Eating like a local in London can mean a thousand different things. In our previous post about British cuisine, we took a look at some of the classic British meals you can get for reasonably cheap anywhere in the capital.
If you’ve just arrived in the London, and just read my rundown of the best spots for Jellied Eels and classic Fish and Chips, you might be wondering what the hell I was talking about. Where are all the Pie and Mash shops in Brixton, when it’s small Caribbean cafés with a few hipster burger and kale joints thrown in? Where are the classic English breakfasts in Soho, when all you see are 40 year old Chinese dumpling restaurants?
And you’d be right. Well done. You caught me. But don’t worry, I’ll fix it. If you want to eat like a local in London you have to do what Londoners do, travel the world by walking down their local high street. I recently heard of a guy working in Soho who lunched in 80 different countries on 80 different days, without barely moving a mile from work.
So here it is, the best international and multicultural cuisine in London, that locals actually eat.
Curry, or at least the British Asian variety, is a national institution. It’s constantly quoted as being the nation’s favourite dish, ahead of things like fish and chips and a Sunday roast. Curry first came to Britain over two hundred years ago. Queen Victoria, Empress of India, even had a specialist curry chef based in London, with the first dedicated Curry House in the city opening as early as 1810.
Traditionally, curry in the UK has been flavoured to British tastes, with many dishes, such as the Balti and Tikka Masala, claimed as British Asian inventions. You can sample most of them on Brick Lane for a decent price, but over the years the demand has risen for a more authentic Indian experience. Hopefully we can recommend a couple of places that won’t break the bank.
Indian Veg Bhelpoori House, in Angel, is an Indian buffet that costs around £6 per person (once upon a time it was just £2.50). Expect reasonable food, and a vast amount of vegetarian propaganda on the walls.
Or, if you leave LSE and head towards Lincoln Inn Fields, at around 12-2pm, you should run into the Radha-Krishna Temple Rickshaw Project, which distributes free curry to students, locals and the homeless. Expect a queue, and be nice: donate.
Chinatown has actually moved twice, originally springing up in Limehouse, then in the docklands. This third, and probably final incarnation, is based in the heart of London, near Leicester Square in Soho. Like most Chinatowns around the world, it’s crammed with a dizzying variety of restaurants, all offering mildly obnoxious service and lightning-quick delivery. Of course, in Chinese places the food is always the star. Here are some tricks and recommendations.
Lots of Chinese food has been heavily adapted for the British market. Many restaurants, especially the ones with Chinese tourists in them, have a separate Chinese menu. Sometimes, these are translated into English. These menus are the key to experiencing proper Chinese cuisine, like Hotpot or anything involving violently spicy Szechuan peppers.
We can specifically recommend Wong Kei, which is claimed to be the biggest Chinese restaurant in the UK, and once had a reputation for being the rudest. There’s no ‘Chinese menu’ as such here, but the dishes are pretty authentic for the most part.
London, like everywhere in the West, seems to have succumbed to the rise of the hipster, and more specifically the rise of their pretentious pseudo-American eating habits. Shoreditch, Hoxton, Haggerston and Brixton have all been invaded by a counter culture so expensive that locals have to re-mortgage their house to just nibble on the corner of another joyless bean and quinoa tart. Thankfully, there are still plenty of cheap, good, local options – especially when it comes to Caribbean food.
Brixton, as an example, is one of the poorest parts of London. With its rich history of African and Caribbean immigration – spanning back to the original arrivals on boats like the Empire Windrush – fantastic Afro-Caribbean cuisine is everywhere. It’s just not well advertised.
If you’re in need of some classic BBQ chicken covered in hot jerk sauce, rice mixed with ‘peas’ (beans), fired plantain (a type of banana) or a beef, goat or saltfish pattie (a type of Cornish pasty), then here are a few great Brixton-based options.
Negril at 132 Brixton Road, Black & White Cafe at 75 Atlantic Rd, and Ultimate Jerk Centre at 397 Coldharbour Lane, all offer authentic Caribbean food, whilst the latter has jerk chicken from just £2.
If you want somewhere with a bit more of a restaurant feel, why not try Bamboula Kitchen at 12 Acre Lane.
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