London food and travel tips

In Buenos Aires, Mark and I met a couple of New Yorkers who were on the last day of their travels. They kindly gave us the notes they had been using, which had been meticulously written by their Argentinian friend who was clearly knowledgeable, passionate and effusive about his capital city.

With these notes, we knew we would have a blast in BA (we did) and promised to return the favour by sending our new Big Apple buddies some pointers for their forthcoming trips to London.

Thought I would post them here in case others might find them useful!

Around Piccadilly Circus/Green Park area:

Sights

  • Piccadilly Circus itself
  • Eros statue
  • Buckingham Palace
  • Liberty department store in beautiful mock Tudor building
  • Carnaby St (funky shops, bars, restaurants – the heart of 1960s flower power)

Eating & Drinking

  • Brasserie Zedel – smack next to the tube station, BZ is a French style bistro in a grand setting that looks expensive, but the prices are astonishingly low and food is very good quality. Also has shows e.g. singers, cabaret. A real gem amongst lots of tourist traps.
  • Bocca di Lupo on Archer St serves fantastic Italian food – the menu is organised by region and is scrupulously researched. The owners also have a great gelateria opposite, Gelupo, for ice cream. Book in advance if you can. Again, a great place to know about in a neighbourhood loaded with tourist traps.
  • The Japan Centre is more of a shop/grocery store than a restaurant but makes its own fresh sushi throughout the day. Decent, affordable sushi to go plus a small area for eating in – a great option for a quick lunch.
  • The Ritz – you have to have a proper afternoon tea when you’re in London! (You don’t just get tea, it’s actually a substantial feed with loads of finger sandwiches, cake, scones etc). The Ritz is the quintessential, famous experience but is expensive and hard to book. Many of the older, grander hotels have beautiful afternoon tea services. Try The Dorchester, The Goring, The Landmark, The Athenaeum or The English Tea Room at Browns as alternatives.
  • Fortnum & Mason – the Queen’s grocer! Photogenic, opulent place to browse, buy gifts, souvenirs etc or just stop for a drink.
  • The Wolseley – gorgeous setting, great atmosphere. Go for breakfast/brunch (order a full English breakfast or bacon sandwich with HP sauce) or afternoon tea, and celebrity spotting!
  • Shoryu – ramen is a big food trend in London right now. This ramen bar has a simple, authentic Tokyo style with good prices.

Around Chinatown/ Leicester Square:

Sights

  • Trafalgar Square
  • National Gallery
  • National Portrait Gallery
  • West End

Eating & Drinking

  •  Avoid the dodgy Chinatown tourist traps and the pushy men trying to wave you inside with menus and go to the Empress of Sichuan on Lisle St for a more refined, less greasy Chinese food experience – it specialises in Sichuan food which can be very spicy.
  • Wong Kei is cheap and cheerful Chinese – it’s nothing fancy whatsoever but it has been around for decades and the waiters are renowned for their hilarious rudeness.
  • De Hems – a historic Dutch cafe/bar, great place for a drink any time, gets lively in the evenings.
  • Burger/Lobster – very popular place that has just two things on the menu (the name of the restaurant is a clue!) and just one price point: £20. The smart choice is obviously lobster – you get a whole one with fries and salad for just £20 which is amazing value especially in the expensive Mayfair neighbourhood. Other branches in Soho, Farringdon and the City too.

Around Soho, Oxford Circus, towards Marylebone:

Sights & activities

  • Selfridges
  • lots of shopping streets
  • parks
  • nightlife

Eating & Drinking

  •  Meatliquor – London´s food scene is obsessed with burgers at the moment and there have been dozens of new places opening recently, all competing to serve the most filthy-tasty, drool worthy burger. Meatliquor started the trend and still reigns supreme (although others worth checking out are Lucky Chip, Honest burgers, Patty & Bun, and the Byron chain)
  • Providores – one of my favourite places for brunch. The Turkish eggs and a Bloody Mary hit the spot!
  • Bone Daddies – My top pick out of the new ramen restaurants that have caused a stir recently. The 22 hour pork broth and soft shell crab dishes are to die for. Great cocktails too.
  • Koya, Frith St – a mainstay of “cheap eats” lists, specialising in incredible thick, slippery udon noodles and inventive daily specials.
  • Yalla Yalla is another good choice for great food at very affordable prices – it serves fresh, healthy and tasty Lebanese street food.
  • Spuntino on Rupert St is very cool – it’s tiny and they don’t take reservations but people queue for the killer cocktails and food (their style is New York esque pimped snack food like sliders, mac & cheese, truffled egg toast) . Best to head at non peak times when it won’t be so busy.

Around Westminster:

Sights

  • Houses of Parliament
  • Big Ben
  • London Eye
  • Westminster Abbey
  • Westminster Cathedral

Eating & Drinking

  • Cinnamon Club for a pricey, but damn good, “posh” Indian. Check out toptable.com, as they sometimes have offers.
  • Anchor & Hope on The Cut – one of the original gastropubs, still good. This is on the other side of the river from Westminster (Waterloo)
  • Also The Ring is a pub on the corner of The Cut and Blackfriars Road. The old home of British boxing. Good pints and great photographs on the walls.

Around Covent Garden:

Sights

  •  Covent Garden piazza
  •  Royal Opera House
  •  good shopping around Neal Street

Eating & Drinking

  •  Hawksmoor Seven Dials serves the best steak in London, and also has an awesome, chic but unpretentious, old fashioned bar which is worth a visit alone – all stunning dark wood panelling etc. The lobster roll in a brioche bun with saffron butter is pricey (£25) but unmissable – best thing to do is share one over cocktails at the bar, then head to the restaurant for your main meal. Book in advance.
  • The Porterhouse – great spot for a pint, if you can choose from the hundreds of beers
  • Belgo’s is a low price Belgian restaurant. Specialises in mussels, chips and beer. “Beat the clock” is worth knowing about – if you order between 5 and 7pm you pay the time you order, ie at 5:30pm you pay £5.30.
  • J Sheekey is a classic venue for pre/post theatre meals – lots of celebs go here. On the pricey side but should be memorable.
  • Dishoom – Highly recommend: really good, modern Indian food, funky décor like a Bombay cafe, mid range prices. Also a branch in Shoreditch, east London. A great way to sample some of the city’s fantastic Indian food.
  • Food for Thought is London’s oldest vegetarian restaurant and still going strong – my dad has been going since the 70s, maaan. Very good value, big portions, tasty even for diehard carnivores!
  • Homeslice pizza will be opening their first restaurant in March in Neals Yard, Covent Garden- they serve great pizza around the city from their street food stall so their first fixed address should be good!
  • Ye Old Cheshire Cheese (on Fleet Street, bit of a stretch to say this is Covent Garden but hey) is a landmark pub that´s been around for centuries.

Around London Bridge area:

Sights

  •  Tower Bridge
  • Tower of London
  • London Dungeons
  • Borough market
  • Tate Modern
  • The Shard

Eating & Drinking

  • Bermondsey St has become a real foodie hotspot. One of my top tips in the whole city is Zucca – fantastic, authentic, unpretentious and affordable Italian. It won an award for 2nd best Italian restaurant in the whole of Europe, including Italy itself!. Their signature veal chop is a must-try. Book now!
  • Also on Bermondsey St are two great Spanish tapas places, Jose and around the corner, Pizarro – both owned by Jose Pizarro (see what he did there). Jose has a no reservations policy and it’s tiny so the queues can get ridiculous. The best time to go is between lunch and dinner rushes, i.e. 3 or 4 pm, for a cheeky sherry and a plate of jamon. I think Pizarro takes bookings.
  • The Garrison is a good gastropub on Bermondsey St – great for modern British food/ pub grub and a pint.
  • Nearby is Magdalen which is a London stalwart – one of the city’s top restaurant critics, Fay Maschler, names this as her favourite restaurant which is quite an accolade! Their menu is modern British, very seasonal and fresh, they change the menu twice a day. You’re guaranteed to have a lovely experience here.
  • Also in this area is Borough Market which is great for browsing, nibbling and shopping – it’s open on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, but Saturdays get very crowded with tourists so I’d avoid then if possible,or at least go early. The restaurant “Fish” in Borough Market has v good fish & chips. A newer, cooler foodie market has recently sprung up around the corner called Maltby St Market – head here to avoid the herds of tourists.
  • Elliot´s Café – in the heart of Borough Market, this buzzy, unpretentious restaurant picks the freshest, tastiest items from the market to put on the menu. Love it.
  • The George Inn – good pub

Around Farringdon:

Eating & Drinking

  • The Eagle, Farringdon Road, is a wonderful gastropub, possibly one of my favourites in the whole city.
  • Moro – highly recommend. Attentive service, interesting flavours, specialise in North African/Moorish food (v similar to Mediterranean/Middle Eastern).
  • The Modern Pantry is also an excellent choice – run by a New Zealander with international influences.

Around Shoreditch and East London:

Sights

  • Spitalfields Market
  • Colombia Road
  • Bishopsgate
  • the Gherkin

Eating & Drinking

  •  Kingsland Road is known as the “pho mile” because of all the Vietnamese restaurants- find your favourite!
  • Poppies – terrific fish & chips in a young, funky setting
  • Tayyabs – A must-visit. Dodge the tourist traps of Brick Lane, turn a corner and head to Tayyabs, a dearly loved institution serving amazing Pakistani food, famous for their spiced, grilled meats. It’s virtually impossible to spend more than £20 per person! No booze licence but you can BYO (bring your own) which keeps costs down 🙂
  • Beigel shop on Brick Lane – forget what you know about New York bagels, a beigel is sweeter, chewier and never toasted. Whether filled with sour cream & smoked salmon or salt beef and English mustard, this place churns out hundreds of beigels to steady queues of happy punters, 24 hours a day (good place to know about if you need a post clubbing snack at 4am)
  • Duck & Waffle – worth a visit just for the turbo powered external glass elevator zooming you above the city at gut-dropping speeds! Food and cocktails decent too, though some of the more experimental flavour combos divide opinion. It´s open 24 hours a day.
  • Ozone – excellent New Zealand coffee roastery which serves killer breakfasts, brunches and lunches. Very hipster, east London style.

South of the river (worth crossing for!)

  • The Ship, Wandsworth – simply a brilliant pub, right on the river. Their scotch eggs are famous. Great venue for a traditional British Sunday roast as well.
  • Brixton Village – a mecca for foodies, this covered market contains Honest burgers, Franco manca, French & Grace and much more! Go hungry and hop from place to place, browsing and eating. Brixton is an interesting place to visit – it used to be a very affluent area (Electric Avenue was the first street in London to get electricity) but is now it´s a bit rundown but still great fun – the huge Caribbean communities mean cool markets, bars and live music gigs in this neighbourhood.

Other foodie tips:

The Ledbury, Notting Hill – I am yet to go, but this is often described the best restaurant in London and has 2 Michelin stars. Pricey but everyone I know raves about it. Would be a memorable treat.

Dinner by Heston – again, haven’t been yet but very high on my list! The “meat fruit” dish is famous – looks like a perfect mandarin fruit but has got pâté inside.

General London tips:

Definitely get an Oyster card (from most tube stations at a window). It will cost you £5 deposit which you can redeem. With an Oyster card you can pass through barriers quickly, like a local, and the fares are cheaper than paper tickets. Oyster cards can be used on the entire London Transport network which includes tube, buses, overland lines, DLR and rail journeys within the city. You can either load the card with credit for “pay as you go” journeys or buy a one day/one week travelcard if you’re going to be travelling around town a lot (I think zone 1&2 travelcards cost around £7 per day or £30 per week, whereas a single fare is a couple of quid, so travelcards are the best option if you will be hopping on and off several times a day).

www.tfl.gov.uk is a helpful website that lets you check if tube lines are running well or have any delays. It’s got a useful Journey Planner tool which tells you the best route from A to B.

Avoid the wrath (or at least, loud tutting) of London commuters: walk quickly, don’t stop near the barriers and stand on the right of escalators, please!

Time Out (free magazine distributed on the street, and online) is a good source of info

Square Meal online – reviews site that lets you search by restaurant, cuisine or area

Pick up an Evening Standard – they’re free daily newspapers which often have good info on things happening around the city

My favourite museum is the Victoria & Albert, followed closely by the Natural History museum (which incidentally is also my favourite building in London). Check them out! You must also go to the British Museum which has enough artefacts to keep you occupied for your whole visit… it’s in the Bloomsbury area which is a beautiful, historic neighbourhood to wander around.

Another fun thing to do is a boat trip down the river towards Greenwich – it gives you a different view of the city and you can visit the home of Greenwich Mean Time.

There is so much more – London is a vast and culturally rich city – but this is enough to keep you busy and well fed for some time.

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3 responses to “London food and travel tips

  1. A brilliant guide to London, even as a Londoner it was helpful! xx

  2. Wow, awesome write-up, Leila!

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