It's been a hard couple of decades for the humble macaroni cheese. It's been derided as a retro cliché, had its reputation damaged by bland and soggy ready meals, and been sidelined by the calorie counters as a health timebomb. No longer. London's inclusive restaurant scene has helped this legendary dish regain its rightful place as the king of comfort food once more. Here's where to order your next portion:
1 | Hawksmoor
Next time you dine out at Hawksmoor, might we suggest you veer away from your usual order and try the Lobster Macaroni Cheese?
Although not as obvious a side dish as, say, chips or creamed spinach, this new menu addition takes mac an cheese to a whole new level.
Blending several cheeses (Cheddar, Ogleshield and Stilton) to tangy effect, it's the tender lobster meat – tucked away beneath the macaroni morsels – that sets this side apart. The lobster bisque on the side only seals the deal.
Having debuted in the Air Street restaurant, you can now order the dish in both Knightsbridge and Guildhall branches. It's not cheap at £20, but once tasted, that price tag makes a lot more sense.
5a Air Street, W1J OAD, hawksmoor.com
2 | The Riding House Café
There's something special about having a dish – typically seen as a side – for a main, and this Brasserie's Macaroni Cheese Fritter is a course to rival the best of them.
Situated on London's Great Titchfield Street, The Riding House Cafe's deep-fried variation on a classic, served with a light romesco sauce underneath the initial layer, comes with pea salad, mustard seeds and shaved fennel.
43-51 Great Titchfield Street, W1W 7PQ, ridinghousecafe.co.uk
3 | Tom's Kitchen
Chances are that any diehard Macaroni Cheese fan would have made it to Tom's Kitchen long ago.
Bolstered by a flawless blend of cream and cheese (Cheddar + Gruyère + Parmesan = thumbs up), the classic version is a menu staple across its several branches, which include Somerset House and Canary Wharf.
The more adventurous should try the truffle option though - cooked with white truffle oil on a black-truffle base, there's a reason this Mac 'n' Cheese is a firm favourite amongst regulars – and all for a mere £9, rightly so.
Somerset House, Strand, WC2R 1LA, tomskitchen.co.uk
4 | Anna Mae's
A street food regular and a firm festival favourite – hell, you can even hire it for back garden appearances – Anna Mae's Mac 'n' Cheese food van always has a queue and rightly so.
You can't go wrong with the affordable classic Annie Mac (£5.50), but for those feeling something different, opt for the Kanye Western – mac with a beef hotdog and crispy onions topped with BBQ sauce – for an additional 50p.
Billing itself as "the original purveyor of pimped up Mac 'n' Cheese cooked on the street," a website-check for the van's whereabouts is mandatory. Get down early to guarantee a taste.
5 | Spuntino
Photo: Samphire and Salsify
If the hidden location and lack of a telephone line entice you towards Spuntino (Italian for 'snack'), allow the Macaroni Cheese to be your reason to stay.
Heavily inflenced by restaurants you'd find in downtown New York, this Soho locale's Mac 'n' Cheese comes topped with a thick layer of crunchy breadcrumbs. The mixture of four cheeses and leeks scattered inside ensure this version offers just enough novelty but still keeping it simple.
61 Rupert Street, W1D 7PW, spuntino.co.uk
6 | Balthazar
Covent Garden fixture Balthazar likes to keep things classic while adding their own little twist – and their Macaroni Au Gratin is no different.
The additional flourish of melted Gruyère and bacon – present on the menu for £14 – makes for a worthwhile expenditure.
As a lead recipe in The Balthazar Cookbook, there's nothing stopping you from trying it out at home either.
4-6 Russell Street, WC2B 5HZ, balthazarlondon.com
7 | Rabot1745
Run by Hotel Chocolat, the Borough Market restaurant – named after a Caribbean cacao estate purchased by the founders ten years ago – are basically offering you a macaroni cheese and leek pie, the perfect side of which is white chocolate mash. Don't believe us? Try it (this is Britain's first gourmet chocolate restaurant, after all).
Encased in cacao nib pastry with celeriac puree, leeks and mushrooms, it makes for a genuinely unusual mac combination.
2 - 4 Bedale Street, SE1 9AL, hotelchocolat.com
8 | Rita's
Sure, Pret's Macaroni Cheese may be the most affordable option within walking distance from your office, but don't let that put you off trying out Rita's one weekend.
Based in Hackney – and a 20 minute walk from Bethnal Green tube station – it'd be foolish to sniff at the Mac 'n' Cheese on offer here for £4.50.
Topped with avocado and sprinkled with green chillies, this is one of the healthier (and spicier) options around.
175 Mare Street, E8 3RH, ritasbaranddining.com
9 | Bumpkin
Sometimes you don't want frills or fancy additions. For those times, head to Bumpkin. Break through the crispy layer and you'll discover more crispy cheddar cheese underneath, balanced by the perfect ratio of creamy macaroni.
With four branches of the British Brasserie to be found across London (the Notting Hill branch is a stone's throw from Portobello Road Market) you have four times more opportunities to order this side. Be sure to take advantage.
209 Westbourne Park Road, W11 1EA, bumpkinuk.com
10 | Joe's Kitchen
Situated a stone's throw from the hubbub of Covent Garden, this converted warehouse offers two variations of the dish – one a side, the other a main.
We suggest going for the side if merely to experience the taste of mac'n'cheese combined with a mouthful of their delicious fried chicken.
Whichever you opt for, your verdict will be the same: you're returning for more – and soon.
34 King Street, Covent Garden, WC23 8JD, 020 7240 4008, joessouthernkitchen.co.uk