London Travel Guide

Food

It is a huge task for a visitor to find the "right place" to eat in London - with the "right atmosphere", at the "right price" - largely because, as in any big city, there are literally thousands of venues from which to choose, ranging from fast food joints, pubs, and mainstream chains all the way up to some of the most exclusive restaurants in the world which attract the kind of clientele that don't need to ask the price. Sorting the good from the bad isn't easy, but London has something to accommodate all budgets and tastes. Following is a rough guide to what you might get, should you fancy eating out:

Up to £5 - you can get a good English pub or cafeteria breakfast with a rack of bacon, beans in tomato sauce, egg, sausage, orange juice and coffee or tea. Most pubs stop this offer at 11:00, but there are literally hundreds of backstreet cafes (colloquially known as "greasy spoons") which will serve this sort of food all day. Most supermarket chains offer a "meal deal", consisting of a sandwich, a drink and a bag of crisps or fruit for £3 together, while buying the sandwich only can be the same price. If you are going to be on a budget for several days, the supermarkets are a good option.
£7 - will buy you a couple of sandwiches and a soft drink, some takeaway fish and chips, or a fast food meal. There are also a number of mostly Chinese restaurants which serve an all you can eat buffet for around this price. These are dotted about the West End and it is well worth asking a member of public or a shopkeeper where the nearest one is. These restaurants make much of their revenue on drinks although these are usually still moderately priced. The food while not being of the finest standard is usually very tasty and the range of dishes available is excellent. There are literally thousands of so-called takeaways in London and a cheap alternative to a restaurant meal. Check with your hotel management if they allow food deliveries before ordering in. Most takeaways will offer some form of seating, but not all do.
£6-10 - will get you a good pub meal and drink or a good Chinese/Indian/Italian/Thai/Vietnamese buffet. Be aware that many pubs have a buy-one-get-one-free offer, and you can either order two main dishes for yourself or bring a friend.
£15 - some more expensive French, Mediterranean and international restaurants do cheaper two or three course lunch menus.
£25 - offers you a lot more choice. You can have a good meal, half a bottle of wine and change for the tube home. There are plenty of modest restaurants that cater for this bracket.
£50 (to almost any amount!) - with more money to spend you can pick some of the city's finer restaurants. It may be a famous chef (like Michel Roux, Jr or Gordon Ramsay) or simply a place that prides itself on using the finest ingredients. Worth the splurge to impress a special someone. Note that these establishments often need to be booked well in advance, and most will enforce a dress code of some sort, like Rules of Covent Garden, the oldest restaurant still extant.

Prices inevitably become inflated at venues closest to major tourist attractions - beware the so-called tourist traps. The worst tourist trap food, in the opinion of many Londoners, is served at the various steak houses (Angus Steak House, Aberdeen Steak House etc. - they are all dotted around the West End and near the main train stations). Londoners wouldn't dream of eating here - you shouldn't either! Notorious areas for inflated menu prices trading on travellers' gullibility and lack of knowledge are the streets around the British Museum, Leicester Square and Piccadilly Circus. Even the major fast food chains charge a premium in their West End outlets - so watch out.

Pubs in the touristy areas of London are usually a poor choice for food although there are some brilliant "gastro-pubs" hidden away - use the internet or a good guide (such as Time Out or Datemojo) to find them. In general avoid all pubs that have graphic-designed and printed menus - it's peoples experiences in these kind of places that gives Britain a bad name for food! Look around you - see any locals tucking in? No? - then you shouldn't either. The other rule to follow when avoiding poor food is the same as in any other part of Europe - is the menu available in multiple languages? If yes then start running!

In the suburbs, the cost of eating out is reduced drastically. Particularly in large ethnic communities, there is a competitive market which stands to benefit the consumer. In East London for example, the vast number of chicken shops means that a deal for 2 pieces of chicken, chips (fries) and a drink shouldn't cost you more than £3 especially on Brick Lane. Another good (and cheap) lunch option is a chicken or lamb doner (gyro) at many outlets throughout the city, though meat quality is often poor.

For more authentic Cockney food, try pie and mash, which originates from the working-class in the East End. Usually minced beef and cold water pastry pie served with mashed potato, mushy peas and "liquour" gravy, it tastes a lot better than it sounds. Some of the best pie houses are M. Manze in Peckham or F. Cooke in Hackney Broadway Market. Water Souchet and London Particular (green-pea and ham) are classic Cockney soups, though hard to find on menus. For those game, jellied eels, pickled-cockles and whelks are all traditional London seafood.

Central London's Borough Market offers wholesale produce as well as individual stalls that sell small bites and drinks for a casual and cheap meal. Kappacasein Dairy has a popular stand in the market famous for their grilled cheese which has earned the praise of Giada De Laurentiis and Ruth Reichl.

Tipping may also be different than what you're used to. All meals include the 20% VAT tax and some places include a service fee (10-12%). The general rule is to leave a tip for table service, unless there's already a service charge added or unless the service has been notably poor. The amount tipped is generally in the region of 10%, but if there's a figure between 10 - 15% which would leave the bill at a conveniently round total, many would consider it polite to tip this amount. Tipping for counter service, or any other form of service, is unusual - but some choose to do so if a tips container is provided.

Restaurant streets

While central London is full of restaurants and cafes it is useful for the visitor to be aware that there are some areas where the majority of diners are Londoners, rather than tourists, and in general you will get a much more pleasant, better value, and less crowded eating experience than you will find in the West End. These places are best visited in the evenings.

Upper Street Head to Highbury & Islington (Victoria line) or Angel (Northern line). Dozens of excellent restaurants, popular with young professionals.

Drummond Street in the Euston area has a fine mix of Indian restaurants - a short walk from Euston railway station.(Tube:Euston)

Clapham Junction is not just a train station - but also home to many good restaurants and bars, in particular on Lavender Hill and Battersea Rise.(Overground:Clapham Junction)

Lordship Lane in the southern suburbs - head to East Dulwich station - a good selection of European restaurants and a few award winning gastropubs.

High Street Croydon Croydon is derided by most Londoners, however this suburban gem of a road has at least 30 decent restaurants, including three Argentinians, a South African curryhouse, a couple of fancy modern European brassieres, and just about every other type of cuisine you can think of. Sadly chain restaurants are moving in (Zizzi's, Pizza Express) but most of the places are still independent. Get a quick train to East Croydon station from Victoria or London Bridge.(Overground: East Croydon)

Wardour Street, in Soho, is full of nice cafes and restaurants. (Tube:Piccadilly Circus)

Restaurants

As one of the world's most cosmopolitan cities, you can find restaurants serving food cuisine from nearly every country, some of it as good as, if not better than in the countries of origin.

Indian food in London is especially famous and there is hardly a district without at least one notable Indian restaurant.

If you are looking for other particular regional foods these tend to be clustered in certain areas and some examples are:

Brick Lane in the East End is famous for Bangladeshi curries.(Overground:Shoreditch High Street)
Brixton for African/Caribbean. (Tube: Brixton)
Chinatown just off Leicester Square for Chinese. (Tube:Leicester Square)
Edgware Road in Marylebone and Paddington is popular for Middle Eastern cuisine. (Tube: Edgware Road, Paddington)
Drummond Street (just behind Euston railway station in the London/Camden district) has lots of vegetarian restaurants - mostly Indian. (Tube:Euston)
Golders Green for Jewish fare. (Tube:Golders Green)
Kingsland Road for good cheap Vietnamese.
Finsbury Park and nearby areas for Greek and Turkish. (Tube:Finsbury Park)
Tooting, East Ham, Wembley and Southall for authentic & cheap Indian eateries including authentic South Indian restaurants serving hot pongal, dosas, idlis and other South Indian "tiffin" items.
Kings Street this extends on to Chiswick High Road from Hammersmith Tube Station and is one long road of a choice of restaurants at very reasonable prices, some bargain mentions are the Thai restaurants offering 2 course lunch for £7. Nearby Shepherds bush is about a 15min walk and is alive with bars and pubs in the evening.

Other nationalities are equally represented and randomly dotted all over London. It is usually wisest to eat in restaurants on main thoroughfares rather than on quiet backstreets.

Chains

Like other capitals in the world, London has the usual array of fast food outlets. Sandwich shops are the most popular places to buy lunch, and there are a lot of places to choose from including Eat and Pret a Manger. Some Italian-style sandwich shops have a very good reputation and you can identify them easily by looking at the long queues at lunchtime. If all else fails, Central London has lots of mini-supermarkets operated by the big British supermarket chains (e.g., Sainsbury's, Tesco) where you can pick up a pre-packed sandwich.

Fast food with an Asian flair is easy to find throughout the city, with lots of Busaba Eathai, Wagamama, and Yo! Sushi locations throughout the city. Nando's, a popular pseudo-Portuguese restaurant chain, has spicy peri-peri style grilled chicken. For burgers, GBK (Gourmet Burger Kitchen) has been joined by other franchises such as Byron and Haché.

Vegetarian and vegan

London has plenty of vegetarian and vegan restaurants many of them championing organic foodstuffs, and a quick search in Google will produce plenty of ideas, so you never have to see a piece of cooked meat all week.

If you are dining with carnivorous friends most restaurants will cater for vegetarians and will have at least a couple of dishes on the menu. Indian/Bangladeshi restaurants are generally fruitful, as they have plenty of traditional dishes (good Indian/Bangladeshi options can be found in the Brick Lane area of Spitalfields or further afield in East Ham, Tooting Broadway and Southall. These also tend to be very cheap eats with authentically prepared dishes with a true local ambience). There are also many vegetarian Thai buffet places where you can eat fake meat in tooth-achingly sweet sauces for under £5. These can be found on Greek and Old Compton Sts in Soho and Islington High Street.

Religious

Due to the mix of cultures and religions, many London restaurants cater well for religious dietary requirements. The most common signs are for Halal and Kosher meat, from burger joints to nice restaurants. There are lots of Halal restaurants and shops all over London including Whitechapel Rd and Brick Lane in the East End, Bayswater, Edgware Rd and Paddington and in many parts of north London. There are plenty of Kosher restaurants in Golders Green, Edgware and Stamford Hill along with some central delis such as on Charing Cross Road.

Convenience stores and supermarkets

Convenience stores such as Tesco Metro, Sainsbury Central/Local, Budgens, Costcutter, SPAR, Somerfield as well as privately-run "corner shops" sell pre-made sandwiches, snacks, alcohol, cigarettes, drinks etc. Most are open from 05:00-23:00 although some such as Tesco Metro or convenience stores located at petrol stations may open 24 hours (although they will stop selling alcohol after 23:00). Be aware that Whistlestop convenience stores (located in or around train stations) are notoriously overpriced and should be avoided.

If using a petrol-station convenience store late at night (i.e. after 23:00) the store will be locked and you should order and pay through the external service window.

Supermarkets

Although Tesco and Sainsbury's run smaller stores in central London, full-size superstores (including Morrisons and ASDA) are rare in the city centre and usually require a 15-20 minute Tube ride to reach them. The closest stores to central London are:

The ASDA store close to Crossharbour DLR Station on the Lewisham line. This is about a 15 minute ride from Bank station or at the end of the 135 24-hour bus route.
The Tesco in the Surrey Quays shopping mall which is next to Canada Water station on the Jubilee line - again about 10–15 minutes from the centre of town.
There are larger Sainsbury's stores in both Whitechapel (the nearest Tube is Whitechapel) and in Camden Town (nearest Tube is Camden Town). Both of these stores are located in Travelcard Zone 2.

source: Wikivoyage

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