Where to eat in London for those of us who love good food and want to keep an eye on our spending? London is one city that could destroy your trip budget in food costs, if you’re not smart about where you spend. Eating out 3 times a day here, as we would in Asia, just ain’t gonna happen. Accommodation in London will likely cost you an arm and a leg. On the global scale, London hotels are right up there. We can give you some tips and ideas But right now, lets talk about eating in London, some tips from insiders, us!
London is bursting with free things to do and places to visit. All the big museums are free in London and you can easily explore the capital on foot, not spending a cent. The public transport system is excellent value for families, as kids can often travel free, but food will cost.
Here are a few tips and suggestions on stretching your food dollar in London, from us, London sometimes-residents. We hope you can give you a bit on insider knowledge to save you cash while eating good food in London.
Where to Eat in London on Vacation
Fish and Chips in London
Brits don’t eat fish and chips all the time, it’s a myth. That said, fish and chips is probably synonymous with British food the world over. If you go to the right places, fish and chips is a quality, premium product, expect to pay restaurant prices. If you’d like to try London fish and chips during your visit, do it, but consider it a splurge. Try and find a fish and chip purveyor with a good reputation, there are plenty of down market places. The best fish and chips in London, can be found in this review, we’ve tried Poppies ( their Camden branch) and can tell you it’s superb.
Avoid the Places Just There for Tourists
There are plenty of restaurants, cafes and street stalls that survive purely on tourist dollars. They are poor quality and expensive, locals quickly get wise and don’t visit, but first time visitors can get taken advantage of.
Look for local recommendations and avoid anything that screams “tourist trap!”
Traditional London Food
Real old London dishes, like jellied eels or pie, mash and liquor are harder to track down, try Goddard’s Pies in Greenwich. Greenwich Market also has some really good street food if you are over there checking out The Observatory, Prime Meridan, Cutty Sark etc.
London Pub and Bar Food plus Sunday Roasts
Eating in pubs and bars is very common in the UK and it is normally absolutely fine to dine with children. Some London pubs will offer simple, cheap meals, low quality something-with-chips. In other pubs the food will of an extremely high quality. You will pay accordingly.
You’ll probably want to try a traditional British Sunday roast while you’re in London, a good pub is usually the best place to do this. The Londonist lists and maps London’s best Sunday roasts here.
The Great British Curry
We Brits are crazy about Indian food and have been for a very long time. A good curry is almost as British as a Sunday Roast, Fish and Chips or breakfast fry-up.
In London, Brick Lane is the traditional hub of the curry market. Many of the restaurants here are actually Bangladeshi, not Indian. Find a guide to the best curries on Brick Lane here.
London is dotted with Indian and Indian-style restaurants, you don’t necessarily have to go to Brick Lane, although it is a great experience.
London Street Food
We have so much great street foood in London. It won’t usually be traditionally “British”, you’ll find dishes fom all over the world, but if you’re in the right places, it’s superb.
Try London’s Borough Market or the equally excellent South Bank Centre market ( our favourite, freshly shucked oysters from The Bloody Oyster) and look out for seasonal markets and food fairs. The capitol bristles with great seasonal food in the run up to Christmas.
Supermarkets and Food Outlets
You will find small branches of the big British suprmarket chains on almost every street, they’re there to serve hungry Londoners and are a great place to buy sandwiches, drinks and snacks. Some even serve hot food.
It’s all good quality, but the more up-market the chain, the better the food.
At the end of the day fresh food is heavily marked down. Look for this particularly in Sainsbury and Tesco. The more expensive Marks & Spencer and Waitrose are joining the trend too lately. Sainsbury and Tesco sell a lot of own brand foods at well below label brand prices, they’re good.
Eating In London’s Big Attractions
Prices might scare you in restaurants in London’s museums and attractions.
Yesterday we paid £10.50 for fish,chips and peas. That’s a lot!
Actually we paid less, as members and supporters of ZSL London Zoo, we get a discount, but most visitors won’t have an annual membership card ( it’s good value if you plan to go to Whipsnade or Regent’s Park sites 3 times in one year)
You are welcome to take your own sandwiches, but for us, eating in the zoo restaurant is part of our day out. The good news is, the food here and in most of the big museums is extremely high quality and the menu varied and interesting, you’re not paying for a quick junk food fix, but for something worth eating. This seems to be a trend in London, good quality, higher prices.
Coffee Shops and Chains
Britain’s high streets bristle with coffee shops and chains, most of them good.
The two we use regularly with the kids are Pret a Manger, for sandwiches, baked goods and coffee, and Itsu, for sushi and Asian hot food. They are both owned by the same British company and have sound environmental and no-junk policies. Both occasionally give out free food “on the house”. It’s a lovely touch. It happened to me once when I was having a particularly bad day, so they always have my support.
Itsu heavily discounts its fresh food at the end of the day.
If you take your coffee ultra seriously, try this guide to London’s best coffee spots.
The image above is from a coffee and chocolate shop at Borough Market, recommended!
Cafés AKA Greasy Spoons
These are a dying breed unfortunately.
Some still survive and if you want a mug or tea and cheap eats in man-sized portions, at a good price, have a look here at London’s best greasy spoon cafés. If you have a hearty appetite and you’re visiting London on a budget, a good fry-up could hit the spot. You probably won’t find many of these in the posher parts of London, think Richmond London, Kensington, or Mayfair, search where the working Londoners live and commute.
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We hope you enjoy visiting London as much as we enjoy living here. We love this city and if we can help you in any way with your planning, particularly for London with kids, give us a shout. Enjoy your London food experience!