11 Harrington Rd., Kensington
Lunch on the go can be a conundrum. One the one hand, you know you should eat something healthy and green. But you also want to feel full and not have to go miles out of your way to pick it up. For those based in West London, there’s Squirrel. The menu of build-your-own bowls is full of proteins, vegetables, and tasty add-ins like feta, avocado, and pickled onions, which make these salads feel like full-on meals. They are filling enough to stave off the dreaded 3 p.m. hunger pangs, but light enough to stop any midafternoon snoozing at your desk. Our standing order when in town is chicken or salmon mixed with nutty quinoa, kale, pickled onions, and a boiled egg—all tossed in a citrusy sumac dressing. You can order for delivery or pickup, and it never takes more than thirty minutes for your biodegradable bowl to arrive or be ready. Best of all, it’s consistent, and lunch is exactly as you order it every time.
149 Upper St., Islington
Three friends with careers in law and finance have come together to open their passion project: Slaw. The menu is rooted in the kind of plant-based, root-to-stem cooking that they love to eat, eliminating as much waste as possible. The interior feels straight out of Copenhagen, with chevron wood flooring, white-painted brick walls, and stacks of firewood heaped in the corners. You immediately want to settle into one of the wicker chairs and start eating. Bowls of squash and barley risotto topped with hazelnut crumb, a plate of garlicky chickpeas, and spicy, slow-roasted tomatoes are so nourishing and satisfying, you’ll hardly miss the meat—and that’s exactly the point.
Level 5, 95a Rye Ln., Peckham
Peckham is a neighborhood deep in Southeast London, and it’s experiencing an urban renaissance. And Peckham Levels—a multistory creative space that addresses the working needs of the modern multihyphenate—embodies this breath of fresh air. Wildflower is the Level’s canteen, where global vegetarian food is served—the type beloved in this culturally diverse area. A typical menu includes coconut dal with fried eggs and flatbread for breakfast, locally baked sourdough, all manner of roasted and glazed vegetables, and affogatos for dessert, spiked with Frangelico, a hazelnut liqueur. As is the case with most spots in this area, the décor is simple and utilitarian, with long tables for communal dining and plenty of greenery. Wildflower’s health-driven menu is affordable, too, which means those communal tables are always heaving with a loyal, local crowd.
51 Greek St., Soho
Every Londoner who frequents Soho knows Lina Stores. The Italian deli has occupied the same spot for close to eighty years, keeping pantries stocked with obscure pastas and excellent tomato sauce. The owners have had the good sense to open a restaurant on nearby Greek Street, and we can confidently say the pasta here is better than anywhere else in the area. Sit at the bar—it’s always the best seat anyway—and watch the chefs prepare your dinner. Classic Roman puntarelle (a bitter chicory) is on the menu, doused, as it should be, in a salty anchovy dressing. Pappardelle arrives in a rich rabbit ragu. The crab pasta is spicy and citrusy, and the gnudi smothered in brown butter and sage are is so good we ordered two. Bonus: practically every dish costs less than ten pounds.
113 Great Portland St., Fitzrovia
Portland strikes the perfect balance between casual and formal in Fitzrovia. It’s relaxed enough for a midweek dinner when you’re in jeans, but sophisticated enough for a nice evening out with your parents. The food is a kind of New British, which really means the best of Brit ingredients dressed up with modern trends, like fermentation and smoking. Cornish mackerel comes with preserved cucumbers and green strawberries, the smoked pigeon with baby English radishes, and the little starter of plate of baby pickled vegetables—intended to just be an accompaniment—was a standout. Given that there’s an option to order as much as you want off the menu for sixty-five pounds per person, it would seem unreasonable not to. Come hungry.
1-5 Bloomberg Arcade, City
Dinner at the Indian restaurant Brigadiers ticks all the right boxes: the pickles, the chutneys, the veggies with yogurt. It’s all so satisfying, which isn’t so surprising when you find out it’s from the same team as the one from Gymkhana and Hoppers (two of our favorite London spots). The sides—dal, raita, and several chutneys—are reason enough to come here. The beef shin biryani and the fruity kulfi (basically, an Indian soft serve-style dessert) are reason enough to come back.
119 Queen's Rd., Peckham
South Londoners keep quiet about the food in Peckham. Its restaurants are so good (Peckham Bazaar), so affordable (Banh Banh), and so atmospheric (Artusi), locals want to keep this surprisingly-amazing gastronomical post code to themselves. Kudu fits right in. South African-inflected dishes like braai lamb loin with smoked yoghurt, salt-baked carrots with kefir, vegetable potjie, and spiced biltong (South Africa’s answer to charcuterie) make up the menu. The décor matches the food in terms of detail—mauve walls, chevron wood floors, and intimately small, glass-topped tables. It’s a worthy addition to the already-great Peckham neighborhood.
4 Redchurch St., Shoreditch
Brat is Welsh slang for turbot, so it follows that that’s the thing to order here. It’s a perfectly-cooked whole fish, grilled over a fire, and meant for sharing. It’s a technique they use for many menu items, including the bread (always a reliable indicator of the dishes to come), which is almost a satisfying meal in itself, grilled and made of flour from one of last standing stoneground mills in the UK. Even the cheesecake is smoked and accompanied by brown bread ice cream, a familiar treat in the UK and Ireland but rarely seen stateside. Once you have a bite you’ll wonder why.
59 Wells St., Fitzrocia
Yotam Ottolenghi has opened yet another restaurant that Londoners cannot get enough of (his seventh). This time it’s in Fitzrovia—a neighborhood that, until recently, was a kind of a culinary wasteland. The addition of Rovi has changed all that. The magic here lies in the fresh, vegetable-centric dishes slathered in all manner of Israeli and Palestinian sauces and a bright, cheerful dining room with high ceilings and red banquettes. The wine list is stellar and features some rarely seen Palestinian labels.
80-82 Great Titchfield St., Fitzrovia
Meraki is the latest from Arjun and Peter Waney, the duo behind three of our other London favorites: Zuma, Coya, and Roka. The kitchen specializes in region-specific small bites, like salty cured fish roe and tomatoes from Santorini. In terms of décor, the look is clean and contemporary—not a whiff of the traditional taverna—which makes Meraki great for more buttoned-up lunches and dinners. In other words: This is not the spot for a raucous family meal with kids. Xenia (Greek hospitality) is key here, and the wine list is exciting, heavy on Aegean labels you won't see elsewhere. Everything on the menu is really well prepared; particular standouts include the dolmades served with a rich, lemony, egg yolk emulsion, and the barrel-aged feta, which is somehow creamy, salty, sour, and sharp all at the same time.
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