A pub meal in London

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As a cosmopolitan city, London is known for its food – it’s home to some of the best restaurants in the world, after all. There’s also an abundance of food from different countries and cuisines, and it’s definitely possible to eat your way around the world while you’re in London. However, there are a few foods which you should definitely try while you’re here.

While definitely not fine-dining, many of the dishes on this list are easily available from pubs and are probably the closest thing you can get to English home-cooking while you’re travelling.

Here are just a few English foods you should try when you visit London for the first time.

Traditional british battered fish and chips

1. Fish and chips

The first fish and chips shop opened in Oldham in 1863 and they've been a staple in English cuisine ever since. They were a filling and cheap meal back in the 19th Century and were eaten by the working classes. Now they are a firm favourite and are also popular in some of Britain's colonies including New Zealand, Australia and South Africa.

You can buy fish and chips from local fish and chips shops (typically found in town centres and the suburbs) and as a meal at pubs. If you're travelling in London, you'll probably find yourself eating this in pubs, although there are a few smaller fish and chips shops in central London. The fish is typically battered and fried and served with chips (of course) and peas, with a lemon wedge and tartare sauce on the side.

The local fish and chips shop are usually considerably cheaper than pubs (think around half the price). There, you’ll be given the fish and chips in a grease proof paper bag, and you have the option of having the paper opened and eating it with a simple wooden fork or you can have the paper closed, which you can save for later. They typically won’t give you mushy peas like in the pubs though, but people usually sprinkle the chips with salt and vinegar. Keep in mind that they can be a bit greasy.

A dish with traditional beef roast with gravy

2. Sunday roast

As the name suggests, Sunday roasts are typically only available on Sundays and are a hearty lunch usually including a roast meat, vegetables and Yorkshire pudding. The meat is sliced roast beef, a leg of roast chicken, or roast pork, although nowadays there are often also vegetarian options too depending on where you go.

The sides are really as important as the toast. Along with traditional Yorkshire puddings, accompaniments usually include roast potatoes, carrots, greens, and sometimes parsnips and gravy. You can usually find Sunday roasts at pubs and the occasional restaurant - just look for the sign outside.

A full English traditional breakfast.

3. Full English breakfast

You've probably had a cooked breakfast before, but a traditional full English breakfast is in a league of is own. Imagine a plate heaped high with eggs (usually fried, but poached and scrambled are becoming more popular), bacon, baked beans, pork sausages, black pudding (a type of blood sausage), tomatoes, mushrooms and often fried bread. This is of course customisable depending on your preferences and nowadays there are vegetarian options with spinach, eggs, mushrooms, and tomatoes.

While you can get breakfast at some pubs, you'll probably have breakfast at a café, and there are plenty to choose from in London. If you don't mind skipping coffee, try tea with your breakfast - expect classic English Breakfast tea (available from most supermarkets) with a splash of milk.

Of course, if a full English breakfast sounds too heavy for you, there are other breakfasts available. If you want another traditional option, consider kippers (cold smoked herrings) served with scrambled or poached eggs - this has fallen out of favour in recent years, but there are still several restaurants in London which serve this. Otherwise, opt for scrambled eggs on toast, beans on toast or even both.

Fresh Shepherd's Pie, made in a cast-iron skillet

4. Cottage pie / shepherd's pie

A popular home-cooked meal, a cottage or shepherd's pie is a baked meat pie covered with a mashed potato topping. There is no pastry in the pie. Instead minced beef or diced lamb is placed in a dish and is then topped with a thick layer of mashed potato. Most versions of the pie include diced carrot and peas.

Generally, the terms "cottage pie" and "shepherd's pie" are used interchangeably, although shepherd's pie is more commonly used to describe the lamb version of the dish. You can try cottage pie at several pubs in London, where it is usually accompanied with a side-salad.

Beef Wellington on cutting board

5. Beef Wellington

Notoriously finicky to cook, Beef Wellington is one of those dishes it's easier to buy from a restaurant than make yourself. Luckily for you, there are several restaurants in London who make excellent versions of this dish, so definitely try it while you're here.

At its heart, Beef Wellington is actually quite simple. A fillet of beef, wrapped in pastry with layer of pate, mushroom duxelles (a mushroom paste) and often prosciutto. Cut into thick slices, the dish is often served with a side of vegetables and topped with gravy - delicious!

Classic British dinner of Toad in the Hole with vegetables and thick gravy

6. Toad in the hole

A typically British dish, a toad in the hole is a dish of pork sausages baked in Yorkshire pudding batter. Popular since the 18th Century, it was a way for poorer households to stretch out meat while still being a filling meal.

Unfortunately, the origins of the quirky name are unknown, however, presumably the sausages peeking out of the batter are thought to resemble toads peering out of their holes. The toad in the hole is usually served with gravy and vegetables and is available at many pubs around the city.

A doner kebab outside a kebab shop at night

7. Turkish kebabs

Although this isn’t a traditional British dish, a lot of Brits love the Turkish kebabs found in every corner of the street. Originally brought to England by Turkish immigrants, the donor kebab has evolved over the years and is a favourite ending to a night out.

Doner kebabs in London (and the UK in general) are usually made from lamb and can be a bit greasy. Rather than wraps, British doner kebabs typically come with pita bread and a selection of salad which usually includes cabbage and tomatoes. There are also sauces available to drizzle over the top - garlic and chili are popular. These often come in little pots nowadays, so you can choose how much you have on your kebab.

Along with the typical kebab shops, you can find some gourmet kebabs in London which use better quality ingredients. Like the local fish and chips shop, you can also usually find Turkish kebabs in town centres and the suburbs.

Afternoon tea and cakes

8. Afternoon tea

Afternoon tea is a traditional, light meal and cup of tea enjoyed in the late afternoon or early evening. Along with the ubiquitous cup of tea, afternoon tea usually includes cakes, biscuits, pastries and sometimes sandwiches.

Afternoon tea is growing in popularity around the world, especially the fancier, high tea versions, which often include a selection of high quality teas or a glass of champagne. Saying that there's still something wonderful about trying afternoon tea in an English teahouse and London has some beautiful and delicious places to go - opt for afternoon tea in London Bridge if you're after a spot with a view.

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Roxanne de Bruyn

Author - Roxanne de Bruyn

Roxanne is the founder and editor of Faraway Worlds. She is a freelance writer and guidebook author and has written for several travel publications, including Lonely Planet, TripAdvisor and The Culture Trip. With a background in communications, she has studied ancient history, comparative religion and international development, and has a particular interest in sustainable tourism.

Originally from South Africa, Roxanne has travelled widely and loves learning the stories of the places she visits. She enjoys cooking, dance and yoga, and usually travels with her husband and young son. She is based in New Zealand.

Last Updated 29 April 2024

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