Answers from Our Experts (5)
London's dining scene is constantly reinventing itself, with new restaurants opening up at an almost alarming rate, new chefs hitting the headlines and new trends trickling down through the food chain. Londoners are keen readers of restaurant reviews and people like to stay abreast of the latest thing.
Trends come and go of course – whether it's fancy fast food or restaurants where you can't make a reservation – but a couple of things remain constant amidst all this frenetic activity: overall quality of experience and a dedication to multiculturalism. London's dining scene is one of the best in the world because of its extraordinary variety. They say that over 230 languages are spoken in London and I wouldn't be surprised if there were that many different cuisines represented in restaurants across the capital too (including classic British cookery of course). For foodies, this is an infinitely exciting place to be.
In a word: eclectic. Declared “the restaurant capital of the world" by the three Michelin-starred French chef Alain Ducasse, London's status as one of most multicultural cities on earth is demonstrated by its vast array of dining options.
Spend six months in the British capital, and you could try a different national cuisine every night of the week, from Afghani to Zambian. However, if you're short of time, prioritize these three London taste experiences.
Choose a British restaurant at random and you may be disappointed by the food, but be more selective and you'll be surprised by the quality and subtlety the much-derided cuisine can offer. London's greatest celebration of traditional British food is the Michelin-starred Dinner by Heston – ranked the ninth best restaurant in the world by Restaurant magazine.
London has a large and long-established south Asian population, which makes it the perfect place to sample Indian cuisine. So spice up your life with a trip to the best of the bunch, Tamarind.
From melt-in-the-mouth jerk chicken to sumptuous saltfish, Caribbean cuisine is widely available throughout the capital. But for the most authentic culinary experience, head south of the river to the colorful district of Brixton. The Jamaican eatery Bamboula here is an absolute delight.
There are at least 300 languages spoken on the streets of London, and probably not far off that many different types of cuisine available, if you look around. And not just the big ones like Chinese, French, Turkish, Thai, Italian, and the like. If you search hard enough, you can also eat like a Georgian, a Peruvian, an Ecuadorian, a Nepali, an Eritrean, and many more
One trend that doesn't seem to be going away, however, is the Londoner's love of Americana. It's nigh-impossible to get a short-notice table at Balthazar, the latest Franco-New York sensation to hit Covent Garden. There are no advanced reservations at tiny Pitt Cue, in Soho. The vibe is southern-rustic; pair a simple meat and side combo (say, beef ribs and green chilli slaw) with something from the bourbon list.
Further east, Dukes Brew and Que is another southern-style rib joint. The meat in the sliders is slow-cooked til it melts; the pork ribs look like they've been pulled from a dinosaur. It also has its own microbrewery (Beavertown)—one of the most innovative in the city—and a wide range of tap and bottled beers sourced from London and the USA. The menu is even simpler at stripped-brick, Brooklyn-style Burger & Lobster, a branch of the mini-chain next to Smithfield meat market. Pick a burger, or a lobster, or burger and lobster... and throw back a cocktail or two on the side. It's loud and informal and bags of fun.
London's dining scene is second-to-none. This is a true culinary city and despite what you may have heard, long gone are the days of mediocre meals served by surly staff - at least if you pick your places carefully!
To avoid choosing badly, follow the locals. Ask for recommendations and pick places populated by local-sounding voices. Avoid anywhere that looks like a tourist trap - especially around Covent Garden where low-grade places are plentiful (don't even think about going into an Aberdeen Angus Steakhouse). Above all, avoid chains you have back home - why travel if not to try different food from what's available to you the rest of the time?
Here are some of my suggestions for places to start:
London has some of the best Indian food outside Delhi, with a curry house on almost every suburban high street. Brick Lane is known as the epicentre of Indian cuisine but you will find Indian food everywhere - just beware the hotter curries, Brits aren't shy of the spice!
Thai food is also big business now, and there are numerous Thai restaurants in the centre of town. Try the Thai Square chain for reliably high standards of food and service. For Chinese, head to Chinatown and indulge in an all-you-can-eat buffet.
Mexican food is a more recent arrival to the London dining scene. La Perla and Cafe Pacifico are locals' favourites and Wahaca's menu of Mexican street food is perfect for groups - or those who find choosing one dish too tricky! Lupita is another good pick.
For traditional British food, try Bill's or Rules in the West End, or call in to one of the Geronimo chain of pubs for affordable but high quality pub grub. If money is no issue, you can't go wrong with one of Gordon Ramsey's many outposts - and his restaurant at Claridge's has an excellent three-course set lunch menu for £30.
It’s safe to say London caters for all tastes and diets with its ever growing list of dining options. Traditional British pub grub, artesian sandwiches served up by the producers on a pop-up market stall, haute cuisine in equally high class surroundings, fish & chips from a paper cone… whatever your taste buds are craving, there’s a not too distant eatery that’ll satisfy.
There are a host of award-winning restaurants worth researching and booking ahead, with the city boasting 54 Michelin Stars at last count. Then there are the trendsetters of circa 2011 who introduced the ‘no-bookings’ policy, resulting in queues around the block for tables – this is still prevalent and great for grabbing an early or impromptu bite. Early really is the operative word here.
London also loves a pop-up restaurant and the supper club scene is equally well served. It’s well worth a little pre-trip online research to ensure your dining time and money is well spent in the city. Local food blogs and Twitter are great sources for the most up-to-date happenings (the capital's foodie folk are a friendly bunch and a tweeted request will likely attract more fantastic suggestions than you can possibly fit into one vacation).