Eat Like a Londoner: Insider Tips
London! Historic and contemporary, international, diverse, and specialised. The city is amazing, but also a maze to navigate, and never more so than when it comes to finding where to eat! As with any cosmopolitan city, discovering the best places to dine in London takes effort and dedication. But this is 2017, and no-one has time for that. Here are the best inside tips for where to eat in London. Even on the briefest of visits you’ll be eating like a local with the best of ‘em.
To Market, To Market
Street food is spreading through London like, er, the proverbial great fire, and there is no better way to sample the best of local offerings than to suss out some of the hundreds of marketplaces throughout the city. Often open on Saturdays or Sundays, hotspots like Broadway Market in Hackney define their neighbourhoods and are a meeting point for residents and visitors alike.
As well as fresh produce, cheeses, seafood, and pastries, many markets host pop-up stalls of nearby restaurants. You’re bound to find a bargain, and while you’re there you can chat to locals, who are usually happy to tell you what else is good in their borough. If you’re searching for where to eat in London, you can’t beat a farmer’s market for breakfast, or a night market for beer and snacks with the crew.
Pubs and Freehouses: Not All Are Born Equal
Pubs are the living rooms of London: cosy and relaxed, warm and inviting. All true Londoners have a favoured pub for a tipple or two. The perfect pub is a thing of beauty and a joy forever, but finding it can be a hard ask. Pints on offer should include both traditional ales and locally brewed beers, at a price that should extinguish your thirst, but not your bank account. A proper English breakfast should be served until at least midday, and a decent Sunday roast is an absolute must.
Many pubs in London are now commercial franchises: while these will dole out the basics, a true pub experience is more likely to be found at an independent local. To spot the gems, look for worn-but-loved interiors, home football team regalia, and groups of aging pensioners who seem like they haven’t left since 1986. You’ll know when you’re onto a good place when you sit down at the bar and someone leans over and says, ‘Oi, that’s John’s seat!’
When you alight from your train fresh — or not-so-fresh — from Heathrow or Gatwick, the temptation may be to eat the first thing you set eyes on. We get it; you’re hungry. But fight the urge and press on a little further. Real Londoners know gourmet glory is only streets away. We suggest this tip when looking for where to eat in London on arrival: leave the station. Turn left, then right, then left again. You may be on a ring road or in a blind alley, but chances are you’ll also hit upon a street of neighbourhood eateries catering to the after-work crowd. Pick somewhere busy and don’t be deterred by small queues near the door waiting for seats; it’s often a sign you’ve struck gold.
Better With Age
The city of London dates back over 2,000 years, but one thing has always remained the same: people need to eat. Sometimes the best places are the tried and the true: if it’s been open 50 years — or even 150 years — it’s doing something right.
Check out central neighbourhoods close to the Thames like Soho, Covent Garden, and Farringdon. Restaurants that take pride in their history will display it with a date on the door panel or a hallowed blue plaque.
Bonus tip: because much of London was rebuilt after World War Two, keep an eye out for restaurants that have a late 1940s or 50s vibe when you’re looking to eat like a local. They may be a greasy spoon or an innocuous cafe, but you can bet they’ll be dishing out the real tucker that has fueled London into the 21st century.
Today’s News, Tomorrow’s Fish and Chip Wrapper
London is famous for the many daily newspapers on offer to the city. Some of these, such as the Evening Standard, or Time Out, are given out free near tube stations, while others will cost you a pound or two. One thing’s for sure: they will have restaurant reviews. Restaurants are big news in London, with dedicated press and PR providing loads of coverage. It’s a great way to be in the know about what’s new and delicious, but don’t believe too much hype or negativity. Most restaurant critics stake their reputation on their incisive English wit and humour.
If something sounds appealing, give it a shot. You might find yourself riding the next food trend wave.
And our final inside tip for eating like a local in London? As every good local knows: it’s the people, ‘innit! Even residents who have lived here for decades love to talk about food; what’s good, what’s not, where to get it, and where to avoid like the 1665 plague. Pick your moment — a word to the wise, it’s not on the 8 a.m. rush-hour tube — smile bravely, and ask a Londoner (perhaps a shopkeeper, bartender, or taxi driver) where they recommend to eat. Most locals will be flattered to be asked to share their wisdom. Who knows, you may even start to pick up a bit of the local lingo along with that takeaway.