LDNGuide

Where To Eat When You're Visiting London

Coming to London for the first time is exciting and intimidating. Let us take some of the pressure off by suggesting where to eat.
The fish and chips surrounded by other dishes at The Cadogan Arms.

photo credit: Aleksandra Boruch

London is big. In fact, it’s sprawling. And there are literally thousands of pubs to choose from. So where should you go on your first visit here? Well, we’ve got some thoughts. This is an impossible city to get a feel for the first time around. But we can help you have a pretty good go—all while avoiding Leicester Square and M&M’s World. These restaurants aren’t all the newest, best, or most classic. They just make sense on a first-time visit. And yes, all are easily accessible by tube.

That said, we do have a guide to The Best 25 Restaurants in London. And one to London’s Must-Visit Classic Restaurants too. If you want to know what’s new and hot, check out The Hit List.


BREAKFAST

photo credit: Karolina Wiercigroch

Bakery/Cafe

Bethnal Green

$$$$Perfect For:BreakfastClassic EstablishmentLunch
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Open since 1900, E Pellicci is a haven for both tourists seeking a glorious, coronary-inducing fry-up of the most English variety, and those who have been coming here for donkey’s years. If you’re looking for a more low-key experience in terms of busyness, visit the Bethnal Green cafe during the week. That said, Nevio (owner, son, and front of house) and his family always make sure Pellicci’s is a lively and lovely place to be.

photo credit: Giulia Verdinelli

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Short of having Olivia Coleman serenade you with God Save The King over your toast, a full English breakfast at The Wolseley is the most British way you can start your day. The Mayfair classic has one of London’s most beautiful dining rooms—a 1920s art deco, former car showroom converted into a perma-bustling brasserie. A fry-up, a pile of pancakes, or afternoon tea here aren’t cheap, but few rooms in London are as good-looking as this one.

Koya, a walk-in only udon bar in the heart of Soho, is one of London’s most celebrated modern classics. The Japanese counter spot serves an excellent breakfast daily, which is just as well because after inhaling that first bowl, you’ll want it with alarming regularity. The English breakfast udon bowl—a combination of crispy bacon, mushrooms, gooey egg, broth, and noodles—is how we dream of starting every day.

The Regency is London’s most famous and most photographed old-school cafe. It’s also the city’s loudest. Orders are yelled across the beige tiled dining room with blood curdling abandon, although nothing about the bacon and blood pudding here is threatening. A full English is made with generous and precise expertise—not too greasy, nor too much—and an untraditional addition of hash browns always goes down a treat. It’s as much a London landmark as nearby Buckingham Palace and Big Ben.

photo credit: Ola Smit

There’s something about Tashas that makes us feel like we’re in an alternate reality where the sun is always shining on Battersea and passion fruit granitas are a routine part of our day. Maybe it’s the Pinterest coffee shop feel or the fact that time seems to slow down. The all-day cafe suits a leisurely occasion but around brunch time, it feels like an avocado-filled spa day. There are plenty of eggs, oats, and clotted cream-topped brioche toast. The only problem is that eventually, you have to leave but at least you’re right outside Battersea Power Station.


LUNCH

If you’re looking for a lunch that involves hustle and bustle, head down to Borough Market. But if you’re looking for a serene (and semi-secret) lunch where you can hear the birds tweet, Rochelle Canteen is your place. You’ll find the British restaurant behind the walls of an old school in Shoreditch and, once buzzed in, it's somewhere you’ll never want to leave. When the sun is shining and a plate of neon radishes with cod’s roe is put in front of you, this restaurant feels like a hazy daydream. 

A pub, a French restaurant, and a living museum all at once, The French House is a must-visit Soho institution. Fondly referred to as ‘The French’ by its regular patrons and those who’ve watched one too many Guy Ritchie films, this pub is just as popular for eating as it is for drinking. Its red-walled upstairs dining room, all creaking floorboards and four-hour lunches, is a place to lean into. The steak frites served on Thursdays are peerless and the chocolate mousse is both the richest and lightest in London.

We thoroughly recommend avoiding the queue at Madame Tussauds and instead, going for a stroll in Regent’s Park before joining the lunchtime line at Royal China. This legendary Baker Street restaurant channels the atmosphere of a dim sum convention and a wedding you’ve crashed, all at once. Slippery char siu cheung fun and wonderfully textured turnip cake should be on your table, and a bowl of crispy chilli beef never goes amiss. Although, frankly, everything hits. It doesn’t take bookings on weekends, hence the bustle of families and friends at the door.

Brixton Market is always alive with atmosphere rain or shine, and nowhere better gives off that good-time feeling than Fish, Wings & Tings. This multicoloured Caribbean spot never fails to put a smile on our faces and the same applies to ordering a round of crispy saltfish fritters while you’re waiting for your jerk chicken to arrive. All in all, it’s one of south London’s most reliable serotonin hits, especially if the sun is out.

The Golden Chippy serves fish cloaked with brittle, greaseless batter that tastes fresh rather than being masked by day-old oil or by being overzealous with the salt and vinegar. All of the classics are available, including somewhat less common skate and halibut. Queues often snake out the door of the Greenwich chippy on the weekend, and while you could eat in at one of the few tables in the basic restaurant area, we prefer ordering to take away. Just be prepared to swat away seagulls.


DINNER

Normah’s is a tiny Malaysian restaurant deep inside Queensway Market, just north of Hyde Park. Normah herself sends out plates of sensationally fried chicken wings, flaky roti, pink and tender beef rendang, and a whole lot more. It’s a simple, canteen-ish place, with a handful of tables and a fish tank in front of the till. But this isn’t a restaurant that concerns itself with appearances—it’s too busy focusing on flavour.

photo credit: Aleksandra Boruch

There are arguably better areas for shopping but Oxford Street is somewhere every first-time tourist will inevitably end up (and sure, the lights are pretty come Christmas). However, there’s a real reason to navigate the crowds here: Chishuru. Off the main drag, it’s brimming with life, West African flavours, and genuine verve. The terracotta tones are warm, the spicy okra martinis lethal, and the peppersoup broth is the drinkable kick up the arse that everyone needs. London is blessed with plenty of West African spots, but none of them are like Chishuru.

Some restaurants seek out fame but Darjeeling Express is so good that it happened naturally. Head chef and owner Asma Khan became a Netflix star, A-list fans followed, and this all-female Indian spot in Soho still makes some of the most luscious paneer korma around. Khan still walks about the comfortable restaurant, welcoming guests, offering to bring raita to cool the excellently spicy Bengali aloo dam, and making you feel like you’re eating at a really fun, really popular friend's house. 

Clerkenwell institution St. John is London’s temple of British cookery. Its ‘nose-to-tail’ cooking approach is known the world over. The pies are an experience that every person should have at least once in their life. In fact, the whole restaurant is. From the heavenly all-white and signal-less bar and bakery area, filled with the noise of glasses clinking and fresh madeleines baking, to the bustling dining room where crémant is popped and bone marrow is spread onto toast.

Even for first-time visitors, an evening around Carnaby Street can make dinner in the bowels of hell seem appealing. But Donia acts like noise-cancelling headphones to the stresses of Kingly Court. The room has a warm modernity to it which is matched by chummy service and elegant Filipino dishes with a sprinkling of Soho pizzazz. When dishes sing here, they belt. Chicken inasal is vibrant with vinegar, the lamb caldereta is one of the best pies in London, and the ube choux one of the city’s best desserts.

At Kolae, fire whooshes up from the wok in the buzzy open kitchen-cum-counter and, from your first sip of a mini martini to the final crunch of deep-fried prawn head, you’ll be swooning at its flavour-fuelled charm offensive. The slick three-floor restaurant, which focuses on southern Thai cooking, is smack bang in the heart of Borough Market, near London Bridge. But a trip to this spot is worth its own occasion.


DRINKS

This sultry little basement spot in Soho is a destination for anyone who likes to cosplay being a James Bond villain, plus the cocktails are outstanding. It’s alchemy via the medium of curry leaf vermouth, coconut milk, and a cardamom-loaded negroni (that’s one of the best versions of the drink in London). Soma’s short cocktail list remixes—nay, improves—the classics and serves them around one enormous shimmering silver central bar.

There’s a feeling of mischief seeping out from every floorboard of this Americana-feeling saloon bar and red dining room in Notting Hill. It’s just one of the reasons The Cow is a scene that you can’t help but want to be a part of, whether you’re sinking pints at the front or staining white tablecloths with smoky fish stew upstairs. If you nab a spot with your Portobello Road Market haul on a Saturday, know you’ve done very well and order The Cow special: six oysters and a Guinness

Drinking at Gothic Bar, inside the St. Pancras Renaissance Hotel, will make you feel your most bewitching, monied self. This King’s Cross bar is made for the evening, when the heavy, red curtains are pulled to and the dim, yellow light from lamps throw shadows against the walls. It’s part Venetian mansion, with ornate columns and tapestry-like carpets, and part smoking room of the world’s richest person. The cocktails are inventive—infused with chipotle, sage leaf, and hawthorn—and excellent, particularly their crisp, clean signature martini.

At The Cadogan Arms there’s an open fire, fish and chips on the menu, and deep armchairs that will swallow you whole after a third pint. But that plays it down. This golden, jaw-dropping Chelsea pub serves quintessential British cosiness with the gliding confidence and sophistication of a Downton Abbey dame. With rare bottles of Bordeaux and stained glass windows, this is a public house that’s truly fit for the King’s Road.

Dukes, an old-school hotel bar in St James’s, is world-renowned for its ice-cold, sucker-punch martini for good reason—this is Sir Ian Fleming’s former favoured drinking den, after all. Spirits and glasses are stored in the freezer and the martinis—made with five shots of gin—are prepared tableside with a flourish. The carpets, dark blue armchairs, and paintings of nobility on the walls can make it feel a little stuffy here but the smartly dressed staff treat everyone like a distinguished guest.


SUNDAY ROASTS

The Camberwell Arms isn’t a sticky carpet and shots type of pub. It’s a sticky pork fat and scotch bonnet on toast type of gastropub. From the moment you walk in, you can smell the beer in the floorboards and the butter in the air. So it’s no surprise it makes one of the best Sunday roasts around. Everything is made to share—beef and Guinness pies, slow-roasted lamb shoulder with creamed cavolo nero, and rumps of beef. Leave room though, because the ginger loaf and custard should never be missed.

A combination of TVs, live sports, and crispy roasties is something of a holy grail and The George has all three in the middle of central London. This clean-cut Fitzrovia pub is very much a drinking den downstairs, for a drink and superb sticky toffee pudding with the football on. The upstairs dining room feels like the posh bit of the Titanic. Eating a beef rump roast in here will make you feel like you’re in the upper echelons of society.

If you’re planning to wander around Brick Lane, Spitalfields, and end up at Colombia Road Flower Market on a Sunday, then get organised and make a booking at the Marksman. It’s east London’s most popular gastropub, thanks in no small part to its delightful handheld beef and barley buns with horseradish cream. Their roast menu is a three-course affair both in the downstairs bar and upstairs dining room, and a whole roast chicken with anchovy salad rarely goes amiss. That said, if a pie is on, get it.

There is no meal more traditional than the Sunday roast, so when somewhere like The Tamil Crown starts playing around with it so deliciously, you should pay extra special attention. This low-key neighbourhood Indian restaurant in Angel makes flavour-packed, masala-roasted meats that come with gravy, roti, and roast potatoes. A whole chicken or tender lamb shank should be priority, but there’s a vegetarian sambar, potato, and peas masala option as well.

There aren’t many halal Sunday roasts in London, but of the ones we’ve tried, the jerk beef number at Guanabana, a Caribbean restaurant on Kentish Town Road, is the best. Load up your fork with tender jerk beef, crispy roast potato, a caramelised baby carrot, a piece of sweet plantain, and the edge of a yorkshire pudding soaked in gravy. No one will look twice if you rock up in your trackies. The chef dashes out order after order from the open kitchen, and on a Sunday, when the roast service is in full swing, it can all get a little bit chaotic, in a good way.

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