Once upon a time when I still imagined my grown up life through rose tinted glasses, I entertained the idea of being a judge at some point of my legal career. Obviously life doesn’t always turn out as one imagines when they are twelve… And despite having the perfect name for it (Miss Law was regularly picked on during law school lectures) the chance of me becoming a judge of the legal variety now is zero. Zilch. Nada. Non-existent. Sorry Mum and Dad.
While that ship has sailed, my friends at Zomato must have had an inkling that my twelve year old self had a dream… They couldn’t fast track me through the judicial elite, but they were still able to make me a judge. No issues of precedent or sticky interpretations of statute to mull over, I, along with a panel of ‘learned friends’ (still a bit of a law geek), would be mulling four shortlisted restaurants to pick the best of the lot. Oh yes, this is the kind of judgment I take great pleasure in delivering!
For London Restaurant Festival this year, Zomato sponsored the Londoners’ Choice Award – from the huge number of restaurants participating in the festival, the four shortlisted ones represent establishments which have consistently high ratings and are what we could call ‘your local’. We dined at each of the restaurants then scored them on food, service and atmosphere… I know it’s a tough job, but someone had to do it! Let me tell you a little about the shortlisted restaurants…
The Summerhouse, Maida Vale
Perched canal-side in Little Venice, the restaurant has a casual but chic nautical theme with a really family-friendly vibe. During the Saturday lunch service, the restaurant was buzzing, full of families and friends happily gathering for a bite to eat. Our little group were treated to three courses of fairly classic dishes, simple in flavour and generous in size. I loved the beetroot cured salmon, was a little defeated by the enormous chicken salad, and grinned ear to ear at the arrival of my knickerbocker glory!
The service was accommodating and familial, which is exactly what you expect from a good neighbourhood restaurant; I got the sense that the diners in there had been eating at The Summerhouse for some time and would continue that tradition for some time to come.
Foxlow, Stoke Newington
I had never been to Stoke Newington before arriving at Foxlow that evening, I knew nothing about the local style or claims to fame, but I did know that when I left, I was jealous that its residents had this on their doorstep. Unassuming and unpretentious, the quality of the food here speaks for itself.
We tried all the starters; I found the five pepper squid quite addictive and the salmon crudo was pure perfection. Almost the whole table was won over by ten hour beef shortrib with kimchi, an unapologetic hunk of meat which fell away from the bone easily and melted in my mouth. Alongside the meaty mains were almost all the side of course, the mac and cheese was a highlight… and we still made room for a sundae at the end!
Champor Champor, London Bridge
Is it a Malaysian/Thai restaurant or more Thai/Malaysia we pondered at the table. The answer? If we’re being strict on definitions, it’s… neither. The ideas are there: satay, green curry, rendang, but they are far from authentic. While I’ll always be a traditionalist when it comes to Malaysian food, in this case, it really doesn’t matter, the dining room was full of happy diners.
These fusion, Westernised versions are pretty tasty and full of flavour; my satay duck was strong on the peanuts and a little sweet, just how I like my satay sauce to be, and the duck breast was still pretty in pink in the middle. The prawns in my green curry were ginormous and juicy, but the curry itself lacked any kind of heat which was disappointing for a spice fiend and curry enthusiasts such as myself. Special mention has to be made about the exceptional service; we received thoughtful recommendations, the food arrived efficiently, and any requests for extra chillies or sauce were easily accommodated – definitely a neighbourhood gem!
This is exactly how I imagine a neighbourhood restaurant to be – jammed between a Nandos and a Dominos like a rose between two unappealing thorns, it’s the restaurant you’re thankful is down the road. It knows its market well; they love a midweek tipple and nibble by the looks of things and were lapping up the Italian fare. We were a little less convinced. I didn’t mind the hot little fried arancini and croquettes but the pasta and risotto dishes were a tad sad, and the mains were over seasoned. A few tweaks and some more attention to execution and this could be the perfect local – a touch of elegance to an otherwise dull block!
Winner – The Summerhouse
Well done to The Summerhouse for being named our Londoners’ Choice at this year’s London Restaurant Festival Awards! This is a restaurant which brings together all things which make your local restaurant a great place to gather for a meal – good food and a fantastic atmosphere!
Thanks Zomato for sponsoring the award and inviting me to be on the panel! You made all my foodie and judgey dreams come true!