There’s no doubt about it: London is one of the world’s gastronomic capitals. From knock-your-socks-off haute cuisine to finger-licking street food, this diverse city is designed to please every palate. Here’s what’s cooking:
Best Afternoon Tea: The Wolseley
The much-adored Wolseley off Piccadilly Circus is the pinnacle of refinement and British poise—which is precisely why it’s the ideal spot for a spot of tea. Serving well-fluffed scones and the proper accompaniments of jam and clotted cream, as well as finger sandwiches and traditional sweet treats, afternoon tea at the Wolseley isn’t just a meal, it’s a full-scale event. The grand, old-world European setting and the accessible price point (cream tea starts at just £12.75 per person) makes this teatime treat a must.
Bao is a straightforward and minimalistic eatery with locations in Soho and Fitzrovia that attracts long lines for two main reasons: it’s cheap and it’s good. Expect jazzed-up, fluffy Taiwanese bao buns plugged with your choice of braised or confit pork, fried chicken, lamb shoulder, or daikon radish and sides like eggplant fried rice and sautéed scallops with yellow bean garlic. There’s even a fried dessert bao with malted ice cream.
You can’t miss out on Indian food in London, as it’s some of the city’s best cuisine. Dishoom dishes out fun and feisty versions of Indian street food that will have even purists coming around. With a few locations around London (the Shoreditch shop being the original and best outpost), Dishoom’s affordable prices, unfussy staff, and cool interiors make it one of London most consistent hotspots, especially for groups.
Best Farm-To-Table: The Shed
With an emphasis on sourcing ethical, seasonal, and local ingredients from around the UK, the farm-to-fork movement is trending hard in London and showing no sign of slowing down. The Shed, a rustic hipster hideaway in Notting Hill, shows off the best of the movement’s ethos with dishes like gin-cured stream trout. Other hits with farm-to-fork fare include Plot in Tooting and Craft London in Greenwich.
Best Blowout Meal: Hélène Darroze at The Connaught
With two Michelin stars and tons of French sophistication, Hélène Darroze at The Connaught is one of London’s best fine dining establishments. Though the city serves haute cuisine by the bucket load, Hélène Darroze wins for charm, consistency, and sheer style. Instead of a menu, guests in the creamy, plush dining room are given a solitaire board with sixteen marbles labeled with the dishes and asked to pick their courses by placing the marbles on the solitaire board. The menu changes seasonally, which give you an excuse to return every time you visit London. Yes, it’s costly, but yes, it’s worth it. Runners-up in this category include Gordon Ramsay’s protégé’s new restaurant, Core by Clare Smyth, which also has two Michelin stars and the highly praised and extremely decadent Michelin-starred French restaurant, Galvin La Chapelle.
Best Roast Dinner: Simpson’s in the Strand
Simpson’s in the Strand is a historic British institution that recently upped its game with a respectful renovation that covered the traditional interiors as well as the traditional menu. Dating back to 1828, Winston Churchill and Arthur Conan Doyle frequented Simpson’s with regularity, and the restaurant retains a classically British feel — though most will agree that the food has come a long way. The divine roast dinner — either lamb or beef — is carved and served tableside off of silver-domed carts and comes with all the trimmings: duck fat-roasted potatoes; horseradish sauce, thick gravy, and of course, a Yorkshire pudding (baked flour batter; similar to a popover).
Best Street Food: Borough Market
With a history that spans back over 1,000 years, Borough Market is London’s most esteemed artisan food marketplace. The market offers up everything from fruit and veg to cheeses and meats, as well as prepared food and is open every day (though some stalls are closed on Mondays and Tuesday). Stop by during lunch and hit the vendor stalls: Try the mouthwatering grilled chorizo and rocket roll from Brindisa or the “cheese toastie” (grilled cheese) from Kappacasein, and don’t miss the award-winning doughnuts at Bread Ahead for dessert.
Best Full English Breakfast: Dean Street Townhouse
The classic full English usually includes eggs; toast; bacon rashers (back bacon); sausage; black pudding (blood sausage); baked beans; mushrooms; and roasted tomatoes. Needless to say, it’s very filling. Soho’s cool, creative, and classy Dean Street Townhouse does a top-notched full English, which will keep you hungry for the rest of your trip—or at least the rest of your day. Another full English breakfast worth a try can be found at the kitschy and always buzzing Breakfast Club.
Best Unexpected Plates: Osh
Serving adventurous, contemporary riffs on Central Asian dishes (like Uzbek Plov and Bulgarian cabbage rolls), Osh is exciting, unexpected, and unlike anything else in London right now. Dishes are small, so you can try lots of things, but don’t skip out on the eponymous osh, a hot, silky rice and lamb dish. (The cocktails are also creatively delicious.)
Following the trend for all things Scandinavian, Ole & Steen is a simple-but-well done Danish bakery with a few locations around the capital. Though they serve savory items like open-faced sandwiches, the magic happens on the sweet side. Try the addictive Cinnamon Social, a pastry swirled with cinnamon and vanilla custard or the Raspberry Slice, which is like a grown-up version of the Pop Tart, made with shortcrust pastry, raspberry jam, lemon icing, and a sprinkling of freeze-dried raspberries. Other notable sweet stops include the upscale dessert-and-champagne house, Cakes & Bubbles by world-famous pastry chef Albert Adrià and the Mediterranean-influenced pastries at Ottolenghi Notting Hill.
Best Gastropub: The Harwood Arms
Don’t let the relaxed and rustic setting fool you, the Harwood Arms serves some seriously good pub grub — in fact, it’s the only Michelin-starred pub in the city. Expect homegrown British food like wild game and seasonal fruits and vegetables. Though it costs a bit more than your average pub food, the price-fixed lunch and dinner menu options present a good deal.
Best For A Celebration: Bob Bob Ricard
Though it’s lavish (with the price tag to match), Bob Bob Ricard is an Art Deco den of debauchery (or at least champagne and caviar), making it the perfect spot for a big night on the town. Yes, it’s gorgeously dressed in midnight blues, unctuous velvets, and shimmery gold accents, but the British-meets-Russian fare is also sensational. Stuff yourself with lobster dumplings or champagne and truffle humble pie (which is vegan, by the way), and if you need more bubbly, just hit the button in your booth labeled “press for champagne.”
Best Steakhouse: JW Steakhouse
The competition for best steakhouse is fierce in London, and though Hawksmoor and Wolfgang Puck’s Cut at 45 Park Lane, are both first-rate, JW Steakhouse takes the steak—er, cake. Not only is their Creekstone Kansas Black Angus and Aberdeen Angus cooked to perfection on their 1,200 F (650 C) Montague's Legend Series grill, but their ultra-creamy cheesecake may be worth a trip to London alone.
Best Fish And Chips: Toff’s
For some old-school fish and chips (and the digs to match), head to Toff’s in Muswell Hill. The fish (cod, haddock, skate, plaice, salmon, sole, halibut or bass) is fried or grilled to order and served with chips (thick-cut French fries). Don’t forget to add on a side of mushy peas (mashed up cooked peas) to make the meal truly British.
The heart wants what the heart wants, and if it’s a burger that you’re craving, head to MEATLiquor. Dishing up down-and-dirty bar food like burgers, chicken wings, and fried pickles in a punk-rock setting in Marylebone, MEATLiquor has long lines but cheap and delicious grub, making it a cult favorite. Try the crowd-pleasing Dead Hippie Burger made up of two beef paddies fried in French’s mustard and served with lettuce, cheese, pickles, white onions, and a special sauce.