Under the marquee, a true Mexican: Corrochio’s
There are more taquerias on Kingsland High Street than there are smelly butchers on Ridley Road Market. This unexplained multitude of Mexican restaurants on the road (within 10 minutes walking distance from the Junction in both directions) is perhaps the result of a gentrified neighbourhood looking for excitement in the dining sphere. But the over-tacoification often comes with a lack of flavour and an abundance of 'concept'; produce and technique that don’t recreate original tastes and decor that mimics Mexican culture to a level of accuracy similar to Speedy Gonzalez. Yet among the eight Mexican joints, I can think of off the top of my head, there is one that feels less like a gimmicky recreation of culture and more like Mexicans trying to do wonders in a hole-in-the-wall: Corrochio’s. Aguachile, a weekly special As a taqueria and cocktail bar, Corrochio’s is for casual nights that are special. Maybe for a slightly romantic weekday date or a dinner with friends. The cute and sometimes cheeky messages on the marquee lead the way to the underground bar, akin to entering a pyramid if the tomb belonged to a hipster Aztec emperor. In the dimly lit, lively lounge there are a handful of tables surrounded by vividly decorated walls. Not cheesy enough to have Frida Kahlo paintings but with an appropriate amount of Dia de Los Muertos flair. The number of ornaments has the necessary attention-grabbing quality, pizzazz if you will, to fill the silence during dinner. Interesting enough for the uninterested guest to look around and find something to ogle at while the overly interested one tries to establish extended eye contact after the second marg. The menu fits this dynamic perfectly too, as it is approachable enough for the newly initiated Mexican tastes but also lists regional and niche dishes to keep a level of gastronomic excitement. Cornholio, a muddled corn-based cloudy margarita What to eat/drink: Go here for the tacos and then regret not trying the more regional and less mainstream dishes. It feels to me like the Mexican chefs in the kitchen occasionally miss a dish from their home and include it in the menu for a bit. The safe options are the Gobernador tacos with shrimp, the lengua (tongue) tacos or whatever birria they have. The vegan and vegetarian options here are also much better than any other taqueria I have tried in London, probably thanks to their salsas [mostly cruda (hangover illnesses caused by a previous bout of heavy drinking), as it should be] and the overcomplicated mole dressings. Another nod-earner is the hefty guacamole and chips starter, which by the laws of space and time should not be this good in London, as any North American would attest. The cocktails here are proud to be on the spicy to salty spectrum, with even Clamato micheladas making appearances. The margs and mezcalitas pack the perfect fresh punch for fatty and drippy tacos but my favourite so far is the sweetly unique cornholio, a muddled corn-based cloudy margarita with a tajin rim (of course). And then some: This autumn Corrochio’s also extended to their neighbouring lounge (where Ruby’s used to be) and opened a bar: Cantina. It’s not the most popular yet, the queue outside is not comparable to other dance joints in Dalston, which makes it perfect. More importantly, they serve tacos. Music goes on until 2:00 a.m., with the rare sighting of Mariachi bands. Where: 76 Stoke Newington Rd, N16 7XB When : Great for weekday nights. Booking is recommended, especially for weekends. Taco Tuesdays are also worth going to with 4 small tacos and a decent margarita at £16, among other deals.
Planque: easy on the eye, nose and tongue
Some restaurants have that je ne sais quoi that makes you want to describe them by using the vague and lazy phrase 'je ne sais quoi'. Planque deserves better. The Haggerston restaurant matches an excellent modern French menu with an atmosphere that’s too spacious even for East London. The high ceilings and wood-covered generous seating plan remind me of trending Brooklyn restaurants designed by Danish architects rather than London or Paris establishments where the spaces between the tables are as small as the shared plates. Despite its modern feel, you know you are at a French restaurant. The name Planque of course primes you for it, but also the extensive list of French wines, a pastis among the apéritifs and the French accents of the service staff (or their excellent pronunciation of wine names) can be other indicators. Yet for me, it is the French worker jackets worn by the service staff, the kind that saturates the fits of Broadway Market strollers on a Sunday, that make the restaurant an aesthetically pleasing, cooler-than-thou place. Planque is where you seek extended eye contact with the person who is perfectly explaining to you the spices in the persimmon custard tarte or the bold bottle at odds with the characteristics of the Loire region. Perfect for a wine-heavy splurge with food-forward friends as well as ambience-seeking Londoners you want to impress. Chickpea panisse & trout roe Photography: Anton Rodriguez Where: 322-324 Acton Mews, beneath the railway arches of the Overground station, E8 4EA What to order: The menu changes seasonally, however, some excellent dishes from my visits were the calf brain, the panisse and the chou farci (stuffed cabbage). Order wine generously and with the aid of the establishment. Duly noted: Planque is also a wine membership club accepting grape enthusiasts by application and providing priorities and privileges such as tastings, discounts, cellar space and more.
Great Beyond Brewing Co.
It’s not often we get a new and loveable brewery in a part of town where novelty has become a creeping force for commercial chains. A minute walk away from the band of Vietnamese restaurants in Hoxton, the Great Beyond Brewing Co . resides. Great Beyond is parched under arched ceilings and warmly lit by string lights across the spacious interiors. There is a well-dressed gentleman (a bouncer with a kinder and milder attitude) opening the door to visitors, contrasting with the hyper-casual setting and the industrial beer tanks. The mix of small tables and long communal ones makes it perfect for crowded friend groups or casual dates. So does the menu: a mix of house brews and a few essential cocktails. Inside the Great Beyond Brewing Co. Being someone who prefers a crisp hazy IPA and having been mocked for it by snobby bartenders (at Red Hand for instance), I mainly felt welcome here. Not only because one of the five house brews is a hazy IPA, but also because the bartenders were eager to give a taste of their different brews and were very understanding when guests' preferences didn’t match their products. They weren’t afraid to tell their inclination and dislikes and how sometimes the raspberries sourced can taste better than the raspberry sour itself. It’s what this kind of place should be about: enjoying the beer without the pomp. What to order: The hazy IPA, obviously. But for the adventurous beer drinker, the raspberry sour is excitingly raspberry-coloured and has a lovely red berry nose. Similarly, the coffee and orange zest porter had a warming, chocolatey coffee aroma with the orange shining through when washed down. I believe their small-scale menu is subject to change often, so asking the bartenders about what’s on tap is always a better choice. Where: 417 Union Walk, E28HP
A Local's advice
I think there are two guides that matter: the tourist’s guide and the local’s guide. If you are in town for the first time, there are 'must-have' food experiences. One is a pub with a strong menu. Either go for The Plimsoll where fourlegs are doing their residency. For quintessential and expertly done British food, book your spot in Anchor & Hope . Then hit an Ottolenghi , just to get what the big deal about this guy and sterilised Middle Eastern cuisine is. For a cheeky sausage roll try Dusty Knuckle’ s oily one early in the morning or get in line at The Ginger Pig at Borough Market. St. John is a must to see how the Modern European restaurant concept was forged amid the bones and cartridges of British swine. And then of course Dishoom , because you have to. Dishoom, Shoreditch (also have King's Cross and Covent Garden branches ) And if you are local, discover a neighbourhood. It could be yours, it could be the opposite of yours. For Dalston-about try this: pastries at Brunswick East and Bake Street , a cheeky lahmacun at Bebek Baklava followed by a vibey coffee break in Ridley Road Social Club , grab your lunch at Rainbow Café and definitely book a dinner spot at The Little Duck , then do a mini wine crawl from Hector’s to Weino Bib to dan’s in that order. Maybe drop by the Red Hand for a final pint before hitting Jago or Dalston Jazz Bar to have unrestrained and sweaty fun. Cheeky dessert at The Little Duck If it’s a weeknight though, scratch all this. Have some tacos and cocktails at the Mexican cantine Corrochio's and then some more tacos and cocktails at Doña’s. Alternatively, you can enjoy a jazzy event at Mu or Café Oto . For a late-night snack, Şömine offers great homey food including lentil soup or get hand-cut döner at Ali Baba. Unfortunately, London is the worst global city when it comes to late-night eating. The imaginary part of this guide would be a good late-night spot. My dream is to see hot4u open a 10:00 p.m.- 6:00 a.m. shop dishing out koji fried chicken, bone marrow slurpies and magnums (both the wine and their magnum-looking ice cream).
The Counter describes itself as a contemporary grill. The first time I went here this definition concerned me as Turkish restaurants with elevated adjectives tend to only have cosmetic connections to their cuisine that European diners mistake for thematic. Aesthetically plated dishes with a pseudo-cultural backstory missing the essence of the recipe they are imitating. But The Counter focuses on staying true to the cuisine’s roots with staple Turkish dishes elevated only through technique and not storytelling. The chef behind the grill is Kemal Demirasal, the now-grown Aegean wunderkind with a strong resumé full of fine-dining restaurants in İzmir and İstanbul. Demirasal’s process of building the menu for The Counter, his first brick-and-mortar in London after 4 years, was to research local dishes in Turkey extensively and match the execution in the UK with local ingredients. Dishes from Adana, Antalya, Southeast Turkey as well as İzmir come together to make this holistic line-up. His 'finer' additions to these tend to be non-obtrusive, such as letting the isot pepper shine in kuru fasulye (braised haricot beans) and pairing it with ox cheek instead of traditional cubed brisket cuts. Despite the chef’s background and his elevation of classic dishes, The Counter is not a fine-dining restaurant. It’s more of a bistrot with flair, the sounds of the open charcoal grill behind the counter making it more down-to-earth than pretentious. It’s great for a dinner with close friends, perhaps a weeknight date, or when you want to flaunt your knowledge and the diversity of Turkish food in a lesser-known restaurant to a fellow food lover. Sweetbread kokoreç What to order? For starters: The Antalya piyaz , veal tongue, and white chocolate babagannoush. The piyaz deserves extra credit as it is as close as it can get to the originals in Antalya, with the egg yolk being the perfect decadent bonus. Hot appetisers to share: Kokoreç with sweetbread, a fatty and tasty crowd-pleaser. The hummus with pistachios and dates is another banger. Mains: Any of the charcoal grilled meat dishes ( satır kıyma, tire köfte , and other rotating kebaps) is a good choice but the ox cheek getting cosy on top of the isot -heavy kuru fasulye (braised beans with smoky Urfa pepper) takes a classic peasant dish to another level. For dessert: The keşkül , a patisserie staple pudding in Turkey, made from superb Cornish milk is the star of the desserts. To Pair: The Counter has a decent wine menu with variety, as well as good Turkish wines, consulted by Michelin’s Sommelier of the Year İsa Bal. The cocktail menu mixes Turkish ingredients with conventionally attractive techniques and recipes. The mezcal şalgam margarita is worth trying. Otherwise, Turkish and Greek spirits are available for the die-hard Aegeans. For non-alcoholic choices, they offer a good tarragon-infused ayran and house şalgam . Where: On Golborne Road with an easy-to-miss sign. 108 Golborne Rd, London W10 5PS.