Welcome to the second Food Spark self-guided safari, where we’ll lead you along a carefully curated route, visiting on-trend food hotspots to keep your finger on the pulse.
For our second outing, we’ve summarised all you need to know about the dishes that are causing a photo frenzy on Instagram. As well as breaking down the facts, we’ll take you to six standout spaces in Covent Garden and Soho, highlighting why they’re interesting and what you should try if you visit. They’re conveniently clustered together so you can hop from one to another, getting a taste of what's shaking on social media.
You could take our word for it and learn about these tried-and-tested gems on your screen, but it is often more fun (and filling) to taste the wares first-hand!
The perfect shot
Instagram is a powerful restaurant marketing tool. This fact has been recognised by many brands, including Italian chain Zizzi, which employed a resident Instagrammer to shape its social media presence.
The image-focused app celebrates the food we wished we were eating (ice cream, dirty cheeseburgers, rainbow cakes), whereas what we search for on Google, for example, tends to reflect the food we actually eat (chicken pasta, midweek stir-fry, easy curry). A quick scroll through the top food hashtags on Instagram is unlikely to resemble a balanced diet, but it does reveal something about our psychological approach to food.
The most popular dishes on Instagram hit four recurring themes: innovation (reinventing the familiar or showcasing ‘new’ international dishes); emotion (excess, nostalgia, indulgence); colour and simplicity. We’ve picked six destinations that reflect these themes in the Covent Garden and Soho area of London.
Charge your smartphone and get ready for a selfie!
1st stop: Kanada-Ya
Address: 64 St Giles High Street, London WC2H 8LE
About: Uncompromising and deeply savoury comfort food, the unctuous noodles at Kanada-Ya stand in opposition to the pretty ice creams and sweet treats that usually dominate our Instagram feed. This ‘ugly delicious’ food trend follows in the tradition of chefs like David Chang, who celebrate real food that makes you feel hungry when you see it, and feel better after you’ve eaten it. Incredibly popular in Japan, Kanada-Ya now has three branches in London specialising in authentic tonkotsu ramen and izakaya-style dishes. Only this branch takes reservations, so be prepared to queue elsewhere.
What to order: Tonkotsu with pork bone broth, chashu pork belly and wood ear fungus. We recommend ordering your noodles hard, but they come extra hard, regular or soft too. If you weren’t already addicted to edamame, try resisting the ones here, which are sprinkled with black truffle salt.
Travel to 2nd stop: Walk six minutes to Cha Cha Roll
2nd stop: Cha Cha Roll
Address: 39 Frith Street, London, W1D 5LL
Trend: Innovation and colour
About: Cha Cha Roll has made a name for itself through innovative presentation and its trademark rolls. Colourful, unique and easy to hold, sushi ‘burritos’ are a savvy format targeting the to-go, lunch and pre-theatre market, with layers of rice, veg, salad and protein. Run by the team behind Dozo sushi joints in Soho and South Kensington, Cha Cha Rolls give familiar sushi flavours a twist and also bring unexpected flavours like vegan duck and truffle bean curd into the sushi format.
What to order: Any sushi roll. Try the crispy soya ‘pork belly’ rolled with carrots, purple cabbage and lollo rosso lettuce for a vegan take on a classic. Leave room for Taiwan sesame seed ice cream rolled with candied peanuts, or sticky rice with mango and coconut milk in a sweet egg roll.
Travel to 3rd stop: Walk three minutes to Tsujiri Matcha
3rd stop: Tsujiri Matcha
Address: 33 Newport Court, London WC2H 7PQ
Trends: Colour and simplicity
About: Founded in 1860 and with branches across Asia, Canada and Australia, as well as two in London, Tsujiri is a Taiwanese-style tea shop that specialises in Japanese desserts and matcha. It is credited with bringing green Mr Whippy to London, but has moved the colourful food trend forward with a range of matcha-infused desserts. Rainbow food has dominated our Insta feeds since the first stampede of unicorn lattes, but the next generation of colourful food tends to use natural food colourings, like matcha, rose, beetroot, etc., for a more health-driven approach to colour.
What to order: Charcoal and matcha roll cake. A slightly bitter black sponge with sweet and light matcha filling. The hojicha roasted green tea soft-serve ice cream comes a close second.
Travel to 4th stop: Walk five minutes to Avobar
4th stop: Avobar
Address: 24 Henrietta Street, London WC2E 8ND
Trends: Innovation and colour
About: Avocadoes have been a hashtag darling for several years now, but London’s Avobar gives them a makeover with colourful avo bun burgers and avocado hotcakes. First launched as a pop-up, and now with a permanent home on the edge of Covent Garden, Avobar is part-owned by Russian entrepreneur Liana Kazaryan. Claiming to be the first superfood cafe of its kind, Avobar targets health-conscious millennials with its California-vibe decor and wellness menu.
What to order: The Avo Burger is an Insta must: a sweet potato and red lentil patty sandwiched between two ‘buns’ made from ripe and ready avocadoes. Don’t miss the Avo Maria: a green and virtuous version of your favourite bloody Mary.
Travel to 5th stop: Walk three minutes to Milk Train
5th stop: Milk Train
Address: 12 Tavistock Street, London WC2E 7PH
Trends: Innovation, emotion and colour
About: More is definitely more at this over-the-top ice cream parlour, bringing candyfloss ice cream to the UK for the first time. Founded by the couple behind Nice Ice (the Japanese shaved ice pop-up cafe in Greenwich) and designed by Shoreditch studio FormRoom, Milk Train’s whole concept is an Insta sensation, with the menu, decor and ‘Ice cream makes you happy’ sign outside set up for the ‘gram. Ice cream has had a come-back in the UK, and Milk Train’s Covent Garden store looks like a Wes Anderson waiting room for ice cream heaven: all cloud-white tiles with train-style booths, pastel blue seating and archways decorated with seasonal flowers.
What to order: The Unicorn Cloud with rainbow soft serve, a cotton candy halo and all the toppings, of course.
Travel to 6th stop: Walk 8 minutes to Jacob The Angel.
6th stop: Jacob the Angel
Address: 16 ½ Neal's Yard, London WC2H 9DP
About: Named after Jacob, a Jewish immigrant from Lebanon who is said to have opened England’s first coffee house in Oxford in 1651, Jacob the Angel is tucked in a corner of colourful Neal’s Yard. In contrast to the clamour and glitter of many Insta-dishes, these elegant coconut cream pies have become an iconic dessert in their own right. If you’re still craving some colour, pop into Wild Food Cafe next door for a rainbow cheesecake.
What to order: The coconut cream pie, preferably with a cup of Square Mile coffee as a reward for your hard day’s eating. The tahini madeleines are also drop-dead gorgeous.