Out of The Woods

Saturday, May 21st , 2016

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The Woodford is a surprisingly upscale restaurant in the rather unlikely setting of South Woodford in east London. Set in an old pub, it has plenty of room and uses this aspect well, spacing its tables out in the comfortable dining room and having two separate bars. The young head chef has worked in some serious kitchens and can cook capably. The menu is appealing and the chips that he makes are exceptionally good. Along with Provender the area east of Leytonstone now has two restaurants aiming for something more ambitious than pizza or kebabs.

Pizzicotto is a few doors down from its sister restaurant Il Portico, a more traditional Italian restaurant that has been running for an impressive 49 years. Pizzicotto is lighter and brighter, and has a wood-fired oven that produces some of the best pizzas in the capital, using high quality ingredients that are mostly sourced from small producers in Emilia Romagna.  The owner here is very welcoming and the place seems extremely busy whenever I have visited, so although it is hardly marketed at all the locals are clearly voting with their feet.

Madhus at The Sheraton is a regular haunt of mine, a smart dining room in a Heathrow airport hotel. Sister of Madhus in Southall, its cooking has the edge over the original in some ways due to it having a robata grill, which gives a nice smoky note to many of the dishes, such as the excellent spicy lamb chops. The cauliflower florets here are terrific and show that a dish does not need a lump of protein to be exciting.

Diwana Bhel Poori is a restaurant that I have been eating at regularly since I moved to London in 1983. Just by Euston station, the décor is very basic but the Gujerati cooking is not. The best dishes here, such as the bhel poori and the samosas, are genuinely high quality. At this meal I had a pleasant dosa with good coconut chutney, and unlike most Indian restaurants they make very good kulfi from scratch in the kitchen here. Our three-course meal with some lassi to drink came to the absurdly low price of £15 a head including service. This is surely a candidate for the best value restaurant in London.