With new low-cost flights and prices lower than they've been for years, tourists are arriving to London en masse.
The best way to resist the political malaise, many locals say, is to celebrate the city’s multiculturalism and historically great internationally-inspired dining. Here are some of the best spots to sample London’s uniquely diverse character from authentic classics to modern reinterpretations of dishes from Tokyo to Tel Aviv to Melbourne and taste the contributions of this city’s vibrant immigrant communities.
Serving Indian dishes that are both modern and nostalgic of Britain’s deep historical ties with India, Dishoom is a London haunt with six separate, and, impressively, all equally vibrant, locations. Dishoom’s elegant but still casual dining halls (think checkered wooden tables, framed vintage Bollywood posters, and low, atmospheric lighting) are inspired by the all-day “Irani”, or Iranian-style, cafes that once dotted Bombay. Stop by to start off a day of touring right with a smoked bacon naan, smothered with cream cheese and chili. In the evenings, there’s often live music, innovative cocktails and a jovial vibe to accompany such classic Indian soul food dishes as tikka masala and lamb biryani.
Aun, a creative Japanese tapas joint, is a great excuse to venture into Stoke Newington, or “Stokey,” one of the trendiest and most charming East London neighborhoods, formerly home to the gritty local arts scene. In a small, clean, well-lit space, Aun pays homage to the Japanese concept of “wakon yosai,” the art of integrating Western techniques into Japanese traditions. While watching people stroll by on Stokey’s main thoroughfare, delight in Aun’s expert balancing act between European and Japanese flavors: delicately-spiced eggplant in smoky mustard miso, a beautifully presented roll that marries two classics: English Stilton cheese and Japanese kombu.
The Lacy Nook
The Lacy Nook started like so many unlikely endeavors of the millennial generation: with the help of Kickstarter. Macedonian friends Elena Smileva and Jana Miseva (with guidance from Tom Catley of Nobu and Ottolenghi fame) started this cafe, bar and restaurant as a place to showcase traditional Balkan kebabs and contemporary, experimental Eastern European cooking. In the warmer months, grab a table in the spacious outdoor beer garden, order a glass of Macedonian wine, and chow down on delicious, affordable and locally-sourced dishes like eggplant and almond salad or beef cevapi: succulent beef kuftas accompanied by flatbread and assorted dips.
One of the latest in a series of Israeli restaurants to sweep London, the Palomar is a celebration of vegetable-heavy dishes from Jerusalem-born chef Assaf Granit. Palomar’s fun, almost-clubby vibe enhances the bold and chaotic Middle Eastern culinary mishmashes of its menu. In typical Israeli culinary fashion, there are no rules, and that’s part of the fun. Feast on kubaneh, an airy, buttery, brioche-like Yemenite-Jewish loaf; delight in the cheekily un-kosher Moroccan-Jewish-style pork belly tagine. Finish it all off with the Palomar “glida”: ice cream spiced with cardamom and halva, a densely sweet dessert made from sesame tahini. If you take a seat at the bar, don’t be surprised if you’re offered a shot of arak, a Middle Eastern anise liquor, or several.
The UK is home to Australia’s largest diaspora. One million Aussies have made their new home in London the best way they know how: through food. The Lantana Cafe, named after a stunning South American flower introduced into Australia, is among the diaspora’s best loved eateries. In its three locations, Lantana offers one of the city’s most laid-back Saturday brunches that feature new twists on classics: French toast topped with matcha sugar and raspberry mascarpone, or “pulled pork drown eggs” served in a spicy tomato sauce. Opt for unlimited prosecco and make it a morning.
Andina is London’s mecca of slow-cooked seafood, presented in the style of the traditional all-day “picanterias” of the Peruvian Andes. Don’t miss the smoked trout and quinoa pancakes, pork belly chicharrones, Peruvian porridge or the corn tamales. The trendy Shoreditch location is a hang-out spot for partiers seeking sophisticated nourishment. Across town, the Notting Hill branch hosts Andina Panaderia, London’s first Peruvian bakery, which bakes incredibly fragrant Andean black mint and sweet potato sourdough loaves and cinnamon-y, brioche-like Chancay breads.
BunBunBun is a delightfully authentic newcomer to the London Vietnamese food scene. The scene itself dates back to 1975 when, following the Vietnam war, refugees, students and business people were allowed entry into the UK. Early on, the Vietnamese expat community set up shop on Kingsland Road in East London, where, today, alongside a string of small, independent Pho shops, BunBunBun boasts an extensive menu of bánh mì , noodle variations and seafood dishes. On a wintry day, BunBunBun’s hearty phở broth, with a side of prawn summer rolls, can’t be beat.
Gone are the days when generic Thai restaurants were the only representatives of the country’s many diverse areas. Today’s Thai scene in London is all about specificity. Kiln is a tiny Soho barbecue joint inspired by the cuisine of the rural Lanna region of northern Thailand that executes its signature dishes—like fried monkfish curry or raw beef larb (a meat salad and the unofficial national dish of Laos)—expertly. If you get here early enough, make a beeline for the high-energy counter where chefs cook with clay pots and iron woks on a raging charcoal fire just like they do in the outdoor night markets seen in Thailand.
Kazan, a Turkish veteran in the Pilmico neighborhood, is much loved for its modern Ottoman food that harks back to the days when Turkey was an empire that ruled much of the Middle East. Most patrons eat in the main, more formal dining area. It’s tastefully adorned with low-hanging Moroccan lamps and dim lights and it offers hearty, healthful dishes like kulbasti a rosemary-rubbed, grilled fillet of lamb. Others head to their more casual cafe across the street, where you can enjoy shish kebabs and a plentiful plate of gorgeous Turkish hummus, tabbouleh, broad bean salad and other mezze.
Brits have long been drawn to sunny Portugal, but only in recent years has the country received its due as an international culinary gem. Bar Douro, named after the glistening river that flows through northern Portugal, is a testament to the good wine and good food that has historically emerged from that seafaring country. Located in a railway arch not far from Borough Market, this Portuguese gastro-pub is decorated with blue and white tiles and a chicly industrial marble counter. Its dishes are meant for sharing and to be enjoyed alongside a glass of Portuguese wine, so have your pick of bolinhos (salt cod mini-dumplings), aromatic lamb-filled chanfana rolls or their ever-popular cheese and charcuterie boards.