Sunday, 15 September 2013

Central London’s Hidden Gems

Restaurants that aren't Garfunkels or the Spaghetti House are notoriously hard to find near Oxford Street. Tourists end up having a sub standard meal, having chosen from one of the world’s longest and blandest menus. Meanwhile, locals end up grabbing a snack from Costa and getting the hell away from there. When faced with the above options, many head straight for a Big Mac at the Golden Arches.

Before moving to London, I used to wonder why I’d heard so much about the quality of grub in the capital. The only exposure I’d had was either an over priced sandwich in a museum coffee shop, or fast food when shopping. Most of the cities greatest attractions and tourist hotspots are all in walking distance from each other. You could spend the day sightseeing, walking from Marble Arch, doing a spot of shopping on Regents Street, or catching a West End show. All this, only to go spoil your day with a mediocre bowl of pasta in a Bella Italia.

To me, a good meal is the make or break of a good day out. I've put together a list of places that are memorable for all the right reasons.

Firstly, location. Kingly Street runs parallel to Regents Street, so is easily accessible. It’s right behind Liberty’s, a mock Tudor fronted one stop shop for luxury and design. Kingly Street and the surrounding area is a hub for good food. There are around 10 restaurants and bars, many of which run affordable deals which change daily.

If curry tickles your fancy, Cinnamon Soho serves up the best Peshawari naan I have ever tasted. Crisp, and sweet, and extremely moreish. The dishes on the menu here are a world apart from the stodgy, bog standard dishes served at your local curry house. I would recommend having something a little different, like ordering a few of their sharing plates and almost having your own Indian tapas experience. Try the slow braised pork belly with honey and chilli, or the Bangla scotch eggs. If you were looking for somewhere for a few drinks after work with a little food, this would be ideal. Or for something a little more substantial, the Lucknow-style free range chicken biryani is served in the heated clay pot it was cooked in, with tender meat falling from the bone and wafts of fragrant cardamom. A great winter warmer.

If traditional tapas is more your style and you have a little more cash to flash, two doors down from Cinnamon Soho is Dehesa. For the Iberian ham lovers among you, Dehesa is known for its charcuterie and fantastic wine selection. The atmosphere is moody and intimate, and the stool style bar seating means it would make a great date night location. The most unusual dish I tried here was the courgette flowers stuffed with goat’s cheese and honey. I’d never had anything like it before and it was wonderful.

Finally, the place I keep returning to time after time, The Diner. A stone’s throw from Dehesa, The Diner offers all American classics packed with flavour. Rather than being served by hyperactive TGIF nuts in stripy shirts, your waiter will more likely be a fan of tattoos, American Apparel and body piercing. I would go here for the peanut butter milkshake alone, but the burger is also done to perfection and served in a basket. There are tex mex classics and warm buttered pancakes too. Plonk yourself in a booth and chow down the back drop of old school hip hop classics.

Cinnamon Soho:
Meal for two with mains and a couple of beers came to around £45.
Meal for two with wine came in at around £65
The Diner:
Meal for two with shakes came in at around £25

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