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Ethnic Cuisines in London

Hello,

I'll be visiting London in a few weeks and I'm wondering what ethnic cuisines you feel are particularly worth sampling there. As far as South Asian I am certainly going to try New Tayyabs or Needoo Grill (chime in if you have a preference), but I already eat plenty of North Indian/Pakistani in San Francisco. I would especially like to try some foods that I wouldn't find in the United States, so focus less on Pacific Asian and New World cuisines. Unique regions of large countries would also be interesting.

This is not to suggest that I'm not interested in British food (St. John and Bull & Last are on the itinerary). I would also love to discover some of the more esoteric working class dishes of London and the U.K.

Thank you for your advice, and feel feel to critique any of my plans above.

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New Tayyabs
89 Fieldgate St, Poplar, Greater London E1 1, GB

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  1. Having just been in California (including SF), I know what you mean about what's available there. Maybe you'd like to try some Lebanese, Iranian, Spanish? We can supply lots of choices where they are concerned. You should get yourself some 'real' fish and chips, some good pies (the British variety) etc.

    2 Replies
    1. re: zuriga1

      I hadn't thought of Spanish food in that way but you are right London is pretty hot for high quality Spanish food at the moment especially some of the well thought of places like Opera Tavern.

      1. re: PhilD

        I was thinking, too, of that new place, Jose.

    2. And - just to be picky - fish and chips, pie and mash, jellied eel etc are London's ethnic cuisines, as are the dishes you will get at St Johns and many gastro pubs

      The cuisines worth trying from London's ethnic minority groups include Tayyabs and Needo, as you already mention, and also middle eastern as Zuriga points out. There are some good threads on here about Vietnamese and Sichuan food, but you may get better or as good in San Francisco.

      29 Replies
      1. re: Theresa

        How far are you willing to travel out of central?
        JFores' posts are pretty good indicators of the ethnic minority cuisines around here, though some of them are not close to central london.

        Something you may not have in SF is Chinese cuisine from Xinjiang - Silk Road Restaurant in Camberwell does very good Big Plate Chicken, Lamb Dumplings and Kebabs and a variety of other dishes from the region.
        East Ham also has very good regional Indian food from the south, both Veg and non veg from Kerala and Tamil Nadu.

        Looking fwd to hearing how you get on!

        -----
        Silk Road
        49 Camberwell Church St, Camberwell, Greater London SE5 8, GB

        1. re: ShekhaV

          Oh yeah - forgot to mention - Xeebta Lido is Excellent Homestyle Somali food at this little hole in the wall on Kentish Town Rd
          - we have lots of very good African food here. Another place to try is Peckham for Nigerian restaurants and I like Muna's near Turnpike Lane for Eritrean.

          1. re: ShekhaV

            I second Peckham. London's African scene is light years beyond any American city (even NYC's rapidly growing community in the Bronx is no comparison.)

            Given the fact you're from San Fran I'd imagine that Chinese or Thai are not exactly your priorities. Nonetheless Silk Road Restaurant is excellent (though I think either San Fran or LA has one of the US' only Uighur owned and operated restaurants serving Xinjiang food.)

            Personally I think you should concentrate on the things that will be be undoubtedly better. African cuisines, Caribbean food, Lebanese, perhaps Turkish and Iranian.

            For two central locations out of that list, go to Chez Marcelle (preferably during on of her lunch hours; check the site) for amazing Lebanese food ans try Mohsen for some of the best Iranian food in London (particularly good daily specials.)

            I'm trying to think of amazing Caribbean places that aren't too far. If you want to travel then East Ham will have a much more extensive South Asian scene than anywhere in the Bay Area. High Street North alone probably has more South Indian restaurants than San Francisco's outlying South Asian communities. Particularly good restaurants there are Thattukada, Anandha Bhavan, Hyderabadi Spice and Vasanta Bhavan. Also, pani puri and other chaat carts tend to open on the street during the summer which makes it one of the only places you can get spontaneous unlicensed street food in all of London.

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            Silk Road
            49 Camberwell Church St, Camberwell, Greater London SE5 8, GB

            1. re: JFores

              I'm working in Peckham Rye at the moment but most of the cafes are (admittedly excellent) West Indian joints (the jerk pork place outside the station is of particular note). Where in Peckham should I go for African?

              1. re: emusinthezone

                Zeret Kitchen on Camberwell New Road, not farr from Camberwell Green. Have read good things about it and is on my list...it's Ethiopian/Eritrean.

                1. re: emusinthezone

                  African places are everywhere in Peckham - and you're in the heart of it being near The Rye. I would recommend Cafe Spice which is a 2 minute walk from PR - take a right as you exit the station onto the main drag and it's a little further down. Cafe Spice is Nigerian as are most of the African places in Peckham. You also have Agrobeso (which also does Ghanaian food), Queens Kitchen, Oludele Suya which are all along Peckham high street. There are a few more dotted around PR and Chomert Grove (i think?), but they aren't signposted but the smells are wondrous when you walk past.

                  To be honest, I don't rate any of the Caribbean places I've tried in Peckham. Where have you been?

                  1. re: Nii

                    Look on Food Stories website. She's very knowledgeable about Peckham food. She also rates the jerk place in the alleyway leading to PR station. Her tip is to get the jerk pork and ask for extra gravy.

                    1. re: cathodetube

                      Yeah, the one near the station is the pick of the bunch (Carribean Spice?) and I've had a few good patties and jerk chicken's from some others along and slightly off the high street (the best of these- Al's - closed down). I haven't really tried the more traditional dishes like ackee and saltfish and hard food from anywhere, so you may be right that otherwise Peckham is substandard for Carribean. If you're looking for excellent Carribean then there's some great hole in the wall joints on West Green Rd in North London, but I'm not so sure about the names.

                      Also, I've walked past Cafe Spice dozens of times and always assumed it's Indian from the dishes in the window and the staff, but I'll give it a try this week. Thanks for the other tips!

                      1. re: emusinthezone

                        I can understand why you thought Cafe Spice was Indian, as it's run entirely by Indians and they have a few Indian dishes on the menu, but the majority of the stuff is Nigerian. They MUST have a Nigerian chef somewhere out the back making their stuff!

                        If you head to the TESCO end of the Old Kent road there are five more Nigerian places all within a short distance of one another - Melzia's, Daniel's, Le Joint - which may be Sierra Leoneon, I'm not too sure) and Presidential Suya (which is a takeaway place serving Nigerian kebabs- seriously spicy and covered in a peanut chilli rub) and its larger restaurant - Presidential, which is next door

                        If you're ever in Broadway market, I would recommend Jollof Pot, which is a fab Ghanaian stall.

                        There is also another great Ghanaian place located off PR, I just can't remember where - i'll get back to you! Have fun!

              2. re: ShekhaV

                I'm happy to travel around if there's really a gem to be found, just wondering if I can depend on the kindness of the average Londoner to help me out when I get lost.

                1. re: tenedor

                  Us Londoners get a bad rap! You'll definitely find someone helpful! :)

              3. re: Theresa

                YES! give me more of those ethnic London dishes, please, and tell me where to find them!
                thanks so much.

                1. re: Theresa

                  The Vietnamese food in London is absolutely dismal compared to SF -- DISMAL DIIIIIIIISSSSSMAAAAAAALLLLL -- as is the Sichuanese/Chinese generally.

                  1. re: brokentelephone

                    Have you tried the Vietnamese places in Deptford?

                    1. re: limster

                      Yah. Ok dismal might be a bit of an exaggeration. Unfairly, I tend to judge Vietnamese places on pho alone, and its a different kettle of fish here and in the US.

                      1. re: brokentelephone

                        I wonder how long it will be before stop assessing Vietnamese food on the basis of one dish? It seems that if it sells great Pho it equals great Vietnamese it's a bit like saying an American restaurant is great because it only does great burgers. My guess is that Pho holds back Vietnamese much like Chicken Tikka Massala held back Indian food in the UK i.e it took time for the majority to see past the one dish.

                        1. re: PhilD

                          You make a very good point, Phil. It's one thing to order a favourite dish in many, different places, but to judge the entire restaurant on that alone is folly. For just that reason, I recently ordered a lot of different dishes when having a Korean dinner with a friend in London. It gave me a much better comparison to other places I've been, but even that alone was probably not enough.

                          1. re: PhilD

                            Well -- pho is an amazing meal, and in my experience, most places that have great pho tend to have better other food than places with bad pho hence I use it as a benchmark to a degree.

                            I just find that the dishes on offer at Vietnamese joinnts in London aren't even Vietnamese half the time, and a lot of standard dishes that should be on the menu aren't. Most places in London have crispy noodles, stir-fried beef prepared in a cantonesey kind of way, etc., etc., and obviously these aren't actually Vietnamese dishes (not that having other dishes prevents a chef from cooking their own food well).

                            In Vietnam, when you order a bun the meat is usually grilled, not stir-fried as it is here (at most places I've seen). Grilled lemongrass chicken is one of the finest dishes in the Vietnamese repertoire and I've never seen it served at a place in London. Same goes for Vietnamese stews -- served with a big chunk of Vietnamese baguette (50% rice flower, 50% wheat). The more adventurous forms of bun bo hue (noodle soup w/pigs blood) aren't really represented either from what I've seen.

                            1. re: brokentelephone

                              We occasionally go to a Vietnamese place in Croydon, and I like their food but have no idea how authentic it is. The owner is supposed to be a prize-winning chef. It's called An Nam.. you can check their menu and see what you think. The sweet and sour chicken is really too hot for me, but I eat it anyway. :-)

                              1. re: brokentelephone

                                I'll agree that if they do a good Php they also probably do other things well. But as Pho is a cafe style breakfast/lunch dish a really good vietnamese probably wouldn't have Pho on the menu and definitely not in the evening (but I doubt there are any like this in the UK). In fact as Pho is quite a speciality (it is all about the stock like ramen) it could be argued that a good broad based restaurant wouldn't serve it - like the burger analogy top American restaurants usually don't serve burgers.

                                1. re: PhilD

                                  The pho at Chung Viet and other areas in Deptford has far surpassed anything I've had elsewhere in the UK (and the US for that matter.) A Californian poster (DaveMP) effectively uncorked the Deptford Vietnamese scene first and he always rated what he had there to be just short of SF. A few restaurants in the area have close and opened since then and it's a rather fluid scene. Good to stay on top of (and I'll hopefully be moving to the area in a couple weeks.)

                                  Otherwise you can get Sichuanese on par with what you'd find in major American cities. No 10 when it's in form is better than practically any Sichuanese in NYC. There's also a highly touted place east of Greenwich, but I can't remember the name.

                                  Silk Road is as good an XJ restaurant as any in the US or Canada.

                                  -----
                                  Silk Road
                                  49 Camberwell Church St, Camberwell, Greater London SE5 8, GB

                                  1. re: JFores

                                    Hmmm -- I am from Vancouver which has a similar pho scene to California and found Chung Viet to be on par with the low end of the Vancouver offerings (which is still FAR better than the Kingsland Road or Mare St. spots). There is a very large Vietnamese community (we have full Vietnamese neighborhoods with hundreds of cafes lining the streets vs. the handful of places in all of London).

                                    Same goes with Chinese -- Vancouver has the best Chinese food outside of HK and China bar none (this is not only my opinion but a objective truth), and some of the newest immigrants are from Sichuan and Hunan and are opening absolutely amazing places. No. 10 is good, but I really don't agree that it's on par with American spots (if you include Canada in that definition) and compared with what I've eaten in Canada its quite plain. It's all about critical mass -- we have 2.5 million people, and 40-50% of them are immigrants from Asia, most of whom originate from HK and China (most Chinese immigrants are now coming from the Mainland and are bringing their food with them).

                                    I LOVE the food in London, but there are some things other areas do better. North America cannot compare with London for Indian, Turkish, or Lebanese food. London will never compete with California for Persian food (nor can Tehran almost). I never go hungry and can find great food from almost every culture -- that to me is the main draw of the London food scene, the absolutely bananas numbers of cultures represented here. I just don't think it's necessary to assume that because Sichuanese or whatever is popular and exciting that the new places in London are that great.

                                    Sometimes I feel like a total douche on here because Im arguing over some BS !

                                    1. re: brokentelephone

                                      London can't compete for Persian food? Mohsen!?!?

                                      1. re: JFores

                                        Wish I'd tried Mohsen while I was there. I went to Patogh (it was right by my hostel) and was quite disappointed. Adorable atmosphere, but my lamb kebabs were as dry as chicken breast.

                                2. re: brokentelephone

                                  For the record, a whole lot of the Vietnamese restaurants in San Francisco are actually run by ethnic Chinese... and I don't think that makes them bad.

                                  1. re: tenedor

                                    It definitely doesn't make them better....

                            1. re: brokentelephone

                              You know, I think this argument came up somewhere else on the UK boards, but my partner and I always wondered how much the difference in flavours and styles between UK and US Vietnamese food had to do with the fact that most US Vietnamese restaurants seem to be South Vietnamese (Saigon style), whereas many of the places we tried in London were North Vietnamese. This is purely anecdotal, based on our experiences, but that's our theory. For example, dishes like Bo Luc Lac are rare in London (we found only one restaurant that offered it.); Hoisin sauce features prominently in many US Vietnamese dishes, but not in the equivalent UK dishes-- hoisin sauce isn't even available at the table; UK fish dishes feature a signature heavy use of dill, which is a northern regional characteristic. I'm sure there are differences in pho preparation too, which might explain why it doesn't taste right to American palates.

                              1. re: gemuse

                                That's interesting; maybe that explains it.

                          2. Thanks for all your comments. The African cuisines mentioned definitely interest me; Ethiopian is about all we have here. We do have one Muslim Chinese restaurant in town, but Silk Road sounds a little more specialized (i.e. not just Chinese staples sans pork). I also have never had a mindblowing south Indian meal and am wondering if London will be the place to change that.

                            Spanish, Persian, and Lebanese are among my favorite cuisines of all, but I'm already quite familiar with them. I grew up in L.A., which is probably the best place in the Americas for Persian food. But I would be very interested to know if you feel London has a unique or different take on any of these cuisines... Perhaps a remarkable Spanish-inspired food I would never find in Spain?

                            -----
                            Silk Road
                            49 Camberwell Church St, Camberwell, Greater London SE5 8, GB

                            3 Replies
                            1. re: tenedor

                              I wonder how much Spanish food in L.A. is truly Spanish and not Mexican (I do not refer to Tex-Mex) as can be found in Arizona at some of the nice resorts. Hopefully, people here will know the best of the best - I haven't been to any in London so far.

                              I recently ate at a place in Laguna and it was definitely more Mexican-inspired than Spanish as I've had it in Spain. Only you know the answers to all this. :-)

                              1. re: tenedor

                                Go to Thattukada if you want an absolutely insane South Indian meal. It's one of the best Keralan places in London. It's not close to central, but it's not particularly far. The food is extremely cheap and you'll be able to order a serious feast even if you're on a tight budget.

                                1. re: JFores

                                  I think you are missing another good Kerala restaurant Ananthapuri , very close to Eastham station. In my opinion they make the best chicken fried rice and the Kerala fried chicken among many other dishes. thali food also acclaimed. Right now is onam a festival in India when food is served on banana leaves, they do a sadhya(feast) which is vegetarian and will blow your mind.would be interested in knowing your opinion of Anathapuri, I'm sure it won't disappoint .

                              2. Some ethnic places/things to try:

                                Penang Nyona dishes at Sedap (and don't miss the nyona kueh)
                                Koya for handmade udon (Soho)
                                Grilled chicken wings at Hiba (Borough)
                                Muhamara at Al-waha (Westbourne Grove)
                                Foul Moukala at Ishbilla (Knightsbridge)
                                Grilled seafood (varies with market) at Jose (Bermondsey Street)
                                Pies at Newman Arms (Fitzrovia)
                                805 for Nigerian (Old Kent Road)
                                Osteria Antica Bologna (North Cote Road/Battersea) - caveat haven't been for long time
                                Pigs trotters stuffed with sweetbreads and morels at Koffman's (Knightsbridge)

                                If you're keen on discovery rather than just following recommendations, there are lots of places that serve food from various countries/regions of Africa that are vastly undersampled and might provide good hunting grounds.

                                -----
                                Sedap
                                102 Old St, Islington, Greater London EC1V 9, GB

                                10 Replies
                                1. re: limster

                                  Forgot to add:

                                  Sintra for Portuguese food (various special dishes on weekends) in Stockwell

                                  1. re: limster

                                    a friend just yesterday reported that hiba was closed 'pending further announcements'.

                                    sheesh.

                                    1. re: howler

                                      Word on the street is it's a refurb thankfully.

                                      1. re: howler

                                        It's now a fish and chips place, rather generic I'm afraid, although I might go back to try their shish touk. According to the guys at the old location, they've relocated to Holborn: yet to check out the new location.

                                        1. re: limster

                                          I think it's called Hiba Express and just across the street from Holborn station. It looked pretty small when I walked past but I didn't have time to check it out in detail.

                                          1. re: astereilla

                                            Thanks! Do let us know about if you (or anyone) has a chance to try it.

                                      2. re: limster

                                        This list really complicates things for me. Major pity that I have only three days in town and one stomach.

                                        Nyonya and Nigerian food are certainly not available at home, but then neither are pie and mash or jellied eels. Would it be terrible of me to cut a South Asian meal out of my itinerary? Is it really that much better than in North America?

                                        1. re: tenedor

                                          Penang style Nyona is almost impossible to find in the US (never encountered it in 15 years in SF and Boston etc), let alone an excellent version. I would certainly pick it over South Asian, given that there's plenty of good Indian food in various parts of the US.

                                          1. re: limster

                                            Ah, there's the argument I needed to hear. Dos Hermanos seem to like Sedap too, so that's in.

                                            I think I'm going to make room for Newman Arms as well.

                                            Can I get by without a reservation at both?

                                            -----
                                            Sedap
                                            102 Old St, Islington, Greater London EC1V 9, GB

                                            1. re: tenedor

                                              I'd reserve for the Newman Arms, but Sedap should be fine for walk-ins.

                                              -----
                                              Sedap
                                              102 Old St, Islington, Greater London EC1V 9, GB

                                      3. For ethnic London you need to visit a Pie and Mash shop, good ones within walking distance of Bethnal Green Tube, also Pease Pudding and Saveloy from the stall on Chrisp St Market, get off at Poplar on the DLR line, or take a no15 bus from central

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: portseven

                                          Eels at Pie and Mash shops are very esoteric. Definitely an acquired taste.