Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Ethnic eats in the Olympic city

The Olympics are in full swing, bringing together over two hundred nations in one of the most ethnically diverse cities in the world. In deference to this great multicultural event, here's a few of my favourite morsels to guide revelers through their hungry moments, while they explore the city behind the 30th Olympiad.

Mediterranean, Middle East and South/South East Asia


Nopi is a mixture of formal restaurant and communal dining, from the talented team behind Ottolenghi. If you're familiar with this class act of Mediterranean and Levantine cooking then you'll know to expect fresh jewel like ingredients, petite portions, and unique, magical combinations of flavours and textures. For those not yet acquainted with this crew, you’ll find the food at Nopi to be unlike anything you’ve found elsewhere: creamy burrata with flat white peach and coriander seeds; tasty confit pressed duck with a sweet spiced plum relish and walnut horseradish cream; roasted cauliflower with farro (grain similar to barley), sharp barberries, hazelnuts and celery, to give you a few examples. At Nopi you can book a table for lunch or dinner in the formal dining room upstairs, or you could choose to join the communal table downstairs and survey the action in the open kitchen before you. Prices are at the premium end – in keeping with Ottolenghi’s other establishments – but the wine list and cocktail menu will probably tempt you to spend a few quid more. Should be on the to do list of all foodies.

21-22 Warwick Street 
London W1B 5NE
Ph: +4420 7494 9584

Sushi Tetsu

A tiny, superb sushi restaurant only newly on London’s gastronomic radar. It’s star is rising so fast, chef-owner Toru Takahash pleaded with Jay Rayner to keep his (rave) review under raps for a while to give him time to get ready for the inevitable deluge. The menu of sushi and sashimi is extensive – all prepared in front of you by the talented and chatty Takahash-san from the freshest of seafood. Among his more unusual offerings, you may sample razor clam, sea urchin, cuttlefish and snow crab. Of the standard species available, Sushi Tetsu offers several varieties of tuna – from cheaper red fin to (‘rich part’) succulent tuna belly – two types of mackerel and sardine, turbot, brill, bass, bream, grouper and lemon sole, as well as eel, salmon, shrimp, octopus, squid and scallop. Takahash often uses a blowtorch to excellent effect, caramelising the surface of a scallop, for instance, to bring out its sweetness and add a mild hint of barbecued flavour. The rolls are tasty and fresh as a daisy, although with all the beautiful seafood on offer, I prefer to save all my room for sushi and sashimi. The drinks menu consists of a few sakes, including a fragrant daiginjo (a higher end sake) called Nanbu bijin that’s worth the extra doubloons. The odd spirit or two, mineral water, green and oolong tea, and a small gathering of Japanese beers complete the drinks menu - Takahash wants to educate London diners about sake before he introduces wine to his restaurant. Sushi Tetsu is going to get harder to get into over the coming months, but I promise it’s worth the effort.

12 Jerusalem Passage
London EC1V 4JP
Ph: +4420 3217 0090

Korean and Japanese


Culinary gems are harder to come by in this portion of North London than elsewhere in the city but Dotori is definitely one of them. It’s predominantly a Korean restaurant but a one-man sushi counter turns out a reasonably decent selection of sushi, sashimi and hand rolls. Especially worthy of note are the assorted ‘bibimbap’ – mixed meat or seafood (bbq beef is especially good), vegetables and rice, blended at the table with hot and savoury gochujang (chilli sauce) and sometimes a raw egg, which cooks in the heat of the dish as it’s mixed through. Their hot soups, noodles and tempura are all pretty good too, and the low prices add up to some of the best value going in London for good nosh. Dotori has become a favourite among the throngs of locals so you have to book to ensure getting a table. For the value and deliciousness though, you won’t be sorry to wait if you decide to take your chances.

3 Stroud Green Road
Finsbury Park
London N4 2DQ
Ph: 020 7263 3562


Mien Tay

The famous ‘Pho Mile’ on the Kingsland Road in Shoreditch has more Vietnamese restaurants than you can shake a stick at, many of them cheap n’ cheerful and BYO, so well suited to the frugal traveller. Among those noted by locals, Viet Grill is reputed to offer a more up-market experience, while Song Que is religiously authentic and boasts a bewilderingly extensive menu that you’ll be left to wade through. I’d definitely recommend getting to both of these if you’re a devotee of the cuisine, however there’s something about Mien Tay that feels like home…almost akin to the atmosphere of old family-run Asian restaurants in Ireland. My favs on their South West Vietnam menu include stir-fried green mussels with ginger and spring onion, green papaya salad with prawns, and chargrilled pork chops with lemongrass and chilli. They have an incredible-sounding seafood hotpot that must be ordered in advance – should you be so organized – and if you’re feeling adventurous you might try some of their more unusual dishes, of goat, frog or eel. One way or t’other, a visit to the global feast that is the Olympics would not be complete without a trip to the Pho Mile.

122 Kingsland Road
London E2 8DP
Ph:+4420 7729 3074


There are a few Caribbean places worth mentioning in London: Cottons on Chalk Farm Road near Camden is a popular spot for a fun evening among happy peeps enjoying good beats and even better rums, and Jerk Shack on Portobello Road Market pleases the masses with tasty spicy jerk chicken, curry goat, snapper, rice and peas, and fried plantain every Saturday. However, Brixton is the heartland of Caribbean food culture in London, so it is here you’ll find it at it’s most colourful. Bamboula is a fun spot with a great variety of true dishes from the islands: ackee and saltfish, steamed tilapia (fish), jerk chicken and lamb, curry goat, and brown stew chicken or oxtail. The ‘all you can eat buffet’ for £7.99 at lunchtime from Monday to Friday is understandably very popular and a happy find should you be in the area, but you should stop in for dinner and sample some of their fine rum punch, or traditional ‘Guinness punch’ if your constitution can withstand it. Take 2wo jerk stand in Brixton Village and Negril on Brixton Hill are also popular with locals.

12 Acre Lane
Brixton, SW2 5SG
Ph: +4420 7737 6633

Spanish and North African

In Exmouth Market near Islington you’ll find this fab restaurant which offers an à la carte menu and a list of tapas, available all day Monday to Saturday. The inspiration here is Moorish cuisine but you’ll also find classic Spanish dishes. All will please no end - this is one of the few tapas places that actually lives up to our foodie desires. Among the Moorish flavours you can expect the likes of crab brik with harissa (delicious spiced and herbed crab pastry parcels with the hot condiment harissa) or quail baked in flatbread with pistachio sauce. On the Spanish side you’ll taste roasted pork with patatas pobres (Spanish style) and spicy churrasco sauce, and stuffed squid with fino sherry. If you drop in for tapas you can have a more casual experience with all the usual suspects, including anchovies in garlic oil, grilled padrons and Catalan botifarra sausage. If you can’t get into Moro, fear not, it’s sister tapas bar Morito (just next door) requires no reservations, and offers a nice selection of Spanish cocktails to boot.

34 - 36 Exmouth Market
London EC1R 4QE
Ph: +4420 7833 8336


Without a shadow of a doubt the best Mexican restaurant in London IMHO, and some of the best fun you can have with your clothes on! An evening at Wahaca in Covent Garden begins with cocktails and possibly some nachos and meltingly fresh guacamole at the bar – they don’t take reservations and there’s usually around 45 minutes wait for dinner, so this is by far the best way to pass the time. Once seated you can order your choice of nibbles, snacks, salads and mains, all of which are inspired by humble Mexican street foods and made using good British ingredients. Molten pork pibil tacos, melty hot chorizo and potato quesadillas, rich chocolatey chicken mole, grilled steak or snapper, shrimp and scallop ceviche, pulled pork burrito…the list of deliciousness goes on and on. Restraint is impossible, gluttony inevitable and well justified in the presence of such amazing food. It’s not a shrine to authenticity, but then that’s not the point. There are several outposts of this great Mexican chow house, one notably at Westfields next to the Olympic stadium.

66 Chandos Place
Covent Garden
London WC2N 4HG
Ph: +4420 7240 1883

F. Cooke

Of course, the most exotic and hard to find outside its own country is real British cuisine, of which there are many fine examples within the city of London. 'Pie n' liquor' is not only a stalwart of British cookery, it's quintessential London grub, and cockney London at that. There are a number of celebrated traditional pie n' mash shops - Clark's in Exmouth Market, Harrington's in Tooting, M. Manze at Tower Bridge (London's oldest pie n' mash shop) - but I've chosen to highlight Cooke's, firstly for their scrummy mince meat pie that could rival my granny's (sorry granny), and secondly because of their location near Broadway Market, which should not be missed by any visiting foodie. So go on and try the eels - in a big spoon of mash and liquor, they're utterly delicious and not even remotely scary! 

150 Hoxton Street
London N1 6SH

Ph: +4420 7729 7718

So that's just a few of my favourite things... as always, please feel free to add your own thoughts below §:)

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