Every foodie you speak to in London has a list of their favourite go-to spots. In many cases, they’ll vouch for each one with the utmost passion, yet the same names rarely appear twice on different lists. What this tells us is that eating out in London is an intimate affair, invigorated by variety. Whether you don your finery to sit for hours at a pristine Michelin restaurant or stop-off for a casual street meal under a graffitied overpass, you can rest assured your belly will always well cared-for, with an array of rich multi-cultural cuisines around every corner.
With this list, we’ve tried to honour that old, worn-out adage: variety is the spice of life. We’ve sampled all kinds of unfamiliar cuisines, from Eritrean to Jamaican, hitting all kinds of London restaurants and street-spots on our travels.
What have we discovered? Well, one thing’s for sure – there’s enough here to keep every London foodie happy.
The founder, Latanya, dreamed-up the idea of Negril whilst travelling through Jamaica, 5 years ago. When she returned home, Latanya began to wonder whether a chain of jerk chicken restaurants would be viable in London. Would Jamaican food be well-received in Brixton? The answer came quickly and is still resounding through the restaurant’s present popularity. Offering healthy and wholesome meals, often accompanied by sweet potato fries and fried plantains, Negril specialises in mouth-watering jerk chicken. This is one of the coolest, most affordable low-key London restaurants you’ll find.
Raz’s Kebab & Café
Sometimes, when you’re juggling different food options, it’s best to keep it simple. In the outer suburbs, surrounding London, you’ll find Raz’s Kebab & Café in leafy Claygate. Uncomplicated shish kebab is top of the menu in this takeaway/café, specialising in Turkish cuisine. It’s also located next to Platform 3 – the smallest pub in Surrey – a micropub, no less, connected to Brightwater Brewery. This is a great place to wash down your taste of unfussy London food. Mind you, you better hope there aren’t more than four punters inside of you’re in for squeeze.
Need a great spot for an evening meal? At Finsbury Park you’ll find a selection of fine London restaurants, including Petek, which is decorated with beautiful old photos of Istanbul (when it used to be Constantinople). The open kitchen, often wreathed in steam, is a hive of chatter and cooking sounds, supplying an exciting sense of movement and suffusing the room with a delicious aroma. Mood lighting is provided by colourful lamps, the food is always tasty and well-portioned, and service is impeccable. We recommend the köfte main, served with yoghurt to take the edge off those sneaky chilis mixed into your minced lamb. If you’re looking for a drink before or after your meal, you can always across the road to the Faltering Fullback, an Irish pub with a great name and a lovely garden on leafy Perth Road.
Asmara offers an exuberant Eritrean cuisine – Eritrea is located on the Horn of Africa – and a homely atmosphere softened by the aromatic wafting of spice and stews. This is about as intimate as it gets in the London food world. Food is served with a bowl of salty popcorn, usually atop a large pancake plate, which is torn into pieces used to scoop-up the many gorgeous stews and other mains. In a few words, Asmara is welcoming, authentic and friendly. You’ll find it shining happily out onto the street, just outside Brixton Village.
Looking for shared platters? Located in a peaceful corner of Covent Garden, Dishoom is known in London for having mastered the art of serving large groups – no more criss-crossing arms, when taste-seeking missiles become tangled across the table. This swish Bombay brasserie is also low-lit and comfortable, decorated with a fun, post-colonial style and offering a menu styled to suit an old-school Irani café, with everything from birianis to pau bhaji, alongside all the sweet varieties of naan you could ever want.
Far from being anything fancy, Kim’s is a modest street stall half-hidden amidst the bustle of Camden Market. This special stop-off is a Vietnamese Hut lit by a neon sign. As far as London food goes, the grub here is simple but delicious. Prepare yourself for a light, healthy takeaway and be sure to try the signature Pho soup – it makes the long lunch queues worthwhile.
Comptoir Libanais is another one for those who favour simple pleasures. This Lebanese restaurant can be distinguished by its colourful, counter-style. The meze, mint tea and patterned crockery are just a few of the delights on offer. It also just happens to be located on Exhibition Road in South Kensington, close to the Natural History Museum. If the sun is shining be sure to eat outside, and even if it’s cold (like it was when we were there) you can huddle under the heaters and indulge in some of the finest people-watching London has to offer. We’d definitely recommend the Cold Mezze Platter.
Inspired by the Golden Age of transatlantic travel, the Sea Containers can be found at the Mondrian London, with wonderful views of the busy River Thames. Specialising in a mixture of American and British cuisine, this Southbank restaurant sits at the finer (more expensive) end of modern dining. The copper-clad décor, reflecting the hull of a ship, open-plan kitchen, wood-fired oven and stainless-steel diner bar all combine to create a unique culinary experience. Oh, and the seafood aint too bad either– try the crab!
The Breakfast Club
In 2005, The Breakfast Club first appeared in Soho. You’ll find it on D’Arblay Street, with an eye-catching interior wrapped in walls covered by polaroid photos. You’ll be joined at your table by friendly notes scrawled on napkins and postcards from around the world. It’s especially popular for breakfast, brunch and lunch. They make a mean waffle too, and the pancakes here are so popular they’re flying off the pans. In fact, last year they made so many pancakes the overall annual stack would’ve been taller than the London Shard.
The Beigel Shop
Deep within the mad fiesta of Brick Lane, you’ll find the much-loved Beigel Shop, home to rainbow bagels, or, if you’re craving something more familiar, the cream cheese and smoked salmon topped variety too. Be ready for an endless selection intended to surprise your taste buds. This is fast-paced, delicious London food that doesn’t disappoint.