With the long history of colonialism and now influx of immigrants, Britain has picked up a cosmopolitan mix of peoples and their foods along the way. That Brits have long loved Indian curries is no secret, but upscale South East Asian, Italian-style wine bars, and even artisanal Japanese noodle making are infiltrating the heart of the British dining scene.
With that in mind, on a recent trip to London I set out to discover some new British restaurant arrivals drawing inspiration and menus from different parts of the globe. If my research is any indication, the world continues to shrink and the food in London is better for it. One can only imagine what “British” food will pop up next.
Koya: There is nothing like long, hot, homemade noodles bathed in rich miso broth on a cool London day. Koya, in Soho, is a narrow and brightly lit enclave of traditional Japanese udon in the heart of the theater district. It would be an understatement to say my bowlful of handmade noodles in miso with ground pork and green onion was a mouthful. But I was up for the challenge, taking the noodles one dip of the chopsticks at a time, slurping up the umami rich both between bites. Koya also succeeded with an unusual and gamey miso cured venison special and crisp green salad topped with fried lotus, all washed down with homemade ginger tea.
Polpo: Polpo, part of a hip 18 month-old mini-chain of London wine bars, is the one that started it all. Even though Polpo is Italian, don’t come expecting pasta, because you might not find it. But do come open to a raucous dining scene that might well be going off into the ten o’clock hour on a Monday night, unusual in this city. Pizzettas are small and thin crusted with a nice chewy interior and crisp edge. Faro might star in lieu of risotto as it did on a recent night paired with rich braised lamb. Asparagus was in peak season on that visit, served simply and deliciously blanched and smothered in anchovy butter. Wine is delight to drink at Polpo as many options come by the quarter, half, or full bottle. And should you arrive early or come without a reservation, a speakeasy hidden in the basement appropriately called The Campari Bar is a delightful way to spend the wait over an aperitif. Or linger late take in a nightcap downstairs. That is if you didn’t close down the joint over dinner like I did.