London restaurants outdo themselves for creativity this festive season, and these six establishments are the reason why.
Words Baldwin Ho Photography courtesy of the respective restaurants
Though the current Brexit negotiations look to tighten border controls, the culinary scene in London continues to showcase some of the most vibrant flavours from across the globe. We look at the key trends this winter and festive surprises you might encounter while visiting London.
Veganism has become big business in the U.K. in recent years, but choices have been limited in Japanese restaurants until now. Onodera in St James has launched a festive vegan menu that is as stunning as its meat equivalent. The vegetable sushi rolls offer freshness, crunch and vibrancy in equal measures, whilst the miso aubergine is perfectly grilled to retain its juiciness and flavoured with appetising sweet miso sauce. The pièce de résistance is a mushroom and tofu sukiyaki; silky smooth tofu is perfectly complemented by enoki and shimeji mushrooms, packed with rich umami flavours.
Those wishing to sample the meat version of the festive menu will find it the pinnacle of luxury dining: black kampachi carpaccio and Scottish salmon rolls are followed by exquisite Canadian lobster tempura, with the main course of 35-day dry-aged Scottish sirloin robata steak. The rich flavours from both menus can be paired with sake and wines with the help of the supremely talented sommelier. With branches all over the world, this is fast becoming a brand that is synonymous with the finest quality.
KINILAW AND BUKO
Filipino cuisine is the on-trend food of choice for discerning diners in London. This newly opened restaurant delivers sexy tapas-style dishes along with a lengthy selection of quirky ice creams. Situated in Hoxton, the hipster quarter of London, the restaurant has an edgy, industrial design that is the definition of modern East London. The restaurant’s name translated from Tagalog means a Filipino-style ceviche and coconut.
Most of the food has been cured with vinegar and retains that sense of rawness that allows fresh ingredients to speak for themselves. Hand-dived scallops and oysters are the must-try dishes at this laid-back venue, where you can savour top-quality seafood along with edgy cocktails with a Southeast Asian edge, like the Sherry Di-Vine, which contains Amontillado sherry, lemon, orgeat, chilli, ginger and basil.
‘Buko’ refers to the coconut shells used to hold the Filipino-inspired homemade ice creams here, including unusual flavours like smoked blackberry and star anise sorbet and rum and pineapple ice cream, which has a strong Pina Colada feel. This one is for those who want to experience the real eclectic side of London, away from the standard tourist hotspots of Oxford Circus and Leicester Square.
Fresh from acquiring a Michelin star, this is a restaurant that defies characterisations. The young, Princeton-educated head chef Jeremy Chan has delivered a unique menu that is worth flying halfway around the world for. He has combined complex, unique West African ingredients like grains of Selim and iru, which are fermented locust beans, alongside more European-sounding ideas like herb-fed chicken and vegetable stew to deliver a powerful fine-dining experience, unlike anything you will find elsewhere.
Stand-out dishes include mushroom suya, malted barley and pine, packed with umami richness (hardly surprising considering Jeremy has worked with the Umami information centre) and a crab jollof that goes to the heart of the cooking. This rice dish has been cooked in a stock of blackened vegetables and shellfish dashi, topped with a crabmeat salad and a custard of brown crab, given a smoked finish. You might question the authenticity of such a dish, but such is the ingenuity of Jeremy’s cooking; it isn’t about the constraints of borders but about offering the ultimate taste sensation for diners. This is a restaurant for those who are prepared to have their perceptions challenged.
BERBER AND Q
Another restaurant that can’t be bracketed into a particular category, this Middle Eastern and North African grill house takes inspiration from a multitude of culinary capitals across the globe, such as London, Marrakesh, Istanbul, Tel Aviv and New York. The owner, Josh Katz, has successfully married the flavours of the kebab houses of Istanbul with the exquisite BBQ techniques of modern New York eateries.
While Christmas isn’t a big festival in some of the countries that influenced Katz’s food, the restaurant has come up with a delectable festive menu; labneh is served with burnt apricot while hummus is delivered with matbucha and sprouts. You wouldn’t imagine turkey to be a dish served often in the warmer climates of the Middle East and North Africa, but here it is given a delicious twist with sumac onions, tahini, herb salad, harissa, tahini and laffa. If you want a Christmas experience with a difference, this is the place to be.
The restaurant is in the Haggerston area in East London where the most ground-breaking restaurants are discovered these days in London.
NOBU HOTEL SHOREDITCH
English afternoon tea is a quintessentially British experience that all visitors must endeavour to savour. This winter, the iconic Nobu brand has launched a festive afternoon tea with a distinctly Nobu twist. Instead of the repetitive smoked salmon and coronation chicken sandwiches you are normally offered, they present mouth-watering variations like snow crab tempura in a creamy spicy sauce with ikura on a shokupan bun. Beef tenderloin is served with shichimi miso mustard, while vegan diners are offered a tofu bun that contains flavoursome tofu truffle cream and pickled tomato.
For those with a sweet tooth, the coconut snowball with white chocolate ganache and snowflake yuzu tart will melt away any resistance to these delightful festive offerings. Ideally paired with these desserts is the unique coffee selection, including London’s only Kinto Hand Brew Japanese filter coffee, which allows for more of the coffee’s natural oils to infuse the cup.
The decor offers a distinctly natural vibe; with a mixture of earthy timbers, dark-toned stone and densely woven textiles, this is a lifestyle space that is welcoming and serene.
Named after the infamous 19th-century courtesan, this new restaurant has been all the rage with restaurant critics and influencers alike with its brand of serving comfort food in a complex yet satisfying manner. The high ceiling, parquet flooring and velvet banquettes evoke the historic feel of an establishment Cora would have frequented herself. The food has a mixture of British and French influences.
Ham and cheese toasties with pickles might seem the most basic of British staple comfort food, but column inches have been devoted to why the version at Cora Pearl is magnificent, from just the right amount of squishiness of the sarnies to the ooziness of the cheddar.
The restaurant is conveniently located in the heart of theatreland in Covent Garden, ideally paired with a trip to the nearby shows. It has also come up with festive surprises like mince pie doughnuts.