When I was a little girl my mother was always very particular about table manners.
She would often despair at my father and I who, solely to get a reaction, would sit back after every family meal banging our bulging stomachs and declare, “I’m completely stuffed!” We always provoked the same retort. Mum’s face would screw up into a cat’s bottom and she would say: “No, you are not stuffed, you have had sufficient!”
As the years progressed I gradually started working my way through this world’s weird and wonderful cuisine. I’ve never once told anyone I’ve had sufficient, but it never fails to bring a smile to my face as those words ring in my head. I have however; always been fortunate enough to find myself completely stuffed in every country I’ve dined. London is certainly no exception. In fact if anything, it creates quite an issue – I’m overwhelmed by choice. A first world problem I know, but a problem all the same.
Now, I must stress before I elaborate on my favourite places to eat in London, that I’m far from a fussy eater. I’ve sampled lemon ants in the Amazon, wolfed down fried locusts in Neath Rugby Club (long story) and eaten the odd cockroach at the roadside in Cambodia. Nevertheless, I like to think I know a good meal when I eat one. So here are my top five places to grab a bite in Britain’s capital:
For choice: Camden Markets, North London
If you’re willing to battle your way through the tourists at one of London’s most popular markets, you really can spend an afternoon eating your way around the world in 80 flavours. I would recommend not eating anything on the morning of your visit and indulging in a five-courser, heavily punctuated with a stroll along the river to aid digestion! I started with some Chinese steamed pork buns, followed with a chicken noodle dish. A short walk across the road was exhausting so I treated myself to an Alhambra Spanish beer that helped to wash down a Peruvian potato curry. Did I have room for desert? I tried! I recommend the churros filled with chocolate sauce!
For good, old fashioned pub grub: The Stonhouse, Clapham, South London
I’ll admit that this was an unexpected find. A brief pre-Picture House snack swiftly turned into a unified chorus of ‘mmms’ and ‘orghs’ as we were quickly served up one of the best pub meals I’ve ever had. I chose well with the honey-roast-ham glazed guinea fowl, spicy lentils and savoy cabbage. Despite feeling very proud of my Masterchef meal I couldn’t help being jealous of what lay across from me, my friend having opted for a hunk of juicy pork belly and mash. The main course was so satisfying that we didn’t even glance at the desert menu for risk of drifting off in the cinema. Job done!
For the best curry (Britain’s national dish!): Brick Lane, North East London
There’s an abundance of choice on this street but I consumed the best Lamb Balti I’ve ever tasted in Poppadum’s restaurant. Of course, to go for a curry and only order one dish would be blasphemy so I also partook of their chicken Tikka Masala and the obligatory chutney tray with a heap of poppadums, washed down with a large Cobra beer. The best thing about eating in Brick Lane is that there’s so much competition from some of the best curry houses in Britain, that they welcome bargaining. We negotiated a three courses deal for 20 bob – so exercise your bartering skills to see how stuffed you can get for a very reasonable price!
For a unique and fun celebration: Benihana, Piccadilly
Japanese Teppanyaki restaurants are always a good laugh but sometimes the quality of the food being thrown around suffers for precisely that reason! Benihana doesn’t have that problem, and despite the fact that our super-talented chef seemed more concerned with singing Take That songs at us than cooking our food – it was really very tasty. They do a £30 deal for a choice of three main course meats and soup to start. I had salmon, prawns and beef with vegetables and rice that were all cooked to perfection. The bonus? The cabaret entertainment from chef Thuk was also first rate!
For individuality: Kerb Street Food Festivals – they pop up everywhere!
Pop-ups are a relatively new city phenomenon but are spreading like wildfire. The idea has been taken to a new level by the Kerb Food Festival that is essentially, a mini 48-hour street festival hosting music, food and drinks combined into an afternoon’s activity. I recently went to Kerb’s Southbank Festival and as usual, over-indulged until I was truly satiated. A starter of tapas and champagne, followed by a soft shell crab burger and a cocktail, and when my eyes really became bigger than my belly – an octopus and mushroom curry from the Seychelles. Yes I was stuffed, but very happily so!
A brief afterthought
This is by no means a fully comprehensive list. I now, like anyone else who has lived in London for a few months, realise that it’s near impossible to sample every fantastic restaurant and market stall that this city has to offer. That of course doesn’t mean to say that I can’t get plump trying! I also quite like the idea that London’s culinary circuit is one that gives to endless exploration. After all, isn’t that what every explorer wants – to always have something new to discover?