Interesting Ethnic Cuisine in North London?
I'll be in London the last week of August, working with cocktails. (I'm a food writer and spirits & cocktail professional from New York City.) I'll be staying in either the Barbican area or Islington, and working in Islington. I have one full weekend, quick lunch, and every night free; and I'm looking for cuisines that aren't that common in NYC. African especially. What can you recommend that is relatively inexpensive, and very good, that is easy to get to?
I'm from NYC and lived there until 4 years ago, when I moved to Islington, so hope I can be of help. For one, I think Vietnamese places here are more interesting then their counterparts in Manhattan like Nha Trang, with more up-to-date Hanoi cooking. There are a lot around Old St and Kingsland Road and that area is only 15/20 min from the Barbican on foot. I like the one JFores mentioned, Cay Tre (the most modern), as well as Song Que for pho and Mien Tay.
Exmouth Market for weekday lunches gets you 2 pretty good Indian stalls, a Ghanaian food stall, and the Moro stall - awesome lamb and couscous wraps on Tues and Fr and tasty lunches other days for only £5. The Modern Pantry does Antipodean with Asian touches - I haven't heard of the Antipodean thing hitting NYC yet.
http://www.graphicbar.com/ - this place has one of the most extensive Gin collections in the UK - - worth a mention for the "cocktail culture" aspect as well as unique drinks - everything is served in paint tins and art is a big theme...
Quite an interesting spot on the cocktail spectrum if in the unlikely chance you need ANOTHER cocktail rec!
Some great recs above but if you're here for a week, it seems unlikely that you'll want to trek to Camberwell or Deptford just for dinner, however 'authentic' the food may be.
You're spoiled for choice in Islington. If you don't want to stray too far from where you're staying, here are some local tips.
- Delhi Grill, Chapel Market, N1 - Great Indian grills and curries. The place is run by a friendly team of guys and is very popular with locals. It's worth booking. The menu is short but everything on it is delicious and there are monthly specials on the board. Don't miss these.
- Pig & Butcher, Liverpool Rd, N1 - Very new gastropub in Islington. Meat-heavy menu - had excellent steak and monkfish there recently. Very relaxed, buzzy.
- 69 Colebrooke Row - Also Islington. If you're into cocktails, check out their website. (I also second the rec for Nightjar, Old St. It's semi-hidden - look for the wooden door between two cafes, it has a small plaque with a bird on it).
- Shaker & Co, Euston Rd. Bit of an odd location but some excellent cocktails from a team that really know their stuff. Unusual infusions made in-house. Try it for happy hour when the drinks are a total bargain. (After drinks here, you can walk or cab to Fitzrovia or Soho if you want a 'West End' night out.)
- Also in Islington - Antepliler (Turkish); Isarn (Thai, good for a cheap lunch); Tierra Peru (Peruvian). I'm guessing you won't be looking for Italian food here so I won't list any.
- Near Barbican, you might like British gastropub, The Jugged Hare, for snacks. Their sister, the Chiswell St Dining Rooms, is down the road and does cocktails.
- For cocktails / Russian-inspired comfort food, try Bob Bob Ricard in Soho. Great drinks.
- Some places not in Islington that I always recommend to visitors - Salt Yard, Opera Tavern & Dehesa - all in the West End, all do excellent small plates, charcuterie, wine, etc.
- Gastropubs in Highgate - The Red Lion and Sun or the Bull & Last (I prefer the former - they are friendlier. The latter is more 'famous' but you can eat very well at both. The Red Lion has outside seating.)
- It's worth spending some time in Borough Market. You eat good 'street food' there or sit down at Elliot's Cafe. If you walk a little further, Jose on Bermondsey St is as close as you'll get to an authentic Spanish tapas bar.
- If you're doing any shopping on Oxford St or in Selfridges, you can have some excellent modern Indian food downstairs at Roti Chai. (Street level is more casual / street food style, downstairs is better, IMHO - excellent curries.)
- For unusual cocktails / modern mixology (read: fancy presentation, puffs of smoke etc), you might like Purl or the Worship St Whistling Shop. Check out the Bar Chick guide for some more drinking ideas.
I've like Lalibela and Queen of Sheba for Ethiopian, both near Kentish Town. Been a couple of years or more since I've been to both. Do try their Ethiopian coffee ceremony.
The Singaporean/Malaysian places I've been to in NYC (and elsewhere in the US) aren't as good as the ones I've been to here. Sedap near Old Street for Penang styled Nyona dishes.
Another ethnic cuisine worth trying that would be harder to find in NYC is British. Consider pubs like the Charles Lamb in Islington. Further north, also near Kentish Town is the Bull and Last, with outstanding food. See also http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/860648
If you specifically want North London then I can this in that direction. Just ask for more places or cuisines if you'd like.
Tamada might be decent, but I dunno if it's worthwhile as Brooklyn has a handful of excellent Georgian restaurants (and pretty much every other former Soviet Republic under the sun except Belarus and a few 'stans are well represented there.)
For African cuisines which are more difficult to find in New York I would say Muna's is a good place to start. It's a home style Eritrean restaurant with some Sudanese dishes. Extremely friendly owner who is also the main cook. It's close to Turnpike Lane tube.
North London's Turkish options also blow away what one can find in New York. Antepliller is an extremely safe bet, but I've actually started going to another Turkish place instead (which has better stews and a lot of menu items that I've never seen.) I need to find the card for it as I keep forgetting the name though. Green Lanes is a very interesting Turkish and Kurdish area around Harringey Green Lanes Overground station. Slightly more accessible Turkish which is still excellent would be the Mangal located in Dalston. Very grilled meat heavy though.
There's more Ethiopian and Eritrean around Kings Cross though nothing I've had around there has been mind blowing. I tend to favor Asmara in Brixton and Muna's up north.
In terms of other cuisines that I think London excels at when compared to New York
A whole list of South Asian restaurants which are mostly in East London. I can give you them if you'd like. Jai Shri Krishna is a solid Gujarati option near Finsbury Park in North London though. Not extraordinary, but better than a lot of what's available in New York (and most of the really good stuff there requires a car; Mumbai Xpress, Usha, Southern Spice, etc.)
Otherwise I would say that an Iranian meal at Mohsen and a Lebanese meal at Chez Marcelle (though note her hours and go for lunchtime as its a one woman operation and she is easily swamped by a dinner crowd.)
If you want other stuff I can keep going. African cuisines are well represented here and the quality and quantity of Nigerian food blows NYC away, but the Bronx has a lot of excellent Senegalese, Ghanaian and Guinean places. One thing you can't really find in New York is food from DRC with La Kinoise in Forest Gate being one of the only places I know here for Congolese food.
If you want more I can keep going but most of what I can give you will tend to be further east. One last thing to note is that Deptford (SE London, but 5 mins from London Bridge) has amazing Vietnamese food unlike anything available in New York, but Shoreditch has inferior Vietnamese places which are still quite a bit better than any Vietnamese I've had in NYC. Cay Tre as well as others.
I keep forgetting to get back to this! I'm going to just toss out a list of some places that you should search for on Chowhound to see if they're up your alley. Geographically they'll be all over, but I'll group them by cuisine (sorta.) I'll also try to keep it to stuff that's relatively unavailable in New York or inferior or in the Bronx.
Thattukada (highly recommended. Amazing Keralan restaurant), Indian Zing, Dishoom (I'm really partial on this place after actually having tried it though; dunno if it's all that great an option. Hit and miss dishes.), Bombay Brasserie, Quilon (for the veg thali, though I have admittedly still not made it here), Spice and Ice (trek though), Hyderabadi Spice (better lamb biriyani than anywhere in New York), Khyber Pakhtoonkhwa (very good Pashtun food from North West Pakistan), D.S. Dabeli which is simply an excellent family run dabeli and vada pav stall in Venus Mall on Green St - it's very close to some of these other places so its worth a snack stop if you're already local, Lahori Nihari for Pakistani, and City Sweet Centre for Gujju snacks.
I would highly recommend that you make it to Silk Road in Camberwell. It's a Xinjiang Chinese restaurant and following the closure of a small Uighur owned stall in Flushing, New York has no legit Xinjiang food anymore. There's a Uighur place in Brighton Beach, but it's more Uzbek as the family left China during the cultural revolution and stayed in Tashkent for ages. Silk Road is more Hui or Han Chinese leaning, but some of the dishes are amazing and blow away equivalent versions in NYC (e.g. the big plate chicken kills versions at Uncle Zhou and Henan Feng Wei in Queens.)
Gilaki is another potential Iranian place and its specifically Gilak regional cuisine which is definitely not available in NY (where you can barely even get Iranian food.)
Closer to central there's pretty decent Pakistani food at Needoo. I'd recommend Gram Bangla to you if you want to experience some very good Bangaldeshi food, but I would give Neerob in the Bronx an edge over Gram (see my CH posting on that, NYC Serious Eats article by Chris Crowley or NYT article by Dave Cook for details.)
Deptford Vietnamese places include Chung Viet (go for pho), West Lake (go for Vietnamese pancake and other snackier stuff), Le Gia (Vietnamese hot pot, the soups and a much wider variety of Vietnamese salads and mains. Really good banh bo kho.), etc.
Deptford's also home to a decent Nigerian place in the form of Tomi's Kitchen. A virtually unmarked restaurant at the top of Deptford High St (actually on New Cross Rd, less than a block to the left when you reach the top of Deptford High St) is one of the only Ugandan restaurants I know in London. Another Ugandan place is Seven and One in Thornton Heath near/in Croydon.
Closer to central is a Somali place called Xeebta Lido (in Kentish Town like some other recommendations.) This place is really really good and insanely cheap with a small number of revolving Somali dishes each day, but their hours are very random. Definitely call in advance to make sure they're open.
The last two places are both excellent and I would hope that you could make it to at least one of them. The first is Lihiniya in north west London and the second is Nadi Curry House. Frankly, I prefer Nadi, but there's only 3 seats inside and they don't have hoppers. Both are amazing Sri Lankan restaurants, but Nadi has consistently blown me away with its quality, prices and the variety of ever-changing dishes. I had one meal at Lihiniya when the main cook was away and it was pretty mediocre, but it was talked about so highly that I need to make it back.