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London's best eats? Nose-to-tail and everything else

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brian j Jul 10, 2012 12:40 AM

I'm heading to London next week for 10 days for business. I'll be working through the days pretty heavily, but I should have at least a few nights to explore the city. I would love to check out some of the city's culinary delights.

So far the only place I really know I want to eat is St. John. I've already made two reservations to eat there. Aside from that I haven't a clue. I spent some time in London, but that was 14+ years ago! I wasn't the foodie I am today back then. I'm up for anything.

From nose to tail, meat pies to molecular, and everything in-between, I'm looking to eat my way across the city. Definitely will need to get a solid curry one night, and I'm sure some fish and chips will be in order. However, I have a feeling London has a lot more to offer. I'm staying at the W in Leicester Square, but I'm willing to travel anywhere in the city that's within a reasonable cab's ride away. Or not so reasonable if it's something truly remarkable.

Please share any and all recommendations.

~Brian

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  1. m
    ManInTransit RE: brian j Jul 10, 2012 01:59 AM

    Hi Brian welcome. Tough to recommend with such a blank canvas but here are some suggestions - you can maybe look them up and then please do come back with any queries.

    Edit: no idea why the board has spaced all the places out like this - not how I posted.

    The way this board recommends the options seems to come under several distinct headings:

    Indian/Pakistani food:

    Tayyabs (bustling east end)

    Lahore Kebab House (same - matter of opinion which is better)

    Delhi Grill (Islington so a bit closer, my personal favourite with better service and lovely atmosphere).

    Moti Mahal (very close to you, generally considered the best of the fine dining Indians in London)

    Dishoom (also Covent Garden, somewhere in the middle. I've never actually been but gets mostly good reports).

    Gastropubs:

    Anchor and Hope

    Bull and Last

    Draper's Arms

    Harwood Arms.

    There are small differences but pick one of these and you can't go far wrong.

    West End fine dining

    The Square

    Marcus Wareing

    Hibiscus

    Sketch

    Pollen St Social

    Matter of personal taste, I'd go for PSS for the best food, MW for the classiest experience.

    Slightly more new wave fine dining

    Roganic

    Viajante

    Texture

    The first two particularly are awesome but quite experimental, Viajante exceptionally so.

    Trendy mostly no reservation small plates

    Polpo

    Barrafina

    10 Greek Street

    Opera Tavern (can reserve and is brilliant)

    The Corner Room (sister of Viajante above)

    Sort of Guerilla Dining

    Meatliquor

    Pitt Cue Co

    Eat St up at Kings Cross - a selection of places

    Vietnamese

    Anywhere on Kingsland Road although I loved the Viet Grill.

    Most people on Chowhound aren't interested in Steak/Sushi etc as they can get it at home but there are plenty of options there too if you're interested.

    My personal list for a trip like yours? I wouldn't miss: Pollen Street Social, Roganic, Polpo, Opera Tavern, The Corner Room, The Delhi Grill, Viet Grill and probably the Harwood Arms.

    1. zuriga1 RE: brian j Jul 10, 2012 05:22 AM

      There's a new spot in Soho if you're in the mood for an authentic, French brasserie meal or snack. The prices are fantastic, and I hope the food will be, too... trying it in a week or so. It's called Brasserie Z├ędel.. easy walk from your hotel.

      1. m
        mjgauer RE: brian j Jul 10, 2012 07:44 AM

        Great list there from Manintransit.

        St John is obviously very important to you but I would perhaps stick with just the one sitting untilk you have been there? It is obviously a very influential place and I have had some great meals there but I have also had some pretty disapointing ones.

        If I were you I would book in for one dinner - if you love it then you can either go to the St John Restaurant bar area (where you can order smaller starter sized dishes to have alongside a good selection of ales) or get a last minute reservation at St John Bread and Wine. If you don't love it as much as expected then you have a free slot for somewhere else

        If you have limited time in the city I just wouldn't immediately use up two slots on the same place.

        Other great places influenced by St John include all the gastropubs listed by manintransit (Harwood Arms is my personal favourite) plus:

        - Great Queen Street (very near your hotel)
        - Anchor & Hope (near Waterloo - same owners)
        - Brawn (East london - a bit of a trek but worth it if you want to see a bit of this side of the city - probably my favourite casual spot in london right now).

        Other options are almost infinite so would be helpful to get a little more guidance on what you like specifically.

        One omission from Manintransit's list is The Ledbury which is probably the best regarded fine dining restaurant in London - make sure to book well ahead (2 months I think) to get a table.

        I would also make sure not to shy away from the tube which has excellent coverage - some of the distances across London are huge and very expensive by taxi but pretty painless by the tube.

        4 Replies
        1. re: mjgauer
          m
          ManInTransit RE: mjgauer Jul 10, 2012 08:22 AM

          Great mention of Brawn there - poor form letting that slip my mind, we absolutely loved our last meal there and anyone enjoying St John will likely have a great time.

          MJGauer makes an excellent point about St John - I would go to HQ once and Bread and Wine once rather the revisit. The menus are subtley different.

          1. re: ManInTransit
            b
            bodessa RE: ManInTransit Jul 10, 2012 09:31 AM

            MIT, that really is a cracking list. I would also add another vote for Brawn, and two other ideas in Soho that might suit you based in Leicester Square, especially because the Olympics might make getting around a bit more painful...

            Ducksoup - another trendy small plate spot.
            Wright Brothers - to sample some of the UK's great oysters and langoustines.

            1. re: bodessa
              s
              StayThirsty RE: bodessa Jul 10, 2012 11:52 AM

              Third vote for Brawn here..particularly if you want to do Sunday lunch and take in the Columbia Rd market vibe.I also agree with mjgaeur regarding St. John. It can be great or just OK. I would endorse one booking to give it a try and as you're staying at the W and only 10 metres from the St John Hotel (which does many of the same dishes), you should not need to worry about a booking as you can drop in at "off hours". I popped into Zedel last week and although the actual dining room is beautiful, the entrance and never ending steps down to it are somewhat off-putting. The lack of "curb-appeal" is no doubt the root cause of the relatively low prices. If you are not fussy about this sort of thing, then go for it...but if you like atmosphere, thern maybe Delaunay or Wolseley by the same owners is a better bet. Excellent list by MIT...only might add Spuntino if Meatliquor is not possible and/or Mishkins if craving salt beef and Brick Lane Beigel Bake is not convenient.

              1. re: StayThirsty
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                pj26 RE: StayThirsty Jul 11, 2012 02:49 AM

                And another for Brawn! In addition to ManinTransit's great list. I'm incredibly lucky that it's about a 20 metre walk from my house so often a stop off in the bar on the way home for a chacuterie or cheese plate with a glass of wine (but I also avoid those crowds on a Sunday!).

                If you do want a burger and are in that part of town, I would highly recommend the Seabright Arms for a Lucky Chip burger - in my opinion better than Meat Liquor and you can get a decent Hackney ale there as well.

        2. limster RE: brian j Jul 10, 2012 04:35 PM

          Lebanese at Alwaha

          Spanish (not tapas) at Pizarro

          Hunanese at Golden Day or Ba Shan

          Penang style Nyona at Sedap (brilliant sweet and sour in the curry tumis fish; stick to the nyona style curries rather than some of the hawker fare)

          Mixed grill at Mohsen (superb saffron flavoured lamb kebabs)

          Steak tartare at Daquise (not on the menu but they'll make it on request); excellent Polish food as well.

          Modern European/British at Trinity - if they still have the tasting menu with matching British wines, it's a must get. Separately, savings on some of the higher end wines would probably exceed the cost of the cab ride, as they charge only VAT and a corkage fee without markup on certain bottles.

          For the best Indian stuff, you'll need to go into East Ham/Upton Park. Thattukada for Keralan (great appams), Hyderabadi Spice for Hyderabadi (excellent dum biryani), a recent trip to Lahori Nihaari provided a wonderful kulcha naan, one of the best breads I've had in London. Tons more in that area; Jfores has a series of posts describing many cool finds in the area.

          Speaking of breads, some of the best breads in London are in the outskirts -- Tetote Factory in Ealing has outstanding delicately textured Japanese-French baking.

          Torikawa (chicken skin) at Jinchi in Hampstead, a yakitori specialist.

          At Maltby street market -- the honeycomb and yogurt at London Honey Co., chocolate brioche that's a bit less proletarian than Arizmendi's at Little Bread Pedlar, the smoked salmon at the smoked salmon stall, custard or jam donuts at St John's Bakery (I like to get both and eat them at the same time to allow the jam to contrast the custard richness).

          Brixton Market and Brixton Village, while super crowded now, still has a few gems.

          Wright Brothers is a great suggestion -- an excellent way to sample the local seafood. Be sure to get your fill of cornish crab.

          If you're keen on Vietnamese, the best spots I've been to are in Deptford, a 10min train ride from London Bridge. Some might find the neighbourhood less then salubrious, but the food is a serious step up form Kingsland Road.

          To drink single malts, The Britannia in Borough has an extensive list (>100).

          If you want to narrow it down a bit, in your position, I'd definitely go for Alwaha, Mohsen and Sedap, they may not seem fancy, but taste-wise it's some of the best food in London.

          11 Replies
          1. re: limster
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            ManInTransit RE: limster Jul 11, 2012 01:36 AM

            A fantastic list of places from Limster as always. Wonderful image of eating two St John donuts at the same time.

            1. re: ManInTransit
              limster RE: ManInTransit Jul 11, 2012 11:04 AM

              Have you (or anyone) tried the breakfast donut at Hawkmoor Guildhall? Read that it's filled with both jam and custard -- haven't had a chance to try it myself yet -- any good?

              1. re: limster
                m
                ManInTransit RE: limster Jul 11, 2012 11:16 AM

                No I've not been to the Guildhall Branch. Sounds astonishing though. It would have to go some to beat the exploding St John version. Or also at Maltby Street a Beas of Bloomsbury duffin.

                1. re: limster
                  Kavey RE: limster Sep 21, 2012 02:35 PM

                  Oh gods, yes, that Hawksmoor Guildhall one is a good doughnut.

                  Am quite taken with Limster's dual eating method with the St John's ones. Last time I bought a couple of custards and a couple of apricot jam ones. Would have combined quite well, I reckon!

              2. re: limster
                greedygirl RE: limster Jul 12, 2012 05:08 AM

                Where do you recommend for Vietnamese in Deptford? One of the nail ladies in Brixton has a restaurant there which I keep meaning to visit.

                1. re: greedygirl
                  limster RE: greedygirl Jul 12, 2012 06:21 AM

                  I was kind of bummed when Quan Viet closed but Chung Viet is a favourite. See this thread: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/691070

                  1. re: greedygirl
                    limster RE: greedygirl Jul 12, 2012 06:26 AM

                    P.S. Love to hear about the nail lady's restaurant. Need to get back to the area myself as I've not eaten there in a while.

                    1. re: limster
                      greedygirl RE: limster Jul 12, 2012 11:27 AM

                      I just checked the card she gave me and it's called Viet Rest.

                      1. re: greedygirl
                        limster RE: greedygirl Jul 12, 2012 04:51 PM

                        Love to hear what it's like. May even go back to try soon!

                        1. re: limster
                          j
                          JFores RE: limster Jul 14, 2012 09:22 AM

                          Viet Rest is decent. I go there pretty often and the menu is larger than Chung Viet, but I honestly think the pho is far better at Chung. Chung's banh mi has gotten much better as well.

                          I'd recommend Le Gia for banh mi bo ko, bun bo hue, Vietnamese hot pot, and a lot of other rarer dishes. Excellent beef wrapped in betel leaves, pork and prawn salad with papaya, Vietnamese fried chicken, etc. Le Gia is probably my favorite of the Vietnamese places, though I kind of prefer Chung for pho. Viet Rest gives you more meat in the pho, but I think their broth and meat are inferior in quality.

                    2. re: greedygirl
                      j
                      JFores RE: greedygirl Jul 12, 2012 07:55 AM

                      Chung Viet or Le Gia. Chung's got better pho, but the menu is small. Le Gia has a lot of interesting stuff, Vietnamese hot pot and better versions of certain dishes (ei much better bun bo hue.) They have Vietnamese pancakes and a few other nice snacky things at West Lake too.

                  2. i
                    ip_27 RE: brian j Jul 11, 2012 02:47 AM

                    Hi Brian

                    You should try Veeraswamy on Regent Street. its close to where you are staying. Its UK's oldest Indian restaurant and has some amazingly good food. If you are looking for some cheap Indian then check out Chowki or Masala Zone both near Covent Garden.

                    Definitely try the Cork and Bottle on Leicester Square for a great wine selection and lovely English grub.

                    Somebody recommended Sketch but I hated the place. I would recommend this lovely French Bistro called Ratatouille on Baker Street for beautifully prepared French food.

                    And if you want to try some Chinese then Bar Shu at Soho is a must visit. Enjoy your stay in London

                    8 Replies
                    1. re: ip_27
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                      ManInTransit RE: ip_27 Jul 11, 2012 03:21 AM

                      It is probably worth pointing out that Sketch and Ratatouille are not exactly alternatives to each other. If someone was interested in Gagnaire's madness then a bistro might not fill the void and vice versa. Perhaps if you told Brian what it was specifically you hated about Sketch?

                      Personally I would not choose it as my fine dining choice on a trip to London but it's bonkers and unique and unless you have dined a lot in Paris many people would find it different and enjoyable.

                      And I would flag up that Masala Zone is horrendous and probably the last place in London I would go for Indian food behind even much of the rubbish littered on Brick Lane. Please do not waste an evening there.

                      1. re: ManInTransit
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                        ip_27 RE: ManInTransit Jul 11, 2012 04:23 AM

                        I agree Ratatouille is not an alternative to Sketch. That would be Le Gavroche; but its on top of my list of must visit restaurants in London.

                        On top of the list of the no nos at Sketch was the horrendous service and rude waiters. Been there twice and both times it was a disaster so have always told people to avoid it. The food is interesting but overshadowed by the service.

                        I avoid Brick Lane food altogether but Masala Zone has its amazing Thalis going for it..

                        1. re: ip_27
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                          ManInTransit RE: ip_27 Jul 11, 2012 05:52 AM

                          That's very interesting about Ratatouille as your number one choice in London - I've not heard it recommended before. What is it that makes it particularly special? Interested as to where it would fall on the spectrum of Parisian bistros.

                          Le Gavroche is a good choice for the lunch deal but personally I wouldn't recommend it to anyone other than slavish aficionados for French food at the full price. Many better and less stuffy places.

                          We will just have to disagree on Masala Zone, the Thali I had there was certainly not amazing. I am absolutely certain that JFores or Limster can recommend a better place.

                          1. re: ManInTransit
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                            pj26 RE: ManInTransit Jul 11, 2012 06:55 AM

                            As I suspected my previous post about avoiding Masala Zone got deleted - have to second Man on that one - go for his rec of Moti Mahal in Covent Garden, way way better.

                            Think I wrote about Bar Shu as well - would fit your bill of nose to tail eating (stomach, tripe, etc) but it is Sichuanese so make sure you like fiery chilles. More Cantonese style cooking can be found at Haozahn, although it's a more modern twist, but I love it.

                            I wouldn't say Le Gavroche is an alternative to Sketch - Le Gavroche being the old school French cooking whereas Sketch is a much more modern take. I'd give both a miss and go to Hibiscus or try your luck at Dabbous - they may have a cancellation you can take up, it's the hottest restaurant in town right now.

                            1. re: pj26
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                              ManInTransit RE: pj26 Jul 11, 2012 07:21 AM

                              Someone told me the other day that you can't get a weekend dinner reservation at Dabbous until well into 2013. No idea if it's true. Am going Saturday week so will report back.

                              I've not heard any reports of whether walk-ins/last minute cancellations etc are possible at Dabbous so would be helpful for Brian if anyone with experience could elucidate.

                              I need to try Haozahn.

                              1. re: ManInTransit
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                                pj26 RE: ManInTransit Jul 11, 2012 08:00 AM

                                Lucky you - tried to get a reservation in September, any time would do but no joy. They are on Twitter @dabbouslondon and I have seen cancellations, ring reception for first in first served.

                            2. re: ManInTransit
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                              ip_27 RE: ManInTransit Jul 11, 2012 07:46 AM

                              Its one of those hidden gems that usually the locals know about and others just discover. La Ratatouille reminds you of those lovely Parisian Cafe's. Its just off Baker Street and evening's you have to make a booking or else you may have to wait to be seated. You could just drop in for lunch though. The food is traditional French fare without the fanfare. I had the best French Onion soup there and a fabulous Terrine which unfortunately is not on the Menu anymore. The Mussels in white wine is heavenly.

                        2. re: ip_27
                          limster RE: ip_27 Jul 11, 2012 11:06 AM

                          Isn't Ratatouille on one of the streets perpendicular to Baker Street rather than Baker street itself?

                        3. j
                          JFores RE: brian j Jul 11, 2012 04:40 PM

                          If you want a completely different South Asian eating experience then you could go to Gram Bangla. While Needoo, Tayyabs or Lahore Kebab House will all be familiar in some way I can guarantee that Gram will be a different story. It's a tiny largely male Bangladeshi hangout on Brick Lane. If you're serious about nose to tail eating then they have liver and kidney curry and brain masala almost every day. The brain masala is actually extremely good and probably the best preparation of brain I've ever had. Otherwise freshwater fish like keski mas and their fish chutney are excellent. It's mostly a freshwater seafood place as one would expect from a legitimately Bangladeshi eatery.

                          It's smack on the middle of Brick Lane and genuinely quite central. Liverpool St is only a 5-7 minute walk away and that's easy and quick to get to from practically anywhere in Central London.

                          If you're really keen on an amazing Indian meal then I could give you some (extremely cheap) places which are further afield.

                          4 Replies
                          1. re: JFores
                            b
                            brian j RE: JFores Jul 12, 2012 12:13 AM

                            Wow. I'm honored and overwhelmed by all the great responses. It's going to take me a little time to sort through these, but I've already got a few ideas. Definitely want to hit a gastropub or two. Seems like Brawn & Harwood Arms are the favorites.

                            Alwaha. Bar Shu & Gram Bangla all sound enticing as well.

                            Definitely interested in getting some top notch Indian food whilst there. Would appreciate a bit more direction there.

                            And Wright Bros sounds delightful. Absolutely would love to sample some tasty local seafood.

                            My interest is also peaked by the mention of all the trendy small plate restaurants. These sorts of things when done well can be quite nice.

                            One more thing worth mentioning is that I adore pork and would love to hear recommendations on any places that have a fondness for cooking it.

                            1. re: brian j
                              zuriga1 RE: brian j Jul 12, 2012 01:50 AM

                              Just to confuse you even further, Bombay Brasserie in South Kensington has a very good weekend buffet - always gets high praise here. I happen to love the setting of The Cinnamon Club but their take on Indian is modern and a bit 'different.'

                              I'd also second Haozhan for very good Cantonese food - simple setting, pleasant waiters and I've never had a bad meal there.

                              1. re: brian j
                                greedygirl RE: brian j Jul 12, 2012 05:07 AM

                                Brawn isn't a gastropub, My favourite gastropub in London is the Bull & Last in Kentish Town, which has the added bonus of being right by Hampstead Heath.

                                1. re: brian j
                                  j
                                  JFores RE: brian j Jul 12, 2012 07:56 AM

                                  Bombay Brasserie or Dishoom would be safe bets in Central. Similarly, the veg thali at Quilon has been talked up for years. Farther out there's a Keralan restaurant called Thattukada which is incredibly good. You could order an immense feast there for under 20 pounds. Mostly seafood.

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