To read about things to do in London, check out my post about the best activities and sights!
Food is one of the most exciting things about traveling for me. 99% of the time, I know where I want to eat or what type of food I want to eat when I go somewhere, whether that’s to a new city in a different country or just across town. It was a bit unusual that I wasn’t very sure about what I wanted to consume when I was initially planning my trip to London. I think this was at least in part to buying into the stereotype of British food being straight up bad, and internet culture definitely feeds into that.
But British food isn’t bad; it’s actually quite delicious if you get it from the right places! London is a massive city with many different cultures, and thus many different cuisines. I had many memorable meals, snacks, and drinks during my week-long trip, so I’m highlighting the things you absolutely should eat or drink in this beautiful city.
When you think of British food, Fish and Chips is probably the first thing that comes to mind. Nearly every pub has this fried fish and potatoes dish on their menu, but you definitely want to try it at a chippy—a.k.a. a fish and chip shop. I had fantastic fish and chips at the Golden Chippy in Greenwich, which served super crispy and fresh fish. Most chip shops are primarily takeaway joints, but some will have a few tables if you want to sit and enjoy the fish on site. Many will also offer different types of fish, so you don’t need to have cod if you don’t enjoy it. I would say the Golden Chippy is worth going to Greenwich for (and it’s super fun to take the DLR), but if you want to stay closer to Central London, some friends have said great things about Golden Union and Poppie’s! Jack the Chipper—which has a great name, by the way—is also a good option if you don’t mind a chain spot.
What else is a British staple? My partner thought a Sunday roast dinner would be perfect during the trip. Roast dinners are all about abundance—you really want to load up your plate with all the trimmings—and for us, The Harwood Arms really delivered on that. The roast dinner comes with a choice of protein for two, roast potatoes, vegetables, yorkshire pudding, gravy, and cauliflower cheese. Beef, pork, and fish are offered, but we opted for venison which was a seasonal offering.
For us Americans, Sunday roast feels like a Thanksgiving dinner. It’s a warm and filling meal where you can combine different foods to your liking, and it’s also a rather slow meal that allows for good conversation. Frankly, I preferred roast dinner over Thanksgiving food because for me, venison beats turkey and cauliflower cheese beats mac and cheese, but that may just be because the restaurant lives up to its Michelin star status. We both felt The Harwood Arms served very flavorful food, and there are many restaurants across London offering roast dinners with their own variations of meat (or fish), potatoes, and veg. I highly recommend looking at some photos from a few restaurants and go for the roast that looks best to you.
England has some of the most incredible Indian food, and lots of it. (Because, you know, colonialism and imperialism.) Indian food is a prominent part of the food landscape, so much so that Chicken Tikka Masala is often considered a national dish. You have to try Indian food in London, and if you’re looking for a place, most people will point you to Dishoom. Dishoom is one of the most popular Indian restaurants in the city, and it’s the kind of place where once you taste the food, it all makes sense why there are so many locations. Definitely get the Black Daal with garlic naan for very flavorful lentils and the chef’s special that varies at each restaurant. But frankly, I think you could order anything on the menu and whether you’re familiar with it or not, it’ll definitely taste good.
I would say Dishoom is a tasty and reliable option, however I would also recommend Darjeeling Express for Indian food if you are able to catch them. I was stoked to be able to go to the restaurant’s pop-up after seeing Asma Khan’s story on Chef’s Table, and I can confidently say the food speaks volumes to how much thought and effort her and her team put in. Honestly, everything was incredible—I would argue that this was the best meal I had during my week in London. The highlight for me was the Beef Tamatar Gosht which brought a lot of flavor and heat, cooled off with some Cucumber Raita. The basmati rice was somehow buttery too, and everything together was a wonderful experience.
After you get your fish, roast, and Indian dishes, you can dive a bit deeper into British cuisine with bangers and mash and steak and ale pie. Also in Greenwich is a super cute shop called Heap’s Sausages that sells housemade sausages to either eat at one of their outdoor tables or take home to cook. The sausage and mash here is delicious; the sausage is made with high-quality ingredients and the onion gravy has tons of onions. As for the steak pie, I tried one at Borough Market from Pieminister. While the flavor isn’t complex, I think that’s the point—the pie has a good balance of salt and fat, and when served warm, it’s exactly what I want to eat on a crisp fall day.
Speaking of Borough Market, it has way more to offer than just pies. It’s one of London’s largest and oldest markets, and there are so many shops and stalls to choose from. I was super excited to try doughnuts from Bread Ahead since everyone seems to rave about them, and the doughnuts are very fluffy with generous filling. They only offer filled doughnuts, but I enjoyed them and definitely want to take a doughnut making class here next time. The lines can be long for Bread Ahead and other vendors, so if you’re planning getting in line, get a frozen spiked spiced cider or another adult beverage from The London Cider House to make your wait more fun!
I actually went to Borough Market twice because I didn’t get to have everything I wanted the first time. There are just so many options, can you blame me? I’m not usually a salt beef—also known as corned beef—fan, but I thought the salt beef at Northfield Farm was pretty great! Northfield Farm has ready-made salt beef and sausage rolls, however they’re also a butcher shop. You can get the salt beef as a sandwich or on top of chips, and I tried their Reuben special which came with sauerkraut, pickles, and dressing. It’s a damn good sandwich, and my partner says it’s so good he still dreams about it a month later.
And while you’re at Borough Market, don’t forget to try Bao! Bao is a popular Taiwanese spot with several locations throughout London with each location having a slightly different menu. The classic gua bao is good, though I’d put the fried chicken bao above it. But the best item here is the dry-aged steak over butter rice. It’s pricey for the small portion size, however the dish is incredibly rich, salty, and smoky in the best of ways. If you get one thing at Bao Borough, it should be the steak with butter rice (perhaps paired with their oolong-inspired beer).
You know what else you have a zillion choices for in London? Coffee. Pastries. Cafes. Like so many other major cities, London has an abundance of independently-owned and chain cafes and coffeehouses. The best part is that nearly every place I went to, whether it was a chain or not, had full pastry cases with at least a dozen different baked goods. And here’s the thing: all of the coffees and baked goods I had were quite good, no matter which shop. Watch House has fragrant coffees and makes the most delicate and smooth (albeit quite expensive) tarts. Buns from Home serves laminated dough shells with any kind of filling you could imagine—the tiramisu has an incredible combo of silky smooth cream and espresso. And I have to give a special shoutout to Exmouth Coffee where we got cappuccinos almost every morning of our trip and even a hearty English breakfast.
Of course, last but not least, if you’re in London, you must have high tea. And what better place to have a classic afternoon tea than at Fortnum and Mason? I chose a more classic option, however if that feels a bit too old-school, there are more modern ones like the Charlie and the Chocolate Factory Afternoon Tea at One Aldwych Hotel. Fortnum and Mason offers a few different tiers of afternoon tea, and each one allows you to request more food or tea as you wish. My recommendation would be to go to tea time hungry and get some extra bites or try several different teas during your seating! Afterward, shop for your favorite teas at the lower level of their flagship Piccadilly location.
I was completely blown away by the food options in London, so if you had any preconceived notions about British or English dining before, you don’t need to worry at all! I’m excited to go back in the future and hit up all of my favorites and find new places to try the dishes I love. Until then, I’ll be missing the Sunday roast and high tea from New York!
Enjoyed this post? Check out my blog post on what to eat when you’re in Reykjavík, Iceland!
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