With so many great food options in one of the world’s busiest cities, deciding what to eat can be a daunting question. If it’s your first time in London, you’ll want to get a sampling of the best fish & chips, afternoon tea, local gastronomy, and more, all in a short visit.
A Guide to London for Foodies
I lived in London as a graduate student and ate my way through as much of the city as I could in a year. Here are my tips to help you get the most out of your first time in London and find bucket-list spots to inspire your next trip to the British capital.
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If you’re a foodie planning a trip to London, you’ll know that the Indian food scene is famously good. You could try the notorious Brick Lane curry shops, but why risk illness or stomach-destroying spice when you have so much more to eat?
My advice: skip Brick Lane and try one of these excellent spots instead.
There are tons of great curry shops in the city, but for your first time in London, start with Dishoom. It’s famous for a reason. The popular chain has several locations in the UK. Shoreditch is my favorite, but the quality is consistent at all of them.
Dishoom is inspired by the old Irani cafes of Bombay. The decor, cocktail list, and menu evoke that old-world nostalgia. Start with a drink at the bar and peruse the creatively named cocktails. Don’t skip the house black daal, the chicken ruby, and a roomali roti to mop it all up.
Tip: There will inevitably be queues at Dishoom at any time of day. Go at an odd hour to avoid the rush. If you can’t avoid peak times, it’s not the end of the world; they sometimes serve free chai while you wait.
Hoppers used to be a well-kept secret, but it isn’t anymore. Queues can be up to 2 hours at this hopping (pun not intended, but a happy accident) Sri Lankan restaurant in Soho. Luckily, there are many bars and pubs nearby to help you kill time.
As someone who grew up eating a lot of Sri Lankan food, I felt like I had struck gold when dining at Hoppers. The food is authentic, delicious, and very affordable for London. The restaurant’s namesake is a thin, crispy, crepe-like pancake in the shape of a bowl. Egg hoppers are the same, with a runny-yolk egg in the middle.
If you only try one dish here, make it the bone marrow varuval. It’s basically melty meat butter soaked in curry. Extremely dippable. All the curries are good, but the black pork is arguably the best. Get the pol sambol (coconut) or the seeni sambol (caramelized onion) to accompany any curry/hopper combo.
Breakfast & Brunch
I usually skip breakfast or eat on the go while traveling, but there are a few spots worth waking up for. These are my top breakfast picks in London for foodies.
Duck & Waffle, City
Located near Liverpool Street station, Duck & Waffle offers great bird’s-eye views from the 40th floor, if you’re lucky enough to visit on a day that’s not blanketed by thick London fog. The dress code is smart casual.
Food is small-plates style and meant to be shared. The signature dish, the duck & waffle, improves on the traditional chicken-and-waffle combo and is well worth naming a restaurant after. Mustard lends a savory note to the maple syrup, and the duck confit and fried duck egg impart a richness you just can’t get with chicken.
The ox cheek doughnut is another favorite, a satisfying pairing of meat with a traditional dessert format coated in spicy-sweet paprika sugar. If you have a sweet tooth, go for The Full Elvis—a waffle with peanut butter, brûléed banana, and all the trimmings.
While I prefer brunch, Duck & Waffle is open 24 hours in case a late-night craving strikes.
Tip: Advance bookings are essential. Make a reservation online to guarantee your seat.
St. John Bakery, Bermondsey
The custard donut at St. John’s has achieved cult status in London. For years, loyal followers have trekked to St. John’s various locations in the morning, hoping they haven’t sold out. Pillows of fried dough stuffed to bursting with sweet, rich vanilla custard, they’re quite possibly the best donuts I’ve ever eaten.
These iconic custard pastries are now available in Bermondsey on Druid Street, under the railway arches. Start with the vanilla custard, but try a few of the others too (chocolate, lemon curd, butterscotch)—they’re all good. On weekends only. Get there early, because when they’re gone, they’re gone.
Brick Lane Beigel Bake, Shoreditch
More of an anytime snack than a morning meal, the salt beef bagel became popular with the late-night/early-morning crowd as a tasty way to soak up the booze after a night of partying. Open 24/7, Beigel Bake serves some of the best bagels in the city, piled high with thick slabs of salt beef.
Slather some sinus-clearing mustard on your salt beef bagel and take it with you while you walk through Shoreditch, perhaps to the Brick Lane Sunday Market down the street.
British food gets a bad rap, but it doesn’t deserve one. Try some classic dishes during your first time in London and you’ll be convincing everyone that actually, British food can be quite good if you know where to go.
Poppies has a reputation for serving the best fish & chips in London. Having been in the business since the 1940s, this chippy has a retro vibe, with a jukebox and decor reminiscent of the ‘50s. Expect to see newspaper-wrapped chips and be transported back in time.
Despite the kitsch, Poppies serves up authentic fish & chips, complete with homemade tartar sauce and their famous mushy peas. (One of Poppies’ secrets to success is that they have their very own in-house fishmonger, who prepares the fish on site.) Choose between cod and haddock and don’t forget to add malt vinegar.
If you still have room afterward, their sticky toffee pudding is a safe bet.
Battersea Pie Station, Covent Garden
If you’re looking to sample some authentic British pie & mash during your first time in London, look no further than—surprisingly—Covent Garden. There’s nothing quite like the satisfaction of coming in from a cold, rainy day, sitting down in a warm pub, and digging into a steaming pile of savory pie and mashed potatoes.
I’m not a vegetarian, but after many steak and ale pies, the butternut squash and goat cheese version at Battersea continues to be my favorite. Pies are served with a generous helping of silky smooth mashed potatoes and rich red-wine gravy.
Tip: Battersea Pie can be hard to find if you don’t know where to look. Take the stairs down to the lower floor of Covent Garden market and you’ll find it under the arches.
St. John Restaurant, Clerkenwell
There are many fine-dining venues to choose from, but if you’re making time for one upscale meal during your first time in London, make it dinner at St. John restaurant. St. John is often referred to as an institution, and chef Fergus Henderson the pioneer that popularized offal on English tables.
However, the restaurant’s nose-to-tail approach to food isn’t its only claim to fame. The cooking simply is just that good. Flavors are rich but delicate. The restaurant simultaneously subverts expectations of Michelin-star grandeur while fending off negative associations with offal. Make an evening of it and see why St. John has won the acclaim it has over the past two decades.
There are so many great tea options in London that it’s hard to go wrong. Skip the tourist trap of afternoon tea at the British Museum and treat yourself to the full experience at a nice hotel instead.
The Savoy, Strand
If you’ve come to London for some of that old aristocratic elegance, this is the way to experience it. At £65 per person, afternoon tea at The Savoy is nothing to sneeze at. The Thames Foyer at the hotel is a beautiful, luxurious space where you can revel in glamour, at least for an afternoon. Advance bookings are essential.
Tip: Looking for a budget-friendly option? Plenty of hotels offer quality afternoon tea at a fraction of the price of The Savoy. When I was a graduate student living in London, I often found great deals on Groupon for high-end afternoon tea. The Park Grand Kensington Hotel was one of my favorites.
London Pizza Joints
Franco Manca, many locations
Franco Manca showcases slow-rising sourdough pizza in true Neapolitan style. The crust is so authentic that even my picky Italian friend approved. Although the pizza chain has expanded to over 40 locations, it has stayed true to its roots, sourcing ingredients from local suppliers and making fresh dough every day. Pizzas start from £5, making Franco Manca one of London’s most affordable lunches. Try the No. 4 with ham, ricotta, and wild mushrooms.
Pizza Pilgrims, Soho
Pizza Pilgrims started in a van and grew into one of London’s most successful pizza joints, with several bricks and mortar locations. The Dean Street branch in Soho was the first. The classic ‘nduja pizza remains a bestseller, and it’s one of the best cheap eats in London.
More International Food in London
Although Bao has three locations now, Fitzrovia is the only one you can book at. Having stood outside in the queue on a rainy day waiting for a table at the Soho branch, I can tell you that booking is definitely the way to go. Bao’s specialty is its namesake—fluffy Taiwanese bao buns filled with pork, beef short ribs, or black cod.
Roti King, Euston
Roti King is the gold standard of cheap eats in London. One of the most popular restaurants in London, this place serves up roti canai, a Malaysian flatbread. Don’t get too comfortable—tables are limited, so you’ll want to take yours to go. Luckily, there are plenty of parks nearby for a picnic lunch.
Barrafina, Covent Garden
Come here for some of the best tapas in London. Always crowded, but worth the wait for the classic Spanish tortilla. You just have to experience it firsthand to understand Barrafina’s long history as one of the most recognized restaurants in London. Best for groups of two or three, as you’ll be sitting at the counter.
Best Markets in London for Foodies
Markets are often the best venues for browsing cuisines and getting a sense of the local flavor in a new city.
Still hungry? London food tours are another great way to sample the best bites in the city. Local tour guides can help you cover all the essentials in a short amount of time.
Borough Market, London Bridge
The most famous market in London, Borough Market is a foodie’s paradise. Here, you can find everything from exotic fresh produce (like dragon fruit and rambutan) to the smells and sizzles of street food.
The chorizo roll at Brindisa and the cheese toastie at Kappacasein are some of London’s most famous sandwiches. Be warned that the cheese toastie is gooey, full of stinky cheeses, and at the end of a long queue, but worth it and very shareable.
If you haven’t had enough cheese yet, stop by Neal’s Yard Dairy. Sample cheeses from all over the UK and Ireland and pick up a block to take to a picnic later. Goat’s milk ice cream from Greedy Goat is another popular novelty. And you can’t leave Borough Market without buying a donut from Bread Ahead.
Tip: I suggest going on a Wednesday or Thursday when the full market is open but isn’t as crowded as it is on weekends. Don’t plan to visit Borough Market on a Sunday—it’s closed.
Southbank Centre Food Market, Southbank
Although overshadowed by the bigger, flashier Borough Market, Southbank Centre Food Market is one of my favorites. It has cuisines from around the world, including fusions like Korean BBQ burritos at Korrito. I especially love the samosa chaat from Horn OK Please. Odd name, great food.
If you’re in the mood for a tipple with lunch, the market boasts a few booze purveyors, including Honestfolk and The Hop Locker. Dessert options are equally vast—choose from pasteis de nata, cronuts, or huge cookies.
Your London Food Guide
There’s no way you can eat everything on your bucket list your first time in London, but this guide should give you a head start on the city’s can’t-miss spots while you bookmark a few bites for your next trip. Bon appetit!
After you’ve seen Buckingham Palace and eaten fish & chips, what do you do on a second visit to London? Check out my guide for more things to do in London.
About the Author
Mimi is a California-based writer and the creator of An Omnivore Abroad. An American expat who lived in London, she plans all her travels around food. An Omnivore Abroad is dedicated to sharing those culinary experiences and tips for fellow travelers and foodies.