Surprisingly good stuff
For café-style Thai food in an informal environment, try the highly reliable Suda in Covent Garden. This oriental stalwart is set over two cavernous floors, giving it the potential to service the heavy street traffic with 150 covers. The restaurant is tucked away in St Martins Courtyard, a lesser known fold in the otherwise hectic and touristy area. The slight distance from the main thoroughfare is fantastic, giving diners the ability to eat in peace whilst observing the constant human flurry from a distance.
Whilst I enjoy a bit of people watching as much as anyone, Suda also provides reasonably authentic and affordable food. As a starter, there is little that beats the warming power of a bowl of powerfully spiced and steaming Tom Yum soup. Suda’s version manages to pack in the hot-sour taste that you would expect, and is searingly aromatic with the fragrance of lemongrass, coconut, lime, prawns and mushrooms.
Perfect for Bloomsbury-based students
This Bangladeshi-led restaurant sits in the blowsy district of Bloomsbury, on streets lined with Georgian townhouses and populated with students. The patrons of Salaam Namaste are probably working for degrees from nearby UCL and SOAS, with a set lunch buffet (£6.50) aimed squarely at them. A side table supports this utilitarian spread; six steel vessels hold the curries, pakoras and rice, with poppadums and salads on the side.
The A La Carte menu is housed in a heavy booklet and speaks of an extensive choice of food. There are around six full pages, listing dishes from the Indian subcontinent, Pakistan and Bangladesh. The Bangladeshi chef-patron of this establishment, Sabir Karim, trained the chef at Salaam Namaste and also the chef at sister restaurant Namaste Kitchen. Karim now primarily spends his time working as an airline steward for British Airways, popping into his restaurants from time to time.
Strictly Neapolitan pizza, all the better for it
The origins of pizza are largely unknown; although widely accepted as hailing from Italy, the exact parentage is harder to deduce with such differences in variety. In Rome, the pizzas are diametrically expansive and thin to the extreme, whilst in Florence they lean to being meatier beasts. In London, however, the buzzword when it comes to trendy pizzas is Neapolitan, seen at GB Pizza Co, Pizza Pilgrims, and Franco Manca.
Naples, home of the Neapolitan variety, sets out strict rules when it comes to their pizza – this is serious business after all. The Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana (Association of Real Neapolitan Pizza) is responsible for outlining concise guidelines for exactly what a true Neapolitan pizza is. Purists will quote some of these strictures as: use of type 0 or 00 flour (with characteristically high-protein content); hand formed bases, and cooked at temperatures above 485°C in a wood-fired oven for no more than a minute and a half.
Not the way Mama intended it to be
Pizza Pilgrims is the shared endeavor of two brothers, James and Thom Elliot, who in 2011 shafted both convention and their office jobs for something infinately more pleasant. Life began afresh for them in the back of a three-wheeled van, which they used to make a pilgrim of sorts around Italy. Throughout their tour, they honed their pizza making skills and chose to bring the Naples variety back to London.
From humble beginnings selling their pizza out of the back of a van, Pizza Pilgrims then set up its first premises in Dean Street closely followed by a second in Kingly Court. It has been a while since their days of touring around Italy and eating authentic pizza, a fact which is beginning to show in the Kingly Court outpost. Naples pizzas are meant to be light and airy, with charred and fluffy crusts that graduate into chewy centres (try them here).
The solution to the age old question: what shall we have tonight, dear?
This neighborhood Italian restaurant is well placed to service the heavily residential Fulham area around the long and leafy Munster Road. The floor to ceiling picture windows allow views onto the Al Fresco terrace, perfect for outdoors dining. The inside of Locale is resolutely dependable with gastro-pub-like exposed brickwork, pleated wallpaper and a hearth of plush leather seating.
The menu speaks of regional Italian classics and is divided into Da Stuzzicare, Antipastis, Pasta, Carne e Pesce, Pizza and Insalata sections. From Da Stuzzicare, an effortlessly cool butter-soft burrata with summer vegetable caponata is a sign of great things to come. Follow this with a trio of perfectly pan-fried scallops with peas, mint puree and strewn rocket.
This newly opened restaurant fits snugly on Charlotte Street, comfortable in carving out its own niche in the booming burger market. Bobo Social burgers, those emblems of the dirty food movement, have cleaned up their act and are presented afresh. The burgers are petite and proper, appropriate against the flowery crockery and country-chic interior. Barely fist-sized, the waist conscious and fashion forward will have no guilt at indulging here.
The clientele at Bobo, short for Bourgeois Bohemian, is indeed the type who would fit into its gilted and whitewashed interior. These blonde, lithe, consummate gym-goers are the sort whose natural environment is more Made in Chelsea than studenty Fitzrovia.
The efforts at glamourous perfection extend beyond the beautiful bodies and onto the food as well. The provenance of ingredients and cooking methods are divulged in proud detail here. Rare-breed Dexter, Longhorn and Red Lincoln beef from Sussex are used for the patties, which are cooked in a Kopa Charcoal Oven to sear the meat instantly at temperatures as high as 300°C. This rapid sealing ensures that the meat retains every ounce of succulence, exemplified perfectly in the exquisitely ripe wagyu burger with Ogleshield cheese, confit shiitake mushrooms, truffle and onion compote and shaved truffles.
Michelin-starred and South Indian
If the dubiously awarded Michelin star system is anything to go by, then it is clear that Indian cuisine seems to lag behind all others. In London at least, there are only a handful of Indian restaurants graced with this distinction. One of them includes Quilon, which has retained its single star since 2008 under the direction of head chef Sriram Aylur.
Quilon creates a taste of Southern Indian cuisine, picking up traditional dishes from along the Keralan coast. The most familiar of these will possibly be the masala dosa, the Quilon variety served as a sweet miniature version with a moist potato masala.
Sushi, sashimi, tempura and grills in Soho
This intimate Japanese restaurant sits in a corner of Soho and serves more than just sushi, although that’s also done well here. Dozo is fitted out to imitate a traditional Japanese Tatami, complete with sunken wicker seating. Navigating into positon is a clumsy affair, first scrambling onto an elevated seating block and then shuffling down; a cushion under your bum and your legs in the hole under the table. This is as rudimentary as the evening will get, the food and service being nothing less that elegant.
Meticulous slices of salmon, tuna, yellowtail and mackerel sashimi are cut with the precision that this cuisine is famed for, and taste as fresh as you’d like. Aburi sushi is a sushi special at Dozo, made with bigger slices of fish or meat, which are lightly grilled. The sea urchin (otoro aburi) is decorated with salmon roe (ikura) and the Japanese citrus yuzu, whilst the minced wagyu aburi is served as a semi-cooked tartare; loosing much of what this cut is famed for in the mincing process.
A question of standards
Kingly Court has a newcomer in the form of Stax, a burger joint loosely styled on Southern American soul food. Named after a Memphis record label, the short menu at Stax includes fried green tomatoes, shrimp po’ boys, and a heavy bias toward Cajun spicing. For all my Muslim brethren, it is also fully halal and doesn’t serve pork.
As I’m feeling generous, we’ll start with the only really good thing at Stax; the chicken and waffles. Buttermilk and flour are used to glorious effect as a marinade; both the breast and thigh are soaked in it before being tossed into a pool of sizzling oil. Minutes later, they are fished out; golden and full of promise. These paragons of poultry are then paired most skilfully with a whole waffle.
Modern Nordic cooking… in Mile End
Ink is a Nordic-inspired restaurant serving aesthetically beautiful food in a minimalist environment. Its head chef, Martyn Meid, works to produce food that ‘connects people with space, plate and emotion’. At Ink, a little world is indeed contrived that excels in making you forget that you’re in Mile End. The small space is deceptively spacious with peaceful canal views and outdoor seating. Although it is a bit of a mission to get here (crossing a busy junction, a road of council houses, across a park and over a canal) when you do arrive you won’t be disappointed.
The new tasting menu at Ink is titled the 72-hour menu, which needs 72 hours’ notice and a list of dietary requirements and allergens. After this, Ink will create 7 courses tailored with the above specifications for £72, which includes a wine flight. The 7 glasses of wine alone make this deal very reasonable, especially considering how accomplished the food is. The a la carte is also well priced with mains between £11.50 and £17.