London Restaurants To Take Tourists That Won’t Make You Hate Yourself
These are the spots that will make tourists happy, and you’ll have a good time too.
It can be fun when people with smiles on their faces visit you in London. You want to show them your local, walk around Hampstead Heath, and take them to all the best neighbourhood restaurants within a 10-minute walk of your home. Of course, they don’t care. They want to eat in Zone 1. They want a swarm of pigeons around 24/7. They want somewhere that was in, or looks like it could’ve been in, The Crown or a spot where they can replicate the same loo selfie ‘grammed by everyone and their nan. Thankfully, there are compromises. Places that have history, are kind of glitzy or, at the very least, serve a very good English breakfast. These are the spots that will make tourists happy, and you’ll have a good time too.
The French House
The sooner you accept the fact that you will be spending the majority of the next three days on London’s most mentally and physically testing street, the sooner you can book your lunch at The French House—one of London’s best-known, much-loved, and dependable Soho institutions of happiness and hangovers. The floorboards of this boozer have seen things. Some good, some bad, and some that look like Hugh Grant recreating his mugshot. Legendary downstairs bar aside, you’ll want to go upstairs to the food. Expect Anglo-French classics like rillettes, braised oxtail, and Paris brest with chocolate sauce.
photo credit: Giulia Verdinelli
We know people who have got the express train from Heathrow to this Knightsbridge spot on a 12-hour layover in London just to get a full English in this iconic dining room. It’s a big, converted 1920s car showroom. It’s grand and bright, but just a little medieval thanks to the black pillars, vaulted ceiling, and huge wrought iron chandeliers. And it’ll impress even your most demanding second cousin. Because short of having Olivia Coleman serenade you with God Save The Queen over your toast, this is the most British way you can start your day. Yes, it’s £23.50, but it’s a huge fry-up, and if you’re rolling as a pair, sharing this and another dish is an excellent game plan.
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The best way to do London is to go OTT. And the best place to go OTT is this masterclass in daft glamour, party potential, and Italian food that has been given a truffle sidekick for no apparent reason. Ave Mario is undeniably fun. This limoncello-soaked looker is from the people behind Gloria, Circolo Popolare, and other XXL trattorias dotted around Europe where you’ve probably queued, and definitely cursed. But all is forgiven because Ave Mario is bigger, better, and importantly, you can book. Carbohydrates, cheese, and celebration—this Covent Garden trattoria has got all the important boxes ticked.
Chiltern Firehouse is a Marylebone restaurant and hotel that has a reputation for attracting the rich and famous. So your Deux Moi-devotee pal will more than likely have already made a booking for you both before they even touch down (because you will need a booking). But before you panic that celebrities usually have terrible taste in restaurants—please see The Daily Mail’s sidebar of shame—you’ll actually have a good time here. Between the exceptional service and the IRL filter of the warm amber lighting, you’ll have a gorgeous, gorgeous meal with decent food too.
To some people, a trip to London isn’t complete without watching an underwhelming street performer outside M&M’s World. But anyone who’s had a meal at this understated Malaysian restaurant inside Queensway Market, knows that eating the flaky roti canai should be high up on any tourist’s to-do list. You’ll find plate after plate of perfectly fried chicken wings, mee goreng chicken, and king prawn laksa, all of which you should strictly avoid sharing. And if in doubt: order more roti.
This old-school Kensington restaurant is the kind of place where you’re too busy leaning over a candle, chatting, and shovelling fish pie in your mouth, to even think about making that 3pm tour bus—very convenient. It serves simple, British classics that could easily be dismissed as tasting homemade. So, the roast rump of lamb comes with a choice of peas and bacon or cauliflower and cheese, and your mate might inexplicably have a couple more potatoes on their plate. It’s you, cooking fancy British classics at home, being bold with the saffron. Only better. Much better.
The Fryer's Delight
If someone is visiting from anywhere outside the UK, the likelihood is they’ll want to have fish and chips at some point. While the fish and chips from The Fryer’s Delight is by no means the best we’ve ever had, the Bloomsbury chippy is the most aesthetically pleasing in London. We know we’re not meant to care about these things, but, honestly, it’s hard to resist a little smile when you sit down in one of their bright red formica-table booths. This place isn’t trying to be old-school, it just is. The fish and chips themselves are tasty enough, but it doesn’t really matter as a solid portion of haddock, chips, and mushy peas is well under a tenner, and also a bit priceless in a place like this.
When you’re at this spot in Whitechapel, whether seated at one of the big family tables or stood outside, you’ll feel like you’ve arrived. Like you’re actually in London. It’s loud, it’s full of families, couples, friends who are making the most of the no corkage fee, and it’s been serving excellent Punjabi food since 1972. There’s a lot to appreciate at this East End institution, not least the decently priced curries, grilled lamb chops, and sensational keema naan. Most of all, what makes this place a classic is the fact that despite the many top-tier Punjabi restaurants in the city, this will still be the one that springs to mind when someone asks where to find a really great curry.
photo credit: Rob Greig
Now that they have not just one, not just two, but three restaurants in London, it’s all about doing St. John the correct way. Funnily enough, that way works for both locals and tourists alike. That’s because St. John Smithfield is best visited in the day, midweek, and only at the bar. The glaringly stark, heavenly bar area is free from music and phone signal, leaving you to have a judgement-free midday negroni in peace. We’d recommend you follow that up with some Welsh rarebit, bone marrow, and madeleines too.
photo credit: Karolina Wiercigroch
Arguably the definitive East End caff, these days E. Pellicci manages to juggle being both a tourist destination for those seeking a glorious, coronary-inducing fry-up (featuring both bubble and squeak, and hash browns) of the most English variety, and serving those who have been coming here for donkey’s years. Though probably not since it opened in 1900. If you’re looking for a more low-key experience in terms of busyness, come in the week. That said, Nevio (owner, son, geezer) and his family always make sure Pellicci’s is a lively and lovely place to be.
Sessions Arts Club
Sessions Arts Club may just be London’s hottest restaurant for the rest of time. No other lift in London takes you to a room quite as gorgeously (and purposefully) dilapidated as this one. If there’s one restaurant your friend has been eyeing up on Instagram, it’s more than likely this instant classic in Clerkenwell. Enormous ceilings, peeling wallpaper, candles flickering, and a dish of squid and pasta that is as beautiful and as elegant as its surroundings. The only problem is getting a reservation. But you’re going to have to put some effort in if you don’t want to end up at Angus Steak House.
photo credit: Karolina Wiercigroch
The River Café is almost as famous as Buckingham Palace. Not quite, of course, but the last time we checked you couldn’t get taleggio pizzetta and zesty lemon tart at the King’s gaff, so that counts for something. London’s OG Italian restaurant has been serving fresh tagliatelle, radicchio salads, and their oh-so-rich chocolate cake in Hammersmith since 1987. It’s on the Thames, it’s an icon, and everyone of every generation wants to eat here. As you might expect, the prices are sky-high. But it’s worth it for a special occasion and a slice of London restaurant history.
photo credit: Jake Missing
Paul Rothe & Sons Delicatessen
Nothing spells existential despair like a Saturday in central London. However, lunch from Paul Rothe will lift anyone’s spirits. The oldest of old-school sandwich shops (it opened in 1900), this century-old Marylebone deli will do anything you like. You’ve got old friends like coronation chicken, a variety of cheeses on offer, pastrami, and all manner of sandwich mixes for you to peer into under the counter. We like to keep things classic with the egg mayo, anchovy, and chive combination on springy white bread. Inside it’s a mix between a caff, a deli, and a kind of Ye Olde Chutney Emporium. Manners are encouraged but don’t make the mistake of standing on ceremony: it’s first come first served, so order and grab a table.