Ah, comfort food. There’s a reason why it dominates the discourse of so much food writing, cookbooks, and podcasts – because it’s the food that means the most to us. It evokes emotion a quinoa bowl in the office, nor a molecular gastronomy tasting menu ever could. It’s the deeply personal flavours and textures you turn to when life feels like a metaphorical toe stubbing. For me, it’s microwave chicken korma, it’s a cheddar-filled toastie, and it’s eggy bread.
Someone who is also no stranger to riding the comfort food train is recipe writer Sophie Wyburd, often to destination lasagna, sometimes with a stop off at pie town. For her, comfort food is anything that nurtures the soul. “It can be lots of different things to lots of different people, but to me, it’s normally carb-heavy,” says Wyburd. “It’s pasta, bread, potato – it’s wintery comfort food.”
Wyburd forged a name for herself as the comfort food queen at recipe platform MOB. It was here where she cultivated an army of loyal disciples, physiologically dependent on her leek and taleggio paccheri and two garlic bulb chicken soup. Now working freelance, the various permutations of cheesy, carby, beanie goodness just keep on coming. But what’s her number one comfort food?
“Probably lasagna. See, when I think of comfort food, my brain goes pie or lasagna. I think there’s a reason why it’s people's favourite meal because it hits a spot every time. I don’t even think there are that many bad lasagnas out there, even a ready meal can hit the spot the same way one you’ve lovingly cooked for a long time does.”
For Wyburd, like many of us, the joys of comfort food come as much from the journey as the destination. “I think I enjoy the love that you have to put into it. For a lasagna, you have to cook the ragu for a really long time, make the white sauce, layer it up, get it in the oven, and let it rest for a while so it doesn’t slop on a plate. It’s very much a long process. It’s my favourite way of cooking when something isn’t overly complicated but leisurely.”
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And while a lot of comfort food is made in our own kitchens, this doesn’t always have to be the case. There are many restaurants that sound the comfort food klaxon, and unsurprisingly, Wyburd has sussed out her fair share in the capital. For her, it’s all about keeping it simple, “I would say within a restaurant, you don't need to reinvent the wheel,” says Wyburd. “I think comfort food is uncomplicated – all you want for a pie is a good pastry and a good filling. And you definitely don’t want a deconstructed lasagna. You don’t need to go crazy, otherwise you’re really going to alarm people.”
So, with that said, here are Sophie Wyburd’s eight top restaurants for comfort food in London. From mighty roasts to pork fat on toast, these restaurants will feed the belly and the soul.
Sophie Wyburd's favourite comfort food restaurants in London
The Camberwell Arms
65 Camberwell Church Street, SE5 8TR
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This southeast London stalwart from the team behind Waterloo's Anchor & Hope and Stockwell's Canton Arms is no stranger to slinging out soul-warming plates of nosh. The focus here is well-executed gastro-pub food with subtle panache. Case in point: the charcuterie is made in-house, meats are spit-roasted, and it’s the kind of place that takes its focaccia seriously. It’s as good a spot for a weeknight dinner as a Sunday roast and regularly ranks in the Observer Food Monthly roast awards. “For me, it’s just a great restaurant any time of the year, but as you’re entering into autumn/winter, it just really hits the spot,” says Wyburd. “They do this scotch bonnet pork fat on toast for nibbles, and the other thing they do really well is big, share-y things. For Sunday lunch, you get these big pots of roast meats like a whole shoulder of lamb, served with some dauphinoise potatoes or roast potatoes and some creamed greens. That's always what I would go for – a big pot of slow-cooked meat. Stunning.”
85 Bugsby's Way, SE10 0GD
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Crucial to the Wyburd doctrine of comfort food is dumplings, and Saikei is one of her favourite places to snaffle them. Like all the best dim sum spots, the meal is served in an austere dining room below a Holiday Inn on a main road. “You’d miss it unless someone told you to go there,” says Wyburd. “There’s only big Chinese families eating in there, and it’s just the best dim sum. You’ve got your cheung fun, siu mai, the best turnip cakes – all the soft steamy textures, and all the classics.”
The Quality Chop House
92-94 Farringdon Road, EC1R 3EA
Nothing says comfort food like meat and tatties, and you’re going to get the cream of the crop at QCH. The menu is unapologetically meaty, and as the name might elude, these guys know their way around a porkchop (and a steak too). For Wyburd, it evokes childhood nostalgia, “It’s the classic thing of that dish your mum or nan might cook, and it takes you to a place of comfort,” she gleams. “There’s something in the simplicity of the way they just cook meat so beautifully. I feel when I was younger when pork chops were cooked, I was like… eurgh, because the supermarket ones were so thin. But the size of the pork chops in this place are just insane. They also do the best potatoes in London.”
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Cheesy carbs are a comfort food mainstay, so pizza obviously has to get a mention on this list. One of Wyburd’s favourite spots to get her fix is Theos. There are outputs in either Elephant and Castle or in Camberwell – not far from the aforementioned Camberwell Arms if you fancy a day of foodie mooching on what Wyburd claims is one of the best streets in London to get food. The wheel isn’t being reinvented here, but as they say, if it ain’t broken, don’t fix it. On the menu are Neopolitan-style sourdough pizzas, some garlicky focaccia and panuozzos (pizza sandwiches). With a guaranteed chewy, charred crust, and some delectable topping combos – Theo’s are certified aficionadoughs.
We don’t want to say there’s a hierarchy of noodles, but if we did, we’d put udon at the top. For those who agree, you can get your fix of these thick and chewy guys at Koya, which forms a three-strong family of Japanese restaurants based in Soho, Hackney and Bloomberg Arcade. On the menu are deeply restorative bowls of brothy noodles eaten on simple counter tables typical of a Tokyo noodle shop. “I think you need some kind of brothy, noodle-y thing if you’re talking comfort food,” says Wyburd. “It’s a meal I tend to turn to all the time at home when I’m in need of that kind of feeling. It’s also a meal that I love going out for, and Koya is definitely the best place for it. On a rainy day, if you find yourself near a Koya, take shelter in there and get the tempura udon in the really hot dashi broth. Dunking the prawns in the soup is heavenly.”
Silk Road Camberwell
47 Camberwell Church Street, SE5 8TR
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Any restaurant that serves a dish called big plate chicken is a winner in our eyes. And Wyburd can confirm Silk Road in Camberwell is exactly that. “It serves incredible northern Chinese food, and you can get a plate of dumplings for no money, I think it’s five quid for about ten dumplings,” says Wyburd. Sit down in the no-nonsense dining room and prepare to get filled with lip-smacking plates of Xinjiang lamb shish, hand-pulled noodles and glossy shrimp dumplings. Hold fire on planning your first visit, though, as it’s currently relocating from its original spot to next door, so is temporarily closed for renovation.
Dinner for One Hundred
Dinner For One Hundred is one of Wyburd’s locals, and up there as a favourite. “They’re very sweet men, and they run a really lovely operation at all their spots. I love the Kevin, which is a pancetta and leek pizza,” says Wyburd. If the Kev feels too radical, there are plenty of options to please the purists, including margaritas, marinaras, and cheesy garlic bread. We must add that skipping the dip is criminal. A solid 1:1 ratio of slice to lemon and rosemary aioli is essential for the prime experience.
86-90 Lamb's Conduit Street, WC1N 3LZ
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“I’d be an idiot to come here and talk about comfort food and not talk about pasta”, says Wyburd. And she’s not wrong, there are few problems that can’t be solved with a steamy bowl of the stuff, but where does she go out for it? The answer is Ciao Bella, an Italian institution in Bloomsbury, that is as much about the vibe as the food itself. “There’s normally this kind of extravagant man playing the piano in the middle of the room, and the house wine is really cheap. It’s like a big, loud dining room,” says Wyburd. And what to order? For her, it has to be the spaghetti al cartoccio – spaghetti cooked in a paper bag with heaps of mussels, clams and prawns that are ceremoniously tipped out onto your plate at the table. “It’s a perfect restaurant for this time of year if you’re looking for comforting, cosy vibes and an amazing atmosphere – and to just slurp some really decent pasta.”