Emilia’s Crafted Pasta
If you’ve ever nursed a desire to visit the picturesque St. Katherine Dock in Wapping, you now have absolutely the best excuse. Located amongst a run of charming independent businesses (a local coffeehouse, wine bar, Mediterranean eatery, deli, tapas bar and the effusively beflowered front of the Dickens Inn, a former timber warehouse now repurposed as a pub with multiple restaurants), facing the marina, is this intimate, bespoke pasta palace. With a very succinct menu (7 mains, simply prepared with a modest two or three ingredients each, 2 salads, and a choice of 3 antipasti-including a decadently, impossibly creamy burata guaranteed to induce addiction with the first bite) and fresh pasta rolled out for each individual plate, this provides a clean, precise and piquant culinary odyssey. Service can be a bit leisurely, and the trim space, although warmly lit and appointed, can possibly be a bit too snug at peak hours (I’ve dined here twice in the summer months, so I’ve been spoiled with an al fresco seat), but with views so stunning and a location so elegant (perhaps angle your perspective so as not to include the unfortunate Brutalism of the Guoman Hotel at Tower Bridge), this will unlikely be too disruptive. For a similar experience, with much more boisterousness and bustle due to its position just outside Borough Market and near to London Bridge station is Padella, another smart, affordable bistro with a tidy menu and a brevity of ingredients-take a stool at the counter and watch the hustling cooks prepare the vegetables and meats that go straight into the pots and pans and onto plates. It’s a tad more hectic than Emilia’s, and the view is a bit more brusque.
You no longer have to venture to the environs of Golders Green or Stamford Hill to sate the craving for beef brisket or corned beef (although plenty of folks find satisfaction at the primarily takeaway Brick Lane stalwarts Beigel Bake and Beigel Shop, both cheap and cheerful, beloved of bleary-eyed students, ravenous tourists and tweaked-out clubbers): Hoxton now has its own modern, proper sit-down institution devoted to Jewish staples. The owners founded their business, as so many do today, as a food stall at Maltby Street Market, steadily growing their enterprise and reputation (a Michelin-starred chef visited their arch quite randomly and declaimed the virtues of their salt beef sandwich). Desiring to bring back a traditional deli to the East End, a spot became available on a rapidly gentrifying Hoxton High Street, and the restaurant was opened just this past spring, a 65-seater in the recently shuttered space of the long-serving Anderson’s Bakery (after 150 years, the family that ran it through several generations decided to retire altogether). Monty’s has retained the weathered porcelain features, installed a black-and-white block tile floor, a smart, sleek modern bar that runs the length of the space, stylish wooden booths (each capped off with classic globe lamps) and a minimalist gathering of tables just inside the door. The fare is tasty and prodigious in portion, and will gratify any desire for this particular comfort food.
A traditional corner pub lot in a cosy nestle of beautiful Georgian properties in Islington, just off the Regent’s Canal, the Plaquemine offers a new menu devoted to the influences and flavours of Creole and Cajun cooking. The space is a glory of gold tones and glazed wood, colourful murals and a few lush curves. I visited for Sunday brunch, choosing a spin on eggs Benedict (eggs Sardou-in addition to the traditional poached eggs and spinach, artichoke hearts were included, the base a piece of cornbread, smothered in a Creole hollandaise sauce), accompanied by a side of fried okra. Collards, grits, fried green tomatoes and biscuits are all on hand, as well. Dinner offers crawfish, po’boy sandwiches, cracklings and gumbo, with beignets for the sweet selection. You would be forgiven for believing you were dining perhaps in the U.S. state of Georgia (or Alabama or Tennessee). The new mangers are fully invested in the cuisine and sensibility, so for those with a fond taste for this tangy regional style have a new, welcoming place to gather. It couldn’t be a more inviting area of London in which to immerse yourself.
Vanilla & Black
The most established business on this list (opening in 2004), a recent visit confirmed for me that this is the spot for London’s most stylish, sophisticated vegetarian cooking. The owners insisted that the menu would not in the least rely upon soggy meat substitutes, (easy) heavy spicing, or overrely on the base of cheese and pasta. The dishes are wonders of imagination and creativity and design (precise placements of components, stellar swirls of sauces), but the plates are not just the sum total of their artful arrangements: the multiplicity and complexity of texture and flavour left me and my companions unable to not voice our pleasure and awe at every bite. Innovation with vegetables requires quite an artistic commitment, and in this regard the chef(s?) are terrifically restless in their studies.We were stunned at the marvelous deconstructions of ordinary ingredients-my peanut butter cheesecake appeared as if turned inside out, each aspect individualised, but combining to perfection with the sweep of the spoon. It’s not exactly inexpensive (£41 for three courses), but it is the perfect choice for a special occasion or for when friends visit, and the ambience is terrific-for all you know, you could be dining in someone’s parlour. The feeling of exclusivity extends even to the location, an obscure side street off of Chancery Lane-but once inside, a guest is treated warmly and unpretentiously. The meal included a tart amuse-bouche of apple juice and celery, a swift little kick to the senses, opening the channels for the transporting meal to follow.