Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen, Old Street
I promise not all my recommendations will be social enterprises, but I had to include at least one, and Fifteen is the most famous example in London. Operating since 2002, this restaurant takes 15 disadvantaged young people per year through a 12 month apprenticeship, in the skills of becoming a chef.
The food is modern British, and scrumptious. For our large group, we were served sharing plates for mains. Passing these meaty plates around added to the feeling of being with your extended family during the holidays. Dessert was fantastic, with the chocolate mousse sticking in mind as especially delicious.
Being associated with a high-profile figure like Jamie Oliver of course helps to promote the restaurant, and also promote the whole idea that a restaurant can be used for good. All profits from the restaurant are donated to the Jamie Oliver Food Foundation Charity, and over 350 students have now graduated from the three Fifteen restaurants in London, Cornwall and Amsterdam.
Cay Tre, Shoreditch
East London, especially Kingsland Road, is packed full of Vietnamese restaurants – so how do you choose one? You could just choose the one with the biggest queue outside every night of the week, or you could choose one with a reputation for the best flavours in town. In Cay Tre’s case, both of these are true.
Just a short walk towards Hoxton from Old Street Station, this small-sized restaurant buzzes with activity and aromatic aromas. Try the sizzling monk fish, or tangy beef carpaccio. Book in advance if you want to avoid a wait in the cold.
Tayyabs, Aldgate East
East London is famous for its Indian food, and Tayyabs is king. Like Cay Tre, there are lines of people trying to get a seat every night. Unlike Cay Tre, the restaurant is huge, and certainly knows how to pack people in.
Booked for the wrong number? No problem. Expect to be squeezed in somewhere, perhaps between two other tables. But at least you will sit, and you will eat.
The food is why there are so many people here. The traditional Karahi dish from Pakistan is full of flavour, and not too spicy (unless you want it that way). Order the mixed grill too. This Punjabi cuisine is in a league of its own. It’s worth the walk to get here. Just down a quiet back street, not far from Brick Lane.
Bonus – Brick Lane
Speaking of Brick Lane, have you been? If you want a cheap Indian feast, it’s the place to go. I didn’t say a great feast, just a cheap feast. Be warned, I’m not sure that all the signs you will see as you walk down the lane are true. How many “Best Curry Chef 2013″ awards can there be?
Quick tip – negotiate before you go in to any restaurant on Brick Lane. Never pay more than £10 per head, for a starter, a main, rice or nann, and an alcohol drink. And if you are really good, see if you can add poppadoms and a bottle of wine to that deal. It’s one of the cheapest meals out in London, and I recommend you try it just for the negotiating fun at the door. The food is usually good, and wine is drinkable, so go on, have a good time on Brick Lane.
Got a favourite restaurant in East London? Let everyone know about it in the comments.