London food is a wonderful world to discover, with local and British dishes alongside cuisine from every part of the planet. Join us on our journey around 15 of the best foods London has to offer.
London food is in some ways everything you’d expect of a metropolitan melting pot. It has become to foods from all around the globe, and is also a great place to begin your discovery of British food, including some dishes from London and the surrounding region.
In this article we suggest 15 of the best London foods that we think you should try and may well like. They range from main meals of the day to side dishes and desserts, including possible takeaways. Our food of London selection also varies from London traditional food to dishes from around the world which have themselves become popular London foods over time.
So what is London food?
Good question, with a broad, wide-ranging answer.
Some of what you would call London food has a long, historical association with the city.
Some London dishes indeed have their origins in the London region.
Other food in London is traditionally British, and as London is the first place for many visitors to the UK, so it becomes London food by default.
And food from all over the world – particularly from the Caribbean, Asia and Europe – has long become established as part of London life
Famous London Foods
Possibly the ultimate food in London experience, afternoon tea in London is hugely popular with visitors and Londoners alike. It’s something of an indulgence, often enjoyed at some of the most famous hotels in London, and the one time many get to visit the likes of the Savoy or Ritz.
The institution of afternoon tea came into being in the mid-19th century, with Anna, 7th Duchess of Bedford, inviting female friends to her quarters in Woburn Abbey for a pick-me-up tea and refreshments. It soon caught on in London as well, and became a mainstay in the social calendar.
London afternoon tea consists of a selection of finger sandwiches, accompanied by scones with jam and clotted cream and a variety of other cakes and pastries. At the top London hotels there is often a dress code (either smart-casual or shirt and tie), and you get to sit in extraordinarily plush surroundings with a pianist tinkling away in the background.
Not only that, but in some places cakes and sandwiches are replenished on request. It‘s the most refined all you can eat on the planet, and in our view the best way to enjoy traditional food in London.
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Fish & Chips
Fish and chips is right up there with the best food London has to offer. It’s one of the best British dishes of all, and the best places to enjoy it are often by the British seaside, where the catch is freshest.
The fish that accompanies your chips is usually cod, but you’ll also occasionally find haddock and, occasionally, skate or plaice as well. The chips are fried in hot oil, as is the fish, which is coated in batter, and they’re served with salt and vinegar. Some people also opt for mushy peas on the side. It’s enormously popular as a take-away meal, though you can also order it at many London pubs and restaurants.
Where to try it: For the best fish and chips in London, you may well have to head out of central London. Versions of fish and chips are ubiquitous in London pubs and restaurants, but for the very best, head either to the Golden Chippy on Greenwich High Road or to one of old local haunts, Toff’s in Muswell Hill in north-west London.
Pie And Mash With Jellied Eels
One of the true traditional foods of London, pie, mash and jellied eels were from the early 19th century a staple of the London working class diet It’s the classic Cockney dish, a meat pastry pie served with creamy mash potatoes, and a parsley sauce called liquor on the side. But vegans need not look away – the Noted Eel and Pie House (see below) has recently introduced vegan pies.
Jellied eels are an optional accompaniment, cold servings of eel with natural jelly that forms after cooling in the fridge. Alternatively, you can eat your eel hot and freshly cooked – this is known as stewed eel. One of the most popular drinks to enjoy with pie, mash and liquor is sarsaparilla, a soft drink you seldom see in the UK.
Eel, pie and mash shops have declined significantly over the last 50 years or so. those that have survived haven’t changed much deal in appearance, with beautiful tiled interiors and marble tables. It’s sad to see so many close, though you’ll still find a few in the East End of London, and in Essex where many former East Enders now live.
This is basically fillet steak en croute, coated in pate and duxelles (a mixture of mushrooms and onions) and baked in pastry. The origins of the dish are rather hazy. It is natural to associate the ‘Wellington’ with the Duke of Wellington, who led Britain to victory at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815. But it’s not certain that there is any link with him, as recipes appear to have been developed much later.
Beef Wellington is usually cooked until the meat is medium rare (pink), and it can be served with a whole range of side dishes – traditionally in the UK it’s a combination of potatoes and vegetables. One of the best British dishes you’ll ever try.
Where to try it: Grenadier Pub, Belgravia
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The British Sunday Roast is a hugely popular weekend feast, so much so that many pubs and restaurants in Britain forgo the rest of their menu one day a week and serve Sunday roasts.
There is sometimes a choice of meat – usually, beef, chicken or pork – which is roasted in the oven with the root vegetables – potatoes, carrots, parsnips – added to cook in the meat’s juices. Additional vegetables – peas and cabbage are cooked separately. A gravy is also made from the meat juices, and added when served. If you’re ever presented with mashed or, heaven forbid, boiled potatoes, you are witnessing culinary sacrilege.
It was only a couple of decades ago that Sunday roast in a British pub could be very hit and miss. Fortunately, the days of soggy boiled veg are mostly over, and the rise of the gastro pub has greatly raised standards. I couldn’t remember ever ordering a roast in a pub until enjoying some of Faye’s roast at the Griffin in Brentford (see our article on Things to Do In West London), but some places in London serve roasts to similar lofty standards.
Where to try it: Hollybush, the pig and butcher; The Peasant John Street Clerkenwell; the Wilmington Clerkenwell, For the utmost in refinement, check out Simpsons In the Strand, two doors down from the Savoy.
Full English Breakfast
The full English is a calorific, protein-packed kickstart to the day that many rate up there with the best London food you can get.
It’s a traditional London café meal, usually served until lunch time or later, containing fried eggs, mushrooms and tomatoes, baked beans, sausages, a couple of rashers of bacon, a slice or two of fried bread and the option of some black pudding and / or hash browns to top it all off.
This breakfast is one of the most common British dishes, and you’ll find variants of it all over the UK and Ireland. In Wales it’s frequently called a ‘full Welsh’, but there’s very little difference from the English version, other than the local origin of the produce. You will also find vegetarian versions of the full English fry-up.
The full English breakfast is on many people’s list of what to eat in London, and I‘d urge anyone to try it at least once. You may well hear it being recommended as a hangover cure – but not by me!
Where to try it: Seek out some of the old London cafes, such as the wonderful Bar Bruno on Wardour Street in Soho or the outstanding E Pellicci on Bethnal Green Road.
Steak & Kidney Pie
Steak and kidney pie is a popular traditional food of London, and very much a staple of British cuisine generally. Beef is always used for this dish, and kidneys became popular as an ingredient as they were cheaper than steak cuts.
The pie is normally served in a small dish, and only topped, rather than fully encased, in shortcrust pastry. The filling also includes onions and gravy (sometimes slightly enhanced with a dash of Worcester sauce).
Try it with chips and vegetables on the side – the chips are ideal for mopping up the gravy. It’s a great food to try in London to fortify you if you’re there during a spell of cold weather.
Where to try it: Rules Restaurant
London Food From Abroad – Jamaican Food in London
London cuisine encompasses just about every cuisine on this planet, and for me one of these has always stood out and been a huge personal favourite. London has the best Jamaican food – and indeed Caribbean food – in the UK, and this grew out of the community that arrived in London in the late 1940s, partly aboard the Empire Windrush. The largest West Indian community in the country is Brixton, and it’s a great place to become acquainted with amazing Jamaican food.
As I have attended a great many concerts in Brixton Academy, I have enjoyed sampling Jamaican food in Brixton for well over 30 years. If you’ve yet to try it, you’ll encounter a mouthwatering mix, from the fiery spice of a Scotch bonnet chilli to the sweet tropical taste of pineapple cake.
Don’t miss jerk chicken with rice and peas, washed down with an ice-cold Red Stripe lager. Spicy Jamaican patties are among the cheapest and best London street foods, which you’ll find around Brixton Market and Electric Avenue.
Where to try it: Cottons have four Caribbean restaurants around London, including Shoreditch, Vauxhall, Notting Hill and Chalk Farm – the latter has been my North London pre-gig dining venue of choice since the late ‘90s.
Indian Food In London
People have been moving from south Asia since the 17th century, and food from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh is long-established.
The area best known for Indian food in London is the southern end of Brick Lane, in Spitalfields in the East End of London. Brick Lane has become one of the most famous streets in London over the last 30 years or so, and the reason it took off was the concentration of around 60 Brick Lane curry houses.
At the time of writing, there are still around 25 curry houses in Brick Lane, with more spread around nearby Spitalfields, Whitechapel and Shoreditch. You’ll find curries of many flavours and delicate nuances suck as korma through to the searing hot phaal in this small area.
You’ll find excellent Indian food all over London, and the most famous curry area away from Brick Lane is Southall, in the far west of the metropolis, which is home to another long-standing Asian community.
Long before Bangladeshi immigrants transformed Brick Lane with their curry houses, the area was a largely Jewish district, and two beigel bakeries survive from this area at the ‘top’ end of Brick Lane near the junction with Bethnal Green Road.
Beigels differ from their near-namesake bagels in that they are still boiled according to the traditional recipe. You then eat the beigels with a wide choice of fillings, from hot salt beef with mustard and gherkins to salmon and cream cheese.
Where to try it: Famously,two businessestwo doors apart vie for your Brick Lane beigel custom.The white-signed Brick Lane Beigel Bake and the older yellow-signed Beigel Shop. We have visited both many times, and recommend them heartily.
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Best London Food – Desserts
Another famous food of London you may not realise is British in origin is apple crumble. It’s a delicious dessert born out of strict rationing during the Second World War – apples were available in the UK as they grow wild there, and the topping could be made inexpensively from rolling breadcrumbs, butter and brown sugar.
I grew up on crumbles, and other varieties include blackberry and apple crumble and rhubarb crumble. Back in the last millennium crumble would be served with custard, whereas now you’re just as likely to find it offered with ice cream or fresh cream.
Almost qualifying as food from London, Eton mess is a dessert that originates in Eton College, a few miles west of the metropolis. It’s a dessert made from meringue, whipped cream and strawberries, and is best enjoyed in summer when the fruit is fresh.
Eton mess can also be made with other summer fruits including blueberries and raspberries, although not all would agree. Eton mess is very similar to the Australian Pavlova dessert – the latter tends to be made like a cake which is then cut into slices, whereas Eton mess is served only in individual portions.
The term ‘Eton mess’ has been used by UK Conservative Party politicians over the last decade or so to describe in-fighting between Party factions. The ‘mess’ is attributed to Eton because many Conservative politicians, including two of the three most recent UK Prime Ministers, were educated there.
Sticky Toffee Pudding
One of the best British desserts, sticky toffee pudding isn’t exactly typical English food. It is served hot and consists of a sponge cake made from chopped dates, covered in toffee sauce and served with custard or ice cream.
It is believed to originate in the Lake District of North West England, and has only been around for the last 50 years or so. that said, it’s worthy of a stopover on any London food tour.
Where to try it: – Rules Restaurant , Queens Arms Pimlico
Best London Food – Side Dishes And Sandwiches
The bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich is the most popular sandwich in the UK, and a good option for lunch on the go. Its origins are possibly American, but it is long established as a favourite among the Brits.
You can normally find it year-round in cafes, sandwich shops, supermarkets and most outlets selling food. It’s best eaten fresh in summer when there’s more of a chance of the tomatoes and lettuce being home-grown.
Cheese, chutney and crackers
The Brits love the combination of cheese and chutney, and this shows up in a number of dishes, all of which are popular London foods and widely available in the city. Chutneys originated in India, and are a form of pickle, usually a reduction of fruit, sugar and vinegar in the UK. Their popularity in Britain dates all the way back to the 18th century, long before many of the other foods of London in this article came into being.
Cheese and chutney can be eaten together with crackers, and this is a popular dessert or even post-dessert. Meanwhile, cheese and pickle (a from of chutney with a sweet and sour flavour) sandwiches are enormously popular, and you’ll find these in sandwich shops, cafes and on pub menus.
The ploughman’s lunch is another popular British dish incorporating chutney and cheese. This comes with a variety of other ingredients, usually including onions, and also ham, hard boiled eggs and salad, and is normally accompanied by a pint of beer.
It may not be the most heralded of London foods, but the jacket potato – also known internationally as the baked potato – features on a great many London menus, whether as a stand-alone dish or a side.
You’ll find it at many of the food markets in London, with a variety of fillings from butter, baked beans or cheese to more exotic, spicy offerings.
When the jacket potato is done right, it’s beautiful, with crispy skin encasing soft, fluffy potato, often of the English King Edward variety.
David Angel is a British writer and photographer who has been travelling and photographing Europe for over 25 years. His work is regularly featured in worldwide media including the BBC, the Guardian, the Times and the Sunday Times.
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