Few things can transport you across time and space as quickly and easily as food can. The taste – and often the mere smell – of a familiar, beloved dish can instantly take you back to a time when you were much younger or to a place in another country, thousands of miles away. A taste of your country’s cuisine is sometimes all you need to take you back there for a few moments and cheer you up.It can of course be difficult to find authentic international cuisine anywhere in the world. Dishes that are from another country often tend to be modified to suit local tastes. Sometimes this can mean a minor tweak, such as less spice for sensitive palates, and at other times dishes can be changed rather drastically. While modifications and interpretations can sometimes lead to delicious new dishes, if you’re looking for the familiar, authentic taste of home food, these impostors just won’t do the trick. And when you’re homesick, it can be frustrating to spend time and money on disappointing fare.
To help you ease your cravings more quickly, here are ten restaurants that do fairly authentic versions of the cuisines they specialize in.
Sacro Cuore – Italian
London has a lot of Italian restaurants, and a decent number of them serve pretty authentic Italian food. However, Sacro Cuore specializes in pizza, and specifically in Neapolitan pizza, which isn’t as easy to find in the UK as it ought to be. Neapolitan pizza is different from the more commonly found styles of pizza in many ways, which we won’t go into here, except to say that Sacro Cuore does this style brilliantly, with fresh, high quality ingredients and their own wood-fired oven, just like it would be made back in Naples. People who aren’t familiar with this style need to be prepared for a base that’s slightly more doughy than usual. They also have some great starters and salads, and a limited but good selection of wines, beers, liqueurs, and coffees, and desserts too. The staff are friendly and helpful, and service is almost always prompt and efficient.
45 Chamberlayne Road, London, NW10 3NB
Tel: 0208 960 8558
10 Crouch End Hill, London, N8 8AA
Tel: 0208 348 8487
Donostia Restaurant – Spanish (Basque)
Donostia Restaurant takes its name from the place whose cuisine it specializes in – Donostia, otherwise known as San Sebastian. It’s essentially Basque cuisine – “Cocina Vasca”, as the website says – and plenty of Spanish expats in London say that they do a great job. This is in spite of the fact that the chef is Polish. However, perhaps that can be explained by the fact that he has worked at at least two different restaurants in San Sebastian. The meats at Donostia Restaurant are particularly good, whether you’re ordering pork, lamb, beef, or sea food. We recommend the lamb chops, as well as the Chorizo de Bierzo with piquillo and watercress.
You can also explore the great selection of cold plates and tapas, of which the scallops with butternut squash puree are especially delicious. Donostia also has an impressive wine list, all of which they source, import, and deliver themselves. The focus is on Spanish wines of course, but in particular, wines from the Basque region. They even a small selection of Spanish beer and a couple of authentic Basque ciders (sidra or sagardo in Spanish), which are well worth trying.
10 Seymour Place, London W1H 7ND
Tel: 0203 6201 845
Mamuśka! – Polish
Mamuśka! is what’s known as a Polish milk bar (bar mleczny). This is different from what Australian expats will know as a milk bar. You’ll find quite a bit of dairy and dairy-based dishes at a bar mleczny, but mainly, this is a kind of Polish cafeteria that serves traditional Polish food. Mamuśka! is wonderfully warm and homely, with friendly staff and cheerful interiors, and delicious, satisfying food that is as close as you can get to a home-cooked meal in a restaurant. The portions are quite substantial, and the prices are very reasonable too. There are few places in London where ten pounds can fill you up this much. There’s plenty to try here, but in particular, the kielbasa is excellent. The restaurant has recently moved from inside the Elephant and Castle shopping centre to a better spot across the road.
16 Elephant and Castle, London, SE1 6TH
Tel: 020 3602 1898
Sunday-Wednesday: 09:00 – 23:00
Thursday-Saturday: 09:00 – 0:00
Sushi Tetsu – Japanese (sushi)
London has a lot of Japanese restaurants that do great, authentic Japanese food, and several of these are quite well known. Aji Ichiban is probably the most famous, and quite a few people will also know Asakusa. However, we recommend Sushi Tetsu, a tiny little place that is run by the husband and wife team of Harumi and Toru Takahashi and that specializes in sushi and sashimi. Yes, of course there’s a lot more to Japanese food than just these two nearly clichéd delicacies, but the food and the experience at Sushi Tetsu is exceptional. The ingredients, the preparation, the décor, the service, everything is of unbelievable quality and displays an incredible attention to detail.
Booking a spot here can be quite frustrating. The place can barely seat ten people (mainly right at the sushi bar), is only open for a few hours in the evening, and is always booked well in advance. However, the experience of eating here is unparalleled, which is why so many people are willing to go through the lengthy booking process and even book a follow-up trip.
12 Jerusalem Passage, London EC1V 4JP
Tel: 020 3217 0090
Sunday – Monday: Closed all day
Thursday-Friday : Dinner: 17:30 – 22:00 (Last seating 20:00)
Saturday: Dinner: 17:00 – 21:30 (Last seating 19:30)
Dosa n Chutny – South Indian
There are of course hundreds of restaurants serving Indian food all over the UK; London alone has well over a hundred. However, most aren’t exactly authentic – some serve a mix of different styles from across the subcontinent, and most are severely watered-down, British versions of Indian dishes. The few authentic Indian restaurants in London tend to be high-end places that aren’t exactly homely, even though they may be value for money. Once in a while however, if you’re lucky, you’ll find a place like Dosa n Chutny. The focus here is on food from the southern parts of the country, but there are popular northern favorites too. The décor is minimal, but that’s at least partly responsible for the welcoming, homely feel. The staff are friendly, the dosas are crips and perfect, the sambar is rich and fragrant, and everything is amazingly cheap.
68 Tooting High Street, London SW17 0RN
Tel: 020 8767 9200
Mon-Thu: 10:00 – 22:30
Fri-Sun: 10:00 – 23:00
My Old Place – Chinese
Traditionally, London has had a lot of Chinese food to offer, but very little of it has been authentic. In recent years however, quite a few authentic Chinese restaurants have opened and prospered, and many of them explore specific styles from China’s vast array of regional cuisines, rather than slapping a generic “Chinese” label on everything. These often tend to be expensive, fine dining establishments, but My Old Place is a humble, minimal, even scruffy little restaurant that serves exceptionally generous portions of the best Chinese cuisine in London.
They operate out of two locations, and most people agree that the Middlesex Street location is the better one, if only in terms of its décor and ambience. Both restaurants serve a variety of authentic Chinese dishes, including a number of offal-based delicacies such as pig trotters, pig’s ear, and chicken gizzard. However, people who aren’t fond of offal don’t need to worry either – there are plenty of other options, including delicious sweet and sour spare ribs, poached beef, and crispy duck.
88-90 Middlesex St, London E1 7EZ
Tel: 44 20 7247 2200
Song Que – Vietnamese
Vietnamese cuisine has started to gain in popularity in London in the last few years, and Song Que now sits on a street that is full of Vietnamese restaurants. However, it has managed to truly stand out, in spite of being rather ordinary-looking and being located next to a much fancier establishment. The place is clean and cheerful, with prompt, welcoming, friendly staff. The food is excellent and authentic, as quickly becomes obvious before you even taste a morsel – just from the number of Vietnamese families you’ll always find eating there. Everything is amazingly cheap, and you can even order some cheap Vietnamese beer to complete your Vietnamese experience. Song Que has been described as the best place for authentic Vietnamese pho in London, and with at least one Time Out award and several other glowing reviews from food magazines and guides, perhaps that’s not an exaggeration.
134 Kingsland Road
London E2 8DY
Tel: 020 7613 3222
Monday-Friday: 12-3 PM and 5.30-11 PM
Saturday: 12-11 PM
Sunday & bank holidays: 12-10.30 PM
Mestizo – Mexican
The word “mestizo” means “fusion” or “mixed, but fortunately, that’s not because the food at Mestizo is a mix of Mexican and European or other cuisines, but because the word has been used to describe the mixed descendants of Spaniards and indigenous Mexicans. Mestizo serves possibly the best authentic Mexican food in London, which includes the usual burritos, tacos, and enchiladas, but also dishes with which most non-Mexicans are unlikely to be familiar, such as pozole rojo, crepas de cuitlacoche, and their house specialty, Molcajete Mestizo. They also have separate extensive menus for people who want a vegan, nut-free, dairy-free, or gluten-free meal, and although these dishes may not all be as authentic as those on the main menu, it’s great to have the option available. The bar menu of course has a lot of tequila and tequila-based cocktails, including around ten different margaritas, and a decent selection of mezcal-based cocktails too.
103 Hampstead Road, London NW1 3EL
Tel: 020 7387 4064
Mon – Sat: 12pm – 11pm
Sun: Brunch 12pm – 4pm, Dinner 5pm – 10.30pm
Tierra Peru – Peruvian
The folks at Tierra Peru say that they’re “the most authentic and traditional Peruvian restaurant in London”, and quite a lot of people who know Peruvian food seem to agree. Many of the ingredients here are imported from Peru, as is the Inca Kola, a lemon-flavored soft drink from that country, and a lot of the staff are Peruvian too. The place is simple and minimal, but feels casual and inviting, and the prices are very reasonable. There’s ceviche on the menu of course, and it’s fresh and absolutely delicious. The rest of the menu is quite an extensive catalogue of Peruvian food from across the country, and because the country’s cuisine is so diverse, this can be rather confusing and overwhelming for outsiders. However, that certainly isn’t the worst complaint you could have about a restaurant. Good options include the platters and the weekend buffets, which allow you to explore a variety of dishes.
164 Essex Road, London N1 8LY
Tel: 020 7354 5586
Mon-Thu: 17:00 – 23:00
Fri-Sun: 12:00 – 23:00
Buen Ayre – Argentinean
Beef steaks are probably the most beloved item in Argentinean cuisine, and Buen Ayre is an authentic Argentinean grill restaurant that makes arguably the best steaks in London. Vegetarians and vegans will have trouble here, but if you eat meat, this place is heaven. Prices are reasonable and portions are huge; all the meat is of stellar quality and prepared beautifully. They also have a great selection of Argentinean wines, and there are few things that go with a great Argentinean steak as perfectly as a glass of Malbec.
50 Broadway Market, London E8 4QJ
Tel: 020 7275 9900
Mon, Tue, Wed & Thu: 12:00 – 15:00 / 18:00 – 22:00
Fri: 12:00 – 15:00 / 18:00 – 22:30
Sat: 12:00 – 22:30
Sun: 12:00 – 22:00
What are your favourite “taste of home” restaurants in London? Let us know in the comments!