Saturday, 24 April 2010 by kinakoJam
London is a city that's hard to unravel via the internet. For every reliable price estimation on the Squaremeal website, there's a hundred conflicting comments and reviews to weigh up, and top Time Out accolades can be meaningless (especially when it comes to Lebanese food. trust me on that).
So today I'm throwing up a few culinary highlights of our 6-week work stint in London: spots that came recommended by locals or researched by friends. A reliable way to seek out delicious grub in the capital.
FISH N CHIPS
'Wile Out' crackhouse producer DJ Zinc took us to the Butler's Wharf
Chop House on the south side of the Thames - see phone-cam picture at top. The Chop House serves what's probably the best chish & fips I've ever had, with jars of tartar sauce and mushy peas, fish unfurled from a sleeve of grease proof paper, and fat rectangular chips that were not crispy at all but so yummy and potatoey when sprinkled with malt vinegar.
DJ Zinc wisely ordered sides of baby carrots and steamed spinach ("hold the butter and garlic please").
The restaurant is near the Design museum, right on the edge of the river, and we never had trouble getting a table, which is pleasing in a city where diners love to queue. Fish n chips was the cheapest main at around 16 quid.
Butlers Wharf Chop House
36e Shad Thames, London SE1 2YE
Portuguese producer J-Wow took us to his fave London restaurant, the award-winning Tayyabs. The queue is LONG (literally takes an hour) but it is really worth it. The mixed grill is essential and the naan, chana (chickpea) masala and saag were also dope. It's BYO, and open from midday to 11.30pm. Definitely take beers to drink while you queue. Cheap! And goood.
83 Fieldgate Street, London E1 1JU
Another one of our colleagues, James Pants, is a well known curry aficionado, and he tested out many Indian restaurants in London. He took us to his favourite on Brick Lane, Shampan. It was most notable for not having curry hustlers outside (the ones who tell you if you come inside you get a free drink, and then the staff inside later claim no knowledge of this mysterious drink deal). I had a xacuti curry with tamarind and toasted cumin that was pretty good, but some of the thali plates looked a bit lackluster.
79 Brick Lane
London E1 6QL
CHINATOWN & SURROUNDS
London's Chinatown is the kind of place, late at night, where you might see a drunk brit spraying air freshener on their socks in an an alleyway. But there's also quite a few decent Chinese supermarkets and a stall selling dragon's beard candy, and another stall outside a hairdresser selling really good baozi/steamed buns (it's opposite Baozi Inn on Newport Court).
Being fans of Sichuan food and also of the writing of Fuschia Dunlop, we tried out all three restaurants at which she is a consultant: Bar Shu, Ba Shan and Baozi Inn.
To be honest, they're all much of a muchness. The fanciest and most expensive one, Bar Shu, has slightly fancier furniture and the staff wear earpiece headset things, but the atmosphere is not really posh despite the prices. My advice if you eat there is to go all the way and get a whole fish or crab, because the smaller plates (though yummy) are like really, really good home cooking. It's hard to feel they warrant the price tag.
Ba Shan (photos above and below) was just slightly better value and still tasty, though the Mapo-dofu (photo below) was a bit gluggy - we prefer the one at our local in Cologne which has tons of chillies in it. The chinese cabbage in broth with goji berries was comforting. I expect Antipodeans would find the prices quite hard to stomach.
My favourite was Baozi Inn, the cheapest restaurant of the trio: despite the uncomfortable wooden stools and the waitress making us take valuables out of our coat pockets before she hung them up. The baozi were sold out, but some reviewers say they're not the best offering there. The handmade dumplings in a slick of chilli oil were yummy, as was the flower tofu with peanuts and homemade tofu hiding under more chilli oil and ground sichuan pepper, and I really loved my red-braised pork - with its stodgy, slightly overcooked white rice.. it was good for a rainy winter evening.
25 Newport Court, London WC2H 7JS
Another decent spot in Chinatown is Haozhan, where you can get a decent meal including a couple of beers for 20 -30 quid. In the couple of years since it's opened (during which time the ex-Hakkasan chef moved on), it's become more shabby than sleek. For someone who doesn't get to eat pan-asian food often though, the singapore noodles, salt & pepper squid, small bowl of egg-fried rice, and softshell crab with curry leaves will wash down very well with your Asahi beer.
8 Gerrard Street, London W1D 5PJ
If you have a bit of time up your sleeve - say two weeks - you can do as our American coffee-loving colleague Todd Osborn did, and get up early to walk to a different coffee spot on the East side of London as research. Thanks to him we know a world champion barista at Prufrock and his Swedish colleague claim to have invented the flat white, and churn them out of a clothing store which is in turn disguised as a cigarette shop in Shoreditch.
140 Shoreditch High St
Other notable mentions: Tina, We Salute You in Dalston, The Whitecross Coffee Cart, Monmouth Coffee at Borough Market (they don't do soy milk), Climpson & Sons, Caravan.
Coffee with breakfast:
My London-based kiwi friends Alice & John are into serious brunching, and my favourite of their haunts is The Modern Pantry in Farringdon, with its omelette with sugar-cured prawns and smoked sambal, or poached tamarillos & yoghurt w manuka honey. They also do a caramelly version of hokey pokey ice cream that's so delicious I've been known to eat it for breakfast.
JERK CHICKEN or PATTY
For a city so famous for its nightlife, a lot of the clubs in London close quite early (they often stop serving alcohol at 2am), and good post-clubbing snacks are thin on the ground. Judy's Divine in Brixton is open til 1 or 2am, and they serve a patty between two fat slices of white bread if there's no buns. It's also just down the road from a club called Plan B, which has a Funktion 1 soundsystem and some good artist line-ups.
423 Coldharbour Lane
Brixton, London SW9 8LH
BISTRO FOOD and DUCKFAT FRIES
Last but not least, Comptoir Gascon in Farringdon has really delicious meats (pork belly with parsnip puree! and little raviolis swimming in a yummy sauce that tastes like posh mushroom soup). YUM.
63 Charterhouse St
Ec1, EC1M 6