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London Chow

I come to my beloved chowhounds for guidance.

I am a New Yorker spending the summer in London. In two months, I have tried 50 places in London. I keep reading about a culinary revolution here, but am having a tough time finding it. I am still optimistic, and think perhaps I am just going to the wrong places, or perhaps ordering the wrong dishes. I have always gotten really good advice on CH, so return here for some good guidance.

I have tried:
Harwood Arms
Mother Mash
Newman Arms
Bocca di Luppo
Maroush Express
Dickens inn
Cay tre
Busaba Eathai
Village East
Cantina del Ponte
Jamie Italian
Muhib Brick Lane
Monsoon Brick Lane
Monmouth Coffee
Kappa casein
Pâté Moi
ginger Pig
La Tua
Neal Yard
Caphe House
The Narrow
Great Queen Street
Nordic Bakery
Cote brasserie
Casa Brindisa
Banger Brothers
M&S triangle sandwiches
Greenwich Market Sunday Roast

Antico has been my fav restaurant so far. That lamb pappardelle is a show stopper. I have been back for it three times, and I NEVER visit restaurants more than once...too many to try! Booked thru toptable.com and got 50 percent off too!

Tayyabs was incredible. Brick Lane was the worst Indian food I have ever had.

Seashell was enjoyable to try out traditional fish and chips. I adored the Borough Market.

Lebanese was awesome.

Was pleased to find bun cha at cay tre...I can't get that in my, and fell in love with it in Nam. Broth was yawn tho.

Had the worst meal (and expensive!) at Hix. Jamie's was the worst disappointment...I was really looking forward to it. Hated Casa Brindisa. Hated Great Queen. Enjoyed the salad at Polpo but hated the meatballs and pasta. Hated Wagamama. I heard it compared to Momofuku and fell off my chair laughing.

Liked Zucca. Enjoyed Nando peri peri. Like Mother Mash, but hated Banger Bros.

Where should I go before I leave? What places must I try?

All I ask is...please do not tell me to search the boards. I did. Look at my likes and dislikes and maybe you have some suggestions. Also, please do not critic my preferences...it is not constructive or helpful.
Will travel for good food (within one hour) and it can be cheap and dirty or expensive and posh.

Thanks for your help.

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  1. if i were you, i'd seek out the stuff that isn't so accessible in new york. for instance - middle eastern. maroush express is good, but arcadia at the holland park end of kensington high street is putting out excellent cooking these days - get the chicken taouk, tabbouleh nd the foul muqqala (the later is a must have to appreciate the transcendent deliciousness that broadbeans, coriander, garlic, lemon juice and olive oil can together achieve).

    while in kensington, go on a thursday/friday to la picola dely on stratford road, and get them to slice you up a burrata with some cherry tomatoes, olive oil and if you like, some balsamic vinegar. these are the best burratas bar none i've had in london.

    the whole foods store in kensington has a food/wine bar at one end of the main floor - there's a ridiculous amount of cheeses to try and wines by the glass. an abundance of delicious cheese is what i miss most when i'm in ny (as i am now).

    still in kensington - launceston place restaurant for lunch. very good british cooking, beautiful rooms and certainly one of the prettiest n'hoods in london. a steal at lunch.

    kensington still: mohsen, on warwick road. i have been going to this iranian for twelve years now, and it still knocks my socks off. apart from the delish kebabs, the daily specials rock. go for sunday dinner an dorder abgoosht, its a very special treat.

    the royal gardens hotel in kensington hosts min jiang, fabulous duck and dim sum. the view across the park can't be beaten either. you could probably score the ducks in ny, but that room, view and food all together - nope.

    behind gloucester road tube station is the bombay brasserie, which you should only go for weekend buffet lunch. its a steal for 25 quid or so, lots of stuff to try, and is laid out exactly as it would be in india: impressive selection of non-veg one side and veg the other. run by the taj group, its as if you were eating at the old ball room buffet at the taj in bombay. there isn't anything like this in ny - light, home-style fare.its sister restaurant, quilon, in buckingham palace gate has a delicious vegetarian thali for lunch at the same price point. you cant get that quality of keralan food in ny.

    daquise is a polish restaurant run by the famous gessler group from warsaw; read about them and their steak tartare by searching under limsters posts.

    so thats just kensington (and buckingham palace gate) for stuff thats excellent and hard to impossible to score in ny. i hope the others will help you with bayswater/notting hill, marble arch, mayfair, marylebone, the city, bermondsey etc

    2 Replies
    1. re: howler

      I was slowly coming to this realization. This is good advice...thanks for the thoughtful guidance.

      1. re: chowsue

        you are welcome. also, you should really tell the board where you stay/work - you'll help focus tips.

        re: tamilian tips below - there used to, and should still be, plenty of excellent tamilian places in new york. for example, though i haven't been back in ages, my tamilian friends say dosa hutt on bowne in queens still rocks. so i wouldn't go out of my way for those.

        i would go out of my way for the lunch keralan veg thali at quilon though.

    2. Since you like Antico, have you tried the burrata starter there?

      Surprised that Hix was disappointing, although it's been a long time since I've been. Is the heaven and earth still on the menu? What did you had?

      I think a visit to some of the places in Brixton Village might be enjoyable, although since the word has gotten out, it's become very crowded and prices have crept up, and the newer places that have opened there since aren't as good. Also Maltby Street market. Any particular reason why you ruled them out when you searched through the boards?

      Since you've been eating in the Bermondsey Street area, perhaps you could try Crystal China further down, on Tower Bridge Road; focus on the NE China/Dong1 Bei3 dishes. Also in the area, Pizarro and 40 Maltby Street. South African wines at Vivat Bacchus. Tito's Peruvian for aji de gallinha. Lotus leaf chicken at Tuli. Saag Paneer at Truly Indian. Maltings Cafe (Zucca's smaller but older sister), weekday lunch only.

      Peking style roast duck at Min Jiang. Banh cuon at Cafe East or Leong Kee. Steak tartare at Daquise. Grilled fish at Gilak. Curry tumis fish at Sedap. The Bull and Last. Crab omelette at the Heron.

      BTW, it's no surprise that the Indian food in Brick Lane was a miss, but Jfores likes the Bangladeshi food at Gram Bangla. A couple doors down, Delima has pretty good down to earth Malaysian food -- very good chicken satay with kueh tupat even! Solid homey mee goreng mamak.

      Used to love Hiba but they moved to a smaller place near Holborn -- perhaps you can continue your Lebanese feasting there. Have you been to Alwaha? Yalla Yalla?

      I'm surprised to even hear of a culinary revolution, perhaps it's media hype. My food loving friends who have been here longer tell me that there are vast improvements especially in the diversity of cuisines and their overall quality, but over years, rather than an overnight thing.

      I won't tell you to search the boards, but searching neighbourhoods is a good idea, as that's the only way you'll uncover new delicious stuff.

      1. Without wishing to appear rude looking at your list and your likes and dislikes it's very hard to get a handle on what your tastes are.
        Your approach appears to be scattergun to say the least with a lot of mediocre chains in there.
        You say you've searched the boards but Wagama, Jamies and Brick Lane have never had much love on this board.

        You say you'll travel an hour but without knowing which part of London you're in it's a bit difficult to asses where you can get to.

        If I was to leave London to I would make sure I went to these places before I left:

        St John
        Salt Yard
        Apollo Banana Leaf
        Federation Coffee

        14 Replies
        1. re: Paprikaboy

          Could you tell me more about Suvai - is that the one in Lewisham (Arru Suvai)? Any favourites dishes there? Thanks in advance!

          BTW, love to hear your opinion of Delima if you have a chance to try it. I think it compares well with Bonda Cafe (although DaveMP rates the Malaysian student canteen more highly). Weekends are a good time to try Bonda Cafe, as they have nasi padang there. (Speaking of nasi padang, should add the Indonesian mini mall to my recs.)

          Also, have you been to Shimo Gamo? I should also add their selection of cornish fish sashimi in my suggestions above; but would be good to have more opinions on that place.

          1. re: limster

            i'm glad DaveMP likes the canteen - god knows how often i've tried to persuade people to try it. and here i must thank jen kalb who mentioned it to me when i moved to london.

            also, looking at suvai - finally egg curry makes it to a menu! try it - each household has its own take, as i suspect it owes its origins to the anglo-indians.

            1. re: howler

              It's one of my biggest failings -- need to try it soon.

              1. re: howler

                Suvai's a pretty solid Tamil place and its a block away from Thattukada if you ever want to head out east and hit both in one go. Thattukada's got pretty good egg curry (though it's very watery/brothy with a stronger tomato base flavor than anything else; almost rasam-y in taste) but I haven't tried Suvai's.

              2. re: limster

                Suvai is in East Ham not far from Thattudaka.
                It's a Chettinaad restaurant. The poori masala, Chettinaad fish curry and the idlies are my particular favourites.The chicken 65 is also good.
                I haven't tried Delima but I have lunch once to twice a week at Bonda as I work very nearby but will have to give Delima a try next time I'm in the area.
                Haven't been to Shimo Gamo either as if I'm in the area tends to be Asakusa for Japanese but the Cornish fish shashimi sounds interesting. Is it an izakaya style place like Asakusa?

                1. re: Paprikaboy

                  Thanks -- yes have been to Suvai Chettinaad, agree it's good. Had Arru Suvai on my to do list.

                  Shimo Gamo serves a large range of dishes and has a decently-sized sake (and soju, iirc) selection, so I guess could call it an izakaya style place. Enjoyed 2 meals there, slightly more "upmarket" than Asakusa, but the prices are quite reasonable. Hope this might help: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/855560

                  1. re: limster

                    Suvai was decent. I only ate their once, but it was alright. Still nothing life changing or truly impressive. Just decent Tamil food with a non-veg menu. I'd veer towards Vasanta Bhavan for Tamil veg around East Ham these days. Suvai had some highlights (check the post), but a lot of other local standouts (e.g. Saravaana Bhavan) actually make HORRIBLE dosa.

              3. re: Paprikaboy

                I agree with PB's comment - your list could charitably called eccentric. But that said it includes some good stuff which you liked (and is oft recommended here) plus some awful stuff which you disliked (and isn't a surprise). I do agree about the "culinary revolution" in the UK, to me it has a whiff of the emperors new clothes syndrome. That said compared to twenty years ago it is much improved and you can eat very well, but the same is true of nearly all cities across the world, and I would argue London hasn't really evolved as fast as other cities have (including Paris with its new Bistro movement). So London may have got better but it hasn't caught up. That said twenty years ago we had MPW in Wandsworth and Ramsay at Aubergine, with Bibendum really going strong and the start of a change in Indian food with Red Fort and its ilk starting to challenge our perception of a good Indian.

                Best advice for London is go to the top or head to the bottom in terms of price, the middle ground tends to be chains or identikit restaurants. Out of your list of about 45 places your tried maybe 10 would make my list. You don't say how you found The Harwood Arms, Jose, Arbutus, or Bocca? If you like the Harwood try the Bull & Last, and maybe stretch the budget to go up market a bit more, or at least try a lunch deal, maybe the new lunch deal at Hedone in Chiswick.

                1. re: PhilD

                  What's the lunch deal at Hedone, PhilD? It doesn't appear to be on their website.

                  1. re: tavegyl

                    I understand it is 3 courses for £25 - I picked it up from Andy Haylers blog so best to ring to confirm and see if there are restrictions like only in the 5th Thursday of the month....

                  2. re: PhilD

                    Hi Limster,
                    Arru Suvai in Lewisham has undergone a slight makeover and is now called Taste of Lewisham.
                    My husband was there yesterday and ate their masala dosa, which he rated very highly.

                    1. re: medgirl

                      Cool - thanks for the update. Nice to hear that they're good. Will have to try it as soon as I get a chance.

                    2. re: PhilD

                      Wow. That is pretty insightful, and I think that just may be spot on advice.

                      Since you asked....
                      Harwood Arms- I loved the atmosphere. I would go back. I felt the food was forgettable. But like I said.... Maybe I just ordered the wrong things
                      Arbutus-great service, smart place and smart food. The mackerel cake and snails were divine. I got talked into ordering stel, and I on't like steak much....but can't blame anyone but myself for allowing myself to be pressured.
                      Jose- fun place. Thoughtful. I was really annoyed that I was practically ignored, yet rushed to get out and make room for more business. Too crowded to be enjoyable. Average food, but not bad.
                      Bocca- the broadbean salad was revolutionary to and inspirational to me. I can make a better crab linguine. Love sitting at the bar.

                    3. re: Paprikaboy

                      My approach is scattergun because:
                      1. I am only searching out what others tell me (colleagues & Internet & chowhound)
                      2. I appreciate all food. I am not a snob that has to only eat at white napkin establishments, but can appreciate a truly awesome lamb chop fom a dive
                      3. I can't spend hours a day months in advance making reservations, so sometimes I just walk in someplace close and with seats
                      4. If joining friends, sometimes social people go places they wouldn't ordinarily picked themselves! Lol

                      Your list sounds really good!

                    4. Fellow New Yorker here. I recognize your posting name from Outer Boroughs.

                      What are you looking for? If you have a New York style tolerance for public transport then you need to make it east for South Asian meals. I honestly think Thattukada is a must-go for New Yorkers as it blows anything similar from NYC out of the water and is far cheaper than places like Five Star Thattukada or Mumba Xpress in Queens.

                      Tayyabs is very very mediocre, but it's excellent compared to almost all of the available Pakistani food in NYC.

                      You need to target things that are better here. So Lebanese food, Vietnamese food, South Asian food, and the nouveau English stuff unique to this country. Iranian too!

                      In that regard...

                      Chez Marcelle for amazing homestyle Lebanese food. Le Gia in Deptford for Vietnamese. Totally different animal to Cay Tre. For South Asian stuff here's a general smattering of choices... Lahori Karahi (Pakistani), Hyderabadi Spice (Hyderabadi), Nadi Curry House (Sinhalese Sri Lankan), Lihiniya (Same), Thattukada (Keralan as noted above), Pakthoonkhwa Restaurant (Pashtun/Afghan Pakistani), Indian Zing (Marathi), Gram Bangla (Bangladeshi and the only place with edible food on Brick Lane, actually very good but I prefer Neerob in the Bronx now.)

                      Also New York no longer has a legit Uighur/Xinjiang restaurant as the stall in Flushing closed a couple years back. The remaining place is Uighur owned but largely Uzbek so if you want some incredible "Chinese" food with heavy doses of Central Asian influence then you should try Silk Road.

                      Definitely hit up Brixton Village and its surroundings while you're here. Oh! And I forgot about Iranian. Mohsen for Iranian; try to stick to the daily specials and grilled items.

                      Yeah Wagamama's an awful chain. I hate Momofuku with a passion, but I still know which of the two I'd prefer to eat at.

                      If you want good simple Italian try Bellantoni's, Casa Sibella or 500 in Archway. Some of the Italian places you've hit up so far have really surprised me. Odd choices.

                      Oh wow. Someone name dropped Thattukada before me on this. Awesome!

                      1. Having visited such a wide range of places, it may just be that the British restaurant scene just doesnt suit chowsue. It's impossible to please the tastes of every visitor to our country.

                        FWIW, any culinary revolution in the UK is, to my mind, to be found in the Modern British cuisine. It is the rediscovering of our local and seasonal foods and cooking them in a modern style, yet retaining a dish's traditonal roots. It's a style that's been developing for 30 years (so I wouldnt be too keen on "revolution" as a description) - I guess the Godfather of the style must be Gary Rhodes, dating to his time at the Castle in Taunton.

                        3 Replies
                        1. re: Harters

                          True. The variety and quality of a whole range of cuisines has improved drastically in London though. Things like Brixton Village (though it is now swamped beyond belief; I was there this morning and I was shocked at the Federation Coffee queue) have really changed the landscape of accessible quality food. Saying that Outer London has literally always had this stuff and it still gets very little coverage.

                          The Olympics have led to a lot of US press about London, the food scene, etc so there's going to be loads of visitors who read the hype and are now trying to cash in on it by posting on here. I think London's easily the equal of New York food scene wise, but it's about where you go. If people just jump on every Timeout post about the Olympics and London's food revival then they may be disappointed, but I don't see why anyone should leave unhappy if they request specific places on Chowhound.

                          1. re: JFores

                            Your analysis is pretty much spot-on. Although I'd suggest that the "Modern Brit" food scene has come to London relatively recently. It's origins and developments have been very much elsewhere in the country, IMO. Indeed, I'd reckon that the initial moves were made by chefs in the less urban parts of Britain (see my mention of the Castle at Taunton, for example). Similarly, Nigel Haworth's work at Northcote predates Fergus Henderson's at St John by a decade.

                            1. re: JFores

                              In some respects the queue for a Federation Coffee sums it up. Yes, there are a lot of good things, but they are not common, and you need to hunt for them. If the "food revolution" had really had an impact then 90% of coffee would be as good asF ederation not 1% (as it is in other countries), but the UK loves mass market chains and brands so Starbucks, Costa, Nero etc are successful. The same is true with food, every high street should have some decent Italian, or decent French, but instead the public flock to Jamie's and Cote. OK they are better than what went before, but not really a food revolution.

                          2. I did not see Bistro Bruno Loubet on your long list. My, you sure have had an awesome culinary experiences both bad and good! Try Loubet's beetroot ravioli - truly delicious as is the rest of the menu. worth a try. I'm sorry to hear you wasted your time with Brick Lane. Try The Cinnamon Club, Amaya, Trishna or Quilon or Moti Mahal. Try Min Jiang for superb roast duck mit pancakes, dim sum etc.

                            1. You must add:
                              The Bull (in Highgate - gastropub, they also brew their own beer)
                              Duke's Brew and Que in Dalston - similarly - they brew their own(
                              Ottolenghi (in Islington)
                              Nopi (in Soho)
                              Kopapa (Covent Garden)
                              Moro and Morito in Exmouth Market
                              Viet Grill (in Shoreditch)
                              Pizza East (in Shoreditch)
                              Il Baretto (near Bond Street)
                              The Elk in the Woods (in Islington)
                              Afghan Kitchen (in Islington)
                              Wright Brothers (Oysters - Seafood - at Borough Market)
                              And if you want to try some of the best chocolate in the world - Paul A Young in Islington or Soho

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: zanne2

                                Newbie alert!
                                The Bull is the pub we probably visit most often as it's the nearest decent pub to us. My husband enjoys their beers and the food is decent. It's not stellar, it's not amazing, but it's decent pub grub at fair prices and the service has always been friendly.

                                Went to Duke's recently, it's got that currently trendy dive bar chic going on... appeals to some and not to others. Their own beers are American inspired, as is much of the menu. I liked the beef ribs, they were generous and well-cooked, though again, nothing stellar. I found the dessert chocolate brownie very poor, left it pretty much untouched. It's a cool place though, and I'll definitely go back and try some other items on the menu, as we were there for a special tasting event.

                                Forgive me if I missed it, but if you liked the food in Jose but not the crowded standing-up space, Pizarro is just down the road and has bench seating, booth seating, tables and chairs, stools at the counter and window bench stools. The menu is not identical but much in common.

                                Paul A Young not only does fabulous chocolate, but his chocolate brownies are some of the best in town. I'm also a big fan of Demarquette near South Ken.

                                Maltby Street Market, mentioned above, goes from strength to strength, with new additions every week or two. Favourites for me include Bea's chocolate guinness cake, St John's custard doughnuts, the African Volcano peri peri giant prawns or pulled pork and many others. Saturday afternoon is a great time to visit for a strolling lunch. It's not a huge market but every stall holder is quality, rather than how it is at Borough which is a mish mash of great, good and mediocre.

                                And sort of related but not quite, Bea who runs Bea's Diner, located within Maltby Street Market, is doing US-style Crawfish Boils during summer, I think a few more dates still available. I went a couple of months back and loved it. Relaxed vibe, all you can eat crawfish, corn, spuds and smoked sausage. Oh yes!
                                I don't know what the feeling about supperclubs is here, there's been a bit of an explosion in the last couple of years and there are hundreds and hundreds. But there are some that are worth going to, run not only by native Londoners but also by residents hailing from around the world and sharing their home cuisines.

                                Again, this may have been mentioned elsewhere and dismissed, but my favourite of what seems like another slightly over-pushed trend of great burgers is Lucky Chip at Netil Market in London Fields. They've also opened in Slider Bar recently, but I've not visited yet.

                                I'll preface the next one with a note that I went on a PR invite, but I really loved my meal at The Victoria in East Sheen, run by Paul Merrett, an acclaimed British chef. So much so that I'm going again with my sister, even though it's quite a journey from where I live.

                                I can't claim the vast experience of London Indian cooking that many posters here have, but my parents emigrated here from North India so I did grow up with Indian food at home. When I want food that tastes like what my mum cooks (and can't go to my parents and am not in the mood to cook myself) I hop to Delhi Grill. Much of the menu is not that different to what you'll find in many curry houses around the country, but it's different enough, and it's very much based on how people cook at home or in the home-style canteens in India. I really like it, particularly things like their chickpea curry and freshly made chapatis.

                                Re Sedap, I've only been once for lunch so I didn't try much. I did like my crispy skin starter and I loved the traditional Nonya sweets but I didn't think that highly of my lemak prawn curry, which was ok but nothing special (to me). But that's all I've tried there.

                                My favourite French restaurant in London (of those I've tried) is Racine, which I've been back to few times. It's probably just as well this also isn't very local to me or I know darn well I'd be there a lot more often. I like that Henry doesn't just do the typical bistro fare but a wider range of French classics.

                              2. Second St John. If you heard about a British food revolution, it probably started here - it is excellent British food down to its roots and then back up again elevated into gourmetdom. Never again on my travels I've returned to the same restaurant over and over again with the wish to eat through their entire menu. Next month London - St Johns here I come.

                                2 Replies
                                1. re: sasicka

                                  Maybe - but pre St John Fergus was at the French House in Soho and he gained quite a reputation there making it a real destination, at the same time 93/94 Ramsay was opening Aubergine. So the two leading lights in the UK food revolution cooking a short cab ride away from each other. And just before that MPW was cooking up a storm in Wandsworth, and I think it was his "rock star" chef persona that changed a lot of attitudes. Cooking and food was suddenly mainstream.

                                  1. re: sasicka

                                    St John is a relative newcomer to our "food revolution" if, indeed, there ever was such a revolution (rather than an evolution).

                                    You can date the start of the movement to the 1970s with it becoming more mainstream in the early/mid 1980s following the work of the likes of chef Gary Rhodes and food writer Michael Smith.