A Foodie’s Guide to Desserts From Around The World in London

I was thrilled to recently come in third in the Mayor of London’s #MyLondonDish competition – an initiative celebrating the multicultural mix making up the capital’s thriving food scene. Thanks again to all of you who voted!

For the unfamiliar, my nominated dish was a Middle-Eastern dessert imbibing Israeli influences, at a restaurant rooted in the Barbary Coast of North Africa!

It is of course but one of unnumbered examples, illustrating the melting pot of cuisines and cultures that London has to offer. In fact, I’m fairly certain that one could journey around the world and back here… in just 80 dishes! Leaving this challenge for another day, here’s a Dessert Guide also guaranteed to satiate that serial case of wanderlust…

Knafeh, The Barbary

Some say knafeh originated during the time of Abbasid Caliphate in 9th century Baghdad, while more popular belief traces it back to the Palestinian city of Nablus, circa the 10th century.

Today it’s an iconic Israeli dessert in its own right, taking shape in a basket of ultra-thin, devilishly deep-fried kadaif noodles which cocoon a gooey, melt-in-your mouth mix of soft cheese. It arrives sweetly drenched in syrup, with a scattering of pistachios adding a touch of nuttiness to the decadent proceedings! Try it at The Barbary in Seven Dials, a must visit if you haven’t already been!

Kulfi, Jamavar

Now a staple across India, the humble kulfi was actually born in the royal kitchens of the Mughal Empire in the 16th Century – made with ice sourced straight from the Himalayas!

Unlike ice cream, it has just one key ingredient – full fat milk which is simmered continuously for hours, to achieve its silkily-smooth texture layered with a creamily-caramelised flavour.

While you can find kulfi sticks at most Indian restaurants in London, my top pick would have to be the tantalising trio at Jamavar, tinged with offbeat flavours such as pink peppercorn and rose petal!

Top picks for Indian eats & treats in London, here.

Taiyaki, BAKE

While this fish-shaped, street-side snack from Japan is typically filled with red beans – you can have it piled high with soft serves instead at BAKE on Chinatown’s Wardour Street.

In the interest of full disclosure, the matcha ice cream here is not as flavourfully-rich as at its exemplary counterparts (try the Matcha Sundae at Tsujiri in Soho, nearby), but it nonetheless comes through to deliver a satisfyingly scrummy, sweet-and-savoury sensation!

Find this foodie’s guide to Chinatown, here.

Mille Crepe Cake, KOVA/ Machiya

Other matcha-marvellous moments can be enjoyed in the form of a mille-crepe cake at London’s Japanese patisseries. Essentially a cross between a French mille feuille and intricately-delicate layers of crepe pancakes, each towering creation is layered with a custard-cream filling at KOVA in Soho. But if matcha sounds too 2016, try a genmaicha version at  Machiya – featuring green tea combined with roasted brown rice!

Bubblewrap waffles, Bubblewrap

Originating in the 1950’s in Hong Kong, these now iconic street eats were borne out of a pragmatic need to find a use for cracked eggs which couldn’t be sold to customers. The rest as they say is history (and globalisation), with a more modern take now popping up in food trucks, kiosks and even dedicated cafes across London…

Crisp-edged on the top and soft and chewy further down, each golden whopper of a waffle is literally stuff of an Instagrammer’s dreams – served curled up in a cone and filled to the brim with generous wallops of gelato and all sorts of sweet trimmings and sauces from traditional mochi, condensed milk and red bean paste, to crushed Oreos, fudge and peanut butter !

If you can beat the rush, try the stellar offerings at Bubblewrap in Chinatown. I quite like the matcha variation at #atch Waffles in nearby Soho too!

More on-trend treats in London, here.

Custard Buns, Bun House & Tea Room

Then there are the Cantonese custard buns introduced by a new bao bun café. Offering an unbashed mess to rejoice in, the deceivingly-humble exterior belies a lava-like gush of custard,  silkily blended with duck egg, coconut milk and carrots! Grab one (or a few) to go, the next time you’re passing by this corner of Greek Street.

A guide to snacking on the go in Soho, here.

Cinnamon Buns, Fabrique Bakery

Moving back towards Europe, there’s nothing like a quintessential Swedish pastry – particularly to go with your coffee as is the tradition of fika. While there are now a number of Scandi-inspired bakeries across the city, the sweetly-sticky cinnamon buns at Fabrique (or kanelbulla as they’re otherwise known) remain the ultimate pleasure.

Pastels de Nata, Bar Douro 

Coffee & desserts are in perfect harmony at Bar Douro too, a Portuguese restaurant airily tucked away below a railway arch near Flat Iron Square. While it’s the ceramic tiles and marble-topped tables which might have pulled you Instagram lot in, it’s the custard-filled delights of the Pastels de Nata which will draw you back time and again!

Quite interestingly, they were first created in Portugal’s historic convents and monasteries, as a pragmatic use of the excess yolks left over from the large quantities of egg-whites utilised in starching the clothes… Clearly, the much-touted food waste movement held its own momentum  back in the day too!

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Today, I was introduced to not one but two Portuguese desserts @BarDouro, an utterly gorgeous gem of a restaurant tucked away near Flat Iron Square (the marble tops and ceramic tiles alone will have Instagrammers swooning… #priorities 😜). I can't believe it's taken me as long to experience the flaky, custard-filled delights of a Pastel de Nata, but it was the richly smooth "egg yolk pudding" which was truly revelatory… As legend has it, these eggcellent pastries were first whipped up in Portugal's monasteries as a creative use for the all excess egg yolk, left over once the egg whites had been used to starch the laundry. Clearly, these religious centres of old were on to the food-waste issue long before it became a trending topic today! #FoodforThought #TopLondonRestaurants #BarDouro #TheFoodieDiariesLondon

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Choux-time, Maitre Choux

From light-as-air soufflés to ever-pleasing piles of macarons, there’s really no dearth of French pastries to pique one’s fancy in London. And yet if I had to lay my hat at just the one patisserie, I’d blindly find my way to Maitre Choux for a contemporary spin on this beloved tea-time classic.

Each picture-perfect éclair tastes just as pretty as it looks on the tin, featuring the likes of unicorn-inspired colours and 24K gold coating, alongside relatively-more simple flavours such as lemon meringue and tiramisu!

Tiramisu, Your Local Italian

Speaking of tiramisu, this classic dessert literally translates to “pick me up” in Italian. Everyone is bound to play favourites on this one, compelled by the cosy charms of their friendly neighbourhood restaurant. Unsurprisingly, my choice would be the moistly-dense layers of creaminess at my ever-inviting local, Del Fino on Mount Street!

If you fancy trying your own hand at a tiramisu, here’s my deliciously simple  go-to recipe.

Chicha Morada Cremolada,  Casita Andina

But why stop here?

If you haven’t yet experienced the cosy warmth of the Andean countryside, head to Casita Andina in Soho, styled after Peru’s ‘picanterias’ – the welcoming restaurants run within the houses of strong, matriarchal-type figures in the Andes. The chicha morada is an offbeat yet satisfying lush dessert, involving a mango-chia pudding layered with compressed pineapples, fresh mangoes and blackberries! Full review, here

With the continued explosion of new restaurants, inspired by cultures, cuisines and countries from all over the world – no doubt, this list will continue to grow in coming months!

In the meanwhile, do drop me your top recommendations in the comments below or by tweeting me @foodiediaries.

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