London SW4 7UT, UK
020 7627 8637

Roti Joupa’s greatness is no longer a matter for debate, but as one of the few Trinidadian places in London which is part of the canon it’s important to know how to navigate it properly. As expected from the name, Roti Joupa specialises in the Indian side of Trinidad and Tobago’s cuisine, reflecting owner David Parey’s heritage. Pliant rotis are folded over each other as vehicles for curried meats and vegetables, but to come here and only order this would be missing half the fun. It’s actually all about the snacks, which immaculately juggle sweet, sour and savoury. So first of all, order the hot doubles, two fried bara, cumin scented chickpeas and shredded cucumber, with tamarind and pepper sauce on the side. Then the macaroni pie, hot and gooey, and crucially, flooded with tamarind sauce so it’s equally sweet and salty. It may be London’s only truly great mac and cheese. And then for the mains, not the regular roti but the buss-up-shot, a tangle of torn paratha, buttery and caramelised, to have with mashed pumpkin, again glistening with tamarind. If there’s a reason to go to Clapham, it’s this.

The best Trinidadian roti and Caribbean food in London: Fried baras filled with chickpea curry from Roti Joupa on Clapham Common, London
Roti Joupa
Adam Coghlan/Eater London

9. True Flavours Caribbean Cuisine

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101 Acre Ln, Brixton
London SW2 5TU, UK

Acre Lane, that stretch of road between Clapham and Brixton, is often ignored but contains a few areas of interest for those who love food — among them Khamsa for Algerian and newcomers Mikos for a rare sighting of gyros south of the river. The standout is True Flavours, a relatively new (by Jamaican standards, at less than 10 years old) takeaway joint that is permanently busy whether people are inside or not. In the know residents will phone ahead for chef Junior’s cooking, knowing that the warm rack in the back is not for patties but a catalogue of takeaway orders. Oxtail, jerk chicken, fried chicken, fried fish, brown stew chicken — each and every one of these is likely to run out after a canny phone order is placed, but there will always be another tempting option or a small wait for a fresh batch to be made in the well-seasoned cooking pots. The most popular item by far is the pepper steak, charred and singing with thyme, slow cooked until the meat breaks down, served with rice and peas and “jerk pasta,” a massive opportunity missed by a certain celebrity chef.

True Flavours
True Flavours [Official Photo]

10. Asafo Ghanaian Restaurant

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60 Morrish Rd, Streatham Hill
London SW2 4EG, UK
020 8678 8406

One of the best places for restaurant recommendations is diaspora Twitter. Someone will post, “where are all the good London (insert country here) restaurants at?” rolling the dice on a game of one upmanship which always ends in someone saying they don’t exist. One such game in 2015 got a pre-fame Michael Dapaah — of ‘Man’s Not Hot’ notoriety — tweeting “Safari, Gold Coast, Asafo.” The holy trinity of south London’s Ghanaian restaurants. Streatham Hill’s Asafo is a nice contrast to the others, as low-key as Gold Coast is raucous. Kelewele is outstanding, demonstrating that it’s Ghanaians who understand most that the plantain’s innate sweetness must be tempered with spice and char, coming squidgy and almost burnt, like little chunks of sticky fudge dusted with chilli, to pick at while waiting for mains of soups and stews. The wonderfully named Palaver sauce comes with spinach instead of cocoyam leaves, and is so dense with texture and flavour from thickening egusi, beaten egg, and dried fish that it doesn’t need any meat. Then, the bowl of peanut soup, that arrives overflowing with lava-like palm oil, with astonishing depth of flavour coming from cow foot and tripe. If Kate’s Cafe rules the East, and Sweet Handz the North, then it’s Asafo flying the flag for Ghana in the South.

Asafo’s Ghanaian food, at one of the best-value restaurants in south west London Asafo/Uber Eats

11. Charsi Karahi

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1553 London Rd, Norbury
London SW16 4AD, UK

There are two ways to experience the might of Norbury’s Charsi Karahi. The first — the amateur way — is as a sit down restaurant of outstanding Peshawari grills and karahis, everything made fresh and cooked to order by a chef as serenely self-assured as 40 Maltby Street’s Stephen Williams. The second — the go big or go home way — requires some advance notice and a posse of lamb lovers ready to demolish the dum pukht of slow cooked mutton steamed with a sealant of dough, or the whole lamb sajji, which is served resembling a plaster cast of a Pompeii victim, stuffed with rice and a steal at £200 a lamb (plus £30 “corkage” — lambage? — to eat in). Assuming most people are posse-less, make sure there’s enough people to try the mixed grill, in which, unusually, chicken wings are the highlight: tender, spicy, charred; everything wings promise and never are. Or the wreta, chops of mutton weighty with marrow that can be pushed out onto small canoes of naan. Chapli kebabs are exceptional versions — loosely minced, pillow soft and juicy, with coarsely chopped tomato — every bit the equal of Namak Mandi’s, while the eponymous lamb charsi karahi is mildly but cleverly spiced. In a major concession to vegetarianism, the charsi karahi can also be ordered with chicken instead of lamb.

Chicken karahi at Charsi Karahi in Norbury
Charsi karahi at Charsi Karahi
Jonathan Nunn

12. Italo

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13 Bonnington Square, Vauxhall
London SW8 1TE, UK

Italo could so easily be just another middle-class convenience store selling high quality produce unattainable to half the people who live nearby. What it actually is is something much more radical than that: a deli which is entirely subservient to the needs of the close-knit, mixed-economy community of Bonnington Square. There’s a bohemian aspect to Charlie Boxer’s deli, started 10 years ago with friend Luigi Di Lieto (of the family who run the equally excellent Di Lieto) that could veer too much towards luvviness if it wasn’t for the generosity, a place where the staff seem to know every customer’s name and vice versa, where the food has no genre except “stuff you want to eat”, and where there’s never too little parmesan dusted over a plate of pasta. Breakfasts are full Englishes with Italian accents — a Tuscan sausage here, cheesy polenta there, an egg and bacon bap but it’s pancetta on panuozzo, but elsewhere expect to see unpretentious cooking of the Arabella school, like pease pudding, chicken soups, haggis on toast, meatloaf. Don’t leave without a copy of the charming Italo booklet which sums up its spirit, documenting new produce, community activities, and services for hire.

Italo
Italo/Instagram

13. Karachi Cuisine

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1113-1115 London Rd, Norbury
London SW16 4XD, UK

If Western breakfasts were any good then nutritionists wouldn’t have to remind people to stop skipping them all the time. Of course there is a place for a fry up, for that rare perfect croissant, but otherwise Asia has Europe bang to rights in the “things people actually want to eat in the morning” stakes. One of the great world breakfasts is halwa poori, a dish that for Desi-tongues has the Proustian force of a thousand madeleines. The key is the interplay of four simple and perfect parts, all of which Karachi Cuisine in Norbury nails: a soothing, spicy chana, a potato curry medicinal with turmeric and fennel seeds, ambrosial semolina halwa, sweet and sandy with ghee and sugar, and pneumatic tissues of poori, slightly crisp and covered in a thin film of oil. One portion, with a spiced omelette or half fried eggs and a cup of Pakistani chai on the side and that’s enough food until dinner. Karachi Cuisine only does halwa puri on weekends until 2pm, but outside of that it’s an offal specialist. Try the kata-kat at dinner, a spicy dish of chopped brain, heart, kidney and testicles that is quite literally nose to tail eating.

Chana, potato curry semolina halwa, and poori: one of the great breakfasts, at Karachi Cuisine
Chana, potato curry semolina halwa, and poori: one of the great breakfasts
Jonathan Nunn

14. El Rancho De Lalo London

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Village Market, 94-95 Brixton Station Rd, Brixton
London SW9 8PS, UK

Once upon a time, before Brixton Village, before Pop Brixton, before Franco Manca and Honest Burgers, there was a small stand outside Las Americas Butchers selling hot and fluffy corn arepas fresh off the griddle with just a lick of salty butter for accompaniment. It was one of the great London street food vendors. That stretch of road was bought by Mike Ashley and is now a Sports Direct. While Brixton has become a “foodie” mecca, it hasn’t fully reckoned with those left behind. One of the few Colombian restaurants in the arcade still left from before its regeneration is El Rancho del Lalo, where empanadas are dense as bricks, stuffed to bursting with strands of spiced pork and fried to order so the casing satisfyingly cracks and spills out its contents. An excellent rendition of the Colombian national dish ‘bandeja paisa’ comes as an enormous platter of meat and protein, including standout crispy chicharron and kidney bean stew. The gentrification continues apace, but El Rancho still outflanks units selling food at twice the price.

El Rancho de Lalo
El Rancho de Lalo/Facebook

15. Casa Mofongo Bar Restaurant

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152 Loughborough Rd, Brixton
London SW9 7LL, UK
020 3742 7040

There’s a scene in Seinfeld where Jerry asserts that ‘salsa’ is the number one condiment in America simply because everyone loves saying the word “salsa”. Folding one’s mouth around the word “mofongo” is a similar delight, and many food lovers’ introduction to this Puerto Rican/Dominican speciality is Guy Fieri’s iconic review of Benny’s Seafood, in which he repeats the word “mofongo” with various emotions and voices: incredulous (moWHATo? moFONgo??), existential crisis (what does mofongo MEAN?) excitement, sotto voce conspiratorial whisper, and finally, acceptance (“mofongo is mofongo”) — declaring it “off the hook” and “legit”. London’s Flavortown is located in Loughborough Junction, in true south London style between a fake Morley’s simply called MMM and a vape shop. Casa Mofongo makes this sandcastle of smashed unripe plantain and chicharron in the Dominican mode: dry, with salty cheese melted on top and fatty pork on the side, the plantain itself absolutely honking of enough garlic to appease those who double the garlic in any recipe. Outside of the mofongo there are plenty of rarely seen Dominican stews, as well as a pica pollo up there with La Barra’s: golden fried chicken, chicharron, and bofes (dried lungs).

Casa Mofongo
Casa Mofongo/Facebook

1. Imone

169 High St, New Malden KT3 4BH, UK
Saengsun jjim: whole whiting in “a deeply savoury, spicy sauce, leavened by herbaceous and bitter chrysanthemum greens” at Imone, the best restaurant in New Malden
Saengsun jjim: whole whiting in “a deeply savoury, spicy sauce, leavened by herbaceous and bitter chrysanthemum greens”
Jonathan Nunn

The way Londoners speak of New Malden is like the way the British talk about Ireland. They know it’s close, they know it will do them good to visit, they constantly chide themselves for not going, but they never actually go. Part of the problem is that very few people apart from locals go there enough to compare the restaurants, to find out what each one specialises in, who is on the rise and who is in decline. Imone is currently, by a head, the best Korean restaurant in New Malden. The modulation on the banchan betrays a level of care that few places anywhere in London are putting in — a kimchi not fridge cold and not over-fermented but just below body temp, a seasonal pickle like courgette or spaghetti strands of radish that snap with a refreshing acidity. The best dishes on the menu are fish based. Saengsun jjim is a showstopper, a whole whiting in a deeply savoury, spicy sauce, leavened by herbaceous and bitter chrysanthemum greens, while maeungtang has a cleanness and restraint that the very best Korean broths have, backed by a dry anchovy kick and more pearlescent fish. Get on that train.

169 High St
New Malden KT3 4BH, UK

2. Chick and Beers

282 Burlington Rd, New Malden KT3 4NL, UK
Chick and Beers
Chick and Beers/Facebook

Korean fried chicken has historically been too sweet, too dry, too wet, undercooked, overcooked, battered incorrectly and just generally put through the wringer in London. Chick and Beers is maybe the first to nail it. There are those who will instinctively go for the sweet and spicy yangnyeom as a matter of principle, the kind of people who will order anything on a menu with five chilli symbols next to it, but this is more sweet than spicy. Instead the simple fried is the best option to start with, plainly seasoned, but worth searching in between the bones for. Really it’s the ganjang —soy — that is worth the journey, the batter sweet enough to be redolent of the honey cornflake cakes that every primary school child has attempted to make, yet saved from overwhelming sugariness by the pungency of garlic and crisped onion, the batter pitched somewhere between craggy and hyper-glossy. A new menu luridly promises fried sticks of spam, an innovation which, when it comes, will make Chick and Beers New Malden’s destination restaurant.

282 Burlington Rd
New Malden KT3 4NL, UK

3. Chef Jojo Manalo

Broadway Market, 1936 Unit, 52 Tooting High St, Tooting, London SW17 0RJ, UK
Chef Jojo Manalo
Chef Jojo Manalo/Facebook

Walking into Tooting’s markets is like entering a time warp to 2009, when foodies from all over London were flocking to an embryonic Brixton Village, dining at small restaurants taking advantage of low rents. What’s happened to Brixton can be a warning sign for Tooting, but for now modern British and small plates sidle up to diaspora cafes eking out a living at what Jonathan Gold would call the “centre of entry-level capitalism.” Chef Jojo Manalo is one of these cafes: one of three tiny Filipino spots in the market, and currently the best. A regular caterer for Chelsea Football Club, Manalo’s food tends towards the homestyle items even London’s more progressive Filipino chefs miss — a whole whiteboard of -silogs, the breakfasts of sticky garlic rice and fried eggs. Pair them with magenta bullets of sweet longanisa — longsilog — made in house, or oily white fish, split in two and crisped up on the grill — bangsilog. The whiteboard promises specials like pork nilaga, whose soothing garlic and white pepper broth adds necessary levity to rich mains and an astonishingly good kare-kare. Oxtail disintegrates from the bone and melts into sauce sweet with peanut butter and briny from a concentrated, salty hit of chilli and shrimp paste. There are many great dishes in the market, but Manalo’s kare kare is worth a journey all of its own.

Broadway Market, 1936 Unit, 52 Tooting High St, Tooting
London SW17 0RJ, UK

4. Namak Mandi

25 Upper Tooting Rd, Tooting, London SW17 7TS, UK
Kabuli pulao at Namak Mandi, a sweet and savoury rice at meat dish, with Afghan influences, served at Namak Mandi, a Pakistani restaurant in Tooting, south London Ejatu Shaw

Come to Namak Mandi late on a Friday and Saturday night, and the restaurant will still be bustling with well-managed chaos — groups of young men in the carpeted window seats sharing hot, sweet tea, families arguing over who got there first. But waiting is part of the experience at this outstanding Pakistani restaurant specialising in Pashtun cuisine. Everything here is done on a huge scale: the karahis that start their life as a bobbing mass of lamb and whole tomatoes, steamed until they lose their skin and dissolve into the sauce; chapli kebabs like funeral boats in a sea of animal fat, so they arrive moist with a solid centimetre of blackened crust. Only the rooms are small and private, full of people reclining over a communal mat eating sharp charsi karahi or platters of grilled meat. The essential dish is gola karahi, loose and aggressively spiced minced meat kebabs that add a note of char to complete a flawlessly layered sauce shiny with lamb fat. One of London’s best dishes at one of London’s best restaurants.

25 Upper Tooting Rd, Tooting
London SW17 7TS, UK

5. Pizzeria Pellone London

42 Lavender Hill, Clapham, London SW11 5RL, UK
Mortadella, basil, and cheese on a pizza seen from a birdseye view, at Pizzeria Pellone
Pizzeria Pellone
Pizzeria Pellone [Official]

There are two schools of thought when it comes to pizza. One says that pizza is a beautiful marriage of bread, tomato sauce, mozzarella and basil, and that all attempts to improve on this have been fools errands. This school also thinks that vanilla is the best flavour of ice cream, and that the invention of salt and vinegar crisps may have been a step too far. The second is those who view the success of a pizza in terms of how many of the toppings would make an Italian nonna cry. Antonio Pellone, with two generations of pizzaiolos behind him on Lavender Hill, may look like the former but is secretly the latter. Yes his margherita is great, his cornicione blistered and his dough both light and digestible, but it’s the second menu of sauceless white “gourmet” pizzas where he shows his mastery. An outstanding signature pizza cossets folds of fatty mortadella offset by the sweetness of a pistachio pesto, hot pink and lemon yellow, perhaps a tribute to Mr Blobby. Or the bufalina gialla, a dance with acidity, lactic from the buffalo mozzarella, malic from sweet yellow datterini, and citric from a spritz of lemon zest. These are inventive, playful pizzas, one degree away from trad but flawlessly executed — even a nonna might laugh, not cry.

42 Lavender Hill, Clapham
London SW11 5RL, UK

6. Somali Town Restaurant

10 Gleneagle Rd, Streatham, London SW16 6AB, UK

Around Streatham rail station, a Little Mogadishu is slowly building, reflecting an influx of Somali immigration, with Somali Town the most promising of all the cafe/restaurants in the cluster. There’s little to announce it as a restaurant, apart from a kitchen in the back but get talking to the owner who will let diners know what he has on the go: normally a choice between chopped meat, steaks and fish served with either rice or pasta — a reminder of that Italian colonial influence. Maraq is provided gratis, a plain, brown cloudy broth of exceptional savouriness, with acidity provided by chunks of lemon. A chopped beef braise comes with onions and the right ratio of lean to fatty meat, with a half portion of rice cooked in meat stock and a half portion of red sauce spaghetti for the indecisive. Three things to note: one, this is best eaten with hands; two, the green bottle on the table is a chilli sauce called basbaas and should be used liberally, and three, don’t be surprised to be served a banana with the meal — how to use it is entirely the diner’s prerogative.

10 Gleneagle Rd, Streatham
London SW16 6AB, UK

7. Mikrus

264 Streatham High Rd, Streatham, London SW16 1HS, UK
Mikrus Polish restaurant serves Potato cakes that are “rosti on protein shakes”
Potato cakes: “rosti on protein shakes”
Jonathan Nunn

It’s a shame that Polish food has so often been mischaracterised as cold and austere, a dreary iron curtain hangover, when so much of Polish food culture is such an enormous amount of fun. At Mikrus on Streatham’s resurgent high street, low blue lighting and disco balls make the perfect setting for turbo-folk and sledzik, pickled herring, flush with white onions, white vinegar and dill, the mortuary cold flesh tasting of the icy depths of the North Sea from whence it came. Potato cakes, placuszki, are rosti on protein shakes, thick, light and crunchy, dipped in a small bucket of sour cream or gravy or ideally, both. Mains could feed an army — a knuckle of pork comes with the stickiest, sour molasses of cabbage, catching all the fat from the pork, as if the chef scraped up the caramelised remnants of ten pans just for one portion. Or an escalope the size of Dominic Cummings’s head crowned with salty cheese, or that old stager beef roulade stuffed with bacon and gherkins. Whatever the order, praise the owner’s homemade kompot and expect to receive some very necessary shots of cherry liquor to settle the stomach on the bus ride back.

264 Streatham High Rd, Streatham
London SW16 1HS, UK

8. Roti Joupa

12 Clapham High St, Clapham, London SW4 7UT, UK
The best Trinidadian roti and Caribbean food in London: Fried baras filled with chickpea curry from Roti Joupa on Clapham Common, London
Roti Joupa
Adam Coghlan/Eater London

Roti Joupa’s greatness is no longer a matter for debate, but as one of the few Trinidadian places in London which is part of the canon it’s important to know how to navigate it properly. As expected from the name, Roti Joupa specialises in the Indian side of Trinidad and Tobago’s cuisine, reflecting owner David Parey’s heritage. Pliant rotis are folded over each other as vehicles for curried meats and vegetables, but to come here and only order this would be missing half the fun. It’s actually all about the snacks, which immaculately juggle sweet, sour and savoury. So first of all, order the hot doubles, two fried bara, cumin scented chickpeas and shredded cucumber, with tamarind and pepper sauce on the side. Then the macaroni pie, hot and gooey, and crucially, flooded with tamarind sauce so it’s equally sweet and salty. It may be London’s only truly great mac and cheese. And then for the mains, not the regular roti but the buss-up-shot, a tangle of torn paratha, buttery and caramelised, to have with mashed pumpkin, again glistening with tamarind. If there’s a reason to go to Clapham, it’s this.

12 Clapham High St, Clapham
London SW4 7UT, UK

9. True Flavours Caribbean Cuisine

101 Acre Ln, Brixton, London SW2 5TU, UK
True Flavours
True Flavours [Official Photo]

Acre Lane, that stretch of road between Clapham and Brixton, is often ignored but contains a few areas of interest for those who love food — among them Khamsa for Algerian and newcomers Mikos for a rare sighting of gyros south of the river. The standout is True Flavours, a relatively new (by Jamaican standards, at less than 10 years old) takeaway joint that is permanently busy whether people are inside or not. In the know residents will phone ahead for chef Junior’s cooking, knowing that the warm rack in the back is not for patties but a catalogue of takeaway orders. Oxtail, jerk chicken, fried chicken, fried fish, brown stew chicken — each and every one of these is likely to run out after a canny phone order is placed, but there will always be another tempting option or a small wait for a fresh batch to be made in the well-seasoned cooking pots. The most popular item by far is the pepper steak, charred and singing with thyme, slow cooked until the meat breaks down, served with rice and peas and “jerk pasta,” a massive opportunity missed by a certain celebrity chef.

101 Acre Ln, Brixton
London SW2 5TU, UK

10. Asafo Ghanaian Restaurant

60 Morrish Rd, Streatham Hill, London SW2 4EG, UK
Asafo’s Ghanaian food, at one of the best-value restaurants in south west London Asafo/Uber Eats

One of the best places for restaurant recommendations is diaspora Twitter. Someone will post, “where are all the good London (insert country here) restaurants at?” rolling the dice on a game of one upmanship which always ends in someone saying they don’t exist. One such game in 2015 got a pre-fame Michael Dapaah — of ‘Man’s Not Hot’ notoriety — tweeting “Safari, Gold Coast, Asafo.” The holy trinity of south London’s Ghanaian restaurants. Streatham Hill’s Asafo is a nice contrast to the others, as low-key as Gold Coast is raucous. Kelewele is outstanding, demonstrating that it’s Ghanaians who understand most that the plantain’s innate sweetness must be tempered with spice and char, coming squidgy and almost burnt, like little chunks of sticky fudge dusted with chilli, to pick at while waiting for mains of soups and stews. The wonderfully named Palaver sauce comes with spinach instead of cocoyam leaves, and is so dense with texture and flavour from thickening egusi, beaten egg, and dried fish that it doesn’t need any meat. Then, the bowl of peanut soup, that arrives overflowing with lava-like palm oil, with astonishing depth of flavour coming from cow foot and tripe. If Kate’s Cafe rules the East, and Sweet Handz the North, then it’s Asafo flying the flag for Ghana in the South.

60 Morrish Rd, Streatham Hill
London SW2 4EG, UK

11. Charsi Karahi

1553 London Rd, Norbury, London SW16 4AD, UK
Chicken karahi at Charsi Karahi in Norbury
Charsi karahi at Charsi Karahi
Jonathan Nunn

There are two ways to experience the might of Norbury’s Charsi Karahi. The first — the amateur way — is as a sit down restaurant of outstanding Peshawari grills and karahis, everything made fresh and cooked to order by a chef as serenely self-assured as 40 Maltby Street’s Stephen Williams. The second — the go big or go home way — requires some advance notice and a posse of lamb lovers ready to demolish the dum pukht of slow cooked mutton steamed with a sealant of dough, or the whole lamb sajji, which is served resembling a plaster cast of a Pompeii victim, stuffed with rice and a steal at £200 a lamb (plus £30 “corkage” — lambage? — to eat in). Assuming most people are posse-less, make sure there’s enough people to try the mixed grill, in which, unusually, chicken wings are the highlight: tender, spicy, charred; everything wings promise and never are. Or the wreta, chops of mutton weighty with marrow that can be pushed out onto small canoes of naan. Chapli kebabs are exceptional versions — loosely minced, pillow soft and juicy, with coarsely chopped tomato — every bit the equal of Namak Mandi’s, while the eponymous lamb charsi karahi is mildly but cleverly spiced. In a major concession to vegetarianism, the charsi karahi can also be ordered with chicken instead of lamb.

1553 London Rd, Norbury
London SW16 4AD, UK

12. Italo

13 Bonnington Square, Vauxhall, London SW8 1TE, UK
Italo
Italo/Instagram

Italo could so easily be just another middle-class convenience store selling high quality produce unattainable to half the people who live nearby. What it actually is is something much more radical than that: a deli which is entirely subservient to the needs of the close-knit, mixed-economy community of Bonnington Square. There’s a bohemian aspect to Charlie Boxer’s deli, started 10 years ago with friend Luigi Di Lieto (of the family who run the equally excellent Di Lieto) that could veer too much towards luvviness if it wasn’t for the generosity, a place where the staff seem to know every customer’s name and vice versa, where the food has no genre except “stuff you want to eat”, and where there’s never too little parmesan dusted over a plate of pasta. Breakfasts are full Englishes with Italian accents — a Tuscan sausage here, cheesy polenta there, an egg and bacon bap but it’s pancetta on panuozzo, but elsewhere expect to see unpretentious cooking of the Arabella school, like pease pudding, chicken soups, haggis on toast, meatloaf. Don’t leave without a copy of the charming Italo booklet which sums up its spirit, documenting new produce, community activities, and services for hire.

13 Bonnington Square, Vauxhall
London SW8 1TE, UK

13. Karachi Cuisine

1113-1115 London Rd, Norbury, London SW16 4XD, UK
Chana, potato curry semolina halwa, and poori: one of the great breakfasts, at Karachi Cuisine
Chana, potato curry semolina halwa, and poori: one of the great breakfasts
Jonathan Nunn

If Western breakfasts were any good then nutritionists wouldn’t have to remind people to stop skipping them all the time. Of course there is a place for a fry up, for that rare perfect croissant, but otherwise Asia has Europe bang to rights in the “things people actually want to eat in the morning” stakes. One of the great world breakfasts is halwa poori, a dish that for Desi-tongues has the Proustian force of a thousand madeleines. The key is the interplay of four simple and perfect parts, all of which Karachi Cuisine in Norbury nails: a soothing, spicy chana, a potato curry medicinal with turmeric and fennel seeds, ambrosial semolina halwa, sweet and sandy with ghee and sugar, and pneumatic tissues of poori, slightly crisp and covered in a thin film of oil. One portion, with a spiced omelette or half fried eggs and a cup of Pakistani chai on the side and that’s enough food until dinner. Karachi Cuisine only does halwa puri on weekends until 2pm, but outside of that it’s an offal specialist. Try the kata-kat at dinner, a spicy dish of chopped brain, heart, kidney and testicles that is quite literally nose to tail eating.

1113-1115 London Rd, Norbury
London SW16 4XD, UK

14. El Rancho De Lalo London

Village Market, 94-95 Brixton Station Rd, Brixton, London SW9 8PS, UK
El Rancho de Lalo
El Rancho de Lalo/Facebook

Once upon a time, before Brixton Village, before Pop Brixton, before Franco Manca and Honest Burgers, there was a small stand outside Las Americas Butchers selling hot and fluffy corn arepas fresh off the griddle with just a lick of salty butter for accompaniment. It was one of the great London street food vendors. That stretch of road was bought by Mike Ashley and is now a Sports Direct. While Brixton has become a “foodie” mecca, it hasn’t fully reckoned with those left behind. One of the few Colombian restaurants in the arcade still left from before its regeneration is El Rancho del Lalo, where empanadas are dense as bricks, stuffed to bursting with strands of spiced pork and fried to order so the casing satisfyingly cracks and spills out its contents. An excellent rendition of the Colombian national dish ‘bandeja paisa’ comes as an enormous platter of meat and protein, including standout crispy chicharron and kidney bean stew. The gentrification continues apace, but El Rancho still outflanks units selling food at twice the price.

Village Market, 94-95 Brixton Station Rd, Brixton
London SW9 8PS, UK

15. Casa Mofongo Bar Restaurant

152 Loughborough Rd, Brixton, London SW9 7LL, UK
Casa Mofongo
Casa Mofongo/Facebook

There’s a scene in Seinfeld where Jerry asserts that ‘salsa’ is the number one condiment in America simply because everyone loves saying the word “salsa”. Folding one’s mouth around the word “mofongo” is a similar delight, and many food lovers’ introduction to this Puerto Rican/Dominican speciality is Guy Fieri’s iconic review of Benny’s Seafood, in which he repeats the word “mofongo” with various emotions and voices: incredulous (moWHATo? moFONgo??), existential crisis (what does mofongo MEAN?) excitement, sotto voce conspiratorial whisper, and finally, acceptance (“mofongo is mofongo”) — declaring it “off the hook” and “legit”. London’s Flavortown is located in Loughborough Junction, in true south London style between a fake Morley’s simply called MMM and a vape shop. Casa Mofongo makes this sandcastle of smashed unripe plantain and chicharron in the Dominican mode: dry, with salty cheese melted on top and fatty pork on the side, the plantain itself absolutely honking of enough garlic to appease those who double the garlic in any recipe. Outside of the mofongo there are plenty of rarely seen Dominican stews, as well as a pica pollo up there with La Barra’s: golden fried chicken, chicharron, and bofes (dried lungs).

152 Loughborough Rd, Brixton
London SW9 7LL, UK

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