Hopefully by this point, the stereotype of “British food is terrible” is on its way out. After all, Anthony Bourdain spent an entire episode of his show lauding the revolution in British cooking. You no longer need to make your tastebuds suffer while the rest of you enjoys a trip to London.
There are tons of comprehensive lists of the best foods in London, but I wanted to put together my own list of those dishes I think you must-try in London. You’ll recognize some of these dishes – others might be surprising or worth adding to your must-try list on your trip.
In any event, be prepared for your mouth to start wandering. Here are the must-try London foods you need to enjoy, no matter how long your visit.
1. Fish & Chips
Fish and chips are a delicious, fried dish that consists of batter-coated, fried fish and chips. This delightful yet straightforward meal originated in England and has become one of the most famous London foods. It is best served hot and is eaten as a main course – but you can find it as a take-away snack from food stalls around London.
During the First and Second World Wars, the British Government ensured that the supply of fish and chips were secured. This meant that the dish was not subject to rationing and further increased its popularity.
Don’t underestimate this classic: increasingly chefs are making fish and chips with gourmet, fresh ingredients that will redefine your understanding of this “cheap” dish.
2. The English Breakfast
Maybe you’ve heard of the English Breakfast, or know it by its other name: the Full Breakfast (or sometimes the “Full English Breakfast” just to make it a mouthful). It is a well-balanced breakfast that includes bacon, eggs, sausages, black pudding, tomatoes, baked beans, mushrooms, and toast. It is usually eaten with tea or coffee, just to give you a comprehensive start to the day. (Can’t forget the caffeine!)
The English Breakfast is one of the best London foods, and many cafes and pubs serve it at any time of the day. This national meal can be traced back to ancient Anglo-Saxon traditions where it was commonplace to serve a hearty breakfast to guests, relatives, and neighbors. Today you can tuck into it after a few too many at the pub the night before or your overnight flight to London and see why it’s also one of the best hangover and jet lag cures I’ve ever found.
3. Afternoon Tea
The name of this meal does not actually refer to the hot beverage, though that’s usually served as part of it. Instead, it refers to ‘teatime’, an old-fashioned meal eaten in the late afternoon or early evening. This light meal consists of tea, cakes, biscuits, several pastries, bread and jam, and sometimes, sandwiches.
Afternoon tea originates from the observance of customs common among wealthy socialites in ancient England. Anna Maria, Duchess of Bedford, invented afternoon tea, and over time, it has become a less formal meal. In modern times, Afternoon Tea is served by a Teahouse or Tearoom and is sometimes followed with a few glasses of Champagne. You can also find “fancy” or “High Tea” experiences.
4. Sunday Roast
One of the most historic and famous foods to try in London is the Sunday Roast. This sumptuous meal originated in England where it was a common tradition to eat a large meal after church services on Sundays.
This meal is typically served on Sundays, and it features roasted meat, mashed or roasted potatoes, and other accompaniments like stuffing, gravy, mint sauce, and Yorkshire pudding. This mouthwatering dish is also served with vegetables. Those could be roast parsnips, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, peas, carrots, broccoli, or another seasonal option.
You can find Sunday Roast at most pubs on Sundays, so plan ahead if you want to do this during your trip.
5. Bangers & Mash
I don’t know if I can choose favorites, but this might be my favorite London food. Also known as sausages and mash, this traditional London dish is easy to make and has been around for centuries. Popular in Great Britain and Ireland, bangers and mash consists of flavored pork, lamb, or beef sausages served with mashed potatoes. It is usually served with onion gravy and can also include peas and/or fried onions.
Mostly served in pubs, it is difficult to resist the succulent sausages embedded in a delicious, creamy pile of mashed potatoes and fragrant onion gravy. Due to its popularity, this pub grub has been listed as Britain’s most popular comfort food. It’s definitely good to warm up and refuel if you get caught out in a London rain shower.
6. Pie & Mash
Pie and mash is another quick meal that consists of a minced-beef, pastry pie served with creamy mashed potatoes. It is typically eaten with a signature parsley sauce called liquor sauce.
Known initially as traditional working-class food, pie and mash can be traced back to the Victorian era where workers needed hand-sized, cheap, transportable meals. The pies came in handy as they were sizable and easy to carry around.
Jellied eels were also an everyday working-class meal back then, which led to an increase in the number of eel and pie shops in Great Britain. You won’t find many (or any!) eel and pie shops anymore, but if you do – let me know!
7. Indian Food
While it’s certainly a complex and uncomfortable history to confront as you sit down for dinner, Britain’s colonial past is responsible for the incredible Indian food you can find in London today. The Empire helped transfer British culture around the world – but cultural influences, dishes, and flavors traveled back along those same threads.
You can find good (and also iffy) Indian food across London, but the place to go for Indian (and Bangladeshi) food that rivals the best in any other global city is found in Brick Lane. This East London area has changed substantially over the past decade from its rougher days (like when Jack the Ripper preyed on poor women here), but it’s still my top recommendation if you want to understand how amazing Indian food can be.
Cockles are a delicious shellfish cooked and seasoned with malt vinegar and white pepper. It’s a popular street food that was traditionally found in East London. Today, this delicious seafood meal is a traditional Welsh staple. It is usually served with bacon and laverbread (not to be confused with actual bread) at breakfast.
In recent times, cockles have been packaged and sold in sealed packs to be eaten on the go; I definitely saw them at Waitrose when shopping in London. If you love seafood, you should try this unique London food.
9. Scotch Eggs
A close second on my list of favorite London foods is the delightful protein bomb called a Scotch Egg. A scotch egg is a simple snack made of a hard-boiled egg wrapped in sausage meat and coated with breadcrumbs. It is baked or deep-fried and served hot with a dipping sauce.
Scotch eggs were originally served as a dinner dish along with gravy and mustard sauce. They later gained popularity in 1738 when Fortnum & Mason made and sold them as a cold travelers snack.
Scotch eggs are mostly served at picnics and fairs and are also packaged and sold at supermarkets and corner shops. My favorite place to find them is at Borough Market, where they’re made with orange yolk eggs.
I actually grew up eating pasties – though they weren’t English ones. My grandmother used to make Croatian-style pasties with meat and potatoes; that’s not too different than what you’ll find in a pastie in London.
Pasties are made by filling a shortcrust pastry circle with uncooked meat and vegetables, then folding and sealing the edges before baking it. The filling is made with beef, diced potatoes, turnip, and onions and is seasoned with salt and pepper. It’s the English take on an empanada, one of my all-time favorite street foods.
This simple yet delicious pastry is regarded as the national dish of Cornwall and is responsible for up to 6% of the Cornish food economy. Pasties are made with various fillings, and you can pick whichever you prefer when buying from a Pasty Shop.
11. Sticky Toffee Pudding
This is also known as sticky date pudding and is my favorite British dessert. Wrap your tastebuds around this: sticky toffee pudding consists of a moist sponge cake made with chopped dates and drenched in a buttery, creamy toffee sauce. It is mostly served with vanilla ice cream or vanilla custard.
This iconic British dessert has a very light, fluffy texture that collapses in the mouth. It is indulgent, and if you are sweet-toothed, you should definitely try it.
I first had sticky toffee pudding in Scotland (sacrilege!) but have chased it all over the world – the above photo is from Sunday Roast in Richmond, in West London. If you want to try making it at home, I have a sticky toffee pudding recipe you can try.
12. Eton Mess/Trifle
This is another scrumptious traditional English dessert. It is made up of softly whipped cream, marinated strawberries, and crumbled crisp meringue. For those familiar with British desserts, it looks a lot like trifle. (I also have a recipe for how to make British trifle at home.)
Eton Mess originated from Eton College and was initially served as strawberries or bananas mixed with ice-cream. Even today, you can make Eton mess with any other tropical fruit. This English dessert was served at the annual cricket match at Eton College and has since become a well-loved London food.
13. Any Other Ethnic Food
While my list of top London foods has thus far focused primarily on British foods – or those tied to the British Empire – I wanted to include one more suggestion to help make sure you experience everything the London culinary scene has to offer.
People might immediately assume that London does British food and maybe Indian food pretty well – what you don’t know is that you can find any kind of ethnic food in London too. When I lived in London, American and Mexican food (not Tex-Mex) were having a moment; now you can find any food you want, including Venezuelan, Ethiopian, Afghani, Moroccan, Japanese… You name a country, you can eat its cuisine in London.
Once you’ve eaten your way through everything else on this list, start exploring the rest of the world without ever leaving the greatest city on earth.
Which of these must-try London foods tops your list? Let me know in the comments!