An expert guide to food in Sydenham by Mystic Burek’s Spasia Dinkovski

Mystic Burek is one of our favourite places to eat in London. We love their Macedonian filo pies so much that we added the cosy cafe to our 2024 list of the Best Restaurants in London, and we’re very, very excited by the fact that chef and founder Spasia Dinkovski has written a book celebrating the brilliant Balkan food she serves there. ‘Doma’ is out now, and features trad-inspired recipes for everything from pickles and salads to the oozy pastries she serves at her sweet spot in south London. Here are the local Sydenham restaurants, caffs, pubs and bars Spasia rates for food, drink and an all-round excellent time in SE26.

1. Mr Kebabish

Spasia: ‘A Pakistani-run kebab shop on Sydenham high street with one of the best names I’ve ever seen. As you walk past, the piles of baby chickens grilling in the window catches your eye, lamb and chicken doner meat glittering and spinning, fryers full of chips and litres of lassi in the fridge. Don’t come here for the kebabs, go for the Lamb Nihari (lamb shoulder curry) or Tandoori Chops Masala, Punjabi Salad, with extra mint sauce for everything. You can order to take-away or sit in one of their little leather booths.’

Must-order dish: ‘Chapli kebab.’

107 Sydenham Rd, SE26 5EZ

View this post on Instagram

A post shared by 161 Food Drink (@161kirk)

2. 161 Food Drink

‘Nestled in a low-key building, this a perfect spot for those that love to bathe in natural wines but don’t like to take it too seriously. Ben is in charge of what’s being poured in your glass and Josh is busy pumping out a conveyor belt of delicious dishes from the kitchen. The food is drenched in house-made oils, psychedelic plates that waltz around small tables crowded with glasses, regulars and locals permanently propped up at the bar; a sign of a good crowd.’

Must-order dish: ‘Just make sure you save room for dessert.’

161 Kirkdale, SE26 4QJ

3. Trattoria Raffaele

‘I feel as if there’s just a certain type of person that lives for a straight up, traditional, cosy, family-run Italian restaurant – it’s usually my first suggestion for eating out. I am one of them and I am so lucky that I have one right on my doorstep. I want a good, accessible bottle of red wine to wash down a huge bowl of pasta, a combo of gelato and tiramisu to finish and then I want to roll home. The owner was born in the flat above and brought his kids up there too. He’ll serve you at your table, just as if you’re in his home.’

Must-order dish: ‘Hopefully the grilled sardines are on, if not, just ask what’s particularly good that day.’

94 Sydenham Rd, London SE26 5JX  

4. Chef’s Delight

‘There are plenty of traditional cafes in Sydenham, which is nothing but a good thing. I rate them all but this place just has something special. The decor is soothing; football shirts, engraved mirrors and booths that are usually filled with people eating alone. But there’s always something going on that prompts lone diners to start chatting or moaning that someone is playing their phone too loud. It’s a place to come and stop a while, and maybe read the paper – no one here is pushing to turn tables. It’s Turkish-run so they’ve snuck some koftas on the menu, although I usually get a breakfast burger and you can even order a pint.’

Must-order dish: ‘The lime milkshake.’ 

69 Sydenham Rd, SE26 5UA

5. The Bricklayers Arms

‘As we lose the art of a proper pub, this place is still standing and what’s better than a pub on a corner? Serving the local community with affordable prices, plenty of carpet and a big garden that’s usually pumping out some Northern Soul, they’ve got everything you need. There’s a meat raffle on Sundays, John Lennon impersonators, ska nights, and a seafood man that comes round with a big basket of prawn cocktail. Heaven!

Must-order dish: ‘I always go for a double brandy and a packet of Scampi Fries. You can double up on any drink for £1.50.’

189 Dartmouth Rd, London SE26 4QY

6. Mystic Burek

‘My little burek shop is exactly what I always wanted it to be. As soon as you walk through the door, you’re home at your nana’s house. There’s a cup of tea awaiting you, filter coffee or a selection of Balkan drinks and snacks as well as classics such as a glass bottle of Orangina. You’ll catch various Slavic languages being thrown around as you pick between four different options of filling for hot filo slices, which are eat-in or take-away. It’s also small enough that if you need a chat, we are just at the counter and ready to comfort you. Or you can sit at the window and take in the sights and sounds of my little community.’

Must-order dish: ’A slice of burek, a dip, a drinking jogurt to cut through the richness of the slice. Finish it all off with a sour cherry baklava bun and grab some Balkan snacks to tuck into at home.’

227 Dartmouth Rd, SE26 4QY

‘Doma: Traditional Flavours and Modern Recipes from the Balkan Diaspora’ by Spasia Dinkovski is out now.