The London Cookbook author Aleksandra Crapanzano reports on delicious diversity as the city mulls its post-Brexit future.
A year following the U.K. vote to withdraw from the European Union may seem like an odd time to celebrate the far-flung flavors of an English metropolis, but hear me out. London is a bastion of dissent—that’s one of the many reasons I love it—and now more than ever, its restaurants reflect the energy of the moment: urgent, vital and free, hopscotching from Europe to Mexico, Asia and beyond.
If you want to understand the way London’s restaurants are transcending borders, El Pastór (6-7A Stoney St, SE1 9AA) is a good place to start. Just off Borough Market, this taqueria is named for a staple food of another melting pot culture, that of Mexico City. Tortillas here are made with heritage Criollo corn, and the spice-marinated al pastor meat is sliced like shwarma from a vertical rotisserie—a technique introduced to Mexicans by Lebanese immigrants.
Speaking of Middle Eastern influences, I doubt London’s love affair with that region’s cuisine will slow down any time soon. Five years after Yotam Ottolenghi published his game-changing Jerusalem, we now have chefs like Tel Aviv–born Eyal Jagermann exploring the Berber coastal regions—Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and Libya—at The Barbary (16 Neal's Yard, WC2H 9DP) in Neal’s Yard.
If Jagermann takes a wide view in the kitchen, chef Ben Chapman goes deep. Chapman likes to master one cuisine or technique at a time, as he did with Thai barbecue at Smoking Goat (7 Denmark St, WC2H 8LZ). At his recently opened restaurant Kiln (58 Brewer St, W1F 9TL), he focuses on Northern Thai clay-pot cooking, but sources the best ingredients closer to home.
Splitting the difference between local and international is an approach Chapman shares with Isaac McHale, who has reigned as the most exciting young chef in London since opening The Clove Club (Shoreditch Town Hall, 380 Old St, EC1V 9LT) in 2013. If the vibe is distinctly Italian at Luca (88 St John St, EC1M 4EH), McHale’s second restaurant, the food itself couldn’t be more British. There’s Yorkshire grouse, Hebridean lamb chops and Morecambe Bay shrimp, tangled up with spaghettini and mace butter. Call it Britalian. Call it delicious. I just call it London.