Forget croissants that look like doughnuts because London’s must-eat dishes aren’t flavour of the month fodder for the ’gram. These dishes are the most fulfilling way to hit your 10k step count in the city, from gooey quesadillas in east to Algerian chip-packed sandwiches in west. They combine longevity with new kid on the block lamb birria tacos, £2 numbers to two-handed sandwiches, and they’re a checklist to slowly but surely chew your way through.
THE MUST-EAT DISHES
Brown Butter Cakes
London’s must-eat dishes come in all shapes and sizes, price points and availability, but few are as sugar, butter, and endorphin-heavy as Flor’s brown butter cakes. The centre piece at a Sylvanian families wedding but two or three bites (eyes closed) in the real world, these golden treacle-ish sponges will, for a few seconds, transport you to a much sweeter world - all for a couple of quid.
Prawn Cheung Fun
It’s quite hard to find the words to describe the exact feeling you get when you try Royal China’s cheung fun for the first time. So we’ll just tell you what it’s like and you can imagine it for yourself. This soft, silky, melt-in-your-mouth steamed rice noodle roll comes filled with anything from scallop and winter cabbage to minced beef with quail egg, and while they’re all pretty special, our choice is the prawn with baby chives. The rolls are unbelievably soft, filled with tender prawn, and are something we think everyone should try at least once in their lifetime.
Etles Uyghur Restaurant
The hand-pulled noodles from this specialist in Uyghur cuisine are what we like to call slurpers and shovellers. A bib is essential for this steaming heap of sweet peppers, onions, cabbage, and strips of caramelised beef hiding between them - all piled on top of perfectly round, but soft-with-bite noodles. They’re slippery sods - one minute they’re on your plate, the next they’re in your mouth. Or, on your lap, sauce and all.
Shiitake Mushroom Bao
Soft shiitake mushroom, crispy shallots, teriyaki sauce, a smidge of pickled onions, and a miso sauce we would merrily chug. Now, imagine all of those flavours packed perfectly into the fluffiest little bao bun and you’re on your way to understanding just how great the signature bao from this small family-run Taiwanese restaurant is. The mushroom has a slightly smoky, meaty taste and paired with a plum wine negroni, it’s hands down one of our all-time mouthfuls of food.
Bread & Butter
There is no greater red flag, in our eyes, than someone rejecting bread and butter pre-dinner. What will it spoil exactly? Your enjoyment of life? Some people. Anyway, it’s impossible to ignore the bread and butter at Noble Rot - because it’s the best plate of the stuff in London. Split between two slices of oily focaccia, a treacle soda bread that will make your heart beat a little faster, impeccable sourdough, and the kind of butter with cliffs of salt in it - it is a non-negotiable way to start your meal.
Please know that when we say these are the best lamb chops in London, we mean it. We’ve done the leg work, and when we say leg work, we obviously mean, erm, eating an unholy amount of London lamb chops. They arrive with an audible sizzle and are what us professionals describe as ‘a fuck off hunk of meat’. Charred, gloriously thick, smothered in a garam masala rub with a green sauce we have licked clean in public - shame is irrelevant when the chops are this good - you need them in your life.
Bean and Cheese Quesadillas
There’s a lot to be said for a lot things you can eat at Sonora Taqueria, but it’s their tortillas that stand above all. The goose fat tortillas are particularly good - like the world’s most OTT slip ‘n’ slide is occurring in your mouth - and, together with the simple and failsafe combination of gooey cheese and beans, their quesadillas make for the kind of snack your stomach always finds room for.
Warning, we’re about to get sentimental. There is something about the taste of this curry atsu-atsu that makes us feel like we always have a friend in this city. Even on our crappiest of crappy days, this big bowl of noodles always makes us feel better. The curry flavours are mild but moreish, the hand-pulled udon is uniformly excellent and chewy, and hanging our face over the big, steaming bowls is our definition of self-care. Our best mate in noodle form.
Sarma Kuzu Beyti
There are some dishes that are stored in our brains under the category of bedtime food. These are dishes that are so filling, so comforting, and so nap-inducing that we only ever eat them when we know we can sleep it off after. The beyti at this legendary Turkish spot is unequivocally bedtime food. It’s minced lamb, wrapped in lavash bread, covered in cheese, topped with spicy tomato sauce, a fat dollop of yoghurt, and some bulgur rice. Meaty and delicious, and made tangy and cool by the yoghurt, it’s one of our go-to dishes for when we’re in the mood for something meat-heavy.
Dionysus Kebab House
There are many must-eat potatoes in London. You’ve got QCH’s confit potatoes, or the fiery crinkle cut lang-ya tu dou at Noodle & Beer. But there is something quietly and humbly perfect about Dionysus’ hand cut chips. Whether the legendary kebab house was making fried potatoes of this angular, crisp and fluffy quality in Soho during the 80s, we can’t say. But we do know that these chips and their eye-wateringly pungent garlic mayo is one of the best things you can eat in Southgate.
Bone Marrow, Sourdough And Parsley Salad
St. John’s roasted bone marrow is a prehistoric-looking dish and, having been on the menu for a couple of decades now, it’s one of London’s oldest and most well-known must-eat dishes. Thoroughly delicious with silky melt-in-your-mouth bone marrow spread across toast and paired with a bright salad, there’s something oddly therapeutic about the process involved with this classic: the scraping, the spreading, the chewing, the enjoying.
Classic Falafel Wrap
In a time long before we had expense accounts and commenced our self-imposed ban of drinking Echo Falls, was our love for Mr Falafel. But this is a love that has lasted. A tiny grab-and-go spot in Shepherd’s Bush, their classic falafel wrap is under a fiver and importantly, the most delicious vehicle for hummus within the M25. The fried aubergines, pickled cucumbers, and fresh tomatoes all add up to a wrap that’s the ultimate texture party, and in our opinion London’s best vegan dish.
Spaghetti Al Cartoccio
Everyone remembers their first time eating Ciao Bella’s famous seafood spaghetti. The confusion as a plate and a bulging greaseproof paper bag is placed in front of you. The nervous giggling. The inevitable ‘what now?’. The steaming mound of spaghetti, mussels, squid and one, lonesome, singular prawn that comes tumbling out your bag onto your plate. And of course, the flushed excitement, fork at the ready.
Marinated chicken, fried egg, harissa, mayonnaise, lettuce, olives, and something we now want in every other sandwich we eat, chips (!!). Those are the ingredients that make up one of the best sandwiches you can get in London. Found inside Shepherd’s Bush market this Algerian street food spot is serving up some simple, and excellently done, cooked to order hefty sandwiches. The choice of filling is up to you, and their menu has things like merguez, fish fillet, and minced meat. All are excellent choices, but chicken is our personal favourite.
Grilled Bread With Anchovy
The keen-eyed detectives amongst our readership will notice that the scent of baked goods is very present in this list. You see, it’s not that we fear the familiar tune when it comes to singing the praises of Brat’s gorgeous whole turbot it’s just that, rather, we really like good bread. And Brat’s blackened and blistered palm-sized flatbreads, drizzled with olive oil, salt and three bathing anchovies is another example. Put these on a conveyor belt to our mouth and we’d never press stop.
Lamb Birria Tacos
These tacos - so rich, so soft, and just a little cheesy - taste like they’ve been slow cooked to Jeremih. The neighbourhood brunch spot in Hackney Downs has a reputation for exciting, waiting-outside-at-11am worthy weekend brunch specials, and their taco offerings are top of this list. Together with a pot of meaty birria consommé for dipping on the side, and you’ve got yourself the perfect pre-fried chicken bun snack.
Cacio E Pepe
Cheese, pepper, pasta. Simple, right? Yes, cacio e pepe features on most of the menus at London’s army of handmade pasta restaurants but no one - absolutely no one - makes it quite like the Italian ‘mammas’ at La Mia Mamma in Chelsea. For starters the portion size is best described as ‘bloody huge’ and it arrives in a big, metal saucepan that will inevitably result in a lot of ooh-ing and ah-ing. Secondly, one bite in and you realise that a legit cacio e pepe packs a serious punch of pepper. Thirdly, pecorino. So much pecorino, a smile-worthy, delirious cheese-fest level of pecorino. Perfection.
Hot doubles are the must-order thing at Roti Joupa - in either the Clapham, Shepherd’s Bush, or Finsbury Park branches of the Trinidadian spot - and the best use of that big £2 coin in your pocket. The baras are satisfyingly chewy, the channa is a cumin-rich, gently spiced sensation, topped with hot sauce, and some welcome cucumber and onion shreds on top. Order one for now, and take one away for later.
Squid Ink Flatbread And Smoked Cod’s Roe
To quote ourselves: “If unicorns were real and they could shit, this is what it would look and taste like. Creamy cod’s roe, smokey flatbread, and egg yolk. This is as smooth as they come”. What else is there to say about BAM’s trademark, intergalactic-looking dish?
Lahm Bi Ajeen
We’re not saying it’s difficult to find somewhere in west London where you can get Lebanese mana’eesh when you’re in the mood for one, what we’re saying is that it’s difficult to find somewhere in London where you can get a lahm bi ajeen manousheh as excellent as the one at this little restaurant and bakery in East Acton. They’re freshly prepared to order, with the dough being baked in a clay oven, and topped with Lebanese spiced minced meat, onions, tomatoes, (we like to add cheese on top), and are great value at £2.50 for a whole manousheh.
Liangpi Cold Noodles
There has been no greater personal conflict over the years - in our heads - than the one between Xi’an Impression’s liangpi noodles and their hand-pulled biang biang noodles. The former (actually room temperature) noodles edge it, simply because there aren’t many things we want (and have had) for breakfast, lunch, and dinner in one day. They’ve always got just the right amount of bite, and the chilli oil - a tangy t-shirt ruining pool of excellence - is something you won’t regret slurping on its own.
Full English Breakfast
Press the big red CONTROVERSIAL button and light the mythical Contentious Fire because yes, technically, by including fry-up and one fry-up only in this list, we are saying the legendary Bethnal Green caf’s fry-up is London’s must-eat breakfast. This is, of course, wildly uncontroversial. Just look at it. Is that fried bread, bubble and squeak, and an anxiety-inducing pool of beans in the middle? Yes, yes it is.
Lamb Kothu Roti
There’s a good reason we once ate this lamb kothu roti twice in one week. And that reason is that it’s unbelievably good. Like, really really good. It’s essentially shredded roti, cooked in some sort of delicious broth, and mixed with pieces of onions and beautifully tender lamb. It tastes fresh, light, and filling at the same time - and it got us thinking that we wish we had a carrier bag filled with shredded roti in our pockets at all times.
Much has been said about Four Leg’s ode to Ronald McDonald and there’s little else to say apart from that this thing is the proverbial shit. From the glistening bun, to the layer of onion, gherkin, and sauce, before hitting some melted American cheese on top of a pink but crisp patty. An outstanding piece of beefy, buttery, craftsmanship.
Iberian Katsu Sando
In theory, this now-famous Iberian pork sando is just three things put together: bread, meat, and bread. But it tastes like so much more and it is actually worth it’s >£10 price. It’s surely London’s most precise formation of meat and bread. Perfect bricks to build upon if that crisp and juicy pork didn’t taste so good and the raspberry and XO sauce didn’t bring it all together.