Okay, it's time for the round-up of my favorite places to eat in London! We're going to go by price, since I know that's often the most important consideration for visitors to this fine and expensive city – bear in mind, though, that London is very expensive, so when I say places are 'cheap' I mean sort of 10 pounds for a main, 5 if you choose very wisely. It really doesn't get cheaper than that, except in McDonald's or a local 'chippie' (Fish n' Chip shop). So here we go!
Baozi Inn, in London's Chinatown, is a teeny little place that serves really good (and apparently authentic) Chinese dumplings, soups, and other dishes. It's great value for money and quite cozy, so perfect for a stop-in on a rainy afternoon fighting the crowds in the West End.
New Culture Revolution is another great (and cheap!) Chinese place – lots of basics on the menu, noodle dishes and stir-fries etc, but my absolute favorite is the dumpling soup with pork and Chinese leaves. The broth is homemade, the dumplings are tender, and the meat tastes healthy and clean, not full of gristle and grease as you sometimes get. The location in Angel is just off the super-busy high street, and they always have room for walk-ins (at least so far), so it's a great option for lunch or dinner away from the maddening crowd (are you sensing a theme in my restaurant choices? You sense correctly!).
Borough Market is always a good idea if you're looking for an inexpensive breakfast or lunch – note that a trip to the market is rarely inexpensive, as there's so much temptation that I almost always run out of money very quickly, but it's easy to get a great sandwich or a delicious plate of something Greek/Italian/Spanish/you-name-it for about a fiver (the above meat pies are even cheaper). Can't beat that! Plus, the people watching is divine. The only drawback here is that it's all outdoors, so your usually-lovely seat in the next-door churchyard might be a bit soggy if the weather is doing its usual English thing...
Pasha is a great, inexpensive Turkish restaurant in Angel – the food is generous and delicious, the service is lovely, and the atmosphere is quieter and less scenestery than the three nearby Gallipoli cafes (also very good and cheap, but bonkers tiny/crowded). Perfect for dinner with a few friends or a low-key, cheap date.
Tas is another great Turkish place, but much bigger than Pasha and more centrally located (right around the corner from the British Museum). I highly recommend the Karides Guvech, a shrimp dish with tomato and onion and garlic and lord knows what else but it's delicious!
If you're ever in an area of London that you don't know well / didn't plan a restaurant for and find yourself starving, panic not! One thing London has over a lot of other cities where I've lived is a bounty of reliable chains where the food may not be groundbreaking but will likely be tasty and not a rip-off (never underestimate the importance of that when you're a tourist). To name a few good ones:
- Pho (good, hearty noodle soups (pho, mostly, duh – see above pic) and other Vietnamese dishes)
- Strada (good pizzas and pastas (I'm not a huge fan of the mains) and usually a pleasant atmosphere)
- Zizzi (better pizzas and pretty solid mains and desserts, but busier atmosphere than Strada)
- Chilango (best burritos I've ever had in London, which isn't saying that much but they're definitely tasty)
- Cote (French bistro food, a bit pricier than the above but not by much, and the atmosphere is nice)
- Wagamama (Hearty, flavorful Asian (mostly Japanese) food, mostly noodle-based but also some curry and dumpling dishes)
- Itsu (good sushi and noodle dishes, especially for the price, and pretty hip atmosphere for a chain)
Another great idea for an inexpensive and delicious lunch is that fantastic English institution: the Sunday Roast. Now, you can get a decent roast lunch at almost any pub in London on a Sunday, and some even serve roasts all week long, but of course there will always be stand-outs. Some of the better places I've been include:
- The Prince Regent (a haven of hearty food on the adorable but a bit posh/stuck-up Marylebone High Street – delicious roast chicken pictured above)
- The Charles Lamb (a teeny, lovely old pub tucked away in the residential streets of Angel, serving great food and real ales)
Mid-Range Places (good for inexpensive date nights or lower-price parental dinners):
Yipin China serves fantastic Hunanese food at surprisingly reasonable prices. The menu has plenty of standard dishes for the timid, but the real reason to go is for culinary adventure: besides the stir-fried duck tongues shown above on the right, the restaurants also serves pig's intestines, snails, and chicken feet, among other unusual offerings. The place is bustling but the service is lovely, so if you can get a table I highly recommend checking it out.
Santore is an authentic (as in, I always eavesdrop on the Italian the staff speak in) Napoletana restaurant with the best pizza I've ever had in London (top ten outside Italy). The secret is in the salty, chewy dough, which their chef makes fresh every morning. As you'd expect, I almost always order pizza, but their pastas are also delicious and the mains look tasty when they pass our carb-loaded table by. The wines are also decently priced and the service is classically Italian: warm, quick-talking, and enthusiastic. It's often heaving on a Saturday night (we're happy they've become so successful but obviously miss our easy walk-ins of a couple years ago), but you can usually get a table for lunch on a walk-in basis. It's also on Exmouth Market, a super cute semi-hidden street, where strings of lights give you a twee feeling at dusk and there are more coffee shops and bookstores than off-licenses. Win.
Caravan is another restaurant (and bar) on Exmouth Market; I've never had dinner here but I can testify to their reputation for brunch. Especially on a nice day like the one pictured above, the line can get a bit crazy – lots of hipsters lining up in their stripes to get a seat at a communal table and order their vegan something or other... but if you go early, you can avoid a wait and enjoy your fancy ham and egg on toast without enduring awkward looks from your nearby vegetarian. And as you settle in with your latte and bloody mary (yeah, I do both – what of it?), they all come and start lining up and provide you with fabulous people-watching. It's a good thing.
Princess Garden is a Chinese restaurant in Mayfair, just below Oxford Street. As you'd expect, getting there is a bit of a bustle through the bonkers crowds, but it's worth it when you get inside and the only bustling you experience is the jostling of dim sum carts and the rearranging of plates so you can fit more food on your little table. The dim sum here reminds me of Yank Sing in San Francisco (don't worry, I'll fill you in on that awesome place when I do my SF post): plentiful, flavorful, and you end up SUPERfull in about half an hour. Soooo good.
Zucca is an amazing Italian restaurant in Bermondsey, on the south bank. The food is beyond delicious, as are the wines, but the truly amazing part (besides the fact that I have no pictures of any of our visits there!) is that it's SO REASONABLY PRICED. It's actually unbelievable how good this place is and how affordable at the same time – even my picky dad was blown away. Of course, now that word has gotten out about this London miracle, it's constantly booked up. C'est la vie, eh? Still worth trying, though, and eating at 10pm if that's what it takes.
A bit (and a lot) spendier than average:
Hawksmoor is a steakhouse in Shoreditch where you order your meat based on the cuts they got in from the butcher that morning, then add sides as desired. As I'm sure you know, this style of ordering gets expensive fast, and generally I find it annoying and a bit price-gauging, but Hawksmoor's food is just good enough – and their cocktails are even better – that I'll put up with it. I'll also put up with the hipsters (Shoreditch is hipster nation) because the waiter we had was one of the friendly, non-snooty ones.
Ristorante Semplice in Mayfair is another one I can't believe I don't have photos of; it's one of our very favorite restaurants in London, and for years we went nowhere else for special occasions! They used to have one Michelin star, but have since lost it, which I don't get because the last time we were there (a few months back) it was still delicious, but who understands these things anyway? This is another rave from picky Dad, so you know it's great. And if you're there on an evening when Giovanni is in (he's part owner so not there every night), ask him for advice on wine – he's steered us to some stunners, and never tried to go above our price range (in fact he often suggests much more affordable bottles than the BF was originally looking at)!
The Ledbury is our other go-to celebration place, but this one is French, and in Notting Hill. Their champagne list is to die for, as is the food, and I don't usually love French food (a bit heavy for me). They update the classics and do a Modern European twist, and the presentation, flavor, and quality of their dishes are all flawless. The service is lovely too, very friendly but not in your face. It's a lovely place (again, no pics! Gah), with two Michelin stars and Dad's approval stamp (he's here a fair bit and we always try to impress him with our restaurant choices), so a sure bet for a special occasion.
Clos Maggiore was the BF's favorite place to take me on dates when we were first going out – he could ill afford it, I'm sure, but it was worth it (for me, and I hope for him too). It was voted the most romantic in London by some travel guide, and I can totally see why (I can NOT believe I have no pics of these places that have played such a huge part in our courtship!): you walk in and it's all open fireplace and branches of flowers and big, comfy, dark chairs and coziness. Then they bring the creamed spinach (omg) in a teeny copper saucepan and pour you a glass of pink champagne and the picture is complete. It's a lovely, lovely place with perfectly prepared, delicious food, and definitely a great date spot.
The American Bar isn't a restaurant – it's one of the bars at the fancypants Savoy Hotel – but I think it's worth a mention here as a great place to splash out on a super scrumptious (and spendy) cocktail or glass of champagne in an old-school, Mad Men-esque bar scene. It's perfect for a celebration: the pic above was taken when the BF bought me a glass of pink champagne to celebrate my first agent offer!