Where to eat and drink in London
- England has long since thrown of its reputation for tepid, flavourless food and assumed its rightful place atop the list of the world’s most delicious cities. This is in large part due to London’s multiculturalism, which has tempted entrepreneurs from virtually every country in the world to share their food with us Brits. Whether you’re after traditional British bites, something cultural or an exciting mix of cultures on your plate, then look no further than London.
- There are more restaurants to eat in then there are hours in a year (probably), so here’s our guide to knowing what’s on offer for travellers on a budget or something a little special. A comprehensive list would be impossible, so we’ve taken care to make our “best-of” that little bit extra.
There are a great deal of chain restaurants set up in London, some with hundreds of locations (such as McDonalds or Pret a Manger), and some where there are only a handful of outlets (such as Jamie’s Italian). While these are generally good, price-conscious venues, they also have a tendency to lack the unique charm of independent restaurants, but there are exceptions, so keep your eyes peeled.
The George Inn (London Bridge)
Traditional pub food
There are very few pubs (perhaps, even, only the one) that can claim to have been the drinking dens of such prestigious names as William Shakespeare and Geoffrey Chaucer. Originally called The Tabard, this famous pub was rebuilt in the late medieval period and has a multi-level bar and restaurant that has survived immaculately through the ages. The outdoor gantry looking onto the courtyard is reminiscent of scenes from Romeo and Juliet, and the drinks and food are reasonably priced. The George Inn is a must for anyone interested in drinking in London’s history!
Borough Market (Borough)
International artisanal food
In its current form next to London Bridge under a Victorian canopy and parts of the brick station structure, the market has existed since 1851. However, the position of a market on that site has existed since 1276 and possibly earlier. Borough Market is known throughout the world as being a leading artisanal market, selling breads, wines, British meats, fish, craft beers, fruit and vegetables, juices, cheeses and so on. There are also a number of stalls that sell ready-made meals, on the side next to Southwark Cathedral and offering a panoply of international cuisines.
Gordon’s Wine Bar
This hidden, vaulted wine cave next to Embankment Gardens is a must-do for any London visitor. It gets busy fast on every night of the week but you can book tables in advance for free. If you head through the wrought iron gate and down the tiny entrance-way stairs, you’ll find yourself in an ancient cave covered in newspaper cuttings from bygone eras, and you can sit in the candlelit room with low, vaulted ceilings and a larger caged area at the rear with a beautiful glass of wine. Prices start from about five pounds per glass and range to whatever you’d like to spend.
Brick Lane is home to London’s best curry houses – but keep your wits about you. As there are so many, there are a handful of bad apples that don’t do the best food but piggyback on the fame of the others. Our personal recommendations are the Standard Balti House, Gram Bangla, Sheba, and Chez Elles – actually a French restaurant, but spectacular nonetheless. There is also, at the other end of Brick Lane, the famous all night Baegel house, selling any kind of bagel you could want for those after-hours munchies!
The Prospect of Whitby
One of London’s longest taverns in continual use, the Prospect of Whitby has been functioning since 1520 on the north bank of the Thames. This stunning, multi-level pub has been drunk in by some famous names – including Charles Dickens, Ernest Hemingway and Samuel Pepys (so writers, mainly) – and was a drinking hole for Thames-farers and associated trades, such as smugglers, sailors and generally undesirable people. But if you go in expecting to feel like a pirate, you’re mistaken; it’s a quaint pub with a maritime feel and enough viewing platforms of the Thames that, even on a Friday night, you’ll get those beautiful river views so coveted by visitors. The menu is strong and generous, but a little over-priced.
Oliver’s Jazz Bar
Out in Greenwich, one of London’s most beautiful boroughs, is this tucked away music venue, offering nightly live music in a cosy underground bar, largely candlelit and offering people one of the most romantic evenings available. Their drinks menu is large, with a particular emphasis on wines, but the strength of this shadowy venue is its romance; it demands a date be brought – there are few London venues as promising for love, and while you’re at it, why not get there by taking the Thames clipper along the river and opening a bottle of reasonably-priced Prosecco while you’re at it?
The Clerkenwell Kitchen
This is one of the rare examples of exceptional gourmet food having an every-man price tag. For £12, you could get rabbit braised in red wine with creamy mashed potato and perfect veg. This is a traditional bistro set-up, with breakfast served 8-11, lunch 12 – 3 and tea and cakes from then until 5. The food is organic and ethically sourced, and one can certainly taste it. We’re big coffee fans here, and we can put our hands on our hearts and say theirs is the best that money can buy. The décor is simple and unpretentious; a simple café layout with a view into the kitchen and friendly, knowledgeable staff.
Dans le Noir?
There is no use describing the décor of Dans le Noir, as only a handful of people have actually seen it. This restaurant takes the prize as the most unique in London, as it is entirely pitch black inside, and staffed by blind people. The purpose behind this is twofold; to raise awareness of blindness and the experiences of blind people, but also to heighten the other senses, enabling one to enjoy the food all the more, as well as the conversation of their companions. This is an unforgettable experience, especially as you don’t even know what you’re going to eat. Customers are offered surprise menus loosely categorised around flavours, and as you can’t see it, it’s entirely up to you to suss out what’s on your plate. The same is possible of the wines and drinks.
While ostensibly Belgian, this fun bar offers a global perspective on eating and drinking out. Hidden along the shady Jerusalem Passage in Clerkenwell, this welcoming and colourful frontage gives on to a small but remarkably roomy bar and downstairs saloon. There are over 100 bottled beers, including a lucky dip where customers pick a number and get an unknown, corresponding beer. The menu is Belgian cuisine, and informally served; but it also caters to other tastes. In the evening, it can get busy with the local businessmen drinking, and it becomes more and more raucous as the night goes on!
Definitely on the drink side of food and drink, this is a multi-level, bustling boozer with a good menu, a heated roof-terrace with great views of Camden, several bars and a green room for bands with a large mural of Amy Winehouse on the wall (she was a regular customer). There is great live music regularly, showcasing a range of local talent from up and coming artists and established acts. This venue is the heart and soul of Camden’s rock scene, and gets really full at times – so if you’re after something quiet, you’d best get in early!
Crown and Goose
Tucked away on
Not many pubs have treehouses and split-level gardens, as well as pool tables, and a full Thai menu. But the quiet and leafy home of the Faltering Fullback near Finsbury Park does, and a great deal more. This famous north London drinker feels like three or four venues crammed into one, with a crowded, bric-a-brac laden saloon, a spacious, sports-themed bar and more great spaces. The real selling point of this great pub is the beer garden. It’s not spacious, so instead they’ve built upwards, creating a multi-level, treehouse themed network of seating areas all elevated above the main garden, with a Moroccan feel throughout. The food is reasonably priced and served until 10:30 at night.
Kensington Roof Gardens / Babylon
Before describing this amazing venue, it’s worth pointing out that it’s not cheap. This is the venue to go to if you’re planning to propose, or want to organise that one, super-party for friends, or to go on that one, extraordinary date. The food is, sadly, not the highlight of this venue (but is no means bad); rather it’s the 7th floor setting, overlooking parkland that has been elevated 100ft, complete with streams, waterfowl and flamingos. This is London reasonably high on the opulence scale and is a sell-out and unforgettable night, but be prepared to pay for it.
There’s something satisfying about dedicated pubs; buildings that were meant to be pubs when they were built hundreds of years ago, and the Grade II listed Windsor Castle in Kensington is a beautifully maintained item in this list. With traditional, wood-panelled walls and flooring, climbing plants adorning the façade, an impressive range of cask ales, good food, a beautiful function room and a beer garden that offers customers seating underneath an expansive (and probably ancient) wisteria, this is among London’s best pubs, and any visitor to Kensington can’t do to miss out on a couple of drinks here!
Vegetarian restaurants aren’t a new concept, but there’s certainly something about new west-end restaurant Ethos that’s getting chins wagging. This is globally-inspired, with vegetarian and vegan dishes having been adapted from those containing meat gracing the menu from all over the world. Fusion is certainly atop the priority list, and the restaurant bills itself as “fast-casual”, utilising self-service elements in a minimalist and tasteful interior.