With so many pubs, bars, restaurants and cafés, you could head somewhere different in London every day for a year, working your way through delicacies from all over the world (possibly getting a bit tubby in the process).
Restaurants, pubs and bars in London
If you’re taking a tour of this grand palace of politics you can book ahead to enjoy afternoon tea afterwards. Sadly there’s no chance of seeing the PM – teas are served on Saturdays and selected days during Parliament recess – but you can nibble on savouries and cakes in in the elegant Terrace Pavilion with views of the Thames rarely enjoyed by the public.
Whether you’re on your way home from a night’s clubbing or you’ve been up since 5am with your three-year-old, gloriously quiet mornings in central London are your reward. Head for St John Bakery, just behind Maltby Street Market for their famous freshly made doughnuts oozing with jam, or go Proustian with just-baked madeleines dipped in your cup of tea.
Nothing beats sitting by an open fire drinking a good pint in a charming old pub (reading Dickens while you toast your toes, optional). On a cobbled street on the lanes above Hampstead village, the Holly Bush is one of the perfect spots for just that. The menu is reliably gastropub, but the low-beamed bar and the eighteenth century interiors are pleasingly far from contemporary.
Unlike urban riverside drinking in central and east London spots, the stretch between Hammersmith and Putney Bridges affords far prettier views of the Thames. This popular example has a large wine list and a decent selection of ales to choose from before you head out for a table on the decking or, if you’re lucky, a seat under the willow tree.
Why not refresh yourself with a genuinely local brew? The Camden Town Brewery makes lagers and pale ales at its base underneath Kentish Town West station and its wares can be sampled in bars all over town. However, its own bar is worth a visit (open Thursday to Saturday), with nosh supplied by guest street food stalls. They also run brewery tours Thursday and Saturday.
We’re not talking about a glorified fruit machine asking chart trivia here, this live session every other Monday night is an interrogation in sound. Officially known as the Rough Trade Shop Pop Quiz, it’s a good night’s entertainment, with rounds featuring pictures, music exerpts and general pop questions. There are drinks and record tokens for prizes.
Hawksmoor is one of London’s greatest restaurants for steak, so who better to trust with Sunday lunch? Roast rump of longhorn beef is started on a charcoal fire then finished in the oven and served with roast potatoes cooked in duck fat, yorkshire puddings and veg, and bone marrow and onion gravy. Available at Seven Dials, Spitalfields, Air Street and Knightsbridge branches.
You might not have the budget to stay at a hotel that’s been frequented by princes, politicians and film stars in its 125 years-plus history, but for £50 you can get afternoon tea in the Savoy’s Thames Foyer. It’s not cheap, but the feast of finger sandwiches, scones, pastries and cakes should keep you going until breakfast the next day.
Since 1900 this workers’ caff has provided carbs and protein in eggy, meaty and pan-fried form to the good people of east London. Traces of bygone eras, like art deco interior details and Formica tables have earned it Grade II-listed status but what diners love best is that the fry-ups, grills and Italian dishes are still served by the same family.
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Don’t worry, these beautifully converted old Victorian toilets were given a good scrub down before the plates of cakes were laid out. Opened in 2013, Attendant has a small bank of tables where the porcelain urinals once provided relief to gents about town. It’s already a popular spot for attentively prepared Caravan-roasted coffee, sandwiches, salads and sweet treats.
A far more delicious way of supporting the education system than risking your barnet with a trainee hairstylist, the Vincent Rooms near Victoria is an elegant restaurant staffed entirely by students from Westminster Kingsway College. These apprentices are overseen by experienced professionals and the result is great Modern European dining at trainee rates.
K-Town (New Malden) may be the heart of great Korean dining in London, but you don’t have to travel out to the suburbs for spicy squid and stews with an umami kick, because Koba in the centre of town more than holds its own. Consistently excellent barbecued meats like beef kalbi and bulgogi are grilled at your table for you.
This Chinatown institution bustles into the middle of the night as theatregoers and food lovers alike wait to sit down to rice with roast duck and crispy belly pork. With high demand for tables in peak hours, the experience feels more canteen than restaurant, but the extensive menu rarely disappoints.
Every aspect of the fish-frying process has enjoyed an upgrade to ensure this Shepherd’s Bush chippy is the best in town: excellent fish, light batter, homemade tartare sauce and double-fried chips. To compensate for the lack of cheery chippy shoveling potatoes at the fryer there’s a live video feed from the kitchen so you can even watch the peas being mushed.
Banish thoughts of trouser clips and oily repair kits – now that pedal power is fashionable the savvy cyclist gets his bike checked while enjoying a barista-prepped coffee at a cycle café. Look Mum No Hands! is the cream of the crop. The Old Street branch has a large workshop, plus a menu of salads and hot dishes that changes seasonally, plus locally baked cakes and craft beers.
Community cafés are happily on the rise in London – places where local people come together and serve what their talents can muster. This vegan and vegetarian community café sits in peaceful Vauxhall Square. The dishes reflect the nationalities of its contributors and the meals are super-affordable – starters £3, mains £8, puds £3, BYO drink. Book ahead, it’s very popular.
Etta’s Kitchen is one of the exciting eateries that have made Brixton Village Market a hub for discerning foodies in the last couple of years. Opened as part of the Empty Shops Project, its décor is pretty basic, but Etta’s Caribbean-influenced menu is excellent. It’s fish-focused with the picks of that morning’s visit to Billingsgate, but there are veggie options too.
Such is the density of Turkish restaurants between Dalston and Stoke Newington that, of an evening, the smell of grilled meat can be intoxicating. While Mangal II on Stoke Newington Road is the one with the hilarious Twitter account and famous regulars (artists Gilbert & George), Mangal Ocakbasi, just round the corner on Arcola Street, does the better food. Prices have risen in line with its popularity, but it’s still remarkably good value (especially considering you can bring your own booze and there’s no corkage). Order a mixed meze followed by a mixed grill and you’ll leave fat and happy.
Sensory overload is a serious danger at London’s oldest food market, with mouth-watering sights and smells at every turn. If you taste just one thing (unlikely, what with all the free samples on offer) make it this: a sublime sandwich from one of the city’s best tapas restaurants. You’ll have to wait a bit at lunchtime, but the queue moves quickly and the anticipation just serves to make that first mouthful of succulent sausage even more memorable.
Carb connoisseurs are in for a treat at friendly neighbourhood café Breads Etcetera which, alongside a menu of hearty brunch fare, operates an all-you-can-eat toast service. A central table is piled high with loaves of all shapes, sizes and grains (all freshly baked on site) and there are individual toasters on tables, allowing you to prepare your morning slice exactly how you like it. Dry toast is no fun at all, of course, so be sure to make good use of the sizeable arsenal of spreads and jams.
If there’s one thing London’s trendy set love more than an Aperol spritz (a blend of orangey aperitif, prosecco and soda water), it’s an unconventional party space. Open-air Peckham bar Frank’s Café has both (it’s located on top of a multi-storey car park), with sensational views across London to boot. As with all of the city’s rooftop bars, queues can become formidable when the sun’s out. They’re worth sticking out, though: Frank’s is a scene-leading bar that, for once, lives up to the hashtagged hyperbole.
After suspiciously cheap curry, Brick Lane’s second greatest contribution to London’s gastronomic index is the salt beef beigel, which have been served up at this charmingly scruffy bakery since 1977. It allegedly churns out 7,000 of the boiled bready beauties a day (that’s why it never closes), which are consumed by everyone from night-shifting taxi drivers and party people to savvy tourists and local pensioners. At just £3.70 a pop, it’d be rude not to.