Back to Basics: simple dishes reborn in London

Strolling through London markets and taking advantage of the Eat Out to Help Out scheme, at various restaurants in August, has pushed me to a realisation that more simple dishes – ones that you would expect to cook at home rather than choose to order at a restaurant – are increasing in their abundance. I’ve decided to analyse what kind of food is being reborn, and whether they are worth trying, or if it’s best to stick to the good old simple version.

  • Chips:

Chips are a reliable safe choice. What do you order for children when they don’t know what to eat? Chips. What does the picky eater stick to when they aren’t keen on the other menu items? Chips. 

However, the chips you expect to see might not be the usual side option on the menu.

There are Greek-inspired chips with feta and herbs, chips smothered in melted cheeses, posh truffle oil chips and chips with Korean bulgogi beef or kimchi. 

I’ve tried a couple of unique types of chips. And, although chips are great on their own, it was pleasant to have that extra flavour, apart from just dipping them in condiments such as mayonnaise and ketchup.

Depending on their price (chips with a twist in London usually range from £3-£8), I’d say it’s worth a try, especially if you’re not hungry enough for a main course.

  • Grilled cheese:

A delicious sandwich that I’ve only ever made during late nights, when I had a specific craving. It’s something I’d never think to order at a street food stall. Instead, always opting to make this particular dish at home.

Yet, in Backyard Market on Brick Lane, a vendor was selling grilled cheese made fresh with a gourmet twist. There were additions of prosciutto or chorizo, caramelized onion or chilli jam, truffle honey or fig preserves.

These were about £7 each, quite expensive for just a grilled cheese, but at least they added unique ingredients that a student like me wouldn’t have in the fridge. Still, I won’t be ordering grilled cheese for £7 anytime soon, since I can make a decent one at home that won’t induce buyer’s remorse.

  • Pizza:

I know, it’s controversial to deem pizza a simple dish. Nevertheless, it essentially is just: dough, tomato sauce and mozzarella. It’s something you can get from a local kebab shop, Italian restaurant or make at home. Pizza is a dish that seems to be universally liked, because the key is that you make the pizza how you like it, with your favourite toppings. However, some restaurants in London are changing up the usual pizza structure and toppings.

A restaurant called Homeslice, with a couple of branches including one in Shoreditch near Queen Mary University of London, has changed the game. They’re offering massive 20-inch pizzas for £20. My family and I tried them, and they’re great. I would absolutely recommend it. 

They also have a cream corn sauce base, instead of the usual tomato sauce. I don’t even know what that would taste like. Or, perhaps, you’d want to try pumpkin seeds and a soy truffle glaze on a garlic oil base.

These gourmet pizzas are a hit or miss, in my opinion. You can choose to take the risk and you may end up loving it, or be left wondering why you didn’t just get a margherita.

  • Bread:

Quite possibly the first dish that comes to mind in the realm of simple foods; it’s a staple.

There are different types of bread that are a great twist to the original: turkish bread, garlic bread, melon pan bread, focaccia and more. Yet, there are places in London that serve even more unique breads.

An example is the squid ink flatbread at Black Axe Mangal (topped with cod roe, yolk and edible glitter- yes, you read that right). Perhaps, you’d like a sweet brioche bread…but in the form of a doughnut? Then, visit Comptoir Gourmand. There’s also potato sourdough bread in Dalston, if your taste buds are so inclined.

I haven’t tried any of the above. But honestly, I have a gut feeling I’d like it. As long as the bread and ingredients are of good quality, I feel you can’t go wrong. Anything goes with bread.

These are just a few, but there’s so much more out there. London’s food scene is creative, innovative and constantly reinventing itself. Sometimes it’s fun to revisit those simple dishes in lieu of a more complicated ramen with pork and corn fed chicken bone broth, chashu pork collar, seaweed, spring onion, porcini truffle paste, white truffle oil and yuzu-shoyu (but maybe try this too at Kanada-Ya).

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