Seeking Feedback on London Chow Suggestions
My mom, two sisters, and I will be spending five nights in London in mid-April. We'll be staying in Bloomsbury at Scala House (an apartment). Our interest is mostly in the inexpensive to moderate end of the price scale, though one splurge is possible.
I've been spending way more time on searching old Chowhound posts than I care to admit, and am eager for feedback on the list I've assembled. I'm a Bay Area, California chowhounder and know how right on the folks on this board can be.
The list has no real order other than the fact that if it's higher on the list, it's more likely I'm feeling enthusiastic about it . If you think something should be removed or added, I'm eager to hear your thoughts. Some of the posts I gleaned from were more than two years old, so it's entirely possible/likely that certain restaurants have changed. Of course we're never going to make it to all of these, nor will my siblings be likely to agree to all my preferences, but this will be a great list to use for negotiation purposes. Thank you so much in advance!
Bleeding Heart Rest./Bistro/Tavern
Marks & Spenser
Fish and Chips: Seashell, Fish Central, Olleys, Geales, Nautilus, Faulkners, Two Brothers, Toffs, North Sea Fish Fry, Fryers Delight; Rock, Sole, and Plaice; Costas
Efes 1 or Efes 2
Brick Lane Beigel Bake
The Real Greek
Miso Noodle Bar
Patisserie Valerie Café
Launceton Place Rest.
Cambio de Tercio
Soaps - Kandoo is Iranian food, not Lebanese!
And that follows on for me to say don't visit either - Kandoo, or Mohsen, which is also on your list (thats Iranian too).
California has some great Iranian restaurants - Bay Area, LA, SF...all of them. Dont waste a meal by having it here in London.
Marks and Spencers/Wagamama/Brick Lane Beigel Bake are all good for a quick, cheap lunch - dont go out of your way to go to them.
Make it an either/or option with Royal China and Mandarin Kitchen. Royal China is pricier and the design is nicer...but to be honest I'de go to Mandarin Kitchen - its more fun.
Hakkasen is great - but I'de go to its newer, sister restaurant for much better food - Yauatcha. But if you want the whole 'wow' factor - people, lively atmosphere etc. then Hakkasen is the place.
Borough Mrkt - plan a whole morning (Sat) or afternoon (Frid) for this, it'll be worth it.
Hope this helps :)
If you're thinking about Malabar Junction for southern Indian then I suggest you go slightly further north, to Cleveland Street, to Ragam. Also southern Indian but nearly half the price and the food is substantially better. The decor is a lot worse but who cares - you're there for the food.
I would only order from the left hand side of the menu. Iddly, uppatham, rasa vadai (if you like hot food), masala dosai are the best imo. Also ask for the special chutney, which is an onion and beetroot one with honey and thyme in the mix.
You could also order from the specials for main courses - the chemin poyral (prawns in coconut with chillis) is good, as are the breads, especially the coconut paratha. But avoid the bog standard Indian dishes. You could easily come in here and order a chicken korma and have no idea it was a good southern Indian restaurant.
Other places I like:
Kandoo, northern end of the Edgware Road. Lebabese, very simple, very cheap. Superb breads straight from the oven (cooked to order) and a special stew of the night. BYO. If you like Burmese, there is a decent Burmese restaurant three doors away but the owner is a bit odd and tends to come and sit at your table and tell you his life story.
If you like Vietnamese, the best one in London is relatively new and is called Cay Tre and is at 301 Old Street, London, EC1. Again the decor is nothing special but the food is superb. There is one special fish dish with dill that they prepare at your table that is wonderful. Cheap as well. £25 for two maximum. The Vietnamese lemonade is well worth having, if only to prove that there is a drink with more sugar in than Coca Cola (by a factor of about three I would guess).
We haven't eaten at the Bleeding Heart Tavern, but have stopped off for a drink. Seemed to be a nice place with interesting menu, but there are a lot of good gastropubs.
On the other hand, we are extraordinarily fond of the Eagle, perhaps because its a real pub that does food, not a restaurant masquerading as a pub (not that those are bad, just a different thing). My husband is extremely addicted to their steak sandwich. I like to go with what's on the board that day. Had fabulous large grilled prawns (with heads) with romesco sauce on our last trip -- the cooking tends to be Spanish, Italian and Portugese influenced. A fun and affordable place. If you have memories of Joyce Goldstein's Square One Cafe, the food always reminds me of that.
In fact, the whole Clerkenwell area is full of interesting places, including several other reputedly good gastropubs. We intend to try to Coach & Horses soon.
I'd forget Yo Sushi, which is a conveyor belt sushi chain. You'll get better sushi here in San Francisco.
Wagamama on the other hand is a good budget choice for various noodles.
We also have enjoyed Navarro (and gotten good reports from friends as well)-- downstairs in the tapas bar -- although its been a few years since we were there. I understand that there is a new place for tapas not far from there -- Fino -- that is supposed to be excellent. It's on my short list to try later this month.
The List, in no order:
J. Sheekey - expensive for you
St. John - " " " "
Gordon Ramsay - " " " "
Fish and Chips: Seashell
Royal China - dim sum on Queensway, get there early
Mandarin Kitchen - lobster w/noodles
The Real Greek - you can eat in the bar
Moro - you can eat at the bar
Patisserie Valerie Café
Oyster bar in Michelin Bldg
Al Waha - Westbourne Grove
Just background: I'm from the NYC area and have lived in London for about 20 months.
My general advice:
Skip Japanese here, better in SF and I've had word from a Japanese sushi chef that there are restrictions on fish imports to the UK which limit the selection/quality and make it more vastly more expensive than in US. There are several Japanese places I go to (one is Kulu Kulu for conveyor-belt sushi in Soho, not bad quality and good price and you could make a lunch of it), but as a visitor you should concentrate on things that you can only get in London.
Also skip most Latin American. My husband and I recently had passable Peruvian at Fina Estampa, and some good Bolivian at a small place that has no menu--a hidden place near Elephant and Castle. We've a had a few excellent Argentinian steaks (expensive Gaucho Grill on Swallow St), but the 'Mexican' food I've tried is at the level of a mediocre, cheesy-touristy place in San Diego. Nothing special enough to warrant a visit.
Can't say I really love the Italian food in London either (lived in Naples for a few years, so I may be too picky).
So, the good stuff: while visiting London eat Lebanese (I like Fairuz in Marylebone) and Iranian and Indian/Pakistani food. Also North African. British stuff: Specifically, eat a British 'rare breed' piece of pork (say, at St John). It will change your idea of pork (flavor, juiciness, fat, yum). Also try the British beer and cheeses. If you are a dessert person, have one of their 'puddings' (not the US meaning of pudding; it means 'dessert', usually something satisfyingly heavy and warm), such as sticky toffee pudding or treacle tart or the amusing but good Spotted Dick.
Comments from your list:
--Mohsen, excellent, inexpensive, I have been several times
--Vietnamese on Kingsland Road (several of your choices are on the same block, walk up and down the street to compare menus). None of them blow me away, but good enough.
--Borough Market, fun to see the selection, have a bite of something
--J. Sheekey, very good seafood, somewhat expensive
--St. John, excellent, ask for what is seasonal in the appetizers, expensive but not outrageous
--Fish and Chips, hmm, never fabulous; I kind of enjoyed Fryer's Delight and Golden Hind (in Marylebone), but best fish and chips I've had in the UK was in Brighton, not London. I've heard Seashell is strictly only good as takeaway, don't sit down.
--Brick Lane Beigel Bake, yes, excellent bagels, if you happen to be on Brick Lane anyway.
--Phoenix Palace (Marylebone), very good Chinese, but I wonder if you will be impressed coming from SF. Also excellent but very expensive is Princess Garden of Mayfair.
--Gordon Ramsay Royal Hospital Road, fabulous, a big splurge, look into set lunch
Not on your list:
--Gaylord's (Wigmore Road) has very good Indian, medium priced
--Nahm (Thai), perhaps too expensive, but quite different, I've been cooking out of his (Thompson's) cookbook and I'm a big fan. I've seen bad reviews on Chowhound, but I liked it. Decor sucks, quite frankly, but food is great.
Cheap, good but not particularly healthy, lunch ideas:
--West Cornwall Pasty Company (branches everywhere, including Covent Garden). A pasty is a giant Cornish empanada with various fillings.
--Another lunch idea: have a ploughman's platter in a pub (cheeses, pickles, crusty bread), usually not too expensive. Goes down quite well with a pint.
--Another idea: All the cheese shops give samples, sample a few British cheeses, buy a piece or two and eat with bread as a picnic. Try La Fromagerie in Marylebone and Neal's Yard Dairy (Seven Dials area).
--Check out the food hall in Selfridges, possible takeaway selection (not inexpensive, but interesting)
Not sure why people recommend Pret a Manger and other sandwich shops. Not my thing.
re: Passionate Eater
re: John Francis
Oops, I guess Gaylords is on Mortimer St. I guess I got confused because I walk down Wigmore part of the way to get to it. The prices are a little 'high' (I think I've become immune to the pain of spending money since I moved to London a year and a half ago), but we've had really nice meals there.
I can't speak from experience, but the buzz I hear from London about Chinese restaurants these days seems to be all about China Experience and Shanghai Blues. Both have been favorably reviewed by Fuchsia Dunlop, and she says that the xiaolong bao at China Experience were the best she's had in London. They're both considerably cheaper than Hakkasan, but expensive compared to US Chinese restos.
I can tell you have read someo of my London posts. If you are going to be there on a Sunday, do try to get reservations for Lundums. The place is a delight and lovely to boot. The Sunday brunch buffet will have some of the very best salmon you have ever had in your life and thier salmon tartare is to die for. When you arrive and are seated they will bring you a herring plate frist before you get to the rest of the buffet. There are 4 different herring preparations. The herring in curry is really delicious as is the rest of it. The buffet will have several salmon preparations, meatballs, sausages etc. And there is a dessert table too.
Have a great time!
Glad you posted that you're a Bay Area hound so I will tailor my $0.02 accordingly. You said you were more into moderate - I would rate Gordon Ramsay, J Sheekey and St John as high end - beware that dining in London is expensive compared to the US and you've got a few good restos in SF so I would probably just pick one of the 3. If it were me, I'd probably go for St John, but that's meats whereas J Sheekey's strengths are seafood so depends what you're in the mood for. Also, you might try to go to these places at lunch instead, and at Sheekey sit at the bar, I think they take the cover price off if you do that.(yeah, Sheekey thinks it's a club!)
I would probably drop Hakkasan - I've not been but the review I read that someone posted on this board recently suggests it's very very high end dim sum place (90 quid a person for dim sum!) and I can't imagine it would be leaps and bounds better than what you get in SF. Wong Kei, while I love it, I would not consider a destination resto. It's in Leicester Sq and there are tons of places there (including C&O which is Malaysian, something not as well represented in the US IMHO). If you're adventurous you might want to walk around Gerard (and the backside, facing Shaftsbury Ave) and if you see lots of Chinese folks inside and what they are eating intrigues you, then go in. Note most of these places are Cantonese, again, sth you'd find quite easily in SF.
Indian, OTOH, I consider a must do while in London since it sucks in the US. Others can speak to your list as I have not tried them all, but one I have and liked a whole lot, is Malabar Junction - also convenient to you since it is near the British Museum (you can walk home after to work it off). It's south Indian, so you can try another place for northern stuff - maybe New Tayyeb? I read somewhere on this board it's Pakistani, so some interesting things to try would be beef dishes (like haleem) and unusual breads like taftan, instead of the usual tandoori chicken/ garlic naan thing that non-Indians tend to order. Note that south Indian food tends to be spicier than north Indian.
Not tried the sushi places you listed but given how expensive London is I probably would skip sushi unless you've heard fantastic things about those places. I do like Wagamama though, even though it's a chain. It's ramen but not the traditional kind, it's more like the HK-style pan-Asian noodle places we have here in LA.
If you do go to J Sheekey you can probably have fish'n'chips there instead.
Marks & Sparks do great sandwiches and prepared foods, chips (crisps) and stuff - you said you have an apt so if you want to eat in some days you can buy stuff from there. I also love their profiteroles.
Enjoy your trip!
Wong Kei is what is technically known as a shithole. I used to go there when I was 20, knew next to nothing about Chinese food except that I wanted it to be cheap, and was generally sufficiently drunk that the scowling waiters - who are realistically the place's main attraction - were amusing.
It's possible that there may be ways to get non-gringo food at Wong Kei, but why would you bother trying? There are plenty of places far more worth the effort.
I went to St. John a couple of weeks ago. It was good: started out with a terrine, followed by middlewhite, - a breed of pig - fatty and solid pork flavor, i believe it was a thick slice of the leg (served straight up, no sauces etc) with a kale/potato mash and ginger cake butterscotch sauce for dessert. my dining companion had the same starters and dessert as me, but had squirrel for main course. the food was flavorful and uncomplicated. i enjoyed the pork, but wish i'd opted for a stew or something instead, that evening i was in the mood for a "bigger" flavor scene. the squirrel was nice, gamey, but a lot of work - many bones. we shared a bottle of Burgundy and a bottle of spring water. the bill was 100 pounds with a 10% tip. the space is nice, very white and butcher-y. the one guy we had as our waiter was "distainfully friendly". wasn't a problem, kind of charming, but i'd have been annoyed w/ the same service in nyc where i live.
I cannot comment on most of the places on your list, but want to put in a good word for Mohsen and the Borough Market.
We dined at Mohsen on a Sunday night last November, and it was delicious. The best hummus I have ever had, and the grilled meats were fabulous. Unfortunately, by the time we arrived for dinner (maybe around 8:00) they were already out of the evening's special (abgosht, I think). They do not serve alcohol, but there is a pub next door, and I saw other diners head over there to pick up a few bottles of beer and bring them into the restaurant.
Borough Market is also wonderful. I recommend the chorizo sandwich -- just look for the long line.
Can't give you too much help but while in London last year, we ate at Ishbilya and thought it was wonderful. I would call it moderate in price. We also loved Borough Market for lunch and general browsing. If you plan to cook in your apartment, you can pick up some goodies there. You have quite a list for 5 days!
You've got a long list there! :-) I think it would help if you said what's inexpensive and what's moderate to you. Everyone has a different way of looking at restaurant costs. And the dollar and £ have changed so much the past year or so that it makes it difficult to figure out at times. Spending £40 is moderate to some.. expensive to others.
I know it's a long list, and it's one that will definitely be culled before we leave. The less I hear about a place, the more likely it will be that it will drop off. As I think I mentioned in the original post, the higher the restaurant's name on the list, the more Iikely it is that we'll be trying to go there.
As for price ranges, I guess I was hoping that the list as it presently stands gives a pretty good idea of what I'm thinking about. 10-15 pounds per person would be the low side, moderate in the 25-45 range, and everything above that in the "special" or splurge range. That's a very loose approximation, of course, and it doesn't mean that a. I'm right about what is inexpensive or moderate, or b. that we won't end up spending more than that on many meals.
Thanks so much for everyone's feedback so far. I love Chowhound!
Your ideas about price ranges sounds absolutely spot on to me. You should be able to find some very good meals in your 'moderate' range. I used to rent a flat, too... makes for good savings at breakfast time! Enjoy your time in London.. and remember that Pret A Manger makes dandy sandwiches that won't break the bank. You'll see them all over London.