The days of “terrible British food” are long gone, as London has stepped up its culinary game in the last few decades, earning it countless Michelin stars and putting it in contention with the other foodie capitals of the world. But many old-fashioned classics can still hold their own, and it’s vital you try them on a trip to London.
While finding just about any international cuisine your heart desires in the capital is possible, you can’t visit England without trying the local tried and true recipes that go back centuries. Family traditions are strong in the UK and recipes are still passed down through the generations, keeping them authentically British.
This list breaks down not only the top dishes either my friends or I personally think you should try (as a vegetarian, I’ve not tried the meat versions of these) but also some of the best places to sit down and enjoy them at. This makes it easy for you to plan meals while visiting London, no matter how long your trip is. Prepare for your mouth to start watering!
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1. Fish and Chips
Nobody does the old classic fish and chips like England, and considering they originated here, a trip to London is not complete without them. The first fish and chip shop was actually recorded in 1860, followed by Mr Lees, who opened a shop in the North of England in 1863. By the middle of the 19th century, the dish’s popularity had spread to London and South East England. And now they’re everywhere!
If you want to sound like a local, refer to fish and chip shops as “chippy.”
Poppies was opened in 1952 by owner Pat “Pop” Newland, and serves up some of the best fish and chips London has to offer, complete with jellied eels and homemade mushy peas. Originally starting in East London, Poppies now has several locations throughout the city, each with a cool collection of 1950s memorabilia filling the walls.
Rock and Sole Plaice
Just minutes from Covent Garden, Rock and Sole Plaice is an honest contender for the best fish and chips in London as well. They use a 145-year-old fish recipe, and have all the traditional trimmings, including pickled eggs, mushy peas and gherkins. You can bask in the sunshine in their outdoor seating area if the weather’s nice.
2. Pie and Mash
Pie and mash originated in the Docks of London around the 1800s and has always been considered a traditional working-class food. It was the original “fast food” and consisted of eels from the River Thames, which made the perfect filling for pies, as they were also cheap. They were served with a liquor sauce, which was a gravy made from the eel stock.
Our pies today are quite different than the original pies. They typically consist of minced beef, mashed potato and are served with a new twist on liquor sauce made from parsley, or, as is more common, gravy. Nowadays you’ll even find chicken, lamb and vegetarian pies.
Goddard’s Pie and Mash
Goddard’s Pie and Mash was established in 1890 and is as traditional as it gets. Being one of the oldest pie and mash shops in London, it’s conveniently located in the heart of Greenwich. Choose from a selection of meat and vegetarian pies and homemade fruit pies with custard!
You won’t find any servers here: grab a tray and order at the counter amidst the hustle and bustle. If it looks overly crowded, don’t worry, the line goes quickly and there’s plenty of seating at the back and upstairs.
If you want to try a traditional pie, head to M Manze. The first M Manze Eel and Pie Shop opened in 1902, and by 1930 there were a total of 14 shops bearing the name. Today, you’ll find a simple menu at the two current locations, M Manze and L Manze. With wooden benches and narrow marble-topped tables, you’ll feel like you’re in the original restaurants.
Offering pie, mash, liquor and eels at a super affordable price, you’ll quickly understand why there’s a long line at the door.
3. Chicken Tikka Masala
Did you know fish and chips are not the national dish of the UK? But you know what is? Chicken tikka masala. Yep, this humble example of British-Indian cuisine has been the national dish of the UK since 2001. But really it shouldn’t come as a shock since England has been home to one million Indians since the late 19th century. The dish originated in the UK, and is believed to have been invented by a Bangladeshi chef in Glasgow.
Chicken tikka masala consists of roasted marinated chicken chunks in a spiced creamy curry sauce, making it orange in colour and hard to miss. Brick Lane is famous for their curry, but you can find this famous dish at any store and many restaurants around the city.
Punjab opened in London back in 1946 and moved to its current location in Covent Garden shortly after in 1951, making it the oldest North Indian restaurant in the UK. The area may have changed over the years, but Punjab is still owned and operated by the same family, now in its fourth generation!
You’ll find history steeped in the walls of the restaurant with framed receipts, family portraits, historic Punjabi figures and diners of the cuisine over the years.
4. Sunday Roast
The great British Sunday roast is at the heart of most Brits’ weekly routine. It’s a tradition where a family comes together and gathers around the dining table, usually in the afternoon, and go on to eat themselves into a roast dinner-induced food coma.
Usually consisting of a variety of meats, like turkey, chicken, beef, pork and lamb, with potatoes, veggies and Yorkshire pudding as trimmings, a Sunday roast is not for the faint of heart; it’s essentially a mini Christmas dinner! You’ll find all of this doused in gravy on overflowing plates. But Sunday roast isn’t just for cooking at home! You can find the best of the best at restaurants around London.
A Sunday roast at The Latchmere is well worth getting out of bed for. With giant-sized Yorkshire puddings and extra gravy, you might have to roll home. You’ll get the best of both worlds here with one half pub and one half formal dining, so take your pick.
Journeying east to The Gun is worth it, without a doubt. The Gun’s Sunday roasts, along with their wine selection, are the perfect pairing. The Yorkshire puddings are absolutely delicious to boot.
5. Afternoon Tea
Afternoon tea was actually introduced by Anna, the seventh Duchess of Bedford, in 1840, and remains a long-standing British tradition. You definitely want to set aside a couple of hours one afternoon to indulge in this time-honoured delicacy, because here’s the catch; it’s not just tea! Nope, afternoon tea consists of delicate finger sandwiches, scones with jam and cream, and a selection of pastries or cakes. Not only that, but often the tea is swapped for alcohol, with champagne the preferred beverage.
You can find “tea rooms” all across Britain and London, of course.
Serving afternoon tea since 1896, Harrods Tea Rooms are now open on the ground floor of the iconic, luxurious department store. They boast an extensive selection of globally-sourced teas, from Earl Grey to Hawaiian Black and Superior Sencha. You’re sure to have a traditional posh afternoon tea experience at Harrods.
The Goring has been serving up afternoon tea even longer than Harrods; since 1840, and they sure know how to do it. With opulent decor, you’ll melt into the backdrop as you spend the afternoon indulging in freshly baked scones, sampling your way through all the teas, and dipping into finger sandwiches and sweet cakes.
6. Full English Breakfast
The ‘Full English’ as it’s commonly referred to, is a feast of eggs, sausage, bacon, mushrooms, tomatoes, black pudding, baked beans, hash browns and toast. Phew. This mighty meal is an experience in and of itself, and is a tasty staple for Brits. You can see why it’s a famed hangover remedy!
The Regency Cafe is often referred to as one of the best breakfast spots in London, and has been serving up the full English breakfast since 1946. It’s a no-frills kind of place, having retained its post-war charm with red-checkered curtains and Formica tables. The famed retro look has attracted filmmakers and it’s been featured in movies like “Layer Cake,” “Brighton Rock,” and “Pride,” as well as several TV shows.
Duck and Waffle
For an upmarket twist on the full English breakfast, check out Duck & Waffle’s. This 40th-floor, 24-hour restaurant has spectacular brunch views across the city, from the famous Gherkin to the River Thames. Serving up breakfast from 6am, the full English includes Lincolnshire sausages, dry-cured bacon, eggs, tomato, mushroom, hash browns and a delicious cheddar and buttermilk scone.
7. Scotch Eggs
You might think scotch eggs originated in Scotland from the name, but London’s own Fortnum and Mason claims to have invented the scotch egg in 1738. What are they, you ask? It’s essentially a hard boiled egg wrapped in sausage meat, breaded and deep fried.
Fortnum and Mason
Since they do claim to have invented them, what better place to try a scotch egg? After you’ve wandered through the plush red-carpeted tea and cake temple, savouring one of Fortnum’s lovely scotch eggs is quintessential British experience.
8. Cornish Pasty
If you’ve ever visited Cornwall in the west of England, then you’ve most likely enjoyed a Cornish pasty. These golden flaky pastries are crimped in a ‘D’ shape and filled with various mixes of meat, swede, potato and onion. They can be eaten hot or cold and have delighted locals and visitors for hundreds of years. But if you aren’t making the trek to Cornwall, never fear, for there are plenty of options in London to pick up a pasty.
Keep in mind though that Cornish pasties are a Protected Geographical Indication (PGI). This means they have a protected status, like mānuka honey. According to the guidelines, only pasties prepared in Cornwall and to the very specific traditional standards can actually be named Cornish pasties. And you’ll know it because they’ll have a stamp of authenticity to prove it. It’s all very proper.
The Regency Cafe makes our list again for the Cornish pasty! Found on Regency Street in Westminster, it’s consistently ranked among London’s most popular eating establishments. You’ll find the pasties here as delicious as any found along the shores in Cornwall. Choose between a classic or vegetarian option, with your choice of sides.
This Bakery has long claimed to be Cornwall’s oldest Cornish pasty maker, established in 1860. Warrens started as a family owned business and is now the largest bakery chain in the South West of England. And lucky for us, they have a shop in London too! They offer the traditional beef pasty, peppered steak, or vegetarian options, including the interesting cheese and marmite flavour. You’ll get consistently good quality and prices with these guys.
9. Salt Beef Beigel
Beigels (Bagels for Americans) have been a popular London treat since the Jewish immigrants from Poland starting baking them in the 19th century. The beigels are actually boiled in water and then baked at high temperatures and are best served with salt beef, which is like corned beef, but sliced thicker.
Brick Lane Beigel Bake
Beigal Bake is a 24/7 bagel shop that is a completely affordable indulgence. The line is always long, but it moves fast for the hungry visitors waiting on their epic portions of salt beef, smoked salmon, cream cheese and pretty much any other topping imaginable. Or just treat yourself to some heavenly beigel bites. Whatever you choose, you can’t lose at Beigal Bake!
No, it’s not a food, but I felt I should thrown in one of the most popular drinks you’ll find all over London, in the pubs and the shops. Cider is made from fermented apples and with more than 45% of the apples grown in the UK being used for making Cider, it’s safe to say this is a favourite alcoholic drink and something you must try in London.
The Green Man
The Green Man boasts a hefty cider selection, where you’ll find up to ten on draft, and at least twice as many by the bottle. They even have their own ‘Green Man Special’ cider.
Hawkes Cidery and Taproom
London’s first urban cidery happens to be on the Bermondsey Beer Mile. You can visit the taproom for samples of the in-house creation, Urban Orchard, or any other fruity bottled offerings.
So, what do you think? Have you tried any of these brilliantly British foods yet? While there’s so much to choose from in London, I personally think these ten are what you seriously need to consider indulging in on your next trip to the capital!
Hi, I'm Kat, an Australian that moved to London in 2013 to start a new adventure. What a roller-coaster that was! I love helping others move to the UK and people explore the world! I’d be honoured if you’d say, “Thanks!” with a £3 coffee on Ko-fi.