English seasons are usually pretty indistinct.
Despite public persistence, it is rarely actually shorts weather, and rain refuses to be confined to the colder months (especially in Manchester). But last week a noticeable change occurred in London. The sirens that wake me up every morning were drowned out by a flurry of birds tweeting, and the need for a UNIQLO jacket under my coat (as is the trademark of every Londoner) suddenly subsided. The short half hour walk to university didn’t leave me in need of a Berocca or a foil blanket and, as I walked along having a throwback moment to Corinne Bailey Rae, the glass skyscrapers felt less imposing and more uplifting. Basically, spring sprung.
The sense of renewal that accompanies springtime breathed new life into the city, but this is something that the food industry does all year round. A slew of new restaurants have been popping up across the city in the last month or so. A student budget has never been enough to keep me away from good food so here’s a quick round up of the ones I’ve managed to visit thus far.
On the cusp of Camden Town, just before you reach the no-man’s land of Mornington Crescent, is Chai Thali. If it was situated just five minutes west of the yuppie-haven in which it resides, it would be smack bang in the middle of Camden High Street, and much better for it. A restaurant of this size (spacious), price (mid-range) and décor (explosive Indian colours by way of Shoreditch) would do well with the legions of tourists and locals that tread the high street every day looking for a place to rest their bums and fill their mouths. That said, I visited the new Corn Exchange in Manchester last time I was home and it wouldn’t be out of place there either.
The food is good without detracting from the ambience and if you opt for cocktails, the family-friendly atmosphere could easily tip over into work-do territory. While some elements are overly anglicised – the authenticity of chilli mayo with breaded prawns is questionable – this menu is bursting with crowd-pleasers. Street food favourite Paapdi Chaat makes a good opening act while the Maharaja Prawns are undoubtedly the crown jewels. If you’re in the mood for a dark horse of a dish, try the Maa Ki Daal. I would happily have taken this rich lentil curry home in a doggie bag (and was very tempted to ask).
Another yuppie-favourite-to-be is ‘SMITHS’ of Smithfield which recently opened its doors to the City by way of a new Cannon Street location. I can’t say it’s a path I’ve often trodden, but if I worked in the area I would probably be better acquainted with ‘SMITHS’. I visited last week for a butchery masterclass with two of their chefs and have been dreaming about steak ever since. A top tip from the chef: fillet is over-rated and rump has far more flavour. The ultimate luxury is côte de boeuf and if it isn’t ‘SMITHS’, make it Hawksmoor.
If you find yourself on the complete opposite end of town, take a trip to Broadway Market where you’ll find smaller steak joint Bordelaise nestled between a hair salon and a vegetable stall. The menu may be as limited as the seating, but it definitely packs a punch. I’d recommend the rib-eye over the flat iron, and the Béarnaise sauce over the Bordelaise. My main tip? Don’t scrimp on the sides. Truffle mac-n-cheese will always be a winner in my books, but add in beef dripping French fries and creamed spinach and you’ve really won me over. This is a no-frills bistro with a paint-by-numbers French décor, but wouldn’t be a bad setting for a first date and would certainly make a nice quick-fix local.
I’m back in Manchester over Easter for a healthy dose of home cooking, but I’m sure I’ll discover some new restaurants as well. London may have a booming food scene, but the North can give it a run for its money any day. If you have any recommendations, get in touch. You can tweet me @BellaLouiseWebb
By Isabel Webb
Chips ’n’ Gravy is Isabel Webb’s blog for Northern Soul. It charts her attempts to navigate student life in London and wear her Northern roots proudly on her sleeve.