Let’s put aside the tired old stereotype that British food is uninspiring. London is a destination that’s not just a feast for the eyes, but also a smorgasbord for the taste buds. This is a city that’s taken its diverse history and turned it into a culinary landscape as iconic as Big Ben or the Tower of London.
Think beyond the obligatory cuppa tea or the English breakfast that’s hearty enough to power you through a day of sightseeing. London’s food scene is an eclectic melting pot, dishing out everything from quintessential fish and chips to global flavors that’ve found a cozy home in this cosmopolitan city. From posh nosh in Mayfair to salt-of-the-earth East End grub, London serves it all up on a platter — sometimes quite literally.
So, whether you’re a foodie on the prowl for the next gastronomic revelation or a casual traveler eager to sink your teeth into something quintessentially British, you’ve come to the right place. Ready to eat your way through London? You should be.
London’s Food Culture
When you visit London, you’ll discover a thriving culinary scene with a mix of traditional British dishes and global cuisines. But before we get go wide, we must start with the absolutely quintessential British food tradition of tea time.
Tea Time In London
Tea time, or afternoon tea, is not just the epitome of British culinary tradition, it’s a delight that was born right in the heart of London. Originating in the early 1840s, it was Anna, the Duchess of Bedford, who is credited with its creation. Often finding herself hungry in the late afternoon, she began requesting a tray of tea, bread and butter, and cake to be brought to her room. This private affair soon became a social gathering, evolving into the elegant spread we adore today. The ritual now boasts dainty sandwiches, sumptuous scones with clotted cream and jam, and a selection of delectable pastries. When in London, missing out on this quintessential experience would be akin to visiting Paris and bypassing the Eiffel Tower. Whether you’re nestled in a posh hotel or a quaint tearoom, afternoon tea is the ultimate nod to British elegance and a must-do for any food enthusiast.
Full English Breakfast
One must-try morning delight while in London is the Full English Breakfast, a (more than) hearty way to start the day and a dish that has become emblematic of British culinary tradition.
If you’ve even seen this thing, you know it’s intense.
The origins of the full English can be traced back to the English country houses of the gentry in the 1300s. These lavish breakfasts were a display of wealth and hospitality, often served before a day of hunting. Over time, the tradition of a substantial morning meal spread, becoming more accessible and widespread during the Industrial Revolution when workers needed a hearty breakfast to fuel their long and physically demanding days.
The components of the full English have varied over time, but traditionally, it includes bacon, eggs, sausages, black pudding, baked beans, grilled tomatoes, and fried bread or toast. Each ingredient has its own history. For example, black pudding has ancient origins, while baked beans became popular due to the influence of American soldiers stationed in the UK during World War II.
As British colonial influence expanded in the 19th and early 20th centuries, ingredients like tea from India and marmalade made from Seville oranges found their way to the British breakfast table. Despite the rise of quicker, continental-style breakfasts in recent decades, the full English remains a beloved weekend ritual for many and a must-try for visitors.
Other London Food Traditions
Don’t quite need a full English breakfast? Give a whirl to the classic Bacon Butty – a hearty bacon sandwich that’s lip-smackingly good!
Fancy some lunch? Go for a Ploughman’s Lunch – a traditional meal of cheese, bread, pickles, and maybe some cold meats.
The flavorful Cottage Pie and Pasty are also great options to fill your tum. And don’t worry, we’ve got your comfort food cravings covered too, with the all-time favorite Cheese Toastie and Beans on Toast.
Now, let’s talk dinner. You simply can’t go to London without trying some classic British treats like the well-loved Fish & Chips and Toad in the Hole – a delightful concoction of sausages baked in Yorkshire pudding batter. And since curry is a big thing in London, due to Britain’s somewhat controversial ties to India, enjoying a plate of steaming Chicken Tikka Masala or other savory curry dishes while in London is absolutely cultural, and an excellent celebration of the city’s diverse culinary influences.
Lastly, when it comes to quenching your thirst, you can’t go wrong with some traditional tipples like London Dry Gin and Real Ale. And of course, immerse yourself in pub culture by sipping on a couple of pints with your pals.
The Essentials of London’s Famous Foods
Fish And Chips
When it comes to quintessential London foods, it’s hard to imagine starting anywhere but the sea. The UK is literally surrounded by water. And when it comes to the sea, nothing is more British than Fish and Chips. It’s a classic British meal that’s been around for ages, featuring crispy battered fish alongside golden, thick-cut chips. While there’s no shortage of chippies (chip shops) in town, there are a few fish and chips shops close to the major attractions that have earned reputations for themselves:
The Golden Hind (Marylebone): Just a stone’s throw away from the bustling shopping streets of Oxford and Regent, Golden Hind has been serving fish and chips since 1914. While it’s in a chic neighborhood, the ambiance inside is unpretentious, and the focus is purely on crispy battered fish and perfectly fried chips. After a day of shopping or exploring nearby attractions like Madame Tussauds, this spot offers the ideal British comfort food.
Poppies Fish & Chips (Spitalfields): Located near the historic Old Spitalfields Market, Poppies is a favorite among both locals and tourists. Decked out in retro 1950s decor, it offers an authentic fish and chips experience. Once you’ve had your fill, you can stroll around the market or visit the nearby Brick Lane, renowned for its street art and vintage shops.
Rock & Sole Plaice (Covent Garden): Established in 1871, Rock & Sole Plaice claims to be the oldest fish and chip shop in London. Situated in the heart of Covent Garden, it’s an ideal pit stop while exploring the area’s street performers, shops, and theaters. With generously sized portions and a choice of batter, it’s a delightful place to indulge in this classic British dish.
Moving from the sea to the heart of the British countryside, one cannot overlook the iconic Sunday Roast. This hearty meal hails from the age-old British tradition of families gathering around the table after church on Sundays. Featuring succulent roasted meat (often beef, chicken, pork, or lamb), crispy roast potatoes, Yorkshire pudding, and a rich gravy, it’s a comforting dish that encapsulates the warmth of British family traditions. And while many families still cook this meal at home, there are plenty of London pubs and restaurants that offer a Sunday Roast experience that’s hard to beat:
The Jugged Hare (Barbican): Close to the Museum of London and Barbican Centre, The Jugged Hare is known for its game-focused dishes. Their Sunday Roast is no exception, with options like venison or pheasant when in season. With its rustic charm, it’s the perfect place to get a taste of British hunting traditions alongside your roast.
The Harwood Arms (Fulham): A Michelin-starred pub tucked away in the quiet streets of Fulham, The Harwood Arms specializes in modern British cuisine using the finest seasonal produce. After a stroll in the nearby Bishops Park or Fulham Palace, you can indulge in their Sunday roast which often includes options like beef rump or Berkshire pork.
Blacklock (Soho): Nestled in the vibrant area of Soho, Blacklock is a favorite for meat-lovers. Known for its chops, the restaurant also serves a stellar Sunday Roast with all the trimmings. It’s an ideal spot to refuel after a day exploring the West End theatres, shops, and street life.
Each of these venues offers a unique take on the beloved Sunday Roast, ensuring that both locals and visitors alike can indulge in a truly British culinary experience.
Chicken Tikka Masala
While British culinary traditions are rooted in its local landscapes and customs, the nation’s palate has been generously seasoned by global influences. And when discussing British adaptations of international dishes, Chicken Tikka Masala undoubtedly takes center stage. This creamy, tomato-based curry with marinated chargrilled chicken pieces is often touted as the UK’s favorite dish, epitomizing the fusion of British and Indian flavors. If you’re in London and have a hankering for this spicy, creamy delight, here’s where you should head:
Dishoom (Covent Garden): Just moments away from the energetic performances of Covent Garden’s piazza, Dishoom pays homage to the Irani cafés of Bombay. Their Chicken Tikka Masala (or as they name it, Chicken Ruby) is a sumptuous blend of rich flavors, making it a must-try. The vintage Bombay ambiance adds to the dining experience, ensuring you’re transported to another era.
Masala Zone (Soho): Situated in the lively area of Soho, Masala Zone offers a myriad of Indian street food and traditional dishes. Their Chicken Tikka Masala, with its velvety sauce and succulent chicken, stands out. After a flavorful meal, you can continue your exploration of the nearby West End theaters, boutiques, and bars.
The Cinnamon Club (Westminster): Housed in the historic former Westminster Library, The Cinnamon Club offers an upscale Indian dining experience. While exploring the iconic sights of Westminster, take a culinary detour to try their take on Chicken Tikka Masala. The elegant setting and inventive dishes make for a memorable meal.
While each establishment offers its unique spin on Chicken Tikka Masala, they all showcase the beautiful melding of British and Indian culinary traditions, making it a dish not to be missed in London.
London’s Traditional Dishes
If you’re visiting this incredible city, your taste buds are in for a treat. Let’s dive into some of the must-try local dishes that London has to offer.
Bangers and Mash is a classic British dish that’s as tasty as it is simple. You’ve got juicy sausages (aka “bangers”) served atop pillowy mashed potatoes and smothered in rich onion gravy. It’s a heartwarming meal you’ll find in many pubs across the city.
Next up is Yorkshire Pudding. Don’t let the name fool you, this ain’t your typical dessert. It’s a savory dish made from batter which is baked until fluffy, crispy, and golden. It’s often served as a side dish with roast meat and gravy, or you can find smaller versions filled with ingredients like beef and horseradish sauce.
Pie and Mash is a true London staple. We’re talkin’ about a savory pie packed with minced meat, onions, and spices, served with, you guessed it, mashed potatoes. And let’s not forget the iconic, greenish liquor (a parsley sauce) that gets poured over the top. This combo is something your taste buds won’t forget!
For the more adventurous eaters, there’s Black Pudding. This dish is a type of sausage made from cooked pig’s blood and mixed with various fillers like oats, barley, or bread crumbs. It might sound a bit daunting, but trust us, it’s worth a try for its distinct, rich flavor.
Don’t miss out on the Scotch Egg, a popular London snack. It’s a hard-boiled egg wrapped in sausage meat, covered with breadcrumbs, and deep-fried to crispy perfection. Perfect for grabbing on the go or enjoying with a pint at a pub.
And don’t miss out on indulging yourself in the luxurious Beef Wellington. A tender beef fillet wrapped in a savory mushroom mixture, coated with rich pâté, and encased in a flaky puff pastry. This dish is often reserved for special occasions or more upscale dining experiences but is absolutely worth the splurge.
Must-Try British Desserts in London
If you’re in London, then you’re in for a treat. The city has loads of great English desserts that you simply can’t miss, and here are some of the top picks for your sweets cravings.
Eton Mess is a classic British delight, and it’s as refreshing as it is scrumptious. Made with strawberries, crushed meringue, and whipped cream, it’s sure to be a hit with your taste buds. Look for this dessert at traditional pubs or afternoon tea spots.
Next up is Sticky Toffee Pudding. This rich and gooey British favorite features a moist sponge cake drenched in a luscious toffee sauce. It’s often served warm with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. You don’t want to skip this one.
You can’t talk about London desserts without mentioning Scones. These fluffy, buttery cakes are a must-try, especially when smothered in jam and clotted cream. You’ll find them at afternoon tea services as well as at countless bakeries across the city. These are also great for breakfast if you wake up with a sweet tooth.
If you’re in London in summer, expect a bounty of fresh strawberries, you’ll find them starring in numerous desserts. Keep an eye out for simple yet succulent preparations like strawberries and whipped cream or classic British Fruit Crumbles made with these seasonal delights.
Unique London Delicacies
When exploring London, you can’t miss out on trying these unique delicacies that the city has to offer. Each dish has its own distinct history and flavor, and it’s a great way to get a taste of London’s culinary scene.
Jellied Eels: This traditional East End dish consists of chopped eels boiled in a spiced stock that transforms into a savory jelly upon cooling. You’ll often find them served cold with bread, and they’re a must-try for the adventurous foodie. Visit classic pie and mash shops to taste this unusual but authentic London dish.
Mushy Peas: A classic comfort food, mushy peas are made by soaking marrowfat peas overnight and then boiling them with a bit of sugar and salt. This starchy, vibrant green side dish is often served alongside fish and chips or a traditional British Sunday roast for a perfect, hearty meal.
Bubble and Squeak: The name might sound odd, but this dish is a delicious way to use up leftovers. Made of mashed potatoes, cabbage, and sometimes other vegetables, Bubble and Squeak is named for the sizzling sounds it makes when cooked in a pan. Head to a local café for a classic British breakfast and try it with a fried egg on top.
Cockles: These small shellfish are a coastal favorite in the UK. In London, you can find them cooked and seasoned with vinegar, salt, and pepper, typically served as a snack in markets and at street food vendors. Don’t miss out on these briny, flavorful bites when exploring the city.
Roast Bone Marrow: A more recent addition to London’s culinary landscape, roast bone marrow is often found at upscale gastropubs or fine dining restaurants. Rich and buttery, bone marrow is served with toast – usually sourdough – and a sprinkle of coarse sea salt. It’s a must-try for the inquisitive palate, and it pairs beautifully with a glass of red wine.
Iconic London Food Spots
When you’re exploring London, your taste buds are in for a treat. Let’s dive into some iconic food spots you can’t afford to miss.
East London is known for its trendy food scene, and a trip to Brick Lane is a must for indulging in some authentic Indian cuisine. The streets are lined with countless curry houses serving up mouth-watering dishes. Don’t forget to grab a salt beef bagel from the famous Beigel Bake while you’re there, open 24/7, it’s perfect for a snack during any time of the day.
In Soho, the vibrant heart of London’s West End, you’ll find a plethora of food spots that cater to all tastes. For a classic British pub experience, head to Coach & Horses, where you can enjoy their famous pies alongside a refreshing pint.
For those looking for more upscale dining, Mayfair is home to many high-end restaurants. Try out the legendary truffle tagliatelle at Scott’s, or indulge in some incredible seafood at Sexy Fish. Trust us, you won’t be disappointed.
Borough Market is an iconic foodie paradise, offering an eclectic range of international street food and artisan produce. Whether you’re after delicious cheeses, fresh seafood, or sumptuous pastries, you’ll find it all here. Make sure to stop by Porteña for a taste of their amazing Argentinian empanadas.
For those seeking a food adventure with a distinctly village vibe, Hampstead and Greenwich are hubs of great restaurants, pubs, and cafes. Grab a bite from the historic Hampstead institution, The Flask, or enjoy a traditional pie at Goddards at Greenwich.
If you’re in the mood for a leisurely food market experience, head to Camden Market where you’ll find food stalls galore. While in Camden, stop by the famous Mac Factory for some mac and cheese. Though not exactly British, you’d be remiss to miss it.