That food is dear in London is a common sentiment, but a false one. Know where to look and you’ll find dishes with the quality high, and the prices low. Let’s run you through a few of them.
It’s the dish that endeared Smokestak to Dalston Yard punters during what could arguably be called the Golden Era of Street Feast a few years ago. Given that, you’d be a bit silly to take it off the menu once you’ve upgraded from a barebones street food set up to a restaurant in Shoreditch. But silly Smokestak aren’t.
One unwritten rule in cooking is if you want to make any food instantly more delectable, roll it in breadcrumbs and plunge it in hot oil. Black Axe Mangal’s croquette-like crispy rabbit is a stellar example of that school of thought – the rabbit is slow cooked, shredded, pressed back together, battered, then fried. Bliss.
London’s currently most talked-about restaurant is also one friendly to a bit of loose change. The trick here is to start with the lardo fried rice, a wonder in itself, and lop on the ‘economy curry’ (a take on southern Thai coconut cream curry that, at £3.80, is certainly true to its name) with it. That’s supper sorted for less than £8.
There’s a distinct pleasure in chasing the last scraps of meat from a bone, and Maa’s lamb chop – tenderly marinated in yoghurt as per the mother-in-law’s recipe – holds the best scraps out of just about any. A near-essential part of a table’s order at Gunpowder.
£5 can get you a lot of things. A salt beef bagel on Brick Lane. A sourdough pizza at Franco Manca. But a platter of marinated and two-hour steamed chicken and rice with aloo raita (boiled potatoes, curd, green chilli, chopped coriander), in the middle of town? Get outta here. Vegetarians can enjoy the tawa biryani at the same price.
Don’t be surprised that some guests visit The Frog with little aim other than to sample Adam Handling’s famous creation. Fall in love with his chicken butter (let’s face it, you probably will), and you can take home a kilner jar of the stuff for a fiver.
Through little effort of their own, Bao’s black cod bao, exclusive to their bookable (that’s right – no queues) Fitzrovia site, has become a must-order item. It’s essentially a battered cod fillet, but not like one you’ll see down the chippy. Squid ink and Taiwanese beer ensures it’s crisp and light, even if the colour might suggest otherwise.
Quite simply ‘cheese and pepper’, this classic Roman dish has endured a fair few renditions in London. Some good, some bad – Pastaio’s, along with Padella’s, is among the former: a creamy concoction that, importantly, does not skimp on the cacio or the pepe.
Pushed down the menu by other Dishoom favourites like the black daal or lamb chops, the chicken ruby often fails to get its pitch out to guests before they’ve made up their minds. But you’d do well to know that, here, it’s one of the best things you can eat. Especially when all that silky, spicy makhani sauce is mopped up with buttery roti.
What wards off the discontent of winter’s cold, dark days? Soup, of course. And without erring on its quality. With its rich chicken broth and plump ball of matzo (bread), Zobler’s hits the mark. Just ask Jay Rayner.