Here is where the world’s best athletes eat in London
From nachos to sushi, and everything in between, this is what the tennis and cricket stars picked as their favourite places to eat in London
Making your way to SW19 for the tennis or Lord’s for the cricket this July? Or are you simply heading to London for the summer? Regardless, you probably have lists of recommendations on where to dine. But if you are looking online and all the information has confused you, here is a list you may want to cut and keep, because this is based on where the world’s best tennis players and cricketers like to eat.
The restaurant that gains the most number of mentions is Nobu. Andy Murray frequents this Japanese eatery, so does Fernando Verdasco, and, apparently, even Sachin Tendulkar.
There are two outlets of Nobu in London, and Murray visits the one in Park Lane. “It’s much quieter than the more central restaurant, and the atmosphere is great. I don’t tend to move too far from my usual order. I’ll stick to my usual favourite dishes and there’s quite a few, like yellowtail sashimi, rock shrimp and the lobster salad,” says Murray, over an email exchange.
The sushi here is so good that there have been rumours of Murray consuming 50 at a time. “I think this may have happened once a long time ago,” he says. “And there were definitely people there to help me out. I’ve always really enjoyed sushi, particularly after matches and training, so although 50 is a little bit exaggerated, it’s probably not too far off if I have played a long match that day or trained for a long time.”
The other Nobu is on Berkeley Street, a 10-15-minute walk from Buckingham Palace or Piccadilly Circus.
You know that a restaurant is authentic when people who belong to the culture of the cuisine on offer come back for more. It’s not just Rafael Nadal who visits Cambio de Tercio for the octopus in paprika sauce, his countryman Verdasco says this is a place frequented by most of the Spanish tennis players he hangs out with.
“I know a lot of Spanish players go to Cambio de Tercio and Feliciano (Lopez) is friends with Abel (Lusa), who owns Spanish restaurants in London. I go there with Feliciano, David (Ferrer) and Rafa,” says Verdasco, at an interaction organized by the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP).
Lusa also owns a tapas bar, Tendido Cero, and a place that specializes in fish and paellas, Tendido Cuatro.
Indian middle-order batsman Cheteshwar Pujara gives this list an interesting spin and squashes any preconceived notions there may be of a vegetarian Gujarati not having the best opinion about food. “The Cinnamon Club in Westminster is really worth the experience,” says Pujara over the phone. “It’s Indian, but the preparation is different. I know the chef and he usually has his recommendations. It isn’t your usual dal, roti.” Seafood lovers can try the tandoori octopus and cod.
With a menu that has okra with peanuts and jaggery, sandalwood-flavoured chicken, a garlic naan crumble, coconut ginger sauces, gulab jamun and yuzu tart, this restaurant-bar begs to be visited by just about anyone interested in food.
For vegetarians or Thai food lovers, former Indian cricketer V.V.S. Laxman recommends Thai Square in Trafalgar Square and Mango Tree in Belgravia, central London.
“Mango Tree is really authentic,” says Laxman. “Even though we are vegetarians, there is a lot to eat at Mango Tree. We have the tom yum soup, raw papaya salad, the green or red curry, pad thai, sticky rice. My daughter loves corn, so we have that.”
The satay here is popular, and, while there is a mushroom option on the menu, Laxman gets his own version made. “We eat a lot of tofu. The chef here is a friend, so he makes us this tofu satay.”
Since the tofu satay is off the menu, maybe you could try your luck ordering it and using the word “special”—a sobriquet often used in place of the S in VVS.
Laxman says that when he is out of India, Indian cuisine is last on his list, but he does share the names of two Indian restaurants that the team would visit during his playing days. “We used to go to Rasa. They have a nice private space. Also, where we used to stay, St James Court, has this Indian restaurant, Quilon.”
Rasa, off Oxford Street, is known for its Kerala cuisine. If you just want a quick peek, get some Kappayum Meenum packed for later.
Meanwhile, the joint owner of Ministry of Crab in Sri Lanka, former Sri Lankan cricket captain and full-time foodie Kumar Sangakkara, has a few favourites too. He suggests visiting La Petite Maison. For a taste of Sri Lanka in London, he recommends Hoppers. This Soho restaurant, close to Leicester Square, is rated highly, needs a reservation (like most restaurants in London) and may involve some waiting time.
Laxman and his wife Sailaja are fond of Italian and Thai food, but their children love Mexican. “So when we go to Leicester Square for plays, we go to this Mexican joint called Chiquito,” the former batsman says.
For Mexican food, Pujara and his wife Puja Pabari pick Las Iguanas at the Royal Festival Hall on London’s South Bank. “My wife likes spicy food, but I don’t, to be honest. But we both enjoy nachos and order it at least once,” says Pujara, a key member of the Indian team for the forthcoming Test series in England.
Las Iguanas is known for its authentic Latin American flavours and has some good deals on cocktails too.
When Pujara was playing county cricket, his Yorkshire team-mates recommended a place called Pinche Pinche in Leeds, as a Mexican food option outside London.
Finally, since Chinese is the second-most popular cuisine in India, John Isner has a recommendation: “Some of my compatriots love going to Mr Chow in the city. I do as well,” says the tennis player ranked No.10 in the world.
This small and simple place near Hyde Park is always busy, and is popular for its duck preparations.
Sangakkara’s pick for Chinese is A Wong on Wilton Road, a 20-minute walk from Westminster Abbey. If you enjoy fine dining, go to this eatery and have the 10-course Taste of China menu for £80 (around ₹7,250). It consists of 10 small, but exquisite, tasting-sized portions.
If you are going for Wimbledon and aren’t too keen on venturing out of the area, or the village as it’s called, Murray suggests the Mediterranean and Lebanese café Maison St Cassien. “They do unbelievable baguettes at lunchtime,” says the former Wimbledon champion.
Nestled in the village is Rajdoot, an Indian food outlet, but before you diss it thinking you haven’t gone all the way to London for familiar flavours, you need to know that this restaurant has been made famous by Roger Federer. It serves traditional Indian dishes like tandoors and butter chicken. It’s also a place Isner quite enjoys. “I love going to Rajdoot in the village. The chicken tikka is a must-have there.”
Speaking of Wimbledon Village and food, have the strawberries and cream. Many think it’s overrated, but Laxman vehemently disagrees.
“I had the opportunity to go for Wimbledon in 2002 and 2007 and the strawberries are something else. I really enjoyed it. They are fresher, bigger and just tastier compared to other strawberries.”
If you don’t want to plan your itinerary around food and simply want to eat on the go or stop somewhere along the way, there are two chains that feature on the celebrity list: Nando’s and Pret A Manger.
With more than 200 outlets across London, Pret boasts of organic coffee and natural food and is one of Pujara’s favourites. “The food is organic and fresh. They keep doing different sandwiches and wraps, like a falafel one,” says Pujara.
Virender Sehwag likes Nando’s and says all the cricketers love it. This includes the vegetarians, because Laxman was certainly enthusiastic about it.
“My entire family loves Nando’s. My mouth is watering, it has been so long since I have been there. They have limited options for vegetarians, but we like the veg pita, spicy rice, corn and peri peri chips. I go for the hot peri peri while the rest of my family has it mild,” says Laxman.
So if you are heading to London, and have decided to cover this food trail, with all the tennis players and cricketers in town, there is a good chance you may bump into one of them. Dress well, shine those pearly whites, be prepared to splash some cash and post that selfie. Also, don’t forget to book that table, the British are quite stiff upper-lipped about it.
Cricketers and tennis players reveal their food weaknesses and some of the information may come in handy if you run into them.
Let’s say you are at SW19 and you catch a glimpse of Andy Murray. He is quickly making his way through the crowd. What are the chances of him stopping for you to get a selfie? Let’s say he stops, what are the chances of you beating the mob?
Just keep a box of Bahlsen Choco Leibniz biscuits handy. The two-time Wimbledon champion and chocolate-biscuit-lover finds them incredibly hard to resist. “It’s always a dangerous time for me if someone leaves a box lying around…they don’t last long!”
Cheteshwar Pujara enjoys café -hopping and coffees. If you
spot him, talk about gathiya (a deep-fried snack made from chickpea flour)—not the ones
you get in packets but the hot ones most Gujaratis have for
Verdasco, the 2013 Wimbledon quarter-finalist, when asked about his food weakness, says surreptitiously: “Like a cheat meal? It’s burger for me. Every time I finish a tournament and have a few days off, I like to take some cheat days and on most of those days, it’s burgers.
“Sometimes pizza too, but more burgers than pizza. I also love Spanish ham, but I also like fried eggs with French fries…and Spanish ham…and also truffle oil… and cheese. Melted cheese! All together.”