Turning our boozers into Assets of Community Value
Running between the thundering thoroughfares of Theobalds Rd to the North and High Holborn to the South, Red Lion Street takes its name from the historic nearby Square, which dates way back to 1684.
A popular offbeat dining strip with in-the-know members of the legal profession, (who’ve worked – and eaten – in this corner of Camden for many hundreds of years), inquisitive food adventurers are richly rewarded for stepping off the main drag here, too.
A cluster of fiery regional Chinese specialists sit alongside Thai, Malay, Korean and assorted other national cuisines and fusions, presenting a small local street that’s big on bold, truly global flavours.
While nearby Lambs Conduit Street draws media-friendly name recognition for the likes of Nobel Rot and Honey & Co., Red Lion Street has been quietly pulling in those in search of hard-to-find Jiangnanese, Uyghur or Xi’an style dishes.
With some sketchy-on-the-detail menus up in the windows, it might feel a touch intimidating to a first-timer, so our Secret Feasts guide to the highlights should really help.
If you’re starting at the Holborn end, Sawadika proudly claims to be the most authentic Thai restaurant in the capital, and whether you end up agreeing with them or not, the fresh flavours of lemongrass, coconut milk and lime shine through everything on the menu, from crispy whole seabass to the signature dark and rich Massaman lamb curry.
Mr Wong (main image above) is a diminutive corner shop with a few counter seats plus a chiller cabinet full of ingredients that offer you the chance to build your own malatang. It’s a small pot of ‘numbing’ eight-hour slow-cooked bone broth, infused with Sichuan pepper and dried chillis that pack the required punch. The price depends on the weight of your selection from the meats, fish and veg items each day.
Venture upstairs and you’ll find Kwafood Deep Fried Skewer. Though the almost clandestine side entrance might not give it away, this is actually a franchise from a chain totalling over 1000 restaurants across China, Australia and the USA – It’s only available in the UK right here on Red Lion St, though. The principle is the same as the malatang pots, in that you grab a heap of any uncooked skewers that take your fancy – ranging from crunchy lotus root or sweetcorn to more heavy-going duck tongue or pork intestine – and hand them over to be deep fried, generously seasoned and served to you in a bag.
Shujie Hotpot is similarly the only London outpost of this famous Sichuan province operator, and the experience is very much akin to the one you’d get in China. The menu’s bountiful selection of meats, seafood and veg is squarely aimed at Chinese Londoners, but fans of hotpot-style communal dining also flock here. Plates of your selected ingredients emerge ready to be self-dunked in the simmering broths.
Further up, the simply-named He is an atmospheric and elegantly minimalist space, dedicated to the slightly sweeter Huaiyang regional Chinese cuisine, and makes for an inventive date night spot. The Bull Steak Expert opposite centres around premium Argentine beef, with serious cuts of rump, ribeye, sirloin and filet seared by their master grillers.
1 + 1 Rougamo is a canteen-style place serving dishes from China’s northwestern Xian region. It’s very popular with the local student community who come for the no frills streetfood buns stuffed with pork, beef or duck, plus hot and sour bowls of handmade noodles. You may be familiar with Eat Tokyo, who have a handful of branches across London. They offer fresh sushi in an authentically cosy restaurant space. Our advice is to sit at the counter, where you’re right on top of the chefs at work, skillfully slicing and rolling the market-fresh fish. Their bento and bowls are also decent, too.
Canton Element is the place for bamboo baskets of steamed or grilled dim sum, heart-warming rice congee and the more familiar Cantonese cuisine, with deals running at both lunch and dinner times. They also have two large karaoke lounges here if you seek the full KTV experience. Isolabella is the street’s classic Italian restaurant, spanning favourites from calamari fritti starters to veal escalope mains, with plenty of pastas, risottos and pizzas on the menu too.
DAON offers a vast menu of Korean barbecue items, spicy dakbal fried chicken feet, savoury pancakes and loads of rice bowls, across two floors. Just around the corner on Theobalds Rd, Tarim Uyghur is the place to sample the distinct Uyghur cuisine, where Chinese culinary influences fuse with ethnic and cultural connections to the Turkish. Expect roast spice-heavy fragrant kebabs, fiery noodles, minced lamb-stuffed flaky pastries and huge Uyghur-style spicy chicken plates. Venture just down Eagle Street to find The Bountiful Cow, a family-run pub off the green oasis of Red Lion Square, with a focus on handmade burgers, steaks and heaving charcuterie boards, plus decent beers on tap, of course.
There’s also a thriving lunchtime-only scene on this strip, which caters to a worker crowd who have bounced back fairly strongly around here after Covid, due mainly to the legal professionals. Most exciting is Dapur, a diminutive unit with a daily selection of authentic Malay dishes chalked up daily on the board. Expect classics like beef rendang and nasi lemak, plus more unusual veg sides and stews. When the weather obliges, there’s lots more seating in the sun-dappled Lamb’s Conduit Passage. Zaha Grill does build-your-own bowl and rolls, with colourful salads and flamed meats, while a branch of Maui Poke does Hawaiian-inspired raw fish salad bowls. Zipbap is another Korean comfort food café, with Becks and Kozzy offering caff classics directly opposite each other, and Amigos doing sarnis and salt beef round the corner. Finally, Dibs are experts in Italian flatbread ‘folds’, fresh salads and affordable crisp-base pizza.
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