A foodie's travel diary: Where to eat in a week in London

Cheah Wen Tao, founder of artisan bakery Tao Bakes Cakes and Plump Café in Bangsar, KL documents his recent eating spree.

The author (right) with Idris Mazlan and Marcus Low at La Fromagerie, an artisan cheesemonger in Marylebone (Photo: SooPhye)


As is natural and proper, the week begins with coffee. Mondays can be tricky when many foodie destinations are shut, so it’s reassuring to have all-day café and dining joints open weeklong with a branch network scattered conveniently throughout London.

One such gem is Caravan (especially the King’s Cross branch housed in an enormous former grain warehouse), with an all-day food menu as strong as its own-roast coffee. I sit outdoors on a day of out-of-character blazing sunshine, nursing an Americano, while taking in the architectural marvel that is Coal Drops Yard — unrecognisable from the dingy King’s Cross days of my university youth. The impossibly pretty Granger & Co in the adjacent leafy square encapsulates the area’s transformation just as well — bringing brunch, flat whites and sunny vibes from the other side of the world. And, yes, those famed scrambled eggs and ricotta hotcakes taste just as good in Sydney,  Seoul … or, indeed, St Pancras!


The glass-fronted Granger & Co on Pancras Square is a stone's throw King's Cross (Photo: Granger & Co)


I meet up with Marcus Low (the brains behind neighbourhood stalwarts Table & Apron and Universal Bakehouse back home in Petaling Jaya). We are intent on gorging our way through London — all in the name of research.

As a restaurateur, Marcus is keen on consuming F&B experiences, digesting and ruminating on them, and then taking these inspirations back and reinterpreting them in the Malaysian food scene. His is a noble purpose, a higher calling. As for me, I just wanted to eat!

Bakeries are the first order of the day. We make a beeline for Dusty Knuckle — the unassuming car park in Dalston belying its reputation for having the best breads in London, particularly its Potato Sourdough and focaccia sandwiches. The breads live up to the hype, as does a sweet-salty pastry of feta, honey and fennel seeds.


The breads live up to the hype at Dusty Knuckle (Photo: The Dusty Knuckle)

Staying in the East, Marcus gets all excited at a site visit of e5 Bakehouse, as he completed a stint as a baker here in 2013. But what he remembers as a small artisanal bakery under a railway arch has grown into a full-scale vertical integration of on-site flour milling, chocolate and coffee roasting, kitchen and deli, and even its own farm.

Marcus buzzes with inspiration as we see their heartier loaves being made with stone-ground heritage grains, in line with their commitment to use sustainable ingredients that are healthier for people and the planet.

Just farther down the arches, Pophams Bakery puts an innovative spin on viennoiserie pastries, both sweet and savoury. Forget plain old croissants; these guys make magic with laminated dough — think Marmite and cheese, or syrup sponge croissant pudding with custard — all served atop beautiful ceramics on communal tables in an open-plan space.


Pophams Bakery puts an innovative spin on viennoiserie pastries (Photo: Pophams Bakery)


To many Malaysians, British cuisine conjures up images of stodgy, one-dimensional food limited to fish and chips, over-boiled vegetables and cottage pie. But it was the British restaurant St John (and the vision of Fergus Henderson) that kick-started a movement of modern cooking that is confident in its simplicity and seasonality, a worldwide phenomenon that inspired the way dishes are constructed and menus are written — Marcus tells me that Table & Apron draws on this spirit as well.

A pilgrimage for foodies, the St John Bread & Wine opposite Spitalfields Market is its branch closer to us holidaying tourists, serving meals from that ethos — dishes featuring offal such as devilled kidney and, as it is autumn, game (spiced hare pie), with British classics for dessert (bread-and-butter pudding or treacle tart).

The lovely Rochelle Canteen is another favourite for British produce cooked simply and well, tucked away in a former school where you ring a bell to enter.

Marcus also enjoyed the Sunday roasts at Marksman Pub, which turned out to be truly elite cooking disguised as pub grub. A seasonal chicken and girolles pie, with its crust of golden mahogany hiding a treasure trove of chicken stew and foraged mushrooms, was a highlight, as was the silkiest of gravies that accompanied the roast rump of beef. The meal ended with a dreamy brown butter and honey tart of a happy, Winnie the Pooh yellow.


Marksman Pub turned out to be truly elite cooking disguised as pub grub (Photo: Marksman Pub)


By now, we are craving the strong flavours of home, desperate for rice and noodles on our hawker-hardened palates. With plenty of Malaysian restaurants in London, not to mention Malaysian-friendly haunts for roast duck and lobster noodles, we are spoilt for choice. We plump for an unlikely option, Sri Lankan-inspired Hoppers, but it delivers that familiar spicy punch we are looking for. Curries and roti satiate us, particularly a bone marrow varuval with generous chunks of that fatty wobble hiding in sauce-coated knuckles.

A more austere choice would have been Koya for soupy udon, its clear dashi a soothing balm in the unpredictable British weather. Freshly made tempura, naughty kakuni of stewed pork belly and a changing menu of daily specials ensure its counter remains perpetually busy with diners seated shoulder-to-shoulder.

Keeping the same thread of Asian flavours, teatime treats are from Arôme, with queues snaking out of this Covent Garden bakery. French pastries with an East Asian twist are the draw here — think a buttery, sugar-crusted honey toast inspired by the Hong Kong diner staple, or a sausage roll glazed in Japanese barbecue sauce — as are the patient and smiley staff.


Koya's soupy udon in clear dashi is a soothing balm in the unpredictable British weather (Phot: Koya)


As owners of neighbourhood F&B joints back in KL, Marcus and I are entranced by the unique atmosphere and conviviality of London restaurants. This is perfectly captured in today’s meals — with both restaurants espousing a casual approach, dishing out sharing plates and extending warm hospitality. Little wonder, then, that they are owned by the same restaurateurs.

For lunch, Jolene is a cosy and inviting space, its dusty pink walls and raw wood surfaces cocoon us as we choose from the daily-changing menu of savoury tapas-sized snacks, pastas and European-inspired mains. Beautiful Stoke Newington locals read quietly in the comfortable chairs or chat over coffee on counter stools — it is a picture of all we aspire to, which is to provide a precious and essential service to our local community.

For dinner, we head to Westerns Laundry, tucked away in the middle of a row of houses in an unassuming residential neighbourhood. It often, in dry British tongue-in-cheek fashion, proclaims itself as “the best restaurant you have never heard of” but, as soon as we enter the dimly candlelit space, the buzz is palpable — the clitter-clatter of forks and knives, the clinking of glasses of natural wines, and the noisy chatter of happy diners squashed together on large communal tables. We order ambitiously from the vast blackboard menu taking pride of place in the room and are duly rewarded with an array of dishes of a seafood slant. Not to be missed is a rum baba soaked in a rum-raisin syrup, which the menu (incorrectly) recommends for sharing.

The day ends with us reflecting on how we can emulate today’s experiences in our own restaurant and café — a personable and knowledgeable waitress who recommends her favourite dishes, uncomplicated food that lubricates good conversation, water served from beautiful handmade jugs, and an atmosphere of warm and flattering light.


Westerns Laundry's rum baba soaked in a rum-raisin syrup is not to be missed (Photo: Westerns Laundry)


The weekend’s treat is breakfast at Honey & Co Bloomsbury, which spoils us with a Middle Eastern spread of moreish hummus with warm pitta and red and green versions of shakshuka. But the reason I am here is its range of desserts!

A feted feta and honey cheesecake served on crispy kadaifi is unmissable, as are the many Middle Eastern-inspired desserts flavoured with tahini, figs and pistachios, all washed down with a cardamom-scented black coffee.

However, the undisputed king of popularising this cuisine is Yotam Ottolenghi and we pay a visit to his growing empire in London. The colourful, mesmerising spread of sweet treats at Ottolenghi is what first sparked my interest in cakes long before Tao Bakes Cakes and Plump Café were born, and I am unable to resist a takeaway of my favourites, the plainest-looking and most underrated ones — lemon polenta cake dripping white with orange blossom-scented icing, and a square of their cooked seasonal fruit tart, all dense and almond-rich.

In fact, Table & Apron alumnus Idris Mazlan now works in the Ottolenghi family of restaurants, and Marcus takes the opportunity to dine with him at ROVI, which serves an elevated version of that famously globe-trotting menu. The beautiful restaurant draws inspiration from multiple cuisines (including Malaysian flavours) and, here, yuzu sits happily with dukkah on the plate. Food here is never dull and we are excited about what Idris will be able to achieve in London.


ROVI serves an elevated version of Ottolenghi's famous globe-trotting menu (Photo: ROVI)


After a week of non-stop dining, some respite from the pressures of eating out can be very welcome. A peaceful meal in the comfort of one’s room or a picnic in clement weather calls for a reliable spot for takeaway treats — perhaps some good bread and charcuterie, or a pot of soup. Other than the justly renowned food halls of London’s landmark department stores, smaller neighbourhood delis abound, such as St John’s Wood institution Panzer’s with its many kosher food options and beautiful mounds of fruit; Bayley & Sage in Marylebone for unending displays of chocolates, including my favourite Pump Street bars with sourdough crumbs; Melrose & Morgan outlets located near picnic havens Primrose Hill and Hampstead Heath; or La Fromagerie with its unbeatable selection of cheeses and accoutrements.

A gentle lunch naturally prepares one for a blowout dinner. Convention used to dictate that such meals take place only in fine-dining establishments, with neatly ironed tablecloth and a parade of flatware. But these days, one could easily dine just as well in a casual setting, with music thumping and tattooed chefs working over open flames.

A final meal with Marcus in London saw us at Brat — roasted whole John Dory, grilled pork collar, crabs and mussels, and caramelised lamb’s sweetbreads. This was dinner necessitating messy fingers — it was primal and hypnotic and utterly fulfilling. But we could have just as easily been at The Barbary, enjoying flatbreads with dips and flame-licked meats, or Smoking Goat with spicy laabs and fried rice redolent of wok hei. It could be Spanish, or Arabic, or Thai, or anything we fancied. And that, my dear friends, is the true beauty of eating out in London!


This article first appeared in The Edge's London special issue on Oct 10, 2022.


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