London’s a big, busy place with a plethora of food options, making it hard for non-celebrity chefs to carve out a niche. There are gastronomic gems by the bucketload – the trick is finding them. Here are my five current favourites in the mid-range price bracket.
Little Vietnam in East London may be considered the home of Vietnamese cuisine in the Capital, but my money is on Coba. This Australian-inspired Vietnamese barbecue restaurant is somewhat off the beaten path – the closest station is Caledonian Road – but chef Damon Bui puts his heart and soul into every dish. And you can taste the love. The highlight is the BBQ lamb cutlets. The meat is packed with flavour that speaks of dark bars and cigar smoke. There’s a reason for that. The cutlets are marinated in whisky, leaving them beautifully tender, with an almost caramelised coating. If lamb is not your thing though, the bánh mì, spring rolls, fried butter chicken and prawn toast are all winners. Make sure you wash them down with one of the signature cocktails, too.
Tom Simmons does have a bit of a name – he was the youngest competitor to reach the quarter-finals of MasterChef: The Professionals back in 2011. That’s not why you should pop to his restaurant just over the southern side of Tower Bridge though. Go for the intriguing flavour combinations that the Welsh chef puts together in every dish. The food is a bit of this and a bit of that – influenced by British and French cuisine, with an emphasis on Tom’s Welsh heritage – but what that really means is that it’s the best of everything. Even the chips are to die for. It’s the little touches that make each dish – the fried chicken is tea-brined, the lamb loin is accompanied by a mouthwatering smoked yoghurt and the peanut butter parfait…there are no words.
Based in South Woodford in East London, the Grand Trunk Road restaurant takes inspiration from its namesake, Asia’s longest road, connecting Bangladesh to Afghanistan. Head chef Dayashankar Sharma and owner Rajesh Suri crossed paths while working at the world’s first Indian restaurant to be awarded a Michelin star, so there’s a pedigree behind the concept. The ever-evolving menu ranges from Banarasi Grilled Stuffed Paneer to Lucknow Ki Nihari – slow-cooked lamb shanks in an aromatic sauce. Vegetarian options are dotted throughout and there’s a host of unusual spices like timur, Marathi mogo and panch poran that may be what pushes the food here into star-class, like the boneless tikka-marinated rabbit with timur, kebab chini and long peppers. Go with someone you’re happy to share with so you can sample multiple dishes.
Tucked away in Eccleston Yards near Victoria, Jones Family Kitchen, sister restaurant to the Jones Family Project in Shoreditch, is my new favourite steak restaurant. The Josper-grilled
steaks (dry-aged for a minimum of 28 days by North Yorkshire farmer and butcher The Ginger Pig) are pure perfection. I highly recommend the black garlic chimichurri sauce if you’re going the steak route. Judging by the incredible flavour packed into my side of English Greens with chilli, sesame and soy, I wouldn’t be afraid of bringing a vegetarian here either. Jones Family Kitchen has been listed as the Top Steakhouse in London (2019) by Steak Society. It’s an accolade that’s well-deserved. If you’re looking for a pleasant spot for an aperitif, the funky bar here is worth consideration.
Romulo Café, on a quiet section of Kensington High Street, is one of a small number of Filipino restaurants in London and it’s the best Filipino food I’ve had anywhere – including in the Philippines. Behind the recently renovated façade, Romulo Café is delightfully unpretentious – it’s all about the food. There are platitos – tasting plates – and platos – signature sharing plates that cover a phenomenal array of flavours, representing the diversity of Filipino cuisine, which borrows from Spanish, Chinese, Malay and American culinary traditions, amongst others. Don’t miss the pork adobo, a superb version of the staple dish of the Philippines, but if you want to try something completely different, the young jackfruit and coconut stew, stewed with chilli, ginger and coconut cream and drizzled with annatto oil, is ridiculously good.