I can already hear teeth grinding and the imperceptible sound of hair standing on my head: typical London dishes? But everyone knows that English cuisine is no good! OK, then let me convince you otherwise!
Typical London dishes
Now, I don’t want to say that all the English cuisine is good, but I can assure you that London, which is a huge city and offers the best you can find at all levels, but especially at the gatsronomic level, has so much to offer in terms of food! And no, I’m not talking about Gordon Ramsey and Jamie Oliver’s multi-starred restaurants, although of course there’s nothing to stop you from taking out a mortgage and eating at their place… Seriously, you can eat well for cheap in London, so trust me and come with me on this gastronomic tour of the British capital!
Where to eat in London
Let’s start with the typical English restaurants, which are also the least known among tourists. In reality, it is much easier to rely on one of the large catering chains present throughout the urban area, but why not try something different and unique? For example, dare and enter one of the many typical pubs, frequented almost exclusively by the local fauna, and dine with them! My personal experience leads us to The Troubadour, a pub founded in 1954 which is not only a pub-restaurant, but also a lively meeting point for the jazz and indie music scene in the capital. Almost every night, in fact, with a little extra it is possible to attend sessions with really good artists. But let’s come to the food: the menu that offers this cosy restaurant ranges from appetizers with cheese, olives, hummus and avocado to typical meat and vegetable soups, hamburgers, grilled meat with a side dish of cooked vegetables or salads. But if you really want to try a typical London dish, you absolutely must order bangers and mash, with this very meaning. These are stewed sausages with mashed potatoes, but cooked in a special way, a bit heavy in truth, but you don’t want to do without a gastronomic experience like a real Londoner, do you?
Another experience that I recommend is not lunch or dinner, but the classic five o’clock tea. Here, too, you are spoilt for choice: just think that the most renowned hotels and department stores in the afternoon offer tea with sweet and savoury side dishes. Here too, you can treat yourself to a “bang for the life” and enjoy the luxury of the Ritz Hotel or Fortnum & Mason, but the last time I visited London I decided to go with friends and daughter to a very special place: the famous “cat bar”! It’s called Lady Dinah’s Cat Emporium, and offers a respectable afternoon tea, with the particularity that is enjoyed among a large group of cats living in the bar itself. Obviously there is not only tea, but you can also order various types of coffee (just like in a bar) and drinks, but we opted for the more traditional version, choosing our tea from a refined list that included Earl grey, Sencha, Rooibos and Darjeeling, plus some “house” blends. In addition to the hot drink, a multi-storey tray filled with sweets (including muffins and typical scones, to be enjoyed with jam) and savoury sandwiches is also served. Everything, I must say, really very good. Of course, if you go to Lady Dinah’s you can only be cat lovers, so this experience will leave you with a very pleasant memory!
Street food and typical English products
Don’t want to stay too long in a place to eat? Do as I do and devote your attention to the myriad of banquets and small bars and restaurants that dot the Camden Market or Borough Market area. The former is a true street food paradise, with a specifically dedicated area at Camden Lock level. Of course, many of them are ethnic, so you can choose from Malaysian, Filipino, Mexican, Spanish, Thai, Greek, Mexican, Mexican, Thai… But since we are talking about London cuisine, why not try the spectacular dishes at The cheese bar? Here everything, but everything, is based on cheese: toast, sandwiches, fondue, fried mozzarella, pasta, salads, flans, pies… As for the Borough Market, this is the best place to find the best traditional English food. Every time I go there I take hundreds of photos (some of which you can see here), because the products on sale are not only delicious, but also a feast for the eyes! We find banquets dedicated to bakery and desserts, as well as those selling exclusively cheese (including Cheddar, Stilton, Shropshire Blue, Swaledale and Dorset Blue Vinney), others specialising in cured meats, some offering typical English salty pie (for example pork pie, made with pork, lamb shanks pie, with lamb, chicken and leek pie, chicken and leek pie, and rump beef pie, with beef). Also worth mentioning are scotch eggs, Scottish style eggs in a cheese and sausage shell, and many ready-made game dishes, particularly appreciated by Anglo-Saxon consumers.
Another typical English dish not to be missed is fish and chips: fish fillets, generally cod, fried and with a side dish of chips. There are many places that offer this tasty mix, but few dedicated almost exclusively to it. One of these is Poppies Fish & Chips, where even I, who don’t eat fish, have enjoyed a fried fish for a thousand and one nights! The cod served is white (so without those brown fillets that ruin your eyesight and taste) and cooked to perfection, crispy fries to the right point and a myriad of dips to season it all with. The restaurant also serves other types of seafood dishes, fried or not, such as scampi, squid and fish soups.
Hamburgers in all sauces
Hamburgers are not just synonymous with fast food! There are many places that offer the classic “Swiss” cooked in a variety of ways, but I prefer the Giraffe which, in fact, is part of a restaurant chain. My favourite place is at the Old Spitalfields Market, because here you can eat “outdoors” even in the middle of winter, as you are sheltered in the large covered market! The “burgers” they offer bear highly evocative names: The classic, the oriental-style The vada pav, Smoky Joe, Rodeo chicken, Texan BBQ brisket and The ultimate Giraffe, with the sauce of the house. For those who don’t eat meat, Giraffe also serves excellent salads and tapas.
Ethnic restaurants in London
It’s impossible to talk about food in London without mentioning the ethnic places all over the city! But since there are thousands of them, I will only describe the ones where I ate.
Let’s start with Greek cuisine: every time I visit London I go at least once to eat at The real Greek, a chain that offers fresh and spicy Mediterranean cuisine typical of Greece. My favourite spot is on the South Bank, the south bank of the Thames, near the Tate Modern. There’s nothing missing: from appetizers with typical sauces based on yougurt, aubergine, mint and olives, to the inevitable feta with dolmades, vine and rice rolls, to meat (chicken, pork, beef and lamb) served in the form of souvlaki (small flavoured skewers), meatballs and wraps (a bit like our piadina but overfilled!). There is also no shortage of tiropita, puff pastry pies based on feta, with some excellent variations, including spinach. My advice is to take a compound menu, which is served on typical multi-storey trays, from which all diners can serve themselves. Don’t forget to order the pita, the unleavened bread, separately. To finish off, enjoy the desserts: baklava is excellent, a dessert based on phyllo dough and dried fruit, but also yoghurt with honey and nuts.
As far as Mexican cuisine is concerned, I recommend Wahaca: also in this case there are various venues scattered around London: spectacular is the location on the banks of the Thames, obtained from some overlapping containers. The menu offers the most varied types of burritos, enchiladas, tacos, tortillas with the inevitable guacamole and black beans to round it all off! This cuisine is quite “domesticated”, in the sense that it is not overly spicy, so it is good for everyone, including children. Nice cadeau for all customers: a small package similar to matches, but containing Habanero chilli pepper seeds. I planted them and they came!
As you may have guessed, I like to eat spicy food. Very spicy.
Let’s say atomic, maybe I make the idea… But I was never satisfied with the dishes served to me with the spicy description: they were never satisfied enough! Then one day I found Addie’s thai in Earl’s Court, a modern design place whose motto is eat like a local, eat like a native. I still have the scene in mind: the waiter comes to take the orders, me and my other Italian friends ask for the tom sabb soup, made with chicken, herbs and spices, which appears on the menu with three hot peppers next to the name.
“Look how spicy it is” the waiter warns us. “That’s what we’re looking for,” I reply.
“Look how spicy it is” the waiter warns us. “That’s what we’re looking for,” I reply. He looks at me with an air of challenge and an amused smile and adds nothing else. When the food arrives I taste it: wow, I finally found something to eat! It’s not very spicy, it’s monstrously spicy. And I like it. When the waiter comes back and sees the empty bowls, he makes a face I’ll never forget: he opens his eyes and opens his mouth, but says nothing. Clear spicy Thai cuisine: 1 to 0! But don’t worry if your taste buds aren’t foolproof: this excellent restaurant serves many other dishes based on chicken, shrimp, vegetables and typical spices that are really suitable for everyone.
Let’s stay in Asian cuisine: if you like Indian cuisine, you can’t help but try the Masala Zone! Starting from the well-kept interiors, these restaurants, located all over London, offer a 360° experience that involves all the senses. If you love curries and the like, this chain offers “real Indian street food”, with excellent rice, vegetables, meat and fish dishes dressed with truly spectacular aromatic sauces. The visual impact is also very pleasant: large metal trays arrive on which the various courses are arranged in a choreographic way, in a truly exceptional blaze of colours, aromas and flavours.
If you want to try Vietnamese food as well, read also a previous article of mine, in which I talk about the best Vietnamese restaurant in town: Viet Food.
On my last trip to London I also wanted to try Lebanese cuisine…
On my last trip to London I also wanted to try Lebanese cuisine, and I was very satisfied with Orjowan lebanese, a small, classical-looking, almost subdued restaurant in Earl’s Court. Although it seems obvious, don’t fail to taste their exceptional hummus, cooked to perfection! Also excellent are the lentil and aubergine dishes and the meat (with the clear predominance of lamb) generally served in the form of grilled skewers. There are also some seafood dishes but, if you remember correctly, I don’t eat fish so I can’t guarantee anything on those!