Food is like art and religion to me in the sense that it’s the very core of culture – it defines a place and its people. Often on short trips I won’t even visit a museum, but I will hit up their ‘local’ dining establishments and make it a point to get the most authentic and typical dish I can find; so much so that I’ll start looking at food culture and places to wine and dine in a particular city before I’ve even booked my flight!
So after spending hours scrolling through local food blogs, crowd-sourcing from my fellow expat community, minding the New York Times’ 36 Hour guides and eating anything Anthony Bourdain tells me to, I usually have a list that makes for a nice base when I arrive in a new place. (It’s such a legit list I get compliments from the locals!)
Since I’m such a fan of these lists, I make sure to have them at-hand for my most-loved and most-frequented destinations, but especially for my home-base – currently London. From family and friends to clients and random friends-of-friends, I’m always happy to share any tips I have as I know how it can really make your experience in a place.
With so many people rolling through London this month, I’ve decided to share the highlights of some of my favourite places I recommend to tourists. I’ve tried to make it a mix with options for different budgets and preferences, but do share yours with me so I can keep it evolving and growing my guide for guests!
(Note in advance: I LOVE the food and drink in London and could write a book of places, but for short visits I think this oughta do it.)
Ffionas (Notting Hill) — All personality, all lovely cooking. Tiny place but does a hell of a job! And it’s a great location to wander after through Notting Hill. She made me the best French toast I’ve ever had, beating out the renowned version at The Smiths in NYC. But she’ll also make you a Full English, so have that, you tourist!
Caravan (Kings Cross or Exmouth Market)— My local. This is my go-to brunch spot. It’s Aussie/Kiwi with continental infusions. Amazing coffee roasted on site, fantastic beer selections. Go for the baked egg with chorizo and avocado on toast.
- Sunday Roast:
The Albion (Islington) – You’ll find yourself smack in the middle of a neighbourhood and then suddenly realise you’re getting served a massive Yorkshire pudding and then all is right with the world.
The Spaniards Inn (Hampstead) – When polling Londoners, this place comes up again and again. One of London’s oldest pubs, it’s got legendary status.
St John’s — For one of the foodie-famous spots for brave meat-eaters.
Berner’s Tavern – For one of the best meals of your life, try Jason Atherton’s visually stunning tavern with beautiful recipes. Can’t rave enough about their ox cheek mac ‘n’ cheese!
Rules – Can’t comment here on the food, but it’s London’s oldest restaurant and serves as such, so worth the visit.
Poppies – Fish & Chips is of course all some people know of British food, and rightly so – it’s everywhere. That said, do it right. (Summer tip: there’s an awesome pop-up next to a seafood restaurant in Notting Hill called the Notting Gill Chippy)
Bluebird Chelsea — Famous for brunch and for the “Made In Chelsea” cast, but it’s also just a West London destination. It’s very Chelsea ‘posh’ and therefore gives you a true feel of that part of the city.
Dishoom King’s Cross — Bombay Cafe style restaurant with delicious contemporary Indian food. This venue is seriously awesome. They have 3 other in the city, but this venue is my favourite and the food is always impressive. (Budget tip: For more great curries, Brick Lane is also full of little Indian places. Set your rate before entering the place to get the best deal, i.e. ask for free beers!)
Hawksmoor — Probably the most famous steak restaurant in London! They apparently do an amazing Sunday roast, and their British steaks are brilliant, though I usually just go to the bar at the Seven Dials location and have their Kimchi burger. They also have £5 corkage on Mondays for a friendly BYOB option. Save your money to spend on their steaks!
Artesian at the Langham Hotel — One of the most lush and amazing bar experiences you can have. They have been winning best bar globally for several years in a row now. The bar team here are the best of the best and their creations and the experience they design for you are brilliant.
The bars at the Savoy Hotel — The hotel itself is an impressive place filled with lovely historical tales of artists, celebrities, politicians, royalty who have all stayed. The American Bar is a rich part of that and greater global cocktail history, with its brother the Beaufort Bar knocking out all types of magic. They have a stunning pop-up menu and the team there is just a dream.
The bars at the Shard — You’re paying for the view here, but it’s well worth it for the scenes from Europe’s tallest building. Go at sunset if you can.
The Blind Pig — One of Jason Atherton’s bars (in reality, any of his places are a treat!). Fun, pun-named drinks above one of their venues next to Milk & Honey.
Nightjar – Before I moved to London, I visited Nightjar one evening and thought it was the best bar experience I’d ever had. The speakeasy feel, the music, the mesmerising flair of the bartenders, the general culture of the bar – it’s all pretty magical and for sure worth a visit.
Gordon’s Wine Bar — Kind of an institution as London’s oldest wine bar. Cave-like and just old world (and super-busy), but so, so lovely. Get there at an off-peak time to beat the crowds.
The Zetter Townhouse Bar — One of Tony Conigliaro’s places so the cocktails are fantastic. Really British-y feel place, like an old eccentric posh couple decorated it. He also has another cool (tiny) place called Bar Termini near Soho that nice to pop in and grab a proper Italian coffee, pastries or a mini negroni (which are a delightful pick-me-up while wandering the theatre district).
The Churchill Arms — Firstly, the outside is covered in flowers so it’s got real Instagram cred. Secondly, it was the first pub in London to serve Thai food, kicking off a tradition in pubs across the city today.
- and finally… Markets:
Borough Market — No doubt the most famous of food markets in the UK. It’s Disneyland for some of us. For a full restaurant here, Roast is very nice. They have a stall in the market which serves a much more budget-friendly option. But come on – you’re at a food market so just eat outside!
Maltby Street Market — It’s a smaller, less-known version of Borough Market, but has some nice stalls in railway arches and makes for a calmer stroll than Borough.
Brick Lane — Nice to see the character of East London. Lots of street art, good food stalls and random stuff everywhere. Go at the weekends.
Columbia Road Flower Market — On Sunday mornings only, you can go to one of my FAVOURITE places. Beautiful display of flowers and plants everywhere, with entertaining banter to the tone of a strong East London accent. They also have lots of little shops to pop in for coffee or cute homegoods. Finish off your stroll with a glass of wine at the brilliant establishment that is Sager+Wilde.
Congratulations, you’ve made it to the end of my guide to food and drink in London; and this is my shortlist! I hope you enjoy visiting these places as much as I have and I look forward to reading your suggestions in the comments below.
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