When I first arrived at the city, I was lost in the crowd of Oxford street and felt, for the first time in my life completely alone. This impression of the packed and touristic city quickly changed as, step by step, I discovered the real, beautiful, incredibly tasty London.
I found that the magic of this city is mainly in its residents, talented people from all around the world, spreading around their magic. Of course, it also reflects on the London food scene. Tiny Japanese restaurants, excellent Peruvian food, Spanish, Indian, Italian, and that is only the start. Great Ramen shops, buns, pastries, bakeries, specialty coffee shops, cocktail bars, fresh ingredients, and colorful markets.
The best part of it is that you can never get bored, no matter how long you will stay in the city, you will always have a new place to check out. Surrounded by foodies at work, on my internship at the ‘Jamie Oliver Food Foundation’; and foodies at home, my talented roommate, Maya, a student at the AA School of Architecture. My list of recommendation was slowly built, as I was occupying my weekends with lots of plans trying the newest and most exciting places in town.
Arriving in London your problem is not going to be where to eat, it will be a hard decision where not to. Start your day at one of the beautiful coffee places around the city. Tap coffee was one of my favorites, they have branches all around the city, and you can count on quality coffee and hipster friends. The Monmouth coffee is also a consensus, grab a coffee to go or buy beans for home use. It is effortless to find as you will smell the freshly roasted coffee for miles, and see the long line outside. Caravan roasters is also a great idea, fantastic coffee together with a variety of tasty choices for breakfast.
Although for a long time London was considered to be a place with pretty bad coffee the situation in the last years is entirely different and if you are there on time, you can even visit the annual London Coffee Festival, and learn everything new in the coffee world.
2017 was the year of matcha; this green beverage took over London big time. Yumchaa took it one step forward, providing all the equipment to make matcha at home, matcha drinks and matcha cakes. But if you are up for a colorful drink and a pleasant breakfast, visit one of the two branches of Farm Girl, I promise you will not regret it. Another idea for a great brunch is Granger and Co., an Australian restaurant by Chef Bill Granger, that provides healthy and tasty food choices. Lantana Café is another Australian place with good coffee and great food. If you are at the Shoreditch area, the Attendant maybe just for you, and if you are looking for a quiet brunch or a coffee and a pastry to grab on the way to the Islington Canal, Appestat is your place of choice.
For those who have a sweet tooth like me and are a pastries fan, I would recommend the artisanal E5 Bakehouse, where you can taste freshly baked sourdough bread, delicious cakes, and aromatic fresh coffee. They even have workshops and Sunday pizza. For cake lovers, I would recommend Violet, a tiny magical bakery with beautiful cakes in the heart of Hackney. It is one of Jamie Oliver’s favorites and the bakery that made Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s wedding cake, so what can go wrong? As a bonus, it is located not far away from London Fields, one of my favorite spots in the city, a great place to spend a sunny afternoon with a book.
The hotels in the heart of London are not only a place for tourist to stay. During the weekends you will find the lobby of the Hoxton hotels and the Ace packed with people, as it is one of the hottest parties around. It is also an excellent idea for brunch or a place to run away from the crowd and work a little bit on their cozy couches.
Another interesting phenomenon I got familiar with in the city was the idea of gentleman clubs. Of course, they are not the same as they used to be, but they still exist. The tradition of gentleman’s clubs is going back to the 18th century. Initially set for the upper-class British men and popularised by English upper-middle-class men and women in the late 19th century and early 20th century. Sharing a common interest or coming from a common background, those clubs created a social circle. Providing men, and later on, women, with all the facilities needed, a place to relax, establish friendships and gossip. Today those clubs are alive as hipster cafes and strict cocktail bars.
The Mediterranean vibe took over London, becoming one of the hottest cuisines in the city. It started with the Ottolenghi empire. Slowly but surely it became one of the favorite brunch places for the Londoners and one of the most beautiful pastry shops in town, together with the fine dining restaurants NOPI and ROVI. The beloved Honey and Co. also have been there for a while, serving middle eastern home-style dishes. And of course the footprint of Assaf Granit, the fancy Palomar, the excellent tapas bar style Barbary and the new Coal Office.
One of my favorite places around the city where its endless canals. You can start walking alongside the water in one part of the town and arrive in a completely different area. Usually very pastoral and quiet, they are an excellent place to run away from the crowded city life. In the area of Kingsland Road, Broadway Market, and Islington, on Regent Canal, hides a wonderful cafe, Towpath. Established by Lori De Mori, an American Italian food writer. Where in house Chef Laura Jackson and experienced barista, Amanda Thompson will make you a delicious breakfast, lunch, or dinner to enjoy alongside the canal’s water.
The magic of the London food scene is in the authenticity of the flavors you can find around. If it is the tiny Japanese place where you can’t understand anything from the menu, but the food is outstanding – Jugemu. Or the cute dumplings place in the middle of nowhere, My neighbors the dumplings (everything we tried from the menu was delightful). Buns, in all shapes and sizes, are also a big thing here (and everywhere) in the Bun House you have to try the custard bun that is a sensation and if you are looking for a more fancy environment try Bao in Soho. Indian cuisine is also very trendy. Try one of the Dishoom restaurants for a fun evening with cocktails and Indian food or have a quiet brunch with some Masala chai and surprisingly good Indian breakfast dishes. Coming in the evening be ready to wait in line at the restaurants as they are super packed. If you are up for an adventure, try Hoppers for Sri Lanka cuisine (tried – survived – loved it!), Chicama for Peruvian or make your way to the peculiar Pacific Social Club, and try their Okonomiyaki – it is a game changer.
Tapas bars are also quite popular around the city. You can not order a table, but you can come and wait in line for your turn to dine while drinking and eating some appetizers. Morito, Barafina, Ceviche are the finest tapas bars around and the most popular ones.
You can’t be in London and not try some British food. Of course, there are a lot of fish and chips places, but most of them are pretty touristic (please do tell if you have a recommended one). My suggestion will be to try St.John Bread and Wine, the little brother of the famous, Michelin star, St.John restaurant. The atmosphere here is pretty straightforward, and the food is excellent. Don’t forget to try some of the delicious house wines. Duck & Waffle can be another idea for lunch or dinner with the most fantastic view (only if you are not afraid of heights as the elevator there is pretty scary).
Some places in town have been there since forever, and still, are a must in your culinary journey. The Brick Lane Beigel Bake institution is one of them. Warm bagels with ruffly cut salt meet chunks or smoked salmon and cream cheese is an excellent idea for a quick but very delicious snack. If you are in the cereal business, try the Cereal Killer Cafe, the chapel of cereals, be careful of the sugar rush. Another institution that sadly was recently closed is Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen. Opened in 2002 it was not only an excellent Italian restaurant but also the home of the Apprentice Programme, training vulnerable youth to gain kitchen skills through the common love of food. Following Jamie Oliver’s path, you can try the mythological River Cafe, the home base of many of the most famous chefs in the city.
I have to be honest with you; I am not a very nightlife person. I heard a lot about the London night scene but have to confess that the farthest I went was visiting a cocktail bar. If you are up for drinks, Gordon’s wine bar is a fascinating establishment (opened since 1890!!) with a very long wine list and fantastic cheeses to pair those wines with. But if you are up for more young and hipster experience, Jaguar Shoes can be a good idea with some refreshing cocktails. Another idea for cocktails is the Experimental Cocktail Club – ECC, which is a small door in the middle of Chinatown, hard to find but completely worth it! They have a fantastic cucumber based cocktail that I recommend to try. Milk & Honey is also a cherished London institution, a cocktail bar in Soho that is also a Member’s Club. If you are an outsider you can enter the bar only by reservation before 11 pm; a must visit for cocktail lovers.
In the natural wine area, I loved a place called Rawduck in Hackney that is closed now, but I would recommend following their new adventures. For early birds like me, there is always the option of an afternoon glass of wine and a cheese plate – for that, The Fine Cheese and Co. is your place. It is also a great place to start your cheese shopping! Another option where you can find interesting local cheeses will be Neal’s Yard Dairy at Covent Garden.
We can’t talk about London without talking about its various markets. The most famous one is Borough Market, it is the ideal place to shop for fresh ingredients, cheese, meat, fish, vegetables, spices and everything you can think of. The market is renewed and very friendly, and on the weekends you can find here various street food stalls. Camden Market is also lovely, more street food in its vibe. Brick Lane Market is the place for vintage shopping, but its food stands are the real attraction. Portobello Road Market in Notting Hill is a charming market for antic lovers. Columbia Road Market is a flower market, I found it very special and beautiful, and if you have the time I would recommend to go, it is much better than it sounds. Broadway Market was my favorite; the food choices here felt much more diverse, authentic, and artisanal. Grab a beer and an oyster, try the local cheeses and pastries or walk around enjoying the vibe. Maltby Street Market is a secret one, it is pretty far away from everything, but worth the effort, it is a relaxed experience with some exciting lunch and drinks options.
London, for me, is a city of inspiration. Of course, foodwise but also artwise. You can count on that every weekend you will have a new exhibition to visit – an endless amount of museums, galleries, and special exhibitions. Victoria Miro is one of my favorites, being a small but very unique gallery. In a much bigger scale, the famous Tate Modern is of course also a must; with exciting changing exhibitions.
Eat around, do some shopping, spend some quiet time in one of the beautiful parks or gardens, take in some inspiration from the city galleries and most of all, enjoy this beautiful city.
Don’t hesitate to write in the comments your London favorites or ask any question for more specific recommendations.
Special thanks to @mayakleiman for making me always feel at home and my wonderful friends and family who came to visit.