The Best Pizza in London?

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L’Antica Pizzeria da Michele is arguably the most famous pizza restaurant in the world. They have been making pizzas in Naples, Italy, for over a century where they’ve built up quite a cult following. This transitioned to worldwide renown when the book and then the film, ‘Eat, Pray, Love’, passionately extoled the virtues of their pizzas. On the third of February, they opened a branch in London. I knew none of this until recently, when I walked past a tiny pizzeria on my way to meet a friend, it had a ginormous queue worthy of Moses coming out its door. A sucker for following the herd, I just knew I’d have to find out what all the fuss was about. Thus having a day to myself, this Tuesday, I turned up fifteen minutes before opening time and was relieved to find myself joining a smallish queue, which looked likely to see me through the door for the first sitting.

The queuing experience was definitely part of the fun! A wry delivery boy walked past us all and quietly noted aloud, ‘I see the novelty hasn’t worn off yet’. Next a man walked by, who suddenly couldn’t take it anymore, he walked back turned to face the queue and loudly exclaimed, ‘It’s just pizza, you know!’ He repeated this several times but in typical London fashion everyone suddenly struck a pose that instantly conveys that their mind is wholly vacant and suggests you should kindly refrain from attempting a conversation. In any case after ten minutes of waiting I was through the door and ready for some deliciousness. Ordering was super easy, as the menu only has two items!!! A Margherita  and a Marinara, both reasonably priced. I had the former and in no time at all was experiencing something rather spectacular. The base is wonderful with the teeniest hint of crispness around its soft doughy centre. The sauce is intensely flavoursome and delivers an explosive burst of tomato goodness. Lastly the cheese for me was the best bit, mozzarella of the highest calibre that was a pure delight. I’ve never had cheese on a pizza in London that was this good before. A simple formula and an uncomplicated taste, the Margherita  here is truly perfect in its execution. I can honestly say that this is the best pizza I’ve ever had.

Yet, you might be surprised to learn that I’m reluctant to proclaim that you instantly come and visit. Fantastic food at a reasonable price, what’s not to like? For a start the queue, after I arrived it took a lot longer to get in, closer to twenty five minutes and I imagine on a weekend this would be even worse. Next while the pizza is the most amazing I’ve ever had, the step up in quality while significant is not a mind blowing spiritual odyssey, in the words of a wise man who walked by, ‘it’s just pizza’. Finally, I can imagine some people will find the limited menu a huge disappointment.  In my case this wasn’t an issue as Margheritas are my favourite. Despite these caveats, please don’t be put off if it sounds like your sort of place. I must say that I loved this restaurant and will definitely be going back again. Here’s hoping the hype dies down a little.

Yum Yum (The Clue Is In The Title)

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After several days filled with pure undiluted skippity hoppity joy, last week the empire struck back and my arch nemesis ‘Darth Real Life’ returned to the fore. Suddenly I was in a world of necessary, dull as ditch water, irksomeness. Life’s little tasks called, dentist appointments, internet providers, family occasions. Good lord I forgot the mountain of dirty dishes!  I’m not sure how it happened, but at some point it appears that society revoked my child status and stuck a grown up badge on me. I won’t lie, it’s been downhill ever since. Returning to the particularity of my troubles, suddenly, within this maelstrom of the mundane, I sensed a brief opening in the force, a teeny tiny patch of that rare commodity, free time! Thus at lunchtime today, I decided to take it easy with a brilliant meal at one of my favourite restaurants and so restore balance to the force.

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Yum Yum is a Thai restaurant located on Stoke Newington High Street and its simply goodness I tell ya.  Located in a gorgeous Georgian house the environment is low lit and delightfully mellow. It serves nutritious and delicious food that always proves uplifting. They also do magnificent cocktails, but I swear I didn’t indulge on a weekday, even if they are purely medicinal. The staff are the most remarkable feature of this restaurant, wonderfully unobtrusive and yet simultaneously such, cheerful, charming, caring, people. I spent a little over thirty minutes here today and without fail Yum Yum worked its magic. I left feeling most calm and relaxed. I have no doubt that if this restaurant was located in Shoreditch it would be better known and queued out the door. If you ever get the chance to go, don’t hesitate, I cannot recommend this place highly enough. It is an absolute delight.

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The Best Restaurants in Chinatown

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Chinatown is one of my favourite places in London. It’s a wonderful unique part of the city with lots of interesting places to explore. For a start there are a few hidden treasures crammed into this small patch of inner London. There’s the experimental cocktail club, a tiny noodle factory in Dansey Place, and of course every year you can come here to see the incredible Chinese New Year celebrations. However it is for the food that most people come to Chinatown, with an incredible eighty plus restaurants located here. Unfortunately a good deal of the food here is on the average side, so allow me to present my guide to the best restaurants I’ve come across. It must be admitted before we begin that I’m no food critic but I do have some modicum of taste, and having tried at least fifty of the restaurants here, I feel I can at least impart some knowledge about the most interesting places to go. So without further ado let’s begin.

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Hung’s

For me Hung’s is Chinatown! A bazillion drunken misadventures count this place as their glorious resting place. In my student day’s I had so many wonderful nights in which I ended up drinking a tad too much. Thankfully in such circumstances some part of my brain managed to keep functioning and before too much alcohol could be imbibed it would sound a deep ancestral call that would lead me to salvation. Like some sort of drunken equivalent to a Canadian goose, in the early hours I always knew to head to Hung’s. It was always a joy to slowly come back to my senses in the early hours, in the company of my best friend, some complete stranger who we had dragged along, and some incredibly tasty food. I do not know what magic is at work in this oriental greasy spoon, but I swear that the cure for the hangover resides somewhere on this restaurant’s premises.  Hung’s is open from 10am and remains open until 4am, the food’s delicious and thus there can be no excuse for not trying it once if you’re based in London.

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Jen Café

If I could think of one word to sum up this charming green cafe on the corner, it would be Spartan. In an area renowned for its curt and brisk service, Jen’s café finds itself in a league of its own, with endearingly grumpy staff reminiscent of Oscar from Sesame Street. Attempt idle chit chat at your peril dear reader. However it’s not just the enchanting service that you come here for, no, it’s the best dumplings in all of Chinatown which make this café an absolute gem. The dumplings here are pure perfection and one can see them being made fresh every day in the shop window. My personal favourites are the fried ones, as they have a thin crispy outer layer that then quickly leads into a soft doughy centre that melts in the mouth, positively awesome.  Aside from the dumpling’s the rest of the menu is a tad underwhelming, but the dumplings are godly I tell you, and I wholeheartedly recommend that you drop by here sometime for a quick snack.

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Tokyo Diner

Next door to Jen’s café is another fantastic no frills restaurant, The Tokyo Diner. A specialist in Japanese food, the restaurant is spread over three levels and has a simple wooden décor that gives it a warm cosy feel.  What I really love about the Tokyo Diner is that it has so many little unique touches. For a start they refuse to take tips, you can increase the amount of rice you have with a meal at no extra cost, and you are always greeted by a complimentary cup of green tea on arrival. Combine these tiny differences with the delicious food here and the result is that you leave with a genuine sense that you’ve been given a taste of another culture. Recently the Tokyo Diner has grown in popularity so expect queues to get in. The dish everyone raves about in this place is the Chicken Katsu Don, which is insanely good. My favourite dish however is the Udon (soupy noodles). It is one of those rare dishes that prove a great comfort as a result of its simplicity. I think in many ways that best sums up the whole feel of this delightful diner.

Tao Tao Ju

Tao Tao Ju

The Tao Tao Ju is a restaurant with a nice atmosphere, some seriously tasty food, and some awfully friendly staff (which in these parts amounts to a small miracle). Yet none of these fine qualities, admirable though they may be, amount to my reason for including it on this list. The fact that it makes the cut is almost entirely down to one thing, that ancient art practiced by drunken masters of all nationalities, namely karaoke. The spiritual power of this social ritual cannot be denied, terrible singers with delusions of grandeur aside, the fact is that karaoke has the magical ability to bring people together. There’s just something so human about it and yet I cannot for the life of me pinpoint what it is. It is perhaps fitting then that the name Karaoke means ‘empty orchestra’, which is some serious mystical sounding shit. However it works, it does, and I highly recommend you hire a booth at the Tao Tao Ju, where you can combine this mystical experience with some fantastic food.  (Just be sure to book in advance).

Duck and Rice

Duck and Rice

The Duck and Rice definitely should not be on this list, for a start it’s not even officially in Chinatown (it’s a tiny walk away in Soho).  Moreover while the food in this establishment is excellent, I think the price just isn’t quite worth it. So how come it made the list? Because it’s a maverick damn it, a Chinese restaurant that follows nobody’s rules, not even its own. Nah, just kidding, the real reason is that this place does the most fantabulous prawn toast ever. In all seriousness it’s definitely worth trying at one time in your life. Thankfully you don’t have to go to the restaurant to try it. The ground floor of this establishment is a bar and has a great selection of craft beers which you can combine with the delicious dish in question. So if you ever fancy a mini adventure when you’re in Chinatown, that may turn out to be a complete disaster due to my subjective opinion, you know where to go. I can already picture death cries from my readers as they realize that a better restaurant was forsaken for a trendy hors d’oeuvre that they have found wanting.

Bar-Shu

Bar Shu

Sticking with the theme of expensive restaurants that aren’t technically in Chinatown but are literally across the street, allow me to introduce for your delectation Bar Shu. A restaurant that specialises in the fiery cuisine of Sichuan province. It differs significantly from most places in Chinatown which tend to offer Cantonese cuisine, and over the last few years’ food critics appear to have gone positively barmy for this restaurant. The food on offer here is delicious and incredibly spicy, more specifically this place is renowned for the unique way it mixes unusual flavours and textures. The dishes on offer often combine, hot, sweet, and sour, flavours. The result is that the meal you order is often greater than the sum of its parts. To enter the realm of hyperbole briefly, by the time I had finished my first meal here I felt that I had experienced a well-orchestrated cacophony of flavours the like of which I’d never tasted before. Do not worry about the fact that you will likely not have a clue about what to order, the staff here are fairly friendly and more than happy to help you choose a selection of dishes. I have a feeling that given time this style of food will really catch on across the country, but in the mean time you might like to give it a whirl the next time you’re in Chinatown, just try not to have a heart attack when you’re handed the bill at the end.

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Four Seasons

There are two Four Seasons in Chinatown that’s how popular they are, and both are famed nay renowned for offering the most awesome roast duck in all of Chinatown. If you order the roast duck in either establishment then you will soon be greeted with a truly superb dish. Nicholas Lander of the Financial Times goes as far as to assert that this is the best roast duck in the world. Putting such grand assertions to one side, I can at least say that it’s pretty damn good. The dish in question consists of delightful thin boneless slices of tender duck, which possess a wonderfully crisp sweet soya sauce infused skin. The result is a veritable taste sensation. The rest of the food on offer is unfortunately quite average; it’s not bad by any means, but it doesn’t come close to matching the duck. Quite simply if duck is your favourite dish, then this is where it’s at, if not then this is not the restaurant you are looking for.

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Joy King Lau

Joy King Lau is an unassuming place and one of my favourite restaurants in Chinatown. It is home to some superb crispy noodles and has a fantastic dim sum menu that includes such unusual and exciting dishes as, Octopus Curry, Marinated Duck Tongue, and Drunken Chicken Feet. I think I like this place so much, because in a case of pure happenstance the noodles there match perfectly the one’s that I ordered so many years ago at the first Chinese restaurant I ever went to. Given that said restaurant no longer exists, I was absolutely ecstatic to discover Joy King Lau. Nostalgia aside, this restaurant is in my wholly inexpert opinion a wonderful place which is off the beaten track and well worth a try. However I must also impart a warning about this restaurant to my readers. Located on the second floor is the gentleman’s toilet which has a rather unique feature. I discovered it on my first visit, it made its presence known to me by means of a frosty chill, by which I came to notice a massive window which was wide open and overlooked the main street. It soon occurred to me that anyone looking up could see my Johnson going about its business. I trust you will all learn from my mistake!

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Candy Café

Tucked away on Macclesfield Street, is a little door, with a tiny sign, and some rickety stairs, that either lead straight to heaven or a sugary grave, depending on your outlook on life. Once inside you’ll find a small room with a drab interior but for heaven’s sake don’t be put off. The candy café is a pure delight that specialises exclusively in Asian deserts and bubble teas. The deserts here are well portioned, all under a fiver, and amazing. Personal favourites here include green tea ice cream and anything with mango. I truly adore this place it brings out the child in me and sends me on a glorious sugar high. One time I even left with the thought that world peace is indeed possible. It’s just a simple matter of fact that diplomacy needs more ice cream. In short this place always has me brimming with light heartedness, and in such a crazy world that can’t be a bad thing.

So those are my favourite places in Chinatown. Did I miss out somewhere totally unbelievable, am I a cotton headed ninny muggins, or do you agree with all my opinions and wish to help me create the greatest echo chamber of mutual-congratulation that the internet has ever seen. Whatever your views, be sure to post in the comment section below.