London’s Must-Try Foods: From Dawn Till Dusk
London is arguably the food capital of the world today. You can taste practically any dish from any nationality. From street food to Michelin-starred twelve-course meals, there’s enough food to tickle your tastebuds from dawn till dusk.
But there are a few cornerstone dishes that are quintessentially English to add to your must-eat list on your visit. (Pro tip: Most pubs serve these but it’s worth traveling to specialty restaurants for the best fare.)
Full English Breakfast
There’s a reason why English people say someone is “full of beans” when they are full of energy—they’re likely to have started their day with a full English breakfast. A good full English breakfast is a work of art. The fried egg is crispy on the edges and the yolk is soft so it can ooze to meet the sausage, toast, earthy sauteed mushrooms, and sometimes black pudding (made out of pig’s blood). Add to that a crunchy hash brown, a nice foil to the salty bacon, and sweet baked beans. Most cafes offer a full English or variation of it, and it often comes with a milky cup of black tea. Terry's Cafe London is a favorite with locals, where you’ll feel like you’ve stepped back in time with checkered tablecloths and British memorabilia lining the walls. If you’ve sworn off meat, don’t fret, they even offer a vegan breakfast.
Pie, Mash, and Jellied Eels
This dish first became popular in the nineteenth century with dockworkers in London’s East End. Eels were brought up the river Thames by Dutch barges and served with hot mashed potato and savory pies. Traditional pie fillings include chicken and leek, or steak and ale. Today, there are only a few proper pie and mash shops still serving stewed or jellied eels, including M.Manze in Bermondsey, Arments Pie & Mash in Southwark, and G Kelly in Bow. They all offer vegan options as well.
Fish and Chips
Another working-class dish, fish and chips have become a staple meal for every Londoner. Choose from haddock, cod, rock or skate, coated in crispy batter with a portion of hand-cut, piping hot chips (fried), and a side of mushy peas. If you buy it from a “chippie” (a fish and chips shop), you could also have a side order of battered saveloy sausage, pickled egg, or battered scampi instead of fish. Then it’s a question of toppings: traditional salt and vinegar, or curry sauce? Both are excellent! Check out Poppies Fish & Chips (Soho) , which has been running since the ‘50s and has restaurants in Camden, Spitalfields, and Soho.
Started in the 1840s, afternoon tea is one of the most quintessential British traditions. Served usually from 3pm to 5pm, it is a smart-casual affair nowadays. While away a few hours lathering soft, crumbly scones with thick clotted cream and fruit jam, and devouring dainty sandwiches and tiny cakes while sipping tea. Sample old London glamour at The Ritz London , The Savoy Hotel , Claridge's , The Wolseley , or The Landmark London (make sure you book well ahead). Or take a break from shopping with a pause for tea at upmarket department stores Harrods , Selfridges , or Fortnum & Mason . For stunning views, head to Oblix at the top of the The Shard by London Bridge. Or for a more contemporary afternoon tea, head to sketch pink gallery in Mayfair.
Curry (the UK’s Favorite Dish)
Since the 1950s, Bangladeshi migrants have settled around Brick Lane in the east of London. Walk past the street art and trendy boutiques into one of the many, many curry houses. Aladin is a reliable one, serving classics like chicken korma (served in a sweet, creamy sauce), lamb rogan josh (a spicy tomato sauce), and vindaloo (very spicy). For a more upscale experience, head to Dishoom for Bombay specialties like biryani or black lentil dhal. They have branches in Covent Garden, Carnaby Street, Kensington, King’s Cross, and Shoreditch.
On Sundays, We Eat...Roast
A longstanding Sunday tradition, families and friends gather around the UK to share a roast dinner. More of a late lunch, Sunday roasts include some sort of roast meat—pork belly, chicken, beef or lamb—served with roast potatoes, fluffy Yorkshire puddings, roasted vegetables like parsnips and carrots, and lots of gravy. Most pubs in London serve roast, and some do throughout the week. It’s impossible to pick a favorite so find one near you.