Eating Your Way Across the World’s Cuisines in London

One of the greatest things about living in London is undoubtedly the huge diversity of cultures that call it home. With around 270 nationalities (are there even that many countries?!), it’s surely the most metropolitan city in the entire world.

While I love to explore local cuisine while travelling, there’s only so much travel you can do in a year. And here we are, blessed with all this variety within at most an hour’s travel from your doorstep. So I had an idea – can you eat your way across the alphabet by finding a restaurant that represents a country for every single letter from A to Z, without leaving London?

After a year or so of visiting some of the less-traversed nooks and crannies of London, it turns out – yes you can! Well almost – with a little creativity. There are 2 letters for which recognised countries don’t exist – X, and W (but hey, for me Wales is as good as a country!). Then there are a couple not represented in London – Q (Qatar only represented by a Knightsbridge cafe), Z – only restaurant from Zambia closed some time ago and nothing from Zimbabwe, and O (nothing Omani either). So instead I’ve added in regional cuisines of Canada’s French part Quebec and China’s ethnically-Muslim Xinjiang region. I had to get a little more creative with O, going for the German spelling of Austria – Österreich. And perhaps the biggest stretch, going for South Africa to represent Zulu (or Zuid-Afrika), now part of its territory and the single largest ethnic group in the country. Doubt anyone will mind.

Keeping it exotic

The other aspect of the A to Z challenge for me was to go as exotic as I could with each letter. It’s convenient and all choosing France for your F, but don’t you get to discover more by waiting 6 months for the Finnish Church in Rotherhithe to make Reindeer dogs and Karelian pasties?

Equally this isn’t about the fanciest and finest restaurants limited to Central London. Often, the most authentic eating experiences are in the sort of places you’d see from the street and think twice about entering. Upon finding it, we were almost convinced the Ugandan restaurant in Seven Sisters was closed before entering to check just in case. It turned out one of the biggest hidden gem restaurants in London! So just as you don’t judge a book by it’s cover, don’t judge a restaurant by its store front.

By the end of the A to Z challenge, you’d have found yourself in the parts of London you’d not otherwise have visited (sometimes for good reason) and that’s also part of the fun. So, let’s get to the list!

 

 

London’s Hidden Gem International Restaurants

A is for Afghanistan

Namak Mandi, Tooting

This buzzing Tooting establishment represents Pashtun cuisine that transcends Afghan and Northwest Pakistan borders. Be sure to order the fresh Afghan naan, so huge that it comes with its own stand. Then there’s the schnitzel-shaped Chapli Kabab that’s delightfully crispy on the outside yet perfectly juicy on the outside.

Highlights: Lamb Karahi; Chapli Kabab

Namak Mandi Restaurant, Tooting Bec, SW17 7TS

Alternative “A” Cuisines: Steak lovers should definitely opt for Argentina, with Buen Ayre in Hackney one of its finest Argentinian grill houses in the capital.

B is for Bulgaria

Sunny Beach Restaurant, Wood Green

Sunny Beach Restaurant London

Bulgaria boasts one of Europe’s better cuisines, somewhere between hearty Eastern European and delightfully flavoursome Greek / Turkish. There’s a particular love for clay pots and white feta-like cheese. Don’t let the restaurant’s name Sunny Beach, the infamous party resort, put you off – ironically on Sunny Beach you’re far more likely to find burgers & chips. The unpretentious Wood Green establishment is loved by locals and the sort of place that puts you in the country.

Highlights: Thrashian clay pot

Sunny Beach Restaurant, Wood Green, N22 6BN

C is for Cambodia

Lemongrass Restaurant, Camden

The lesser-known Southeast Asian cuisine is particularly big on featuring coconuts in their dishes. This Camden joint serves a good range of home-cooked Cambodian dishes at reasonable prices.

Highlights: Fish amok curry

Lemongrass Restaurant, Camden, NW1 9LT

Alternative “C” Cuisines: Cubana (Farringdon) will give you a colourful taste of Cuba while the Elsantafereno Restaurant in Brixton offers unassuming but generous and authentic servings of Colombian food.

D is for Denmark

Ole & Steen, Piccadilly Circus

Ole & Steen Danish Food

Denmark is a rye bread sandwich specialist, and the small London chain Ole & Steen, the only chain in this list, is a great representation of this. As well as, of course, great pastries and coffee.

There is a whole bunch of Ole & Steens in London by now, but we went to the one in Piccadilly Circus. If you liked the rye bread, you can also buy some for home at decent value.

Highlight: Smørrebrød – Danish rye bread open sandwiches

Piccadilly Circus, SW1Y 4RN (But there are a few others around London!)

E is for Eritrea

Mosob Restaurant, Maida Hill

Mosob Eritrean Restaurant London

A unique cuisine (alongside Ethiopian), both in the flavours and the eating experience. Full of potent and aromatic spices, deliciously flavoursome and beautifully messy (eaten with hands using the spongy injera bread).

I recommend getting the mix of multiple dishes laid out on the injera – you might not know which one is which but who cares, they’re all delectable. Eritrean spiced tea will make for a perfect way to follow up your meal with.

Highlights: Injera – the spongy sourdough-risen flatbread, eaten with just about everything.

Mosob Restaurant, Maida Hill, W9 3RB

Eritrean Tea, London

Alternative “E” Cuisines: Ethiopian is almost identical to Eritrean, with more restaurants representing the country including Queen of Sheba in Kentish Town. For something different, try EcuadorianEl Inca Plebeyo near Angel is a real hidden gem.

 

F is for Finland

The Finnish Church in London, Rotherhithe

Finnish Church Rotherhithe

OK so for this particular letter, you’ll have to wait for the Christmas or Midsummer Scandi fair (June) to try the Finnish rye and reindeer specialties. Because there is no Finnish restaurant as such – the food is served from the cafe attached to the Finnish Church. Or the stand outside during the special events shared with their Scandinavian neighbours.

Finnish Church Reindeer Hot Dog

Highlights: Finnish reindeer stew bun

The Finnish Church in London, Rotherhithe, SE16 7HZ

Alternative “F” Cuisines: France of course. Although that’s not particularly adventurous. If you do fancy it, try Mon Plaisir – London’s oldest French restaurant.

G is for Georgia

Little Georgia, Angel

Little Georgia Restaurant Angel

An incredibly flavoursome cuisine, full of spices and with a love for cheese & wine. In fact I’ll go as far as to say Georgian was my favourite cuisine on the entire A to Z challenge.

Georgian is sort of like a marriage of Italian and Turkish. If you like cheese, the adjari khachapuri cheese boat with an egg on top is pure heaven, and the walnut-garlic-spices-stuffed aubergine rolls is one of the most unique dishes you must order.

Highlights: Khachapuri – Georgian cheese-filled bread. Khinkali – large, handheld meat dumplings.

Little Georgia, Islington, N1 0HB

Alternative “G” Cuisines: The next best “G” comes in the exotic shape of Guyana, an small Caribbean nation in South America. The restaurant Kaieteur Kitchen Original is a real hidden gem in Elephant & Castle.

H is for Hungary

The Rosemary, New Cross

The Rosemary Hungarian Restaurant Pub

A Hungarian establishment in south east London camouflaged as a typical pub serving hearty paprika-heavy dishes that will probably leave you bloated, but very satisfied. Ideal place to visit on a chilly winter day.

Highlights: Beef stew with homemade dumplings, Hungarian bean soup

The Rosemary, New Cross, SE14 5AA

I is for Israel

Bala Baya, Southwark

One of the trendier places on the list, Bala Baya nevertheless does well in representing the fascinating Israeli cuisine. Shaped by Jewish “Aliyah” migration to Israel from all over the world, it’s a unique blend of Middle-Eastern, North-African and Eastern European influences. Plenty of bold flavours!

Highlights: Aubergine tea with milk. Oh, and let’s not forget calf’s brain.

Bala Baya, Southwark, SE1 0LR

Alternative “I” Cuisines: Israel’s eternal enemies – Iran. To be fair, Persian is just as good as a cuisine and I only went for Israel for the benefit of Geographical variety. Berenjak is a good bet.

J is for Jamaica

Rock Steady Rum Lounge, Gipsy Hill

Rock Steady Rum Lounge Jamaican Restaurant

Original and flavoursome Caribbean cuisine with lots of influences from African and Indian to British and Spanish. The laidback restaurant really delivered on Jamaican classics like ackee & saltfish, curry goat and jerk chicken. As well as some excellent rum cocktails. The “Festivals” – sweet fried dumpling fingers – are heavenly and a must-try.

Highlights: Callaloo & salt fish with festivals, jerk chicken.

Rock Steady Rum Lounge, Gipsy Hill, SE19 1PL

 

K is for Kazakhstan & Kyrgyzstan

Pasha Restaurant, Camberwell

Meaty, doughy cuisine with a particular love for greasy rice dishes. The quiet restaurant attached to Pasha Hotel offers a double K bonanza with both Central Asian neighbours Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan represented by pretty much the same dishes. What’s particularly nice is the option to dine sat on the floor as is common in Central Asia. Carpets everywhere!

Highlights: Plov – rice dish cooked with lamb, spices & vegetables; borsok – fried pastries

Pasha Restaurant, Camberwell, SE5 0EE

 

L is for Lithuania

Smilte Restaurant, Leyton

Typical Eastern European stodge perfect for absorbing vodka shots. A merry Lithuanian private party happening while we dined added to the atmosphere, but weddings or not you’ll definitely feel like you’re in Lithuania.

Highlights: Potatoes of every kind and shape, such as the potato pancakes with soured cream.

Smilte Restaurant, Leyton, E10 6AJ

Alternative “L:” Cuisines: If potato paradise isn’t your thing, how about Laos? The Southeast Asian cuisine is definitely more generous on flavours and there’s an excellent small Laotion place in Covent Garden called Lao Cafe.

M is for Malaysia

Roti King, Euston

Roti King Malaysian Restaurant Euston

Malaysian cuisine is a beautiful marriage of Malay, Indian and Chinese, making it one of the world’s most illustrous yet lesser-known cuisines. Roti King is a popular basement haunt that don’t take reservations so you may well need to queue (arrive early!). I personally despise queuing while hungry, but in the case of Roti King it’s not just a trendy place – it’s definitely worth it!

hidden gem travel destinations

Highlights: Roti canai; nasi lemak (a Malaysian classic).

Roti King, Euston, NW1 1LH

N is for Netherlands

My Old Dutch, Holborn

My Old Dutch Pancake London Dutch Restaurant

Straightforward, cheesy, heavy and filling. As Dutch food tends to be. Nice establishment representing what is an otherwise bland cuisine.

If you have space, there is always a tempting option to share one of the sweet pancakes for dessert.

My Old Dutch Shoes Holborn

Highlights: Crispy bacon & spinach crepe

My Old Dutch, Holborn, WC1V 6PS

Alternative “N” Cuisines: If you don’t feel excited by Dutch food, I completely understand. How about Nepalese, a far spicier alternative? Try Gurkha’s in Balham and you won’t be disappointed.

O is for Österreich*

Kipferl Cafe & Kitchen, Angel

* No real restaurants from Oman, the only legit “O” country – Österreich being the local German name for Austria.

Austrians are desert specialists, including the famous apfelstrudel – the apple pastry. And Kipferl is no exception, serving up an impressive range of sweet-tooth pleasers. But there are plenty of interesting savoury options in this Alpine improvement on German food, including dumplings and sausages of every variety. And of course the famous Wiener Schnitzel. Also works as a good brunch option.

Highlights: Apfelstrudel – what else! Well, Wiener Schintzel too.

Kipferl Cafe & Kitchen, Angel, N1 8ED

P is for Poland

Autograf Restaurant, Wood Green

Autograf Polish Restaurant Dumplings & Buckwheat Stroganoff

Classic Eastern European heavy comfort food – dumplings (pierogi), stews, pickled things. Filling and at excellent value. For something different, try the healthy grain popular in Poland – buckwheat – as your garnish.

Highlights: Pierogi – Polish dumplings with meat; cottage goulash with buckwheat

Autograf Restaurant, Wood Green, N15 3DA

Alternative “P” Cuisines: Peruvian cuisine is one of the world’s finest. actually thinking back, not sure why I went with Poland over Peru. Either way, Tierra Peru in Angel is a great option that isn’t pretentious or overpriced.

Q is for Quebec

Maple Leaf, Covent Garden

Maple Leaf Restaurant London

* No countries beginning with Q either.

Perfect hangover food from Canada’s French bit. Basically variations of dirty fries named something that sounds like the Russian dictator. Doubles up as a nice, lively bar in the heart of London.

Maple Leaf Poutine London Canadian Restaurant

Highlights: Classic poutine – chips covered with gravy and squeaky cheese curds.

Maple Leaf, Covent Garden, WC2E 7LJ

R is for Romania

Restaurant Noroc, Palmers Green

Noroc Romanian Restaurant London

Another great discovery – a delicious mix of Hungarian, Germanic and Ottoman influences. Romanian cuisine is hearty and underrated. Polenta is a popular side dish that I recommend with your meats, and the soups are outstandingly flavoursome.

Highlights: Tochitura Moldoveneasca – Spiced sausages with polenta, white cheese and fried eggs; Beans & smoked bacon soup.

Restaurant Noroc, Palmers Green, N13 4SP

Alternative “R” Cuisines: Russian is definitely worth a try. Mari Vanna in Kensington is on the pricey side but the food and decor are both top notch. You even get a stool for your bag. Borscht, pelmeni (dumplings) and the honey cake are some of the highlights.

S is for Sri Lanka

Jaffna House, Tooting

Jaffna House Sri Lankan Restaurant

Buzzing with flavour, an interesting twist on Southern Indian in an unpretentious BYOB restaurant in London’s Sri Lankan hub that is Tooting. Yes you can go to that trendy Sri Lankan place in Central London, but this place just feels more authentic at great prices. 

Highlights: String hopper with seafood, masala dosa

Jaffna House, Tooting

Alternative “S” Cuisines: Bohemia is an interesting Slovak (and Czech) restaurant set in what looks like a stately West Hampstead home. Expect hearty food and great beers.

T is for Taiwan

Old Tree Daiwan Bee, Soho

Old Daiwan Bee Taiwanese Restaurant London

A fascinating cuisine born from Taiwan’s famous street food culture which is much more than the well-known bao. Taiwanese cuisine has strong Chinese roots, but is less greasy than typical Chinese food. As per the Taiwanese norm, I recommend you order several dishes to share. Get staff to recommend if unsure.

Highlights: Oyster noodles, thousand-year egg

Old Tree Daiwan Bee, Soho, W1D 6DH

Alternative “T” Cuisines: Turkey is always a great option. For the biggest cluster of great restaurants, head to Haringey ladders in North London to what is practically Little Turkey.

U is for Uganda

Jambo Restaurant, Seven Sisters

Jambo Ugandan Restaurant London

What a discovery! A real hidden gem and a perfect case of “don’t judge a book by it’s cover”. This place looked closed from the outside, but once we dared enter we were served up an intriguing cuisine by a wonderful friendly owner, at fantastic value. Ugandan cuisine felt like a Asian, Arab and English influences, but with its own unique twist.

Highlights: A whole shallow fried tilapia fish; spinach groundnut stew.

Jambo Restaurant, Seven Sisters, N15 5AA

V is for Venezuela

Arepa & Co, Haggerston

South American vibes with a focus on corn-based fried pastries, plantain and beans.

The hidden gem spot next to the Regent’s Canal towpath is a cosy little venue with friendly staff and more importantly a representative selection of affordable Venezuelan dishes like cachapas, arepas & tequenos. Makes for a great brunch or lunch option as part of a stroll along the canal.

Highlights: Cachapas Pabellon – Venezuelan corn crumpets with shredded beef, plantain, roasted vegetables and white cheese

Arepa & Co, Haggerston, N1 5SB

Alternative “V” Cuisine: Vietnamese is one of Asia’s finest and healthiest cuisines. Kingsland Road in Shoreditch is a Vietnamese enclave lined with mostly authentic joints, with Song Que Cafe one of its mainstays.

W is for Wales

Tom Simmons, Tower Bridge

Tom Simmons Welsh Lamb, London Bridge Restaurant

Probably the most expensive place in this A to Z list, but it was surprisingly hard to find a Welsh restaurant in UK’s capital. Or even a good Welsh rarebit for that matter. Tom Simmons is a modern take on typical British fare, that stood out for the quality of its meats.

Highlights: Fillet of Welsh beef & Welsh spring lamb loin

Tom Simmons, Tower Bridge, SE1 2RA

X is for Xinjiang*

Silk Road, Camberwell

Silk Road Xinjiang Restaurant, Camberwell

* As you probably know, no countries start with X. So I picked the wanna-be-autonomous muslim Uyghur state of Xinjiang in China’s Northwest.

China meets Central Asia in this local Camberwell favourite. Here you can enjoy spice-infused kebabs, thick handmade noodles with incredible texture as well as a great variety of meats (as tends to be the regional Uyghur focus). It’s a popular spot so book ahead.

Highlights: Xinjiang-style hand-pulled noodles with lamb

Silk Road, Camberwell, SE5 8TR

Y is for Yemen

Queen of Sheba, Paddington

Queen of Sheba Yemeni Restaurant, London

Come hungry for classic Middle Eastern food with outstanding, freshly-baked flat breads, huge portions and even shisha pipes if you fancy it. The low-key Yemenite restaurant on a quiet Paddington street boasts an interesting atmosphere and lovely staff.

Highlights: Fish mukhbaza – whole seabass marinated in spices, served with fresh ratab bread

Queen of Sheba, Paddington, W2 1RE

Z is for Zululand, South Africa

Vivat Bacchus, Farringdon

Vivat Bacchus South African Restaurant

OK so admittedly this last one was tough to pick. Neither of the 2 Z countries – Zambia & Zimbabwe – are represented in London (last Zambian venue closed 10 years ago). So I had to get creative. Zulu people are a major ethnic group in South Africa (and especially the country’s KwaZulu-Natal region), so as someone who enjoys a good steak I couldn’t not pick South Africa – also known as Zuid Afrika.

Vivat Bacchus serves up a sophisticated modern international menu with a focus on steak & wine. If you weren’t aware of the South African connection, you might not ever notice it bar the biltong & droewors cured meat appetisers and the Namibian lager on offer. Instead it’s braai, the South African name for barbecue, where the restaurant really shone with some of the finest Cote du Boeuf steaks I’ve had the pleasure of tasting in London.

Highlights: Braai – South African BBQ cote du bouef steak

Vivat Bacchus, Farringdon, EC4A 4LL

2 Comments

  • BalhamFoodie
    Posted September 8, 2023

    What a brilliant idea! You’ve inspired us to do something similar based on your list but with some tweaks like France for F and Nepal for N. Hope these places are still open

  • Kieran
    Posted November 3, 2023

    Kudos! Great idea

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