Again, as in much else on eatthehipster, these are personal preferences, and we make no claim to being exhaustive, fair, or thorough. Mostly, we cover East London and the West End, and have a bias away from “trendy” places, or especially pricey venues (not having had access to an expense account for some time now!). Very roughly in order of how much we go at the moment (January 2013).
Ombra (E Ldn): probably the favourite affordable Italian at the moment. Venetian menu, 5-10 items long, often they run out, sometimes they’re not open on time, generally hung over on Sunday lunches, etc. But some of the nicest fresh pasta, salumi, and mains (I particularly like the meatloaf), and very affordable wine. Also great to have a spritz on the Regent’s Canal…okay so it ain’t the Fondamenta della Misericordia….
Campania (E Ldn): delicious fare from Campania/Naples, very cheap for weekday lunch.
Andrew Edmunds (Soho): probably our favourite restaurant in London, in part for the food (which varies between above average and very good), but more for the excellent-value wine list and bin ends, as well as the clubby ancient somewhat-worn atmosphere. Some of the longest-serving staff around, making it very comfortable. Better for lunch than dinner, when it gets rather romantic and very dark.
E5 (E Ldn): see coffee post, great bakery, nice food.
Little Georgia (E Ldn): cheap and long-term fixture of Broadway market. Very simple menu, best thing are the starter platters (salads varieties of beetroot, aubergine, Russian, carrot) accompanied by khatchapuri or a similar bean-stuffed bread. The chicken coriander stew is oustanding, and the old Georgian ladies that cook super sweet. BYOB, and there is a bodega down the street selling Georgian wines (not sure about quality).
Gourmet San, My Old Place, Local Friends (E Ldn): somewhat improbably, there are 3 pretty special (and specialised) Sichuan/Hunan places here. Local Friends is the most friendly and sanitary, and has the most entertainingly mistranslated menu. Anything “dride [sic] wok” is delicious; cumin scented lamb skewers; fried green beans with pork; fish in a big vat of chili oil; potato slivers dressed in a vinegary sauce with Sichuan peppercorns.
Bar Shu, Ba Shan, Baozhi Inn (Soho): 3 more specialists in Sichuan/Hunan, the last is best value, and the second is very good but more complex dishes. Much more sophisticated, clean, and generally pleasant than the E Ldn places above, but you pay for it. Next to Baozhi are skewers of fish/meat/veg dipped in a wicked-spicy chili-oil, as well as delicious stuffed buns (baozhi).
Chaconia (Deptford): just one owner/employee, serving wild-spicy, almost zero-fat Trinidadian food. I eat here 3-4 times a week when I’m at the studio, but the prawn roti on Fridays is the thing to go for. Ring ahead to make sure a) they’re open, and b) what they have. Don’t give her no gip either….she’s got a sharp tongue.
Yoisho (Fitzrovia): very authentic izakaya. Most of the menu is pretty good, but the specials are great, as is the grill. Must sit upstairs, preferably at the counter.
Bocca di Lupo (Soho): most fun posh Italian in town. Food is broken down regionally, and available in starter & main sizes. Staff are wonderful, and Negronis perfect. Great gelato across the street at Gelupo. Fried sausage-stuffed olives, and the orechiette with ‘nduja are must-haves.
Vasco & Piero (Soho): my favourite Italian, mainly for the old-school atmosphere (think discreet sophisticated 1980s in muted yellows, not at all check-tablecloth red-sauce Brooklyn pastiche). Delicious starters and pastas, with some innovative touches (eg ginger). Slight hint towards specialties of Umbria. Crowd is fairly grown up, and is a bit of a hiding celebrity spot. My favourites: pasta with seafood or swordfish, chicken-liver crostini, burrata, grilled tuna with ginger dressing.
Koya (Soho): udon place, very exciting menu, and carefully-made food. Great fun to watch the kitchen. Unfortunately I don’t care for udon, so generally opt for the ten-don or gyu-don. Little bit of hyper-specialised Japan, in Soho. Nearby is Tonkotsu, for ramen, but I haven’t been.
Barrafina (Soho): best tapas bar in town. Quite uncomfortable (high bar stools), but great fun for an outstanding quick meal, a real testament to top-quality seafood (and meat), cooked simply. No bookings so go early or prepare to wait.
Cigala (Bloomsbury): traditional Spanish served in a nice undecorated room, at very competitive prices if you get the lunch special menu. Good strong drinks. I think the staff are ex-Moro. Bread is delicious, almost as good as Moro. Moro incidentally is excellent, if you can get over the fact that it’s often full, and the slightly self-conscious Islington feel of the place.
Eyre Brothers (Clerkenwell): wonderful food that is sort of a fusion between Portuguese and African (via Mozambique) with other bits thrown in. Great drinks, good wine list, and pretty decent value. Is much better if you do strange times, as it can get crowded with City folk. They, along with the Eagle, were pioneers of the gastropub and food revolutions in London.
Brixton Village (S Ldn): as of time of writing, some of the most pulse-quickening things going on in cheap, small fooding are under the tracks in Brixton. 20-odd shacks selling everything from hard-core Thai to scones with clotted cream, by way of gourmet burgers and African food. Really wonderful – not sure how long the economics will work, but worth a visit. Stop by Photofusion gallery on Electric Avenue.
40 Maltby Street (S Ldn): more a wine warehouse with food than restaurant. That said, they have strange, often natural, wines, at decent prices, and a tiny menu of well-made food. Maltby Street’s is actually a perfect place for a foodie boozy Saturday afternoon as there are 4-5 places right next to each other. Occasional wine tastings where producers come to London are fun. Mostly not open so check the site.
Vietnamese places on Kingsland Road: somewhat skanky eating on any given night (boozed up hipsters slobbering over soup and BYOB), but early or lunch is fine – Mien Tay is current favourite. Unfortunately IMHO none of these have reached the standards of Paris Vietnamese, pretty unrefined, rather dirty, and relatively little wine. But some really great pho, and bahn cuon.
Rosemary Lane (City): spooky old pub turned into a bit of a gastro-destination. Excellent food prepared by a committed Roumanian-Californian chef, short but fairly-priced wine list. Eerily atmospheric (not least with the elevated train line outside reminding me of old American crime flicks) but well worth it; have an aperitif at Wiltons right around the corner.
Kikuchi (Soho): vies with Sakana-tei for the best sushi in W End. Excellent, and expensive. Not hugely warm service, but civil; the crowd is a bit as one would expect (dates and City folk), but the food is absolutely worth it. Kansai-style sushi is something I haven’t seen elsewhere, and IMHO the best spicy tuna roll in London. Tempura of turbot wrapped in a shiso leaf (I think) and ume.
Hunan (Pimlico): very good nouveau-Hunan food. It’s not done to ask for the menu, simply let them bring a succession of 7-10 things, mostly delicious and spicy. Generally good, if expensive, wine list. Not cheap, but worth the experience.
Town Hall Hotel (E Ldn): food is great, Michelin star I believe, by Nuno Mendez. But we prefer the bar, excellent cocktails. There is also a smaller bar menu served upstairs, that we’re told is both very good and relatively good value.
St John (various): Fergus Henderson is one of the daddies of London’s food renaissance and deserves kudos for it (genuflect repeatedly from the waist) ! Lovely British food, particularly: crab on toast, Welsh rarebit, Eccles cake with Lancashire cheese, awesome fish, and (strangely for such a carnivorous place) great salads/vegetables. I prefer to eat at Commercial St location or else at the bar of St John St. The cook-books are very useful.
Rochelle Canteen (E Ldn): a small restaurant housed in a complex of art studios. Very good food, and BYOB. Need to ring a bell to get through the outer wall (appropriately, given it’s in Arnold Circus, like a fortress).
Pellici (E Ldn): old school Italian caff, food is somewhat better than okay, but you go for the theatre….East End toothless wonders next to hipsters next to art world doyens, all treated with equal love.
Brick Lane (E Ldn): basically avoid like the plague, mostly Bangladeshi, laden with grease and salt. If the food doesn’t scare you away, the staff & the punters should (drunken City boys). If “Indian” is in order, try Kolapata or Tayyabs (Bangladeshi & Pakistani, respectively) nearby. At a higher price point, Amaya is very good, as are the Rasa restaurants. Ambala on Brick Lane has decent samosas.
Jose & Pizarro (S Ldn): Jose Pizarro (of Brindisa fame) just got these off the ground last year. I particularly like Jose, the tapas bar. Very nice food, nowhere as cheap as Madrid, no surprise, but nice atmosphere.
River Cafe (somewhere in the suburbs of Hammersmith): simply the best Italian food in London, with real passion and energy behind the cooking. Unfortunately can go only rarely, what with the location (though it’s lovely in the summer), the high prices (somehow feels wrong to pay 3x what it would cost in situ), and the vaguely nobbish crowd. But worth a go in the summer, and buy the cook-book by all means, it’s my most useful one.
101 Kitchen (ditto, Hammersmith): probably the only good Thai food in London, though Thai Vista in E Ldn is okay. 101 are specialists in Esarn food, so some very different flavours, and nice Thai clientele. Needless to say, can’t often spare half a day and £8 in Tube fares, to have a £40 meal…
Buen Ayre (E Ldn): another stalwart of Broadway Market. Very good Argentine-style steak and parilla.
The Hackney Pearl (E Ldn): a quirky place next to the old Olympic venue. Good food, great Negronis, but best in the summer when one can sit outside. But nice as an outing from London (just across the A12 from Victoria Park).
Pubs: don’t much care for them, but the French House (Soho) is outstanding, more for the history (Francis Bacon, Lucien Freud et al ) than anything; the Nelson (E Ldn) is quirky and friendly; Marksman (E Ldn) is often quiet, nice people, and decent food. Royal Oak, Cat & Mutton, and Dove are popular with E Ldn hipsters. Albion, and Perseverence (E Ldn) are of a more toothless variety, with the occasional BNP groupie thrown in to keep order. The Golden Heart (E Ldn) is fantastic, mostly owing to the formidable Sandra; old YBA hangout.
Wine stores: E Ldn has a disproportionate number of excellent wine stores. 259 Hackney Road specialise in the Jura and other natural wines; Borough Wines in Wilton Way sells wine in refillable bottles; Noble Fine Liquor on Broadway Market is pricey, but one of the few to stock Friuli wines (including the delicious Dario Princic and Radikon lines); City Beverage Company, very knowledgeable and much larger than the others, and with a broader range at all price points.