Eddy Says

Eddy Says: My top ten places to eat in London

By | Published on Tuesday 8 November 2011

Eddy Temple-Morris

Eddy is, of course, mainly known around these parts for his rants and stories derived from years working in the music and media industries. But occasionally he’s touched on other topics, one of which being his love of food. Because this man knows his food (we’ve been trying to pry his secret chilli recipe out of his hands for years) and this week he’s come up with something a little different; his ten (or so) favourite places to eat in London.

Doing a weekly column is weird because some weeks I simply have nothing to say. If it was just my blog, that’d be fine, I’d take a week off, but my excellent editor at CMU cracks his whip on a Monday morning and I have to come up with something. So, in the absence of anything to rant about, I’m falling back on a tried and tested formula, one of my infamous top tens. They always seem to go down well. This one features a topic I’ve only ever touched on briefly in these columns, but because my mind is so focused on food at this time of year, it’s my first foodie top ten. Places to eat in the capital.

Hopefully this will make you hungry and it will fuel debate. It’s not the be-all and the end-all, just some recommendations based on many years living and eating in London, with some obvious ones and some real little gem, secret squirrel haunts of mine. This is personal.

By the way, the reason there’s no pizza on here is because London doesn’t figure in my top three pizzas I’ve ever had. I don’t think there’s anywhere here that does it the way I like. For your info, the best pizza I’ve ever eaten was from a tiny, medieval bakery on the island of Gozo, near Malta. I’ll tell you more about that one day. I didn’t do Sunday lunch either, because there are just too many good ones, but the top tip is if you’re eating late is never order the beef, always the slow cooked meats, like pork belly, that benefit from long cooking. Chinese is only missing because it’s a top ten and I ran out of numbers. I could have gone on with this all day!

It’s important to add that this is all entirely from the heart, there were no free meals here. I ate at all these places as a normal punter, no special treatment, no discounts or anything. I’m not getting a kickback on alerting you to these places, they are all blissfully unaware that I’ve written this. I’m just sharing some places that deserve to have your patronage.

Indian – Namaaste
My favourite Indian food is Keralan. While I am a rampant omnivore, I love the flavours of Keralan food – always vegetarian – because they’re like the distillation of a perfect holiday beach. Coconut, herbs, crunchy textures like sand underfoot. If Indian food is on the agenda I’d always look for a Keralan place first though, if I’m honest, the best Indian dish I’ve ever had was not from a Keralan place, it was a plate of simple, marinated, Tandoori lamb chops from Namaaste, in Parkway, Camden. Just astonishing. The best lamb chops I’ve ever eaten in my life. Bar none. Anything that’s the best you’ve ever had is a big deal, even if it’s a poached egg or beans on toast.

Fish n chips – Fish Club
Having a good fish n chip shop near you is like having a hug from your mum. It’s THAT important. Right now, I live very near an excellent place called Ken’s, in Half Moon Lane. They do guilt-free sustainable cod in there, and the portions are mountainous.

But, again, if I’m honest, it’s not my favourite one in London. For me, and this is a personal thing to do with how well I like my chips cooked, The Fish Club in Clapham High Street is the best. The chips there are ALMOST as good as Heston Blumenthal’s triple cooked chips. Sort of a cross between a chip and a crispy roast spud. They are well done, a darker brown than you’d find in almost every other chippy, and the sustainable fish (Coley) is expertly poached inside crispy tempura style batter.

What I love about this place is that you can have the fish grilled or pan fried, and you can have pretty much any kind of fish you want. It’s a fishmonger, so you could push the boat out and have lobster and chips if you really wanted. They have awesome tartare sauce too. Homemade of course, and done the French way, with a bit of parsley in there as well.

Italian – 500 & Il Mirto
If you wanted to impress the hell out of someone, and money was no object, the Montpeliano, opposite Harrods, in Montpelier Square is the one. You eat and have your arse kissed with excellent service, and you’re surrounded by glitzy pictures of the 50s, 60s, 70s film legends who have eaten there. But pound for pound, the best Italian restaurant in London, for me, is 500, at the top of Holloway Road.

The chef there used to be the sous chef to one of the big superstar Italians, but rather than open his own place in Knightsbridge or St James’s (where you feel you should be eating food of this quality) he opened up, rather socialistically, in the hellhole that is Archway. A ferociously seasonal menu, and Michelin star quality Italian food at bistro prices. I don’t know how he does it. You HAVE to order the homemade, deep fried, raviolo filled with provolone cheese and mint as an appetizer. If you don’t do this then we can’t be friends.

Meanwhile, if you live down in South London, I just this weekend discovered a tiny Sardinian Cafe in Melbourne Grove, East Dulwich called Il Mirto that served me the best mushroom ravioli I’ve ever eaten, made with Porcini mushrooms the chef had picked himself that morning. It cost around £7, and if Gordon Ramsay had served me that same plate and charged me £30 I’d have paid it happily.

Posh – Trinity
By ‘posh’ I mean an occasion restaurant. Somewhere you need an excuse to go to, or a rich friend who is paying the bill.

My dear old friend Matty from The Infadels texted me last week asking where in South London a good friend could take her mum to celebrate her 30th birthday (she was turning 30, not her mum). I delighted in giving him two options. For the simple, classic French things done really well, I recommend Chez Bruce. I think Chez Bruce has a Michelin star that they are very proud of. But my favourite posh nosh has no such star. And I admire this place all the more for not having one: Trinity, on Clapham Common.

They refuse the coveted Michelin star because that limits them, for example, to only two sittings. They’re full all the time, so don’t need the props. If this were starred I’d give it easily a 1.5 star rating. The menu was playful and the chef has real vision and the balls to take risks and give you a plate that’ll make you go WOW! The staff know their shit too.

Thai – Esarn Kheaw
I know a bit about Thai food; I used to be married to a Thai chef who worked at E&O in Portobello. The best food in Thailand comes from the north east of the country, so that’s what you look for in a good Thai restaurant. The area is called Issan, or Esarn – there may be even more random spellings – and the best places I’ve ever eaten in London are all Issan, or NE Thai places (Udon, Nong Khai etc).

There’s one near me in Brixton, at the end of the market, behind the green gates just past the Dogstar, and there’s the Thailand restaurant on Lewisham Way, where you may be serenaded with bagpipes, by the owner, a hilarious Scot who played the pipes on some of the biggest records of the 1970s and 1980s. Gold and platinum discs are displayed with the same pride as the 50 odd single malt whiskeys around the room. But the best one of them all is in West London, in Uxbridge Road, and it’s called Esarn Kheaw.

Order the national dish ‘Som Tam’ (papaya salad) but ask for it ‘mai pet’ (not hot) – it’ll still be hot as hell but won’t kill you. Eat it with sticky rice, another north eastern staple, and their amazing Issan sausages and/or simple BBQ chicken. If you’ve never eaten Thai sticky rice ask them to show you how, there is a knack to it.

Breakfast – Banners and Brockwell Park Lido Cafe
Like a good fish n chip shop, we all need a good greasy spoon nearby to make our lives complete, and we all have a decent one, but there are a few breakfasts out there that stand out for special mention. When I lived in North London it was all about Banners in lovely Crouch End. A legendary place owned by Andy Kershaw’s lovely ex-girlfriend Juliette, and an institution. It’s a proper man-meal that’ll leave you in pain when you walk out, but my god it’s good if you’re starving and need that massive meat and stodge hit after a big night out. Order the smoothie of the day to balance out the badness and marvel at the ‘Now Not Playing’ record on display.

Now I’m down South I’ve discovered a more refined brekky at Brockwell Park Lido Cafe, where my plate sings with free range bacon and a quite spectacular artisan black pudding, one of my weaknesses with a full English. Plus you’re eating next to a large body of water, in London, which feels really nice, even if it is just a swimming pool. The only bummer is they don’t do bubble and squeak. And if they are really busy your poached egg may be over-done. But I sent my cannonball back and it returned perfect with apologies and smiles.

Bar Snacks – Quo Vadis
Let us not forget the humble bar snack, a meal that’s not a meal, and that special something to replace a lunch that cannot happen, or to keep the wolf from the door until dinner. And believe me this is worth the journey. Quo Vadis in Dean Street, Soho. Either find a friend who is a member of this place, or ask if you can go to the restaurant bar – you don’t have to be a member to eat at the restaurant (which is top notch by the way, every one a winner), but members get access to private dining rooms.

Anyway, head for the bar and order a Scotch egg and some pork scratchings. They are both homemade, and utterly exquisite. The scratchings are long bits of crackling, taken straight off a roast and served with apple sauce, and when you cut the perfect, crispy, scotch egg in half, you’re greeted with a runny organic egg yolk inside. Phenomenal.

Tapas – Angels & Gypsies
My inspiration for this top ten came while eating at Angels & Gypsies in Camberwell last night. They do the best tapas I’ve ever eaten outside of Barcelona, with a few dishes beating everything I’ve ever eaten in Spain. The Aubergine dish and the Jamon Croqetas were easily the best I’ve ever had anywhere. The pan-fried pumpkin with scotch bonnet pepper, juniper berries and thyme was sensational. Everything we had was either good, great, or fucking out of this world! Like the Italian place in Upper Holloway, this is a gem in a shit-hole of a neighbourhood.

Japanese – Kikuchi
I do love a Japanese place and usually I’d go for a cheaper one, just to get my fix without breaking the bank. But you do usually get what you pay for with Japanese food, so I’ve eaten at Nobu and Hakkasan, both as tremendous as the bill. However, the best one for me is a tiny little place the same back street behind Tottenham Court Road as you’d find Hakkasan. It’s called Kikuchi in Hanway Street.

The owner is also the only chef and looks like a Samurai warrior. His chef’s knife looks more like a sword and he wields it to give you the finest ingredients, put together with more love than you can imagine. Not cheap, it’s another occasional place but well worth a splash if you’re in the mood. I swear you will not find a better Japanese restaurant in London. The only one better, ever, for me, was in New York.

Middle Eastern – Mohsen
I’m a real sucker for Lebanese food, and if you’re on the hoof, you won’t find much better than the places up Edgware Road, where people are smoking hookah pipes, to grab an amazing rolled up chicken sandwich with garlic sauce and pickles, but my biggest love is the food of my motherland, Iran.

Persian food is the most under-rated, unknown cuisine in the world, I think. And the best place in London to appreciate it is surrounded by smiley Iranians at a place called Mohsen, near Earls Court. It’s pretty rugged, like a roadside cafe in Iran, it feels a bit like you’re in a slightly pikey B&B, or something. But the food is straight from the kitchen of an average Iranian grandma. Fresh cooked bread from their tandoor oven, the best rice you’ll ever eat, and incredible, warming, long cooked stews that will bow your mind at this time of year.

If you have an Iranian mate, take them with you so the menu will be a little less daunting if you’ve never been. Or just suck it and see by ordering specials and talking to the staff. Don’t forget a side order of paneer cheese with herbs, and finish with falloudeh, a kind of sorbet with rice noodles in it. You squeeze fresh lime over the top and it’s the best way to finish anything, ever.

And that’s your lot. Bon appetit, my friends.

X eddy