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Dec 25, 2013 09:18 AM

Non-Native Foods Unique to London and the U.K.

Hello all,

I'm leaving soon for a ten-day trip to London and while I have a fairly well-researched itinerary of British restaurants, I'd like to round it out with some other cuisines. I have lots to choose from at home when it comes to foreign foods, and I've been fortunate enough to sample enough continental European cuisines in their home countries, so I'm particularly interested in anything that has morphed into something new since migrating to the UK.

Also of interest would be foods from immigrant communities that aren't found in many other Western cities. For what it's worth, I live in San Francisco and will be staying in Shoreditch (on that note, does anyone know if London Vietnamese is significantly different from what I'd be used to?). I'm willing to travel anywhere accessible by public transport.

I also have a particular question about Spanish food. There are few things on earth that I love more, and I understand it's big in London, but given that I've spent some time in Spain is it still necessary for me to try the British interpretation?

Non-British restaurants currently on my list:
Honey and Co.
Brick Lane Beigel Bake
(my parents are Israeli, hence my interest in the latter three)

Thanks in advance!

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  1. Brick Lane Beigel Bake isn't amazing by deli standards, just kind of an institution due to its location, longevity, price-point, and perhaps of cultural interest due to it being one of few remaining Jew(ish) businesses in the East End. That said, to grab a salt beef bagel and cruise around Brick Lane on a Sunday will be very satisfying.

    If you're craving Israeli food and happen to be in Marylebone there is a place called Zoom Cafe which is run by a really friendly Israeli lady. Not like a destination restaurant, but an option if in the area.

    Ottolenghi is far more casual than Nopi and you can grab pre-prepared food as well. I love it there.

    Pilpel felafel is Israeli, and very good. If you're going to the Bagel Bake you could start with the bagel and when you reach the end of Brick Lane you could grab a falafel at Pilpel.

    If you're really keen on Jewish/Israel you can go to Golders Green (Jewish area) and get a felafel at Pita, or a schnitzel sandwich.

    Personally wouldn't bother with Vietnamese in London if you're from California.

    Unique to London would be a dish at many Cantonese restaurants -- crispy shredded duck. It's kind of a deep fried confit, and can be really excellent. I've never seen it in US or in Canada (i'm from Vancouver which has most Chinese dishes covered so am fairly certain it's a UK speciality).

    Roast duck at Four Seasons or Gold Mine (search this site for more info) is particularly good and generally better than what you find in the USA, solely because of the quality/breed of UK birds.

    1 Reply
    1. re: brokentelephone

      I grew up in NYC eating the world's best bagels and a salt beef bagel at Beigel Bake was a must on a recent trip. Exactly what you're asking about : a non-indigenous food that has somehow become unique.

      The food market at the Southbank center might be fun for you with its mix of different cuisines.

    2. I'd certainly go to Nopi - one of the best meals (and evenings) I have had this year.
      There's a clutch of Ethiopian restaurants in the Caledonian Road (a walk or bus from King's Cross). I've heard good things of Merkato. And I've recommended before, but will do again (!) El Vergel for South American food (Webber Street, near London Bridge).

      1. Penang style nyona at Sedap. Not really morphed by any huge amount, although the spice levels are toned down. This cuisine didn't exist in SF when I lived there, probably very hard to find in the US if at all. Singapore/Malaysian food are superior here in general as well.

        London Vietnamese isn't hugely different from the places I've been to in SF and LA i terms of the dishes they offer, although quality varies from place to place. You're better off going to Deptford than Shoreditch for Vietnamese though.

        You might want to try out Ali Baba (Marylebone) for Egyptian. The quality of the many Middle Eastern cuisines are very high compared to my experiences in SF. Lebanese (e.g. Alwaha), Turkish (e.g. Hala and a host of places in Green Lanes). There's a good number of Persian places in SF iirc, so probably not steering you to places Kateh or Mohsen.

        The more recent cuisines from China, which might reflect immigration trends, is Dongbei cooking. Rather rustic, from the NE part of China. Have heard of a number in NYC, but don't know about SF (there weren't in the past AFAIK). If you want to try - Crystal China and My Old Place are good examples.

        Try Pitt Cue for a British interpretation of 'cue and related dishes.

        I've been loving the quality of the meat here -- if you're into it, perhaps a burger at Goodman's or a steak. Other places to consider: Maxela's for Fassone beef from Pietmonte, or Argentine beef at Buen Ayre. Familiar dishes in the US with beef, pork or lamb could be different if not better here.

        I'd also consider Nigerian. 805 on Old Kent Road (caveat: haven't been in a long while).

        Try the specials at Koya, a Japanese place with handmade udon. Their specials often use local ingredients. The Cornish sashimi plate at Shimo Gamo is also another example.

        If there isn't good Sicilian in SF, make a beeline for Luce e Limoni. Sea urchin ravioli, buccatini with sardines etc... are great.

        1 Reply
        1. re: limster

          Oh gosh these all sound so good...

          1. Having been to San Francisco from London last year I did a bit of research on their relative strengths.

            London has very good afro Caribbean food, which I gather SF lacks. I quite like the Mango Room, near Camden, for an upscale but still reasonably priced take on the cuisine, buy you could try a more home-style version in Brixton, or at a number of places in East London.

            I would also try to eat North/Eastern european food - which I think England is better at replicating than SF and which has been modified slightly to fit local tastes. Baltic near waterloo for a relatively high-end take, or Textures for mod-scandinavian, or Mamuska at Elephant and Castle for a much cheaper ethnic cafeteria version of polish food.

            1 Reply
            1. re: lacemaker

              I think you and I are the only ones to mention Baltic, in recent times (if nearly a couple of years can be conidered "recent") -