While the last several blogs have been about neighborhoods, I want to take a break to talk about food. England still is the land of fish and chips, but that’s not all it has. I’ve broken the food scene down into unique ingredients/common dishes, drinks to try, and common local chains for when you’re tired and need food. There are plenty of blogs and websites to help with good recommendations for special dinners or ethnic food, both of which are plentiful in London.

Ingredients and Classic Dishes to Try

So, you probably already have British curry and fish ‘n chips (originally a Jewish East End creation) on your list. Lots of people enjoy trying a meat pie or fish pie (called Cornish pasties if made in Cornwall). For meat lovers there are bacon sandwiches and sausage rolls—there are so many kinds of sausages it seems here. (Note: bacon in the UK is what Americans call Canadian bacon; American bacon is called “streaky bacon.”) If you are around on a Sunday, almost every pub will serve a Sunday roast (complete with Yorkshire pudding) though most close their kitchens around 6 PM and can start running out of the most popular roast options around 4 PM, so plan for a lunch roast.

Just about every café (and some pubs) will serve you a cheap cream tea (tea and scones with clotted cream and jam). Afternoon tea (often called “high tea” in the US) can be anywhere from £15-60 per person depending on if you fancy going to the Ritz or a local option. Crumpets are for more than breakfast but can be bought in any grocery store. I like them with lemon curd or melted cheddar cheese.

There are also some ingredients that are popular in British cooking that aren’t as popular in other locations. Korma chicken is a popular curry option and if I start down the wonderful road of Indian food available here, I will never stop. I was so excited to move here and experience all the possibilities with rhubarb for example. Celeriac is similar to celery with a bit more of a nutty taste and often served with fish dishes. The parsnips (particularly roasted) are delicious. While not that unusual, asparagus and strawberries are worth seeking out if you’re here for spring. Mackerel is really salty fish; hake (haak) is more like cod. Plaice is a simple white fish that is delicious. Kippers (smoked fish) for breakfast is particularly popular in Scotland. HP sauce is readily available in pubs and worth trying if you like A1 sauce. In the fall, don’t forget to try fig dishes; they are delicious.

For desserts (called “pudding” in the UK), there are endless possibilities. To add a layer of verbal complexity, puddings like “sticky toffee pudding” are not American custard-like puddings to be eaten with a spoon but rather are steamed cakes. They are very unique and worth trying, but don’t ask for a to-go bag; they are best fresh and hot. Bakewell tart is another local favourite with frangipani (almond flavoring) as the filling. Two common popular cakes are Victoria Spounge and Lemon Drizzle. Christmas cake is a fruitcake with a layer of marzipan and then fondant. (Brits love their fondant.)

Of course, you might need something to grab for your daily snacks. Crisps (potato chips) come in some unusual flavors, but most people love salt and vinegar. After all, they cover their chips (fries) in malt vinegar too. Digestives, shortbread, and custard creams are the standard biscuits (i.e. cookies). You may want to buy some Jaffa cakes too (soft cake-like bottom with a bit of orange marmalade covered in chocolate so you can eat them on-the-go). There is a cool dessert traditionally called tiffin a.k.a. rocky road uses chocolate as a base to hold any number of goodies like honeycomb, crushed up cookies, nuts, and dried fruit. It’s cut in blocks like fudge but is a solid chocolate and, given the lack of heat in Britain, won’t melt on you if you get some to carry around.

Drinks to Love

At the end of the day (or in the middle), you might want to try out some of the breweries in Bermondsey along the “Beer Mile.” If you’re not a beer fan, every pub will have several ciders to choose from, and most will be much drier than what you find in the States.

Gin is so British you may want to add a distillery tour while in London. Though if that doesn’t fit into your schedule, you can try some really great cocktails with some unique gins in many bars and pubs. Also know that gin and tonics are also quite detailed with a variety of types of tonics as well as gins.

Tea is everything (though coffee is now quite popular in the UK). What is still universally true is that most places either do coffee well or do tea well because coffee grinds and tea leaves need different temperatures of hot water and most places go either/or. If you want to enjoy an afternoon tea, this site can give you a listing of many options throughout London. Monmouth Coffee with its two storefronts is a haven for my coffee-addicted friends. If you like local tea stores and tea houses and local coffee shops, you will find no shortage in London.

Water is always needed when you’re out and about, but sometimes the taste can get bland. Brits love to add cordials (particularly elderflower) and “squash” (favoured fruit concentrates) to water. You can pick up these in a grocery and flavour your water before you set out for the day.

Chains to Remember

I strongly encourage you to try local places that don’t have multiple locations, but I also know at the end of a day of touring you just want a familiar sign when decision fatigue sets in. You probably haven’t run across these chains outside Britain, but they are recommended by locals here and are a nice change from Pret a Manager (a British chain if you didn’t know) and Five Guys, which are readily available in London.  You’ll find the British Starbucks equivalents (Costa and Nero’s Cafe) everywhere as well.

  1. Bill’s Restaurant–Recommended for breakfast, lunch and dinner. If you’re near one, it’s worth a visit.
  2. Wahaca–American ex-pats love this English spin on Mexican though expect the nachos to be like soda in Europe–no free refills.
  3. Strada–I really like this Italian restaurant that has a few locations in London. It’s kid friendly and has good pizza.
  4. Gail’s–This is fabulous bakery that is located throughout the city, a perfect break in the mid-afternoon.
  5. Hummingbird Bakery–Again have heard people get pretty excited about the pastries and cakes on offer.
  6. Leon–If you’re at a train station or on a busy street, chances are you’ll see one of these storefronts; they are really good for those with dietary restrictions (vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, dairy-free). The portion sizes are considered small by some.
  7. M&S Simply Food–While not a restaurant, these grocery stores have massive amounts of prepared foods–perfect for picnic sandwiches or for snacks to carry around.
  8. Cote Brasserie–Modeled on French brasseries in Paris, this chain has a really good deal for early evening meal (usually something like 3 courses for 14 GBP) and has a gluten-free menu.
  9. ThaiSq–This is a great stop for amazing Thai food.