Whether you are visiting London for the first time, have been there on the regular, or have lived there your entire life, enjoying the food scene is essential to making the most out of your time in the capital city. There is no shortage of excellent restaurants and markets with a variety of cuisine choices that range from decades-old traditional classics to popular new arrivals.
Knowing which dishes to try can be quite the puzzle, but there are some you shouldn’t miss. With so many choices, if you are visiting for a short amount of time, it can be a good idea to have a plan for each meal – plus a couple of 24-hour options to hit after a night out on the town.
These aren’t necessarily the absolute best restaurants or dishes in London (even though we do think they are pretty fantastic). But, they are unique and memorable. You won’t just like them – you’ll love them – and they make the city a better place to eat.
So, here is a list of twenty dishes – with a range of price points and a variety of cuisines – that will make your taste buds and tummy happy during your next time in The Smoke.
20 Salt Beef Bagel from Beigel Bake
If you find yourself out late in Shoreditch after drinking a few cocktails, then you need to find the line at the Brick Lane Beigel Bake – a 24/7 East End bakery – and wait for your turn to eat the best bagels in London. Don’t worry; the line will move quick.
It is essential to say yes to the mustard when ordering their Salt Beef Bagel to get the quintessential London experience. The meat is so tender it falls apart. And, even if you are from New York, you will be impressed with how good these bagels taste.
19 Black Pork Curry from Hoppers
Focused on the Sri Lankan “hopper” – a flaky, crispy pancake shaped like a bowl – made from fermented rice flour and coconut milk batter, you eat this dish by ripping off a piece of the hopper and then scooping up some black pork curry.
Some of the best curry in London, the black pork is dark and rich with an abundance of black pepper, ginger, and garlic. It’s not as spicy as you would expect, but the flavor is far from dull.
Located in the SoHo neighborhood, Hoppers is small and doesn’t take reservations, so be sure to get there early, or you will find a line. But, it is definitely worth the wait.
18 Seven Samurai Lobster Roll from Smack
If you are tired of burgers, tacos, and pizza when grabbing a quick bite, a lobster roll from Smack in SoHo is a fresh, delicious choice. The Seven Samurai option is an affordable treat loaded with cucumber, white cabbage, onions, pickled ginger, and togarashi spice.
The portions at this little fast-food spot are a bit on the small side, so you may have to double up. Or, you can add a side order of sweet potato fries to round out your meal. The service is fast and friendly, but the seating options are limited. So, don’t plan on a long sit-down meal. Instead, this is a better take-out option.
17 Reuben Sandwich from Monty’s Deli
Located on Hoxton Street in Hackney, Monty’s Deli serves “Jewish soul food” that is a “melange of U.S. influences and British eccentricities, humor, and style,” and the Reuben is the most popular choice on the limited menu.
The toasted rye bread packed high with succulent salt beef, pastrami, sauerkraut, Russian dressing, and cheese will melt in your mouth and make you so full you will stagger out the door.
This place is so popular, they recently opened a second location at The Kitchens in Spitalfields market that serves only two menu items – the Reuben and the Mensch, which is your choice of pastrami or salt beef on rye with mustard.
16 A Slow Roast Lamb Sandwich from Sticky Beaks
If you are on a food budget, everything on the Sticky Beaks menu is £6 or less, and you can’t go wrong with the slow roast lamb sandwich from this popular food truck in various markets around the city.
They cook their Moroccan pulled lamb low and slow for eight hours, and then combine it with flavors and ingredients like a North African spiced rub, smoky sweet and spicy sauce, feta cheese, roasted chili and tomato salsa, and hazelnut dukkah to create a unique, succulent sandwich on a baguette. Show up hungry, and don’t miss out. It will fill you up for the entire day.
15 Margherita Pizza from L’Antica Pizzeria da Michele
It might seem a little odd to grab pizza in London. After all, it’s not New York or Naples. But, the only other place in the world where you can get L’Antica Pizzeria Da Michele outside of Naples is London. The movie Eat, Pray, Love made the original Naples location famous when Julia Roberts – as Elizabeth Gilbert – declared she was “having a relationship with my pizza” after just one bite.
The London location offers a Margherita (tomato, mozzarella, and basil) and a marinara (tomato, oregano, olive oil, and garlic), but it’s worth the trip to Stoke Newington. It just might be the best pizza in the city.
14 Fish and Chips from Poppies
The first thing that comes to most people’s minds when they think of British food is fish and chips, and this traditional dish has to be at the top of any foodie’s list when visiting London. And, for the best fish and chips in London, you have to go to Poppies.
Pat Newland, aka Pop, opened the original Brick Lane location in 1945 and it is now retro-styled to recreate East London in the late 1940s and early 1950s. But this place with a diner feel isn’t just about atmosphere. Their hefty classic cod fillets with crunchy batter received the most votes for the UK’s best Independent Fish and Chip Restaurant at the recent National Fish and Chip Awards.
13 Sunday Roast and Yorkshire Pudding from The Windsor Castle
Another classic British meal is Sunday roast, which is eaten on Sundays afternoons. The traditional version of a Sunday roast is beef with Yorkshire Pudding. But, you can choose from pork, turkey, lamb, chicken, and veggie options.
It also comes with potatoes, gravy, and veggies, and the portions are usually so large, that when you are finished, it is difficult to walk out of the pub.
An affordable option is at The Windsor Castle in Kensington, and it has developed such a following, you might find it best to make a reservation. But remember, they only serve it between noon and 3.
12 Grilled Cheese Sandwich from Kappacasein
Using a blend of Montgomery Cheddar and Ogleshield, five kinds of onion, leeks, and garlic on Poilane sourdough, the folks at Kappacasein in the Borough Market offer a grilled cheese sandwich that is crispy, melted gold. Some even say it is the best cheese sandwich in the world.
If you love cheese, Kappacasein is your personal heaven. To keep up with the demand, they stack their sandwiches to prepare them for toasting. So, you might as well go ahead and order two because one just won’t be enough.
They do charge £5 for each sandwich, but the quality ingredients and taste will make it totally worth it.
11 Pie and Mash from The Windmill Mayfair
A British comfort food, Pie and Mash – which is a steak and kidney pie with mashed potatoes and gravy – from The Windmill Mayfair is a real treat. This pub is so in love with pie that they have a two separate pie rooms and a pie club with events, specials, and regular tastings.
They fully encase their thick, meaty filling in a rich suet pastry crust, which is crispy on the outside and gooey on the inside, and it is a three-time winner at the National Pie Awards.
It is closed for much of the weekend, so be sure to check their hours before you go.
10 Roast Bone Marrow on Toast with Parsley Salad at St. John
One of the most iconic restaurants and dishes on the list, the bone marrow on toast with parsley salad from St. John is a popular creation from Chef Fergus Henderson. Often imitated, but never bettered, this dish is the only one on the menu that has been there since the restaurant’s opening in 1994.
"I suppose I'm married to the dish. It's very close to me,” says Henderson. "There's never a dull moment between me and the bone."
He cooks the veal marrow bones to the precise right moment then pairs it with toast and salad. And, Henderson says he sells “quite a few” every night.
9 Bao Bun from Bao Bar
This Taiwanese hot spot does have long lines and has achieved cult status with foodies, but the Bao bun is worth the wait. If you want to get in and out quickly, the best time to show up is around 4 in the afternoon. The classic Bao bun is a steamed pillowy-soft bun filled with slow-braised pork belly, fermented greens, shredded coriander, and peanut powder.
They are light but filling, and the most authentic bun you will find outside of Taiwan. The original location was a food truck in Netil Market, but now they have two permanent locations on Lexington Street in Soho and in Fitzrovia.
8 Beef Wellington from Simpson’s In the Strand
A classic British dish, Beef Wellington is a filet steak covered in pate and wrapped in puff pastry. And if you eat it at Simpson’s In the Strand you will get a landmark London dining experience. The restaurant was a favorite of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson dine there in The Illustrious Client and The Dying Detective.
As for the Beef Wellington, at £42 it is one of the pricier dishes on this list. But, it is 28-day dry-aged beef served with rainbow chard, Hasselback potatoes, Wye Valley asparagus, and red wine jus.
This is a good option for a special occasion or a romantic dinner.
7 Shepherd’s Pie from The Ivy
Another iconic dish from the London dining scene, Shepherd’s Pie from The Ivy has a ton of celebrity fans, including Chef Gordon Ramsay. It has been a favorite on the menu since the restaurant’s beginning over a century ago, but it’s not entirely a Shepherd’s Pie because they make it with both lamb and beef mince.
The Ivy is a great dinner option if you are going to the theater, but it can get crowded, loud, and expensive.
However, the Shepherd’s Pie is “to die for,” and a definite must for anyone looking to eat traditional British food in a nice atmosphere.
6 Ari Gold from Patty & Bun
Like most cities, London has plenty of choices when it comes to cheeseburgers. But, if you want to take your burger experience to another level, you have to try the Ari Gold (named after the neurotic movie agent in the TV show Entourage) from Patty & Bun. It is a 35-day aged Aberdeen Angus patty that drips with gooey American cheese, plus smoky mayo, lettuce, tomato, ketchup, and red onions on a glazed brioche bun.
It is simple, yet juicy, and cooked to perfection. It is exactly how a cheeseburger is supposed to be – an absolute taste sensation that drips a lot, so make sure you eat over the wrapper.
5 Fried Courgette Flowers from Salt Yard
In 2012, this made Time Out’s list of the top 100 dishes in London. In fact, it made the top ten. Americans know courgette as zucchini, and this signature dish from the Salt Yard is deep-fried courgette flowers stuffed with goat cheese and drizzled with lavender honey.
It is a perfect balance of crispy and creamy plus sweet and salty.
One reviewer of this dish called it “life-changing,” and advised people to double up on their portions to avoid table-side fights.
Courgette has only been around in the U.K. for about 80 years, but Salt Yard has learned how to cook it to perfection.
4 Lobster Macaroni with Truffle from 34 Mayfair
An incredibly decadent dish, lobster and shaved black truffle macaroni is part of 34 Mayfair’s brunch menu served on the weekends, and their a la carte menu the rest of the week. For a mac ‘n’ cheese dish, it is an extremely pricey £32, which probably makes it the most expensive mac ‘n’ cheese in the city. So, you might want to save this for a special occasion.
But, this dish is so incredibly good, it is possible that you will cry tears of joy when you eat it because “it tastes like happiness and baby’s laughter” according to Buzzfeed.
3 Beef Dripping Candle at Restaurant Story
This place apparently thinks serving bread with butter – like everyone else – is boring. So instead, this Michelin-starred restaurant has put a clever twist on this delicious treat. You might first mistake it for mood lighting, but you will soon realize that the candle is dripping beef fat. And, as it melts, the holder collects the drippings, so you can dip your fresh bread.
Restaurant Story Head Chef Tom Sellers says that they make the bread from fermented apples and black treacle. Then they finish it with an English-style relish “made from slow-cooked veal tongue, chicken jelly, and pickled horseradish.”
2 Ham Egg And Chips from Max’s Sandwich Shop
This sandwich legend features slow-cooked ham hock, a fried egg, shoestring fries, homemade piccalilli, and malt vinegar mayo on focaccia. Described as main courses between bread, Max’s sandwiches give you a meaty, crunchy, salty, savory, and tangy bite every time.
And, you don’t need a knife, fork, or plate. Instead, they serve the Ham Egg and Chips in a brown paper wrapper with a roll of paper towels on the table to mop up the mess.
Plus, you can order beer or wine to go with your sandwich, which pretty much makes this the best fast food joint ever.
1 Duck and Waffle from the Duck and Waffle
When you go to the Duck and Waffle, it’s a must to order their signature dish, the duck and waffle – crispy fried duck leg, fried duck egg, and a waffle with mustard maple syrup.
Since the name of this dish is also the name of the restaurant, it’s a good thing they nailed it by mashing up a delightful mix of sweet and savory.
The restaurant is always open and is located on the 40th floor of the Heron Tower, so the views are spectacular. But at the same time, it gives you a casual dining in the sky experience.