EU food in London: Favorites from each country

CNN  — 

Once the home of the jellied eel, pie and mash and fish and chips, London has come a long way since the local Indian restaurant was the most exotic dining experience on any of the city’s main streets.

Drab, unappetizing and unadventurous, the cake trays and tea trolleys of the famed Lyons Corner Houses were about as upmarket as it got in 1975 when Britain last held a referendum on European membership and voted to stay in. More than 40 years of continental influence has transformed British cuisine, particularly in London, where residents have their pick of top-class European eateries.

From the pastizzi of Malta, to the tapas of Spain, to the cheese-laden dumplings of Slovakia, the biggest city in England has a restaurant for almost all of the 28 member states of the European Union.

Luxembourg and Slovenia are under-represented in arguably Europe’s most cosmopolitan city. But diners who simply must have their judd mat gaardebounen (a Luxembourger favorite of smoked pork collar and broad beans) or krofi (fried Slovenian doughnuts) are just as likely to be catered for by city’s scores of French, German or Balkan restaurants.

In the 2016 referendum on EU membership, the UK’s heart – 51.9% of voters – chose Brexit. But 59.9% of Londoners – ruled by their gut instincts, perhaps – voted for Remain.

A few weeks before the referendum took place, we created our own menu of London’s European restaurants and sampled some of the food and opinions on offer. The future of the UK’s relationship with the EU hangs in the balance, but perhaps these restaurants – and the pre-referendum thoughts of their staff – can provide a taste of what is at stake.


Fischer's: Schnitzels, saukerkraut and strudel.

Venue: Fischer’s – The wood paneling, polished mirrors and tiling make this place look like it’s been here since Sigmund Freud was psychoanalyzing. In fact it’s just a couple of years old, but the menu and atmosphere have an authentic old school Austrian feel.

Cuisine: Wiener schnitzels. Sausages and sauerkraut. Strudel. Sachertorte.


Venue: Belgo Centraal – A cave-like and stylish dining room and beer hall that’s been serving up Belgian classics – alongside a huge menu of beers – for nearly two decades in central London.

Cuisine: Moules mariniere with double-cooked fries. Rotisserie chicken. Waffles.


Venue: Paradise Restaurant – Bright, cheap and cheery corner cafe offering a menu of slow and fast Bulgarian food favorites that cater to sit-in and takeaway diners.

Cuisine: Mixed yogurt and chopped cucumber soup, chicken kavarma (stew) with egg, traditional pleskavita (spiced meat).


Venue: Riviera – Friendly, well-reviewed neighborhood joint offering generous portions of Croatian classics in a small but sharply decorated setting.

Cuisine: Cabbage leaves stuffed with minced meat and rice, dumplings, calves’ livers, grilled meat.


Pure Cyprus: "If Britain leaves the EU, it'll be brilliant," says Elias Solomou.

Venue: Pure Cyprus – Tucked away in a side street in north London’s cultural melting pot of Finsbury Park, this is as close to a Mediterranean restaurant as the city gets. At 5 p.m., before the customers roll in, the Solomou family sits down to an early dinner before the work starts.

Cuisine: Dolmades, rice with pine kernels wrapped in vine leaves, grilled lountza, Cypriot dried smoked pork tenderloin, and spanakopita, spinach and feta cheese in filo pastry parcels.

Brexit or Bremain: “I think if Britain leaves the EU it will be really brilliant,” says restaurant owner Elias Solomou.

“I think everyone will be happier with Britain outside the European Union – there’ll be more money in our pockets and the nation will be more independent.”

When challenged by a member of his family about the possibility of having to get new staff to run the restaurant, Elias remains unfazed. “Too bad,” he says. “I’ll replace them.”

Czech Republic

Venue: Czechoslovak Restaurant – Not so much a glimpse of another culture as another era. Retro carpets and decor seem straight from the ’70s, but the cheap beer and hearty food are worth the trip back in time.

Cuisine: Wild boar roast with creamy and cheesy sauce and dumplings. Brawn with vinegar, mustard, onion and bread.

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Snaps & Rye: Calm and cozy.

Venue: Snaps & Rye – A chic and busy daytime (and some evenings) eatery of stripped pine and stylish chairs that hits that Danish sweet zone between minimalism and coziness.

Cuisine: Smorrebrod open sandwiches, pork veal frikadeller meatballs, liquorice meringue, almond-baked custard pudding.


Venue: Baltic Restaurant and Bar – Not just Estonian, this modern, smart venue takes a sweep across Baltic cuisines, mixing in dishes from Poland, Hungary and Russia alongside a vodka-dominated cocktail menu.

Cuisine: Smoked eel with beetroot, potato, bacon and horseradish cream.


Nordic Bakery: Finnish food.

Venue: Nordic Bakery – An oasis of cinnamon and coffee amid the mad scramble of central London, the Nordic Bakery feels like a cross between a designer Scandinavian cafe and a school canteen.

Cuisine: Cinnamon bun, skoleboller (a Norwegian custard bun), Karelian pie with rice or potato mash filling.

Brexit or Bremain?: “I’ve been in London for two months and I really like it,” says Suvi Jarvenpaa, a former hospitality student.

“I’m not sure what the referendum really means, but I like the European Union because I like to travel. I think it’s a nice thing – it’s easy to move from place to place, it’s so easy to spend just one currency – the Euro.

“I’ve only ever had a good experience with it.”


Venue: Le Garrick Brasserie Restaurant – Dependable French bistro in the heart of London’s theaterland that keeps customers returning for classics without troubling posher rivals.

Cuisine: Boeuf bourguignon, cassoulet de Toulouse, creme brulee.

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Bavarian Beerhouse: Sausages and steins.

Venue: Bavarian Beerhouse – For anyone whose experience of Munich beer halls and gardens is crowds of boisterous English people sloshing back massive steins of beer and platefuls of sausages served up by staff in lederhosen, this is the real deal.

Cuisine: Meat, and lots of it: Bavarian-style meatloaf. Giant meatballs. Frankfurters, small Nurnberger and large bratwurst served with mashed potatoes and sauerkraut.


Venue: The Real Greek – One of London’s best chain eateries, The Real Greek offers a healthy range of food from the Eastern Mediterranean at a restaurant that aims to capture the unhurried spirit of Greece. Its contemporary blue and white decor recalls a long afternoon at a Santorini taverna even if the view out the window is of a central London slick with rain.

Cuisine: Grilled kalamari, fresh squid with a sticky Greek honey and paprika marinade. Lamb kofta, minced lamb marinated with Anatolian spices and served with minted yoghurt.

Brexit or Bremain: “I think Greece would be better off outside the European Union and I think Britain would be too,” says assistant manager Dimitri Loubros. “It would be tough at first but I think, in the long run, it’s going to be better. If I had a vote in this European Union referendum I would vote leave.”


Gay Hussar's Monika Bogie worker: "When I go back to Hungary people tend to treat me a bit like a foreigner."

Venue: The Gay Hussar – London’s Soho has long been a redoubt of bohemians, raffish politicians and roguish journalists. It’s fitting then that its most representative restaurant should be Hungarian.

Its wood-paneled walls are covered in brilliant caricatures of politicians past and present and the restaurant attracts a slightly older crowd of media types, politicians and publishers.

Cuisine: fustolt libamell (smoked breast of goose with solet and red cabbage), ozporkolt (venison goulash with tarhonya and red cabbage).

Brexit or Bremain? “Obviously I don’t want to go back to Hungary now,” says assistant manager Monika Bogie. “It’s getting harder and harder there to find a job. During the first year here I was homesick and I just wanted to go back to Hungary, but I don’t feel like that now.

“From a personal point of view I’d say the people of Britain are more friendly than they are in Hungary. When I go back to Hungary people tend to treat me a bit like a foreigner, I’ve been away that long.”


Venue: Green Pea – London has no shortage of so-called Irish bars that fail to deliver on the promise. The Green Pea gets low marks for decor but scores highly for food and character, with reviewers raving about the friendly, if eccentric, atmosphere.

Food: No set menu – that would be too predictable – but there’s a high chance of Irish classics like steak and Guinness pie.


Venue: Little Sardegna – Italian food was an early colonizer of London’s dining scene and remains widely available in varying standards from preposterously high-end to shabby.

In appearance, local Sardinian eatery Little Sardegna may waver towards the lower end of the scale, but in terms of value for money and quality of food, it’s definitely at the top.


Baltic Bar & Restaurant: Vodka galore.

Venue: See Estonia


Venue: Smilte Restaurant – Since opening nine years ago, this northeast London restaurant has become a hub of the city’s Lithuanian population, offering food alongside performances by Lithuanian musicians.

Cuisine: Cod fillet with spinach sauce. Pork stew with mushrooms and cream.


Venue: Parparellu – A small but stylish cafe in a busy neighborhood that caters to the local coffee crowd while offering a haven for homesick Maltese.

Cuisine: Qassatat, a savory snack involving tuna, spinach, anchovies, peas and ricotta. Traditional Maltese honey rings.


"The Dutch in London are part of the city's history," says De Hems manager Ben Jones.

Venue: De Hems – Dutch pub De Hems is situated somewhat incongruously in the center of London’s Chinatown.

It takes its name from 19th-century Dutch seaman Captain De Hem who set it up originally as an oyster bar and served shellfish and stout.

Cuisine: Bitterballen, crumbed and fried meatballs with a beef ragout filling. Kaassouflees, Dutch cheese parcels, crumbed and deep fried.

Brexit or Bremain: “The Dutch in London are really part of the city’s history and this pub was a meeting place for the Dutch resistance during World War II,” says manager Ben Jones, who won’t be drawn on the European Union debate.

“Today we’re very famous with the Dutch based in London and we regularly throw parties, for instance on King’s Day which is celebrated on April 27.”


The Patio: Poland on a plate.

Venue: The Patio Restaurant – Self-consciously styled like a central European middle class parlor, the Patio pre-empted the UK’s early 2000s wave of Polish immigration by several years.

Its hefty plates of solid Polish classics have earned it a celebrated place on London’s dining scene.

Cuisine: Pierogi homemade dumplings. Kolabki stuffed cabbage leaves.


Venue: Sporting Clube de Londres – West London is particularly well served for Portuguese eateries, but this unusual, low-key venue offers a genuine taste of the Iberian peninsula.

It’s a no-frills experience, slightly heavy on the soccer, where generous portions of unfussy food transport diners far from the UK.

Cuisine: Salt cod croquettes. Peri peri chicken.

Sporting Clube de Londres, 27 Elkstone Road, London; +44 20 8968 3069


Venue: Restaurant Acasa – An unassuming northeast London restaurant catering to expat Romanians and adventurous locals looking to sample one of Europe’s lesser known cuisines.

Cuisine: Smoked lamb with polenta. Romanian sausages. Spit-roasted pork.


Venue: See Czech restaurant


Venue: Centro Galego de Londres – A long way from the overpriced tapas joints of central London, this Spanish-staffed restaurant draws expats to the city’s gloomy northwestern ‘burbs with authentic, good value seafood and other dishes from Spain’s Galecia region.

Cuisine: Grilled sea bass in white wine sauce. Iberian pork fillet with smoked peppers. Classic seafood paella.


Cooper and Wolf: A corner of Sweden in east London.

Venue: Cooper & Woolf – A family-run cafe and restaurant that specializes in honest home-cooked Swedish food based on recipes from director Sara Ratcliffe’s own family.

Cuisine: Gubbrora open sandwiches on sourdough, Swedish meatballs, Gravlax smoked salmon on scrambled eggs.

Brexit or Bremain?: “If Britain leaves the EU, I might consider going back to Sweden,” says director Sara Ratcliffe.

“I feel quite strongly about it. There’s no way that I could have lived here for 20 years learning and setting up businesses the way I’ve done without being a part of the European Union.”

This story was originally published on June 22, 2016.