Gone are the days when London’s food scene left more than a little to be desired. These days the British capital is recognised as one of the world’s great foodie destinations, where Michelin-starred restaurants battle it out with inexpensive ethnic eateries, where food markets are the new rock ‘n’ roll, and where just about everybody likes to think of themselves as some kind of culinary expert. Here we give our expert opinion on why London is great for food lovers and where to sample the best on offer in the capital.
A-Y of cuisines
OK, so it doesn’t quite stretch from A to Z, but London’s range of cuisines comes pretty close. From authentic Afghan food at the Afghan Kitchen in Islington, to yummy Yemeni dishes at the Queen of Sheba in Paddington, via Ethiopian eatery Lalibela in Kentish Town, Georgian grub at Bethnal Green’s Little Georgia, and Peruvian delights at Ceviche in Soho, you can take your taste buds on a gastronomic world tour without leaving the city.
Best of British
While celebrating the wonderful mix of international cuisines on offer, London also provides food lovers with some great options for sampling classic British dishes. Rules, in Covent Garden, is the city’s oldest restaurant (215 years and counting) and the best place to try traditional desserts like sticky toffee pudding. St John, in Clerkenwell, famously pioneered nose-to-tail dining, in which every part of an animal is considered meal-worthy – the roast marrow salad is famous. Great Queen Street, in Covent Garden, is a superior and stylish gastro pub with a menu of seasonal British fare. And Albion, in Shoreditch, is a contemporary cafe-style place where the breakfasts, English wines and local London beers deserve your attention.
Stars in their eyes
London, with over 60 Michelin-starred restaurants in 2013, offers plenty of opportunities for splurging on quality cooking. You can’t go wrong with the innovative Chinese food at Yauatcha, perfect pasta at Locanda Locatelli, or the classic French cooking at three-star Restaurant Gordon Ramsay. But you don’t have to break the bank to enjoy top class dishes – some of the best food you'll eat can be had at inexpensive ethnic options that showcase the city's multicultural cooking scene. Indian food in Whitechapel (try Tayyabs), Turkish food in Dalston (try Mangal Ocakbasi), Chinese food in Chinatown (try Jen Café) – all come with high standards and low prices.
Food markets have become some of London’s most popular attractions. Borough Market has been feeding the city’s citizens since the 13th century and is now busier than ever, providing picnic essentials for the thousands who flock here at weekends. Alternative (but no less tasty) options include super-cool Broadway Market in Hackney, and small-but-perfectly-formed Spa Terminus Market, in and around the railways viaducts near London Bridge train station. More upmarket shopping can be had in the amazing food halls in Selfridges and Harrods department stores. Big enough to get lost in, they’re gourmet wonderlands where you’re guaranteed to discover something you’ve never heard of but suddenly feel the need to try.
Tastings, tours and events
Such is the enthusiasm for food these days that specialist tours and events take place across London. One of the biggest is the Taste of London Festival, held annually in Regent’s Park (in June this year) and part of a global celebration of food. To burn off some calories (and make room for some more), the people at Foodie London have monthly walks around the city, focusing on different neighbourhoods and sampling local favourites.
British cheeses have never been so popular (fact: there are more varieties in the UK than in France) and several wonderful shops across the city specialise in them. Neal’s Yard Dairy, tireless promoter of homegrown cheddars, stiltons et al for over 30 years, has excellent tasting sessions where you can try some of the tastiest cheeses around while learning about how they’re made.
Anyone with a soft spot for chocolate is spoilt for choice, with numerous specialist chocolate makers throughout the city. But if you really want to satisfy your cravings then artisan chocolatier, Montezuma’s, offers Indulgence Evenings for adults, along with kids’ parties for younger fans.
And if you’d like a good red or white to accompany all these gourmet delights, then Vinopolis on the South Bank has wine tours that provide an exploration of all things viticultural, with free samples to add to the enjoyment.
For a rundown of the latest pop-up food outlets, cooking classes and top supper clubs, where a local will prepare a meal for you in their own home, check out Ms Marmite Lover’s The English Can Cook website, which is packed full of useful information and mouth-watering recipes.
This article was published in March 2013 and updated in April 2013.