Central London’s food scene has always excited me; after all, I was born and raised in England, and then I jumped over the pond. But, that food scene wouldn’t be half of what it is without the help of immigration and free moment within the EU. Today, the majority of the UK’s service industry are considered foreign, and I couldn’t help but ponder over the future of England’s hospitality industry in the aftermath of Brexit. So, naturally I processed that ‘leave’ vote by comfort eating. Here’s a guide to what to eat and drink, where (in no particular order).
A line-up is a constant feature outside Bao’s cosy 32-seat light grey exterior. Bao is seriously ‘hipster-to-the-max’, and so, it makes sense that good things come in small packages. The reason for the lineup: cloud-like, pillowy soft Taiwanese steamed buns; addictively good. From pork and more pork (classic or confit), to shredded lamb with a smearing of mint, or the fried chicken, the truth is they’re all good (I may have tried them all during a single seating).
My preferred bao – the classic, with juicy tender braised pork, pickles, and textured with a peanut powder pow! Bao gets even more points for making a successful transition from street stall to two permanent brick locations, which is not an easy thing to do. So, well done Bao, well done.
53 Lexington St, W1F 9AS
Monday – Saturday 12-3pm; 5.30pm – 10pm
Right in the heart of Soho, Bar Termini is a low-key café-esque spot with lots to offer. Serving up flaky pastries and ‘real’ Italian coffee, 4 types of Negroni, cheese and, of course, porky goodness! You cannot go wrong with the Burrata with sundried tomatoes and pane carasau (crispy cracker like flat bread). Add some Coppa or Salami on the side and a Negroni, and you’re set. Antipasti dishes may seem simple, but Italians let their ingredients do the talking, and when done right (at the cheese making, bread baking, meat curing process), it’s a beautiful thing.
7 Old Compton Street, W1D 5JE
Monday – Thursday 10am-11:30pm
Friday – Saturday 10am–1am
Golden Union Fish Bar
‘Proper’ fish n chips are hard to come by in Central London, so avoid a tourist trap and go to this chippie instead. With its retro feel, a clean, shiny, bright environment greets you. For me, the food at Golden Union Fish Bar speaks the same, with sustainable seafood and Grade-A potatoes. That means the chips are fluffy on the inside with a uncoloured crunch. As you take a knife to your fish, you hear the cracking of a golden, expertly seasoned beer batter, and then your fish just glows. Plus, the portions are huge!
38 Poland Street, Soho, W1F 7LY
Hoppers was recently awarded a Michelin Bib Gourmand award, and deservedly so, which, in my eyes, is the award for the people (‘good quality, good value cooking’). Taking things to the streets of Tamil Nadu/Sri Lanka, this is the newest restaurant in the Sethi Family’s growing empire (Gymkhana, Bao, Trishna). Named after a ‘hopper’ – a light, crazy crispy, fermented rice and coconut pancake (kind of), with an egg cracked in its belly. Whether you decide on an egg hopper or plain dosa, you won’t be disappointed; just make sure you order the side chutneys, as well as the black pork kari. I have been craving that black pork curry every day since setting foot back in North America!
49 Frith Street, Soho, W1D 4SG
Monday – Thursday 12-2.30pm; 5:30-10.30pm
Friday – Saturday 12–10.30pm
On a quiet side street in Shoreditch, there’s Oklava – a boundary-shifting restaurant making quite some name for itself by redefining and reimagining what Turkish/Cypriot food is and can be. A young, creative, seasonally inspired, locally sourcing chef, (that just happens to be female – yes!), heads the open plan kitchen. Selin Kiazim is drawing on childhood memories to re-introduce us to Turkish/Cypriot cuisine, one dish at a time, with help from a stone oven, a charcoal grill and family recipes.
Based on a concept of sharing, the menu takes us through an edible adventure through the changing seasons. As you start your journey, you’re presented with homemade ‘baharat’ bread – dense bread served with Chef Selin’s epic medjool date butter, topped with a delicate sprinkling of sea salt. My favourite dish at Oklava was the ‘lahmacun’ – a cooked-to-order flatbread that’s smeared with spiced ground lamb, and served with not-too-acidic pickles, that have a zingy crunch, and savoury green olives. The idea is to add the pickles to the flatbread, give it a roll, cut it up and eat it with your hands (preferably making a crumbly mess).
74 Luke St. London EC2A 4PY
Monday – Friday 12-3pm; 5.30pm-10pm
‘Local, naturally raised meat’, ‘British flour’, ‘homemade’, ‘local craft beer’ are not things that you would associate with a pie shop that caters to a rowdy football (soccer) crowd, but that’s why Piebury Corner shines. As a former family-run restaurant owner, I’m naturally drawn to independent and family-run businesses, it just means so much more than a faceless chain. Sadly, everywhere you go, they are a dying breed. But, luckily for pie fans everywhere, there’s Piebury Corner and they’re only getting better and better.
“Piebury Corner started in our front garden, on the other side of the stadium [Highbury] with 5,000 fans walked past our house every match day. We were surrounded by burger vans, so I was like ‘I’m going to set up a stall in my front garden and I’m going to do pies!’ It just expanded, this used to be a pie and mash shop from the First World War, for 100 years – a lot of history in this shop. When all the Arsenal fans come, it makes me feel good; it makes me feel like I’ve done something worthwhile and quite cool, and something my kids can be proud of.” said owner, Paul.
Named after Arsenal players, past and present, Piebury Corner’s pies kick ass with a generous helping of meat (that’s actual chunks of meat), and a flaky pastry. My personal favourite is ‘The Dennis Bergkamp’ with chicken, ham and leek, plus a silky smothering of mash and gravy of course. However, the best named pie is ‘The Aaron Lambsey’ (because his name is Ramsay) – I’m a sucker for a good food pun. Make sure you say hi to Paul and Nicky.
209-211 Holloway Road, N7 8DL
Let me start by saying ‘Mr Lyan’ has a brilliant mind. White Lyan is a more casual, no-frills looking bar, compared to Dandelyan, located in the swanky Mondrian hotel in South Bank. White Lyan is about one thing – consistency. For that reason, the bar team doesn’t use ice, egg white or citrus in their craft cocktails, and they even distil their own spirits too. The bar is run on a kitchen concept, where the drinks are pre-batched and measured out, so the drinks are lightening fast coming out.
The menu changes fairly often and it’s safe to say Mr Lyan has a different way of looking at the ‘classics’. I like to speak with the bartender and ask for recommendations. The standout drink was ‘Salad’, which was pitched as ‘a bit weird’. And I like weird. The cocktail had Mr Lyan Gin, which was infused with lettuce, herb de provence, house-made red apple soda (instead of the citrus), and frothy soy lecithin instead of egg white (making it vegan). The end flavour profile reminded me of a salad vinaigrette with this almost citrus/vinegar note. It was so good that I wanted it again. In my opinion, not only was this the best cocktail from my 9 weeks in London, they also have the best cocktail list in the city too.
153–155 Hoxton Street, N1 6PJ
0203 011 1153
Wednesday-Sunday 5pm until Late
Part 2 of this City Guide to London to follow (I still needed to comfort eat).
Happy eating and drinking.