Traditional English food is one of my favorite cuisines. But what is traditional London food? Check our list of the best British food in London and all the best places to try it.
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I love classic British food! I know you don’t hear that about traditional English food very often, but I really do. In years past, it seems that Britain’s culinary tradition got a raw deal. People said it was bland, boring, or even downright stodgy. But in these foodie days of farm-to-table, gastro pubs, and high expectations I don’t find that to be the case at all. I love it!
Of course, all the old classics are still there for those of us that still have a hankering for things like fish and chips and sticky toffee pudding. So whether your making your way to London for a romantic weekend getaway, to take in a show, or stop the clock on your Schengen visa, our top British foods in London list is for you! It’s one of our fantastic world food guides that will help you choose some of the best classic British foods for you.
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In this traditional English food guide, you’ll learn:
- Classic English Dishes
- British Pub Food
- English Takeaway
- Best British Desserts
- Best English Food in London
Here is Some of Our Favorite Classic British Food
I’ve lived in many countries, but my earliest memories come from living in England. We lived in the small town of Ipswich, which was near the air base where both my father and mother worked.
I went to a private primary school that’s not there any more, but I can tell you that in the fresh, misty mornings of winter I can remember getting out of the car and smelling the tummy pleasing smell of sausages, or bangers, being grilled.
I didn’t then, and still don’t really love sausages, but I do love the smell. Bangers and mash are still on the menu in most places as are Shepherd’s pie, fish and chips, and Toad in the Hole, and then there’s always afternoon tea.
Typical English Food and Dishes
Some typical English food takes a little bit of explanation for us Americans. Many of the classic dishes can be found in pubs, whether you go for classic British pub food or you are out finding the best London nightlife, you are bound to hit a few pubs and you might find them on the menu.
For example, Toad in the Hole has nothing to do with frogs or toads and bangers and mash might sound like a popular music band but in fact both of these dishes feature sausage as the star ingredient. In a Toad in the Hole, the sausage is baked in a Yorkshire pudding batter (which is more of a bread than a pudding) and bangers and mash is just grilled sausages and mashed potatoes sometimes served with onion gravy.
Both are delicious versions of classic British food but may not sound so appealing on a menu. Shepard’s pie is kind of a pie as we know it, however there is no pie crust. Instead ground meat is cooked in a gravy with onion and carrot and then placed in the bottom of the pie dish. Mashed potatoes are spread on top to make the “crust” then the whole thing is baked in the oven.
Some of our other favorite classic British food is Beef Wellington, roast lamb with mint jelly, and any roast found at a carvery. What’s a carvery? Well, think of a whole roast placed out on a carving board, ready to be sliced and plated on demand.
Now put this in a restaurant devoted to this practice and you have a carvery. In other restaurants, you can still get this, but it is only offered on Sundays for the traditional Sunday Roast. Roast beef, whole ham, turkey, pork roast, leg of lamb, even duck can be found in some carvery restaurants.
Traditional English Food – London Sunday Roast
A Sunday roast dinner comes with a variety of typical sides which include potatoes (my favorite are roasted in duck fat), vegetables and that Yorkshire pudding. So maybe the Yorkshire pudding needs a little explanation.
It’s not a pudding as we know it, and it’s not a pudding dessert either. It is a pudding like batter that is baked and comes out golden brown, puffy, flaky and bread like.
Cut a bite of meat, add a small piece of the Yorkshire pudding and dredge the whole forkful through the gravy for the perfect bite! Every newspaper in London runs an annual review of the best Sunday Roast in London, but the truth is, you don’t have to look too far to find a n excellent Sunday meal and some traditional British food.
However, if you don’t have a Sunday available but still want the roast, we recommend the restaurant aptly named Roast in Borough Market where you can have the full on meal most days of the week.
Plan ahead and make a reservation or you might not get a table.
Traditional English Food – Afternoon Tea
Nothing is as quintessentially English as an afternoon tea service. What is tea doing in an article about traditional English food you might ask. Of course, most everyone around the world knows by now that afternoon tea in England is not just the drink but is an entire meal, usually made up of a mix of small savory and sweet snacks.
Expect finger sandwiches, quiche, scones, cakes, that sort of thing, and of course tea, coffee, even a glass or two of Prosecco. These can be elegant affairs, black tie and gown, or much more casual. We prefer the casual variety. (If you are interested in the more luxurious style, check out our friend’s blog.)
In fact, our favorite teas are simple affairs with delicious homemade treats in the most unlikely of places, large garden stores. We couldn’t believe it at first, but it does make perfect sense when you think about. Why not place a small dining room or cafe in amongst the flowering plants and bushes?
Unfortunately, there are not many, if any, of these stores in the middle of London. A good, affordable substitute, we’ve found is a Patisserie Valerie. We went in purely out of convenience when looking for a tea before heading to an early showing at the Palace theater. Everything was delicious, fresh and a very generous set for two was only 25 pounds. All in all, just a great way to try some traditional English food and drink.
Typical British Pub Food
Let’s get this right. Not all pubs serve food. Don’t walk into just any old London pub and expect to get more than some liquid refreshments and maybe a bag of crisps (potato chips for us Yanks).
That being said, many pubs do offer a small menu to choose from and maybe even a special or two posted on a board near the entrance or at the bar. In some pubs, you can eat right there at a table in the pub, while at others the dining room is in a separate room on the side or upstairs where you can enjoy typical British pub food.
In almost every pub that serves food you’ll need to grab your own table and then order your British pub food and drinks at the bar. Don’t wait for a waiter or waitress to seat you or take your orders. Most pub menus share some common items: fish and chips, bangers and mash, hamburgers, meat pies, and even fajitas have shown up on some menus.
Pro Tip: Why not take the guess work out of the equation and learn a little bit more about London along the way. Take one of these fantastic tours offered by one of our partners at Get Your Guide. London Walking Tour of Historical Pubs or London: Three Hour Secret British Food Tour.
Traditional English Food – Takeaway
Harkening back to when we lived in Ipswich, at least once a week we’d head down to the corner chippie for some fried fish. My mom always swore by the plaice, but when the budget got tight fresh cod would suffice.
The fish, then wrapped in newspaper, dripped oil throughout those potatoes and with a splash of vinegar, it was a meal to be cherished since it’s typical English food. I get it. Newspaper ink probably was not all that good for you, but styrofoam or a cardboard box is just not quite the same.
And what’s a great way to endear you to the locals? Take your five year old American child who flatly states at the counter, arms crossed, “I want me own fish n’ chips!”
With a laugh and a lolly, Erika could do no wrong from that moment on. At any rate, don’t miss out on a good chippie. Ask around to find where to go, and go early in your trip, so you can go back before you leave for some more classic British food.
Aside from the corner chippie, takeaway can be meat pies, wraps, sandwiches, Indian food and Chinese food. These are all perfect for grabbing a meal on the go to eat down by the river or in the park or even back at your hotel or AirBnB. of course, also included in this category is any type of street food.
Most of which can be found in the market areas like Borough Market or Portobello Road, which I would consider some of London’s hidden gems. This is where some of the best and most imaginative typical English food can be found. In fact, one of the best grilled cheese sandwiches I’ve ever had was from a small street vendor at the Acklam Village Market on Portobello Road.
Traditional English Food – Best British Desserts
For us Americans, being offered a pudding after a fine meal just doesn’t sound right. We’re used to things like ice cream, and boy are there some great ice cream shops in London, but pudding?
Pudding is just not on most U.S. menus. Once you know that pudding just means dessert, then everything is cleared up and don’t you dare leave the table without trying one or two of the classics. Sticky toffee pudding, Eaton mess, and Banoffee pie are my favorites and luckily I have Jim to help me finish my dessert practically guilt free.
While most British desserts, or puddings, are fairly obvious others will need some explanation. Sticky toffee pudding, for example, is a moist sponge cake soaked in sticky, caramel-ly toffee and served with a vanilla custard sauce.
That Banoffee pie? Well, bananas and toffee are melded together in one perfect wedge of flaky, buttery-crusted pie. And Eaton mess apparently came about as a mistake when the chef at Eaton college combined berries, broken up meringue and whipped cream. All three of these should be tried if they can be found on the dessert tray since they are perfect examples of traditional British food.
Now, Where to Find The Best Traditional English Food In London?
There are so many excellent restaurants in London that making a list of the best places to eat is almost impossible. Instead, this list focuses on our favorite traditional British food and where we have found some of the best selections on offer. We’re always on the lookout for new places to try so we’ll update the list as appropriate. Feel free to leave your choices in the comments below!
- Sunday Roast – Roast, Borough Market
- Bangers and Mash – Mother Mash
- Beef Wellington – Savoy Grill
- Fish and Chips – Poppies
- Shepherd’s Pie – Putney Pies
- Banoffee Pie – Putney Pies
- Sticky Toffee Pudding – The Abingdon
- Eaton Mess – Roast, Borough Market
- Scotch Eggs – The Jugged Hare
- Afternoon Tea – Patisserie Valerie
Pro Tips: Get around London like a pro. Find out everything you need to know about using the Oyster card for public transportation in London.
Other Things to Do and Places to Go Nearby London
As much as I’d like to, I don’t just go to London to eat traditional English food. I do other things, like visit museums, markets, shops. There’s plenty to do in London, and each time I go I find even more.
Living there at such an impressionable age, I think part of my concept of what good food is came from that time. A lot of people will tell you there is not much to traditional British food, but I am not one of them.
Let alone the popular favorites like fish n’ chips or sticky toffee pudding, there is so much to love about good stick-to-your-bones traditional English food. Nowadays, especially, chefs around the country are really ramping up the dishes and modernizing them to make them even better.
Author Bio: Corinne Vail is a travel photographer, food lover, and a perpetual traveler who has been travel writing for over 14 years. For many years she lived overseas in Germany, Japan, Turkey, South Korea, and the Netherlands teaching the children of the US. military. She’s visited over 90 countries, and she’s not stopping anytime soon.
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Saturday 3rd of August 2019
I lived all my life in Ipswich until 2004 when i moved to Vegas, what base were your parents from, i worked on bentwaters, woodbrige and lakenheath
Wednesday 7th of August 2019
Malcolm, They worked on Bentwaters. Too cool!
Thursday 18th of July 2019
I must admit that I am fond of many of these dishes even though they might not be considered haute cuisine. Bangers and mash is great comfort food and that Eaton mess sounds a bit like New Zealand pavlova (albeit "messy" and lacking some kiwifruit).
Saturday 20th of July 2019
Rhonda, Yes, missing the kiwi. Although, I'm pretty sure you can get it that way sometimes. There's something to be said for "comfort food!"