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A hot fish finger sandwich at 40 Maltby Street
A hot fish finger sandwich at 40 Maltby Street
George Reynolds/Eater London

11 Reasons Why Hot Items Are the Lockdown Food MVP: Central Edition

Sandwiches, dumplings, doubles, fried chicken, and more

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A hot fish finger sandwich at 40 Maltby Street
| George Reynolds/Eater London

After (yet) another public vote in which pollsters got the outcome disastrously wrong, perhaps it’s time to look a little further afield for the nation’s superforecasters. Those in search of an all-knowing seer could do worse than Kate Mossman, who penned an instantly legendary op-ed in the New Statesman in July of last year, proclaiming her love for what she termed hot items, viz. “Wraps. Falafels. Hot dogs. Samosas. Bits of hot meat. Greggs vegan sausage rolls. Buttermilk fried chicken cutlets from the branches of Sainsbury’s that have a hot oven”. She was met with ridicule on Twitter, as is customary.

Well, to quote the great Bob Monkhouse, they’re not laughing now. Far from an object of ridicule, such as a doomsday prepper 999,999 times in a million, Mossman has actually turned out to be right, like a doomsday prepper that one time in a million. A Londoner looking for a bite to eat these days is confronted with only a handful of options: cooking at home (thrifty but hard work), getting delivery (costly, and almost certainly ethically shady), or taking to the streets in search of whatever warmed-up to-go options restaurants have chosen to offer in these benighted times.

In other words: hot items. Those who might once have turned their noses up at Mossman’s diet are now forced to admit what some people knew all along: there a few things more satisfying than a well-selected hot item in the right circumstances. And make no mistake, these are most certainly the right circumstances. Here, accordingly, are 11 of Central London’s best.

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Note: Restaurants on this map are listed geographically.

1. Cheese flatbread at Ararat Bread

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132 Ridley Rd, Dalston
London E8 2NR, UK

Quite possibly the simplest hot item on this list, but in terms of hot item for buck, the clear winner. Just a couple of coins buys the would-be itemiser a gloriously soft and yielding flatbread, wrapped around a melted white cheese that can introduce borderline intolerable levels of heat to the unsuspecting consumer. Pro tip: ask the nice lady operating the oven to leave it in for an extra spin — the reward is a crispy top layer that puts even the best cheese on toast to shame.

2. Shengjianbao at Dumpling Shack

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20 Crossharbour Plaza, Isle of Dogs
London E14 9YF, UK

Bane of soft palates and impatient diners the world over, the shengjianbao on offer at Dumpling Shack’s two sites (one in Spitalfields, the other in Canary Wharf) are not to be messed with. At £6.50 for four they’re also pretty damn affordable, so think of them as a base camp from which to range over the rest of Dumpling Shack’s menu, particularly when it features a weekend special like a brunch cong you bing or chicken stock congee. The house ma la chilli oil should also be a staple in any lockdown pantry.

3. Sandwich at 40 Maltby Street

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40 Maltby St
London SE1 3PA, UK

It must be hard for London’s fancy sandwich mavens: they’ve spent months, years even, marking out their turf and yet with a single statement –—“We do sandwiches now” — 40 Maltby Street forced its way into the running as a viable contender for London’s MVBBP (Most Valuable Bread-Based Product). The filling changes weekly: at the time of writing it’s a one-two punch of split pea samosa or fried chicken and bacon, which, pass the smelling salts. Beyond that the only certainty is that the end product will embody that signature 40MS blend of Goldilocks-level simplicity and Goldberg-Variations-level virtuosity. 

4. Souvlaki at GReat Grill House

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98 Farringdon Rd, Farringdon
London EC1R 3EA, UK

The official staff canteen of the Quality Wines team, this narrow-fronted souvlatzidiko has a far larger sister operation opposite, which is notable for an array of affordable and endearingly pastry-heavy pies. But the main attraction in this stretch is undeniably cooked on a skewer, whether pork, chicken or lamb — a wrap might be a more affordable lunchtime option (relax: it still comes with chips) but the epic “portion” still represents decent value at around 11 quid. Among a choice of sauces and dips the tirokafteri of spicy feta and red peppers is a clear winner.

5. Tacos at Sonora Taquería

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13-23 Westgate St, Hackney
London E8 3RL, UK

One of the few genuine good news stories of this pig of a year has been the emergence of Sonora (formerly El Pollo Feliz) and the way its traditional tortillas de harina have taken hold of the capital’s imagination. Since moving to a bigger, better stand in Netil Market a month or so ago, the taqueros have started commanding the sort of queues associated with supermarkets in late March this year, so get there early, and don’t pussyfoot around: this is a one of everything situation.

6. Fried chicken at Bao Borough

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13 Stoney St
London SE1 9AD, UK

It’s the paper baggie that really sells the breakout hit of Bao’s Rice Error delivery and / or takeaway service — a stalwart from the Netil Market days, it’s finally getting a chance in the limelight as bao production has been forced to take a back seat. The hot sauce that comes with it is incendiary and yet somehow a case study in nuance; the chicken itself is perfectly apportioned, each piece crunchy, succulent and robustly spiced. A hot item made for a cold beer. 

7. Savoury pastry at Big Jo

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318-326 Hornsey Rd, Finsbury Park
London N7 7HE, UK

If the collective term for flaky breakfast pastries is Viennoisserie, someone urgently needs to create an equivalent for the immortally adipose British trio that comprises the pork pie, Cornish pasty and Scotch egg. All three are on offer on certain days on Big Jo’s to-go menu under the heading “Other Treats”; whilst going three-for-three may not be medically advisable, it’s certainly a good way of getting bang for one’s buck, calorie-wise.

8. Sausage roll at Sunflour Bakery London

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263 Caledonian Rd, Islington
London N1 1EE, UK

In an era that increasingly fetishizes the thicc Ginger Pig-style sausage roll, give thanks for Sunflour’s retro version, at best as half as tall as it is wide. The benefits of these old school dimensions are immediately apparent: a better, more equitable share between pastry and filling in each mouthful — the former soft and often thrillingly caramelised on the bottom; the latter crumbly, properly peppery, intriguingly padded out (wait, is that shredded carrot?) A splendid companion for a walk along Regents Canal if restraint allows it to last that long.

9. Chicken berempah at Dapur

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13 Lamb's Conduit Passage, Holborn
London WC1R 4RH, UK

When does a hot item transcend the concept of itemhood and become, simply, a warm dish? Leave the ontology to the nerds: the important thing about Dapur’s lunch offering is that it’s hot, filling, and eminently portable. An excellent rendang is admittedly a clear case of category fraud, but a solid bone-in chicken kari and excellent chicken berempah practically demand hands-on participation. Nearby Red Lion Square is probably the best impromptu seating option; ask for extra napkins.

10. Masala potato kati roll at The Kati Roll Company

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24 Poland St, West End
London W1F 8QL, UK

Take a pliable, flaky paratha and wrap it round mashed potato enriched with chilli, onion, tomato and spices. Or wrap it around achar-marinated paneer, or beef tikka, or freshly beaten egg. The permutations are dizzying at The Kati Roll Company, but the masala potato option — as perfect an expression of double-carbing as exists in the capital — should always be one of them. Just remember to add a cup or two of restorative chai to stave off the very real threat of an unplanned afternoon-spanning nap.

11. Doubles at Roti Joupa

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

Another hot item on this list that rewards judicious use of a fork, but even without one it’s worth the risk of stained shirts and messy fingers. The baras are textbook, the chickpea curry a symphony in beige. Add pumpkin and add pepper.

1. Cheese flatbread at Ararat Bread

132 Ridley Rd, Dalston, London E8 2NR, UK

Quite possibly the simplest hot item on this list, but in terms of hot item for buck, the clear winner. Just a couple of coins buys the would-be itemiser a gloriously soft and yielding flatbread, wrapped around a melted white cheese that can introduce borderline intolerable levels of heat to the unsuspecting consumer. Pro tip: ask the nice lady operating the oven to leave it in for an extra spin — the reward is a crispy top layer that puts even the best cheese on toast to shame.

132 Ridley Rd, Dalston
London E8 2NR, UK

2. Shengjianbao at Dumpling Shack

20 Crossharbour Plaza, Isle of Dogs, London E14 9YF, UK

Bane of soft palates and impatient diners the world over, the shengjianbao on offer at Dumpling Shack’s two sites (one in Spitalfields, the other in Canary Wharf) are not to be messed with. At £6.50 for four they’re also pretty damn affordable, so think of them as a base camp from which to range over the rest of Dumpling Shack’s menu, particularly when it features a weekend special like a brunch cong you bing or chicken stock congee. The house ma la chilli oil should also be a staple in any lockdown pantry.

20 Crossharbour Plaza, Isle of Dogs
London E14 9YF, UK

3. Sandwich at 40 Maltby Street

40 Maltby St, London SE1 3PA, UK

It must be hard for London’s fancy sandwich mavens: they’ve spent months, years even, marking out their turf and yet with a single statement –—“We do sandwiches now” — 40 Maltby Street forced its way into the running as a viable contender for London’s MVBBP (Most Valuable Bread-Based Product). The filling changes weekly: at the time of writing it’s a one-two punch of split pea samosa or fried chicken and bacon, which, pass the smelling salts. Beyond that the only certainty is that the end product will embody that signature 40MS blend of Goldilocks-level simplicity and Goldberg-Variations-level virtuosity. 

40 Maltby St
London SE1 3PA, UK

4. Souvlaki at GReat Grill House

98 Farringdon Rd, Farringdon, London EC1R 3EA, UK

The official staff canteen of the Quality Wines team, this narrow-fronted souvlatzidiko has a far larger sister operation opposite, which is notable for an array of affordable and endearingly pastry-heavy pies. But the main attraction in this stretch is undeniably cooked on a skewer, whether pork, chicken or lamb — a wrap might be a more affordable lunchtime option (relax: it still comes with chips) but the epic “portion” still represents decent value at around 11 quid. Among a choice of sauces and dips the tirokafteri of spicy feta and red peppers is a clear winner.

98 Farringdon Rd, Farringdon
London EC1R 3EA, UK

5. Tacos at Sonora Taquería

13-23 Westgate St, Hackney, London E8 3RL, UK

One of the few genuine good news stories of this pig of a year has been the emergence of Sonora (formerly El Pollo Feliz) and the way its traditional tortillas de harina have taken hold of the capital’s imagination. Since moving to a bigger, better stand in Netil Market a month or so ago, the taqueros have started commanding the sort of queues associated with supermarkets in late March this year, so get there early, and don’t pussyfoot around: this is a one of everything situation.

13-23 Westgate St, Hackney
London E8 3RL, UK

6. Fried chicken at Bao Borough

13 Stoney St, London SE1 9AD, UK

It’s the paper baggie that really sells the breakout hit of Bao’s Rice Error delivery and / or takeaway service — a stalwart from the Netil Market days, it’s finally getting a chance in the limelight as bao production has been forced to take a back seat. The hot sauce that comes with it is incendiary and yet somehow a case study in nuance; the chicken itself is perfectly apportioned, each piece crunchy, succulent and robustly spiced. A hot item made for a cold beer. 

13 Stoney St
London SE1 9AD, UK

7. Savoury pastry at Big Jo

318-326 Hornsey Rd, Finsbury Park, London N7 7HE, UK

If the collective term for flaky breakfast pastries is Viennoisserie, someone urgently needs to create an equivalent for the immortally adipose British trio that comprises the pork pie, Cornish pasty and Scotch egg. All three are on offer on certain days on Big Jo’s to-go menu under the heading “Other Treats”; whilst going three-for-three may not be medically advisable, it’s certainly a good way of getting bang for one’s buck, calorie-wise.

318-326 Hornsey Rd, Finsbury Park
London N7 7HE, UK

8. Sausage roll at Sunflour Bakery London

263 Caledonian Rd, Islington, London N1 1EE, UK

In an era that increasingly fetishizes the thicc Ginger Pig-style sausage roll, give thanks for Sunflour’s retro version, at best as half as tall as it is wide. The benefits of these old school dimensions are immediately apparent: a better, more equitable share between pastry and filling in each mouthful — the former soft and often thrillingly caramelised on the bottom; the latter crumbly, properly peppery, intriguingly padded out (wait, is that shredded carrot?) A splendid companion for a walk along Regents Canal if restraint allows it to last that long.

263 Caledonian Rd, Islington
London N1 1EE, UK

9. Chicken berempah at Dapur

13 Lamb's Conduit Passage, Holborn, London WC1R 4RH, UK

When does a hot item transcend the concept of itemhood and become, simply, a warm dish? Leave the ontology to the nerds: the important thing about Dapur’s lunch offering is that it’s hot, filling, and eminently portable. An excellent rendang is admittedly a clear case of category fraud, but a solid bone-in chicken kari and excellent chicken berempah practically demand hands-on participation. Nearby Red Lion Square is probably the best impromptu seating option; ask for extra napkins.

13 Lamb's Conduit Passage, Holborn
London WC1R 4RH, UK

10. Masala potato kati roll at The Kati Roll Company

24 Poland St, West End, London W1F 8QL, UK

Take a pliable, flaky paratha and wrap it round mashed potato enriched with chilli, onion, tomato and spices. Or wrap it around achar-marinated paneer, or beef tikka, or freshly beaten egg. The permutations are dizzying at The Kati Roll Company, but the masala potato option — as perfect an expression of double-carbing as exists in the capital — should always be one of them. Just remember to add a cup or two of restorative chai to stave off the very real threat of an unplanned afternoon-spanning nap.

24 Poland St, West End
London W1F 8QL, UK

11. Doubles at Roti Joupa

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

Another hot item on this list that rewards judicious use of a fork, but even without one it’s worth the risk of stained shirts and messy fingers. The baras are textbook, the chickpea curry a symphony in beige. Add pumpkin and add pepper.

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

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