Dear New York,
For ever so long, you were the city of my dreams. Thousands of miles away, in a beautiful faraway land at the bottom of the world, I would imagine myself getting lost in your immense grid of streets. I would be sashaying across Manhattan with the same carefree attitude as the Blair Waldorfs and Carrie Bradshaws of the world, having leisurely lunches at upscale restaurants, grabbing snacks at cute corner bakeries, and indulging in gigantic slices of pizza at the end of a long night out. That New York life was for me, I thought.
When we finally met, it was love at first sight. I might as well have bought the t-shirt and been the walking ‘I Heart NY’ cliche, because I did. I thought you were the one and I was ready to ditch my outbound flight, but I must confess, I’m glad I didn’t. My next stop was London, the city which has truly captured my heart. So New York, while you never failed to excite me in our short time together, I realised that what we had was a lusty holiday romance… what I have with London is for the long haul. It is here where my hungry heart and belly has been sated and feels most at home.
The London I love has a dining culture which is growing ferociously and constantly evolving. There’s so much going on and so many boundaries being pushed in terms of taste and quality that it forces those on both sides of the pass to be bold. Restauranteurs, chefs, street food vendors, producers, diners alike; London challenges us to find the best, offer the best, and be the best.
It’s no secret that here, you can eat your way around the world without even leaving Zone 1 – just bring your walking shoes, a sense of adventure and of course, your appetite. Wander through the likes of Soho, Covent Garden, Mayfair, and you’ll find that the world is literally your oyster. Whether you’re feeling flush or in a bit of a money crush, whether you fancy a pie and a pint or a more exotic bite; chances are you’ll find just what you’re looking for round the corner. London’s thoughtful like that, and I could rattle off a million and one places you might want to try in those parts of town, but you’ve probably heard them all.
Instead, can I suggest we go further afield to discover a few neighbourhood gems?
When OpenTable hosted their Transatlantic Tables Connected event and challenged me to share my story about what I love about dining in London, I knew that I had to take you, New York, on a little tube ride with me… and I hope you’ll take me off the beaten path with your stories too! While I adore the density of delicious eateries packed tightly into the streets of central London, where I’m happiest is exploring the communities which have developed outside of it. London is split into boroughs, each of these boroughs is split into collections of neighbourhoods, each with their own distinct personalities and styles.
In the two years I’ve called London home, I’ve only ever lived in one neighbourhood. It’s south of the river and once upon a time was probably not somewhere you’d admit to living but as this city has expanded and changed, so have the rules. We’ve thought about moving many times to change things up a little but we’re comfortable here, and when you’ve already moved halfway across the world, it’s the small comforts you come to appreciate.
Within five minutes walk from our flat we can duck into The Antelope at the end of our street for a pint while contemplating whether we’ll be gorging on burgers from Dip & Flip, chewing on juicy rotisserie chicken from Chicken Shop, or getting hot and spicy with a curry from one of the many, many curry houses. The Sri Lankan style Apollo Banana Leaf is our favourite, in case you were wondering. Those are our go-to options when we’re feeling really lazy but I’ve got three more local favourites up my sleeve which prove just how dynamic dining in London can be if you’re game enough to venture further.
Let’s get a bit daring at The Dairy…
I think The Dairy epitomises everything that is good and exciting about modern British cuisine. The menu is seasonal and simply split into categories such as garden, sea and land. The focus here is on sourcing quality ingredients, understanding their natural flavours, and producing honest dishes. It’s reassuring to know there are restaurants who work so closely with their suppliers to truly understand the ingredients they are using.
The team care so much about the provenance of what they put on the plate, they’re even growing some of their own produce right on the restaurant’s rooftop – it’s not everyday you hear of that kind of operation in the middle of a bustling London borough. They were clearly onto a winning formula as they’ve opened The Manor and Counter Culture, both also in Clapham, and Paradise Garage in Bethnal Green, a north London neighbourhood. I suppose we can share the goodness with the other side of the river too.
Let’s find fusion at Nanban…
New York, I know you know your ramen, but you’ve probably never had a bowl of noodles quite like the ones from Nanban. The brainchild of an American, who almost won British Masterchef with his Japanese style dishes, and located in the vibrantly diverse Brixton, this quirky little spot delivers ramen with a twist. The dishes are unmistakably traditional but they’ve drawn on their surroundings for inspiration – Brixton is the dictionary definition of a cultural melting pot.
When I’m craving some comfort food and feel the urge to slurp up a big bowl of warmth, this is where I head… I’m usually a Leopard Tsukemen kinda gal, but will also throw in a side of karaage fried jackfruit, spicy twice cooked pig’s tripe, and a Brixton Market salad, for balance of course!
Let’s celebrate the classics at Chez Bruce…
While I love how fast paced and eccentric London’s dining scene is, there is one small itty bitty downside to this, and that’s the fickleness. In the words of one tall, blonde German – one day you’re in and the next day you’re… out. I’m sure that for every new restaurant that opens, there’s undoubtedly another that closes, so when you find somewhere that’s not only been serving happy diners for over 20 years but held a Michelin star for over half of those years, you cherish it. And tell all your friends about it; so here you go… I’ve spilled the beans – Chez Bruce is one of those magical restaurants which has stood the test of time.
The cooking here is precise but unfussy, they use ingredients of the highest standard but they’re not stingy; isn’t that what we hope for in every restaurant? Sandwiched between a real estate agent and a high street clothing store, this is not the first place you’d look for a fine dining experience, but there it is, unapologetically shunning trends and proving that great food and impeccable service will always be in fashion!
So there you have it New York, my heart and belly on a page, sharing my love of London and my greatest London loves. Speak to someone from another neighbourhood and I’m sure they’ll rattle off a list of their favourites, that’s the beauty of dining in this town! But in the meantime, I hope I’ve tempted you to come dine with me across the pond, I promise you won’t leave hungry. You were the city of my dreams once, you really were… but then I met London…
Thanks to OpenTable on both sides of the Atlantic for hosting us at the Transatlantic Tables Connected event. Our meal at Grain Store was superb and by the looks of it, the New York meal at Hundred Acres a few hours later was equally fantastic! Guests from both cities were invited to write an open letter sharing what they love about the dining scene in their home city… then two lucky diners chosen by OpenTable will get to fly across the pond, meet each other and dine together in style!
I’ve told you my story, now you tell me, what do you love most about wining and dining in London?