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Carol Sachs

Here Are London’s Best Live Fire Restaurants

Monkfish tails licked by flames, smoky barbecued meats, spicy, sticky jerk chicken — and more

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It’s practically unthinkable to open a restaurant in 2018 without installing a grill in the kitchen. Live fire cooking is a hot trend and there’s been a stream of exciting openings from chefs who love to harness the power of smoke and flame. Why is this method of cooking so attractive? Smoke adds another dimension to food; wood smoke in particular releases flavour compounds as different parts burn; a good old-fashioned grilling is just as transformative. From Jamaican jerk to northern Thai, these restaurants know how to get the best from a barbecue.

Updated June 2019, after the closure of Pitt Cue.

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Note: Restaurants on this map are listed geographically.

1. Black Axe Mangal

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156 Canonbury Rd
London N1 2UP, UK

No-one can decide what type of restaurant BAM is but that’s ok — just know that the food is exhilarating and essential at this Islington winner. The potato sourdough flatbreads are a must-order, piled with smoked lamb shoulder or chunky offal and finished with yoghurt and chillies both pickled and charred. Flavours are dialled up to ten and live fire cooking adds an important extra dimension of drama, as well as flavour.

A lamb offal flatbread and pork crackling at Black Axe Mangal, featuring flowery tablecloths Ola Smit

2. Berber & Q - Grill House

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338 Acton Mews
London E8 4EA, UK

Josh Katz has created an experience akin to eating in a cavernous, smoky nightclub but the food more than makes up for his antisocial approach to the volume dial in Haggerston. Thrilling from the moment the tray clatters onto the table, piled with fire-flashed chops, colourful salads and sauces that hark back to the best Middle Eastern kebab shops. Be sure to order the whole cauliflower shawarma with tahini, rose and pine nuts.  

Cauliflower shawarma at Berber and Q in Haggerston, one of London’s best live fire restaurants Berber & Q/Instagram

3. St Leonards

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70 Leonard St
London EC2A 4QX, UK

One of 2018’s most raved-about openings has a grill set-up to die for, romantically referred to as “the hearth.” This complex arrangement of hooks, chains and flames allows for simultaneous fast and slow cooking. Tuna carcasses smoke for two days until bruised purple, their bones used to make a ‘caramel’ for poached onions; large pieces of meat hang up top, while ‘to-order’ proteins sizzle below. The muscular monkfish tail is a standout — grilled, then basted with sea buckthorn molasses until glossed amber, before being topped with tousled sea vegetables.

Monkfish tail with sea buckthorn molasses and sea vegetables at St. Leonards in Shoreditch, one of London’s best live fire restaurants St Leonards [Official Photo]

4. BRAT

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4 Redchurch St
London E1 6JL, UK

The menu at Tomos Parry’s Basque-inspired Brat is deceptively plain — the best ingredients are cooked over fire and served quite plainly but there’s some serious skill in this kitchen. The whole turbot has been all over Instagram and it’s special, stickiness coaxed from the bones thanks to slow and watchful grilling. The ‘beef chop’ is underrated, however — a deeply funky piece of meat given a lick of fire and smoke.

Whole turbot at Brat restaurant, one of London’s iconic dishes Ben McMahon/benjaminmcmahon.com

5. SMOKESTAK

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35 Sclater St
London E1 6LB, UK

Barbadian chef-patron David Carter mans the grill at moody Shoreditch barbecue restaurant Smokestak, which made the leap from street food stall to permanent site in 2016. It’s not a traditional American barbecue restaurant, so don’t expect paper-lined trays of protein — this is far more bells-and-whistles. The brisket (available in a roll with pickled chillies or sliced) remains the best in London, despite the fact that former “brisket guy” Roberto has moved to Monty’s Deli.

6. The Barbary

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16 Neal's Yard
London WC2H 9DP, UK

Every seat is a good one at this Covent Garden institution, with its dramatic, horseshoe-shaped bar. Chefs expertly flip protein around the various levels of the grill while diners eagerly await the results, ripping into magnificent puffy naan breads and electric, tongue-tingling zhoug. Don’t miss the octopus mashawsha, a warmly spiced chickpea stew topped with a tender, charred tentacle.

Carol Sachs

7. Kiln

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58 Brewer St, Soho
London W1F 9TL, UK

There’s no electricity or gas used to cook in this kitchen. Clay pots stacked with charcoal glow underneath hand-hammered woks, and the grill is constantly busy with rows of dinky skewers and slowly blistering fish. Everything is good, especially the aged lamb, smoked sausage and slow-grilled chicken, schmaltzing on to the coals below from the very top of the grill.

Aged lamb skewers at Britain’s best restaurant, Kiln in Soho, also one of central London’s best snacks Kiln [Official Photo]

8. Smokin’ Lotus

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St Katharine Docks, St Katharine's Way, St Katharine's & Wapping
London E1W 1LA, UK

A solo street food entry here, notable for its Asian-American approach. The dish to try is the pork belly, smoked for 8 hours over hickory then cubed, chilled, and re-crisped on the grill, mopped with a sticky soy-based glaze. Alongside, there’s sambal, coleslaw and… potato salad. Honestly, it works. The creamy blandness is a comforting backdrop for salty, punchy flavours. Various locations, check Instagram for movements.

Pork belly with sambal, coleslaw and potato salad from street food stall Smokin’ Lotus, one of London’s best live fire restaurants Helen Graves

9. Smokey Jerkey

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158 New Cross Rd, New Cross
London SE14 5BA, UK
020 7639 6204

One of very few genuinely first-rate jerk joints in London, this ramshackle spot in New Cross can be smelled from twenty feet away thanks to the smoke swirling from the back. The jerk has plenty of sweetness to balance the heat and spice and is powerfully present, unlike so many sterile imposter versions. Don’t forget the hot sauces decanted into unmarked plastic bottles on the counter.

Jerk chicken at Smokey Jerkey in New Cross, one of London’s best live fire restaurants Helen Graves

10. FM Mangal

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54 Camberwell Church St, Camberwell
London SE5 8QZ, UK

F M Mangal may not be the best all-round Turkish grill in London but a few standout dishes make it worth the trip. Best of these is the Adana kebab — a hot, spitting, glorious mash of minced lamb and spice that splurges hot fat onto the chin with each bite. Grab a wrap (double adana) from the takeaway section at the front, and a package the size and weight of a small baby will appear, marking the beginning of a deeply meaningful, lifelong relationship.

Andana wrap at FM Mangal in Camberwell, one of London’s best live fire restaurants Helen Graves

11. Peckham Bazaar

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119 Consort Rd
London SE15 3RU, UK

Chef-patron John Gionleka takes inspiration from across the Balkans to conjure fire-flamed dishes such as grilled octopus with white tarama — a long time menu favourite that predates the current craze for whipped roe. It’s the attention to detail that makes each dish special. Sit outside on the creeper-covered decking and on a quiet day (with eyes closed), it’s almost as if there’s a distant whisper of the Aegean.

Grilled octopus with white tarama at Peckham Bazaar, one of London’s best live fire restaurants Peckham Bazaar [Official Photo]

1. Black Axe Mangal

156 Canonbury Rd, London N1 2UP, UK
A lamb offal flatbread and pork crackling at Black Axe Mangal, featuring flowery tablecloths Ola Smit

No-one can decide what type of restaurant BAM is but that’s ok — just know that the food is exhilarating and essential at this Islington winner. The potato sourdough flatbreads are a must-order, piled with smoked lamb shoulder or chunky offal and finished with yoghurt and chillies both pickled and charred. Flavours are dialled up to ten and live fire cooking adds an important extra dimension of drama, as well as flavour.

156 Canonbury Rd
London N1 2UP, UK

2. Berber & Q - Grill House

338 Acton Mews, London E8 4EA, UK
Cauliflower shawarma at Berber and Q in Haggerston, one of London’s best live fire restaurants Berber & Q/Instagram

Josh Katz has created an experience akin to eating in a cavernous, smoky nightclub but the food more than makes up for his antisocial approach to the volume dial in Haggerston. Thrilling from the moment the tray clatters onto the table, piled with fire-flashed chops, colourful salads and sauces that hark back to the best Middle Eastern kebab shops. Be sure to order the whole cauliflower shawarma with tahini, rose and pine nuts.  

338 Acton Mews
London E8 4EA, UK

3. St Leonards

70 Leonard St, London EC2A 4QX, UK
Monkfish tail with sea buckthorn molasses and sea vegetables at St. Leonards in Shoreditch, one of London’s best live fire restaurants St Leonards [Official Photo]

One of 2018’s most raved-about openings has a grill set-up to die for, romantically referred to as “the hearth.” This complex arrangement of hooks, chains and flames allows for simultaneous fast and slow cooking. Tuna carcasses smoke for two days until bruised purple, their bones used to make a ‘caramel’ for poached onions; large pieces of meat hang up top, while ‘to-order’ proteins sizzle below. The muscular monkfish tail is a standout — grilled, then basted with sea buckthorn molasses until glossed amber, before being topped with tousled sea vegetables.

70 Leonard St
London EC2A 4QX, UK

4. BRAT

4 Redchurch St, London E1 6JL, UK
Whole turbot at Brat restaurant, one of London’s iconic dishes Ben McMahon/benjaminmcmahon.com

The menu at Tomos Parry’s Basque-inspired Brat is deceptively plain — the best ingredients are cooked over fire and served quite plainly but there’s some serious skill in this kitchen. The whole turbot has been all over Instagram and it’s special, stickiness coaxed from the bones thanks to slow and watchful grilling. The ‘beef chop’ is underrated, however — a deeply funky piece of meat given a lick of fire and smoke.

4 Redchurch St
London E1 6JL, UK

5. SMOKESTAK

35 Sclater St, London E1 6LB, UK

Barbadian chef-patron David Carter mans the grill at moody Shoreditch barbecue restaurant Smokestak, which made the leap from street food stall to permanent site in 2016. It’s not a traditional American barbecue restaurant, so don’t expect paper-lined trays of protein — this is far more bells-and-whistles. The brisket (available in a roll with pickled chillies or sliced) remains the best in London, despite the fact that former “brisket guy” Roberto has moved to Monty’s Deli.

35 Sclater St
London E1 6LB, UK

6. The Barbary

16 Neal's Yard, London WC2H 9DP, UK
Carol Sachs

Every seat is a good one at this Covent Garden institution, with its dramatic, horseshoe-shaped bar. Chefs expertly flip protein around the various levels of the grill while diners eagerly await the results, ripping into magnificent puffy naan breads and electric, tongue-tingling zhoug. Don’t miss the octopus mashawsha, a warmly spiced chickpea stew topped with a tender, charred tentacle.

16 Neal's Yard
London WC2H 9DP, UK

7. Kiln

58 Brewer St, Soho, London W1F 9TL, UK
Aged lamb skewers at Britain’s best restaurant, Kiln in Soho, also one of central London’s best snacks Kiln [Official Photo]

There’s no electricity or gas used to cook in this kitchen. Clay pots stacked with charcoal glow underneath hand-hammered woks, and the grill is constantly busy with rows of dinky skewers and slowly blistering fish. Everything is good, especially the aged lamb, smoked sausage and slow-grilled chicken, schmaltzing on to the coals below from the very top of the grill.

58 Brewer St, Soho
London W1F 9TL, UK

8. Smokin’ Lotus

St Katharine Docks, St Katharine's Way, St Katharine's & Wapping, London E1W 1LA, UK
Pork belly with sambal, coleslaw and potato salad from street food stall Smokin’ Lotus, one of London’s best live fire restaurants Helen Graves

A solo street food entry here, notable for its Asian-American approach. The dish to try is the pork belly, smoked for 8 hours over hickory then cubed, chilled, and re-crisped on the grill, mopped with a sticky soy-based glaze. Alongside, there’s sambal, coleslaw and… potato salad. Honestly, it works. The creamy blandness is a comforting backdrop for salty, punchy flavours. Various locations, check Instagram for movements.

St Katharine Docks, St Katharine's Way, St Katharine's & Wapping
London E1W 1LA, UK

9. Smokey Jerkey

158 New Cross Rd, New Cross, London SE14 5BA, UK
Jerk chicken at Smokey Jerkey in New Cross, one of London’s best live fire restaurants Helen Graves

One of very few genuinely first-rate jerk joints in London, this ramshackle spot in New Cross can be smelled from twenty feet away thanks to the smoke swirling from the back. The jerk has plenty of sweetness to balance the heat and spice and is powerfully present, unlike so many sterile imposter versions. Don’t forget the hot sauces decanted into unmarked plastic bottles on the counter.

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

10. FM Mangal

54 Camberwell Church St, Camberwell, London SE5 8QZ, UK
Andana wrap at FM Mangal in Camberwell, one of London’s best live fire restaurants Helen Graves

F M Mangal may not be the best all-round Turkish grill in London but a few standout dishes make it worth the trip. Best of these is the Adana kebab — a hot, spitting, glorious mash of minced lamb and spice that splurges hot fat onto the chin with each bite. Grab a wrap (double adana) from the takeaway section at the front, and a package the size and weight of a small baby will appear, marking the beginning of a deeply meaningful, lifelong relationship.

54 Camberwell Church St, Camberwell
London SE5 8QZ, UK

11. Peckham Bazaar

119 Consort Rd, London SE15 3RU, UK
Grilled octopus with white tarama at Peckham Bazaar, one of London’s best live fire restaurants Peckham Bazaar [Official Photo]

Chef-patron John Gionleka takes inspiration from across the Balkans to conjure fire-flamed dishes such as grilled octopus with white tarama — a long time menu favourite that predates the current craze for whipped roe. It’s the attention to detail that makes each dish special. Sit outside on the creeper-covered decking and on a quiet day (with eyes closed), it’s almost as if there’s a distant whisper of the Aegean.

119 Consort Rd
London SE15 3RU, UK

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