The best food in Korea

By Ben Preston, co-founder of ViaHero.com

Korean food has always been one of my favourite types of food, albeit one I barely understood. Then, a short while ago, I had the chance to travel to Seoul for a close friend’s wedding. During that trip, I was able to get a week-long crash course in Korean food from my friends (who also happen to be local foodies and overall great guys). Here are some of my favourites:

5 – Kimchi Dumplings

Namdaemun Market is a sprawling street market in Seoul selling second-hand goods, clothing, and most importantly, tasty food. While some of the sit-down options here seemed a bit too tourist focused (I would avoid a place called ‘Noodle Alley’ at all costs!), the gems of Namdaemun are on the street. Using my general rule of eat-where-lots-of-locals-eat, I stumbled across a small stand selling freshly steamed kimchi dumplings. Warm and inviting, this was the best street food that I ate and was perfect on a cold day.

kimchi-dumplings
Kimchi dumplings

4 – Banchan

Banchan are the nearly endless variety of tasty small plates of food that come with almost every meal. Kimchi was almost always present (yum!) which always added a spicy and complex complement to any meal. My favourite thing about banchan is that they are served right when you arrive to eat and refills are endless. I am pretty sure I could live in Korea for five years and still not sample every type of Banchan.

bonchon
Banchan

  

3 – Kimbap

I’ve always associated maki (rice and fillings, wrapped in seaweed and then sliced) to be a classic Japanese dish. Then I came to Korea, and found out about Kimbap: the Korean cousin of maki filled with uniquely local ingredients like kimchi, daikon radish, and pork. Kimbap is cheap, filling, available everywhere, and super tasty. Pork sushi?  Yes please.

  

kimbap
Kimbap

4 – ChiMac

Now we are getting to the big leagues. ChiMac, derived from the Korean words for Chicken and Beer, is a Seoul classic. One of the coolest parts of eating ChiMac in Korea was trying the different styles. The first place I tried was in the super trendy Gangam district and was filled with young business people out from work and what looked like lots of first dates. The chicken was perfectly crispy and crunchy, topped with herbs and sauce, and served with a crisp ice cold beer.

But my favourite of numerous ChiMacs was actually from an old-school ChiMac joint that I could best describe as a Korean pub. Definitely not a place known for the ambiance but loved for the chicken, the ChiMac came both plain and in a sweet-spicy sauce. The meat was tender, so juicy and flavourful, and the coating was crispy and unlike any fried chicken I have ever had. It was simply amazing. This was one of the dishes that I would travel back to Korea just to eat again.

chimak
ChiMac

1 – Korean BBQ

Choosing between ChiMac and Korean BBQ was nearly impossible – both were so different and amazing in their own way. However, the sheer diversity of Korean BBQ in Seoul put BBQ on top.

We started with some classic beef BBQ: self-cooked tasty morsels wrapped in lettuce and loaded with garlic, kimchi, and Ssamjang sauce, yum! 

Then we moved on to what is surely one of my favourite meals ever: Pork-centric Korean BBQ. Slabs of every kind and cut of pork cooked by a pro right at our table. The best was the sliver of pork belly, super tender and flavourful, wrapped up in a lettuce leaf. Another must-try food here was a variation on Kimchi I had never seen before: cooked below the pork on a slanted grill, pork juice flowed down and cooked the kimchi. This pork-juice-cooked-Kimchi was oddly reminiscent of Polish stuffed cabbage, and was one of the most unique I ate on the entire trip.

korean-pork-bbq-1
Korean Barbecue

But perhaps the meal that put Korean BBQ over the edge for me was a fusion of Korean + Mexican food that was unexpected and amazing. The chicken was marinated in a blend of Korean and Mexican spices, and then grilled at the table along with tortillas. Instead of classic lettuce wraps, we assembled little packets of grilled chicken, Korean Nacho cheese, mint leaves, and onions for perfect bitesized pieces of happiness.  The restaurant even served a boiling plate of cheese with tortillas chips inside – what I can only describe as Korean Nachos.   

The food in Korea was diverse and incredible. My only advice would be to try to find a local to take you around, or make friends quickly, to get the true Seoul experience.

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Bodean’s and the hipsterisation of Muswell Hill

Muswell Hill, at least the Muswell Hill I’ve known since the mid-1990s, has always been a typical middle-class London neighbourhood. Parents were lawyers, journalists and teachers, did yoga and pilates, bought muddy vegetables, and read the Guardian. It was a relatively idyllic place to grow up, with four or five parks within walking distance and safety to play on the streets.

The Broadway feels much like a traditional English village centre, enhanced by its lack of tube station. More importantly, it houses several long-established, independent shops, such as W. Martyn, a quaint coffee and tea specialist opened in 1897, or Broadway Pet Stores, whose friendly staff have remained unchanged over the past two decades. These independent outlets make the area feel more like a community than many London neighbourhoods.

Food-wise, however, Muswell Hill has lagged behind its more ethnically-diverse neighbouring areas, particularly Crouch End, Stroud Green and Hornsey. As a boy, it was always exciting venturing south and east with my parents, to authentic Turkish food in Green Lanes, to trendier outposts in Crouch End, or to the ethnic melange of Stroud Green.

Not that there wasn’t anything good in Muswell Hill. La Porchetta, which proudly proclaims its independence from London’s other Porchettas, was a childhood staple; Kilim offered reliable Turkish fare; Toff’s was always proudly, if somewhat dubiously, affirmed as one of Britain’s best fish and chips shops; and Ask and Pizza Express were always there, for those times when your parents wanted pizza but found the superior La Porchetta too noisy. In short, there was always good food, it was just simpler, less adventurous, and somehow felt less authentic than in other areas.

In the past couple of years, however, the hipsterisation of London’s food culture (street food, small plates, cheap, better-quality fast food, and ‘artisanal’ produce), has belatedly ensconced itself into Muswell Hill’s leafy streets. The pioneers, bizarrely, were characterless chains like Carluccio’s and Côte, corporate behemoths serving blandly generic Italian and French fare. Fortunately, they blazed the trail, putting the area on the map for some more interesting restaurants, delis and cafés to emerge.

In July 2014, Alexandra Palace hosted its first street food and craft beer festival. The fair brings together some of London’s finest food trucks, craft beer stalls and alternative bands. This welcome addition to the local scene arrived late (Street Feast first opened its doors to hungry East London hipsters in 2012), but better late than never.

Bodean’s opened it’s newest branch in Muswell Hill in late 2016. In 2002 Bodean’s was a trailblazer, bringing the now-ubiquitous concept of American-style ribs, wings, and pulled pork to Londoners. As ever, we Muswell Hillbillies got our share late, long after Soho and East London were crawling with American diners, some good, some terrible. While not perfect, Bodean’s is a welcome, and self-consciously hipper, upgrade on Giraffe.

The Broadway’s culinary range has diversified, and to a large extent improved, in the past two years. The extortion of Planet Organic notwithstanding, Muswell Hill has received the once-cool but still-good Franco Manca, a trendy salt-beef selling café (salt beef is always a good thing), and even purveyors of fine sourdough bread and Monmouth coffee at Flesh & Flour. There will always be a place in my heart for traditional cafés like Feast on the Hill, but I am thankful for the superior coffee at Flesh & Flour, and obviously for their artisanal lard.

The belated hipsterisation of Muswell Hill’s food scene, the term in itself an oxymoron, is not completely benign. The snootiness of Muddy Boots, a new deli that looks down on those unable to afford organic meat, is uncalled for. A recent sign outside the shop stated that “most people are totally happy to buy their meat from supermarkets. For everyone else, we’re here”; most people would buy their chops if they could afford them.

Furthermore, trendier stores and eateries threaten the existence of many of the area’s long-established and popular locations. The fishmonger Walter Purkis & Sons came to the area in 1987, and still commands lengthy queues every Saturday morning. The recent imposition of a more modern fishmonger on Colney Hatch Lane may threaten their existence. Sable D’or has recently closed for refurbishment. The café is certainly modernising to compete with the influx of coffee sellers.

Until recently, Muswell Hill was, if not quite a gastronomic Siberia, somewhat limited food-wise. Recent years have seen vast improvements, and providing that traditional outlets are not pushed out, that can only be a good thing.

L’Antica Pizzeria da Michele brings traditional Neapolitan pizzas to Stoke Newington

In Eat Pray Love, Julia Roberts’ character famously falls in love. Though a man was the object of one of her desires, the film’s best love story involves Roberts and a pizza. Not just any pizza. At L’Antica Pizzeria da Michele, one of Naples’ oldest and best-loved institutions, Robert declared she was “having a relationship” with her Margherita. Not quite “I’ll have what she’s having”, but a memorable scene nonetheless.

In 1870 da Michele began producing pizzas for hungry Neapolitans. 147 years later, they have brought their world-famous pies to London. Unparalleled hype means da Michele has had no problem attracting customers to its first London outpost, situated in the hippest of locations on Stoke Newington Church Street. On my first visit, a week after opening, it took two hours to finally get a table, though we were free to wander and wait for the restaurant to call. The clientele was mostly Italian, always a good sign.

The restaurant is small and unpretentious despite its trendy surroundings. The hustle and bustle of 40-50 hungry foodies waiting for a table or a takeaway makes for a challenging environment, but the staff calmly dealt with it. The menu is short, a big Italian middle finger to unnecessary ostentation; there’s no venison or kale here. There are only two options: the classic Margherita, and a Marinara (tomato, garlic and oregano), and the drinks menu is equally concise. The customer next to us was denied chilli oil. This is my kind of place.

The pizza arrived promptly, and my god was it worth the wait. Da Michele have flown in Neapolitan experts, and have even adapted their dough recipe to suit the British climate. Meticulous attention to detail is crucial for such a simple dish, and da Michele pulls it off as well as anywhere in London.

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“Jesus, those are huge!” was my first impression as the waiter brought our giant Margheritas (£7.90). The dough was beautifully chewy, light, and bubbly, with charred spots providing the characteristic Neapolitan look, taste and texture. Mozzarella was sparsely dispersed, allowing the real party piece, the sweet, fresh tomato sauce, to shine. It is brave to strip down to the basics, especially to Londoners used to artisanal meats and heirloom vegetables atop their pizza, though da Michele will offer a rotating specials menu. But when the basics are this good, there is no need for more.

L’Antica Pizzeria da Michele is not a trail blazer in the London pizza scene. Since 2008, when Franco Manca first opened its doors, Neapolitan pizzas have become overwhelmingly popular, and several establishments across London serve excellent versions. What the doyens of da Michele have done, however, is to bring the original, humble pizza back to its simplest form.

And finally, a message to Julia: you may have entered a relationship with your pizza, but, sorry to break the news, your pizza has moved on, finding a new lover in London. As soon as the crowds die down, I’ll be back.

The best meals of 2016

The following article features five food experts and their favourite meals of 2016.


Tomé Morrissy-Swan, author of Appetite for Consumption food blog

2016 has been a pretty shitty year. Tragic terrorist attacks and plane crashes, political upheaval across the world, and a spate of celebrity deaths, from beloved musicians and actors to Johan Cruyff, one of the best footballers of all time, have continually shocked us. On a more mundane level, Cristiano Ronaldo winning the Champions League, the Euros and the Ballon D’or is particularly grating.

Thankfully, the culinary world has provided a much-needed tonic to the overbearing doom and gloom. When everything around us seems to be pointing to the end of the world as we know it, food continues to remind us of the more comforting things in life: home, family, travelling and the fact that we have more in common with each other than what separates us (hummus and falafel, after all, are equally as Israeli as they are Palestinian).

This year, I’ve been lucky enough to visit several gastronomically iconic places; indeed, I was so inspired by the cuisines of such far-reaching places as Israel, San Sebastian and Vietnam that I began to write about food.

In a year in which I was to sample such a vast array of superb and authentic dishes, it was almost impossible to choose a single highlight. In December 2015, I was blown away by shakshouka and hummus in Tel Aviv; in May, the pintxos of San Sebastian were a pleasant surprise, especially when washed down with the cheap and excellent local wine; staying with a local family in Lazio, central Italy, was a delightful introduction to the famous Italian homegrown and home-cooked food culture; in Vietnam, I ate arguably the best sandwich of my life; and green curries in Bangkok and Chiang Mai elevated the dish to favourite-curry status.

Choosing a single favourite, therefore, was an arduous task. Awards, for me, are always slightly dubious, based solely on subjectivity, particularly for anything artistic. How can a certain film be better than another in a completely different genre? How do you ascertain whether a hip hop album  is better than a rock one? Equally, how do you decide whether pho in Vietnam is better or worse than sushi in São Paulo?

My favourite meal, therefore, is one that gave me the most pleasure, changed my views on that particular dish, and partly influenced me to write about food. In August, I spent a day in Naples, southern Italy’s largest city, a baking, chaotic, vibrant place. I fell in love with the town, and that was before I tried the famous Neapolitan pizza. As we arrived at our chosen pizzeria, it was sadly closed. Luckily, a few doors down was Al 22, a traditional, no-frills pizzeria established in 1935. Less than five minutes after ordering, two piping hot pizzas, a Margherita and a Margherita with Salami, arrived. After our first bites, my mother and I stopped, looked at each other, and had to pause to reflect, it was that good. I was so inspired, my love for pizza reignited, that I subsequently began a quest to find the best pizza in London. Simple, cheap food, when made properly, beats any smart, modernist fare. The Neapolitan pizza, at €5, was the best meal I had in 2016.


Ben Preston, of blog.ZenEuro.com, a website specialising in travel and food

Picking my favourite food from this year is hard, mostly because I had the chance to do quite a bit of travelling and try lots of unique cuisines from different places. Some of my favourites would definitely be the pizza from Bonci Pizzarium in Rome, the churros from El Moro in Mexico City, and the tapas from Quimet & Quimet in Barcelona. But, if I could only pick one thing that stood above the rest, I think it would be the classic Greek food at Thanasis in Athens.

Thanasis is in the centre of Athens along a street of restaurants, and is known by tourists and locals alike for having some of the best Greek food in the country. For me, having been raised on souvlaki and tzatziki from Greek immigrants, getting to experience the foods from their origin was an other-wordly experience.

The simplicity of the food really amazed me: The tzatziki, creamy and fresh, drizzled with olive oil, and served with grilled pita dusted with paprika, was just perfect. The lamb souvlaki, succulent, juicy, and served with ripe Greek tomatoes and red onion, was everything I ever wanted a souvlaki to be. I would without question travel to Athens, and Thanasis, again just for the food.

Blog.ZenEuro.com

ZenEuro.com


Lucy Treganna, traveller and food lover

A strong contender for the best food I ate this year is at Pizza 4P’s, an Italian-Japanese fusion restaurant in Hanoi founded by Tokyo-born Yosuke Masuko. Although living in Hanoi meant I was able to enjoy some incredible Vietnamese cuisine, the craving to ‘go for a Western’ did sometimes set in, and on the two occasions I ventured to Pizza 4P’s it far from disappointed.

Thanks to the ‘half & half’ option they have available for most pizzas, between us my friends and I were able to sample a range of toppings: garlic soy beef, okonomiyaki and salmon sashimi being among the creative Asian twists which impressed. There are also more traditional Neapolitan-style pizzas on offer; on my first visited I opted for a classic margherita and a three-cheese option combining mozzarella, parmesan and camembert on a béchamel base, which was served with a side of honey to drizzle over and complemented the flavours surprisingly well. It was the perfect choice for someone as cheese obsessed as I am, especially as Pizza 4P’s uses its own homemade artisan cheeses produced in the Vietnamese highlands of Da Lat.

On my second visit I selected the anchovy burrata, and the ham, camembert and mozzarella served on a garlic mushroom sauce base. Not just the best pizza I’ve eaten in Asia, but amongst the best I’ve had in my life!


Nicholas Hsien, food blogger, http://www.rockabitebaby.com

Frog legs as a famous culinary delicacy may be one of the few things the French and Chinese have in common, aside from perhaps both governments’ attitude towards the United States. Having eaten frog legs in their Chinese incarnations – usually stir fried or stewed with ginger and spring onion, or cooked together with rice congee – my gastronomical highlight of 2016 was the French take on frog legs, or cuisses de grenouille.

I tried this dish on a recent trip to Lyon, France. The frog legs were lightly battered, and pan fried over a skillet containing butter, garlic and some herbs (including a generous dose of parsley). Et voila! That’s pretty much it, simple as it may sound. The frog legs were supple and juicy – and for anyone undecided about trying, the meat’s texture is like that of a perfectly done quail without any trace of gaminess and evidence of animal fat beneath the skin. Even my dining partner who had never eaten frog legs previously was pleasantly surprised when tasting it. Soaked in garlic butter with fresh parsley, and lightly salted, it was not too heavy or saturating despite the richness experienced in one’s first bite, and goes well with either wine or beer. C’est parfait!

Josh Dell, journalist and co-creator of Fried Culture, a documentary focusing on London’s fried chicken scene, to be released in February 2017.

The best food I’ve had this year was the truffle polenta at Machneyehuda in Jerusalem, widely considered to be the best restaurant in Israel. Nothing makes me smile more when eating out than the phrase “we’re going to need another” the second you have your first mouthful of a dish.

The polenta was one of those dishes. Creamy and gorgeous, the tastes that emerged with every bite have stuck with me throughout the year. Want to try it in London? Look no further than Machneyehuda’s sister restaurant (or at least some kind of sibling), The Palomar on Rupert Street, W1. Almost exactly the same dish is served there, and from experience I can tell you it does not disappoint in the slightest.

Mexico City

The best food near the Angel of Independence, Mexico City

By Ben Preston

The Angel of Independence is the symbol of Mexico City, and the country as a whole. It’s a must visit while traveling in Mexico, and it’s likely you will end up near it, hungry and tired, at some point while traveling here. Luckily, there is some great, authentic Mexican food just a couple of blocks away, if you know where to look.

Tacos El Caminero

Less than a five-minute walk from the Angel lies Tacos El Caminero. This is a classic no frills Taqueria. Don’t expect attentive service, workers who speak English, or a charming ambience. Do expect a simple meal of flavorful, authentic tacos, spicy salsas, and thirst-quenching local cervezas.

El Caminero has a mix and match menu. Fill your taco with choices like chicken, pork and beef and top them with cheese, bacon, onions, or chorizo. My personal favorite here is the Mexico City classic Al Pastor taco with cheese. The Al Pastor meat is local pork spit roasted like shwarma, making it both succulent and crispy. The Taqueria is also known for its Rib Alambre, a fry up of steak, peppers, onions, and cheese which becomes the filling for make-your-own tacos. Alambre, a local specialty, inspired the spread of fajitas in the southwestern United States, and is a must try.

tacos-el-caminero
Tacos El Caminero

 

Salón Ríos

Salón Ríos is hard not to love. Excellent tacos, appetizers, Mexican craft beer, cocktails, attentive service, and a clean, hip atmosphere. Go here if you are looking for a slightly more upscale experience than a typical Taqueria. Start with a classic appetizer of guacamole, which is hand ground with a mortar and pestle and served with crunchy Chicharrón (Mexico’s version of Pork Scratchings) as well as fresh, warm blue corn tortillas. For your entrée, you can’t beat the Fried Fish (Pescado Frito) Taco, which is served on a warm blue corn tortilla with creamy chipotle sauce, guacamole, and crunch cabbage. I’ve heard the desserts are great too, but I’ve never saved enough room to try!

salon-rios
Salon Rios

 

Cafebrería El Péndulo

Cafebrería El Péndulo is a confusing as it is delightful. It’s a restaurant and a bookstore with a bar on the second floor. The clientele is a mix of business people, tourists, and freelancers using the area as a co-working space. Cafebrería El Péndulo has an outside patio perfect for a long, peaceful lunch away from the hustle of Mexico City. The menu is extensive and varies between cultures, but I recommend sticking with the Mexican fare.  It’s comforting, flavorful, and authentic. If you can’t decide what to get, the dish of “Typical Mexican Food” has quesadillas, tlacoyos (oval-shaped fried cakes made of a Mexican corn-meal known as masa), and tostadas (fried corn tortillas topped with meat, sour cream, avocado and cheese). Pair it with a Michelada (local beer with lime juice, and assorted sauces, spices, and peppers) and enjoy a perfect, leisurely afternoon.

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Cafebrería El Péndulo
michelada
Michelada

 

The Perfect Ending

The combination of sightseeing and eating big meals generally makes one pretty tired. Fight those post-meal Z’s with a cup of Mexican coffee and hot chocolate from Tierra & Garat. The combination of the bitterness of the Mexican coffee and the sweetness of the local chocolate will make it your new favorite drink.

Find Ben Preston, of ZenEuroTravel, at:

blog.zeneuro.com

zeneuro.com

Facebook.com/ZenEuroTravel

BenPreston.me

The Five Best Pizzas in London

Anyone who’s read this blog will know how much I love pizza. When made well, it is quite simply the mother of all dishes. Anything that can taste so good with just flour, tomato and cheese as its base ingredients deserves special recognition. The pizza proves that simplicity is key to a good dish; less is indeed more.

My love for pizza was reignited by a recent trip to Naples, where an authentic Neapolitan pizza will rarely cost more than €5. Thus my quest began to find the best pizzas in London, with only two important categories in mind. I wanted to concentrate on Neapolitan pizzas, with their chewy base, thick crust and simple, top-quality ingredients. A happy side effect of my Neapolitan adventure was that, while never quite as good as in Naples, there are a plethora of joints serving very good Neapolitan-style pizza.

The ideal pizzeria has few options on the menu, concentrating on sourcing the finest toppings rather than gimmicky ingredients (disclaimer: I love a good ham and pineapple, but anywhere willing to feature this in there restaurant is immediately disqualified, there is no place for pineapple on a Neapolitan pizza). Pizza should also be cheap, so nothing over £10 was considered, though a margherita shouldn’t cost more than £7.50.

The following is not an exhaustive list; I haven’t been to every pizzeria in London. I have, however, been to many, and these five, in no particular order, plus one because I couldn’t decide which to demote, are currently my favourites.

Sacro Cuore

At £7.50, a margherita at Sacro Cuore is (slightly) above average price, but well worth the extra pennies. Originally opened in 2012 in Kensal Rise, the owners recently expanded to trendy Crouch End. Thankfully, the new branch has maintained high standards. The restaurant’s website sets out its stall as a serious pizzeria, “for us it is all about the pizza!”, and they certainly mean it: aside from a few starters and salads, there are no alternative mains tarnishing the menu. Sacro Cuore is for pizza and pizza alone. On a cold Wednesday afternoon, I was the only customer, and within a couple of minutes of my order, a piping hot, beautiful pizza arrived on my plate. The base was up there with the best, light and chewy, filled with air bubbles. In addition to the normal margherita ingredients, parmesan added welcome saltiness, and the chef was generous with his basil. There’s nothing worse than a pizza with two measly basil leaves. A minor negative was the tinny flavour of the tomato sauce. Overall, however, Sacro Cuore thoroughly deserves its status as one of London’s foremost pizzas. 

Cost of Margherita: £7.50

Where: Kensal Rise, Crouch End

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Solid basil distribution

Princi

In some ways, Soho’s Princi is a victim of its own success. A visit to the Italian patisserie, bakery and pizzeria often requires a long wait to be seated, thanks to the no bookings policy and the quality of food on offer. On one half of the restaurant is the more informal patisserie and bakery section, where customers can purchase pastries, salads and meals at the bar and find a seat. The other half houses the pizzeria, and one can expect to wait up to an hour for a table. Be patient, the pizza is worth waiting for. Princi was introduced to London in 2008, a branch of a renowned Milanese bakery, and swiftly became one of the most popular Italian restaurants in London. In a huge wood-fired oven, the pizzaiolos produce some of the finest pizzas in London, with thick, chewy crusts and the finest toppings. Some of the more interesting options include Bresaola, rocket and parmesan, and beef ragu, olive and radicchio. Princi is slightly smarter than the other places on this list, a dinner date location rather than the place for a quick snack (unless, of course, you choose to eat from the bar on the informal half). On a recent visit, the margherita, at £5.50, was a bargain, though the website still lists it as £7.50. Most other pizzas hover around the slightly overpriced £10 mark. Nevertheless, it is an authentic and smart pizzeria right in the heart of London.

Cost of Margherita: £5.50/7.50.

Where: Soho

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Minimal basil, but a great pizza nonetheless

Franco Manca

Opened by Giuseppe Mascoli in Brixton in 2008, Franco Manca has become one of the largest pizza chains in the Southeast, with 28 branches and counting. Franco Manca has gone from  small, local pizzeria to pizza monolith, losing points for coolness along the way (opening in both Westfields and owned by a corporation that also possesses Gourmet Burger Kitchen, Real Greek and, heavens forbid, Pizza Express). Yet its service to mankind, at least in London, should not be underestimated. The chain’s expertly crafted sourdough pizzas, still available at unbeatable prices, have almost single-handedly popularised the Neapolitan pizza, superior to every other version of the Italian dish. While other restaurants have started to produce equally delectable pies, Franco Manca still wins for toppings, sourcing from the best local and Italian producers. The ‘No 4’, featuring Gloucester Old Spot Ham and Buffalo Ricotta, is not to be missed. Pleasingly, there are never more than five or six options, though the staff are always happy to accommodate. My advice, get there before it truly outgrows itself.

Cost of Margherita: £5.90

Where: Various

Santa Maria

The website’s claim that Santa Maria’s pizza is “exactly the same as the pizza you can eat on the streets of Naples” is somewhat of an exaggeration, no pizza in London is as good as what you’ll get in Naples. Yet Santa Maria, which opened in Ealing in 2010, and has since launched a second branch in Chelsea, does serve superb pizza. Time Out named it London’s best pizza just weeks after it opened. The restaurant itself is tiny; on our visit, we were told to wait 45 minutes before a table would be free. Thankfully, pizzas are served by the dozen at the pub next door, the Red Lion. The pizza was indeed top drawer. I opted for the Santa Caterina, a margherita topped with Neapolitan salami, chill and parmesan. The base, risen for 24 hours, wood fired and as fluffy as seemingly possible, was excellent. The combination of parmesan and salami, however, was slightly too salty. Another minor complaint is one that may only affect those eating at the pub. A pizza should arrive piping hot, and ours didn’t. Admittedly it was extremely busy, but the distance from oven to pub may have played a part. Nevertheless, Santa Maria is certainly deserving of its position as one of the best pizzas in London.

Cost of Margherita: £6.95

Where: Ealing, Chelsea

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Fundi

A thoroughly modern eatery, Fundi was founded in 2012 by brothers Charlie and Rory Nelson, who built their own oven from scratch and plunged into London’s emerging street food scene. Four years on, they regularly serve some of London’s tastiest pizzas, at reasonable prices, with fixed spots at Street Feast’s Dinerama in Shoreditch and at Kerb Camden. Another conscious peddler of Neapolitan pizza, the pizzas are expertly crafted and baked for 90 seconds (almost double a Franco Manca pizza). The outcome is a delicious, thin pizza, up there with the best in London. I have a personal preference for minimalism when it comes to food outlets, and Fundi obliges, offering five varieties of pizza. Try the affumicata, a delectable combination of smoked mozzarella and pancetta. Most of the pizzerias on this list were established by Italians; the Nelson brothers have matched them at their own game.

Cost of Margherita: £6

Where: Kerb Camden, Dinerama

Well Kneaded

Recently, the Well Kneaded Wagon can be found in several markets across London throughout the week, catering to hungry customers at lunchtime. Founded in 2011, the outlet, which offers “wood-fired sourdough pizza with British seasonal ingredients”, has received countless awards, including winning the best pizza prize at the British Street Food Awards in 2012. And it’s easy to see why. On my visit, there were indeed several interesting “seasonal ingredients”, such as a pizza with smoked pancetta and squash. I settled, nevertheless, for a margherita, my go to pizza of choice. It was one of the best I’ve tried in London, with the fluffiest, chewiest base of all (a very good thing). The garlicky tomato sauce possibly topped that of any pizza I tried; such a simple ingredient can make a big difference. The one downside was size, about half a regular pizza. Of course, this critique is in itself praise; as I finished I was craving more.

Cost of Margherita: £5.50

Where: Various (check website for details)

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Size doesn’t always matter

The best sandwich in the world?

As someone who eats a sandwich pretty much every day, it’s perhaps surprising that a humble dish of meat (usually) in bread can still blow my mind. Very few sandwiches are memorable; 90% of those I eat are bland supermarket meal deals. 

Every so often, less than once a year, however, I’ll eat a perfect, unforgettable, sandwich. Such occasions are few and far between, they can be counted on one hand. The salt beef sandwich at Katz in New York; a Navajo flatbread in Austin; a steak in a small baguette I would always get in Brazil on the way to the beach; falafel in Jerusalem. All these I remember like they were yesterday, and would pay good money to eat again.

In Hoi An, a pretty, coastal town in central Vietnam famous for cheap tailoring and UNESCO-protected architecture, a new sandwich was unexpectedly but happilly added to the list. Aside from pho, the banh mi is probably Vietnam’s most famous dish. One of the few positive legacies from the French colonial period, perfectly textured baguettes are filled with pate before being completed with a variety of ingredients.

Available everywhere and cheap (usually £1, though I ate a fantastic one in Hue for around 25p), the banh mi is one of the staples of Vietnam’s vibrant and varied street food scene. 

I used to watch Anthony Bourdain religiously, and therefore know of his love for Vietnam and its food. I had completely forgotten, however, that he visited, and loved, a small restaurant in Hoi An serving one of the best banh mi around. Fortunately, an encounter with an Australian who had eaten there every day during his stay reminded me. Promptly, I made the two-minute pilgrimage from my hostel to Phuong Banh Mi, hidden away and easy to miss.

Phuong Banh Mi

In no time at all, the sandwhich arrived, on a baguette so crispy on the outside, yet so fluffy that it rivalled anything you can find in France. The pate was ample and strong in flavour, and a perfect counterbalance to the chilli sauce. I went for what looked like the traditional option: pate, ham and roast pork, and there was certainly a lot of each. Banh mi are usually finished off with cucumber, carrot and lettuce. The balance between ingredients was perfect and the pork more flavoursome and tender than any other I’d had. 

I now have five sandwiches on my list, and picking one over all others would be tough. But the banh mi at Phuong’s in Hoi An deserves its spot, and should not be missed by anyone visiting Vietnam.

Banh mi