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There used to be a time when London was ridiculed by chefs, particularly those from France, for lacking any type of cuisine. British food was described as stodgy, tasteless, and soggy. Luckily, these days, British cooking has improved leaps and bounds and menus throughout the city incorporate influences from all over the globe. As a country whose national dish is supposedly Chicken Tikka Masala but whose resident still tuck into their own traditional meals like a roast beef dinner, dining in London has really come into its own. Whether you’ve got the cash to splash on a meal at a Michelin restaurant owned by a celebrity chef or you’re looking to scrape by on street food doesn’t really matter much; both will provide a delicious meal.
Eating Cheap in London
The best way to start a day of sight-seeing in London is to fill up with a decent breakfast. A Full English will set anyone up for the day; expect bacon, sausage, eggs, beans, hash browns, mushrooms, toast and a cup of tea for less than a fiver. May places offer a slightly more lavish breakfast, using the finest local ingredients for up to £10 – all the same components, just better quality.
Lunch on budget is easy to do, too. Any one of London’s markets offer high calibre street food for around a fiver pop. We’re talking mushrooms and potato in Roquefort Sauce at Camden Market, BBQ red snapper with rice at Brick Lane, and Sexy Scallop Sandwich with wasabi mayo at Broadway Market. Never bother with McDonald’s in London, there’s no need – you speak the language and nothing is too suspect.
For a decent evening meal opt for a pre-theatre special in central London. Most places around the west end offer a set menu between 5pm and 7pm with prices ranging from around £15 - £30 for three courses. The Crusting Pipe in Covent Garden is always a good option as is Spuntino in Soho.
A Little More to Spend
Here’s the low down about dining in London: nothing is exactly ‘cheap’ by other cities’ standards and it’s also almost impossible to get a bad meal. Gastro pubs serve delicious meals that are affordable, often offering deals at lunchtime, and most restaurants offer a decent lunch time deals.
If you really do want to try the cream of the crop of London dining, there’s plenty to be found. Celebrity chef Gordon Ramsey is involved with four of London’s top restaurants including his namesake restaurant on Sloane Square, and Maze on Bond Street. Likewise, Jamie Oliver, Ken Hom, and Heston Blumethal all have restaurants in central London. Even French chefs like Marco Pierre White and Raymond Blanc choose to have their flagship restaurants in London. Though be aware that some of these places have waiting lists of two months or more. If you plan to dine in one of London’s top restaurants, make the call as soon as your flights are booked.
Popular Cuisines in London
It’s difficult to stress how much dining in London is influenced by world-cuisines until you’ve seen it with your own eyes. Though Brits haven’t forgotten about their own traditional favourites like Fish & Chips, the occasion of Afternoon Tea and the classic Sunday Roast, the real king of British food is the curry. Rumour has it that Chicken Tikka Masala is the British national dish, hailing from the huge influence that Indian cuisine has throughout the UK. If you’re after a curry in London, the only place to go is Brick Lane in Shoreditch which is known as London’s very own Bangla town.
Like every major city, London has a big Chinatown community – it’s very central, right next to Soho and is great of you want some noodles, tempura prawns, or a delicious soup. Thai food is also becoming popular in the capital.
Brixton, in South London is where the capital’s biggest Caribbean community is. This means spicy jerk chicken, ackee and saltfish, and filled dumplings.
Up in north east London around Stamford Hill, there are tons of Kosher bakeries and bagel shops, then around the same area, and all over London there’s the ubiquitous Turkish kebab shop (perfect for stumbling home after a night at the pub).