Where to eat and drink in London
“Oh there’s nothing to eat in London, Just get a sandwich from Pret”. I read this on a blog – no joke. I’d just returned from a couple short visits to the capital and was looking enviously at cows in fields; those lucky creatures with four stomachs. Fan of home-grown sandwich chain Pret a Manger though I am, you’d need six months to sample just a smidgeon of the exciting eats on offer. Tinkering with Samuel Johnson’s quote, “when a man is tired of food in London he’s tired of life.”
The vast amount of choices can get a bit bewildering though. London districts are like a series of villages, many with their own distinct food scene. Googling is not much help as the top sites are full of paid-for links and very overwhelming; you don’t really get the inside story.
Starting to dream of a return this year I needed a guide to some hot picks in the capital. So I trawled the brains of some people who are really in the know; food and wine bloggers in London. Massive thanks to Anthony, Fiona, Jeanne, Jeff, Kat, Rachel, Regula and Urvashi. Some are London born and bred and others have made it their home or visit often, from other parts of the UK and beyond. Read more about them further down the page. Now, are you feeling hungry? Back to the food:
Food trucks, stalls and markets are popping up all over London. I’ve tasted my way through quite a few of them at Food Blogger Connect in 2012 and 2013 and found some of the most delicious and exciting food you’ll eat in the capital. The focus on great quality ingredients is what sets these small vendors apart. They are all a bit mad and creativity doesn’t just extend to their food, but their appearance and presentation as well. I’ve eaten masses of tasty morsels from burgers made with offal (Tongue n Cheek) to freshly fried churros and food from Mauritius, Brazil, Russia and Jamaica to name a few. My very favourite has to be Belle of Bell & Brisket who as well as thrusting a meltingly, savoury, roll of home-cured salt beef into my hand (I can still taste those beefy juices as they dripped down my chin), she also tempted me to try a pickled egg for the very first time. Runners up are Funky Chicken – for the van, name and banter alone, Yasmin of Lovedesh – who set up a tripod and cauldron over a wood fire on a pavement in Battersea to cook a Bangladeshi curry from scratch, and a panini from Gurmetti. Yes an Italian sandwich can be that memorable.
Jeanne recommends South African Grant Hawthorne’s African Volcano stall at Maltby Street Market for a variety of peri peri-infused dishes like chicken prego rolls on homemade Portuguese bread, slow-roasted pulled pork on a peri peri bap and giant flame-grilled tiger prawns. Rachel rates The Wild Game Co., Sporeboys, Kimchi Cult, The Rib Man and the irresistible Yum Bun. Urvashi’s tips include the Real Food Market on Southbank, Kerb at Kings Cross (see below) and a bit off the beaten track for Indian food would be a wander along Southall High Street for brilliant take-aways.
Ways to find street food in London:
Kerb – a directory of street traders and events. Worth browsing the traders list for the witty names alone.
Street Feast – regular street food night markets (mainly in East London).
London Street Foodie – a blog written by the Food Editor of the London Evening Standard which tracks down the best of London’s street food.
Street food carts and stalls are often a big part of markets like Exmouth Market for instance. For more market info head to my post about Borough.
In many countries the best food is eaten in people’s homes – and why should London be any different? One of the pioneers of the underground restaurant scene in the capital was Kerstin Rodgers aka Ms Marmite Lover. My dates in the UK have yet to coincide with one of her legendary events but I’ve attended them vicariously via her blog and book. The themes are wildly imaginative with food to match. Check out the Maggie handbag biscuits she made for a Thatcher tea (she’s a staunch socialist) and stuffed tulips for a Midsummer night’s dream dinner.
My friend May rustles up authentic Malaysian food and you can even have supper in a wine shop (sounds pretty good to me).
Jeanne has no hesitation about her favourite. “Without a doubt The London Foodie, who does Japanese and now French supper clubs. Restaurant quality food for £40 per head. Have been twice and loved it both times.”
James Ramsden’s Secret Larder is a weekly event which sells out fast, check the website of eco chef and food waste activist Tom Hunt to locate his next The Forgotten Restaurant event, and visit Hackney to taste authentic Vietnamese food cooked by Uyen Luu – all Rachel’s recommendations. Urvashi says “I have only been to Asma Khan’s Indian Supperclub and Sabrina Ghayour’s Persian Supperclub and both were amazing. Would advise not eating for at least a week prior.”
Where to find supper clubs in London:
Find a supper club has an amazing list of around 100 supper clubs in London (plus lists for the rest of the UK and the world). It’s run on the Ning platform so you have to register to use the site but well worth it.
London pop-ups has a shorter list of supper clubs in London with good descriptions.
Edible experiences is another good lexicon of supper clubs and pop-ups.
The London Foodie (as above) reviews quite a list of supper clubs here.
Seeing a show in the West End is high on most people’s London to do list. And don’t worry if you just pitch up around the area between Covent Garden and Leicester Square where the streets are a buzz with restaurants and, especially compared with Dubai, the prices are reasonable. My teen and I hung out in Old Compton street which was vibrant on a warm summer’s evening and popped into Made in Italy for a wood-fired pizza before seeing Once (the food was far better than the show). However, if you’re in the know and plan ahead there are really superb places to go.
“10 cases is excellent, I’ve also been to Mishkins deli which is pretty good fun.” So says Kat – both have shot to the top of my must try list.
Terroirs Wine Bar – Anthony, Jeff and Rachel all recommended this wine bar that focuses on seasonal produce and homemade charcuterie, as well as wine of course. Sounds right up my street.
J Sheekey is a fish restaurant (sustainable) that offers pre and post theatre dining. Anthony says “Only one choice here. Hop and a skip from Leicester Square station, just the best seafood from anywhere but the coast… And better than most of them!”
Great Queen Street, a gastro pub serving a British menu, also gets a recommendation from Ant. “10 mins from Covent Garden. They do rusticity with real charm; fabulous sharing plates such as 6 hour cooked shoulder of mutton (converted my wife from vegetarianism!)”
Fiona advises, “the main thing to remember is that some REALLY good restaurants do pre-theatre deals. She went to Hix Soho and had an excellent meal where the set menu was around £20 a head. But, the flip to that is that a lot of places don’t offer reservations.
Small chains can deliver good value, as Jeanne says, “The Med Kitchen (on Old Compton Street) is cheap and no nonsense. My favourite for good value is Cote – a chain of French brasseries that does good, traditional French.” Both do good value pre- and post-theatre menus.
Not theatreland per se but if you are taking in some Shakespeare at The Globe (or the newly opened Sam Wanamaker Playhouse), plan to dine next door at The Swan At The Globe. Jeanne rates it as “the best view at the price in London, lovely room, great food.”
Rachel’s choices are Gordon’s Wine Bar – the oldest wine bar in London with some reassuringly down to earth pub grub and decent wine list; Dishoom (Covent Garden branch) – a Bombay Cafe that I’m now itching to visit; Brasserie Zedel – a Parisian-style brasserie with a historic Art Deco interior, serving a la carte and prix fixe French menus; and Quo Vadis, a legendary restaurant and club from the 1920’s, now serving modern British food and a daily menu (available on line) with Chef Jeremy Lee in charge of the kitchen. A lovely restaurant selling South Indian food called Woodlands in Piccadilly is Urvashi’s choice.
Despite the myriad coffee bars, afternoon tea is a British ritual that shows no signs of dying out and thank goodness for that.
Starting with traditional favourites, Fortum & Mason is meant to be super (thanks Rachel) and if it’s good enough for HM the Queen to reopen it… . Worth also noting if travelling by Eurostar that Fortnums have opened a tea salon in St Pancras railway station. The Dorchester and The Ritz (set in the beautiful Palm Court tea salon) are both on Kat’s list and the latter is first choice of Ant’s other half. Kat also recommends Sketch – very quirky, Alice-in-Wonderland-like surroundings and The Orangery in Kensington Gardens (more Royal connections) which also gets Regula’s vote. Across the road from Kensington Palace is the Milestone Hotel which serves another sumptuous tea fit for Royalty (and Jeanne); Queen Victoria hosted her tea receptions here.
Urvashi chooses The Langham for a traditional and a classic afternoon tea, St Martins hotel in Covent Garden is more modern and quirky, Mandarin Oriental is again classic but modern, The Pudding Parlour at the Athenaeum Hotel in Mayfair is a stunning ‘must visit’, and Laduree in Harrods for some lovely French classics.
Less rarified and more contemporary is The Modern Pantry which certainly takes the tea drinking part very seriously (see menu). It’s Rachel’s pick “for value, as well as delicious food and lovely crockery!”
You could be lucky enough to time your visit when Rachel’s friends, Milli and Victoria put on their “wonderful – if a little sporadic – afternoon tea pop ups overlooking the river”.
There are a few more tea suggestions from Ant’s friend here.
Moving onto to something a little stronger, there are a few places I’d like to investigate. Vinopolis is a ‘wine attraction’ not far from Borough Market on the South Bank. You can book guided wine tasting every day but some of their special tasting events sound intriguing. As a devotee of ‘Mother’s ruin’ I’ve watched the re-emergence of gin as a trendy drink in the UK from afar, and tried to sample some of the new exciting gins from small distillers. The Ginstitute sounds utterly beguiling. And I’ve wanted to take a cocktail masterclass at Rules (the oldest restaurant in London) ever since I read this. Who’s coming with me?
Rachel recommends Sager & Wilde and Anthony thinks that it is just the most amazing wine bar in London (read his review), enjoys cocktails at Charlotte Street Hotel, and Gordon’s Wine Bar gets another mention for tradition.
Kat’s list is eclectic and intriguing: Drakes Tabanco – is dedicated to serving sherry from the barrel and other wines of Jerez; Bar Pepito is another sherry bar dedicated to the food and drink of Andalucia; Berners Tavern – highlights are a beautiful setting, the chance to play pool in the bar afterwards and an interesting cocktail that contained pickle juice!; New Street Wine Shop – a wine shop with expert sommeliers, many tasting events and where you can also enjoy some cheese and charcuterie; Planet of the Grapes sounds like the perfect way to enjoy good wine out of the house. They stock over 450 wines, plus wines by the glass. You add a flat £10 fee to any bottle regardless of the retail price to drink it in the bar; 28-50 – all three venues of this wine workshop and kitchen sound like tremendous fun; Charlottes in Chiswick – which I notice holds a regular gin school; and El Camion – Mexican restaurant and bar where they do a lot of good things with tequila.
I’ve sipped a cocktail with Jeanne at 101 here in Dubai, but in London she favours Harry Gordon’s Bar in Selfridges and Ember Yard in Berwick Street.
With an open fire crackling in the grate and a bartender fixing your favourite drink it feels like private residence of a most beloved, eccentric and indulgent great aunt – we call her Wilhelmina.
I couldn’t resist quoting this from the website of Zetter Town House. Everything about it sounds exquisite. And while I’m quoting, Bar Nightjar says of itself ‘a hidden slice of old-school glamour on the fringes of Shoreditch’. Both these gems recommended by Rachel. For traditional London pubs, she likes The Royal Oak and The Carpenter’s Arms (both local to her in E2) and Urvashi also thinks her local the King’s Head in Winchmore Hill is brilliant.
You know what to expect from other European cities noted for their food (like Paris and Rome) but London is always changing and adapting to new trends. One of the new waves of eating crazes is for superior fast food. I can’t begin to understand why anyone would queue for Shake Shack. Thank goodness Anthony is on hand to choose a few of his favourites:
#1 Honest Burger – Soho – go to the restaurant, they book you in on iPad and call you when your table us ready. Burgers are sublime – cooked to perfection, great buns and chips. Beetroot coleslaw also superb.
#2 Patty & Bun – be prepared to queue for 30 mins but you won’t be disappointed. As well as fine burgers, the confit chicken wings are awesome.
#3 Meat Liquor – be prepared to queue again. Burgers very good but the star of the show are the deep fried onion rings and deep fried pickles. This place is very dark and just a bit too cool for school!
Personally I’ve followed the foodie antics of someone who was completely ahead of the game – Daniel from Young and Foodish. If there is even a hint that you might visit London, sign up now to receive news of his next Burger Monday or Spag Wednesday event.
Foodies top picks
I’ll let the foodies explain:
- Anthony: The Tapa Room is my go-to place. They don’t take bookings but Peter Gordon’s fusion food is the way cuisines should be crossed. Plus an amazing all New Zealand wine list.
Kat: Berners Tavern (as above), Pied a Terre (Michelin Star restaurant in Charlotte street) Duck & Waffle (the highest restaurant in London) Roka (contemporary Japanese robatayaki cuisine) and The Ledbury (two Michelin stars).
Jeanne: My fave best value lunch in London by a country mile is Club Gascon in Smithfield – £25 for 3 courses of uttter French gorgeousness (love the plating and the crockery!); and as you know I am a huge fan of Vinoteca Farringdon (for obvious reasons!) Editor’s note: the obvious reason is because she met me for lunch there and I absolutely loved it too.
Rachel: Maltby Street over Borough Market. Crockery from Anthropologie. Check out the Hansen & Lydersen salmon smokery. Try to infiltrate The Food Room and Library in Eton Square. Food at 52 for great cooking classes. Early morning trips to Billingsgate are always worth the effort – if only for the bacon & salmon sandwiches. Bagels on Brick Lane, and curry at Tayyabs. Support young cooks with lunch in the Escoffier Room at Westminster Kingsway college – dreadful service, but seven course taster menu for £25!
- Regula: Gauthier Soho (fairly pricey but worth it); Duck & Waffle (worth it for view, also pricey); Viajante (pricey but worth it, as a chef they might find it interesting); Alyn Williams (great food, £65 for tasting menu); Pollen St. Social (lunchtime £30 for 3 courses); Bob Bob Ricard (service beautiful, £40/head-ish); Pizarro (beautiful food)
Zucca (really good Italian food, I had a lovely meal there); Polpo small plates; Bocca Di Lupo my fav Italian, also has a gelato bar; Bone Daddies Ramen Bar; Ceviche Peruvian Kitchen (very nice); St John for nose to tail cooking.
- Urvashi: I love Sushi Samba in the Heron Tower in Liverpool street – just amazing food and lovely atmosphere inside and outside on the terrace plus great views over London; Dishoom – homely for me when I want a quick spicy nibble at any time of day, outside London in Finchley is Two Brothers fish restaurant which is a must visit in the area, also Cafe Japan in Golders Green is awesome for proper Japanese food and ambience of an izakaya. Sakonis in Wembley is a must-visit vegetarian eatery which is very basic and very budget; the Swaminarayan Mandir (temple) in Neasden is a wonderful sight to go and see but the veggie restaurant there is pretty amazing too. The Hare Krishna restaurant Govinda’s on Soho Street is a top budget veggie eaterie too and Taboon in Golders Green does the best falafel in the world!
- Fiona: I might add in a ‘lunch’ category – I gather that London is unique in great lunch deals (I went to L’atelier de Joel Robuchon which is one example and the manager there told me that the special lunch menu is only on offer in London) – here’s a little article I did.
* I noticed that Pied a Terre lunch is 2 courses for £27.50 – which they claim is the best value Michelin star menu in London.
The first thing I recommend to visitors to Dubai is Frying Pan Food Adventure, so why not try a food tour in London? Eating London Food Tours sounds just the thing, reviewed here (enthusiastically) by Bintu.
Jeanne’s favourite recent foodie experience in London HAS to be Aveqia’s cooking classes and meals.
Rachel has never done one as she prefers exploring by herself but did point me in the direction of a fascinating site called Darling Collective full of all sorts of experiences, which offers a foraging walk in several London Parks as well as supper clubs, wine tasting, cocktail making and cookery classes (also see Food in 52). I’d love to do a tea tasting with these people too; Postcard Teas specialise in fine teas from small farms.
Although a traditional restaurant experience, the concept behind both Fifteen and The Brigade is altruistic, offering disadvantaged and vulnerable people catering apprenticeships, giving them tools for a brighter future. I can vouch for a nice atmosphere and great cocktails at Fifteen and there’s a review of Brigade by Rachel here.
So apart from a half decent sandwich at Pret, is it possible to enjoy a good meal at one of the many chains of restaurants that are dotted around London?
Family friendly Leon (described as serving ‘naturally fast food) and Chiquito – a Mexican Bar and Grill – are the two new ones that stand out for Fiona, while Kat mentions Barbecoa (not a chain so much as part of the Jamie Oliver empire). Rachel rates Hawksmoor (steakhouse) Yalla Yalla (Beirut street food) and Frae (frozen yoghurt) and adds “Not so much a chain – but all the Renaissance pubs are lovely, and all the Russell Norman joints are generally fun (Polpo, Mishkins, Spuntino, also am a big fan of Brawn/Terroirs/Soif which are all run by the same people – as I think are Salt Yard/Opera Tavern. Urvashi likes Pho for Vietnamese, Wahaca for Mexican, The Real Greek for Greek and Spaghetti House for Italian.
When seeing the sights of London, it’s so important to know where you can revive yourself at regular intervals. My personal choice is for a good cup of tea and a bowl of soup is in the basement of the National Portrait Gallery – so handy for Trafalgar Square. I also enjoyed the casual, relaxing atmosphere of Timberyard (the Old Street branch) which is very wifi and lap-top friendly.
Fiona says there are good cafes in or near most tourist hot spots now. Benugo is one example and Peyton and Byrne another; both offer really good ‘British’ food with a twist, in major galleries, museums and attractions.
For breakfast, if in need of a really good bacon sandwich, go to The English Restaurant in Spitalfields – thanks Kat. Whereas Jeanne finds it hard to resist the bowls of hot chocolate at Le Pain Quotidian and Regula votes for the Breakfast Club.
I can’t believe we’ve got this far without mentioning Ottolenghi – but it’s on Rachel’s cafe recommendations along with The Modern Pantry, Caravan, Climpson & Sons, Monmouth, and Rochelle Canteen. One day Urvashi’s Botanical Garden Cafe will be on this list but for now I she recommends Lock 7 Cycle Cafe on Regent’s Canal (and also Caravan).
Shopping and food hubs
Beginning with the famous shops, Harrods Food Halls and Fortnum & Mason are worth going just to ogle at the extravagant displays and Aladdin’s caves of culinary delights. Selfridges Food Hall is also worth a visit and Urvashi reckons the prices for some things (e.g. truffles) are very competitive.
Neal’s Yard Dairy, La Fromagerie (read more about founder Patricia here) and Ginger Pig butcher made nearly everyone’s list – the latter two have branches in Moxon Street just off Marylebone High Street, a little food hub in itself.
Rachel recommends The Whisky Exchange which gives me another reason to visit Vinopolis (it’s inside), also Books for Cooks (legendary book shop) The Japan Centre (for Japanese ingredients) and Turner & George Meat Merchants. Visit Wembley and Southall for Indian grocers says Urvashi, and Atari Ya in Finchley, Golders Green and Acton for Japanese groceries.
Markets are a must and I’d recommend Borough Market for the hustle and bustle and the restaurants that surround it. London residents have started to favour other markets as less expensive and not crammed with tourists – Broadway Market, Maltby Street Market, Spitalfields, Whitecross Street and Exmouth Market rank highly. Brockley Market gets a mention for nice villagey weekend market. For more market links visit my Borough post.
Some areas have become food destinations such as Northcote Road in Battersea, there’s masses to discover in East London (as Rachel has shown), also written about here by my glamorous friend Amanda. The area around Farringdon Road is well worth exploring, including the aforementioned Vinoteca, St John and more such as The Quality Chop House. Urvashi’s found Bermondsey High street is pretty cool to walk up and down for little cafes and two Jose Pizarro places, and Dean and Wardour street for the same reason with Gail’s Bakery, The Hummingbird Bakery, Paul A. Young chocolate shop and Princi on same road you are in cake and choc lane! Fiona Beckett delights in East Dulwich and for everything food-related about Peckham there is only one source worth visiting.
Websites and apps
I downloaded a couple of apps but there weren’t much help so would love to know if anyone has found a good one. If you are into burgers and pizza the Young and Foodish app looks useful although I haven’t tried it.
Rachel pointed me in the direction of these sites:
This is My Kingdom has a nice archive of good places to go in London too.
A massive thank you to these lovely people. Consider your brains well and truly picked.
Anthony Davies Confessions of a Wine Geek, Fiona Maclean London Unattached, Jeanne Horak-Druiff Cooksister, Jeff Burrows FoodWineClick, Kat Wiggins The Wine Kat, Rachel Smith The Food I Eat, Regula Ysewijn Miss Foodwise and Urvashi Roe The Botanical Baker. Please do go and visit their blogs for even more great info on eating and drinking.
Of course we must have left something out. What’s your favourite place to eat or drink in London?