You follow mostly food Instagram accounts. You keep a list of local restaurants in a draft email as a failsafe for date night. Chefs Table is your favorite mini-series. I Dream of Jiro is your favorite movie. Yes, we know, and we’re guilty of it too. We. are. foodies.
So, you’re going to London and you want to know how the locals dine out. We’ve had plenty of eyeroll-worthy American moments as we’ve started to feast our way through London in the past 6 months. While our favorite joints are being constantly researched for a future (very future as there are SO MANY good restaurants) post, here’s a general rundown on how to be a smart foodie in London.
1. Your Yelp account won’t be of much use to you here. Reg’s colleagues said it tried to be a thing, but just never took off. Know that if you go to the best Yelp-rated restaurant in a specific part of town, it will probably be filled with Americans. Now, this isn’t all bad. Last year during our big European Vacation we came across many wonderful dinners in Barcelona or Paris after turning to Yelp but these places were generally chock full of tourists. Better off with TripAdvisor or Google Map reviews if you’re looking more low-key, or better asking a friend or friendly local! (Editor Reg Note: I’m starting the Yelp resurgence in Europe, come join us at Yelp name Reg N.)
2. Want cheap beer and eats? Look out for Wetherspoon pubs. They usually have a very British pub-y name but look closer and you’ll see the small, gold-plated “Wetherspoon Freehouse” plaque somewhere tucked under the awning. It’s not your super authentic British Pub, but it’s a decent facsimile. Of course, no one is traveling across the ocean to hang out at the British equivalent of Applebee’s, but if you want to ease up the burden on your wallet for lunch or a few pints, you could do much worse. This pub chain is ubiquitous and filled with locals surprisingly. In fact, one of our British friends described it as “the living room of Britain.”
3. Expect pricing in London, especially in the center of town, to be on par to that of NYC, if not more expensive. Doesn’t matter whether it’s your local Five Guys (very international) or Michelin-star restaurant. Alas, much of that comes from a higher quality of meats and vegetables as the UK tends to have more regulation around use of hormones, pesticides, and all those other deliciously artificial chemicals. Keep an eye out for a local pasty shop–essentially a heartier empanada at a reasonable price, but don’t worry, all the lack of chemicals makes it…err, healthy?
4. Of course, you’ll want fish and chips. Many places only serve them on Friday or have great specials end of week to get rid of Tuesday’s catch. Bring your appetite because these pieces of fish are usually bigger than your head. Bonus: they traditionally come served with some tartar sauce and mushy peas. If you happen to be in London on a Sunday, we also suggest you pop in and help yourself to a Sunday Roast at the nearest pub. (Reg Editor’s Note: Sorry for the extremely low quality, unappetizing pic below. Promise it tasted delicious!)
5. If you find yourself growing tired of all the meat, potatoes, and carbs of traditional British cuisine (I know, as if, right), the best change of pace by far is Indian food. Being from New York, we’ll often bemoan the lack of good pizza and bagels (and Mexican food?) around town. Brits will likewise tell you Americans are complete rubbish when it comes to proper Indian food. The cuisine of the former colony is done up right here. Just like the US, if you stop by for lunch you’ll often find a nice buffet there waiting for you to indulge! You also won’t have to look very far to replicate the Mediterranean flavors of you local halal cart, as well as excellent Doner. Still want to experience British culture, but with a bolder, spicier flavor? African-inspired Peri Peri chicken, most well known when served at your local cheeky Nandos, is also a great fast food option available in nearly every neighborhood!
6. We’d be remiss to write a blog post about eats in London and not mention our favorite gastronomic stop yet. Borough Market! Located right near London Bridge and The Shard, this open-air market is always busy and offers an outstanding variety of booths with all sorts of delicious snacks. Bring an appetite because there are so many delicious options, you’ll likely barely be able to contain yourself. I know we weren’t! Proof below: authentic Italian sandwich plus raclette and potatoes.
Closing Thoughts (aka random bonus tip before we close this post out) – don’t ask for HP (brown) sauce at any place that looks reasonably nice as Reg did. You’re welcome for saving you the embarrassment.