The best dosas outside of India at Chennai Srilalitha

Ever eaten something so incredibly good that you’ve caught yourself thinking about it days later? Guilty. I’ve been having daydreams about the crisp, moreish masala dosa at South Indian restaurant Chennai Srilalitha in Kenton, which were as good as the ones I had a few years ago while travelling through Kerala.

The spice-rich, sticky onion-laced potato filling that was dolloped into the firm golden-hued dosa (a large, crepe-like form made from lentils and rice), the liquid coconut chutney, the warm dal – bringing them together made for a meal that I would like to eat again and again. And again. All of this, presented in a thali plate, came at us for under six quid. For those who haven’t had dosa before, break off a bit of the crepe, pile on some masala filling and a few dollops of chutney, then dip it in the dal (or pour the dal over the entire dosa beforehand if you prefer) and pop in your mouth.

The menu at Srilalitha vegetarian restaurant is vast, with more than 10 varieties of dosa, which is their specialty. The spongy onion uttapam – a bit like an egg-free Indian omelette – was also delicately spiced and delicious. It came with the same condiments as the dosa, and oddly, it worked just as well. The crispy battered vegetables were equally good, with every bite delivering a brilliant satisfying crunch – no greasiness whatsoever. On our visit we also noticed that the restaurant creates special dosa for kids – ones with a little spinning top – so ask for those if you have little ones in tow and want to create a bit of excitement.

This restaurant, which has been operating for 13 years, has been added to my list of favourite places to eat in London. The food is fantastic, but a note on the place itself: some people might turn their noses up at the wipe-clean plastic table cloths, plastic covered seats and mixed levels of customer service, but once you taste the dosa, any doubts you have will be quickly forgotten. Trust me, they are worth venturing to zone four for.

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A taste of Ethiopia in north-west London

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It’s best to give your hands a good wash before you sit down to eat at authentic Ethiopian restaurant Abyssinia, because if you’re embracing the dining experience, you won’t be getting any cutlery.

The restaurant in Cricklewood, north-west London, prides itself on being the first and oldest Ethiopian restaurant in the city. As first-timers to the cuisine, we took guidance from the smiley owner on what to order. Within seconds he’d decided on two dishes: the vegan combo and the meat combo (each about £26, and big enough to serve at least three people). 

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Soon enough, two extra large plates were placed before us. On one, mounds of colourful vegetable curries and stews were dotted atop a giant spongy sourdough flatbread (known as injera). On the other, a mixture of vegetable and meaty curries, following the same formula. Two baskets of extra injera rolls were also placed on the side. 

The idea is that you tear a piece of the injera and use it to scoop a mouthful of curry. It’s very much a hands-on, sharing experience, as you’re all eating from the same gigantic plate.

The vegan version was everyone’s favourite. It featured different mash ups of veggies, lentils and pulses, that were in turn spicy, nutty, creamy and delightful. The meaty mounds were well spiced and tender, and also very good, but the simplicity of the vegan combo really got our attention – and it tasted fresh and healthy to boot.

The soft, spongy injera had a great texture, so it was fun to touch. We kept picking at the food all evening – chatting and taking short breaks in between scoops. The beauty of it was that we felt very satisfied and full by the end – a ‘good’ full, not the sort where you’re in need of a lie down, which could be down to the fact that all the food was gluten free. After all that dipping and scooping my fingertips had received a good bathing in curry sauce, which reminded us of the similarity between Indian and Ethiopian food.

The portions were very generous – between the five of us we were shocked that we didn’t manage to clear either of the plates – and very well priced (the bill came to just £80, including two bottles of very good red house wine). We all thoroughly enjoyed the food and the relaxed service, and agreed we’d like to visit again. 

A note on the restaurant itself: it’s small, simple and basic looking (and probably in need of some loving). There’s no extensive wine list – just a house white, house red and house rosé – and there’s not really a need to reserve a table in advance or dress up. 

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PS Sorry for the silence lately, I’ve been busy scoffing food for Time Out – you can read my latest restaurant reviews here.

 

Misato’s chicken katsu curry is better than Wagamama’s

 

The long queue outside Japanese eatery, Misato, suggested that the food must be good, yet, looking inside, my confidence waned. Diners were crammed tightly together on basic wooden tables and chairs, and the plain beige walls lining the small space desperately needed some cheering up. It seemed to lack ambience, especially for a Chinatown restaurant. Still, every table was full and diners were chowing down on bountiful portions of sushi, noodle and curry dishes. I decided I had to leave my preconceptions at the door.

Following a twenty-minute wait in the queue, we were seated and quick to order. As the chicken katsu curry promptly arrived at our table, I was alarmed at the presentation. The rice was piled up messily and there was a huge breadcrumbed chicken portion resting on top with a generous drizzle of thick curry sauce. A mixed salad sat beside it all. The meal looked like it had been hastily thrown together by someone eager to clock off from their kitchen duty, but as I looked around, I noticed fellow diners’ dinners appeared in the same fashion.

As I got stuck in, I was pleasantly surprised. The fried chicken was crisp on the outside and tender on the inside, and the curry sauce was flavourful. The salad was dressed well and complemented the flavours with every mouthful.

Misato gives Wagamama’s much-loved chicken katsu curry a run for its money – plus you get almost double the portion for less money (£6). Now the rice did not arrive in a perfectly-formed mound as you would get at Wagamama, but the salad portion was sprawling, and the overall taste of the meal was as good as, if not better than that you get at the restaurant chain.

At Misato, it seems the food is cheap and tasty and the portions are big. Our meal for two came to just £18 (payment is cash-only), with drinks and service included – something that’s often unheard of in London. The queue outside Misato is worth the wait and, as that old saying goes, looks can be deceiving. 

All-you-can-eat sushi in Soho

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Now that you’ve seen the words “all you can eat”, I bet you’re fired up and ready to go. Before you do, here’s the small print: the bill at Sushi Eatery must be paid in cash, you’ve got an hour and a half to be in and out and drinks are paid on top. Now off you go.

It’s the same premise here that you get with the sushi buffet at Sushimania, where you’re given a small card on which to score a tick beside the dishes you want. You can get up to six rounds of the sushi and sashimi dishes, and only one for the hot dishes (featuring tempura dishes, gyoza, calamari and noodles etc), so make your choices wisely – and fast, the clock is ticking.

When we visit on a Thursday evening the place is packed to full with mostly Asian clientele. The food is decent – perhaps not the freshest or the best you’ll taste – but a good way to sample a lot of different things. I tasted something called Japanese butterfish and enjoyed the tuna sashimi and salmon and avocado sushi, washed down with a cup of Japanese tea.

The portions are generous and we just about make it to the fourth round. I don’t think it’s possible to get through more than four rounds, but if you do, you deserve a pat on the back.

The menu is fairly extensive and obviously fish- and meat-heavy. If, like me, you like raw salmon you’ll be happy.

Service is brisk at this small restaurant, which is set over two floors. The seating downstairs consists of long communal tables sunken into the ground – you almost feel as if you’re sitting on the floor (soft cushions are provided) – and it is difficult to elegantly enter or exit the seats; you have been warned.

Sushi Eatery doesn’t accept reservations and the cover price is approximately £20 per person.

If you can’t quite move at the end, you’ve probably got your money’s worth. Good work.

Sri Suwoon is the Thai gem hiding in Pimlico

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Discovering an excellent independent Thai restaurant hidden alone in the quiet residential streets of Pimlico was a bit like finding treasure – I was pleasantly surprised, yet uncertain about who else knows it’s there.

You probably wouldn’t find cosy two-floor restaurant, Sri Suwoon, if you weren’t looking for it (or without Google Maps). It appears that the locals are in on it though, because shortly after we arrive on a Monday evening, the restaurant is nearly full.

Visiting with a bunch of cousins meant we got lots of dishes to share – my favourite way to eat out. For starters, the chilli oyster mushrooms and chilli squid tempura were outstanding – the seasoning is just so and they both had a good crunch. The appetiser selection was generous and included all the classics: chicken satay, prawn toast, spare ribs, prawn tempura and some sort of bean curd patty which was very tasty.

The food crept closer to five-star with the mains: the drunken sea bass was mind-blowing (and that’s coming from someone who isn’t the biggest fan of fish). The chargrilled steak salad was refreshing; the beef pieces melted in my mouth. The vegetarian Thai green curry was perfection in a bowl; it’s as good as that from nearby Thai chain Mango Tree, and £4 cheaper too.

On that note, Sri Suwoon is pretty good value for money: our two-course meal for five people came to £110, approximately £22 each, and it’s just a seven minute walk away from Victoria station. Despite its proximity to this commuter hub, the independent restaurant has a relaxed atmosphere with a local feel.

Our meal really surpassed our expectations; Sri Suwoon is suddenly up there as one of my top five Thai joints in London.

A colourful, feel-good vegetarian dinner at Casita Andina

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Friends and colleagues always swoon at the mention of Peruvian food, so Ceviche and Andina have been knocking around on my restaurant list for a while. I’ve never visited South America and have no knowledge of the cuisine, so I’m not sure what to expect as we arrive at Casita Andina in Soho. It’s a cute and homely little spot, which comes from the makers of both Ceviche and Andina.

We start with a Pisco sour – Peru’s national cocktail – to get us in the mood. Sweet and smooth, it sets us up nicely for what’s next.

To nibble on, we get aubergine fries (good), and avocado fritters dipped in chilli and anchovy salt (outstanding).

The mains are served tapas-style, so we pick a mixture of hot and cold vegetarian dishes. The stand-out is the vegan Puka Picante. It’s a warm beetroot sauce with potato chunks, smoked cheese and herbs. I don’t think the description quite sells it, but it is brilliant and moreish. I also sample the pan-fried hake, which is flaky and light.

Ceviche [raw fish marinated in citrus juices] is perhaps Peru’s most famous dish, and features prominently on the menu, but as my dining companion is vegetarian, we steer clear.

Vegetable-based dishes dressed up in various flavours and marinades soon arrive at our table. All are colourful and have a satisfying mouthfeel. The ceviche de alcachofa, which consists of artichokes, sweet potatoes and black radish in tiger’s milk, has a good kick. But we can’t stomach the gemmas de los Andes, with lettuce and cured radish. It’s an acquired taste.

I feel I may have missed a trick by not trying the real deal ceviche, so I decide I’ll come again.

Our meal comes to £65 for two – in all a nutritious and fresh tasting dinner from which you come away feeling good rather than guilty.

*Swoons*

El Parador is the veggie-friendly tapas joint you’ve been searching for

When a friend suggested we dine at an “insanely good” (his words) family-run tapas restaurant in Mornington Crescent, I didn’t need much more convincing. Giving it a hasty Google a couple of hours before visiting, I was excited to see that El Parador was winning in the reviews too – always rated at four out of five stars, or higher. Needless to say, I arrived with high expectations.

Open since 1988, the restaurant is cosy, split over two floors, with basic décor, and located just a few steps away from Mornington Crescent station. There’s an outdoor terrace, but on the evening we visited in the middle of August (hello, summer?), it was pouring with rain (*rolls eyes*), so it was out of action, but this didn’t dampen my spirits.

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The restaurant only accepts bookings for groups and there were some reservations so we were seated downstairs. Down a narrow staircase, we found a dimly-lit dining room with no actual windows – it felt a bit like a casino as we were oblivious as to when the daylight gave way to darkness, but it’s nice if you want a bit of privacy.

Peering at the menu, I was amazed at how many vegetarian options there were – as many or more than the options for meat eaters or pescatarians, which you don’t get often in tapas joints. Even better, for such a small restaurant, the menu was full of variety.

We started with the house red, which was very good, and came highly recommended by the friendly waiter. We indulged in deliciously garlicky aioli with crusty bread, followed by patatas harra, flavour-packed roasted butternut squash with oregano, garlic and feta (yum), and spinach and cream cheese puff pastry parcels (really good). Whatever you go for, be sure to try the show-stopping pan-friend artichoke hearts. I’m still thinking about how to recreate that at home. For afters, we devoured a slice of creamy cheesecake.

Dining in the downstairs capsule, we lost track of time and managed to while away three hours without noticing.  Despite being tucked away from the main action, we weren’t forgotten about, with attentive and friendly service throughout. The bill came to £66 for two, including service, a worthy price to pay for such a delicious vegetarian meal in central London.

El Parador seems like a bit of a local secret, and yes, it’s definitely worth the hype – just don’t go telling your friends.

Munch on Indian tapas at Talli Joe

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Cast aside everything that comes to mind when you think of an Indian restaurant – i.e. piles of poppadoms, giant pots of curry and stacks of naan – because Talli Joe is nothing like its counterparts.

Specialising in small plates (read: Indian tapas) and cocktails, this Shaftesbury Avenue restaurant does things with a twist.

In place of table cloths and the dated decor you’d usually expect from your Friday night curry house, is a fresh, vibrant interior with a buzzing atmosphere and a bar area to boot.

Many of the dishes on the compact menu are inspired by different regions of India, from the Old Delhi chaat to the lamb roast from Kolkata, so it’s an experience for your mind as well as your taste buds.

The portions may be small but they sure do pack a punch: the flavours are truly authentic.

You’ll need a minimum of three dishes per person (£2-10.50 each) to feel satisfied – and some could say it’s expensive for what you get (meal for two, with a drink each was £47) – although the food is very flavourful and enjoyable.

Don’t overlook the cocktail menu, which is inventive and intriguing, using everything from masala tea in the masala colada to cashew nut purée in the milk punch.

Service is great, and most important of all, Talli Joe takes advanced bookings… Eat that Dishoom.

Cook your own dinner at Hot Pot in Chinatown

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Credit: Rob Grieg

A new restaurant dedicated to the ancient Chinese communal dining activity known as ‘hot pot’ has opened in the heart of Chinatown.

The appropriately named Hot Pot, a Bangkok-based chain, has opened this first London outpost on Wardour Street.

Hot pot is a process of cooking ingredients in a boiling broth, then seasoning them with a dipping sauce – and best of all, you’re in charge of the cooking (see steps below).

Hot pot is thought to have originated in Mongolia 1,000 years ago, and is experienced at a slow pace, allowing groups of friends and family to cook together and socialise. It has gained vast popularity across Asia.

How to eat hot pot

1. Your chosen broth (five varieties available) is brought to your table. You can choose up to two broths per pan, so if you’re vegetarian and your friend isn’t, just ask for the split pan. Wait for the broth to boil on the burner that is on your table and adjust the temperature with the control button as you like. You will be given a paper bib – it’s wise to put it on because sometimes dropping stuff in or taking it out of the broth can create a little splash. A related note: the meal can get a little bit messy, so this probably isn’t the best place to go for a first date.

2. Head to the dipping station to make your own sauce/s to eat with your cooked ingredients. There are herbs, pastes, oils and seasonings, including oyster sauce, white soy and chopped garlic. I chose spring onions, garlic, soy, a chilli paste – and the barbecue sauce is a must.

3. Cook your chosen meat, noodles and vegetables in the broth (choose from 60 ingredients including lobster selected live from tanks, chicken, seabass, king prawns and tofu). The vegetable selection is especially good. Once they’re done, fish them out from the broth with the ladles provided, dip into your sauces then enjoy.

4. Your broth will become flavoured during your meal. When you find the flavour has developed, drink your enriched broth as soup.

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Credit: Rob Grieg

Price Hot Pot is £8 and ingredients range from £5 (Chinese cabbage) to £27.50 (Wagyu beef).

Before you go Ask to be seated upstairs (pictured above) if possible as it feels a little more spacious and fancier. There’s also a private dining room for large groups upstairs that looks directly out on to the Chinatown gate.

Note: If you sit directly in front of the burner on the table, it is likely you’ll have steam in your face for the whole evening so try to distance yourself a little. It can get quite warm beside the burner, too, so choose your outfit wisely.

Take a bunch of friends or family for a fun and leisurely meal – it is especially good as everyone can get involved, and for once, there’s little chance that too many cooks will spoil the broth…

Find Hot Pot at 17 Wardour Street, London, W1D 6PJ

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Mercato Metropolitano: the Italian-themed foodie space in Borough

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Pictures don’t do Mercato Metropolitano any justice. Neither does its website. Nor does its unassuming entrance, which is merely lit up by a string of fairy lights come nightfall. You’d miss it if you didn’t know it was there… And that would be a shame.

What is it? Mercato Metropolitano is an Italian-themed casual foodie space slash indoor food market that is open from noon until late into the night.

There’s so much variety, and highlights include: pasta made fresh before your eyes, pizza straight outta Naples, cheeseboards via Champagne & Fromage, gelato, Italian craft beer and a build-your-own tiramisu stand. The latter, which we were intrigued by, involves everything from choosing the biscuity base, cheese (ricotta or mascarpone) to toppings. PURE indulgence.

Mercato Metropolitano is super spacious, cosy and there’s a great atmosphere about it. Plus, it’s not been hounded by the crowds of nearby Borough Market or Maltby Street – yet.

The setup of this space comes fresh from Italy, where it has already been tried and tested, and a lot of the staff working on the stalls are Italian, which adds to the authenticity of the experience. For anyone (you weirdos) who doesn’t like Italian food, I should add that there are also some non-Italian food stalls too.

In comparison to nearby Flat Iron Square, Mercato Metropolitano has a more inviting and warm atmosphere and it is much larger. There’s enough seating inside that you never have to fight for it, and the outdoor space will be wonderful come summer. There’s also a cinema and a cookery school here.

My favourite thing about places like this, including Dinerama, Hawker House and Flat Iron Square (all of which remind me of the Hawker Markets in Singapore) is that you can just turn up and eat or drink; there’s no need to book or dress up and there are few queues. Free entry too.

Don’t shudder when I say Mercato Metropolitano is located in Elephant & Castle (or a really short walk from Borough station), because when you get inside you will feel a thousand miles away.

 

Flat Iron Square: the new foodie spot near Borough Market

  

A new food and drink market has opened its doors near London Bridge, and is just a short walk from rival Borough Market.

What differentiates this vast space, however, is that it is open from Monday to Sunday, 10am until late and there is ample seating, making it a good spot for lunch, dinner as well as after-work drinks. As it’s mostly covered, Flat Iron Square is suited to all weather conditions, and may be likened a little to Dinerama.

The food line-up includes: The South West Social Club, Ekachai, Where The Pancakes Are, Bar Douro, Burnt Lemon Bakery, Baz&Fred, EDū, Carnitas, Laffa, Tatami, Savage Salads, Manti, Lupins sunshine food. There is also a flea market with vintage stalls open once a week. Ben Lovett’s live music venue OMEARA is housed here as well as a bar, The Bar from Flat Iron Square.

Flat Iron Square covers 40,000sq ft and encompasses six railway arches and surrounding open spaces, sited between Flat Iron Square, Union Street, O’Meara St and Southwark Street.

As it still remains a little undiscovered at the moment, Flat Iron Square is a good place to go if you’d like to steer clear of the crowds of Borough Market. 

Malaysia Fest is back in Trafalgar Square this Saturday

 

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Malaysia Fest, UK’s largest celebration of Malaysian cuisine and culture, returns to Trafalgar Square this Saturday.

The free festival is on from midday to 10pm, and a large part of it will be taken up by a Malaysian food market, with approximately 20 restaurants offering a variety of dishes all priced around the £5 mark.

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As well as the usual dishes such as mee goreng, roti canai, curries, sambals and laksas there will be more unusual dishes to look out for, including:

  • Pasembur (tofu, potato, flour, senkung, cucumber)
  • Mee rebus (dried shrimp, sweet potato, chili, squid, yellow noodles, half boiled egg, tofu)
  • Lockhing satay ikan (traditional Kelantan fish satay)
  • Keropok lekor (traditional Malay fish cracker snack from Terengganu)
  • Ayam kukus (steamed chicken)
  • Ayam pedas goreng bawang putih (spicy fried chicken)
  • Udang galah pangang limau pedas (spicy friend prawns).

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When it comes to dessert, there will be traditional peanut pancakes, black rice and coconut pancake, banana, peanut and Nutella pancake and cekodak pisang (banana, flour, sugar).

After 6pm, the festival will come alive with cooking demonstrations from Tim Anderson, Ping Coombs and Norman Musa as well as energetic cultural performances showcasing Malaysian dance and theatre.

It promises to be a lively and enjoyable celebration of all things Malaysian – and the weather is looking good too. See you there!

On cloud nine with candy floss and ice cream in Covent Garden

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After the hype of ice cream cookie sandwiches (Blu Top, Chin Chin Labs) and ice cream macaroons (Yolkinmacice), now Londoners can get soft serve ice cream – basically posh Mr Whippy – served in a candy floss cloud, thanks to new dessert cafe Milk Train.

Located just behind Covent Garden, Milk Train offers three flavours of the ‘premium’ soft serve (£3.50-£3.95) – vanilla, chocolate or matcha – and charges £1 extra for the candy floss cloud. There are lots of toppings and sauces also available at extra cost, (50p) or choose from the menu for a pre-selected combination.

It might all get a little bit messy, but it sure is a lot of fun. In one bite I was transported back to the days of cheerily scoffing candy floss at the funfair as a child. The soft serve was really tasty too, however it does melt very quickly so don’t spend too much time taking pictures for your Instagram feed.

The lovely thing about this place is that everybody leaves clutching their ice cream with an even bigger grin than usual!

Find the Milk Train on Bedford Street, WC2E 9HA.

Warning: queues possible and sugar overload very likely.

Beer and Buns in Liverpool Street

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Japanese beers (and sake) and fluffy buns (and wings) are the order of the evening at Beer & Buns. And they come with an extra side of fun – foosball and pinball tables… and sake bombs.

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Sake bombs (pictured left) require a little bit of explanation – a shot of sake arrives balanced on chopsticks above a glass of beer. You’ve got to knock on the table to get the sake to drop into the beer [*splash*] before downing it.

If that doesn’t sound like your kind of thing, the frozen margaritas are highly commended, and there’s whisky, cocktails and lots of beer available too.

Food-wise, buns are the obvious choice – the signature chicken bun was our favourite – and there are also duck, roast pork and veggie options. The menu is quite meat-heavy: the fried chicken wings are great, but super messy (thankfully they give you hand wipes), and there are a selection of sides. The beauty of dining here is that it’s all very informal and hands-on.

Beer & Buns is a cheap mid-week eat (there are offers on food and drink and the foosball tables are free to use). It also works as a casual date night spot and is buzzing with suits on a Friday night.

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For both food and drink it’s a pay-as-you-go bar service. The service was really quick when we visited, which had me questioning whether the food is pre-prepared and reheated, but nonetheless it’s a cheap meal and it does hit the spot.

 

Scoffing sourdough pizza at Franco Manca

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It comes as no surprise that sourdough pizza chain Franco Manca has been named the best Italian restaurant in the UK by Yelp users.

It was only earlier this year that I was introduced to the restaurant myself – yet it’s rapidly become one of my favourite places to eat out, and I’ve been raving about it to everybody who will listen…

The pizza at Franco Manca’s really is the dream – the sourdough is light, soft and fresh, and doesn’t bloat your tummy afterwards. It’s actually so good that you want to finish off the crust too. Plus, the pizzas are huge and super cheap: under the £7 mark.

Perfect for a casual, quick eat, the chain has a very short and simple menu with a handful of pizzas and salad – no dessert is served.

There are restaurants dotted all over London, although very few take prior bookings, so you may have to wait for a table – but it’ll be worth it.

Fun fact to think about when you visit Franco Manca… Your pizza was blasted in a wood-burning brick oven for a minute at 500C before landing on your plate!

Despite having scoffing it last night, I simply cannot wait for my next fix.

Refuel at Pump Shoreditch

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Popcorn chicken, bubble waffles, chilli cheese fries… street food is made seriously fun at Pump Shoreditch.

The mini street food market square, which is housed on the site of a disused petrol station on Shoreditch High Street, sees vendors rustle up tasty and eclectic delights from small colourful huts all day (11am-11pm).

Fill your arms with all the food you fancy before taking a seat at one of the many benches available and tucking in.

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If you’re familiar to the east, Pump is a a smaller-scale, snug version of Dinerama/Street Feast, but with a host of different food stalls, and it’s small enough that you won’t lose sight of friends. It’s mostly sheltered, but can get breezy so you’ll probably need a coat, at least until the weather warms up.

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Eat your way around the stalls: start at Makimayo, which takes fried chicken to a whole new level. We chose the chilli mayo-drizzled chicken (£5) and the Gangnam chicken (pictured above); both were finger-licking good, although the latter was quite spicy. Next, pick from Italian/Venezuelan/Peruvian/Japanese/Argentinian dishes before finishing at Nosteagia for bubble waffles (£4.50 each). A Chinese variation on the dessert waffle, the distinctive shape will impress, as will the fact that it’s made fresh in front of you. Choose your toppings (Oreo, strawberries, chocolate, cream, peanut butter, etc. Coco Pops is an option too!) and enjoy. They’re soft yet crisp to the bite, -and surprisingly light – a great way to round off the eating extravaganza – just make sure you leave some room for them!

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Take yourself back to Asia at East Street

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I felt like I’d been transported back to the bustling streets of Bangkok when I entered East Street.

Illuminated signs screaming “Asahi” or “Coca Cola” hang from the restaurant’s ceiling, jostling for attention, while a fragrant spiced aroma – reminiscent of the faraway street food bazaars of Asia – fills your nostrils.

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East Street serves up a variety of small and large dishes from Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia and Singapore, so you could have a beer from Laos, Vietnamese spring rolls, a Thai curry and finally, Malaysian pancakes for dessert, say.

This is a vibrant, fun restaurant that’s good for a casual lunch or dinner. Variety, speedy service and good portion sizes characterise the dining experience, and you’d be surprised that the eatery is hidden away just off Oxford Street (Tottenham Court Road is the closest station).

If you’ve ever been to Asia, it’s sure to have you reminiscing about your adventures!

A chocolate lover’s paradise: Said in Soho

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Word on the street is that Said serves up one of the best hot chocolates in London. It’s true. A cup of heavenly thick, rich molten chocolate, it is best devoured with a spoon. The taste of pure, melted, quality chocolate comes through with every mouthful – and between them it’s so satisfying to dip and swirl a spoon in the gooey liquid before you.

Said Dal 1923, as it’s officially known, is the London branch of a well-established chocolate shop in Rome, so it uses real handmade chocolate in its drinks – there’s not a trace of that powdered or watered down stuff here. And while the hot chocolate deserves to be shouted about, there’s another hidden gem here that shouldn’t be missed.

Chocolate bubbles behind the counter of this cosy little boutique shop-cum-café on Broadwick Street in Soho, and slabs of chocolate line the window and shelves. When we arrive at 8.45pm on a Monday evening, every seat is taken. To reiterate, it’s Monday evening, and it’s a full house.

said soho chocolate london

It’s clear to see that Said’s hot chocolate is popular – looking around at least 60% of customers have an empty cup in front of them, but there are also quite a few people forking cake into their mouths, sipping on coffee and munching on chocolate.

We’re soon seated next to a roaring fire in the centre of the café, it’s the epitome of cosy. Browsing through the four-page menu, it is full of sweet and savoury delights. As well as chocolate-coated strawberries, homemade cakes, profiteroles, tiramisu, ice cream, cheesecake, chocolate pizza (yes, it’s a thing, coated with Said’s own version of the popular Nutella spread, jars of which are available to buy), there are teas, coffees, and savoury items available.

There’s so much to tempt us that we can’t quite make up our minds. I quickly decide that this will become my new dessert spot so I can work my way through the entire menu.

After much umming and ahing, we opt for one milk hot chocolate (£2.50) and one dark hot chocolate (£2.50). It quickly arrives, and as we’re trying to scoop up every last drop, a plate of profiteroles arrives at the table beside us. There are three large profiteroles, each respectively drenched with warm white, milk and dark chocolate. The guy seated opposite me is about to take a bite and sees me eyeing them up. “They’re really good,” he says. I put an order in for them.

said soho chocolate shop

The profiterole-eating man couldn’t have been more right. I’m so deeply grateful for his tip-off. The profiteroles (£8) are a MUST – the best I’ve ever tasted in all my 26 years on this planet. But eat them quick, while the chocolate is still hot. And eat them in this order: the white, the milk and then the dark, so you get the optimum flavour from each. If there are two of you and you only order one plate as we did (it’s plenty!), cut each one in half so you get to sample every chocolate flavour. You can thank me later…

Tapas at José Pizarro in Liverpool Street

jose-pizarro-broadgate-circle

It’s a Tuesday evening at José Pizarro’s all-day tapas restaurant in Broadgate Circle and there are suits aplenty.

Detracting slightly from his cosier Bermondsey outposts, José and Pizarro, the Spanish chef has created this restaurant, his third, in a sleek, airy style, so it matches the City worker crowd well.

An extensive wine list featuring all-Spanish varieties is pleasing to see, while small tapas dishes and sharing plates of meat and cheese dominate the small menu.

Considering the size of the menu, which is a sheet of A4, we spend a lot of time mulling over what to eat. Vegetarian dishes aren’t flagged up, which is slightly frustrating considering I’m dining with a pescatarian companion. Some of the dish descriptions are also strings of Spanish words (it certainly feels authentic!), so we busy ourselves Googling translations on our phones.

To start, we go for the gordal olives stuffed with manchego (£4) – the Spanish cheese inside the olives is incredibly rich and creamy, and a little overpowering – but the spicy prawn fritters with alioli (£8.50) are memorable and moreish, perhaps one of the stand-out dishes.

Mid-way through the starters, a plate of juicy-looking king prawns lands on our table – which, it turns out, are intended for the diners seated beside us, who are eyeing them up suspiciously. We pass the plate on, and carry on with our meal.

Next we order patatas bravas (£5) and empanada with spinach, torta del casar and pine nut dressing (£7). The patatas bravas is great to start, but the potato chunks nearer to the bottom of the pan are overly salty. The empanada, a pastry with a cheese and spinach filling, is coated in an odd dressing that ruins the flavour, such that we nibble on a bit and leave the rest.

We move on to a dessert of warm apple tart and vanilla ice cream (£4.50), which is absolutely lovely – crisp, flaky and so enjoyable that I could devour another plate. Also on the dessert menu is a dish that intrigues me: chocolate pot with salt and olive oil (£4.50). It’s just as popular as the apple tart, the waiter tells me, and is a little like a pot of rich Nutella, served with bread, but I’m too full to give it a go.

Perhaps my incredibly positive and fulfilling tapas experience at Brindisa the night before is overshadowing my experience, but I can’t help but feel too satisfied. Maybe I should’ve chosen some meaty dishes. I’m told that the menu has recently changed, so maybe that’s got something to do with it. Still, the setting is pretty and the service is great (other than the slip of the prawns!) – I can’t help but feel that José Pizarro, which opened last May, could be even better in the summer months, when diners can dine on the outdoor terrace.

Regardless, the magic of tapas is that you get to fill up on a variety of small things, and while it feels like you’re eating less than normal, you feel full fast. We set off out of the restaurant and the grand amphitheatre-like Broadgate Circle with our bellies full, at least.

Slurp noodles at the new Ichiryu Hakata Udon House

ichiryu udon house tottenham court road london

A brand new “Udon House” has opened its doors on New Oxford Street.

Ichiryu, the brainchild of Take Tokumine, the CEO of Shoryu and Japan Centre,  prides itself on its thick, chewy white udon noodles, which are handmade on site and served up either hot or cold with toppings such as prawn tempura, fishcakes and beef.

The menu also features sushi, tempura (cod, aubergine, chicken, fishcake, burdock root and courgette variations, all cooked in rapeseed oil), rice bowls, and Japanese classics such as edamame, miso soup and Hirata buns. Plus, there’s sake, beer and Japanese tea to wash it all down.

Located just a few minutes from Tottenham Court Road station, the eatery has been designed in a grab ’n’ go-style perfectly suited to the work crowd, although there is a small relaxed seating area for those who wish to dine in.

At the launch, Mr Tokumine revealed that every Ichiryu employee is gifted a share in the restaurant upon joining (in a similar way to John Lewis’ organisational structure) – so the company’s success will be shared by its staff.

A chef at Ichiryu also explained what makes udon dishes a little different: while Ramen, the Japanese noodle soup, is most often flavoured with pork-based broth, udon dishes have a fish broth base.

Standout dishes, in my opinion, are the sushi and the refreshing chilled udon dish, Buta Shabu Niku – I’ve only ever tasted udon noodles steaming hot, so this was a pleasant surprise.

Find it: 84 New Oxford St London WC1A 1HB, nearest station Tottenham Court Road