So you’re planning a trip to London and you’re making a list of the top things you must do. Ride the London Eye: check. Selfie at Big Ben: check. See a West End musical: check. Eat British food: check..?
If this isn’t on your list, it should be. Finding the best native cuisine in London might not seem to be as much of a priority as in Paris or Rome, but times have changed. London has leapt to the top of the heap of the great gastronomic capitals on the planet with its world-class restaurants, multicultural food scene, buzzing markets, street food, pop-ups and supper clubs. Food has never been cooler, and it’s not just the modern and the ethnic – British classics are being done to a T, both in trendy hotspots and venues that have been going for 100 years or more.
A quintessentially British feast awaits you.
Fish & chips
OK, so this one probably is on your list – every visitor to London worth their salt seeks out a fish and chip shop. But be sure you find where it's good and proper. The first “chippy” – as Brits affectionately call them – is thought to have been established in the Jewish quarter in the East End of London in the mid 19th century and some stalwarts still serve the best. The Golden Hind in Marylebone has passed its 100th birthday and still tops the list for serving fish and chips as they should be – fresh, crisp, and don’t forget the side of yummy mushy peas (yes, really yummy)!
With the gleaming chrome 1950s' frying station and rock-bottom prices this place is sheer nostalgia. For a contemporary take on the classic, chase up Hix’s FishDog, a 1970s' food truck serving “The Rolls Royce of fish finger sandwiches” (a lovely slab of battered fish in a hot dog bun), and you’ll also get a taste of London’s vibrant street food scene. Follow the van’s whereabouts on Twitter @Fish_dogs.
Pie and mash
Ask any Brit what their favourite comfort food is and they’ll probably say a good pie. Classic British pie and mash shops can still be found in the city, proud to be serving in the traditional environment of checkered tiles and wooden booths. Feeling extra brave? Try jellied eel or parsley liquor – but you probably have to grow up with these delicacies to appreciate them!
Pie and mash shop, M. Manze in Islington offers “the same recipes today as were used in 1902”, and using even better ingredients to meet today’s high standards. For a truly gourmet pie selection, look no further than The Ginger Pig, with various locations around London, using fresh, naturally reared meat from their own farm in Yorkshire, topped with handmade butter pastry.
The Sunday roast is a British institution. All respectable pubs enhance their Sunday lunch menu with a choice of roast meat: beef, pork, chicken, lamb, with all the trimmings: roast potatoes, vegetables, Yorkshire puddings, plenty of gravy, maybe some cauliflower cheese. For the ultimate Sunday roast experience, head to a proper British restaurant such as Hixter, brought to you by British food champion and legendary chef Mark Hix. Here you can share a whole roast chicken or a large cut of perfectly cooked beef, all British-reared, and supplement it with Bloody Marys or Buck’s Fizz (Mimosas).
Olde-worlde British dining
Rules is London’s oldest restaurant, established in 1798 – a time when eating in restaurants was strictly for the elite. You’ll see how little has changed (bookings are essential), and the menu is traditional with a capital T, straight out of Downton Abbey. There’s a leaning towards wild game dishes and the restaurant walls are heaving with mounted horns. Save room for their golden syrup sponge pudding with custard – a truly scrumptious traditional British dessert.
Full English breakfast
Start the day properly: eggs, sausages, bacon, fried bread, mushrooms, bubble & squeak, baked beans, grilled tomatoes, and if you’re brave: black pudding (fried blood sausage). It’s all about the finest ingredients, and Roast, in the heart of Borough Market, excels at this. All ingredients, down to the juicy tomatoes, are fresh from British farms. It’s so good you have to book – yes, that’s right – book a table for breakfast.
High tea is as quintessentially British as it gets, and you simply can’t beat the splendiferous atmosphere of the Thames Foyer at The Savoy. Recline on a sumptuous velvet sofa bathed in natural light from the Edwardian glass dome overhead, as a pianist tinkles the ivories in the background. Take your choice from more than 25 types of tea, poured for you into a bone china tea cup through a silver tea strainer.
Prepare to gorge yourself on delicate finger sandwiches, mini scones with clotted cream and jam, and a bewildering array of exquisitely crafted fruity and chocolatey pastries and cakes. And they are cool about doggie bags, which is blooming marvellous. Enjoy!
Food expert and author Celia Brooks moved to London in 1989 from Colorado Springs. She spent several years as Stanley Kubrick's private chef and went on to publish 8 cookbooks in 10 languages worldwide, as well as writing freelance, teaching, and appearing on TV in the UK, US and Canada. Celia Brooks' London Gastrotours is her highly successful food tour business, offering luxury half-day food tours in London's culinary hotspots.