5 quirky and affordable London restaurants

Terroirs London - London restaurants - FooDiva

Terroirs – London

London is one of the greatest food cities in the world. I don’t think there’s any need to qualify that with ‘arguably’. The range and quality of restaurants is simply world class. But there’s also a fair few duds out there – particularly in the centre of the city (please, avoid the Angus Steakhouses) – and it can often be intimidating for casual visitors who don’t know that the best Chinese restaurants aren’t necessarily in Chinatown, or that excellent cheap vegetarian food can be found in the bel phuri houses of Drummond Street (near Euston station).

Now that I work in London every day, I thought (with FooDiva’s encouragement) that I’d share a few tips for interesting, quirky – and value for money – favourites in the centre of London, from the West End through to the Square Mile.

  • TerroirsTerroirs is not new (it opened eight or nine years ago), but it’s long been a favourite of myself and Mrs White Hat. It’s a wine bar and restaurant that serves up a small selection of robust French classics out of the tiny open kitchen, such as boudin noir with a mushroom puree and pork loin with chanterelles (rest assured that not all of the dishes are pork based; and vegetarians are catered to as well). But while the food is good – charcuterie is also a strength (hmmmm… duck rillette) – and absolutely one of the reasons we keep going back, it’s not what makes Terroirs great. It’s the wine list. Terroirs rightly prides itself on a wine list that focuses on sustainable, small, independent producers, many of them organic and/ or biodynamic; in other words, on terroir. The core of the list is small French and Italian producers, though on our last visit we drank Pheasant’s Tears. Not literally, mind – it’s a Georgian wine. Terroirs is tucked away on William IV Street, behind St Martin in the Fields church, off Trafalgar Square. It was one of our more expensive meals for this review, just breaking £100; but then we did order a £40 bottle of wine. You don’t need to spend that much.
  • Smoking Goat - London restaurants - Foodiva

    Smoking Goat

    Smoking GoatTiny, self-consciously hip (and the older brother of Kiln), this Thai barbeque restaurant feels almost more like a bar than a restaurant. The restaurant is named after its keynote smoked goat shoulder for two, and you can smell the smoke from the kitchen the minute you walk in. The food is excellent, the tamarind-smoked pork ribs to die for. That said, a smoked aubergine ‘salad’ was a little on the stingy side; sold as a sharing dish, it’s difficult to share a single (albeit delicious) whole smoked aubergine. That you can walk away from a dinner for two spending under £50 (depending on appetite) including one drink each is also a bonus. That said, Smoking Goat is really self-consciously trendy; it doesn’t take bookings (a current London plague), it’s a ‘sharing concept that doesn’t have to be a sharing concept’ and where ‘food will arrive when it’s ready’ (White Hat gritted teeth), the very short menu doesn’t do £ signs or second decimal places, and the (friendly) bearded waiters have walked straight out of hipster central casting. But those tamarind-smoked pork ribs are alone worth a return trip….With Flatiron just a couple of doors down, Denmark Street – traditionally a centre for musical instrument sales and band rehearsal space – is becoming a minor foodie centre; it’s perhaps worth keeping an eye on.

  • Six Storeys - London restaurants - FooDiva

    Six Storeys

    Six Storeys on SohoOxford Street is a vast culinary wasteland. No sane person goes here to eat. But just off Oxford Street, on the north side of Soho Square, is this new restaurant and bar that packs considerable character into each of its richly decorated, louchely Regency six floors. Each of those floors offers a different food or bar experience. You can just go for dinner, but you can also just book an individual floor, or even reserve a booking for as few as two for ‘cocktails by appointment’; they’re flexible. Anyone looking for a really big party can rent out the entire space. The food in the upstairs ‘parlour’ is solid traditional English with the occasional twist. Mrs White Hat’s beef cheek cottage pie was particularly good; and if my posh bacon cheeseburger wasn’t the most original dish on the menu, it was at least an enjoyable posh burger. Mrs White Hat was particularly fond of the ‘crispy pickles’, her inner Russian wondering why nobody had thought of deep-frying gherkins before. Six Storeys is also on top of the current British gin craze, infusing their own gins behind the bars. I was lucky enough to be offered a tasting of a couple of the gins, including the venison (honest!); I’ll admit to having been a little skeptical before the tasting, but walked away a convert. Prices will vary depending on your tipple of choice, but dinner for two without drinks should set you back about £50.

  • The Sichuan - London restaurants - FooDiva

    The Sichuan

    The SichuanWestern foodies are increasingly aware of the wonders of regional Chinese cuisine, with Sichuanese food rightly gaining in popularity, even if its full-on assault of chillies and Sichuan peppercorns may discourage chilliphobes. The Sichuan offers some of the best examples of its namesake cuisine in London. There’s a dish on the menu called ‘fragrant chicken in a pile of chillies’, one of the glories of Sichuanese food. I’ve also seen it called ‘Chongqing chilli chicken’, but whatever its name, you’ll know it when you see it. It’s small pieces of diced, deep-fried chicken pieces coated with Sichuan peppercorns and served in a mountain of chopped red chillies (tip: don’t eat the chillies). It’s an extraordinary lip-tingling and numbing (that’s a good thing, honest) flavour explosion. The Sichuan does one of the best versions I’ve ever tasted (I ordered the bone-in version), and I can recommend it on that dish alone – though I’m in good recommending company with Jay Rayner and Giles Coren. We spent £43 on a meal for two, including a beer each and tip. In terms of competition, Bar Shu over in Soho may have been set up with the help of doyenne of Sichuanese food Fuschia Dunlop, but it’s just a little on the expensive side for what’s on offer for my tastes. The Sichuan may not be in quite so trendy a part of London – it’s halfway between Moorgate and Old Street Tube stations – but it’s still quite central, and well worth seeking out.

  • L'Antipasto City - London restaurants - FooDiva

    L’Antipasto City

    L’Antipasto City: That this tiny and virtually impossible to find Italian trattoria and pizzeria exists at all in the middle of London’s Square Mile is a minor miracle. It’s precisely the sort of small, family-run place that’s been chased out to London’s outer reaches by the relentless march of corporatisation and high rents. Instead, it’s likely one of the best-kept secrets in the City. Alongside a well-chosen set of pasta and pizza standards are excellent specials including classic and slightly more adventurous ingredients such as smoked mozzarella and wild boar ragu. The wine list is very small, but perfectly chosen. And the pizzas are not just excellent (my rustica with Italian sausage was superb), but also extraordinary value for money given the generous portions. The standard pizzas are in the £9-£12 range. Two people can walk out after a good-quality Italian meal in the very centre of London’s financial district for under £40 (including a glass of wine and a tip). The staff are also friendly; how many places in the centre of London at 8pm would tell a table for two to take their time, relax, and not feel like they need to rush out? L’Antipasto City may be buried in the middle of the Square Mile, but it really feels like a warm and cosy secret local that you want to keep returning to. And the location? I’m almost reluctant to tell you since I’m not sure I want to share this one with anyone else, but FooDiva is insisting…. It’s between the Monument and the Tower of London (closer to the former) on a tiny alley off the front entrance of St Mary-at-Hill church on the cobbled Lovat Lane.

Do you have any tips for favourite London restaurants? Any secret locations that you’re reluctant to share but FooDiva readers should know about? Here’s London food critic Fay Maschler’s 50 favourite restaurants in London.

So who’s FooDiva’s anon guest reviewer, The Man in the White Hat? He has an abiding interest in both history and food; his holidays tend to combine an intriguing local cuisine with a UNESCO World Heritage site, and he’s eaten his way across some 50 countries in Europe, Asia, Africa, North and South America, and Australasia. While now based in the UK, his work occasionally brings him back to Dubai.

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12 Responses to “5 quirky and affordable London restaurants”

  1. Matthew Broderick May 22, 2017 at 12:20 pm

    great article and will be sure to try at least one of these – probably Terroirs.

    My favourite hidden wonder is still Black Axe Mangal (Islington). It really is a dining experience that is unmatched (in my limited experience, of course) in London.


  2. Dave Reeder May 22, 2017 at 6:44 pm

    As a Londoner, where do I begin? There are just so many great places to eat! For a first timer, I think the best advice would be to head to Fitzrovia (north from Soho across Oxford Street) where, along Charlotte Street, there’s a great range of friendly, affordable restaurants, all in an area of Central London that’s surprisingly quiet – French, modern British, Goan, Italian, Mexican and so on. Where not to eat? Anywhere within 400 yards of a mainline train station, apart from Pizza Express which is always reliable. And certainly nowhere on Oxford Street… If you’re unfamiliar with the city, your best bet is to pick up a copy of Time Out and check out the restaurant listings… Oh, one other thing – Polpo in Soho had amazing Venetian snacks! Chedk with FooDiva – we had a fun lunch there some time back.

    • The Man in the White Hat May 26, 2017 at 1:25 am

      Ah, well, Dave; if you’re a Londoner yourself you obviously have a head start. Fitzrovia is a decent recommendation; the chains with aspirations (Wahaca, Gaucho, Lima – the latter two with Dubai branches, I think) are creeping in, though plenty of independent venues still exist. Picking up Time Out is also an excellent recommendation – ditto Polpo.

      If I’d quibble, it’s over the statement to avoid anything 400 metres from a mainline train station. That’s generally true on the main roads that tourists will be walking down (I’d avoid Euston Road connection Euston with Kings Cross!), but tucked away on the side streets that only locals know about are some real finds – such as the super-trendy Malaysian restaurant Roti King off Euston (http://rotiking.in/). Mrs White Hat is still telling me off for not including Roti King in this article.

  3. Melanie May 22, 2017 at 9:04 pm

    Timely recommendations for my London trip. A place I return to again and again is the Bingham Hotel in Richmond. Food is always superb and a table on the balcony terrace gives a sublime view of the Thames and its boats.

  4. The Man in the White Hat May 26, 2017 at 1:26 am

    Richmond’s a bit out of my stomping grounds, Melanie – my office is right in the Square Mile. But I’ll keep the Bingham in mind if I’m heading in that direction…

  5. Kerie Receveur May 28, 2017 at 2:30 pm

    Terroirs definitely. The White Swan on Fetter Lane, 28-50 (also Fetter Lane), the Provencal place on Chancery Lane (sorry, name escapes me), Paternoster Chop House, if they’re in a good mood, La Trompette in Chiswick, Franco Manca in Chiswick, some of the Persian restaurants near Olympia, Barrafina on Frith St, …..

    • FooDiva July 18, 2017 at 2:07 pm

      Thought I would jump in to share my thoughts from my recent London trip. Ditto Barrafina and Franca Manca Kerie – for the latter the Chiswick location is great but this time round I ate at the Victoria branch in a pretty square. That sour dough cornicione is just as sublime! I used to live in Olympia and those Persian restaurants were my local 🙂 Glad to hear they’re still surviving. If in that area did you ever try the gastropub, The Havelock, off Sinclair road? Not quite in keeping with Mr White Hat’s quirky theme but here are a few more options worth checking out:

      The Summerhouse in Little Venice, Maida Vale – simple, honest seafood dishes with a gorgeous view across the canals.
      Medlar – French-style cooking with local ingredients on the King’s Road. Three course table d’hote menu.
      The Colony Grill in the Beaumont hotel, Mayfair – go here for breakfast as a change to the Wolseley and order the kedgeree!
      The Ivy Cafes – whilst a chain now, these offer superb quality at an excellent price point. I had lunch outside at the Marylebone location.
      The Ledbury – two Michelin stars in Notting Hill. Aussie chef using British produce with plenty of game included. The deer doughnuts were divine!

  6. Kerie Receveur May 30, 2017 at 12:26 pm

    Also, The Jugged Hare in Barbican

    • The Man in the White Hat July 12, 2017 at 7:58 pm

      Sorry to take so long to reply to your recommendations, Kerie. No one visiting London lacks for choice… As it happens, the Jugged Hare is practically around the corner from my office, but I’ll admit that I usually duck over to Whitecross Market – a street food market just north of the Barbican – if I need lunch. As to chop houses, how about the Quality Chop House on Farringdon Road – a remodelled 19th-century working man’s eating house redone as a modern and fairly highly regarded restaurant…

  7. Eat Drink Stay Dubai July 8, 2017 at 4:00 pm

    And this is why a trip to London is often frustrating – waaaay too much choice!

    Every time I go, despite research, planning, listening to friends there’s always too big a hitlist.

    Now there’s another few added to it after reading this article, and I’m not even planning a trip to the smoke anytime soon.

    Added to that, I always find it difficult to avoid the tractor beam of Dishoom and Pitt Cue Co in Soho…

    • The Man in the White Hat July 12, 2017 at 8:04 pm

      I haven’t been to Dishoom since the soft opening (truth in advertising… I may be in the heritage industry, but Mrs White Hat is in food and beverage, and managed to swing an invite); it does what it does fairly well, but I’ll admit to having some built-in reluctance to chains (even small ones).

      But the latest food trend about to seize London? Probably West African cuisine. Ghanaian and Nigerian food are having a bit of a moment; and if Ethiopian can be an established international cuisine, why not West African? And Mrs White Hat and I have an eye on Lao Cafe in Covent Garden – apparently London’s first-ever dedicated Laotian restaurant….

      At least London’s never boring!

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