When you first look at a chickpea it’s unlikely that you think that this small anaemic legume can be transformed into a deep-fried crunchy delight - bursting with parsley, coriander, cumin, cardamom, and more - that’s fated to be slathered in tahini and other saucy delights. Unless you are a visionary of course. But that is exactly what the sum of many chickpeas and some bubbling oil can bring you. London has lots and lots of falafel options, from Syrian, to Palestinian, to Israeli and Lebanese, but it’s these ones that stand out as the best of the bunch.
In the title fight for the best falafel in London, Balady is a serious contender. The kosher falafel bar in Temple Fortune is an expert in all things bread-related, condiment-related and, for that matter, chickpea-related too. Their freshly-baked pitas are brought in from nearby Taboon, while their falafels are gobstopper-sized, perfectly-spiced marvels. Combined with pickled cabbage and cucumber as well as a generous glug of hummus, tahini, hot red pepper and jalapeño zhug, and, of course, amba - this is the absolute gold standard of falafels in London.
Imad's Syrian Kitchen
Unlike some thoroughly bowlable varieties, Imad’s £2 coin-sized, doughnut-holed delights are probably the finest snacking falafel on this list. They measure perfectly on the crunch-to-softness ratio, and were we to be given a bowl of, say, 50 of these falafels at midday, we doubt there would be any left come late afternoon. In any case, you’ll find this Imad’s Syrian Kitchen over in Soho and you’ll find your simply dressed plate with tahini, sumac, and sesame seeds finger-wiped clean in no time.
If the year was 1998 and falafels were, bizarrely, put into leagues like football teams - then Pockets would surely be Arsenal. The London Fields stall is definitely gunning (apologies) for the title of best falafel around. Their steamed pita pockets are impossibly soft, almost bao-like, while their falafels - always crisp with a humming herby green interior - pair gloriously with the deep-fried potato slice and the generous layers of tahini, amba and chilli sauce that are rhythmically spooned in as you wait, all before a single chilli (that should not be underestimated) is balanced on top.
You can’t talk London falafel without mentioning a certain Mr. Falafel. The Palestinian spot in New Shepherd’s Bush Market is well-known, and not just for it’s excellent range of wrap sizes - the burrito-like budget size is just £3.50, while the king-size is resembles a broom handle - but for its consistently delicious falafels paired with a superb range of fillings. From the multi-item many-combos menu, it’s the deluxe that’s our favourite. Cauliflower florets fried until charred and crisp are thrown in alongside crunchy squares of potato, as well as the usual pickled vegetables and steaming, crisp falafels.
The Spitalfields restaurant is something of an expert when it comes to delicious vegetarian Middle Eastern fare and it’s no different with their falafels. Unlike much of this list, these falafels come straight. Straight, on a plate, in a pool of silly smooth tahini, with a drizzle of amba, finished with a pinch of za’atar and a few sumac onions for good measure. Okay, so not completely straight. But they are left to sing their own sweet - it’s a cinnamon and cardamom-heavy mix - and crunchy song on their own. That said, you’ll want to pair them with a tear of laffa flatbread. FYI, they’ve also got Bubie, a takeaway-only option in Kentish Town as well.
Shepherd’s Bush is something of a falafel haven and the market is the inner sanctum of crunchy chickpeas and saucy goodness. Falafel Hut certainly delivers on both of these. The little caf setup doesn’t pretend to value structural integrity in the slightest. Its pitas are heaving with gooey discs of melt-in-your-mouth aubergine, tahini, chilli, and garlic sauce, salad, and still-warm falafels to soak up all of the juices from its bedfellows. Ideally paired with a mint tea, this certified hot mess is a delicious £4 handful.
Gadz Coffee Bar
Perhaps best known for its teenage fandom-like Corbyn worship (think Smash Hits or Match magazine wallpaper cutouts, but with the 70-something MP for Islington North), Gadz should also be known for its falafel wraps. The Lebanese cafe in Finsbury Park makes its falafel fresh and it comes out both crisp and soft, as well a little crumbly. Filling-wise, the tabbouleh salad has crunch and a sweet but sharp hit of vinegar and pomegranate molasses. Ask for a generous helping of hummus and tahini just to be on the safe side when it comes to moisture.
With locations in and around the City (including St. Paul’s, and Aldgate) Pilpel is ~shudder~ a chain. Of course, this isn’t a bad thing. In fact in Pilpel’s case, it’s a very good thing considering the quality of their falafel output. Inspired by working on his grandfather’s falafel stall in Israel, owner Uri Dinay’s round pockets are packed with rotund falafels, salad, and a generous dribble of tahini, plus red and green chilli sauces. For just over a fiver it’s a reliably delicious lunch go-to.
Falafel & Shawarma
Another under-a-fiver gem is Camberwell favourite Falafel & Shawarma. Their £3 to £4 wraps or mezze plates are failsafe options when you’re looking for value and flavour in equal volume. The falafels themselves are tasty, mid table fare - freshly fried and crunchy with a touch of spicing to set them apart from the tang of pickled cabbage and salad. Asking for extra tahini and chilli sauce on the side is a good idea too, as an extra dunk does this wrap the world of good.
Hoxton Beach Falafel Stall
If you’re close to a lido in London, then Hoxton Beach is probably next to it. The falafel stall empire is another chickpea slinger of the chain-variety with locations in London Fields, Parliament Hill, Queens Park, and more. They favour the halloumi combo - with an always-welcome generous handful of sliced pickle) - and you should too. Soft, salty, and gooey, combined with crisp, herby, and chilli (sauce) is an age-old combination - and that’s what their falafel and halloumi wraps give you.