From April 2008 – February 2012 I lived in London. London is my second home, London was the experience of a lifetime. London is half of my heart. The food scene in this sprawling, interesting, diverse and eclectic city rapidly changed and developed while I was there. Now, in 2015, it does not seem to have slowed down, at all. If anything the pace has picked up even further, and a city once known for its well, pretty bad British food, is now a blossoming and thriving international circuit of restaurants that are all doing their best to compete along the same lines of dining meccas like New York, Paris, and Hong Kong. Some restaurants are hits, some are still misses – but all in all there are some excellent locales here, with some of my favorites listed here. I’m admittedly a bit Shoreditch/East London biased as this is where I spent the most amount of time in over the years, but the below is a good round up of all different areas.
Newer hot spots include Lyle’s, The Chiltern Firehouse and Clove Club, all of which are supposed to be excellent. When I was last there in September 2014, I added a few new ones to the mix too, one which was The Palomar which was super fun and super tasty Israeli food, and also worth visiting.
Best places to do brunch
Popular Australian owned cafe in Notting Hill, seems to be packed all hours of the day, all days of the week. Menu has both traditional Aussie breakfast offerings, as well as an array of other options. Buzzy, cool vibe, solid food.
Known for their American dishes and incredibly bright yellow eggs, this one is a good go to spot, also in Notting Hill. Scrambled eggs with smoked salmon and toast always a favorite.
Quirky, cool and 80s themed. There is one in Shoreditch- the better of the two- and another in Angel. Perfect for a Sunday with a hangover, though service is quite slow. Bathrooms coin the phrase “World’s Smallest Disco” on the door and is covered with Fraggle Rock and Hee-man wallpaper, to help give a sense of what to expect.
A personal favorite. Small and simple cafe on a side road near Spitalfields Market. Great when you want to avoid crowds, also good for solo eating. Not far from the famous Brick Lane either, if you want to follow your lunch with a stroll down this lively street.
Franze and Evans
Franze and Evans was always a local go to for myself and my friends. Each day there are a dozen or so fresh made dishes behind the clear counter, alongside a large menu with everything on it from the infamous “Eggs Tricolore” to burgers and chips. Incredible desserts too, the carrot cake is not to be missed.
Traditional but fun British restaurant and store stocked with traditional foods like fish and chips, welsh rarebit and shepherds pie and scones with jam and clotted cream or sticky toffee pudding for dessert. Located underneath the always busy Boundary Hotel and rooftop. The Albion is just off Redchurch Street which is my opinion is one of the best streets in all of London.
Slightly more refined feeling, though still keeps a nice vibe. In a pretty square in the beautiful Clerkenwell area. Brunch is great and dinner offers small but delicious plates to share. Option to sit outside if nice out.
St Ali (now called Workshop)
From the moment St Ali moved from Melbourne, Australia to London, UK, it was a hit. Coffee is king here, as are the unique egg dishes, like the classic Aussie dish of fried corn fritters with halloumi and poached eggs. Grab a seat at the bustling counter, sit back and watch it all go down.
I was eating avocado toast at Caravan before I even knew it was a thing. On the corner of Exmouth Market, which is another great street in London, it’s often nearly impossible to get a table here. Part coffee roastery part restaurant, this is a casual open-air local haunt that has happy vibes and solid food to match.
Best places to do dinner
NYC loft-like feeling restaurant with huge windows and vibrant atmosphere. Menu offers several cold starters (including an excellent ricotta, fig and honey bruschetta), a few more hot starters, a selection of cheeses, and about 8-10 pizzas. Grilled broccoli and sausage is my favorite. Note: since I left London there are now four more locations, as well as one in Chicago. I can’t say if they are all as good as the Shoreditch original.
Princess of Shoreditch
A gastropub at its finest. Sit downstairs for more casual feel, or book a table upstairs to enjoy candlelight and the restaurants excellent Malbec. Small menu, usually one fish, several meats, and a risotto option.
Good, reliable, and cheap. Great spot for a large group, easy to share dishes and talk to everyone you are with at the same time. Drunken fish dish is a must.
Hidden find that not many people seem to know about, even though it’s located on the incredibly busy Rivington Street. Homemade Italian food that is fresh and listed each day on a chalkboard delivered to your table.
19 Numara Bos Cirrik II
Hole in the wall Turkish food in Dalston, excellent.
Punjabi/Indian food on the outskirts of Shoreditch; very popular and definitely an experience.
Very good, well-known Indian in Covent Garden. Solid choice if you want to have this cuisine while in the UK.
Small open air Italian restaurant in Clerkenwell with bottles and bottles of wine covering the walls. Different fresh made pastas every day, great little spot, though hard to get a table at. Get a head start on the gigantic book of wines though, and drink while you wait.
Large space on Exmouth Market housing Meditteranean food, buzzing atmosphere at all times.
On the great, hidden street near Borough Market of Bermondsey. Small sharing plates are the norm here too, with lots of delicious cheeses as the main ingredients, or stuffed vegetables dipped in honey.
This restaurant came onto the scene in 2011, as one of the firsts of the new “NYC in London” trend. There is a no reservation policy here, but the food is well worth the wait. Menu consists of several cheeses, an excellent spinach and egg flat bread pizza, different varieties of bruschetta, small creative salads, trout, and the like. Definitely something for everyone here.
Sister to Polpo, this restaurant is located upstairs in the old French House on Dean Street. Much smaller and more antique sort of vibe than Polpo, the menu is about 1/4th of the size too. This doesn’t mean the dishes aren’t good though – try the oozing Baratta cheese and one of the meats.
Ottolenghi (below) operated Nopi was one of my absolute favorites. I even opted to celebrate round one of my 30th birthday here. Two floors, very white and sleek, and also somehow nautical feeling, it’s a great vibe coupled with amazing food. Menu is divided into vegetables, land, and sea. The grilled shrimp over feta is amongst the best.
Ottolonghi, of the now well known cookbooks like Plenty and Jerusalem, is a haven for vegetarians. Choose from a variety of dishes that are all laid out for viewing (and drooling) at the front of the room. Not cheap, but worth it when you need a solid dose of high caliber vegetables and salads. There are usually a few fish and meat options, too.
Dinner by Heston
High end, experiential eating. Located in the Mandarin Oriental Hotel (in my opinion, the atmosphere is not the highlight here as it’s slightly stuffy and old fashioned feeling), Heston’s city venture will literally take your breath away as the tastes shift and come to life as you are chewing. You will leave here incredibly full and lethargic, but it will be a night to remember. Pineapple dessert, “orange” starter, and creamy mashed potato sides are some of the highlights.
Boca di Lupo
Possibly a bit dated at this stage, but still a good spot if you can manage to snag a reservation. Again, small plates, Italian themed.
I had wanted to try this place for years, and when I finally did, I was highly impressed. Restaurant has almost a basic diner like feel, and all guests sit around an open counter. Choose from fish of the day or sauteed shrimps which are layed out in front of you, and compliment that with grilled salted peppers and an array of other tasty sides.
Old time fave of mine, this was one of the first restaurants I ever went to in London and I never stopped going back. Fun atmosphere, great spot to catch up with friends, and always good for. The mezze starters are among the best – my (big) mix was usually that of halloumi, falafel, grape leaves, and hummus. The favorite main for me was always the chargrilled chicken in peppered milk with a side of salad and rice. There are actually three Gallipolis locations in a row, all with a slight variance. The first one that you would hit if walking from Angel Tube Station was my preference.
Honey and Co
Very small, very good service, very delicious. Israeli owned and operated, you can feel the personal influences in every bite. I wanted to eat everything on the menu but settled for a selection of four different plates, each tastier than the next. Mezze platter was great and included grilled corn as an extra special addition to the usual dips and breads.
Gastropub in the heart of Primrose Hill, this place gets packed on Sundays. Great any day of the week though – tasty wines, great flatbreads with either hummus or aubergine dips, and yummy pizzas can all be found here, plus there is another menu on the huge chalkboard on the wall that changes daily.
A long standing British institution, this is exactly what you are after if looking for an English feeling locale, with a menu that’s slightly more adventurous than just the standard fish and chips and roasts. Cozy, quaint, in the heart of Soho.
Reliable gastropub in the heart of Clerkenwell, dine at wooden tables and a candlelit (but casual) atmosphere. Brunch here is also very good.
Since London was a home base, I’m often also asked about things to do while visiting there. Here are a few of my favorites:
Spitalfields Market, Shoreditch (Sundays)
Borough Market- opened every day (biggest but also most crowded on Saturdays)
Walk the Thames- you can do a great walk from Borough Market all the way past the Tate Modern, the London Eye, and Big Ben
Portobello Market- famous Notting Hill based market
Parks- Green Park and Hyde Park, near Buckingham Palace, as well as Regents Park which is more north
Hampstead Heath- yet another park, near beautiful Hampstead area- if you do go here, grab a bite or drink at The Holly Bush, an incredibly cozy pub
Primrose Hill is also very cool- the Lansdowne is a great lunch spot near there, it’s a very pretty area
Columbia Flower market is great- go on Sunday morning, pretty far out east though, super unique
Brick Lane- infamous street in Shoreditch with dozens of Indian “curry houses,” bars, thrift stores and galleries