Secret London: The Capital’s Best Hidden Restaurants

This  article was first published online at www.shlur.com. All words are my own.

London might boast nearly eighty Michelin stars and play home to some of the world’s leading chefs, but away from all the faff and fine dining is a city that just loves to eat – and many of the most popular places are still firmly hidden under the mainstream radar. So steer clear of the tourist hot spots and venture off the beaten track, as we reveal the lesser known restaurants and secret eateries the locals really, really don’t want you to know about…

Books for Cooks, Notting Hill

4 Blenheim Crescent, W11 1NN

Located in the heart of Notting Hill, Books for Cooks might be crammed with thousands of tasty titles but it’s the kitchen at the back of the shop which really puts the recipes to the test. Chefs take turns to cook their own published recipes, the daily-changing menu providing the sort of edible book-reading us foodies dream about. The three-course set menu is just £7 (check their Twitter page for updates), served at small tables within the bookshop itself. On the day we visited, the menu featured new potato, tomato & pea salad with focaccia to start, summer vegetable tart for main and a choice of three desserts (plum and ginger cake, summer meringue or chocolate tart) to finish. So simple. So affordable. So damn good.

Mes Amis, Hammersmith

1 Rainville Road, W6 9HA

It’s the small, eccentric neighbour of London’s famous River Café, and yet even those looking for “the best Italian restaurant in Europe” (The New Yorker) would not be disappointed if they ended up in this tiny Lebanese restaurant by accident. Clad in kitsch ornaments and knick knacks which are seemingly more Mexican than Middle Eastern in style, the intimate 20-seater setting is colourful, chaotic and bursting with character. There’s no denying the assured skills of chef and owner James: a one-man show in simple, quality food, with traditional mezze and kebabs cooked fresh to order from the open kitchen. Hammersmith – you just made a whole lot of new friends.

Petersham Nurseries, Richmond

Church Lane, TW10 7AG

Open for lunches six days a week, the cafe at Petersham Nurseries serves up a short menu of seasonally inspired dishes using naturally sourced ingredients and edible flowers, herbs and heritage vegetable varieties from the Petersham House Walled Kitchen Garden. Head Gardener, food writer and former cook, Lucy Boyd, leads the kitchen where English and Italian tastes frequently meet in dishes such as rosemary skewered scallops with with samphire, chickpea, anchovy dressing, chilli and lime (£28) and saffron tagliatelle with Scottish girolles, pancetta, parsley and garlic (£13). Often described as a ‘fairytale oasis’ in London, the prices may not be cheap but you certainly get more than your moneys worth and there’s always the little sister teahouse which serves a simpler, still Italian-inspired light lunch menu, homemade cakes and ethically sourced whole leaf teas and coffee – all for under £10.

The Doodle Bar, Battersea

33 Parkgate Road, SW11 4NP

A creative space ‘where people have the freedom to enjoy a good scribble, have a drink and hook up with some fellow doodlers’ – this former pop-up was such a success it soon took up a permanent residency in Battersea. Located in an ex-dairy warehouse, the Doodle Bar is truly a hidden gem as those who stumble across the simple neon ‘BAR’ sign will discover an ever-changing, energetic space full of artists, musicians, comedians and foodies. Life Drawing, Open Mic and Film Nights are just a few of the events that are held here on a weekly basis. Food is served weekdays 12-2pm, Fridays 7-10.30pm – the changing roster of vendors dishing up some of the best street food London has to offer.

Banners, Crouch End

21 Park Road, N8 8TE

We all know breakfast is the most important meal of the day and the Jamaican breakfast at Banners (ackee, bacon, boiled eggs, spicy beans, hash browns and warm traditional roti – £7.95) is guaranteed to cure even the heaviest of hangovers. But this isn’t just food for morning-afters. Open day and night (check the website for opening times), Banners laid-back atmosphere and huge portions of global home cooking has seen it quickly establish itself as a firm North London and family favourite. Gingerbread pancakes (£6.75) sit alongside sizzling rosario chorizo in port (£7.25), chargrilled seabass (£15.25), jamaican jerk chicken (£14.25) and pulled pork burger and chips (£11.95) in a menu that’s as expansive as it is delicious.

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