Even during the supposedly dark days of the 1970s and earlier, when British food’s reputation was terrible – all over-boiled vegetables and slabs of unseasoned meat from a tin – the capital was one of the country’s outliers, full of restaurants covering a broad spectrum of cuisines. But 2020s London is better still, thanks in part to the far higher expectations of the population. In fact, it’s such a great city for eating out that the options are overwhelming, whether your tastes are humble and unpretentious or wildly sophisticated. The best way for a novice to get started is not to try to understand the entire city’s eating-out options, which would be overwhelming, but instead to break down the city into a selection of its component villages and then home in on some of the highlights of each one. We’ve chosen eight areas that bring you everything from Michelin-starred fine-dining to pie-and-mash.
- Brick Lane
- Notting Hill
Not only an area in Tower Hamlets in the East End, Spitalfields also lends its name to the famous market, hands down one of the best places to eat not only in the area but in the entire city. There’s an abundance of restaurants in the market and also an array of gourmet food trucks. The market is open seven days a week until 9.30pm (closing 5pm on Sundays). Highlights include the Punk Chef food truck, I Thai Noodle bar, gluten-free fish-and-chip specialist, Wicked Fish and the Jenki Matcha Bar. There’s also a branch of indie coffee roasters, Alchemy.
Brick Lane (and nearby)
Beyond Spitalfields market, but within the same area, are several more markets. There’s Old Spitalfields Market on Horner Square where the food attractions include Fen Noodles, purveyors of hand-pulled noodles, Nosteagia who offer Hong Kong bubble waffle and Taiwanese bubble tea, Dumpling Shack who specialise in Chinese street food and Merkamo Ethiopian’s array of vegan and vegetarian dishes. At Brick Lane market, two of the star attractions are the Sunday Upmarket, a hall full of street-food sellers with tastes from around the world and the Boiler House Food Hall, with another 30 stalls of international cuisine. The area is also highly recommenced for restaurants and there’s nearby Ely’s Yard Street Food for yet more adventurous and highly creative tastes. Before leaving, don’t miss out on the renowned Brick Lane Beigel Bake, particularly beloved for its salt beef bagels.
Covering the postcodes of W2 and W11 and falling within two London boroughs, Westminter and Kensington & Chelsea, Notting Hill – in West London, though still very central – has undergone huge changes, both demographic and in terms of food, over the last few decades. Expect generally to pay more here than you would in Spitalfields, and you’ll access a dizzying array of great restaurants, including some excellent breakfast and brunch options. Particularly popular is The Ledbury with its two Michelin stars and menu of European and British-inspired dishes, plus lots of vegetarian options. Great for weekend mornings are Farm Girl Notting Hill on Portobello Road, The Electric Diner (on the same street) and Granger and co on Westbourne Grove.
Not only does Soho come with the innumerable food benefits of Chinatown, home not only to some of the best dim sum options in the capital but also to some fine Japanese restaurants, too, this popular section of the West End is heaving with great places to eat for almost every budget. The ever-popular Balans has both a bookable restaurant (at 60 Old Compton Street) and a walk-in option (at 34). Other old favourites include Quo Vadis, while newer kids on the block include the Taiwan-inspired Bao. Elsewhere, you’ll find everything from Middle Eastern to Sichuanese to contemporary Mediterranean.
South of the river there’s no shortage of competitive eating-out options, with Brixton particularly recommended. It’s home to the first-ever Franco Manca (sourdough pizza) but there are dozens of great non-chain places. Try the Village Market and Pop Brixton for various international stalls, and don’t forget the excellent Caribbean restaurants, in particular Fish, Wings & Tings. For Indian, head to Kricket, while affordable Japanese can be found at Okan. And that’s just scratching the surface of what this vibrant area has to offer diners.
No trip south should disregard Clapham, which has been getting more and more Chelsea-like since the 1990s. While some of the bars are dull and generic, you’ll find exciting burger options at Dip & Flip, conscientious dining at Eco Restaurant, great tempura at Tsunami and the famous, one-Michelin-starred Trinity which comes even more alive in summer thanks to its outdoor terrace. If you’re not looking for lunch or dinner, Story Coffee & General Goods makes for a good brunch choice thanks to its popular avocado toast.
So good and plentiful are the restaurants in this central part of North London that the stretch of road reaching from Angel to Highbury has acquired the sobriquet “supper street”. If you can’t find somewhere you like here, you probably can’t find it anywhere. The area boasts the original branch of Ottolenghi. Islington is home to lots of mid-price places, including the popular Italian restaurant, Trullo and the Chinese vegan haven, Tofu Vegan. Award-winning Samual Shiok serves critically-acclaimed Malaysian laksa while if you’re spending slightly more money, head to 12:51 where a mix of British/Scots/Caribbean flavours awaits you and which has a well-liked £28 Sunday lunch deal.
For adventurous visitors willing to head further from the centre, Peckham is an area to watch when it comes to the food stakes. It’s been making pronounced improvements for some time and has places to suit every pocketbook, including Forza Win, a supper club that hosts nights where fresh pasta and a glass of wine only sets you back £10. Though undergoing gentrification, Peckham wears it less self-consciously than Hoxton and Dalston and still has a keeping-it-real air. The Ganapati South Indian Kitchen will give you great curry on the cheap and at M Manze pie-and-mash you’ll emerge similarly well-fed for little financial outlay. Another great low-budget option is Persepolis, with vegetarian food inspired by Iran and North Africa.