Eat your way around the world without leaving London
London’s food scene is as multicultural as its population, making it possible to whisk your taste buds off on a round-the-world trip without your feet leaving the city. From delectable Japanese noodles to devilishly indulgent American burgers, this guide will show you how to savour some of the highlights of world cuisine all in London town.
Burgers and soul in North America
Few US inventions command as much mouth-drooling adulation as the mighty burger, and London is home to some preposterously good patties. Precisely which is the best though is a never-ending debate among locals. Right now, the B.B.B (45-day-aged beef, American cheese, crispy bacon and burnt butter mayo) from Burger & Beyond in Camden is turning more salivating heads than most.
For something with more of a sit-down vibe, Burger & Lobster is always a solid bet, as is The Fat Bear, a soul food joint that serves Deep South classics, like buffalo wings, corndogs and gumbo. If it’s another American classic of Philly cheesesteak you’re after, look no further than Passyunk Avenue.
Brilliant brunches a la Australia and New Zealand
There are hundreds of thousands of Australians and New Zealanders living in London, which has resulted in an influx of antipodean-style cafes, inspired by the coffee culture of cities like Melbourne, Sydney and Auckland. Founded by a New Zealander yearning for home comforts, Tried & True Café in Putney is a super-friendly spot, with great all-day breakfast options and espresso that’ll make steam come out your ears. Aussie-inspired Scarlett Green in Soho serves faultless cooked breakfasts (the Bondi, named after the famous Sydney beach, is truly superb), and Farm Girl, a five-minute walk away, is another Aussie enterprise serving delicious, healthy brunches and a signature rose latte.
Sizzling jerk from the Caribbean
With one of the largest Afro-Caribbean communities in the city, Brixton in South London is where you’ll find some of the best Jamaican dishes this side of the Atlantic. Mama’s Jerk in Pop Brixton serves on-the-go, charcoal-grilled chicken marinated for 24 hours in a secret homemade sauce, and there’s a good veggie option in the form of bean cakes. Make sure you ask for a dollop of their mango mayo to cool the eye-popping heat of the spices. Also in Brixton, True Flavours Caribbean Cuisine is another strong choice, with a good variety of classic Caribbean items, including goat soup, steamed fish and (of course) jerk chicken.
Fragrant flavours of the East
For a taste of Malaysia, check out Roti King, where you’ll find some of the best roti canai(Malaysian flatbread) outside the country itself, along with sumptuous curries and other national dishes like sambal fried rice. It's tucked away on a side street next to Euston station. Som Saa, near Spitalfields Market, is a great little Thai restaurant based in an old fabric warehouse. The menu features a short but highly tempting array of gourmet classics. A short walk north, in Shoreditch, Cây Tre is a stand-out Vietnamese restaurant, best known for its pho (noodle soup): the broth requires 18 hours to prepare.
If you’re looking for good old Chinese, you’ll want to make a beeline for Chinatown, which is bursting at the seams with budget to mid-range eateries. For something a little more upmarket, try Hunan in Belgravia – you can't go wrong ordering the minced pork broth with mushrooms and ginger.
The quiet South London suburb of New Malden has turned into the somewhat unlikely centre for one of the largest Korean expat populations in the world, which is mirrored in the restaurant scene. Sorabol is popular and deservedly so, while slightly more expensive Han, opposite the train station, offers a curious mix of fine Korean dining and karaoke.
And so to Japan, land of the rising spoon. There’s a wide selection of restaurants to choose from across the capital, but Koya Bar in Soho is highly recommended – try the udon noodles. Or for a less well known Japanese dish, Abeno, near the British Museum, specialises in okonomiyaki, a traditional pancake, cooked on a hot plate right in front of you.
Tacos and steaks in Latin America
West London's Mexican restaurant Taqueria is a no-frills, all-flavour kind of place, with a seriously good selection of tacos (try the pancita, with slow-roasted pork belly and chipotle garlic sauce), made with responsibly sourced ingredients.
Carnivore paradise Touro Brazilian Steakhouse serves a gut-busting array of meats and traditional food from Brazil, including an outstanding feijoada (bean and beef stew), and can be found in three locations: Kensal Green, Belsize Park and Wimbledon.
Ceviche, named after Peru’s national dish of seafood marinated in citrus juices, serves excellent Peruvian cuisine in the heart of always-busy Soho, while Porteña in Borough Marketis the best place in the city to find Argentinian street fare such as empanadas (savoury pasties).
Spiced up in South Asia and the Middle East
London is home to not one but two ‘curry corridors’. The first and best known is Brick Lane in East London, at the heart of the city’s Bangladeshi community, where every other building has a grinning waiter outside, gesturing at a menu the size of Hyde Park. Particularly recommended is Aladin, where you’ll find Bangladeshi, North Indian and Pakistani fare. The second corridor is in Tooting, South London, where the focus is more on South Indian and Sri Lankan cooking: consider Dosa n Chutny for the former, and Apollo Banana Leaf for the latter. If Nepalese tickles your taste buds, you could do a lot worse than Gurkha’s Diner, just one Tube stop away in Balham.
Moving westwards (figuratively), London has plenty in the way of Middle Eastern restaurants. Sarastro is a showy Turkish offering that throws in live opera to complement its huge selection of meat and fish dishes. Lebanese restaurant Yalla Yalla is a more toned down affair, selling Beirut street food in the form of wraps, platters and pastries. Palomar, a pleasant spot in the heart of the West End, serves contemporary Israeli cuisine, and has a respectable range of vegetarian options, like chargrilled aubergine with salsa, pomegranate and tahini.
Bless the mains down in Africa
African fare is available all over London, and it's as diverse as the continent itself. Ethiopian Flavours, a stall in Borough Market, delivers on its name, serving curries infused with berbere spice and aromatic East African vegetables. A taste of South Africa can be found in Shaka Zulu, London’s largest South African restaurant spread across two vibrant floors in Camden’s Stables Market (the food is excellent and the glaring warrior statues satisfyingly fierce). For Moroccan, try atmospheric Momo with its tambourine-playing waiters – the speciality pastilla(wood pigeon pie) is a top choice.
Eclectic edibles from Europe
At this point in our journey, you won’t be surprised to learn that London is rather well supplied with cuisines from Europe’s patchwork of nations. Brindisa on the edge of Borough Market serves some of the best Spanish tapas in the capital; round the corner, Padella whips up handmade Italian pasta, with a queue of customers attesting to its tastiness; Gauthier Soho is the place for fine French fare (try saying that three times and then try the truffle risotto); Notting Hill's Mazi is the spot for Greek meze; South Kensington's Ognisko has been preparing authentic Polish food in a beautiful setting since the 1940s; and Stein’s sizzles up superlative German sausages from its riverside location in Richmond.
Alternatively, you could forgo all the above and just get some good old British fish and chips from Poppies.