London’s magic square encompassing Mayfair, Soho, Covent Garden and Fitzrovia has long acted as the backbone to breakthrough eateries, coffee spots and new trends in my favourite culinary capital. Battling against East London’s cultural uprising, Central London has often been the originator of trends and bright ideas – claiming fame to London’s coffee culture. Here I list my top locations to eat, drink and celebrate the very best Central’s culinary champs have to offer.
Kaffeine was introduced to London by Peter Dore-Smith in 2009, and since then has grown to two locations just north of Oxford Circus. Acting as a hub for chit-chat, friendly service and quality coffee, Kaffeine’s customers range from trendy Soho-goers to the suited and booted of the nearby BBC office. Regulars told me about their renowned weekly-changing food menu, great selection of lunches and stand-out Flat Whites, the latter making Kaffeine the UK’s ‘Best Flat White 2014’ spot – at which I’m not surprised, considering the owner is from Melbourne.
Manager Jess said that Dore-Smith was “the beginning of the coffee culture in London” and wanted to provide a place that gives “people that whole coffee experience, a place where people can socialise and relax and feel comfortable.”
I sure felt at home in the bustling cafe, appreciating the smell of strong roasts and sipping their best flat-white to the sound of our favourite childhood songs, and can’t help but feel this is what a true coffeehouse should be like. It felt unusual to be in a place that existed for the purpose of providing excellent coffee to people who appreciate the flavours, rather than being mentally trapped inside a Pret A Manger, suffering next to our croissants as we try to ignore everyone around us at 8am. No instead, I wanted to talk to the people, engaging in conversation with a likeminded person, sharing a love of coffee over our favourite roasted beverage. It was a welcoming change to the commercialisation of coffee chains in London; something we aren’t used to any more as much as we’d like to be.
Australia’s claim to fame is the notoriously hipster Flat White. Kaffeine, being Australian, is the only place you should get one.
Nordic Bakery – A world of sweet, savoury and simple Scandi treats await just around the corner of Soho’s bustling Berwick Street. Priding themselves on their Coffee, Dark Rye Bread and renowned Cinnamon Buns, the Nordic Bakery provides a quiet getaway of Scanidavian comfort, beautifully rich coffee and an eye-opening selection of Scandinavian food and treats. From Chokladboll’s, which is a chocolate mocha ball rolled in coconut to you and me, to their authentic Oat and Rye Porridge with Blueberry Jam and Smoked Salmon Rye Bread Sandwiches, you’ll have a hard time choosing what Nordic treat to eat.
The best Nordic Bakery is in Soho’s Golden Square, but you can find them in Covent Garden, Marylebone and Dorset Street, inhabited by regulars bursting their Bunad’s as they sip a dark coffee, snacking on Gravadlax and contemplating the Herring.
BAO – Seating just 32 in its Soho offering, BAO’s steamed buns are without a doubt the best in London. A stones-throw away from steam bun mecca China Town, BAO is an upmarket yet down-to-earth culinary experience. I love the communal vibe of tiny Asian eateries, a fast paced environment that is just as exciting as its food.
I recommend the Confit Pork Bao, Peanut Milk and Fried Horlicks Ice Cream for the fearless foodies, or the Taiwanese Fried Chicken with Hot Sauce and Classic Bao for the less brave. You can’t make reservations so you’ll just have to wait line (and there is always a line), but it’s worth the wait.
BAO is, in some way, nostalgic. As I sit on the wooden stools at our window seat, I can’t help but remember the days of trying new foods as a child, excited for something adventurous and possibly out of our comfort zone. Peanut milk, marshmallowy buns? It’s Taiwanese cuisine for us big kids at heart.
KILN – This is like nothing we have ever experienced before. I’ve never tasted food so authentic; seen food be prepared so organically; I seldom think about our ingredients from start to finish or enjoy an atmosphere as much as we did at KILN. The staff insisted on 3 dishes per person, 4 if you’re greedy – so I tucked in to everything from Clay Pot Baked Glass Noodles with Mangalista Belly and Brown Crab Meat to a Burmese Wild Ginger and Short Rib Curry. In the interest of a fair review, we wanted to try everything.. for you, of course. And I just had to go back twice. Food is cooked and flavours are intensified in traditional clay pots sitting atop charcoal-fired pits and grills, making your meats mouth-wateringly melty.
Our waitress recommended the noodles to begin with. A zesty-chilli dressing makes them as spicy as you like, meaning food is as versatile as it is tasty. The beef curry was the best curry I have ever eaten – full stop. A thick marinade coated the beef as it sat in its warmly spiced sauce – enough to notice, but not enough to blow my head off.
The seafood is fresh every morning, regional spices are used and everything is completely natural. KILN channels Thailand’s hill-top teak cooking houses, pluming with fragrant smoke, creating an experience no Thai restaurant in London come’s close to.
The following was an extract from my magazine, FILTER. I hope you enjoyed reading this as much as I enjoyed eating my way around London!
See more about FILTER magazine and the production here.