I have a love-hate relationship with London.
Having lived there for three years straight out of university, I couldn’t wait to see the back of the unfriendly, expensive, busy, polluted, work-obsessed city.
However, my friends, the food, the art, the theatre and the diversity of the place keep pulling me back for more.
Whilst Mrs G was visiting for another conference I ticked some more places off my restaurant hit list:
Blacklock is the sister restaurant to the brilliant Hawksmoor. Whilst the former is all about steak, the latter is all about chops.
To make things easy, we went “all in” for £20 a head. For this we got snacks, chops and sides.
Snacks were great - crisp crackers were topped with smoky shredded pigs head and punchy kimchi; creamy as heck egg mayo topped with white onion and salty anchovy; and savoury stilton paired with crunchy pickled vegetables.
A groaning platter of chargrilled chops for two was a picture of beauty. A selection of sirloin of beef, loin, rib and belly of pork, and cutlet and t-bone of lamb were all crisp of fat and full of flavour. The pork and lamb were the standouts as the beef was a touch chewy.
Nestled beneath all that meat was a flame licked, garlicky, meat juice-soaked flat bread. You need it in your life.
Barbecued sweet baby gem lettuce were coated in savoury and buttery anchovy dripping. Woof.
Charred courgettes and chicory were topped with melted stilton. This place certainly knows how to make luxury veg.
Blacklock are known for their family-style desserts that are portioned out at the table. We had a bowl of light and creamy white chocolate cheesecake (£5) with a buttery biscuit base and side of fragrant rhubarb syrup.
We loved our meal at Blacklock and at £20 a head for the all in deal, it’s a great value central London meal.
When I rocked up to Borough Market at 11.40am on a Wednesday there were already 15 people ahead of me in the queue for Padella. And by the time this acclaimed little pasta joint opened its doors, there were 20 more behind me. Dare I say it, but it’s probably worth the wait for the stellar and good value food.
Pici cacio e pepe (£6.50), the restaurant’s signature dish, saw al dente slippery pasta worms coated in an indulgently simple yet devastatingly delicious combination of black pepper, parmesan cheese and lubricating pasta water.
Gossamer thin ravioli (£8.50) were filled with an unctuous and fragrant duck ragout and topped with fragrant sage butter. A good grate of parmesan completed this stonkingly good dish.
I was amazed by the weeny queue when I arrived at Hoppers just before midday. One of 2015’s hottest openings, this Sri Lankan restaurant is the kind of place you’d expect there to always be people waiting.
Bone marrow varuval (£6.50) was the highlight of the meal. Four whopping bones contained wobbly, buttery marrow that I scraped into a creamy sauce thick with spice and curry leaf. A flaky roti was the perfect mop.
Hot butter devilled shrimps (£7) sounded more flavoursome on paper than they were on the plate. Tender, buttery shrimp were served in a sauce littered with fresh spring onions and mild green peppers. It was all very fresh tasting but it could have done with a bigger heft of spice.
For main, I ordered the eponymous egg hopper (£4.50). A crisp, faintly tangy bowl-shaped pancake nestled an egg at its centre. Accompanying sambols and chutneys - smoky sweet onion, crunchy coconut and spicy coriander - were all excellent. A pot of black pork kari (£7) was deeply-spiced and loaded with tender pieces of meat.
I had a lush lunch at Hoppers. I still can’t believe there were tables free by the time I left.
Dishoom, Kings Cross
Tacos El Pastor, Borough
Tacos El Pastor is the new taco joint from the Hart Brothers (of Barrafina fame). Set in a cool railway arch, it’s leading the charge for quality Mexican food in London alongside Breddos Tacos.
A trio of salsa pots (fresh tomato and citrus, fiery green, and smoky chipotle) ensured every mouthful was packed with flavour. And, each taco was heaped with filling too.
The signature al pastor (£2.50) made with 24 hour cooked yielding pork shoulder with crunchy bits, caramelised pineapple and guacamole was the pick of the bunch.
Chargrilled stone bass (£3) with caramelised onions and chorizo with crispy potato mash and salsa verde (£2.50) were also excellent.
Bread Ahead, Borough
The Borough market-based Bread Ahead produce Instagram-friendly doughnuts. A salted caramel number (£3) was stuffed to the brim with smooth, delicately caramel-twanged custard. But, the dough itself was a touch dry - I reckon Early Bird’s examples in Cardiff are better.
Salvation in Noodles, Finsbury Park
We grabbed a quick bite to eat at this achingly hip Vietnamese restaurant before a trip to the Park Theatre.
Bun noodle salads, with herby pork patties (£9.50) and crispy tofu (£9) were big, fresh, herby bowls of goodness.
The cold rice noodles, carrot, lettuce, cucumber, mint, coriander, crisp peanuts, shallots, and citrusy fish sauce based dressing were a healthy counterpoint to the rest of the food I’d eaten on my trip.
This beautifully designed Indian restaurant is inspired by the Irani cafes of Bombay. Set over 3 floors with a seemingly infinite number of tables, we were told it would be at least an hour and a half wait for a table. Cry.
However, we asked about some empty tables outside and were seated immediately. The fact I needed gloves by the end of the night might explain why they were unoccupied.
Pao bhaji (£4.50) comprised of soft and sweet toasted bread rolls accompanied by a potently spiced vegetable mash. This was proper comfort food.
Lamb chops (£11.90) were tender, well-marinated and thoroughly flame-grilled. They were top-drawer… but not as good as Tayyabs’ version.
Black dhal (£5.90) was a corker - thick, velvety and rich with cream.
A folded roomali roti (£2.50) was paper thin and slightly elastic. It was perfect for mopping up all that dhal.
Malai kulfi (£3.50) was a facsimile of the dessert our friend grew up with in India. Looking like a gourmet mini-milk, the ice cream stick was soft, creamy and delicately twanged with caramel.
I had another kick-ass eating trip to London and can't wait for my next. In addition to my trip in January
, I'm beginning to make a dent in my hit list.