Dabbous, Goodge Street

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Dabbous is the best restaurant in London right now. Fact. You’ll have to fight tooth and nail for a reservation, but I promise you, it’ll be worth it.

You enter via a big heavy door into a dark industrial styled room with about 10 tables seating between 2/4 and are greeted by one of two, efficient maitre de’s that take your coats and seat you with the minimum of fuss.

Well dressed, professional staff buzz around everywhere. And they are extremely knowledgable about the restaurant and the food being served. For example, asked about some of the more obscure ingredients on the menu, they were not only able to fully describe the ingredient, but also its flavour and how it compliments the dish. So passionately too. They are clearly encouraged to taste all the food that is prepared by the chefs and take pride in the food that is served and ethos of the restaurant.

And to the food. Which is incredible. You can either take the a la carte, or the tasting menu. Really, there is only one option. At c.60GBP, the tasting menu has to be the best value menu in the UK right now. 7 courses (incl cheese), each delicately prepared and perfectly seasoned. To name but a few, the pea/pine soup tasted like Christmas (pine trees), the coddled egg with mushrooms and smoked butter was so rich – it reminded me of some of the best French restaurants with a twist – and the BBQ iberico pork incredible. Overall, the menu was so well balanced both in terms of size and flavour. Perfect. The wine list was small but very functional.

The only slight downer would be the seating – its a little close together and I generally prefer a bit of space from other guests / intimacy when eating. But this minor point is not enough to knock down my rating…

Overall, I think what I like most is that the whole restaurant feels like its pulling in the same direction, striving for perfection, and you unknowingly buy into that. The staff are passionate, knowledgable and (critically) personable and the food is exquisite – there is good reason to be proud of this restaurant in the heart of London. A clear 5 stars.

Yum Bun, Old Street

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Lisa Meyer has built on a concept originating in New York to develop the most incredible Yum Buns. Starting with a small stall in Broadway Market in 2010, Yum Bun is now installed at The Rotary in Old Street (a fine bar, I hasten to add). This winning combo allows you to pick up a yum bun and guzzle it down with a London craft beer – heaven.

The menu is extremely simple – a choice of a few different buns at £3.50 each and a bento box (incl two buns, miso soup, gyoza and salad) for £7.

The original Yum Bun is a soft steamed Asian bun filled with freshly cooked up belly pork, hoi sin sauce, crispy cucumber and a little spring onion. The buns, each individually prepared and steamed by Lisa, are so light and tasty. They are as close to perfect as you get. The filling is generous, sticky and mouth wateringly gorgeous. Honestly, the best street food option in London right now.

Other options include a vegetarian portabello mushroom bun which is so juicy with a miso glaze, and a slightly more regular chicken and salmon option.

Open for lunch Monday to Friday and dinner Thurs to Sat.

Most amazing street food in London – excellent favors, diligently prepared with love and that really shines through. And amazing value. Go! Now!

Maltby Street Market, SE1

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Located down a tiny street with stalls vying for space either side, this small diverse London market, Maltby Street near London Bridge, makes for an excellent foodie trip. Every Saturday, independent vendors serve up a mix of fresh ingredients, liquor and – most importantly – food ready to eat.

My favourites are the schnitzel van (not always there), xx guy and the waffle lady. There is also a team selling BBQ and Katz-style sandwiches which always has a line a mile long.

The schnitzels are fried up to order and come served with sauerkraut, potato salad and blackcurrent jelly. The schnitzel is so tasty and light and works brilliantly with the homemade accompaniments. At about £5 this has to be one of the best/most reasonable street food stalls in London. The xx sushi is incredible – so fresh and served in the shell with a choice of fresh herbs, or classic sauces. Waffles are amazing too. Sweet or savory.

Perhaps the best thing about Maltby Street is the atmosphere. Such a diverse mix of people all enjoying the excellent fair. Highly recommend a half day trip here on a sunny Saturday. My favorite market in London.

Upstairs at the Ten Bells, Shoreditch

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Honestly, what’s the big deal? Sure, the food and service is great but I just can’t see how The Ten Bells is consistently rated at the top of restaurant lists prepared by the great and good. Don’t get me wrong, it is great, just not convinced it lives up to the hype. Anyways…

Finding this place is a bit of a chore. You have to go through the dingy Ten Bells pub to the back right corner and work your way upstairs to a little doorway where you’re greeted by one of the many apron clad waiters.

The first thing that hits you is the dark, sultry tones of the decor. All low lighting, red shades, chandeliers and cheeky pictures. Makes for a pretty intimate atmosphere. And, if you’re in a table of two, prepare to get cozy with the folks next to you – as space is at a premium.

The next thing you notice, whilst being escorted to your table, is the number of waiters buzzing around purposefully. The service is frickin’ great – so attentive without being intrusive.

The food is also really good and, certain dishes imaginative. The menu changes weekly (seasonal produce) with certain staples allotted a permanent spot. The menu is divided up into four sections: snacks; starters; mains; and deserts. With about 4-5 dishes under each section. When we went, we absolutely nailed through the entire snack section (it was just so enticing!!). The buttermilk chicken and pine salt was to die for. All crispy deep fried goodness.

But, to be honest, after the snacks, I was a little bit deflated by the rest of the menu. Everything was perfectly cooked and well seasoned – I just wasn’t blown away by what was on offer. The lamb was succulent, cod real tasty and I love a good spelt. But, to be honest, there was nothing that just made me think ‘wow’!

Wine list is pretty diverse and the price is very reasonable – £14-16 a main.

All in all, the atmosphere and quality food makes it great for an intimate date. Just don’t expect fireworks. I’ve given it a 3, which is a little harsh. Could easily be a 4.

Mien Tay, Kingsland Road

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Vietnamese kicked off with a bang in 2011/12 and Mien Tay is one of the originals – plugging its trade on the Kingsland Road since 2008. Its no nonsense interior, patchy green with the most bizarre tables, and lengthy menu belies a solid Viet restaurant with some truely standout dishes.

Unlike many of the other Vietnamese restaurants in London, this one does seafood so so well. The bream or bass with shredded mango is absolutely fantastic. The deep fried crispy skin, soft meaty interior and fragrant Vietnamese mango makes for an excellent, textured, well rounded dish.

Also worth a special mention are the prawns with tamarind sauce, the squid with lemongrass and chilli, the prawn curry served in a clay pot (seriously – this is bloody amazing with the fattest prawns – order rice to soak up the sauce) and all of the salads which are so fresh and compliment much of the rest of the menu perfectly. I particularly like the beef. Noodle dishes are also pretty good.

Whilst the pho is generally fine, I don’t think it matches some of the pho served up elsewhere in London.

As already mentioned, the decor is dated – but that definitely has a certain charm. Oh, and a good tip, there are two rooms – pick the one on the right if you can – its further from the kitchen and means you’ll smell less when you’re done!

The service is lightening quick and done with a genuine smile/warmth.

I really, really love this place for a quick socialable bite after work. Please do go and check it out – you won’t regret it!

Ozone, Old Street

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Guys, what happened?

When Ozone first opened, I was blown away. The excellent coffee, food and awesome atmosphere made for a heady mix and I was convinced this was going to be my default brunch spot. But, oh my, what a catastrophic fall from grace. The food is so inconsistent nowadays, service has dropped right off and, with it, my appetite and love for the place. Such a damn shame.

Coffee remains great as does the atmosphere – with a dark, open interior set over two floors and an open kitchen up top. I love the low hanging overhead lights upstairs and the solid wooden furniture. Wander in and find a secluded spot or sit up at the kitchen if you want in on the action. Don’t be afraid to ask for a booth, even if there are only a couple of you – very accommodating. But all this is overshadowed by…

The food. Well. The menu is still the same with the usual mix of breads, eggs and meat. Unfortunately, execution has gone rapidly down hill since the chef with dreads left. Now, you can expect solid poached eggs, small rations of sauce and over-cooked meat.

Pop in for a coffee, or, better still, pop in to Salvation Jane down the road – they’ve still got their act together.

Ouch.

Caravan, Exmouth Market

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I freakin’ love Caravan on Exmouth Market. It’s just so consistent. The brunch menu is great (!) with just enough diverse food options to leave you moreishly indecisive and not confusingly frustrated like in some places (you know that feeling right?). Also, I think the entire brunch menu is made up of dishes that actually count as BRUNCH unlike so many other places in London where main courses are increasingly creeping onto the list.

Check it out here:

Caravan food menu

My favourite is the grilled ham, bubble and squeak with a poached egg. Just perfect with really excellent seasoning. The Welsh rarebit is also really classic and authentic, served up on excellent bread. If you want something light, the avocado or sardines are a winner!

Sardines on toast

Sardines on toast

The coffee is also fantastic – with beans roasted on site. I’m a flat white addict and you’ll find it difficult to beat the one they serve up here – strong, creamy and just the right temperature. Yum!

The room is pretty big, light and airy with a couple of large tables outside which get the sun in summer. The atmosphere is really relaxed with free flowing conversation across the large inside space.

Service is generally great, with attentive and friendly staff. There is also very little table pressure! Can be a little slow at times though.

All in all, one of the best coffee/brunch places in London. Highly recommend!

The Shop, Kensal Rise

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With its hipster interior and solid reputation, I was expecting big things from The Shop in Kensal Rise where bar tenders knock up a short list of cocktails in jam jars/milk bottles and everything in the place is available to buy (lights/furniture etc).

Unfortunately, by the time I got there all the bar tenders were absolutely w*nkered and couldn’t mix concrete let alone a cocktail. Everything was super sweet and a tad alcoholic. So, if you’re Lindsay Lohan with a penchant for candy canes – this place is for you. If not, either go early or go somewhere else.

And, for the record, this is a real shame because the bar is stylish with a relaxed, East London like atmosphere. The crowd is young, hot and fun with people just mingling about – v little pretention indeed.

Overall, if you’re in the area it’s worth checking out, but don’t make the journey especially.

Mr Buckleys, Hackney

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Mr Buckleys is a newly opened restaurant/cocktail joint in the middle of the Hackney Road. A really cosy interior with low lighting and tables for 2 and 4 dotted about upstairs suggest restaurant. But the one page menu is small (consisting of a limited number of diverse cocktails and adventurous small plates) and detracts from the restaurant feel. This lack of focus creates unnecessary confusion.

Which is a shame. Because the small plates are generally excellent. Really excellent. The beetroot, kale and apple salad is one of the best dishes I’ve had all year. A plate of tasty, well balanced deliciousness. The poussin salad was light/delightful and the ox cheek stew rich and steamy. I had high hopes for the lobster mac & cheese – but, whilst the flavours were well balanced, I thought it was a bit heavy.

We shared 7 dishes between two – each serving just the right amount to share. 5-6 dishes would’ve been enough though!

I didn’t find the cocktail list particularly dinner friendly (all bourbons and brandy) – which is fine, not everyone wants cocktails with dinner right? So why order them right? Why not just have a beer? Well, why put them on the front page of the one page menu, right between the nibbles and tapas sections?

The list is small and, frankly, uninspiring whether dinner related or not. I had the Bloody Madison (bacon infused Mary), a two person plum/beer combo and, in a desperate attempt to find something palatable, a heavily mixed orange old fashioned. Disappointing. There is so much cocktail competition in London right now, I don’t believe there is room for a Mr Buckleys cocktail joint.

Overall, a well decked out place with a small but well formed food menu. But too much focus on a very average cocktail menu. Guys, ditch the cocktails and expand the plates and you’re onto a real winner.

Mr Buckleys website – book now

Mr Buckleys

Nightjar, Old Street

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Queues of people line up at the entrance to Nightjar, a secret black door off Old Street roundabout, on a nightly basis. So what’s all the fuss about?

Simply, Nightjar has to be one of the most consistent speakeasies in London – imaginative, consistently brilliant cocktails in an intimate (but not uncomfortable) setting.

The cocktails at Nightjar are fantastic and always beautifully presented – with a varied menu spanning different periods in American history from prohibition to your modern day classics. Try Box Car or the Clandestine Sour if you love sours, or the Ti Punch if you love a surprise. There is also a great selection of fine, unusual spirits for the connoisseur. If there is nothing on the menu that grabs you (which I very much doubt) they’ll mix up your favorite – versatile hey?

The interior is beautifully designed with a fabulous bar, art deco features and smartly dressed staff. Tables are tiny and up close, making for a cozy atmosphere which could be a little claustrophbic but for the dark lighting and background music which goes some way towards alleviating any awkwardness between tables of strangers.

Regular live music nights are also worth a peek. Check out the website for more details – some can be quite eclectic. And there is a small cover charge which is added to the bill.

Nibbles are ok, but I’d eat beforehand. This is a serious drinking establishment and they do drink best.

Nightjar operates a booking policy and you have to book up early – getting a table can be a nightmare, you don’t want to leave it to chance. If your name is on the list, things are relatively straightforward, otherwise it’s a struggle. And it’s open late – til 3.30am over the weekend!

Overall, Nightjar gets a 4/5, missing out on a 5 because space is at a premium and door policy can be a bit of a nightmare.

A link to the website is included below. Enjoy!

Nightjar website – book now

Nightjar_-Britta-Jaschinski1

 

This guy can mix a serious cocktail and the best Old Fashioned in London.

Since first posting, the Nightjar website has been seriously updated. Recommend you take a quick look as it will give you a really good feel about the place and it’s sense of style.

They also expanded their food range and music offering – still not to be considered a restaurant (!) but definitely worth ordering a bite with your drinks. The tuna tartare and octopus usually get a pretty good rap.