Winning tip: Tapas fantásticas, Manchester
Bar San Juan in the trendy Manchester neighbourhood of Chorlton does without doubt the best tapas I have eaten outside Spain. The little restaurant’s immense popularity and lack of tables means you have to book well in advance, but it’s worth the wait. The menu is small but refined: their saquitos de cordero (little lamb parcels) and pisto con queso de cabra (vegetables with goat’s cheese) are both indescribably good. The interior decor with flamenco posters adds to the experience and a jug of the homemade sangria can transport you to Andalucía even on the most dreary of Mancunian days.
KL in W1, London
Down a backstreet on the fringes of Chinatown, C&R Cafe serves authentic Malaysian street food to east Asian expats and in-the-know Londoners. Come for the authentic, fast-paced experience, and world-class nasi lemak (coconut rice) and laksa (noodle soup). The atmosphere is frenetic (no bookings) but friendly. Regulars come for the sights and sounds as much as the perfectly recreated, reasonably priced hawker dishes that take you straight back to the hot and humid backstreets of KL or Penang.
If you’re peckish in Peckham, south-east London
Tender, translucent slices of the thinnest burgundy-red bresaola ham folded silkily on a bed of peppery fresh rocket. Crunchy postage stamps of parmesan with treacly olive oil cut with sherryish balsamic vinegar dress it. I anticipate, greedily, the main course to follow. I am at Giuseppe Cimino’s pop-up Italian restaurant, Peppeckish, open most weeks at Hill Station Cafe in Nunhead near Peckham. A three-course meal costs about £30. From my perch I look north, over the treetops and crooked chimney pots of New Cross terraces towards the Shard, still shimmering in the dusk. The summer’s breeze and the aromas from the kitchen take me back to a meal in Rome.
Turkey on the Forth, Edinburgh
Kezban is a few metres from Leith Shore. It’s a lovely, high-ceilinged space, full of cosy nooks by the windows and bright seating with ornately patterned cushions. The walls are festooned with Turkish artwork and lantern lighting, with a bar beautifully tiled in deep blue and an open kitchen that extends the sights and scents of Mediterranean cooking to the tables. A range of Mediterranean flavours feature, such as Turkish börek, pomegranate syrup-infused salad and crisp yet fluffy bread. Takeaway is also an option – enjoying their mezes (from £4) by the quay a minute away on a sunny day surrounded by 18th-century buildings feels positively Mediterranean.
Roman holiday, Cambridgeshire
A few years ago, we enjoyed a short visit to Rome, staying in the Trastevere area. We would like to go back someday, but meanwhile there is an award-winning Italian restaurant close to home. The family-run La Pergola at The Wheatsheaf, in Harlton, near Cambridge, was voted the best Italian establishment in England (Food Awards England 2018). It does authentic antipasti, primi and main courses, plus pizzas with and without tomato. Fittingly, it is on a Roman road (now the A603), which links another, Ermine Street, to Cambridge. Well, they do say all roads lead to Rome.
Northern Mexico via east London
Sonora Taqueria is among the street food shacks in east London’s Netil Market (Westgate Street, Hackney). I’m from Sonora – north-west Mexico, near the Arizona border – and it is difficult to find food from that specific region because everyone else concentrates more in food from central Mexico. Their tortillas are handmade daily and the menu is really simple but full of flavour. Tacos start at two for £5 and they have vegetarian and vegan options, but do try the chicharron y barbacoa if you’re ready to find out what real Mexico tastes like.
Osaka nights, London’s South Bank
Okan is a tiny restaurant tucked away right at the back of the County Hall building, home to the London Aquarium and London Dungeon. It serves okonomiyaki, a delicious fluffy savoury pancake (vegetarian option available), Osaka’s traditional street food. Wash it down with a glass of sake. The restaurant is tiny and can’t accommodate big groups. The cramped space and the fact you can dine right in front of the chef’s grill transport me right back to Japan.
Beach shack, north-east London
Walthamstow may not have Caribbean sun, sea and sand but it does have local boy Delroy Dixon’s small and unassuming Rhythm Kitchen. Start with a Zombie cocktail, made with four types of rum from their collection of more than 90: its kick will quickly transport you to the West Indies. The jerk, curry and barbecue marinades are lovingly made by hand and a quarter of jerk chicken takes me back to Jamaica, where I first tried the dish at Scotchies, a no-frills eatery in Montego Bay. With Red Stripe to counteract the spice, it’s a perfect combination.
Tacos on donkeys, north-east London
Slipping into a maze of a market, down tight alleys cluttered with precious junk and plastic tat, is always a pleasure. Following a delicious smell through the sales patter and tunes and then elbowing your way on to a stool at a graffiti’d counter, where bright pots of sauces and salsa compete with the paint, is like finding treasure. And there is Smokey, beaming behind the grill of Homies on Donkeys, a Mexican taqueria in Wood Street covered market. Pick’n’mix your tacos, choosing two for £7, extra sides from 50p, with flavours changing every Saturday – prawn, chicken, pork, veggies, herbs, secret sauces and homemade pickles. It’s the he best way to travel by tastebud in London.
The hills are alive, north London
We are always looking forward to visiting our family in Austria, even more so now we haven’t seen them for months. The delicious homemade food at Monalicious reminds us of being spoiled during our trips home. The sachertorte (Austrian chocolate cake, £3.50) tastes like my grandma’s, and the apricot jam (part of the Austrian frühstück,£9.80, pictured) can compete with my dad’s homemade jam. Additionally the super friendly staff serve excellent classics such as egg and avocado sourdough (£7.50). Vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free options are also available.