With 14 days until departure and a handful of days left living in the great metropolis of London I thought it fitting to write some word about my top 5 London restaurants during 2012, after all this is going to be a food blog once my feet hit American soil. Before I begin, I should state a few prerequisites for the restaurants on this list. Firstly these are all restaurants I have visited on numerous occasions, be that at its current location or during pop-up events, therefore any one-off incredibly amazing meals won’t make it in to this top 5… sorry The Ledbury. In short, this is my list of frequently visited favourites during last year.
In 2012 London experienced a surge of new restaurants supported by growing vibrant eating areas like Brixton Village, and gorilla pop-up dining events like Dalston’s Street Feast and KERB in King’s Cross. During this time Londoners developed a particularly found appreciation for the humble American burger, amongst other state side staples, like hot dogs, fried chicken and pulled pork. And some of these forms of North American cuisine feature in my top 5.
So without further ado, let the countdown begin…
5. Pitt Cue Co, Soho
Pitt Cue started life in the summer of 2011 as a food truck serving up pulled pork, BBQ ribs and smoked brisket under Hungerford Bridge on the Southbank. Pitt Cue also introducing London to the ‘pickleback’, a shot of rye whiskey swiftly followed by a measure of pickle juice. A drinks combination to put hairs on your chest. In 2012, after gathering a loyal following via twitter, the team were able to move to a permanent brick and mortar location just off Carnaby Street, and have been serving American inspired smoked meat and BBQ ever since. Pork ribs and pulled pork aren’t to be missing, as well as the kimchi grilled baby gem when it features on the menu. Pitt Cue even brew their own craft beer, or if you prefer wash your protein down with a wide selection of expertly mixed cocktails. But if you really want the full experience your drink choice should be a pickleback.
4. Bone Daddies, Soho
I first went to Bone Daddies without any previous experience of ramen, unless you count Wagamama, which I don’t. So with no previous ramen experience I visited this self labelled “rock n’ roll ramen bar”. A close quarters dining experience with shared high top tables and stools. Bone Daddies offers a selection of starters including sashimi, edamame and deep-fried soft shell crab, but the real business here is ramen, and there are seven variations to choose from. I’ve worked my way through four of these including the T22 (chicken bone broth and cock scratchings), Tonkotsu (chashu pork swimming in a 20 hour pork bone broth), but for me the real stars are the Tantanmen (pork mince, sesame and bok choy) and the Tantanmen 2 (a chicken mince variation of the Tantanmen). Both dishes centre around a delicious rich and fatty chicken bone stock with a generous chilli kick, extra richness comes from the addition of a 50p fat pipette (not for the faint hearted) and I’m a particular fan of the sesame seed grinder and whole pickled garlic cloves, complete with garlic press, that line the tables. Portions are big but the broths are so tasty you’ll be slurping down the last of your wheat noodles like the many Japanese regulars.
3. Pizza Metro, Battersea Rise
My pizza addiction hit dangerous levels when living in Manhattan’s East Village nearly ten years ago. A city with a neighbourhood pizza parlour on every corner, selling delicious slices of cheese for a mere dollar. These pizza havens don’t exist in London, why… I do not know. So in the wake of loosing my New York pizza connection and desperate for a local and affordable pizza alternative, I was made aware of Pizza Metro’s existence some years back via the tastelondon (now tastecard) scheme. This quaint pizzeria’s brightly tiled interior features Naples themed movie posters and murals. The Italian staff dressed in traditional black trousers and white shirts appear to breeze between the closely laid out tables and are attentive, not irritating. Pizza cooked by the meter (hence the name) is scorched in a traditional wood fire oven, the slightly charred, crisp base serves a perfect vehicle for the fresh, deep flavoured tomato sauce. When it comes to pizza toppings I’m a fan of less is more, but saying that every topping I’ve tried at Pizza Metro has always been as it should.
Pizza Metro features in the Italian Gambero Rosso guide to pizzerias of Italy, in a section listing seven foreign addresses; two in New York, two in Paris and three in Battersea. Sadly, A’Fenestella of Battersea is now closed but Pizza Metro and Donna Margherita still fly the flag proudly for South London. Oh, and Pizza Metro to this day continue to honour the tastecard 50% off food bill deal with no reservation necessary. Not that this is the main reason to make a visit. Although it has helped quench my personal pizza addiction.
2. Patty & Bun, Marylebone
Joe Grossman’s Patty & Bun venture first came on radar after a month-long Friday night residency at Doodle Bar, a stones throw from my Battersea house. Joe won over crowds of locals by serving up a special blend of 35-day aged, grass-fed, Aberdeen Angus beef burgers. The ‘Ari Gold’ burger became somewhat legendary after back-to-back Fridays, with its 6oz blushing patty, molten cheese and smoked house mayonnaise all housed in a toasted brioche bun. A trip to P&B became a necessary Friday evening routine to get my Ari Gold fix. The triple cooked fries with rosemary salt are reminiscent of Honest Burger and compliment any burger as expected, but another real gem is the smoked confit chicken wings drenched in-house BBQ sauce. Finger licking good. These and other pop-up nights working in collaboration with Mark Jankel and Jun Tanaka’s Street Kitchen, was followed by the news of a permanent P&B home on James Street, Marylebone in late 2012. This tiny 30 cover restaurant delivers on its laid back, non-fussy attitude with Joe’s focus firmly rooted towards quality British produce.
1. The Hand and Flowers, Marlow
So strictly speaking Marlow isn’t in London, it isn’t even within the M25, but it is a short 40 minutes drive from Battersea, which is a hell’ova lot shorted journey time than I’ve experienced in the past going for food in London. So, with that, it makes the list, and at number 1. I’ve been a fan of Tom Kerridge’s work since his rise to public attention after winning the main course on the BBC’s Great British Menu for consecutive years in 2010 and 2011. Tom’s bold use of flavours coupled with classical French cooking techniques has not only won him these two Great British Menu titles but also two Michelin stars at his country pub The Hand and Flowers, in fact H&F is the only pub in the country to be awarded this accolade. The pub itself has a rustic interior, boasting solid oak tables for dinners to enjoy the glorious food on offer without the need for white table cloths found in your usual Michelin star dining room. I particularly like that as a pub, and as a bloke, I can also enjoy a pint of bitter while nibbling away at the amuse bouche on offer, a favourite being deep-fried whitebait with H&F spiced dipping sauce served in delicate mock newspaper cones.
The menu isn’t so expansive that choice becomes impossible and well sourced produce is cooked simply and treated with respect, balancing flavours, textures and techniques to produce some of the best dishes I have ever had the pleasure of eating. Highlights have included melt in the mouth bavette of beef with burnt onion, mushroom ketchup and land cress (pictured above), as well as hake wrapped in vine leaves and poached to a perfect translucent, served with white grapes in a shallot beurre blanc. To be honest, everything I’ve tried from this kitchen has been nothing short of perfect. Oh and Tom’s trademark H&F triple cooked chips perfectly mop up any remaining sauce you might have kicking about on your plate.
So those are my favourite restaurants for 2012, honourable mentions go to Apollo Banana Leaf in Tooting, serving up authentic Sri Lanka dishes for a few quid as well as a BYOB drinking policy, favourite dishes include Aubergine Curry and Masala Dosa. As well as Franco Manca in Brixton Market (now has three other branches around London) serves up authentic Neapolitan sour dough pizza to hungry south Londoners, again wonderfully low prices and good use of local ingredients makes this a bustling location during all months of the year.