There is no greater city in the world to eat out than London. Well of course, I would say that, wouldn’t I, I’m a proud Londoner as well as a restaurant addict and I couldn’t imagine living anywhere else. But in terms of sheer variety, dynamism and the pace of change, I’m convinced even objectively there’s nowhere else can touch it; from fish & chips to fine dining, rendang to ramen, it’s all here, and only a tube ride away.
With such a choice, it’s hard to know where to start, but it would be churlish to overlook the vast influence French cuisine has had on British food. Mayfair stalwart Le Gavroche has been the standard bearer of haute cuisine in the capital since the late 60s, and is still at the very top of its game, with two Michelin stars. Without Le Gav we’d surely not have The Ledbury (Notting Hill), which adds an English game-focussed sensibility and more experimental approach, or Galvin @ Windows (Park Lane) which marries breathtaking views and sublime service with food that makes you glad to be alive.
Whitechapel, right at the other end of the town and dining budget, is famous for its Punjabi food, and the most famous of all the mixed grills (that’s spicy lamb chops, juicy seekh kebabs and sizzling cubes of tender tandoori chicken) is Tayyabs’, on Fieldgate Street. It’s an institution that’s now as much London as Tower Bridge or Westminster Abbey, and twice as popular, but if the queues are too big, try Needoo round the corner or Lahore Kebab House or, well, pretty much anywhere round there really.
London’s Chinatown has a long and distinguished history, but ironically these days the best Chinese food is found outside of the centre. Xi’an Impression brings flatbreads stuffed with “pulled pork”, handmade potsticker dumplings and slippery “cold skin” (they taste a lot better than they sound) noodles to Holloway, and down in Camberwell the astonishing Silk Road sells the best Xinjiang (Northern China) cuisine (cumin-spiced lamb skewers, belt noodle chicken) for less than the price of a cinema ticket.
If extreme specialisation and regional cuisine is the way Chinese food in the capital is going, then the same and more can be said for Japanese. The ramen craze has hit hard in the last couple of years, and it seems the very best places have just the one item on the menu – a bowl of creamy “tonkotsu” pork bone broth with bouncy egg noodles. Kanada-Ya is my personal favourite, a supremely authentic import with two branches in the capital now, but there’s a lot to be said for our own version from mini-chain Tonkotsu (not to be confused with the style of ramen they sell) who also do a mean line in katsu chicken burgers. And of course there’s always sushi – Tetsu in Clerkenwell may be a victim of its own success these days, with seats at the 9-seater restaurant as rare as
One of the first foodie crazes I remember sweeping through London after I first started the blog was the chorizo roll from Brindisa in Borough Market; people still queue up for this toasted ciabatta bun filled with rocket and juicy cooking chorizo, and very good it is too, but the influence of Brindisa extends much further than London Bridge. Ex head chef of Brindisa Jose Pizarro runs three restaurants in the capital, the latest of which in Broadgate Circle is a fantastic spot to enjoy a glass of cold sherry, a plate of the finest Iberico ham and some rare pluma Iberica pork steak. And while we’re on the subject, there surely can’t be any better Spanish restaurants anywhere in the world – including Spain – than Barrafina, a gleaming jewel box of a place serving stunning fresh seafood.
But more exciting than any of the above, in my opinion, is what’s happening to our home-grown British cuisine. Spearheaded by trailblazing chef Simon Rogan (who now has a London outpost in Claridge’s hotel called Fera), a new style of cooking characterised by foraged plants, strictly seasonal ingredients and a particular way with colourful vegetables has, in the last few years, become enough of a trend to need its own name – Modern British. In Rogan’s wake come restaurants like The Dairy in Clapham, who serve exquisite plates of seasonal loveliness for not very much money, matched by efficient but always friendly service, good work carried on by other restaurants such as Picture (Marylebone) and the Newman Arms (Fitzrovia).
All of this is barely skimming the surface of the extraordinary variety and quality of places to eat out in London, but you’ll at very least be able to see that this is not a city that does things by halves. If you need a more comprehensive guide to only the very best that the city has to offer, may I cheekily point you in the direction of my Where To Eat In London App (£2.99 from the App Store). Meanwhile, I’m hungry. What’s for dinner?