Expat Chronicles, London Eats

I’m not sure I fall into the category of “foodie,” though I do spend an awful lot of time either thinking about food or shoving it in my mouth. I’m a fan of cooking shows, I do all the cooking at home, and I like to read about food. I’ve gotten to a point where I can recognize a restaurant meal that’s well executed vs. one that was thrown together by some line cook who’d rather be repairing bikes or selling bongs. But even if the meal’s not that great, I usually finish it anyway. I can’t remember the last time I left food on the table, no matter the quality (well, except for the time I expected an Indian curry and got a Thai one instead).

Here in London there are tons of choices for eating out, every cuisine imaginable, and we get to sample a lot of them during our weekend lunch treks with the family. Those lunches are always among the highlights of my week. In case you were wondering where we like to eat in London – and why wouldn’t you?  – read on. After 17 or so months here, I’ve come up with a short list of favorite restaurants and takeaway joints.

Mestizo: I love Mexican food, and weep at the shortage of good Mexican choices in London (no, Wahaca doesn’t count. Neither does Chipotle). So when we came across Mestizo, I did a back flip. The place delivers very tasty and authentic Mexican eats at a fairly nondescript location in King’s Cross. The tamales are excellent, as are the enchilada dishes, soups, flautas, empanadas, tacos and native dishes like Pollo Sinaloense and Arrachera. You can run up a pretty hefty bill here because you want to try a little of everything, but it’s worth the money and the trip. A sister store is located next door that sells Mexican artifacts, clothing items, salsas, sauces, beans, frozen tamales and whatnot. We usually pick up about a half-dozen tamales to take home. They’re not cheap, but they’re the best (maybe only?) tamales I’ve found in London. 

Royal China: Upscale Chinese restaurant chain that specializes in Hong Kong dishes. We go to the one in Canary Wharf, located right beside the Thames. My wife Susan and I came across this place on a date night when we weren’t sure where we were going to eat. We fell in love with the fried crab appetizer and have been back a couple times since. Very good dim sum as well as veggie, seafood, beef, chicken and pork dishes, soups, noodles, rice dishes and the usual assortment of appetizers.

The Big Easy: Canary Wharf restaurant/music club that specializes in food from the American South, mainly barbecue done in different styles (Carolina, Texas, Memphis, KC). It also offers live blues music. They do a very authentic Carolina pulled pork here, as well as lobster and shrimp dishes. A very comforting place for U.S. taste buds.

Mandaloun: Lebanese restaurant located at the Westfield Shopping Centre in Shepherds Bush.  Excellent hummus & pita, falafel, shawarma, tangines and salads. Cool, modern vibe as well. A little pricey, but it’s our favorite stop at this mall, which has lots of eateries.

Pommelers Rest: A Wetherspoon pub (read: part of a chain) near Tower Bridge, south of the Thames. It offers the usual pub fare (meat pies, fish & chips, English breakfast, curry) as well as a diverse lineup of burgers, pizza, entrees (chicken, ribs, pasta) and numerous vegan/vegetarian choices. It only gets above-average grades on review sites, if you’re into that kind of thing. Personally I think the food is very good – fresh, well prepared and delivered quickly by friendly staff. The burgers are a hit with our family, as are the salads and pizza. Great corner location and decent value for the money.

Servewell Café: Little breakfast/lunch joint in Bermondsey. Very cheap, very good, very friendly staff. I almost always get the chicken curry because it tastes great and it fills you up with sides of rice, salad and slaw, all for around 6 pounds. Our kids like the burgers and sandwiches, and Susan enjoys the mince pies. The locals all seem to prefer the massive breakfast plates. My nephew had the full English breakfast on a visit here and scrubbed the plate clean, and he’s a guy who knows his food.

Shanghai Modern: Chinatown eatery that’s a little more sleek and food-focused than the usual tourist spots you see in Chinatown. Very good soups, dim sum and noodle choices. Everything tastes fresh and well prepared. The beef and chicken dishes are less inspiring, but they’re still pretty decent. A little pricey for Chinatown, but worth the extra money.

Bermondsey Tandoori: Our fave takeaway Indian joint in Bermondsey, on Jamaica Road. The chicken biryani is a family favorite. They also do very good veg dishes (okra, chana masala, mixed veg), naan and tandoori chicken. Cheap, and they deliver. You can also eat inside during certain hours that seem to change based on how the staff feels at the moment.

Elite Peri Peri: Fried chicken takeaway in Bermondsey. You come here for the bird, and the bird is righteous. You can get it spicy or not. You can get combo meals, chicken burgers, chicken strips. The fries (er, chips) are just OK. But oh, that chicken. I’d suggest a 3-piece meal or a takeaway box of 10 pieces or so. Cheap.

Pho Street: Unfussy Vietnamese place in Greenwich that serves up fresh and tasty pho, soups, noodles, rice dishes, bahn mi and salads. You order at the counter and they bring it to you. It’s very good and inexpensive.

Eat Tokyo: Hyper-busy Japanese restaurant with several locations around town. We go to the one in Covent Garden, which has three levels, a friendly happy wait staff, a long queue to get in starting around 1 pm, and a menu as thick as your average dictionary. Susan spent a couple years in Japan so she knows all about the authentic Japanese dishes served here, like unagi and others I can’t pronounce. You’ll find a full lineup of sushi and sashimi selections, along with soups, bento boxes, noodles, katsu dishes, rice dishes, etc. I always get the large chicken katsu curry, which is delicious and served on a platter the size of a satellite dish. For about 9 pounds you get enough for two meals.

Steak and Lobster: It is what it says it is – a place to gorge on beef and lobster. And it’s all done the right way. It’s frankly the only place I’ve eaten a really good steak in London, at least compared to what we used to get back in the States. The lobster, Susan tells me, is delicious as well. The one we went to on Bloomsbury Street offered all the fries (uh, chips) and salad you can eat, along with your entree. It’s located in a hotel so we also enjoyed a couple of pre-dinner drinks in a nice chill hotel lounge.

Nando’s: You’ve probably heard of this one if you live in or around London, but in case you’re not familiar, it’s a chain that specializes in South African/Portuguese style peri-peri chicken. We go to the riverside location in Greenwich. The grilled bird is the star here, and for good reason – it’s baie lekker (“very delicious” in Afrikaans, according to the World Wide Web). You can get everything from wings to whole and quarter chickens, cooked to your level of spiciness. The meat is flavorful, tender and juicy, never dry or bland. You can also order it on the bone or off. Sides include fries, corn on the cob, spicy rice, cole slaw, spinach, salads, broccoli and other items I don’t pay much attention to because I’m radared in on the chicken. Cheap, too.

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