London Food & Culture


6 top places to eat, from Covent Garden to Crouch End

Half a dozen picks, from the King's Cross Canopy Market to east London's mighty Cafe Cecilia

Every six months, we round up a bunch of restaurants we’ve enjoyed north of the river (the main geographical focus of this website). For recent tips further east, you can visit our sister site Leytonstoner, or north-west, Kentishtowner.

Last time, the round-up covered Soho to Stokey (read that here).  This time we cover Covent Garden, King’s Cross, Crouch End, Finsbury Park and Hackney. Okay, and Stokey again: but it’s justified (promise).

Peckish? Let’s get stuck in.

Palm Court
Palm Court by night. Photo: SE

COVENT GARDEN: Palm Court Brasserie

A surprise inclusion to kick things off. With the noise of London’s fast-paced dining scene, it’s easy to forget about the old-school French brasseries of WC2, those darlings of the 1990s (and earlier). But a spontaneous visit to Palm Court immediately impressed, its dining room atmospherically candlelit by night, our swift meal a refreshing mix of slick professionalism and decent value-for-money. Four of us ordered the £16.95 pre-theatre two-course menu – in my case, smoked salmon and celeriac remoulade followed by chargrilled chicken paillard with capers and artichoke salad – which, if offering no surprises, proved a genuine West End bargain. Sometimes, we all concluded, innovation isn’t everything. @palmcourtcoventgarden, 39 King St, London WC2E 8JS


Mandala, Canopy Market. Photo: SE

KING’S CROSS: Canopy Market

One of London’s most chilled weekend happenings, the Canopy Market, with its craft beer, natural wine and cocktail bars, as well as two-dozen artisan stalls, is buzzy enough to feel like a destination, yet so much more relaxed than many markets east or south-east. Two recent foodie highlights included pillowy dumplings (six for £7.50, above) from Himalayan dons Mandala, the signature beef having the edge over pork and leek. Also a good find – grass-fed bavette with rosemary fries from Tongues ‘N’ Cheeks: at just a tenner this is incredible value for medium-rare steak in Zone 1. @kingscrossN1C, Friday, Saturday & Sunday, all day, Granary Square N1C

Pan Con Tomate: Escocesa. Photo SE


I’ve eaten here many times over the years but, until my latest foray, had never managed to bag a stool at the counter. Overlooking the kitchen, Barrafina-style, it’s the best spot to watch the chefs prepare some of North London’s best tapas. Portions are bigger than you might expect for the prices, especially the three generous slices of vivid red pan con tomate for just a fiver (above). Other winning dishes include an oozy tortilla, silken tuna tartare with avocado, (main pic, above) and a flawless charcoal cauliflower with mojo verde and pomegranate. @escocesa_n16, 67 Stoke Newington Church St, London N16 0AR


Stroud Green Road is lined with restaurants worth exploring, from Max’s Sandwich Shop (read our review here) to this established tapas bar. From its rather traditional menu we enjoyed rare tuna, a pear and manchego salad, cod croquettas and a solomillo Iberico, the signature pork tenderloin served pink. Best dish was the arroz negro with squid and tomato, all rich black unctuousness topped with a garlicky aioli. Service is matey and casual, as it should be. 45 Stroud Green Rd, Finsbury Park, London N4 3ES

Red mullet gnocchi (right). Photo: SE


Despite having lived in London for decades, dinner at Paesan inexplicably constituted my first Saturday night out in Crouch End. At this cute two-floor Italian, perched just off the main drag, we grabbed a seat at the downstairs counter (by the coffee machine boasts the best kitchen view). Staff are brilliantly friendly – you get the feeling they’re really gunning for this place to succeed – and highlights included Sicilian-style polenta with mushrooms, raisins and pine nuts; slow-roasted wild boar ragu with mafalde pasta (above, left); and rich braised ox cheeks wrapped in savoy cabbage. The outright winner was a sensational red mullet gnocchi (above, right) with tomato and courgette in a wonderful stock. @paesanlondon, 48c The Broadway, London N8

Cafe Cecilia
Astonishing dishes: Cafe Cecilia. Photo: SE

HACKNEY: Cafe Cecilia

Admittedly I’ve saved the best till last. After several failed attempts to book Hackney’s uber-popular dining room, we finally made it through the doors for a late, lingering Saturday lunch. And, as every London critic has pointed out, the cooking – by ex-River Cafe chef (and son of John) Max Rocha – is exemplary, from small plates of grilled calcots and romesco or moreish sage and anchovy fritti to the umami thwack of mince on toast with horseradish creme fraiche.  Rosy slices of onglet (above) in a pool of silken peppercorn sauce was possibly the best version I’ve ever tasted (and a mutton shoulder with green sauce and white beans, right, was fantastic too). Chuck in potent negronis and a blood orange and campari sorbet for afters – and this is, without doubt, the year’s most memorable meal so far. @cafececilialondon, 32 Andrews Rd, London E8 4FX

Stephen Emms writes about food & travel for The Guardian, Sunday Times Travel, Time Out, Rough Guides and more.

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