10 Of London’s Most Authentic Restaurants

Negril: Authentic Jamaican in Brixton

Negril: Authentic Jamaican in Brixton

It has become quite a cliché for a restaurant to describe itself as authentic. Even if it isn’t. In the first part of a mini-series exploring those restaurants that actually are authentic, we suggest 10 places that won’t disappoint. Almost all the restaurants below are recommended or verified by people with heritage in the country of the cuisine that the restaurant serves; if not, then by people who know it very well indeed.

Adulis, Eritrean, Brixton
Sitting on Brixton Road for more than 15 years, you can’t help but feel like you’ve come across a piece of Africa lost in London when visiting Adulis. From traditional low seating to a scattering of African pottery and paintings, the scene is well and truly set for dishes including homemade sour injera bread and many slightly spicy offal-based dishes. If you’re lucky enough to be finishing your meal as it starts to get late, watch the scene (and join in) as tables get moved aside and the dining area turns into an impromptu dancefloor. There’s so much charisma here, you can’t fail to feel the good time vibes.

Delhi Grill, Indian, Islington
Areas including Southall, Wembley and East Ham aren’t short of restaurants showcasing authentic grub from India’s many different regions. More centrally in Islington, Delhi Grill dishes out Punjabi classics in a smart canteen environment that’s more styled than many an Indian, but no lesser for it. Freshly made chapatis are a speciality, while you’ll find many a familiar dish (rogan josh, birianis) alongside simply grilled and intricately spiced fish and a wide selection of vegetarian options.

The Heron, Thai, Edgware Road
Set in the basement of The Heron pub just off Edgware Road, few restaurants in London could be considered less ceremonial. Neither dank or dingy would be inappropriate descriptions, but this really shouldn’t put you off as the food is bright-flavoured and exciting — though you do need to have a reasonably high spice tolerance. Expect hot and sour soups, steamed bread and fried duck tongues from a glossy picture-led menu (which was translated into English on this blog); there definitely won’t be a green curry in sight. Most main dishes are just under £10, and — whether a bonus or not — karaoke is also available.

Hunan, Chinese, Chelsea
We’ve picked out several alternative and authentic Chinese restaurants that buck the Westernised Chinatown trend here, but of all of them, the food at Hunan is among the most authentic. The cuisine of the Hunan province is known for its chilli-heat, so expect plenty of that (along with ingredients such as jellyfish, pig ears, and fermented bamboo shoots) in the selections whipped up by staff at this menu-less restaurant, but also expect to find equally authentic options which are derived from Taiwanese cuisine – itself very integrated with that of Hunan.

Jose, Spanish, Bermondsey
This small Bermondsey Street tapas bar from Jose Pizarro is hardly a secret, and you’re in for a wait if you want a spot at even a remotely popular time. But that just makes it all the more authentic. Whether you get a seat or have to lean against a barrel as you sip on a glass of sherry, the cramped atmosphere is brilliantly Barcelona. Small plates are chosen from the blackboards and change regularly, though impressive cured meats and cheeses are a mainstay.

Mamuska, Polish
A definite highlight of the Elephant & Castle shopping centre, this cheap as chips canteen-style caff offers homely, hearty and hefty portions of food like your Polish mother would have made. From pierogi to thick, chunky stews with lots of mash, and breaded escalopes, it’s comfort food at its best, and as well as an authentic eat, we’ve also ranked it as one of our best value restaurants in London. Vodka, you say? Well, of course. Just take your pick from the all-Polish selection.

Mien Tay, Vietnamese, Battersea
It’s not always easy to tell one Kingsland Road Vietnamese from another, but Mien Tay managed to gain enough popularity to branch out to a second venue in Battersea, bringing their authentic, cheap and cheerful dishes to Londoners south of the river. The restaurant deals particularly in dishes from south-west Vietnam, and while hearty phos are present and correct, specialities such as chargrilled honeyed quail, and beef in wild betel leaves are the real highlights. The original restaurant remains resolutely BYO, but the Battersea branch now has a decent and well-priced wine list.

Negril, Jamaican, Brixton
You could be forgiven for thinking that Brixton would be brimming with authentic Caribbean cuisine, but it really isn’t. This restaurant on Brixton Hill is doing its bit, though. Jerk chicken plays a lead role here, with ackee and saltfish, roti wraps, curry goat and ribs also featuring heavily. In terms of sides, you can’t go far wrong with rice and peas or fried plantain. There’s a very basic (undecorated) look going on both inside and out, and service can seem like it’s on Caribbean time, but just go with it. A tenner will get you half a jerk chicken, and most other mains are a fair bit cheaper; it’s BYO, too.

Sacro Cuore, Italian, Kensal Green
Top notch ingredients and a 400 degree oven help to make the pizzas at this Kensal Green sibling of Ealing’s Santa Maria pizzeria among the best in London. And as any Italian will tell you, a pizza is not just a pizza. What’s served here is Neapolitan-style pizzas, which are fluffier than the thinner-based (and more common in the UK) Roman style. Critic Andy Hayler goes into detail on his site about the regulations involved in defining a Neapolitan pizza (a specific flour, only certain cheeses, the oven must be wood-fired…) and Sacro Cuore claim to follow these rules to the letter. Needless to say, you won’t get a Hawaiian here…

Sushi Tetsu, Japanese, Clerkenwell
This husband-and-wife-run sushi bar really does channel the spirit of Tokyo. The size helps (there’s around 6 or 7 spots in the whole restaurant) as does the relatively simple menu of sushi and sashimi which resists the temptation to branch out into noodles, curries, tempura and the likes. One of the set omakase menus is a good way to sample what’s on offer, the word translates as ‘entrusting the chef’, and you’ll get what he feels is best on the day. Prices (listed on the website) are reasonable given the quality you’re getting, but good sushi never comes too cheap. Be warned that booking can be a bit of a faff.

We’re looking to review and round-up more of London’s most authentic restaurants. So if you have any tip-offs from Afghan to Australian, or Finnish to French, do let us know in the comments below.

We put a shout-out on Twitter for recommendations to help us compile this list; thanks to @wyahaw, @Wanderlustnbake, @TheSpiceScribe, @clerkenwell_boy, @Eman_Barrasso and others for your tips.

This article is part of our Best of London Food and Drink series. Visit the page for more recommendations of where to enjoy the capital’s top food and drink, categorised by cuisine, food type and more.

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  • Tom Bolton

    I fear Zapiecek closed last year. Last time I went past it seemed to have turned into a jerk chicken ship. Mamuska in Elephant and Castle as a replacement, perhaps?

    • Ben Norum

      Oh no. I will check and edit as necessary. Big fan of Mamuska, too. When did it close? Didn’t feel like long ago I was there. Shame.

  • Ben Norum

    Note: I have edited this and removed Zapiecek in Streatham as Tom Bolton has noticed that it has closed since we visited. Thanks Tom. Mamuska is a fine replacement.

    • alex

      Daquise in South Kensington makes pierogi almost as good as my grandma. Definitely a home from home for me

    • Andrew Brown

      Wait a second, what about Autograf on West Green Road? It’s as Polish as wodka, and twice as cheap

  • PhilipAbraham

    Brazilian food in Kilburn – this place is the real deal…

    http://www.barracocafe.co.uk/

    • Ben Norum

      Thanks. I actually went here but a good few years ago. Will have to give it a re-visit. A great call for the next in this series, thanks.

  • Elena

    I think you meant Sacro Cuore in Kensal Rise instead of Kensal Rise if I am not wrong. I loved it!

    • Ben Norum

      It’s pretty much equal distance from Kensal Green and Kensal Rise stations, I believe. So yep, that’s the one.

  • Matthew

    From the Hunan website, top of the ‘Our Food’ page: “Over the years, Chef Peng has developed his own style, which is heavily influenced by the food of Taiwan. So, we must confess our name, Hunan, is a bit of a misnomer”

    • Ben Norum

      Yes, it’s a blend of the two cuisines so maybe a controversial one where ‘authenticity’ is concerned… am looking into other options for a future follow-up post. Thanks.

  • Jonathan Wadman

    FWIW, there’s a second branch of Adulis on St John’s Hill.

  • Luís

    Portuguese: A Toca, Wandsworth Road (Stockwell). It’s really good and I always feel like I’m home.

  • James

    Great article – and a few there to add to my hit list! It’s a shame there was only room for 10. Have you tried Salt’n Pepper (around the back of the National Gallery) for its authentic Pakistani cuisine?

  • Anro

    South African Authentic – the Spur @Wandsworth and O2, Nando’s, Cape Town Fish Market,

  • http://tucumanoinlondon.blogspot.com/ Tucumano in London

    If you are looking to review a true new gem you should definitely check out Arepa&Co ! 100%Venezuelan Vibe !
    They opened up a gorgeous little cafe-restaurant right on the canal, perched above the water just west of the Haggerston bridge !
    Is the ONE authentic Venezuelan arepera in the
    UK and a gastronomic experience that global food junkies just cannot
    miss.
    http://arepaandco.com

  • Jason Johnson

    Negril is not that authentic and it’s not great (my family are Jamaican and I’ve been cooking for 21yrs, this is what warrants me to deliver such judgement). The food was not the best and I wouldn’t go back. You won’t find many Jamaicans eating there.

    If you want a REAL taste of Jamaica (though it’s currently take out only), go to ‘Refills’ (500a Brixton Rd – by NatWest bank, which is open 24hrs). They have the majority of things you’d eat in Jamaica (way more than most restaurants) and what most Jamaicans eat, go and look at how many people are always queuing (the service is fast). Every time I go to Brixton, I always visit ‘Refills’!!!

  • @SharedCityUK

    Have you been to Ealing Road (just up from Alperton station). Some very authentic Gujarati Indian eateries eg Maru’s & Sakonis, always packed with locals.

  • http://www.buissonfamily.blogspot.com/ Debbie @ Buisson International

    I love this list! Keeps the series going! :)

  • Phil Bird

    Got to recommend Moo on Cobb Street by the city as pretty authentic for Argentine Lomitos, it’s like being back in Córdoba…

  • exNorthLondoner

    You asked for Afghan in your feedback request so, here’s one – Ariani II (number 1 is in New York) half way along the Kilburn High Road (between the Jubilee line station and the Bakerloo Kilburn Park and Kilburn High Road station). Being good muslims they don’t handle alcohol but are happy for you to Bring your Own.