Over the last few years, I was in a long distance relationship with a girl in London, which meant I spent a lot of time there. I did not always love that city. In fact, just prior to meeting her, having gone there multiple times and seen the standard sights, I had vowed to not go back for a while.
Man plans and God laughs. Over the next three years, I barely travelled anywhere other than London. The more I visited, and the longer I stayed, the more the city grew on me. London is one of those cities that is lively in a way Vancouver will never be. I love that in a city. I love that people are active – not in the sense that they go hiking on the weekends but that they're always out and about. It's something I used to appreciate about Melbourne.
When the pandemic hit, I feel like Vancouverites eagerly embraced staying home. It felt like we were simply looking for an excuse to close that pathetic-excuse-for-nightlife that we have here, for starters. Londoners? Not so much. I was there in the spring, when the UK was under lockdown measures that saw all restaurants restricted to takeaway only. But the weather was nice, which meant people ordered their food and sat down, in troves, on the sidewalk to enjoy their meals together. Good for pandemic response? No. But no hysteria was going to stop that crowd. I like that.
But my best experiences of London have to be the culinary ones. One of the advantages of being the capital of the greatest colonial empire is that there's the best of every cuisine is readily available. So, here is a small sampling of some of my favourite restaurants in London (I hope you like spicy food):
1. Green Papaya
This place calls itself a "Xi'Viet" restaurant, a cross between Vietnamese and Xi'anese food. Xi'an is a city in China, with its own unique cuisine. I have looked for Xi'anese food in Vancouver, but none of my finds so far have been satisfactory (admittedly, I have yet to travel to Richmond in search of good Xi'anese food).
Everything I've tried here has been great, but a few dishes were so good that it was difficult ever going for anything else: the dan dan noodles and the cumin beef.
If it's not clear from the name, this is another Xi'anese restaurant, and like Green Papaya, the noodle dishes here are to die for. Of course, you must go for the namesake biang biang noodles. Setting my mouth on fire never felt so good.
Travelling a bit further east to the land of the rising sun, there are some excellent ramen places in London.
Kanada-ya is a teeny tiny restaurant. When you get there, you'll probably have to wait outside to be seated elbow-to-elbow with the other patrons. If only they took their orders via a vending machine outside, it'd be the authentic Tokyo experience.
I went to a number of good ramen places in London, and Kanada-ya's ramen is absolutely sublime, but what really sets it apart is their chicken karaage.
I've never seen so many white people speak Japanese so fluently. Every staff member in this restaurant speaks Japanese, and it's not just a show. I've seen Japanese patrons give their orders in Japanese and have conversations with their non-Japanese waiters. I'm not sure how big of a talent pool they're drawing from, but they're doing a good job on both sides of the house.
The specialty here is a soupless ramen (abura soba). So many flavours... so many. 😋
Make sure you order it with a cold glass of Asahi!
This was a late discovery for me. I've only been here once (partly because it's not so easy to get in), but it's very clearly a special place.
The Parsis of India are the ethnically Iranian people that fled the Islamic invasion and settled in India to preserve their Zoroastrian religion. Apparently, they also created a unique cafe culture in India, and Dishoom is in the style of these "Irani cafes".
I promise you've never been to a place like this (unless you've been to Irani cafes in India). From the decor and the ambience to the menu, Dishoom is unequaled. I was there for breakfast. I recommend a naan roll. And don't forget about the tea! The chocolate chai was good. But the house chai is the house chai for a reason.
I can't wait to go back and have dinner there as well.
There is a lot of good food in London. In my experience though, these five places are worth making plans around. The first two are great for those who like Chinese cuisine and the fortitude for true spiciness. The others are great for everyone. If you check them out, let me know what you think. 😉