A pioneer on the Japanese food scene in London, chef Shuko Oda launched her first restaurant, Koya, over 10 years ago, making her one of the first to bring fresh udon noodles to the capital. Now the original restaurant has become one of Soho’s best-loved spots and Oda has added two more sites in the City and Hackney. From pasta pomodoro in Peckham to her pick of the most romantic restaurant in London, here the chef reveals her favourite places to eat out in town.
Shuko Oda’s Favourite London restaurants
Sessions Arts Club
This is one of those places you go when you want to feel a bit special or really treat yourself – I never wear high heels, but I do when I go to Sessions Art Club. The dining room is incredible – it’s such a beautiful space – and the food is amazing, too. I’ve always been a big fan of Florence Knight’s cooking – she’s got such a sensitive touch and always cooks in the most honest way.
The dishes here are very seasonal and never over the top, but you can see that there’s been great care taken with every single one – they’re delicate but bold, and always beautifully presented. Florence is a perfectionist and there’s a lot of thought that goes into her food.
Old Sessions House, 24 Clerkenwell Green, Clerkenwell, London, EC1
There is something very liberating about having a meal in a restaurant that you know is ethical and sustainable in every possible way. I really respect the owner, Ben Chapman, for the conscious way he creates food and how he sources his ingredients. For example, they’ll always try to get a whole animal – say, a lamb – butcher it themselves and then make sure to use every part of it. Or instead of flying in their Thai herbs, they’ll make sure to source them from growers in the UK.
All of those things add to a place, but that’s not the only reason why I like Kiln – I also love the fact that you can watch the chefs as they work with their clay pots. Grabbing a seat at the counter and getting to watch the chefs cook on the open-fire ovens is a real treat, as is the food, which can be extremely spicy. Luckily, I like a challenge!
58 Brewer Street, Soho, London, W1
This neighbourhood Italian restaurant in Peckham is somewhere I go with my family all the time, especially on the weekend. The way they construct their menu – which I particularly love for being really short – makes it the perfect family option: a few starters, a few pastas, a few mains and two desserts to choose from.
We usually go for their hand-made pastas, which change seasonally and are always delicious. The kids particularly love the pomodoro pasta there – and I have to say, kids’ pasta in a really good Italian restaurant is always the dish I want! My other favourite thing to order here is the ice cream, which is always really good. And on Sundays, they offer a special menu where you can get three courses for £25, which feels like brilliant value.
161 Bellenden Road, Peckham, London, SE15
I used to go to Silk Road pretty much every week, either with my partner or with a group of friends – we’d usually have a drink at the Camberwell Arms first, and then maybe go and see some jazz at The Crypt across the road afterwards. Then the restaurant got a lot of media attention and it became really difficult to get a table there, but we went for the first time in a long while the other week and it certainly didn’t disappoint.
I always order the same things – the Home Style chicken (which comes in the most amazing soup) and cabbage, followed by the Xinjiang lamb shish skewers. I also love the hand-pulled belt noodles served with numbing spices – I had my baby in King’s College Hospital, which is around the corner, and my partner used to go and get the noodles and bring them back for me on the ward to save me from eating the hospital food!
49 Camberwell Church Street, Camberwell, London, SE5
The Towpath Café
When I have the day off and time to meet a friend, this is the first place that comes to mind. It’s right by the water on Regent’s canal in Haggerston and it’s really charming in every way – the food, the people, the setting. Whether you go for coffee and a snack or a long lunch, you’re guaranteed to have a lovely time. Plus, the cooking is sensational – everything that Laura Jackson makes is beautiful and fresh, as well as being extremely seasonal.
Some of the best dishes I’ve had here have been really simple – asparagus with fish, broth served with dumplings and seasonal greens, braised artichokes on toast with pickled lemon. Laura’s take on chicken Marbella, where the chicken is served with prunes, is one of the best I’ve ever tasted. I always particularly love having a hot broth or stew here – there’s something about sitting outdoors to eat it that always feels so wholesome.
42 De Beauvoir Crescent, Haggerston, London, N1
This is my ultimate romantic restaurant – it feels like something out of a movie or a novel. It’s somewhere I like to go for a special dinner with my partner; and if we really want to make a night of it, sometimes we’ll treat ourselves to Martinis at Dukes Hotel first.
There’s just something about the atmosphere here, with the decor and the dim lighting, that feels incredibly romantic. And of course, the food is great too – it’s very French-English, with dishes like braised meat with salad and the classic puddings on the menu. But to me it feels more French than somewhere like Rochelle Canteen or St John, and I think that adds to the element of romance, too. I hope it’s somewhere that will always be there – I often get scared that some of these special places will go.
46 Lexington Street, Soho, London, W1
40 Maltby Street
The way that chef Stephen Williams cooks at 40 Maltby Street is the way I like to try and cook at my own restaurants – focus on one ingredient and think of different ways to cook it, eat it and combine it. So, he looks at something like monk’s beard and starts off by creating a salad with it, and then maybe he’ll use it in a soup. I think there’s something very straightforward and organic about the way they cook there.
The focus at this acclaimed restaurant is all about how to bring the best out of each ingredient, but in a very simple, non-decorative way. That being said, every dish is always extremely stylish, and that’s not an easy thing to achieve – style is something you either have or you don’t, and the team at 40 Maltby Street all have it. I think that’s something that really comes through in the dishes they create.
40 Maltby Street, Bermondsey, London, SE1