22 Restaurants That Prove London ACTUALLY Has Great Food
To be honest, I never really had a huge interest in visiting London. To me, traveling is all about the food, and, to put it bluntly, London’s food has a pretty bad reputation. Sure, they’re known for their famous Sunday roast, Yorkshire pudding, a few famous English chefs, and, of course, their afternoon tea, but even local Londoners were the first to complain to me about the quality of food in town.
So, when VisitBritain invited me to come on a trip to document the food scene in London and Scotland, I really didn’t know what to expect. But I’m always excited to explore a new city and make up my own opinion about their cuisine.
What I discovered? An absolutely incredible and diverse culinary landscape! London is filled with international transplants of all varieties (Italian, Spanish, and sooo much great Indian food), as well as classically English restaurants serving local produce and proudly celebrating their British history. I went to tiny hole-in-the-walls with counter-only seating, I went to luxurious multi-course tasting menus in pristine dining rooms, I queued up for a BAO sandwich alongside locals and tourists, I went to the coolest “food court” I’ve ever been to, I had innumerable tiny tea sandwiches and scones, and I tried many a cocktail around the city, you know, for research.
I absolutely fell in love with London. Here are the 22 spots that will make you love it, too:
1. Darjeeling Express – There are three reasons why you need to visit this Indian restaurant. 1) The food is SO good! The red hot flavors explode in your mouth and light up your taste buds – such complex dishes unlike any Indian food I’ve had. 2) Cocktails?! At an Indian restaurant?! Well, I never! These drinks were incredibly creative – my favorite made with their namesake, Darjeeling tea! 3) They have an ALL FEMALE KITCHEN! Hellz to the yassss! Asma, the owner and head chef, is the kindest and most badass woman I’ve met in a long time - paving the way for women in the kitchen. And, not only that, but none of the women are technically trained as chefs; they are all passionate home cooks. From the food, to the hospitality, to the love I felt radiating from the kitchen, this was a meal I’ll never forget. (Side note: Darjeeling Express is located in Kingly Court, which is a really cool, multi-story food court of great restaurants and bars in Soho.)
2. BAO – People queue up for BAO the way they queue up for cronuts in New York City. I followed suit. After waiting only twenty minutes, I scored a counter seat and tried the sesame bao with fried chicken. Delicious!
3. Tea at The Wolseley – If you go to London and don’t have afternoon tea, did you even go to London? The Wolseley came highly recommended from several friends (and their high tea isn’t as pricy as some others in town!).
4. Spring – Time to celebrate another badass female chef! Chef Skye Gyngell has several ongoing campaigns in her restaurant to actively fight food waste. First, she has a 20 euro “scratch” tasting menu made with produce that would normally go to waste – such a lovely way to offer a bargain dinner, while also spreading awareness of food waste in restaurants. Chef Skye also has announced her plan to go completely plastic-free by the end of the year. In addition to her eco-friendly policies, her food is fantastic! Skye celebrates all things seasonal and local, so we started with rhubarb prosecco spritzes, then enjoyed fresh oysters, handmade ricotta tortellini, deliciously tender guinea fowl, and finished with steamed lemon pudding – so tangy and delicious! Spring has one of the most visually stunning restaurant interiors I’ve ever seen: an all white design with millennial pink couches, lots of plants and floral accents. The restaurant is located in the historic Somerset House. (Added bonus: we happened to go here for dinner on the first day of spring!)
5. Mother – Remember when I raved about this pizza place in Copenhagen? Well, now they have a location in London, too! The sourdough pizza is incredible (what everyone comes for!), but be sure to also try their other Italian specialties. They have incredible daily specials (I tried one made with eggs, ricotta, and artichoke!), fresh burrata and prosciutto, foccaccia, baccala fritto, and classic Italian desserts like tiramisu. The location under the bridge in the Battersea Power Station is really special.
6. Dinner by Heston Blumenthal – One of the most entertaining meals I’ve experienced, filled with history and culinary art tricks. For example, their famous “meat fruit” looks exactly like a real mandarin, but it’s actually chicken liver parfait!!! Almost had ya fooled, huh?! Don’t you love when fine dining is FUN?! Such a creative and playful meal with fascinating ties to history, fantastic flavors, and exceptional service. Dinner by Heston Blumenthal has two Michelin stars, and is #36 on the World’s Best 50 restaurant list.
7. Pastaio – Prosecco slushies + the best cacio e pepe I’ve had. Need I say more? This poppin’ pasta spot by Carnaby Street is a must-visit when in London. I’ll meet you there!
8. The Clove Club – What started as a supper club in Chef Isaac McHale’s London flat, quickly became a Michelin-starred restaurant in Shoreditch, the most hipster area of London. In fact, this hard-to-snag reservation landed at #26 last year on the World’s 50 Best restaurant list. I adored my lunch here. Everything from the brilliant blue aesthetic, to the open kitchen, to the incredible tasting menu… I could sit forever eating in that dining room.
9. Gul & Sepoy – A new modern Indian restaurant (from the guys behind Gunpowder, another really popular Indian restaurant in London), also located in Shoreditch. They served absolutely stunning dishes. Seriously, I’ve never seen such intricate presentations of Indian food. We especially loved the yam and paneer kofta chaat, the grilled Malvani oysters, the crispy soft-shell crab, the Kashmiri lamb ribs, and the spring desserts (the citrus polenta cake with cardamom cream was my favorite!).
10. The Ledbury – Commonly referred to as the best restaurant in London, and a certified classic for special occasions, it also has two Michelin stars, and is #27 on the World’s 50 Best restaurant list. It’s easy to see why – Chef Brett Graham has got serious game. (Yep, I’m talking meat!) I loved his deer ham and the preparation of lamb, but his veggies certainly didn’t disappoint either - the hen of the woods was the best mushroom I’ve ever had!!
11. Eneko Basque Kitchen – Michelin-starred Chef Eneko Atxa brought his Basque cooking to London! Located inside the gorgeous One Aldwych Hotel, Chef Eneko offers delicious Spanish sharing plates like sourdough bread with basil emulsion butter, marinated red mullet, trigo wheat pasta with egg yolk and truffles, and a rack of tender lamb ribs, all served with his own wine. Save room for dessert – the rosemary and chocolate cremoso with sheep’s milk curd was divine.
12. Homeslice Pizza – More incredible pizza in London! When we were served this monstrosity of a pie, we thought, there’s no way two people can finish this. Twenty minutes later… nothing but crumbs. That good! We got half and half: aubergine/cauliflower cheese/spinach/harissa and butternut squash/goat cheese. YUM!
13. Ham Yard Restaurant – Gone are the days where hotel restaurants are synonymous with “mediocre.” We tried almost everything on the menu at the gorgeous Ham Yard Hotel’s restaurant, and were blown away! Some highlights: the beef tartare, Dorset crab, beetroot and gin cured salmon, burrata, Endive salad, pappardelle with beef and chorizo ragu (my favorite), and, of course, the coconut panna cotta with pineapple.
14. Jack Solomons – Gorgeous speakeasy located under Sophie’s restaurant in Soho. Ring the bell, enter through the kiosk, and head downstairs to an intimate space with velvet couches and beautiful décor. Their lavender sour might be the best cocktail I’ve ever had???
15. The Sun Tavern – Really fun, chill bar in Bethnal Green. We met friends for drinks here on a quiet Tuesday night, but I’m told it gets quite packed on the weekends.
16. Found – Cozy, downstairs Shoreditch bar, with intimate tables in nooks around every corner. We had a few glasses of wine, and a spicy margarita that was pretty killer.
17. The Lobby Bar – If you’re looking for a glamorous round of pre-theater drinks, the One Aldwych’s Lobby Bar is your spot. We felt oh so fancy with our themed cocktails – I tried the “Circle of Life” tropical rum cocktail served in a glass wheel, and my friend had a raspberry cocktail in a daiquiri glass with the longest stem ever. Ooh la la!
18. La Bodega Negra – Mexican restaurant by day, cool underground bar by night. We loved this popular spot in Soho!
19. Be At One Cocktail Bar – We went dancing on two separate occasions (and two separate locations) at this underground club chain. The drinks aren’t anything special, but the vibe was fun, the music was great, and the dance floor was packed. The one drawback: they charge a 10 euro cover to enter (but that is the case at most clubs we tried in London).
20. Department of Coffee and Social Affairs – Sadly, this is not an official government branch, but, happily, it is a great coffee chain around London. I had a deliciously floral filter coffee, and my friend loved her latte.
21. Prufrock Coffee – Really cute shop in Farringdon. Their pastry case provided quite the eye candy as well.
22. Climpson and Sons – I drowsily stumbled into Spitalfields Market in Shoreditch in desperate need of caffeine and was quite happy to discover Climpson and Sons, a tiny coffee stall near the front entrance of the market. Their powerful Americano was a great antidote for a case of the common jetlag.
Looking for things to do between meals in London? Click here for my guide to London activities & hotels.
Following along on Instagram? See more from the trip at #CarnivorrTravel.