Gizzi Erskine spins many plates. An integral part of the culinary landscape in London for more than 15 years, as a talented chef she has been credited with spearheading the capital’s thriving pop-up restaurant scene. She is also a best-selling author, columnist and broadcaster, as well as an agricultural activist. So, where does one of the most exciting, innovative women in food like to eat out? Here she reveals her failsafe foodie hotspots in the capital.
Giz & Green
Stephen (Manderson, aka Professor Green) and I have been good friends for years; we also share a secret love of junk food. During lockdown, Stephen was in Morocco but he couldn’t get hold of his favourite fast foods. So we started an Instagram cooking exchange and live videos on how to make takeaway meals at home.
In mid-July, when Stephen was back in the UK, we decided to take it further and launch a pop-up together – Giz & Green – serving classic Americana stuff-crust pizzas, with a refined London edge. They’re basically our take on Domino’s but we use a rye vegan sourdough base, which is gut healthy, and then quality DOP ingredients, like Marzano tomatoes and mozzarella – though we’re still keeping the pizzas a bit grubby with a garlic and herb dip. The pop-up has gone so well, we’re actually opening it as a restaurant.
80 City Road, Old Street, London EC1Y 2BJ
This is my favourite restaurant of all time. The main site is based in Shoreditch, but they’ve taken a residency at Climpson’s Arch, London Fields, over the summer. I go here for the brilliant wood-fired menu. Tomos Parry, who is the head chef, is just extraordinary in how he cooks very simple food exquisitely.
Everything is done over coal and wood fire, giving it a smokey deliciousness. Much of it is cooked on the bone – Tomos does the most beautiful whole turbot – using really seasonal ingredients. It also serves great buxom wine. I’ll go here on a Saturday afternoon, drink wine and eat nice food. I just love it.
374 Helmsley Place, Hackney, London E8 3SB
This Italian restaurant in Clerkenwell is expensive – it’s a real treat – but it really means business in how it presents itself. Not surprising really, as it’s run by the guys who own the Clove Club – Isaac McHale, Johnny Smith and Daniel Willis – which is probably the best restaurant in the UK.
The atmosphere at Luca is consistently great. So, too, the food. I always start with their Parmesan fries – essentially like cheesy churros – and the plate of Italian salumi with giardiniera vegetables. Their mortadella is incredible. And the pasta… well, that’s just out-of-control good.
88 St John St, Farringdon, London EC1M 4EH
St John Bread & Wine
When I started training as a chef, about 15 years ago, I worked here and I still go as regularly as I can. Opened by Fergus Henderson in 2003, just opposite Smithfields market, it’s a restaurant serving traditional British food, which to this day continues to impact on the global food scene. I love ordering a good bottle of wine, breaking bread and digging in.
The head chef Farokh Talati is of Parsi heritage – he also hosts a supper club once a month at Maison Bertaux in Soho. Shaped by two ancient cultures, Persia and India, his Parsi menu is always amazing – patra ni machhi is a classic, fish coated in a chutney made from coconut, green mango, coriander, garlic and chilis, and baked in a banana leaf.
94-96 Commercial Street, Spitalfields, London E1 6LZ
This is also one of my absolute favourite London restaurants. Set on Columbia Road, it’s a local spot to me, so luckily I can utilise it the whole time. I love it because it’s all about simple Mediterranean food. Eating here always reminds me of being on holiday.
It isn’t just about really good, continental cooking, they also source excellent ingredients, from salty, tangy Cantabrian anchovies from Santona to huge Ligurian Bull’s Heart tomatoes and sweet Italian friggitelli peppers. They have a really good piece of fish on the menu without fail, and there’s always a fantastic pasta or rice dish.
49 Columbia Road, Shoreditch, London E2 7RG
La Petite Maison
This is a French restaurant, tucked away on a quiet mews in Mayfair, which again focuses on simplicity, but what I absolutely love about it is its opulence. Simplicity meets opulence is quite a tricky one to pull off – it’s what I was aiming for at The Nitery, my three-month residency at St Martins Lane London.
Here, while caviar and truffles feature on the menu, you can also order the classics like pissaladière, salade nicoise or a deliciously simple pan fried dover sole. They’re also well-known for their roasts, mainly their roast chicken stuffed with foie gras. Superb food and great quality cooking.
53-54 Brook’s Mews, Mayfair, London W1K 4EG
I recently had omakase, which is a Japanese tasting menu, at Kaké, a new pop-up on the 1st floor of Chisou in Knightsbridge. It’s a teeny weeny counter restaurant, serving real sushi. While they use the freshest fish, here it’s all about the perfectly-seasoned rice – as it should be. What people don’t understand about sushi is that the fish is the vehicle for the rice, not the other way round.
Here it’s modern sushi but it’s not like your Nobus or your Zumas, it’s more traditional Japanese. A real sushi menu you eat with your hands, not chopsticks and it’s a very theatrical experience. The food is really intellectually done, using very fine, high quality ingredients. You’ll have turbot pressed with kombu seaweed or umami; and the braised lobster bisque is just delicious.
1st floor, 31 Beauchamp Place, Knightsbridge, SW3 1NU
C & R Cafe
The London restaurant I go to most is C & R Cafe in Chinatown. I probably eat there twice a month. It’s grotty as anything and your food is as good as thrown at you, but the Malay food is outstanding and it’s cheap as chips.
You’ll find all the classics like Nasi Lemak and curry chicken, as well as favourites like Teo Cheow Pork Belly and Five Spice Lok Bak. I’ll order the Roti Canai – a Malaysian flatbread that is almost like a croissant – which you can tear off and dip in dahl and curry sauce. It’s fantastic.
4-5 Rupert Court, West End, London W1D 6DY
Restore by Gizzi Erskine is published on 29 October (£25, HQ)