Reservations

Got £3.80 in your pocket? Great. Because that’s all you’ll need for Smoking Goat’s lardo-fried rice. Aka the best fried rice in London. They cook down the back fat of outdoor-reared Tamworth pigs, then fry it up with rice, a little egg and a paste of chilli, garlic and coriander root. Plus whatever veggie offcuts are lying around. It’s the colour of autumn, the taste of long-haul holidays and the ultimate hangover cure. The downside? You can’t get it ‘to go’, so you’ll have to eat in.

Which, actually, is no hardship. This place rocks. While the now-closed original, on Denmark Street, was a teeny dive bar with a handful of ‘Thai barbecue’ bar snacks, the new Smoking Goat is a big, buzzy, restaurant proper. It feels like the pub it once was, only instead of a bar there’s an open counter kitchen in the centre. Tables are so tightly packed the guy next to me went for an intense buttock clench as he attempted to slide through the gap, his pal helpfully cracking jokes about the size of his bum. It’s low-lit and fun, all smoke and noise and music. The look is industrial-meets-rustic: high ceilings, factory windows and girders, plus loads of wood, including the original parquet floors.

 

So you like all your friends? Well, get ready to unlike them. Because although there are bookable communal tables up on Sabor’s first floor, if you’re into tapas, stick to street level. Here, they’ll officially seat up to four of you, but it’s a counter, so that would be weird. Instead, go with just one person you love (or like a lot). The kind you don’t mind sharing food with even when it’s great. This buzzy Spanish spot, see, is the first solo venture from Nieves Barragán Mohacho, the gal who spent the best part of the last decade as the exec chef at Barrafina.

But don’t expect a Barrafina clone. Sure, a few favourite ingredients pop up on the menu – whole quail, milk-fed lamb, baby gem – but the style here is notably more rustic. The tortilla had been made with salted cod, the way you get in the Basque Country. This is one of those lesser-seen variations I always have to persuade people to try, because when it’s done well – as it is here – it’s stunning. A golden pillow with spidery, caramel-coloured veins running across its surface, it looked firm to touch, but a single cut and its innards spilled out. The beautifully runny centre was plump with sweet, butter-soft onions, morsels of red pepper and slippery chunks of cod, with just enough salt.

 

There’s so much to love about TCH, I don’t really know where to start. So let’s kick off with the food. It’s basically a twist on what you’d get in an old-fashioned Brit ‘chop house’, only using Indo-Punjabi spices and swapping the grill for the tandoor. It’s meaty, fiery and smoky. Plates are small. Well of course they are.

Then there’s the vibe. Picture a turn-of-the-century Irani café in bustling Bombay: all dark wood panelling, monochrome floor tiles and old photos on the walls. Nagging feeling you’ve seen this before? You’re right. It’s like a slightly less hectic, more refined mini-me of the original (St Martin’s Lane) branch of Dishoom. Is it derivative? Probably. Is that a reason to get sniffy about it? Absolutely not. Especially when they’re playing Minnie Riperton. 

 

There’s nothing like Hoppers in London. Sure, there’s good Sri Lankan food in certain pockets of the capital. But very few restaurants are exclusively Sri Lankan (most are South Indian and certainly don’t do hoppers, the egg-topped pancakes after which this Soho restaurant is named); the few exceptions are okay, rather than amazing. So the fact that Hoppers is outrageously good is even more impressive. The small room, a sexy Soho take on all things Sri Lankan, is always full and always buzzing (and yes, you’ll almost certainly have to queue), but it’s more than worth the wait. If small plates, full flavours and unapologetic spicing are your bag, Hoppers will get your pulse – and your tastebuds – racing

So why all the fuss? Well, El Pastor comes from the Hart Brothers (Sam and Eddie, of Barrafina fame, plus, for the first time, little bro James) alongside ex A&R man Crispin Somerville: he and Sam were mates at Manchester Uni, and they later ran a Mexico City restaurant and club together. And, my oh my, do these guys know how to throw a fiesta.

 

Take two things to El Pastor: a mobile phone and a list of local bars. This taco joint in a railway arch next to Borough Market doesn’t accept bookings and the wait can, at peak times, be up to two hours. But at least there’s no standing in the rain: they take your number and will text when your table is ready.

So why all the fuss? Well, El Pastor comes from the Hart Brothers (Sam and Eddie, of Barrafina fame, plus, for the first time, little bro James) alongside ex A&R man Crispin Somerville: he and Sam were mates at Manchester Uni, and they later ran a Mexico City restaurant and club together. And, my oh my, do these guys know how to throw a fiesta.

 

Back in 2004, top-notch Spanish importer Brindisa hired rising star chef José Pizarro to open a tapas restaurant on the corner of Borough Market. This original site – it has since spawned branches across town – became the first place you could get a decent – but affordable – plate of proper tapas in town.

Fast-forward to present-day: Pizarro has moved on, as have many of the other original players, and the queues have calmed down (though it’s still busy), but there’s still a charm to this spot. Cracked concrete floors, upbeat pop music and wooden wine-bar furniture. It’s guaranteed fun.

As for the food, it’s mostly very good. Don’t miss the pink-middled, fatty-edged lamb chops, which you should eat alongside a plate of the excellent escalivida (a Catalan dish of grilled veg: here aubergines, peppers and slivers of pickled onions, with smears of black olive tapenade and a few green olives) and some of the moreish pan de pincel (garlic-and-herb bread). Do also get a wedge of the soft, eggy tortilla. But on a recent visit, there were two duds: calamari bulked out by being served on a stick of bread, plus a stingy, under-dressed salad of yellow courgettes.

Tell me if this sounds familiar: you love pasta, but never order it in restaurants because it’s something ‘you can just make at home’.

But unless you own a pasta machine – correction, unless you own and use a pasta machine, rather than leave it in the back of a cupboard like a small-scale instrument of torture that enjoys intimidating your other kitchen gadgets – then what you’re scoffing in front of ‘Gogglebox’ is a world away from what you’ll find at Padella, a sleek pasta bar from the duo behind Islington’s Trullo just a stone’s throw from Borough Market.

Heard of P Franco? It’s a super-cool Dalston wine shop that also happens to do a mean line in comestibles. Bright is from the same crew, but is a restaurant proper. And it’s the best thing to hit the neighbourhood since sliced bread. Sliced bread also happens to be the makings of the cutest thing on the menu – a meaty take on a fish finger sarnie, using Japanese katsu chicken (ie crumbed and deep-fried) in a white bread sandwich. With its crusts off. And cut into quarters. Like I said, cute.

The rest of the food is a little more mature, but it still shows courage, and cojones. There’s a bowl of ‘legumes’ – a posh word for a medley of beans, lentils and chickpeas – topped with a primrose-hued parmesan cream and an egg yolk. As soon as it arrives, you’re made to mix it up. If you thought it was ugly before you stuck your fork in it, don’t even ask about the aftermath. It looked liked stewed sludge. But close your eyes and take a leap of faith. Because it was profoundly delicious: a happy harmony of wholesomeness and unctuousness, both moreish and comforting.

So you thought you loved the Palomar. You thought you’d be faithful and true. But that was before you met little sis the Barbary. It’ll make you want to quit your job, pack your bags, and run away into the sunset together.

The Barbary, you see, takes everything that’s good about the Palomar but ditches the bits that don’t quite work (like the fact that the ‘fun seats’ up at the counter are also the most cramped; or the fact that the raw bar is the weakest link on the otherwise stellar ‘modern day Jerusalem’ menu).

At The Barbary, all the stools are arranged at 24-seat horseshoe shaped counter bar. Down one wall, there’s a standing counter, where they’ll feed you moreish bar snacks (like deep-fried pastry ‘cigars’ filled with cod, lemon & Moroccan spices) while you wait for a seat. And if the queue spills outside, you’ll find yourself in pedestrian-only, full-of-character Neal’s Yard. As places to loiter go, it’s not too shabby.

Purists, take note: this isn’t your traditional dim sum restaurant and doesn’t claim to be. Instead, My Neighbours the Dumplings has adopted the dim sum dining style of shared small plates and given it a hip east London twist, combining traditional Chinese dishes with other popular Asian influences, including Thai-style green papaya salad and a saké-based drinks menu.

But don’t worry, these guys really do make excellent dumplings. The pastry is handmade and the meat (all free-range and from the Rare Breed Meat Company) tastes like actual meat rather than something you hope is pork. Their take on the classic steamed pork-and-prawn siu mai was light and fresh; the interpretation of a turnip cake looked alarmingly burnt but was crispy and moreish; and the sticky lotus-leaf-wrapped rice was packed with tasty surprises. Vegetarians are very well catered for too, with plump steamed shiitake mushroom dumplings and fried aubergine and sesame ‘potstickers’ trumping their meaty counterparts.

Tempting as it is to stuff yourself silly with multiple orders of the savoury delights, save room for dessert. Heavenly chocolate dumplings were like naughty, deep-fried Milky Ways while the matcha tea rice pudding with coconut jam had me licking the bowl – although I was so full it was hard for me to move even this much.

After running a series of pop-ups, MNTD has wisely chosen to settle down on an increasingly popular stretch in Lower Clapton that’s full of new restaurants, and it’s already attracting a loyal local following with friendly service, distressed walls, communal tables, glowing street food signs, reasonable prices and a buzzing atmosphere. On a Saturday night, the place is packed with hordes of hungry hipsters propping up the bar, sipping saké-based cocktails and waiting for a table (there’s no booking, obvs).