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Where to eat and why it matters in the world’s best food cities.

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Jollibee Earl's Court
London

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Filipino restaurant chain Jollibee first introduced its spaghetti special in 1979. Five years later, the chain’s red bee representative was joined by stringy-haired and pink skirted Hetty, the mascot of said spaghetti. Now a global mega-corporation, with thousands of outlets worldwide, Londoners can get their hands on all the signatures, too, including Chickenjoy fried chicken, Yumburgers, Jolly hotdogs, and Jolly pasta. The spaghetti is a babyish concoction: Hetty’s pigtails are doused in a lurid, cheek-blushingly sweet sauce with mince and chopped hot dogs, and then topped with grated cheese ... Or cuttings from the floor of Hetty’s hairdressers. The dish is usually served with the fried chicken.
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The Rosemary
London

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The Rosemary could be mistaken for yet another outpost of the famous Nunhead Gardener: there are enough houseplants here to make a tenant with a no-pets clause simper. In fact, it’s an organic Hungarian restaurant on the busy junction where the A202 hits New Cross Road. There are pancakes, pickles, paprika ratatouille and a theatrical goulash served in a cauldron. Nokedli, also known as spaetzle, are short irregular egg pasta, served here alongside paprika stews of chicken, mushroom, or beef. The bottle racks boast one of the best selections of organic and biodynamic Hungarian wines in London. Closed on Mondays.
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Paneri Taverna
London

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Paneri Taverna’s generous portions and complimentary mezze make the Green Lanes old-timer one of the road’s most celebrated restaurants. The pasticcio, or makaronia, is a heavy hitter: it’s a 15-tog duvet of creamy, nutmeg infused bechamel, minced beef sweet with onion and cinnamon, and soft, pillowy pasta. The popular chargrilled chicken and lamb souvla are served alongside kritharaki — also known as orzo — couscous, or rice. For those seeking youvetsi, beef and orzo stew, it’s best to head down the road to Asteria, where pasticcio is also on the menu. Open for takeaway.
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La Patagonia
London

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Many of the best Argentinian restaurants in London focus almost exclusively on the parilla, pumping out eye-bulging piles of steaks, ribs, pork shoulder, morcilla and chorizo sausages from the ubiquitous charcoal grill. It’s not unusual if the closest thing to salad in sight is an empanada. While La Patagonia in Camden lives up to those expectations, it also highlights other elements of Argentinian culture. There’s the football fever — the façade is painted with the blue and white stripes of the national team’s kit — and then there’s the pasta, a reflection of the fact that around half of the present-day Argentine population has Italian roots. Sorrentinos are large filled domes of pasta, more regal than ravioli, which are thought to have originated in the coastal city of Mar del Plata south of Buenos Aires. At La Patagonia, they’re filled with mozzarella, ricotta, and bechamel; there’s also spinach and ricotta ravioli and beef canelones. All the pasta is made at the restaurant and served with a choice of sauces, both for takeaway and dining in in normal times.
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Zamzam
London

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There’s no strict menu at Zamzam Somali restaurant on Seven Sisters Road. Diners can expect to choose among lamb shank, briskly fried beef suqaar, and spiced chicken, digaag, all generously portioned. The main courses are served alongside rice, gently spiced with cardamom and bejeweled with plump raisins, or baasto — spaghetti slicked in tomato sauce with crunchy onions, peppers, and parsley. Al dente isn’t a relevant concept here: these curls of pasta are soft and comforting, with the added warmth of cumin and cloves. Though Zamzam is ideal for takeaway, those eating in can expect the added perks of a small bowl of lentil soup while they wait, and an optional banana served with the meal.
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Roti Joupa Clapham
London

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Trinidadian takeaway shop Roti Joupa is a fixture of Clapham High Street. The roti are freshly made in house, folded into vast parcels of stewed chicken, sweet pumpkin, or curry goat. The hot doubles are smaller roti, filled with chickpea curry. The macaroni pie, though, is quietly one of the best things Roti Joupa has to offer. Crispy bubbles of sweet tamarind give way to silken, creamy pasta beneath, and at £1.50, there is little excuse not to order two. This food promises as much warmth as the Canada Goose jackets populating Clapham Common, but it’s much more cheering. Closed on Sundays.
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Ahl Cairo
London

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Ahl Cairo, just outside Edgware station, serves some of London’s better falafel. It’s the arguably superior pistachio-coloured Egyptian kind, taameya — made with fava beans and plenty of herbs, it is moister and more freshly flavoured than its chickpea counterpart. Taameya is often eaten in flatbread for breakfast and is just £3.25 for takeaway, but later in the day, Ahl Cairo’s pasta offerings come into their own. Try the popular carbloader, koshary, which is a mixture of lentils, vermicelli, rice, and craft bead macaroni, topped with tomato sauce and crispy onions. Another favorite Egyptian pasta, baked macaroni bechamel, is also on the menu. Open all day every day, for takeaway right now.
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Barrafina
London . Spanish

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Under the current circumstances, Michelin-starred Barrafina on Dean Street has revoked its no bookings policy. For diners not keen to wait in the cold, now is the time to visit and try the fideuà. Short, thin noodles are slowly simmered in prawn bisque with cuttlefish until they are darkened and softened, before a swift singe in the oven. Like any Iberian dish worth its ample salt, this rich seafood pasta has a strong origin story: supposedly it was invented at sea by Valencian fishermen who had run out of rice for their paella. At Barrafina, the fideuà is served with proper Catalan-approved allioli — just oil and garlic whipped to an emulsion and made green with the addition of parsley and green chili. Not an egg in sight.
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Catalyst
London

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While the Muji minimalist aesthetic of Catalyst on Grays Inn Road makes it an appealing work spot, the food menu really makes it worth the commute. Chef Vasilis Chamam’s chameleon cookery draws on both his Greek and Palestinian roots. Soft, rich sheep’s milk hilopites pasta is served twisted round stewed cull yaw from producer Matt Chatfield in Cornwall, or in pork broth with mussels and caviar. To go with the pasta, Chamam carries the lessons of Palestinian chicken mousakhan — where flatbread is used to soak up the aromatic juices — across dishes, whether the bread is nestled beneath chicken, lamb tongue tonnato, or octopus. There’s also a special talent for condiments at Catalyst that extends to all things jammy: from sumac confit onions to spiced, baked grapes, to emulsions made with staka, a sheep’s milk butter. The café is open on weekdays until 5 p.m. and until 10 p.m. on Fridays for bar snacks. It is closed on weekends.
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Garden Museum
London

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Calling “hidden gem” overused is by now as dead as “hidden gem” itself, so stay with the idea that the Garden Museum cafe is ... A hidden gem! Concise and considered, unlike so many museum/cultural institution cafes that seek to deaden themselves to all comers, expect the likes of confit mackerel with tomato and caper; john dory, served whole with black olives and fennel; and mammole artichokes served Roman-style, all in another dead cliché that is here breathed back to life: the “urban oasis.”
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The Other Naughty Piglet
London

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The combination of Andrew Lloyd-Webber and modern British cuisine might initially cause an outburst of “Jesus Christ!”, but this restaurant really is a superstar. Based at the Lloyd-Webber owned The Other Palace theatre in Victoria, raves pour in for the likes of flame-grilled mackerel with seaweed and beetroot or Fallow deer with smoked bone marrow.
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Townsend
London

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Replacing the also-lauded Whitechapel Refectory in 2020, Nick Gilkinson — formerly of fellow listee Garden Museum Cafe — and Joe Fox — formerly of fellow listee Petersham Nurseries — Townsend has gone from strength to strength in its short, pandemic-clipped life. Dishes like fried Wensleydale with heather honey and smoked chilli; wild mushrooms with egg yolk, Berkswell cheese, and truffle; and poached root vegetables with potato cake and green sauce betray the fact that this is a modern British restaurant aware that much of modern British is really old European with an accent.
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Petersham Nurseries Café
Richmond . Café

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With its new outpost in Covent Garden opening its restaurants early next year, it’s worth remembering that the original Petersham Nurseries Cafe, near Richmond, still excels at superb — if spendy — Italian cuisine, which might feature risotto with amarone and radicchio or baked lemon sole with lentils.
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London Shell Co.
London

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Floating restaurants are normally an unquantified nightmare, which is why the brilliant London Shell Co is such a revelation. Turn up for a three-hour cruise from Paddington to Camden and back, eat delicious oysters, chilli and crab linguine and buttermilk pudding, and watch Regent’s Canal go by.
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Bistro Union
London

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Bistro Union is a lovely and unassuming place, nestled in Clapham’s quaint terraced houses on the hyper gentrified Abbeville Road. It is usually packed. This might be down to its affordability, but also its pedigree: it’s the little sister of Trinity. Still, the restaurant deserves its own reverence. Standard dishes might include bistro classics like steak and chunky chips, and a solid, warming fish pie. The specials are the stars: they might range from vegetable potage to pigeon tartare.
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