What do people think about when they think of London? Brexit? Mary Poppins? The Langham? Afternoon teas? Thrift shopping? Well there’s all of that and more, especially with London being so cosmopolitan. It may come as a surprise, but many (Singaporeans) have claimed that Goldmine serves up the best roast duck they have ever had.
You’ll find that there’s not much on this list that’s quintessentially English; because—a small confession—as a homesick student in London, I was constantly on the prowl for tasty accessible Asian food. Let’s start on the list of best English eats in London, richly padded with non Englishy food.
Top tip: skip Nobu. It’s at least 80 SGD per person, with generally lukewarm slivers of not-well-cut sashimi and each time we go, we leave unimpressed. Also they put capsicum in our sushi!
Eat Tokyo is the dream of dreams. They’ve got beautifully turned out thick chunky rolls stuffed to the brim with the freshest ingredients, including fried prawns, soft shell crabs or whatever concoction you ordered up. Portions are hefty, but you definitely get more than what you pay for. I’ve brought all my friends there—white, black, Asians and they all fell on the food eagerly.
Student tip: get the large portion of katsu curry don for an extra couple pounds (almost the same size as a Monster Curry), order a few extra sides and you have an incredibly filling meal. If I had to make this experience relatable, I’d say it’s like a watered down version of Sushi Bar, but also way cheaper. I love Eat Tokyo because of the steadfast adherent to quality, years after I’ve left London, when I go back, the food tastes like it did when I was a student.
Also, they don’t put capsicum in sushi.
16 Old Compton St, Soho.
50 Red Lion St.
Homeslice Pizza has got a few branches around London, but the best one and also the best-kept secret is the one in Neal’s Yard, a cheery little enclave accessed by cobbled pavements. It’s all very romantic but hardly quiet, because those in the know, know. Neal’s Yard is home to many chic little coffee shops and Homeslice Pizza usually sees a winding queue. For four pounds, you get a slice of pizza, for 20, a whole pizza to share with mates. Here, veg options never tasted so good.
Get the mushroom ricotta with pumpkin seed and chili. A literal explosion of honest-to-goodness flavours of spiciness, tanginess and cream. For carnivores, the spiced lamb with savoy cabbage and yoghurt is the best bet, although others are equally impressive. A slice is usually enough to help you settle in that post-food coma, two and you’re set for the day. Anymore and you’d be bursting at the seams.
Their specials are usually announced in bold, on a chalkboard.
13 Neal’s Yard.
Before you shake your head in disgust and wonder what you’re doing eating dimsum in London(?!), just remember, this one’s Michelin-starred since 2005. The decor is simple, but elevated compared to the rest of Chinatown. You get proper plush seats, with some space to skirt around. Desserts are exquisite little mousse cakes arranged in glass display cases. However, the star of Yauatcha is inarguably the venison puff. Man, this thing flakes off gently, but pop in your mouth and warm, creamy sweet venison bursts out of it. We also like the beef ribeye in black bean sauce. Other dimsum are definitely equally well-executed, check their pictures out on Facebook.
15-17 Broadwick St.
Golden Pagoda/ Lotus Garden
If you’re not prepared to splurge on dimsum, or prefer to have more regular, reasonably-priced dimsum, go for Golden Pagoda. It’s got this imposing red temple facade, three levels of casual seating areas, classic Chinese dishes and no-frill service. In the six years I was there, the name of this restaurant has changed several times, but always in slight variations of “palace”, “garden” “fortune” and “dragon”. But you won’t miss this place, it’s right opposite where Falun Gong practitioners protest. Expect solid food at cheap prices, all chockfull of carbs and grease.
15A Gerrard St.
I call ahead before I go, and they recognise my voice. I think I patronise this place too often. Service is brisk, don’t expect loads of hospitality because business is even brisker. Just pop in for a divine serving of meat and fats and be on your merry way. The restaurant proprietors told me that many Singaporeans have vacuum packed-Goldmine’s ducks to bring home. Ridic? Your call. Truth? I am inclined to agree. There’s no way to wax lyrical about the duck here, it’s always, always fresh, tender, juicy, has a good bite and comes in a slightly sweet sauce. Ask for extra chili, their chili is the stuff of dreams.
Incredibly, their menu reads like a tzechar stall, only, with 200 dishes. My other favourites include the honeyed pork ribs, black bean beef on hotplate, and furong egg.
15% off for students (cash only), and they usually give free soups for old-timers. Although prices have crept up since my time as a student—£4.50 to £5.80—they remain relatively reasonable since a typical cold sandwich in London would set you back by £2 in a Sainsbury or £4.50 in Pret, a Starbucks equivalent.
Student tip: dabao roast duck thigh rice to eat in the nearby park. That’s the quintessential student in London experience, IMO.
102 Queensway, Bayswater.
When you’re done loading up on carbs and fats at Goldmine, walk across Kensington Gardens to get to this 50-year-old tea house. It’s a relatively short walk, where if you wind up near Serpentine Lake, you’ll be treated to plump little ducks being fed by cute little ‘uns. Ducks here you’re not allowed to eat though. The walk is pleasant, you hardly break a sweat, and in summer, when temperatures rise to a balmy 22 degrees, sunbathers will be out in full force taking advantage of the sun.
Anyway, Muffin Man is located in one of the poshest, most idyllic neighbourhoods, Kensington, and enjoys a steady stream of customers. Its decor is stuck in the 50s for sure, all seafoam minty green carpets, vintage little tea sets. Scones are crumbly, warm and buttery. They even smell decadent, and melt in your mouth. The accompanying Devon cream is thick, fluffy and leaves you wanting. Coat the scone with generous slathers of the cream and jam and it’s the most divine layering of textures and flavours. It feels like sunshine in your mouth.
Yet in recent years they’ve become stingy af, imposing extra charge for extra cream, extra charge for extra jam and even extra charge for refill of hot water for your tea! What a shame.
12 Wrights Ln, Kensington.