For some reason, good roti is hard to find in London, perhaps because there’s real skill involved in making it. In case you’re not familiar, the roti is an unleavened flatbread eaten across South Asia and the West Indies. Its defining features are a flaky, layered structure, and a buttery taste. Chefs have different techniques for making it, which may include any combination of folding, pressing, spinning and stretching, until the dough is ready. Once cooked, it should pull apart into lacy webs. It’s made with large amounts of ghee, or clarified butter, which is of course why it tastes so damn good. Pieces of the bread are torn and used to mop up any number of curries, be they lentil, vegetable or meat based. Many places use bought-in breads and serve them with sub-standard curries. Here are three places that we think raise the bar for London roti standards. They all have their charms. They all have their own style of roti.
Best for Malaysian roti: Roti King
Poor old Euston, eh? It’s never had a huge amount going for it, food wise. Or in many other respects, come to think of it. There’s the Euston Tap of course, and now, there is Roti King too — a major redeeming feature. Okay, so the dining room could, at best, be described as ‘basic’, but it’s all about the food at Roti King, and the top tip here is the roti canai. The breads here arrive artfully crumpled onto the plate, and are flaky and full of ghee, yet so very light at the same time. Do pause to watch one being made if you can — the spinning and skillful stretching (but never tearing) of the dough is mesmerising. There’s nothing refined about this eating experience. It’s a bowl of curry, dribbling down the sides of the bowl, to be dunked into with those buttery handkerchiefs. Meat eaters will appreciate the mutton curry best; all bones and deep murky flavours you’ll want to roll around in. In short, this place is making the best roti in London right now; and it’s certainly the closest in quality to those we’ve had in Malaysia. Word of advice: don’t wear a white top.
Roti King, 40 Doric Way, NW1 1LH
Best for Trinidadian roti: Roti Joupa
This scrappy little joint in Clapham North went through a wobble a few years back, but seems to be back on form. All the rotis are made to order, which most definitely isn’t the norm for London. The curry goat is fairly standard, but it is improved if you ask for it ‘spicy’, and you absolutely must save room for their hot doubles, which is a marvellous chickpea arrangement, both sweet and sour with tamarind. Our main niggle with this place is that the location isn’t great, and you’ll struggle to sit comfortably inside as it’s more of a room with a few stools than a restaurant. The seats are in the window, which is great for people watching. The only problem is, the locals tend to return the favour, and we’ve been the entertainment for one or two characters on more than a few occasions. Your best bet with this place is to grab your grub and find a spot nearby to eat it.
Roti Joupa, 12 Clapham High Street, Clapham, SW4 7UT
Best for Guyanese roti: Umana Yana
This south London gem is tucked away in a corner of Herne Hill. Owner Debbie has been making roti since she was 8 years old, and she says the reason her rotis are so good is, “a family secret.” It’s all in the technique however, “Everyone uses the same ingredients” says Debbie, “It’s just the way you use them.” Her rotis are super-lacy, like gorgeous carb-doilies, both spongy and delicate at the same time. A piece of this plunged into one of her curries is the perfect meal. Do leave time for a snooze afterwards. We can’t tell you about Umana Yana (the name means ‘the meeting of the people’), without mentioning Debbie’s hot sauce, which she makes herself using scotch bonnet chillies. It’s special. It should be sold in bottles. If you ask nicely though, she’ll probably give you some to take away...
Umana Yana, 294 Croxted Road, Herne Hill, SE24 9DA