Trend Spotlight: Al Desko and the Food-delivery Revolution

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Salad and burrito selection from Poncho 8 and City Pantry

Many have marvelled the “anything, anytime, anywhere” attitude of America’s food-delivery scene; Chinese, Greek or pancakes, chicken wings, organic pizzas or neighbourhood Italian, “take-out” is as much a part of American culture as baseball or going to the mall. 

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Al desko: wraps and salads from Hiba Express and City Pantry

And London is catching on. Inspired by the city’s buzzing street-food scene, a key player in London’s food-delivery revolution is “online catering marketplace” City Pantry. Founded in January 2014, City Pantry creates appealing catering packages for clients and pride themselves on efficient usability – hungry customers can place an order in just 4 clicks.

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Al-desko baklava from Hummus Bros and City Pantry

With leading tech firms as clients, City Pantry packages prove popular, and are favoured by office managers who save themselves the task of having to painstakingly gather individual orders from each member of staff. 

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Hummus with steak and chicken from Hummus Bros and City Pantry

City Pantry really has the personal touch – Charlotte Mindel, their resident food curator, scouts out the best food in town to serve to customers, including rotisserie chicken from Le Coq, pimped out hummus from Hummus Bros, hearty healthy salads from customer-favourite King’s Kitchen and dishes from ‘great restaurants, street-food vendors and pop-ups.’  ‘For us, it’s not just about ordering food to your office at all, it’s about the whole food experience and being inspired by it.’ 

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Fuelling the food-delivery revolution: Cha Cha Moon from Deliveroo

Proof of the food trend’s seriousness, key player in the food-delivery revolution Deliveroo has announced that it has secured £2.75 million of venture capitalist investment, which will enable it to expand its offering to the rest of the UK. 

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Al desko done right: Greek dishes from 21 Bateman street and Deliveroo

Deliveroo’s identity is with its 10,000 vendors, most of which have an exceptional reputation of their own, and, unlike City Pantry and other food-delivery websites, Deliveroo do their own deliveries and also have a state-of-the-art tracking system which will undoubtedly be improved with their new funding.

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Mixed souvlaki from 21 Bateman Street and fresh Greek salad

Our favourites are from Egyptian/vegetarian hole-in-the-wall Koshari Street and souvlaki house 21 Bateman Street. The food offering at Koshari Street, created by Middle-Eastern food legend Anissa Helou, is simple but done exceptionally well; including hearty Koshari, Egypt’s national street-food dish made of vermicelli, rice and lentils and topped with a spicy tomato sauce, chickpeas and crispy onions, plus punchy herb-packed tabbouleh and vegetable crudités with brilliant hummus and a colourful and spritely flavoured beetroot dip. Smartly packaged and feels healthy but filling, Koshari Street is perfect al-desko dining.

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The food-delivery revolution: Greek salad in its packaging from 21 Bateman Street

21 Bateman Street, too, translates well with delivery: nicely seasoned lamb, chicken and pork souvlaki skewers, juicy wild-boar sausage, plenty of fluffy pitta and super-fresh chunkily cut Greek salad with great hunks of tangy feta cheese. Nothing about their food delivery is fridge-y – just balanced and fresh, another al-desko champion.

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An Al-desko favourite: beetroot dip from Koshari Street

The food-delivery revolution is growing, and will likely move beyond luxe al desko lunches to delivering to homes, as cities continue to grow and kitchen space and the desire to cook diminishes.

But not all food-delivery services are created equal – at present, customers must be savvy about the vendor they order from, as food becomes a different beast after delivery. We suggest staying away from warm salads – the leaves wilt and depress the dish. Also, portion size varies as does ordering structure: at City Pantry all orders are placed in advance and are usually for groups of 10 or more, while Deliveroo delivers within 30 minutes to feed as many or as few as you like.

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Koshari, crudites and dips: perfect al-desko food from Koshari Street

What we’d like to see? Vendors tailoring food-delivery options to ensure that the dishes travel well, and also incentivising purchase by creating something just a little bit special for the al-desko or at-home customer.

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Favourite Forks: London’s Best Summer Eats

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On-trend slushies at Rita’s Dining pop-up in Oval Space

Rita’s Dining Pop-up at Oval Space

Rita’s Dining pop-up at Oval Space is a haven for heat-suffering Londoners, and is for sure one of London’s best summer eats. By the stark and somehow stunning old gas works, and removed from the Hackney hubbub, resides lively Rita’s – fitted with flowers and vintage pieces, blue and white-striped deck chairs, good music, and a seriously summery vibe.

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Rita’s Dining’s outrageously good buttermilk fried-chicken bun

Their singular food offering is strikingly simple and exceptionally executed: buttermilk-fried chicken with sriracha and garlic mayo and lettuce in a brioche bun. On-trend, fantastic quality and served with real generosity. Their drink options are a hoot, too; including their Dark and Stormy, punchy Aperol Spritz and, their most popular drink, the Frozen Margarita. Everybody loves a slushie – a drinks trend certainly on the up. 

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A real sun spot: Rita’s Dining pop-up in Oval Space

Lima Floral

Peru’s Independence Day is on Monday, July 28th, so what better way to celebrate than with a cool, refreshing sea-bream ceviche? Their national dish and one made for the summertime.

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Sea-bream ceviche at the new Lima Floral

Lima’s new restaurant on Covent Garden’s Garrett Street embraces traditional Peruvian cuisine with their signature contemporary techniques. Lots of citrus, avocado, corn and tiger’s milk enjoyed in their welcoming and laid-back space.

Their citrusy ceviche is definitely one of London’s best summer eats, and I would recommend their unusual roast black quinoa, too. Served with an egg, sweet yakon reduction and avocado, it is an unexpected umami hit. Best paired with an ice-cold Margarita. When in Rome… 

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The perfect summer tipple: a Margarita at Lima Floral

KERB at Southbank

KERB has dramatically and unapologetically returned to Southbank on select weekends over the summer – sending our Instagrams into a street-food-related tailspin.

Nothing beats browsing those stalls in the sunshine – the KERBanists, or vendors, are anything but safe – fusing and oozing with great produce, global influences and a lot of love. 

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Popular cocktails at the bar at KERB Southbank

Bao London serves great little treats, like their classic milk bun Gua Boa, with slow-braised pork belly, home pickles, peanut powder and fresh coriander, and soya milk fried chicken and pomelo crunch. Annie Mae’s pimped out mac ‘n’ cheese has emerged as a firm favourite, as well as the “London via Jamaica via Atlanta” Miss P’s Barbecue, serving Georgia-style BBQ pulled pork with homemade slaw, served either in a sandwich or “skinny” – on its own.

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The classic Gua Boa at KERB Southbank. Photo credit: Leyla Kazim

Wapping Market

Describing themselves as ‘taking most of the Brockley Market Traders and plonking them in Wapping on Sundays,’ the one-month-old Wapping Market proves to be winning over London’s hungry inhabitants.

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New to town: Wapping Market. Photo credit: Wapping Market

Created by the people who are behind the beloved Brockley Market, Wapping Market boasts an impressive list of varied vendors: from Little Greenwich Smokery and their creatively smoked fish, to indulgent Crosstown Doughnuts, Mother Flipper’s legendary burgers, and lots of local farmers’ produce. 

One of London’s best summer eats for a lazy Sunday, browse at your leisure their ‘locally sourced seasonal fresh fruit & vegetables, meat, fish and poultry, plants and flowers, ice-cream, award-winning coffee, artisan bread, cakes and weekend treats, quality breakfasts & brunches, charcuterie and cheeses.’

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An irresistible selection of Crosstown Doughnuts. Photo credit: Crosstown Doughnuts

Trend Spotlight: London’s Rebirth of the Tasting Menu

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London’s rebirth of the tasting menu: sea trout suringashi, Jersey Royals and wild pea shoot at Koya

Tasting menus: critics hate them and chefs love them. But for the diner, it can be a mixed bag. Often impossibly long, arduous affairs, tasting menus can make the diner feel as if they are a prisoner to the chef’s ego, and paying a high price for the privilege.

With the added Michelin fussiness, tasting menus may have been perceived as the pinnacle of fine dining, but with fine dining itself dying out, where does that leave the loved, hated and much-debated tasting menu?

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Boar belly, wild flowers and wild spinach at Koya’s tasting menu The BackBench

Perceptions, and expectations, have shifted. Chefs seem to have shed their egos and become infatuated with the foodie buzz-word of the moment – sharing. Linked to London’s now prevalent sharing-plate culture – Spanish, Indian, French and, of course, Middle Eastern, (see our recent piece: Favourite Forks: London’s Food Scene is Having a Middle-Eastern Moment) this sharing of food, of ideas, of stories, seems to have hit home. Cue London’s rebirth of the tasting menu.

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Carp, peppers and Scottish girlies from head chef Junya Yamasaki at Koya’s tasting menu 

Take Koya, one of Soho’s most-loved eateries, and their contemporary interpretation of the tasting menu. On a monthly basis, five guests can join The BackBench and accompany head chef Junya Yamasaki on a culinary adventure ‘beyond the blackboard’. 

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Koya’s head chef Junya discussing his dishes at June’s BackBench tasting menu

Fork Talk attended last month’s BackBench, on a sticky-hot June Monday. Ushered to the bar space directly in front of the kitchen, Junya shared nine courses of super-seasonal Japanese fare, all created in his signature adventurous style. 

The astonishingly clean and creative flavours coming from the likes of his cherry tomatoes with shiso dashi (tomatoes picked that day) and chilled sea trout suringashi with wild pea shoots perfectly summarised not just the mood of the season but of this particularly hot day.  

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Remarkably clean and restorative: chilled cucumber udon, an old monks’ recipe, served as part of Koya’s tasting menu

In his rather centred, Zen way and soft timbre, Junya explained the seasonal, historical and emotional stories behind each dish – the chilled cucumber and sesame udon an old monks’ vegan recipe, the wild flowers and spinach served with the boar belly foraged himself from East-London pastures.

Not part of Dock Kitchen’s sharing menu, but dapper drinks indeed: Eastern Standard (with watermelon) and Damson in Distress

But Koya is not the only one to embrace London’s rebirth of the tasting menu. James Knappett’s Kitchen Table tucked away in the back of Bubbledogs typically serves 12-14 courses to 19 guests per evening, with the guests seated around the chef, ‘to make them feel like we’re cooking for them at home’. The Clove Club, Lyle’s, The Typing Room, Rotorino, Dabbous and Pollen Street Social all have modern, imaginative tasting menus, and Stevie Parle’s Dock Kitchen in Ladbroke Grove has a regular, themed sharing menu for whole tables to enjoy together.

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Hummus with fried chickpeas, moutabal and fattoush salad from Dock Kitchen’s Lebanese sharing menu

Changing every three weeks, Dock Kitchen’s sharing menus are based around a book, a place, an idea, or whatever grabs their fancy. From now until July 25th, the sharing menu is very on-trend Lebanese cooking – bursting with fresh summer flavours from their moutabal and fattoush, mackerel in vine leaves, fried aubergine with tatatoor and za’atar and grilled squid with tomato and coriander.

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Grilled quail, lamb chops, peppers and tomatoes with tahini sauce, sumac, chilli, lemon from Dock Kitchen’s sharing menu

We turn up on a Monday, when their sharing menu is condensed and costs about half the price – they even throw in a glass of (good) house wine too – so it feels far from scrimping. Authentic, inspired and dripping with real spice and exotic flavour, the grilled quail and lamb chops with tahini, sumac, chilli and lemon is an unfussy feat, and the broad-bean and borlotti pilaf is one of the best rice dishes I have ever tasted.

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The open kitchen hard at work at Stevie Parle’s Dock Kitchen

‘I just love Lebanese food… I love the grilled food they do, things like moutabel, really punchy hummus – the Lebanese always make it with a lot more lemon. I love the use of sumac and pomegranate molasses. They’re some of my favourite ingredients to use, so it was quite a straightforward, easy thing for me to write, because it was the food I love,’ says Eliot Thomas, Stevie Parle’s sous chef at Dock Kitchen, one of the main people responsible for crafting the sharing menus.

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A favourite: borlotti beans and freekah pilaf from Dock Kitchen’s sharing menu

Next will be Sardinian, and Polynesian will come after that, and there has been a Chinatown menu, as well as a truffle and an olive-oil one, too. The well-travelled kitchen often visits their place of inspiration, so have a personal connection to the food. Eliot’s familial roots are Polynesian, so the upcoming menu with plenty of coconuts and fresh fish sounds like a must-try.

In this rebirth of the tasting menu, what keeps harking back to me is how honest and with meaning these menus seem to be. In an eating age when authenticity matters more than most other things, here’s hoping these new tasting menus that push discovery instead of showiness and personality instead of pretension, are here to stay.

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A beautiful finish: roasted stone fruits with mastic and molasses with cardamom and rose shortbreads at The Dock Kitchen – London’s rebirth of the tasting menu

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Favourite Forks: London’s Food Scene is having a Middle-Eastern Moment

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An on-trend Middle-Eastern dish at The Palomar. Photo credit: The Palomar

Modern Middle-Eastern at The Palomar

The much-buzzed-about The Palomar is living up to its reputation and then some. Brought to us by Layo and Zoe Paskin, owners of The End; one of the biggest nightclubs of the 90s, The Palomar has got partying in its DNA. Expect to see staff look like they are having as much fun as you are. 

Also owned by Israeli celebrity chefs Assaf Granit, Yossi Elad and Uri Navon, the food is vibrant, zingy and colourful, from a refreshingly modern menu that is influenced by the rich cultures of southern Spain, North Africa and the Levant. 

Highlights include shakshukit, or deconstructed kebab, with minced lamb, sweet with cumin, creamy yoghurt tahini and flat bread – so moreish, you need plenty of the excellent bread to mop it up – Kuhenia, chopped beef fillet with bulgur, fresh with pomegranate, chopped tomato, mint and tahini, and Mz’uz’im, Moroccan-style sea bream with a punchy, in-your-face salted lemon purée, sweet oranges, bitter green olives and toasted almonds – a harmony of sweet, salty and sour. The raw bar, too, is not to be missed.

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Middle-Eastern mezzo at Arabica’s new permanent site in Borough Market

A Taste of Traditional at Arabica

Representing the more traditional side of London’s Middle-Eastern moment is Arabica Bar & Kitchen in London Bridge’s bustling Borough Market. 

Newly opening their permanent site on Rochester Walk, head chef James Walters co-founded the Arabica concept with Jad Al Younis almost 15 years ago – that they began as a market stall in the same space.

The classic menu is a wonderful tour around the Levant – with favourites the Muhummara, a dip with smoky and sweet roasted peppers, toasted ground walnuts and a sour note from the pomegranate molasses, Lahmacun, an Armenian/Turkish-style flat bread baked in a clay oven with minced lamb, tomatoes, peppers, and pine nuts, and a parsley-packed tabbouleh brimming with iron, vitamin C, and vitality – a firm kick of goodness.

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Label Anglais chicken wings marinated in 7 spiced yoghurt, lemon and oregano at Arabica

The wines are also something to discover. From Syrian, Lebanese, Israeli, and a sparkling Australian Shiraz – Zeren Wilson, the man behind food and wine blog Bitten & Written, is also behind Arabica’s rather daring and imaginative wine list. 

A Turk himself, Zeren is amazed at how the London food scene’s Middle-Eastern moment is growing, ‘every supplement I’m opening is Turkish recipes, Turkish flatbread, Turkish pizza, Persian this, Persian that, Lebanese, Israeli…there is an appetite for it and it fits with the whole obsession with sharing plates, as this food was always meant for sharing.’ The trend to watch for him (and for me) is the Lahmacun; the aforementioned lamb-topped flatbread that Alan Yau is championing in his new Central-London site. 

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The Middle-Eastern dish to watch – the lahmacun at Arabica, plus traditional dips and tabbouleh 

Warm Family Vibes at Honey & Co and Moro

Honey & Co and their delightfully genuine neighbourly feel has always been a favourite, and is a must-mention when discussing London’s Middle-Eastern moment. Their beautiful book, published just last month, titled Food from the Middle East, translates their restaurant’s sentiment and values very well – providing easy, accessible and extremely enjoyable no-frills food. Seasonal highlights are the peaches and goats’ cheese with roasted almonds, feta and watermelon salad, cured sea bream with pomegranate juice and cumin, uri buri prawns, Middle-Eastern ceviche with lemon, salt, chilli and olive oil and pomegranate chicken with summer tabbouleh.

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Honey & Co’s pomegranate chicken recipe from their new book tested at home 

Sam and Sam Clark brought their own celebration of all things Moorish to Exmouth Market in 1997 with Moro. Coming from the River Café they also brought the “family” vibe: every time I go there, part of the joy is feeling at home – the welcome, the staff are long term, the feeling of being looked after.  When you arrive, there are smoky wafts from the wood-burning oven that always stimulates the appetite, and the bread is the best in London: sour, with a chewy burnished crust that is utterly sensational. 

A recent visit found us reveling in a grilled lamb dish with fattoush and walnut tatator. The fattoush was well-balanced – heady with za’atar, sweet with cinnamon and with touches of acidity from the sumac, also with pomegranate molasses and plenty of herbs. A bit of dish envy struck us while a neighbouring table enjoyed a tantalising seared sea trout with deep-fried cucumber chips with chilli and dill yoghurt. An innovative dish.

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Honey & Co produce at their little restaurant on Warren Street

More Middle-Eastern Moments in London

London’s current love of the Levant isn’t limited to these few heavy hitters. Stevie Parle’s Dock Kitchen is embracing the Middle-Eastern moment with a Lebanese set menu from today until July 27th. Harking back to Zeren’s opinion on the trend, Dock Kitchen cites the sharing element of the region’s food as a real pull. Though their menu of Labne, grilled squid, fried aubergine with taratoor and za’atar and grilled quail and lamb chops, I’m not quite sure I’d like to share.

Sabrina Ghayour’s cookbook published in May of this year, Persiana, provides endless inspiration for cooking at home, and Beirutian street-food group Yalla Yalla and Persian casual-dining spot Dindin Kitchen offers super accessible Middle-Eastern food experiences even in the most Tourist-trapped areas of our great city.

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Lebanese delights available for a limited time at Stevie Parle’s Dock Kitchen. Photo credit: Dock Kitchen

Latest Posts

Trend Spotlight: Al Desko and the Food-delivery Revolution

Favourite Forks: London’s Best Summer Eats

Trend Spotlight: London’s Rebirth of the Tasting Menu

Favourite Forks: London’s Food Scene is having a Middle-Eastern Moment