There was a time not all too long ago, when eating well in London meant hitting up some unassuming corner dive where they just happened to make a great curry. But the city’s post-Millennial food revolution has gone so far as to cause French culinary god Alain Ducasse to actually call it the best dining city in the world now.
Super trendy hotspots abound: celeb-bedecked Chiltern Firehouse; Jason Atherton’s Social Eating House; The Clove Club in hipster-whelmed Shoreditch. But what if you just wanted to hit the capital for a few genuinely great meals (or a good pint), with lots of local charm, and without all the glam trimmings (and puffed up prices)?
To that end, we asked New York girl-about-town Rachel Felder, who would admit to London being a sort of spiritual home, for her best under-the-radar picks (from hip Islington to pretty Primrose Hill), which she elaborates on below. All appear in her fabulous new book Insider London (Harper Collins), in which she takes the reader on a whirl through what can be a rather apoplexy-inducing city, whittling it down to the absolute gems of dining, drinking, shopping, hotels and culture. With its striking photography, it is a masterstroke of Englishness: stylish, eccentric and utterly brilliant.
This tiny duplex restaurant, tucked quietly down one of the main thoroughfares in Islington, serves truly wonderful Italian food in a setting that’s relaxed and mellow. It’s an ideal spot for a date, or just a leisurely lunch with friends on a weekend.
Shoreditch has become intensely hipster-ified over the last several years, but this hidden little spot is marvelously low key, although it’s just a few blocks from the area’s trendy bustle nearby. It’s essentially the extension of a catering business; open just during the day, breakfast is particularly good here, especially the granola, which is made on the premises.
This is a truly neighborhoody restaurant in one of London’s most charming areas, Primrose Hill, a genteel little nook that’s an easy stroll from Camden. The Greek food is authentic and delicious – especially the spanakopita, or flaky spinach pie – and it’s also a great spot for people watching, including, occasionally, a sighting of one of celebs that lives nearby.
It’s not hard to find a good Indian restaurant in London, but this one might well be one of the best. It’s unpretentious and friendly, with truly wonderful (and filling and not overly expensive) food; you’ll rarely see a tourist at this East End spot, but it’s pretty much always crowded with people from the neighborhood and beyond.
For decades, this fabulous (and fabulously cheap) bakery has been beloved for its doughy bagels (aka beigels). Unlike almost everything in London, it’s open 24 hours, and pretty much always busy – so the bagels are always fresh (and, frequently, warm too.) There are plenty of fillings offered, but, personally, I love the bagels here just plain, eaten while walking down Brick Lane.
There’s something undeniably inviting about a classic pub; this one, quite near the Columbia Road market in East London, makes you feel like a regular even on the first visit. But it has something extra: a seriously excellent restaurant upstairs, especially for traditional British Sunday roast lunch.
Although it’s in the heart of Islington, this elegant cocktail bar has a truly insidery feel: it’s in a residential nook, on an unglitzy corner, without big signage or any fanfare. It’s got a real feeling of glamour – more that of an Italian champagne bar circa 1958 than a North London bar today – without being overly fancy or stuffy.
A pub atmosphere and inventive Chinese food might seem like an odd combination, but at The Duck and Rice it somehow works. Downstairs, the focus is on beer and light bites; upstairs, the food is more of a priority. (The specialty is, appropriately enough, Cantonese style roast duck; but the Singapore fried noodles are also fabulous.) It’s in the heart of Soho and lively, even on a weeknight evening, although it’s understandably packed on weekends.
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