The last two decades have seen a transformation of London's dining scene. Stodgy, unremarkable fare is largely a thing of the past, and the capital is now packed with innovative eateries that rival the best in the world. Neil Brook checks in with suggestions for great places to eat…
A visit to London in the 1990s meant trudging the streets in a desperate search for a culinary offering worthy of consumption.
In other words, the food was a bit hit and miss. How times have changed! These days there are amazing eateries across the city, and it’s a matter of preplanning your London dining diary and making advance bookings accordingly.
London is perhaps the most multicultural metropolis on the planet, and that’s certainly reflected in its modern dining scene. It will delight the senses and satisfy the most discerning of tastes.
Here’s a list of great places to eat in London to suit every budget.
Cheap and cheerful
London’s gastropubs are pushing the boundaries of traditional pub fare, and it’s not unusual to find a Thai or Indian kitchen nestled between the kegs pumping out the boutique beers. The pie has been a cherished British staple for generations and even in this new culinary landscape you’ll always find a couple of pastry-topped creations on the menu in most public houses. If you want to eat and run, Battersea Pie Station at Covent Garden will fix you up with a tasty option for around a fiver.
Pho has a number of West End locations, and serves authentic Vietnamese street food. The pho noodle soups are the highlight. Let the chilli and lime dance on your tongue as you slurp up the delicious broth. Wash it down with an icy cold Vietnamese beer.
Celebrity chefs have made the most of London’s growing appetite for good food, and now cover every conceivable angle — from relatively cheap eats to high-end dining. Gordon Ramsay has venues scattered across the city. Heddon Street, wrapped in behind Regent Street, is home to Heddon Street Kitchen. A stone’s throw from the shopping buzz of Oxford Street and Piccadilly Circus, it’s the perfect place for brunch.
Orrery on Marylebone High Street serves elegant French food, with an eye for detail and presentation. Book a table and when you arrive the staff will invite you to dine on the roof terrace on a first come, first served basis. Take up the offer, as the roof concertinas out if the weather doesn’t play ball.
Watch our guide for Sky News Business Class to great places to eat in London:
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Steps on Thayer Street in Marylebone lead down into the cool urban space of Pachamama, where the Peruvian-inspired menu is designed for sharing. Served from ‘mama’s kitchen’, wafer thin sea bass ceviche and Padron peppers with a kick are perfectly complimented by a Pisco (the national spirit of Peru) sour. Happy hour runs from 6-7pm.
With over 30 wines by the glass, served around a horseshoe-shaped bar, the warehouse vibe of 28-50 on Marylebone Lane will entice you to make yourself right at home. Try the three course lunch for £19.50 and treat yourself to two hours of free-flowing champagne for an additional £20 (lunch only).
Carousel is another great dining option to check out in Marylebone. This communal eatery plays host to a continuously changing line-up of guest chefs. Enjoy an intimate culinary experience around shared tables with wall-hugging benches. There’s an art gallery upstairs.
Across the Thames, and Borough Market, under the shadow of The Shard in southeast London, houses an eclectic mix of food stalls, cafes and restaurants. Enjoy sampling the produce as you wander the alleyways. Tapas Brindisa spills out onto the street, creating a buzz that will draw you in. The warm goats’ cheese smothered in orange blossom honey and beetroot chips is heavenly. There are a couple of other London locations.
Smack bang in the middle of Soho and handy to West End theatres is Blacklock, where true carnivores can enjoy delicious chops/meat cuts with all the trimmings. It’s a twist on the usual pre-theatre set course menus offered elsewhere and bookings are accepted before 6pm (after 6 it’s walk-ins only).
If you’re heading to Royal Albert Hall, Bar 190 and the 190 Queens Gate bistro at the Gore Hotel are ideal for a pre-performance drink or dinner. With an intimate bar and relatively small dining room, you’ll need to book well in advance.
The bar serves innovative cocktails, while the bistro, headed by Michelin-starred chef Daniel Galmiche, plates up beautiful French cuisine with a British twist. The line-caught brill melts in the mouth under the flavours of sweet onion, feta and lemongrass. The Rolling Stones launched their Beggars Banquet album right here.
For a West End pre-show tipple and one of the best views in the city, head for the Vista rooftop bar at The Trafalgar Hotel. While the bar closes down for winter, thick blankets and heaters keep the chill at bay throughout autumn. This is the perfect place to get your bearings, with the icons of London’s skyline — Big Ben, the Houses of Parliament, Trafalgar Square and the London Eye — all laid out before you.
Afternoon tea is a time-honoured British tradition, and the Park Room at the elegant Grosvenor House Hotel offers dainty delights stacked high, with an equally impressive array of gin and champagne-based cocktails. Milk or tea first, the choice is yours — or go straight for something stronger.
Restored historical buildings are the perfect setting for elegant dining rooms. The Gilbert Scott — within the St Pancras Renaissance Hotel — is a beautiful example. Book the Chef’s Table and watch the action in the kitchen as you enjoy a leisurely progression of delicious courses, served in the ornate surroundings. Alternatively, just pop in for a quick lunch before the Eurostar whizzes you off to Paris!
If you have a sweet tooth, visit the dessert-only restaurant in The Cafe at the iconic Hotel Cafe Royal in Regent Street. Complete the evening with the winter-warming Absinthe experience in their Green Bar.
To really test your senses (and work through your trust issues) head for Dans Le Noir. Visually impaired waiters serve a tasting menu in the dark, themed around your choice of blue (fish), red (meat), green (vegetable) or white (an exotic surprise). Matched with mystery wines, your trust will be rewarded as you enjoy your meal using only your four remaining senses.
In the booths at Bob Bob Ricard, let your fingers do the talking. With a rather dangerous ‘press for champagne’ button at every table, your favourite bubbly is just moments away. The Russian-inspired menu is reasonably priced, but you can certainly hike up the bill by washing down your Russian caviar with icy cold vodka shots (served at minus 18 degrees) and Cristal champagne.
Alain Ducasse at The Dorchester has deservedly gained three Michelin stars. The lunchtime menu is an affordable steal at £60 (including two glasses of wine), while the evening seasonal menu with wine pairings is one of the finest dining experiences to be found anywhere in London.
Do you have any tips for great places to eat in London? We would love to hear from you. Please leave a comment below.
Additional images: Bigstock
About the writer
As a travel blogger and photographer, Neil Brook travels the world looking to meet interesting people, taste great food, and find different angles from which to write about his adventures. He is privileged to have lived in Australia, the Philippines, Japan, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam and the United Kingdom. More a traveller than a tourist, Neil prefers to mix with the locals, learn their history and culture, and walk the backstreets to uncover hidden gems worthy of praise in words or quiet moments of private reflection.