I lived in London for three years. The things I miss most are the supermarkets, which carry a far superior selection than ours do; the people, because they’re not all Dutch; and eating out, because in London you can actually get a good meal, with good service for a good price.
Neck of mutton at St. John’s Bread and Wine
So while I should be working on something else I figured I’d give you a little hit list of places you need to go when you’re there.
First off: don’t be an idiot. Stay away from places like Pizza Express, Nando’s, Ping Pong and Wagamama’s.* These places are chains. Chains are evil. Avoid them at all costs. On with the good stuff…
The East End
Song Que. Arguably the best Vietnamese place in London. Definitely order the fresh rolls and the soft shell crab. If, like me, you’re not big on noodles, skip all the mains and just order a fuckload of starters. They’re the shit.
St. John’s Bread and Wine. I felt so fancy when I learned a lot of chefs I have come to admire over the past couple of years are huge fans of Fergus Henderson and his brand of nose to tail eating. My brother took me here on my first visit and I’ve loved the place ever since. The menu is simple and seasonal, they avoid putting too much crap on your plate and food ranges from the more adventurous (we had an amazing plate of duck hearts on toast once) to more accessible fair like smoked mackerel with beetroot and horseradish. The fresh baked madelines that you can order for desert are to die for. Don’t take anyone squeamish there, there will be blood. I prefer Bread and Wine over proper St. John’s btw, it seems less formal.
Bangla Cafe. I had no idea this is what it was called, everyone knows it as the Indian place with the semi-erotic murals of Lady Di. As far as Indian food on Bricklane goes, the food is spot on. There’s another Indian place a couple of doors to your left, which has a newspaper clipping in the window from when Prince Charles came to visit, they’ll even show you the video of his visit if you want to, which is a good alternative if you’re not into the Queen of Hearts.
The bagel places. There are two bagel places on Bricklane. They’re right next door from each other. They spell it beigel. One of them is the oldest bagel shop in the UK. They are both dead cheap, so don’t be fooled by all that hipster shit going on down the road on a Sunday. Anyway… Get baked goods, like brownies and other sweet shit, from the bakery on your right hand side. Get bagels from the bakery on your left hand side. I might have memorized this the wrong way round… The reasoning behind this is that the bakery on the right does better baked goods, but has their bagels prepped in advance, which doesn’t do them any favors. The other bakery will top your bagel fresh, but their baked goods are meh.
Bodean’s, if I could get a neon tattoo I would
There is a dim sum chain called PingPong in London. However, you can get much better and cheaper dim sum in China Street (Londoners call it China Town, but someone from San Francisco corrected me, it’s more of a street than a ‘town’). New World is the best place for it. Staff run around with little steamer carts filled with dim sum shilling their wares to you. It’s awesome and I always overeat. Definitely get the taro dumpling. Best dim sum ever. And stock up on some greens cause all that dough might get to you later.
Bodean’s BBQ. Granted, Bodean’s is a chain. There are Bodean’s all over town now. But nothing beats their ribs or their burnt ends (served on limited days, make sure you go on the right one). All the Americans I took here said it tasted like home. And if Americans say that you’re doing it right, you’re doing it right. If you do go, bring me back a couple of bottles of their BBQ sauce please.
Belgo. There’s two of these but I’ve only ever been to the Central location. Belgo serves Belgian food and does it well. Everyone goes for the mussels. I always end up covered in clam juice. Best in town basically.
Marie’s. Dodgy caf at the back of Waterloo Station. Seriously the best place to have Thai or a fry-up. Odd combo but it works. Marie’s is where I first encountered Thai basil and I haven’t looked back since. If you’re a tourist avoid lunch hour, that place is packed.
Best Japanese goes to Mr. Taro. If you’re lucky you’ll bump into the owner and discover he looks exactly like the drawing that fronts his restaurants. Best sashimi platter I’ve ever had (not just tuna and salmon, boring) and pretty much the place that introduced me to proper Japanese food (which was unpossible in Holland at the time, and I always knew I’d love it cause well… fish!).
Please note my tips are slightly dated. I know there’s new places out there that are probably really good. The only blog I am aware of right now doing good reports on London eats is Burger Anarchy, as you might’ve guessed they mostly write about new fangled American style hipster eats (not that there’s anything wrong with those, I wish we had those here).
*I am not even linking to these places… Little side note diatribe but there’s a Wagamama in Amsterdam and people regular recommend it because they think it’s a proper restaurant…