Discover ten famous foods in London that you should not miss during your trip to the UK.
Although British food has a historically bad reputation, today’s London has a world-beating culinary scene. This is in no small part due to the capital’s multiculturalism, but more traditional British dishes also provide an excellent dining experience.
So which food in London should you try if you are visiting the UK? From classic British fare to the best-loved multicultural cuisine, here are my handpicked famous London foods that you should try when you next visit.
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Full English Breakfast
Could there be a more satisfying start to the day than tucking into a full English breakfast? Also known as a ‘full English’ or a ‘fry up’, this is a must-eat food in London.
What is in a full English breakfast?
Although there are variations on a full English, expect to find the following on your plate:
– 2 rashers of back bacon
– 1 or 2 pork sausages
– A fried egg (or two)
– Baked beans
– Toast or fried bread
Sometimes you’ll be served black pudding, a ‘delicacy’ made from pig’s blood, fat and oatmeal. It sounds revolting but I love it, particularly dipped in a runny egg. Hashbrowns may also be available.
Vegetarian options are also available. You may wish to steer clear of ordering a morning fry up every day if you are watching your waistline.
Where to eat a full English breakfast in London
Most London hotels will serve components of a full English in their breakfast buffet. Although pricey, the one served at The Wolseley restaurant has garnered rave reviews.
However, for me, the best full English breakfasts are to be had at one of London’s greasy spoons cafes.
Fish & Chips
Fish & chips are perhaps the most famous food in London.
Some credit the introduction of this British staple in the 1860s to a northern entrepreneur called John Lees. Others claim the first fish ‘n’ chip shop was opened in the East End of London by a Jewish immigrant called Joseph Malin.
What is beyond doubt is that this humble dish is finger-licking good.
When you order fish ‘n chips in London, expect deep-fried, battered cod, hake or haddock and chunky chips. For an authentic British culinary experience, liberally sprinkle them with salt and vinegar and add a side of mushy peas.
Fish and chips can be eaten throughout most of the day: as a cheap lunch, early evening meal or a late-night snack. Traditionally fish & chips are eaten on a Friday, a hangover of the Roman Catholic tradition of abstaining from meat on that day.
Where to eat fish & chips in London
Fish and chips are served throughout London, from pubs to upmarket restaurants. However, the best way to eat fish ‘n chips is wrapped up in paper from a “chippy” as Londoners call fish ‘n chip shops.
Don’t leave London without devouring the meaty masterpiece that is the Sunday roast.
Designed to be eaten after a Sunday church service, this most traditional of British foods – it is believed to originated in the 15th Century – is best shared with friends and family. As this is a hearty meal, bring an empty stomach.
What is in a Sunday roast?
A traditional Sunday roast comprises roasted meat plus sides, accompanied by roast potatoes, a Yorkshire Pudding and vegetables, drowned in rich gravy. Vegetables include broccoli, Brussels sprouts, carrots, cauliflower, parsnips and peas. You will also be offered condiments such as apple sauce, mint sauce, or redcurrant jelly.
Where to eat a Sunday roast in London
Sunday roast is available throughout London and some of the best roasts are to be had in pubs rather than restaurants. But to get more bang for your buck, head for one of the capital’s carveries.
A carvery is a very British thing. After paying a (usually) modest fixed price, you get in line for your choice of freshly sliced cooked meat plus a Yorkshire pudding. Then, you continue along the carvery counter, piling your plate with as many vegetables as it can hold, before adding gravy and sauces.
Pie & Mash
Cor blimey, guv’nor. There aren’t many foods more London than the classic Cockney pie and mash.
Once a supremely satisfying British dietary staple, the growing trend for healthy eating is responsible for poor old pies falling out of favour in recent times. However, you can still find traditional pie ‘n mash shops in London that serve a slap-up meal of pie, mash and liquor.
Many traditional pie and mash shops are open at lunchtime only and shut on Sundays.
What is pie and mash?
Expect to be served minced beef pies with flaky lids, mashed potato and liquor, vivid green parsley sauce. Traditionally, liquor was made from the water used to stew eels in. Rest assured that very few places do this now; that green colour is solely due to parsley.
For an authentic London food experience, add vinegar to your mash
Where to eat pie and mash in London
Bangers & Mash
I love a dish of bangers and mash, aka sausages and mashed potatoes. To me, it’s the ultimate comfort food.
This staple of London’s pubs and cuisine tastes good and is cheap and filling. Sausages can be beef, pork, or lamb but one of the most traditional – and best – is Cumberland sausage, a substantial pork sausage from northwest England. Look out for other regional sausages also.
Your bangers and mash should be drowned in rich gravy (onion gravy is the best). Consider it a bonus if your bangers and mash are served in a giant Yorkshire pudding, known as Toad in the Hole.
Where to eat bangers and mash in London
Bangers and mash are served across London and are a staple of pub grub. Mother Mash (multiple locations in London) offers a mix-and-match menu of free-range sausages, mash and gravy for a very reasonable price.
Chicken Tikka Masala
This creamy, aromatic curry is one of London’s most popular dishes.
British Indian curry is quite different from the curry you would be served in Bombay or Bangalore.
London was the location of the first curry house in Britain, which was opened in 1809 by an entrepreneurial Indian migrant. But it wasn’t until the 1970s that curries soared in popularity when an influx of Bangladeshis, escaping war in their homeland, set up curry houses in London’s East End.
However, the stomachs of most Brits don’t tolerate too much spice. In response, they adapted traditional recipes accordingly and British Indian curries, including Chicken Tikka Masala, were born.
Where to eat Chicken Tikka Masala in London
Start your London Indian food journey on Brick Lane, one of London’s best-known streets and the location of a cluster of Indian restaurants. Alternatively, head to the charmingly eccentric India Club on The Strand for a slap-up Indian meal at rock-bottom prices.
Afternoon tea is so much more than food that you must try in London: it’s an experience.
For this, we have to thank Anna, the seventh Duchess of Bedford (1783 – 1857). In the 19th Century, dinner was served at 8 pm and she needed something to fill the gap between lunch and dinner. The Duchess asked for some light food – bread, butter and biscuits – to be brought to her room.
This quickly became a routine and Anna invited a few friends to join her for food and gossip. Thus, a new social event was born and this light food evolved into the more elaborate fare that we are used to today.
Afternoon tea, or high tea as it is also called, typically includes crustless finger sandwiches, scones with clotted cream and jam, sweets and pastries. These are usually arranged on a tiered platter and are served with your choice of tea (or coffee).
Make sure you put aside a few hours for this experience. To make it truly special, why not add a glass of champagne?
Afternoon tea is typically served between 2 pm and 4 pm.
Where to take afternoon tea in London
There is no shortage of places in London that offer afternoon tea, including many hotels and high-end department stores (Fortnum & Mason, Harvey Nichols). There are often discounted deals available.
For a tasty morsel on the go, try a Scotch Egg.
The provenance of Scotch Eggs is hotly debated. Fortnum & Mason claim they developed it in as a luxury snack for the upper classes. Others believe its origins lie further north in the town of Whitby where it was invented by a local establishment, William J Scott & Sons, from which it derives its name.
What we can be sure of is that has nothing to do with Scotland.
What is in a Scotch Egg?
A Scotch egg comprises a slightly gooey hardboiled egg wrapped in sausage meat with is then deep-fried in breadcrumbs to crispy perfection. It can be eaten warm of cold (it is an excellent picnic snack).
Where to eat Scotch Egg in London
For food on the move, pick up a Scotch Egg at one of London’s markets or a supermarket (the own-brand premium ranges are the best buys). If you prefer something more leisurely, wash down your salty snack with a beer at one of London’s pubs. I recommend St John’s Tavern (Archway) and the Holborn Dining Room.
Sticky Toffee Pudding
I hope that you have left room for dessert. We Londoners have a sweet tooth and there are a number of puddings to choose from, including Spotted Dick (*snigger*), Bread & Butter Pudding and Jam Roly Poly. But my favourite is Sticky Toffee Pudding.
Originating in the Lake District of northwestern England, it comprises a dark, moist sponge that has finely chopped dates as its key ingredient, smothered in a sweet toffee sauce. It is usually served with vanilla ice cream or custard.
Where to eat Sticky Toffee Pudding in London
Sticky Toffee Pudding is a staple of menus in London pubs and restaurants.
Strawberries and Cream
Finally, few things scream British summer than a lavish bowl of strawberries and cream. It makes me think of warm sunshine, gently buzzing bees, the tennis at Wimbledon and jugs of Pimms.
It has to be sweet British strawberries in season (usually June – September) served with lashings of cold double cream.
Other Foods to Enjoy in London
These ten foods in London are just my personal favourites. Of course, there are many more London dishes that you can try when you are visiting the capital.
Here are a few other British foods to add to your list:
Bacon butty (or a sausage butty)
A lighter alternative to the Full English Breakfast, this is simply a bacon (or sausage) sandwich. The bacon has to be crisp and thick and the bread white. Those are the rules. Add lashings of tomato ketchup or brown (HP) sauce.
The classic pub lunch of bread, cold meats, cheese, onions and pickles. Best washed down with a local beer.
This light vanilla sponge cake filled with jam and buttercream is my favourite cake.
A variation on the classic strawberries and cream, this dessert is a melange of broken down meringue, whipped cream and berries.
This quintessential English dessert is made from sponge fingers, soaked with sherry, layered with custard and fruit or jam, and topped with whipped cream. Sprinkles are optional.
British cheese board
The UK produces some of the finest cheeses in the world. Why not sample some of the best by finishing your meal with a cheese board?