If you only stumble on one backstreet restaurant this month, make it this...

'Albondigas' – pork & beef meatballs £6.50

'Albondigas' – pork & beef meatballs £6.50

Iberico ham, salami and chorizo with Guindilla pepper

Iberico ham, salami and chorizo with Guindilla pepper

Date night starts like it usually does: Lewis is foul and hangry while I spend more time concerned about where to take a photo of my outfit than I am with finding the restaurant itself. We'd decided to visit a taqueria in Bermondsey, a far cry from our usual culinary spots, and stepping off the train into an area of council estates, I'll admit I'm a little skeptical. Nonetheless, we enjoy the walk – a sharp right turn under a rail bridge and you're back in hipster territory, where street food start-ups and bars boasting home-brewed ciders inhabit the abandoned railway arches. We get to the restaurant – a small, order-at-the-bar, authentic taco joint with a counter full of Pacificos and mescal cakes – only to find that there's a private event on and they aren't taking walk-ins. Bummer, but it's one of those torrid summer evenings perfect for strolling, so we decide to explore the area for something else.

Across the way is Maltby Street Market, situated on a narrow alley between a brick wall and the loud, rumbling railway arches. Joining the two sides of the street are rows and rows of world flags and festoon lights, and down on the street, tables of people eating and laughing on mismatched chairs and wooden tables. Slotted between a timber shop and a small gin bar is Bar Tozino, a Spanish Jamon Bodega (the only one in London). And 'bodega' is such a great word for this place - the entrance is via velvet draped curtains, concealing a dimly lit bar area. Above the entrance is a window, where open shutters reveal a dusty wine cellar lit by fluorescent office lights, the smell of garlic glides through the air.

We're told to sit wherever we like, and though the restaurant looks full, we find a spot on the end of an outside table. There's no table service, so we order a bottle of Spanish wine at the bar for a refreshing £22, and it strikes me how reasonably priced the dishes are too - the most expensive is the scallops at £12. We start with a meat platter – freshly shaved Iberico ham and chorizo served with breadsticks and a Guindilla pepper. The meat is shimmering, delicate, and beautifully oily, cut through with the sharpness of the pepper.

Lewis enjoying some Spanish vino

Lewis enjoying some Spanish vino

We move on with their slow-cooked beef chilli (£8), pan con tomate (£3.50), Albondigas (£6.50) and obviously Patatas Bravas (because, you know, tapas), and though our first dish set the bar high, it just keeps getting better. The chilli is hearty, spicy and tender, served with bread for dunking it's incredibly wholesome. The pan con tomate (bread with tomato) is a Spanish classic – thick, toasted bread with a pile of sea salt, fresh garlic and a dish of oily, pureed tomato. The Patatas Bravas are just as good as they always are, but the Albondigas come through as the true highlight for me – pork and beef meatballs in a fragrant, cinnamon-y tomato sauce, with fresh bread to mop up the leftovers. 

We finish our bottle of wine as the sun sets, a Spanish family at a nearby table laugh and exchange responsibility for the energetic toddler accompanying them. Everyone around is us happy, enjoying glorious food in this secluded London street in summer – it could be a backstreet in Barcelona.

I can't help but kick myself for not knowing about this place sooner. Had we been able to eat at the restaurant we had originally planned, I may never have known about Bar Tozino, so for that I count myself extremely lucky. A happy accident of the best kind – I'll be back next week.

Check them out here and here.


Pan Con Tomate Recipe

  • Fresh cherry tomatoes
  • Maldon sea salt
  • Olive oil
  • Garlic clove
  • Sourdough bread

Smash up the tomatoes in a pestle & mortar then add a healthy pinch of salt and a glug of olive oil. Serve with toasted sourdough, salt and garlic. 🍅

M O R E  F O O D


Will Ferrell's favourite, and my new London go-to for authentic Mexican...

Happy hour is from 4-7pm...

Happy hour is from 4-7pm...

I consider myself a bit of a Mexican food connoisseur. My first ever job in London was manager of a tequila bar and taqueria, where I learned that lime + salt + tequila = uncouth, and that real Mexican food is made with passion, love and family in mind. El Patron was where I first tasted salpicon de res (slow-cooked shredded beef), learned how to make a Tommy's margarita (see recipe below), and where I built an unlikely friendship with a 40-year-old Mexican chef called Fernando (still one of my closest friends today). When the bar closed down in 2016, my boyfriend and I embarked on what has, thus far, been a 2-year-long crusade to find beef tacos as good as Fernando's. Sure, we could ask him for the recipe, but where's the thrill in that?

We've tried everything from Wahaca to Pop Brixton's Maria Sabina, but there's always something missing. The tacos are always too small, or too expensive (in Mexico they are ridiculously cheap); or its that the pinto beans don't taste quite right, or worse - they use Jose Cuervo 😒  in their margaritas. Nowhere, to date, has matched the authenticity and flavour of the food Fernando cooked...until we tried Azteca. 

We went there recently on a Sunday night, after seeing an Instagram post of Will Ferrell dining there (MUST be good), and my respect was won instantly, for the walls are lined with bottles of beautiful tequilas including Fortaleza, Arette and Tapatio - and it just so happened that we arrived during happy hour. We ordered 2 margaritas (£4.80 each) and they arrived in giant rocks glasses rimmed with Tajin (a Mexican salt seasoned with lime and chilli). A very good start.

Steak tacos in crispy corn tortillas...

Steak tacos in crispy corn tortillas...

FUN FACT: Lime & salt is allegedly an invention created by Americans to mask the flavour of cheaply produced tequilas, often ones which are not 100% blue agave and therefore substituted with chemicals - the kind that gave tequila a bad rap. Good tequilas should be drunk neat, or with a wedge of orange - but Azteca's use of Tajin was surprisingly good in this case.

We ordered chips and guac, and two orders of steak tacos - both of which were completely authentic and delicious. Although it wasn't quite what we were looking for (salpicon de res is like a Mexican food unicorn, it would seem) these steak tacos certainly filled the gap temporarily. The refried beans were bloody good too, and as a whole, the dish was the perfect amount at a refreshing price.

Visually, the restaurant is nothing flashy. Dia de los Muertos merchandise covers the walls, and the tables are surrounded by cozy benches draped with aztec rugs and cushions. But the atmosphere is fun, the margaritas are cheap and the music is an eclectic mix of samba and 80s disco, which always makes for a good time. As we devour our tacos, the proprietor - a young Mexican man of about 30 - beams proudly at the community of people eating together in his restaurant... That's what real Mexican food is all about: passion, love and family.

In the unlikely borough of Chelsea, Azteca is a hidden gem serving authentic food at refreshing prices. 10/10. (Azteca Latin Lounge, 329 King's Road, Chelsea, SW3 5ES) 

Tommy's Margarita Recipe

  • 50ml Arette Reposado Tequila
  • 25ml Lime Juice
  • 10ml Agave Nectar

Combine ingredients in a boston shaker with ice, then shake and strain into an iced rocks glass. No garnish necessary. 🥃

M A R G A R I T A    E S S E N T I A L S

bar spoons : Oliver Bonas | crystal rocks glass : Harrods | copper barware : Wllko | arette tequila : here | hand bottle opener :  | crystal rocks glass: John Lewis


Modern Cantonese cuisine in a Brixton shipping container.

Shocking as it may sound, being welcomed with a performance fit for the Queen of Sheba (whilst wearing a baseball cap and tracksuit bottoms) by an eccentric, off-duty actor-come-waiter was NOT the most exciting thing that happened inside the Brixton shipping container currently inhabited by Duck Duck Goose, the evening I elected to try it. And though I appreciate a quintessentially London experience more than your average joe, the afore-mentioned waiter was in fact upstaged by a glistening breast of Cantonese BBQ duck. But I digress, for much theatre occurred at my  3' x 3' formica table before the arrival of the main act, and it must be discussed...

For those not in 'the know', Duck Duck Goose is the newest resident of Pop Brixton, founded by chef Oli Brown. Oli previously worked for the renowned Rowley's Steak House, coincidentally alongside Will Bowlby (co-founder of the immensely successful Kricket, which left its residency at Pop Brixton this year for a permanent bricks and mortar site in Soho). Its safe to say Oli knows a thing or two about how to cook a beautiful piece of meat, but there is so much more to his genius - and he is using it to completely reinvent Cantonese cuisine as we know it. Up until now, Cantonese food in London has very much remained within the vibrant streets connecting Leicester Square and Piccadilly Circus, at the hit-or-miss restaurants of Chinatown. (The Hippodrome is not the only place you might take a gamble in China Town - the last time I dined there I let the waiter choose my meal and was consequently served a bowl of congealed pork fat with coarse hairs floating through it...) But Oli has taken all the best bits (namely BBQ meat and prawn toast) and presented them in a simplistic, small plates format - which, as we know, is the height of culinary fashion right now. 

I had attempted to visit Duck Duck Goose thrice (for various reasons it never quite worked out) before I eventually did. Each time, Oli would be sitting on a bench outside his shipping container sometimes working on his laptop, and ALWAYS looking exhausted. Ahh - the sign of a true chef. And when I finally ate at his restaurant, my suspicions were confirmed that his sweat, blood (and probably tears) had gone into the creating of it. But Oli, if you're reading - it was SO worth it.

Prawn toast...revisited. Prawn mousse on toast topped with Kewpie mayonnaise and bonito flakes.

Prawn toast...revisited. Prawn mousse on toast topped with Kewpie mayonnaise and bonito flakes.

Once seated by my prima-donna waiter, I ordered a craft beer (they offer a niche little selection) while I 'perused' a menu that I had already studied online 14 times. I chose the Prawn Toast, followed by a mixed platter of BBQ Duck Breast and Pig Neck, and I made sure to play out the facade of asking questions before making my final decision, so that the waiter was unaware of how much I had been fan-girling online prior to the meal. Who am I kidding - he was an actor. I'll bet he saw right through me. 

While I relentlessly photographed every inch of the shipping container, the Prawn Toast arrived. It was divine - and just plain exciting to eat. Oli has completely reinvented this once-bog-standard takeaway appetiser with a generous dollop of home-made prawn mousse and two other ingredients (which I had to look up): Kewpie mayonnaise and bonito flakes. The former being Japan's answer to the nation's favourite condiment, and the latter wafer thin, smokey strips of dried fish. The dish was an explosion of flavour and colour -  salty, smokey, tangy, with beautiful hues of pink. It was a little tricky to eat with my allocated utensils (chopsticks and a small spoon) but I improvised. By that I mean I used my fingers, and licked them clean with utter satisfaction (my mother's attempts at teaching me table manners were clearly futile). 

Next up, a giant metal platter was brought to the table (with a song and dance from my favourite waiter). I struggle to find words that will do justice to what was on that plate. Sweet, succulent pieces of meat, barbecued and glazed with meticulous care, and served with home-made pickles, plum sauce and mustard. The marriage of flavour was once again a delight to the tastebuds, and the tenderness of the meat was absolutely spot-on. I devoured the lot, and at approx. £30 it was the perfect amount at a refreshing price. 

I was triumphant having FINALLY dined here - more so because it exceeded every one of my exceedingly high expectations. The hype for this place is real. 


M O R E  F O O D


It was key fam.

"All In" £20 per head | Parmesan kale, beef dripping chips, pork chop, lamb chop, and rare steak on top of a rosemary, meat-soaked flatbread.

"All In" £20 per head | Parmesan kale, beef dripping chips, pork chop, lamb chop, and rare steak on top of a rosemary, meat-soaked flatbread.

Unless specifically looking for an edgy Soho Chop House, you certainly wouldn't notice Blacklock amongst its neighbouring establishments. Finding it is like locating a sliver of unsullied glass between a brick-a-brack of neon and grime. In the heart of the theatre district and two doors down from the gaudy Windmill International strip club, Blacklock is neat as a pin, and screams Fika rather than flatiron steak. At first glance, it could be the entrance to a nordic spa: through the door and two windows one can see nothing but a dimly-lit hallway bearing a few stylish house plants, and a glimpse of a staircase - the architecture more residential than that of a hot London eatery. The only indicator that it is in fact a restaurant, is the gaggle of young Asians in Yeezy's who enter and then disappointedly walk back out a few moments later. (Two sure signs of hype in London: fresh-dressed Asians, and restaurants so edgy that they turn even fresh-dressed Asians away).

For those unaware, Blacklock (founded by three former employee's of the renowned Hawksmoor chain) is a restaurant dedicated entirely to chops and situated in an old Soho brothel. We arrived at 7pm, and weren't seated until 9:15pm - but this, we had prepared for. (Lewis had dined here a couple of times before and knew the drill). We left a phone number with the maître-d', and headed around the corner to Mr Fogg's Tavern for an aperitif. Mr Fogg's Soho is split into two floors: The Tavern and The Gin Parlour (which is a reservations-only private sitting room serving the finest G&Ts in London). We tanned* a few negroni's at the Tavern before bumping into the manager who found us a cosy sofa upstairs in the Parlour (Lewis is a designer at the head office of the brand that own this venue), where we were brought two iced goblets of VII Hills (his own brand of Italian gin) with tonic. It was beautifully crisp and herbal - perfect served over their signature hand-cut ice cubes, but I was getting hungry - so we polished them off and made our way back to Blacklock to dine.

Blacklock's basement (where the actual restaurant is situated) is a stark contrast to the hygge you encounter at the top of the stairs: as you descend the staircase you are immersed into a loud, dark pit of fantastic smells and electrifying ambience. The decor is simple: white brick walls, dark wood tables, and four central pillars which act as blackboards with the day's specials scrawled across them. There is no background music and minimal light; instead, roaring conversation and wafts of barbecued chops drift in and out of your ears and nostrils, creating an atmosphere in which you at once feel both safe and dangerous. 

We were seated right next to the open kitchen, where a brassy waitress appeared almost immediately at the table to explain the menu. We were recommended the 'All-In' deal which, at £20 per head, offered a selection of 'pre-chop' amuse-bouche to start, followed by Blacklock's signature skinny chops to share with sides. Instantly enticed, we ordered this with a carafe of Albariño. The appetisers arrived promptly and consisted of three delicious options: egg mayo + anchovy, stilton + pickle and pig's head + kimchee; the egg being my favourite. The bites were delicately put together, resulting in such harmonious flavours: amuse-bouche that does exactly as it says on the tin. We had a short wait before the main event was brought to the table (in three stages due to the volume of food). First came each of the sides we had selected: parmesan kale and beef dripping chips, which were swiftly followed by the skinny chops (a mountain of tender pork, lamb and beef chops emitting a scent that could turn a hardcore vegan carnivorous) - the waiter explained that underneath the chops was a piece of rosemary flatbread soaking up the juices, which was to be eaten at the end - that's if we could actually make a dent in the mass of meat atop.

Prior to digging into this glutinous fare, I remained adamant that the best chop house in the UK was Linlithgow's Champany Inn - I now stand corrected.  The chops were cooked to perfection, the fat melting in one's mouth like butter. The beef-dripping chips need not an explanation - they were are as good as they sound - but the kale! It was citrusy, tangy and a welcome accompaniment to the rich flavour of the meat. Kale is something I've never really gotten down with - it is a fad favoured by the millennial basic bitch, and is something I normally skim past on a menu - for in my mind, it is chewy, scratchy and tasteless. I was surprised when Lewis (a man who rotates between chilli, burgers, and pizza for dinner) suggested it - but I'm glad he did, for again, I stand corrected. Blacklock do millennial cabbage just as well as they do meat. The true highlight for me, however, was the rosemary flatbread. Albeit forced into an already full stomach, it was the perfect conclusion to our dinner: a juicy reminder of every meaty, salty, garlicky note of flavour sampled in the meal. 

With my only gripe being the ruthless-yet-professional waitress (who turned her back and left the table mid-conversation once the bill was paid), I can safely vouch for not only the immersive experience Blacklock offers, but the reasonably-priced and incredibly high-quality food they have on their swanky little menu. 


*Tan - a very Scottish way of saying one downed one's drink.


The grass really is greener...

The Buffalo Fried Chicken Burger @ OSFC Pop Brixton | Photograph Titi Finlay 2017 |  Man got dat WoodWood bomber. 

The Buffalo Fried Chicken Burger @ OSFC Pop Brixton | Photograph Titi Finlay 2017 | Man got dat WoodWood bomber. 

I remember the first time I fantasised about food. I had tried oysters for the first time at The Witchery in Edinburgh's Old Town - served on a bed of crushed ice with Tabasco, lemon and accompanied by champagne (obviously). For days after, all I could think about was swallowing those oysters - the flavour, the coldness, the sensation - I was salivating over the idea of the slimy f**kers like a half-starved sea witch. No wonder they are celebrated as the King of aphrodisiacs - I was thinking about them more than my own boyfriend... (If you've stopped reading for fear I may be a crazed shellfish-ophile - I swear I'm going somewhere with this.)

I can thankfully confirm that my sexualising-of-seafood days are behind me - and since then, nothing has roused one's salivary glands in quite the same manner. That is, until I took a walk on the wild side. And by 'wild side' I mean Station Road, Brixton. You'll have heard a plethora of my rantings and ravings about Pop Brixton by now - but they are not unwarranted. One of it's most recent tenants is Other Side Fried Chicken - twice fried buttermilk chicken, drenched in ranch, honey butter and hot sauce and sandwiched between two glossy halves of potato bun - as the guys at OSFC say, its "dirty done proper". OSFC is the lovechild of Brixton boys Matt and Tommy, who honed their craft by trading out of the back of a converted ambulance at renowned street food markets across London, before returning home to the borough that does fried chicken better than anywhere else - Brixton!

Albeit a little messy to eat, it was hands-down one of the best things I have ever shoved down my gullet...

I can't actually begin to describe how good this burger is. Man got a solid 4.9. (If you don't get the reference, click here.) A dreadlocked youth behind the counter recommended I try the Buffalo Chicken Burger, which I ordered with a side of 'dirty' fries and a beer. It was a rainy day, so rather than doing my usual rounds (I like to pop off to Make-Do-and-Mend Vintage while my food is being prepared), I elected to remain at the OSFC kiosk, and consequently witnessed the labour of love that goes into the making of one of these beautiful burgers. Disclaimer: they really do fry it twice!

Albeit a little messy to eat, it was hands-down one of the best things I have ever shoved down my gullet, and for days - no, WEEKS after, all I could think of was that hot sauce and ranch running down my chin as I tore into the succulent chicken breast.....and as things are getting alarmingly sexual again, I will bring this article to a close! 

If it is comfort food which you seek (or, like me, food porn) then hit up Other Side Fried and try one of these bangin' burgers! There is a quote I love from Kathryn Stockett's 'The Help', which is as simple and mighty as the food it alludes to: "Fried chicken just tend to make you feel better about life." It sure as hell does!

Pengest munch in London.

F A S H I O N  S T U F F


The story of how I came to manage an Indian street food restaurant...

Street Chaat selection at Chit Chaat Chai, Wandsworth Town | Photo by Titi Finlay 2016

Street Chaat selection at Chit Chaat Chai, Wandsworth Town | Photo by Titi Finlay 2016

It was never my ambition to be the manager of an Indian Street Food restaurant. In fact, when I moved to London 2 years ago, I had intended to pursue a career in the arts, using the street culture of London as a source of inspiration (my artwork is predominantly based on subcultures, protest and rebellion). And though that may still be the case one day, London's street culture has lead me down a very different path - one where I have been able to sculpt a career that encompasses each of my interests.

It was during my employment at a Taqueria & Tequila bar in South-west London (my first job in the Big Smoke) when I noticed the rising popularity of Street Food. Fresh off the boat from a small city in Scotland where Gastropubs were still the 'in' thing (N.B. these went out of fashion circa. 2010), I had never heard of the concept of 'Street Eats' - except, perhaps, for crepe stands at Christmas markets. And I can remember so vividly the first time I experienced this approach to dining. It was mid-July: that dusty, hot smell hung about the air while Latino hip-hop blasted from a nearby speaker. My then-boss handed me a Tommy's margarita and a tray of Salpicon de Res corn tacos topped with mountains of fresh pico de gallo which I devoured in the midday sun. It was such a defining moment for me, as the juice from the slow-cooked beef ran down my hands and the smell of cigarette smoke and dust drifted through my nostrils I was, for a moment, transported to a Mexican mercado. It was a dining experience unlike anything I had known.

I was hooked. Thereafter, a substantial amount of my spare time was spent seeking out other variations of street food and learning about the cultures behind each type of cuisine. I spent my Sundays with Mexican friends, drinking Mezcal and barbecuing ribs and whole red snappers on open coals. I shopped at authentic (and not to mention dirt-cheap) food markets like North End Road and Tooting, where I would haggle over the price of fish (pun intended) with the vendors. And whenever I could, I visited food markets like Pop Brixton, Kerb, and the ever-changing Putney Market which sits right on my doorstep (and is rapidly growing in popularity). But more than anything, I loved engaging with the vendors: empanadas taste so much better when they are sold to you by a patriotic Columbian!

Me and Ma at Tooting Market 2016

Me and Ma at Tooting Market 2016

Although it was the taqueria that introduced me to one of my greatest passions, it soon came time to hang up my sombrero and move onto greener pastures. And while this was largely due to the fact that I was fed up of working for London's answer to El Chapo (LOL), I had truly exhausted every avenue of Mexican food and street culture. I needed a new cuisine with which to hone my knowledge and satisfy my taste buds, and when I took a temporary job with a small family-run Indian restaurant, I knew I had found just that. 

The job itself wasn't really my vibe, and I knew fairly early on that I wasn't going to stick around for very long. But until I found my next street food outlet, I made the most of my time with the owner's family, discovering there was a lot more to Indian food than curry and rice. I developed an unlikely friendship with my boss's mother - a 78-year-old Indian woman whom everyone referred to as 'Ma'. Originally from Bombay (Mumbai), she was a vision of old-world beauty and class, always clad in vibrant colours and incredibly kind. She introduced me to dosas, dhai puri and jalebi, and each day at 4pm we would share a tiffin of bhindi okra and lamb kodi while she spoke of the colours and smells of her home country. The way she spoke about her food and her culture ignited a new love within me, and so I embarked on a brand-new foodie journey into the world of chaat.

Around this time, I was slowly becoming aware that Indian food was being 're-done', having discovered Kricket @ Pop Brixton. Their tapas-style take on Indian cookery was refreshing and fun to eat, and reminded me of the novelty of that first food-gasmic bite of beef taco a year previous. Soon after, I was introduced to establishments like Dishoom, Babu Ji's and of course Chit Chaat Chai (where, ironically, I met the founder, Tania while dining with my previous employer). I knew immediately after dining at Chit Chaat Chai that Indian street food was blowing up, and much like gastropubs had gone out of fashion years before, taquerias too were becoming mainstream - people were ready for a new type of cuisine to be reinvented.

So when Tania asked me to be her Restaurant Manager it was a no-brainer. Chit Chaat Chai had the same laid-back, edgy appeal as the taqueria that initially sparked my love for street food, and I could see in Tania the same creative drive which I possessed myself. The walls of CCC are covered in vibrant graffiti, and the atmosphere is loud, fun and just plain cool. The tables are dressed down: stripped back wood with buckets of cutlery and traditional stainless steel cups. Old Limca bottles are used as candle holders, the bathrooms are plastered with 70s Indian travel posters, and the floor is covered in old Bombay Gazettes. Every detail of the interior is as colourful as Ma once described Bombay, creating the perfect atmosphere for faux-fresco (al-fresco indoors?) Indian dining. And the chaat! Not even those tacos can compare to the explosive sensation I felt when trying my first C.C.C. pani puri. There is so much vibrancy and colour in the food - and not the fake kind you find in curries at most Indian restaurants. No, this food is fresh to death, spicy and wholesome without leaving you too full. Served on stainless steel thalis, it is no-frills, authentic Indian chaat - and I'm obsessed.

So here I am! Co-running one of London's hottest street food restaurants with one of the most tenacious and inspiring individuals I have ever met (see Tania's story here) - and I haven't looked back! At Chit Chaat Chai I'm a photographer, a graphic designer, a mixologist and a manager (to mention just a few of the hats I wear on a daily basis). And although it can be incredibly challenging at times, it is a job that allows me to work creatively in an environment I love. 

A 9-5 just ain't an option!

F a s h i o n S t u f f