Food in London

While England used to be famous for its Sunday roast dinners, simple pub staples and fish and chips, London has now become one of the foodie capitals of the world, offering cuisines that are both international and eclectic.

Old British favourites

Mad Dogs Pub Fish 'n' Chips by Howdy, I'm H.Michael KarshisThe food culture in London is very much a trendsetting culture, with conversations about food a frequent occurrence among Londoners. The British public house (or ‘pub’) still features highly on the London food scene, but where pub food was traditionally basic and filling, it’s now increasingly of the ‘gastro-pub’ variety, with high-quality food prepared with a bit more flair by talented chefs. In a gastro-pub, for example, a traditional fish-and-chip dinner eaten out of newspaper wrapping has become a ‘London-brewed-beer-battered line caught cod and triple-cooked, hand-cut chips, served with pea puree’.

Some of the best London gastro-pub options include The Lady Ottoline, the Slaughtered Lamb or The Plough. Old style pie and mash shops are also part of London’s history, particularly in the east end and near the markets. Manzes on Chapel Market in Angel is a Victorian pie and mash shop still in operation to this day and the interior stays true to its history. Four evenings a week it now opens as The Seagrass restaurant, serving some of the freshest flavours available in London in a quaint atmosphere.

Meat or vegetarian options

Another recent London trend caters for the carnivorous among us. Hawksmoor’s restaurants have totally transformed London’s steak scene, serving melt-in-the-mouth British-reared beef steaks in carefully crafted traditional interiors.

The taste of the American south has very much arrived in London too, with restaurants specialising in smoky barbecue ribs, steak and pulled pork appearing all over the city. The best by far include Bodean’s, Pitt Cue Co. and the Red Dog Saloon in trendy Hoxton.

That’s not to say there aren’t plenty of options for vegetarians too, with vegetarian-only restaurants appealing to both non-meat-eaters and the health-conscious. Most Londoners would recommend Mildreds, Manna or Vanilla Black as the best veggie options, but even restaurants like Suda in St Martin’s Courtyard have extensive vegetarian choices.

London’s celebrity chefs can’t go far in London without happening upon the celebrity chef craze, from which London is no less immune than other global foodie cities. Each of Britain’s best-loved celebrity chefs has a collection of restaurant offerings across London. From the down-to-earth Jamie Oliver’s Jamie’s Italian chain and Fifteen restaurant – a social enterprise that trains previously homeless people to become chefs - to the mouthy Gordon Ramsay’s Bread Street Kitchen and treble Michelin-starred Royal Hospital Road, there are plenty more still where they came from. Heston Blumenthal is famous for his wacky creations and multi-sensory dining experiences – his London outpost, Dinner by Heston Blumenthal in the Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park, is well worth a splurge while you’re in the city.

There are lower-key ‘celebrity’ chefs who have smaller brands but extreme skill who deserve a mention too. Alyn Williams serves his creations at the Westbury Hotel and has recently been awarded a Michelin star for his efforts, while Spanish-born José Pizarro is an icon of the village-like Bermondsey Street, with his José tapas bar and Pizarro restaurant both located on the road. José is almost always there in person and welcomes patrons like long-lost friends.

London’s markets and pop-up restaurants

borough market by Crouch 24.7From the formal to the more informal and transient dining styles, London’s markets and street vans feature heavily on the city’s foodie scene nowadays. While Borough Market is the firmly established food market hub, with some of Britain’s freshest food available to eat there or cook at home later, Maltby Street Market down the road is the market that London’s top chefs increasingly go to. Maltby Street Market is also home to a Bea’s of Bloomsbury café and cake shop – the best in London. Exmouth Market is full of small eat-in, boutique style restaurants such as Caravan and Moro, while Leather Lane has a number of food stands and vans, including the ever-popular Daddy Donkey. The cleverly-named antipodean coffee shop, the Department of Coffee and Social Affairs, is another must along Leather Lane.

The pop-up restaurant scene is as big as ever, with temporary restaurants appearing in the most random locations for just a night or two. Being in the know and booking in advance are key to getting a place in this most secretive section of London’s dining scene. The Gingerliners regularly host pop-up food events while the London Pop-ups website details forthcoming events run by other outfits. Supper clubs are also making a come-back, and MsMarmitelover is London’s most iconic supper club host.

International cuisine hotspots

chicken tikka masala by roboppyYou can’t come to London without sampling some of the many international flavours it has to offer. The east end of London, centering on Brick Lane, is the Bangladeshi hub of the city and one of the best places to come for a curry, and there are dozens of options. Prices are cheap and you can typically bring your own alcohol. Tooting in south London is also a curry hotspot and Spice Village is named by locals as the best. Chicken tikka masala is now Britain’s favourite dish, so you’ll fit in well if you get involved.

China Town near Soho is the home of Chinese cuisine in the city, and again, you’re spoilt for choice for restaurant options. The only non-Chinese premises in this area is a hidden-away cocktail bar, the Experimental Cocktail Club, which is well worth a visit following a good Chinese meal (although you must book in advance).

North London has a large Greek and Turkish community and there are mezze-style restaurants across the city. Bayswater in west London has some of the best Greek restaurants, such as Santorini and Kalamaras Greek Tavern. Bayswater is also home to London’s main community of Brazilians, and Rodizio Rico is a Brazilian churrascaria that now has restaurants in spots across the city.

Fans of Vietnamese food need look no further than the stretch of the Kingsland Road now affectionately known as the ‘Pho Mile’. Mien Tay, Viet Grill and Cây Tre are particular favourites. Over in Chelsea, the strangely named ‘Phat Phuc’ restaurant (actually meaning ‘Happy Buddha’ in Vietnamese) is also well-known for its pho.

Stockwell is known as ‘Little Portugal’ and is a great place to go to stock up in those oh-so-creamy pasteis de nata (Portuguese custard tarts) and home-cooked Portuguese dishes – the Portuguese community especially loves Cantinho de Portugal and Oh Moinho.

While top-notch Italian food can be found across the city, Little Italy in Clerkenwell is the place to go to be surrounded by a typical Italian enclave too. One of the best restaurants in this area – St John – is not Italian, but is worth a visit for a high-quality meal. Elsewhere, Zucca on Bermondsey Street and Franco Manca in Brixton, Clapham or Chiswick provide some of the best Italian flavours in the city, while the Venetian Polpo (and several sister restaurants) top the trendsetting scene.