Chow down capital

READERS regularly ask for suggestions about the best restaurants in London. To start, arm yourself with a Zagat’s Guide.

On a recent trip there, I visited several of my favourite haunts and tried out a couple of new spots. The Eagle in Farringdon, often referred to as London’s original gastropub, is a must. I love the easy atmosphere: mismatched furniture and crockery and my favourite food - bean stews, juicy pork sausages and lentils, and comforting soups. Also, this time I was delighted to find a past Ballymaloe Cookery School student, Ed Nassau Lake, in the kitchen.

Moro at Exmouth Market serves an eclectic mix of eastern Mediterranean, Spanish and Moroccan food. We loved the butifarra with braised kale and chiccarones (pork crackling) and the fish kibbeh with cabbage and caraway salad and tahina sauce with mint. One of the special joys of eating in Moro is the flavour of the food from the wood-burning oven: wood roasted chicken with nut and okra pilaf with pomegranate and cucumber salad was memorable, as was the lamb with white bean purée and braised artichokes.

Serious food lovers shouldn’t miss the Borough Market on Saturday morning, but you’ll need to get there early - by 11am, it’s thronged. Try to get a chorizo and rocket panini with roasted piquillo pepper from the Brindisa stall. Otherwise, pop over to the Monmouth Coffee Shop in Monmouth Street for delicious coffee, bread and jam for breakfast. Next door is Konditor and Cook - check out their cakes.

Just round the corner is Neal’s Yard Dairy, Randolf Hodgson’s legendary shop. Here’s the spot for the very best British and Irish cheeses. If you still feel peckish, try the tapas at Tapas Brindisa at the entrance to the Borough Market on Southwark Street. It’s worth going to London just to taste the grilled monte enebro on toast, drizzled with chestnut honey.

Anchor and Hope on the Cut near Waterloo Station is probably one of the most talked about gastropub in London - dark and moody, timber floor, low tables, elbow-rest tables around the poles, dark wine (or was it seedy purple?) walls, a long counter and lots of blackboards. They don’t take bookings and it was very busy at 5.30pm with regulars waiting to bag a table as soon as the restaurant opened at 6pm. The Jerusalem artichoke soup was great, as was the simple buffalo mozzarella, rocket and anchovy salad. The bubbling cassoulet was one of the best I’ve tasted and had all kinds of treasures apart from good pork sausages, duck and lamb. We also had delicious roast pigeon, on a ham and chicory gratin, and lamb on a bed of butter beans.

The Anchor and Hope has very good food but be prepared to wait, unless you go early.

The Basil Street Hotel in Knightsbridge, tucked in behind Harrods, is a well kept secret, an old-fashioned haven of tranquillity- close to one my favourite breakfast spots, Baker and Spice in Walton Street. This café cum gorgeous food shop, has one communal table where regulars know to come early to feast on Yail Mejia’s bread, pastries, granolas, fruit compotes and pancakes. A huge slab of l’Escure butter sits on a large plate beside the homemade jams and marmalades. The day we visited there was guava, mango and passion fruit, cranberry and redcurrant, dark marmalade, strawberry and cranberry.

If you don’t manage to drag yourself out of bed for breakfast or brunch, there is no shortage of salads, quiches, strudel, roast vegetables, desserts and pastries for lunch.

Just one thing - it’s quite difficult to find because it’s still called the Schuckburgh Arms, the name of the former pub, but you can get a glimpse of the goodies through the etched glass windows.

For lunch on the Sunday we opted for a restaurant some friends had just discovered - the INdian restaurant Amaya in the Halkin Arcade off Motcomb St, the sister restaurant of Chutney Mary on the Kings Road.

Forget everything you ever knew about Indian restaurants. This is a new concept - low open kitchen with a barbecue, hot griddle, three tandoor ovens and a battery of cool chefs dressed in black. The restaurant offers a series of little dishes the chefs prepare to order. The decor is contemporary, with still-life displays of vegetables in see-through fridges. Scallops on a bed of crushed ice on a sloping perspex tray behind the chefs added to the look and were decorative and functional.

Foodies can choose a table close to the action and watch the chefs hand-patting naan and cooking long skewers of spiced meat and shellfish in the tandoor ovens.

We chose the tasting menu with at least a dozen courses - the portions were tiny and deliciously spiced.

The pièce de resistance of the meal was a lamb biryani, covered in a pastry crust to seal in the spicy aromas of lamb and saffron rice. Even though it was really delicious, we were defeated so our waitress packed it up, together with the pomegranate raita and naan - it reheated brilliantly.

The strawberry sorbet with sea salt was okay, but the lychee sorbet, lemon grass jelly and plum chutney certainly didn’t thrill. Nonetheless this restaurant is worth trying.

Finally, Roka in Charlotte St has everyone talking and Ed Nassau Lake tells me the Afghan Kitchen at 35 Islington Green is doing great food at very appealing prices.

London Eateries

Eagle Gastro Pub, Farringdon Road, London EC1, Tel: 0207 837 1353

Moro, 34-36 Exmouth Market, EC1, Tel: 0 207 833 8336

Borough Market, Borough Wholesale Market, under the railway arches next to Southwark Cathedral - Tube - London Bridge.

Monmouth Coffee Shop, 27 Monmouth Street, WC2, Tel: 0 207 836 5272

Konditor and Cook - 10 Stoney St, London SE1 9AD, Tel: 0207 407 5100

Neal’s Yard Dairy - 17 Short’s Gardens, WC2, Tel: 0 207 379 7646

Anchor & Hope, 36 The Cut, London SE1 8LP, Tel: 0207 928 9898

The Basil Street Hotel, Knightsbridge, London SW3 1AH. Tel: 0207 581 3311; Fax: 0207 581 3693 info@thebasil.com; www.thebasil.com

Baker & Spice, 46 Walton St, SW3. Tel: 0207 589 4734

Tapas Brindisa, 18-20 Southwark St. Borough Market, SE1 1TJ, Tel: 0207 7357 8880

Amaya, Halkin Arcade, Motcomb Street, SW1X 8JT, Tel: 0207 823 1166.

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