For the thousands of visitors who make the trip to the UK’s capital, there are hundreds of reliable (and predictable) eating and drinking options
You can’t really go wrong with one of the established pizza or burger chains, but if you’re prepared to plan ahead, or venture a short way off the tourist trail, there are some real gems to be found.
Pie and mash in the East End
Pie and mash is a well-known speciality of the East End of London. It might not appeal to everyone, but apparently it’s a particular favourite of footballer David Beckham, and done well, can make a comforting and satisfying economical meal. The best Pie and mash shops are undoubtedly the small, family-run businesses, and some have been around for a hundred years or more.
If you order pie and mash, you should expect a flaky pastry crust hand filled with minced beef and served with creamy mashed potato. Instead of gravy, you will be offered a vivid green parsley sauce – non-alcoholic, but nevertheless known as ‘liquor’. For diners with extra appetite (and an adventurous spirit?) there’s a traditional side dish of jellied eels. It’s really good value for money and has been fuelling Easter Enders since the 18th century.
You’ll need to go East to try this local delicacy. Arment’s Pie & Mash is in Walworth, close to Elephant and Castle – SE17. BJ’s Pie & Mash Shop is in Plaistow, on Barking Road, E13. Claiming to be the first ever pie and mash shop, F. Cooke was founded in Hoxton by the grandfather of the current owner. The pies are made to the original recipe with the best quality Scotch beef bought on the bone and minced in-house. F. Cooke, Hoxton Street, N1.
A Midnight Feast in Brick Lane
You never know when hunger might overtake you, and there are options for night owls in London too! Brick Lane is famous for its street food, but there is little more comforting (at any time of day?) than freshly baked pastries or bagels. We’re not going to enter the debate as to which of the two famous Brick Lane shops are better, the Beigel Shop, or Beigel Bake, but they are both perennially popular, and accessible at any time of the day or night.
Time for Tea
At about the time the working classes began enjoying pie and mash, Anna, the seventh Duchess of Bedford, started tackling her afternoon hunger pangs (it was a long time between lunch and her 8.00 pm dinner) with ‘afternoon tea’, consisting of bread, butter, cake and of course, tea. The habit spread amongst her social circle, and the practice became an event in itself. Victorian ladies would dress especially for their afternoon tea, typically served in the drawing room between 4.00 and 5.00 pm.
Nowadays, the tradition is revived in style in many of London’s finest hotels. You will find that many have extended the menu with champagne or themed cocktails, as afternoon tea has become a celebration meal. You could certainly do worse than to try The Wolseley’s version. Originally a prestigious car showroom, this grand Piccadilly building has housed a branch of Barclays Bank and was converted into a restaurant in 2003. It has built a reputation on its spectacular surroundings, classic food and seamless service. Their cream tea includes handmade fruit scones with jam and clotted cream. A more indulgent tea including elegant finger sandwiches and sweets such as Mille-feuilles, Éclairs, Macaroons and Battenburg cake – all proudly made on the premises.
Always pushing the envelope, Londoners who fancy afternoon tea with a difference can head to the Moroccan restaurant Momo on Heddon Street, W1. With a hint of North Africa and a contemporary twist, afternoon tea in the café includes flavours such as mint, orange blossom and halva.
Real Foodies Go South of the River
The River Thames features widely in the daily lives of Londoners – and there can be a certain rivalry between ‘Northerners’ and ‘Southerners’. If there’s anything to tempt even the most dyed in the wool Northerner to cross the river, it must be Southwark’s Borough Market, where people have been buying and selling food for 1,000 years.
There are many reasons to consider a trip to Borough Market, and it is definitely worth setting aside at least one meal and half a day for your visit. Far from being a food museum, it is vibrant and colourful and the range of food on offer is vast, with traders and merchandise coming from all over the world.
Borough Market isn’t just about buying food. There is an ever-changing programme of events which reflect the season and the interests of the traders, chefs, food writers and teachers who feature there. Check out the events calendar to find out more.
Pit Stop in the Capital
Few visits to London would be complete without a shopping trip, and even the most seasoned shoppers need a pit stop at some point!
For that reason, Kingly Court has earned a place in our Foodie Guide. Handy for Liberty, Hamleys and an impressive seven flagship sports, clothes, technology and lifestyle stores, it is tucked away between Regent Street and Carnaby Street.
Kingly Court is a specialist food hub with 21 individual restaurants, bars and cafes set around a courtyard which cleverly opens up during the summer months and is sheltered from the weather in winter. Reflecting London’s diverse and multicultural culture, you will find treats from Brazil, the US and Asia as well as seafood and free-range chicken. For those looking for authentic British flavours, there’s breakfast available at any time of day, or an underground ‘time machine’ that will take you to a disused underground tube station, where bespoke cocktails and pre-war food are served.
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