Great Places to Eat in London: From Cheap to Chic, UK
The last two decades have seen a transformation of London's dining scene. Gone is the stodgy, unremarkable fare of the past, and the British capital is now packed with innovative eateries that rival the best in the world. Here's a handy checklist of great places to eat.
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Cheap and cheerful
London’s gastropubs are pushing the boundaries of traditional pub grub, and it’s not unusual to find an in-house Thai or Indian kitchen sitting side by side with the beer kegs. The pie has been a cherished staple for pub goers for generations, and even in this new culinary landscape you’ll generally find at least one flaky creation on the menu. If you want to eat and run, Battersea Pie Station at Covent Garden will fix you up for around a fiver.
Chinese, Indian, and Thai have long ruled the roost as the United Kingdom’s most popular Asian cuisines, but Vietnamese is fast catching up. Pho has a number of West End locations and serves authentic street-style eats. Let the chilli and lime dance on your tongue as you slurp up a delicious noodle broth.
One factor has shaped the UK’s dining renaissance like no other — and that’s the rise of the ‘celebrity chef’. Today these apron-clad publicity machines champion everything from healthy school lunches to haute cuisine. Famously forthright Gordon Ramsay has branded eateries scattered across London, including the popular Heddon Street Kitchen. Situated just off Regent Street, a stone’s throw from the shopping buzz of Oxford Street and Piccadilly Circus, this is the perfect place to cool your retail jets over brunch.
Quality French fare is rarely moderately priced, but the two and three-course a la carte menus at Orrery on Marylebone High Street go against the grain. The detail and presentation here are impeccable, but the bill won’t decimate your holiday food budget. If you have a booking, the staff will invite you to dine on the rooftop terrace on a first come/first served basis. Take up the offer, as the roof concertinas out if the weather doesn’t play ball.
Further south on Marylebone’s Thayer Street, steps lead down to the cool urban confines of Peruvian-inspired Pachamama (‘mama’s kitchen’). The wafer thin sea bass ceviche and Padron peppers with a kick are complemented perfectly by a Pisco (the national spirit of Peru) sour. There’s a sister venue over in Shoreditch.
With a warehouse vibe, horseshoe-shaped bar, thirty wines by the glass, and an inventive ‘bar bites’ menu, it’s easy to make yourself right at home at 28-50 on historic Marylebone Lane. If you’re up for a more substantial meal, try the two or three-course lunch menus for £23.95/26.95 respectively (at the time of writing). They’re both exceptional value and are designed to showcase the finest seasonal produce.
Variety is the spice of life, and that’s certainly the case at Carousel. This communal-style eatery/wine bar has a new home in Fitzrovia and plays host to a continuously changing line-up of guest chefs. The space is also used for a variety of events, including cooking and wine appreciation classes.
Across the Thames, Borough Market sits in the shadow of The Shard and houses an eclectic mix of food stalls and casual eateries. Tapas Brindisa spills out onto the street, creating a buzz that will draw you in. The warm goats’ cheese smothered in orange blossom honey and beetroot chips is heavenly. Brindisa also has restaurants in Soho, South Kensington, Battersea, and Richmond.
Smack bang in the middle of Soho and handy to West End theatres is Blacklock, where true carnivores can enjoy delicious chops/meat cuts with all the trimmings. It’s a twist on the usual pre-theatre set course menus offered elsewhere, and bookings are accepted before 6pm (after 6 it’s walk-ins only). There are three other London locations (Covent Garden, the East End, and the city).
If you’re heading to Royal Albert Hall, Bar 190 and the 190 Queens Gate bistro at The Gore Hotel are ideal for a pre-performance drink or dinner. With an intimate bar and relatively small dining room, you’ll need to book well in advance. The bar serves innovative cocktails, while the bistro plates up beautiful French cuisine with a British twist. The Rolling Stones launched their Beggars Banquet album right here. Note: 190 Queens Gate is currently closed for renovations and will reopen in the not too distant future.
For a West End pre-show tipple and one of the best views in the city, head for The Rooftop bar at The Trafalgar Hotel. While the bar closes down for winter, thick blankets, and heaters keep the chill at bay throughout autumn. This is the perfect place to get your bearings, with the icons of London’s skyline — Big Ben, the Houses of Parliament, Trafalgar Square and the London Eye — all laid out before you.
High tea is a time-honoured British tradition, and the Grosvenor House Hotel’s Park Room offers a suitably salubrious setting and dainty delights stacked high. Tea with milk and sugar, or something a little stronger (i.e.: an array of gin and champagne-based cocktails) — the choice is yours.
Feed all five senses (and work through any trust issues) by dining at Dans Le Noir. Visually impaired waiters serve a tasting menu in the dark, themed around your choice of blue (fish), red (meat), green (vegetable), or white (an exotic surprise). Matched with mystery wines, a world of incredible taste sensations awaits you — unfiltered by habitual sensory cues.
In the booths at Bob Bob Ricard, your fingers do the ordering! With a rather dangerous ‘press for champagne’ button at every table, bubbly is always close at hand. The Russian-inspired menu is relatively reasonably priced, but washing it down with icy cold vodka shots (served at minus 18 degrees) and Cristal champagne will certainly hike up the bill.
And finally, there are few gastronomic experiences that can match the seven-course tasting menu served at Alain Ducasse at The Dorchester. Deservedly awarded three Michelin stars, French super-chef Ducasse sends one ‘wow’ culinary moment after another over the kitchen pass.
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About the writer
As a travel blogger and photographer, Neil Brook travels the world looking to meet interesting people, taste great food, and find different angles from which to write about his adventures. He is privileged to have lived in Australia, the Philippines, Japan, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam, and the United Kingdom. More a traveller than a tourist, Neil prefers to mix with the locals, learn their history and culture, and walk the backstreets to uncover hidden gems worthy of praise in words or quiet moments of private reflection.