It’s official. You’ve moved to London. With a four pack of baked beans, some Ikea cutlery, and your dreams in tow. But then the panic sets in. Someone points out that those rent prices are per week, not per month. You realise that the Tube is basically the Crystal Maze with no chance of winning anything apart from claustrophobia. Human beings start barking at you for walking at anything less than a constant 8mph.
Yes, London is dirty, brash, and edgy. It’s sexy, cultured, and kind. London is an absolute arsehole. London is glorious. And it’s all a bit overwhelming. That’s why we’ve created this, the London Survival Guide.
There are six sections to help you figure out:
- Where To Eat And Drink When You’re Exploring
- The Best Restaurants In London For Being A Bit Loud
- London’s Best Cheap Eats
- Where To Go On Dates
- Restaurants To Book For A Work Dinner
- Spots Where People Might Actually Talk To You
And they cover everywhere you’ll need to eat and drink in London while you find your feet.
Where To Eat And Drink When You’re Exploring
Look at you, out in the wild, making that urban jungle your own. You want to see it all, breathe it in, and down every last pint London has to offer. The only problem in a city so big that you develop an ant appreciation complex is: where to begin? Start too small, and you end up in a four-hour queue for the London Eye. Start too big, and you’ll find yourself in Richmond at 4am, asking a deer for directions to the nearest tube.
Our restaurant finder is the tool you need when you’re after recommendations near your current location, but here are some of our favourite spots for whilst you’re exploring, so that even if you get a little lost, you’ll know exactly where to eat.
One of your grandparents has read about something happening in Shoreditch, taken a blurred picture of the text, Facebook messaged it to you, and inexplicably commented on a friend’s Instagram of you from 2017 saying “sent u something you’d like xxxx love”. This is the stage Shoreditch is at. It is not cool. Nevertheless, it has a pretty cool restaurant in Brat. This grill heavy place keeps things simple and delicious. Meat, fish, vegetables, and bread are all cooked over open flames.
The hungover conundrum: you want dumplings, your mate wants pizza. Instead of turning to an always disappointing app, make sure you’re dozily wandering around Brixton instead. There aren’t many areas in London that have as diverse a choice of restaurants as round here, and Brixton Village is the spot to be in. This packed indoor and outdoor market has got Mamalan for solid noodles and dumplings, Fish Wings ’n Tings for reliably tasty jerk, El Rancho De Lalo for homely Colombian, Eat of Eden for vegan bits, plus more, and more, and more.
Eating blind in the West End is a dangerous game. It’s one big siren call to absolute cack. The neon lights are tempting you, the fried beige-ness is alluring to you, the background hum of microwaves is relaxing to you. Snap out of it. There’s plenty that’s rubbish around here, but there’s also plenty that’s worth your time. And Hoppers in Soho definitely is. This Sri Lankan restaurant is brilliant.
It’s a Saturday. You’re wandering along the river, loving life, breathing in that sweet London smog. You haven’t the foggiest where you are, but your phone says London Bridge. Well then, you’re in luck. Head towards Tower Bridge and go to Maltby Street Market. This is London’s best weekend food market. Get the steak and chips from The Beef Steaks, and whatever else takes your fancy. Which will probably be a lot.
Walking across Waterloo Bridge listening to The Kinks is romantic isn’t it? Gosh, London is such a vibrant, cultural hub. There’s the Royal Festival Hall. Ah the glorious brutalism of the Southbank Centre. It’s all so beautiful. But it’s also busy. Far too busy. And even though you’re brand new to town, aren’t you already starting to hate all the tourists taking selfies with St Paul’s in the background? Turn around and head towards the Anchor and Hope. This is one of London’s best pubs for food and drink.
The Best RESTAURANTS In London For bEING A Bit LOUD
A night out in London involves wading through a lot of crap to get to the good stuff. Yes, someone will approach you, and tell you that for £40 they can get you access to a member of Girls Aloud and a private booth. Run from them. Run fast. Instead, check out our full guide to the best Lively Restaurants That Won’t Ask You To ‘Keep It Down A Bit’, as well as the ones below.
Most lairy nights in London end with an Apprentice-like deal for free hot wings that can, if successful, leave you feeling like the leader of team Obnoxious Drunken Persistence. At Chick ‘n’ Sours, the fried chicken comes first. Or, perhaps after a couple of cocktails. Their k-pop burger is always delicious, as are lots of the Asian-inspired sides. And whether you’re in this, the original spot in Haggerston, or their Covent Garden place, you’re going to be able to have a good time.
There’s something about bar or counter seating that’s just fun, isn’t there? Maybe it’s the higher altitude, maybe it’s the ease of access to the gatekeeper of booze, or maybe it’s the fact that sometimes the seats twirl around. Whatever it is, The Palomar’s got it. This Israeli small plates restaurant is a proper laugh, and the food is excellent. Pitch up at the counter, get some bread, octo-hummus to share, and a bottle of whatever the doctor says you shouldn’t have.
An old school Italian classic that never gets old, Ciao Bella is the restaurant equivalent of spilling red wine down yourself before getting complimented on your ‘tie dye style’ by a half-cut stranger. In fact, we’re pretty sure that happened to us here. It’s a hot and brilliant mess of a restaurant that’s just as fun with one friend as it is with 20. Expect solid if unspectacular food, and lots of stories to tell the next day.
You know how to spell fun don’t you? F-U... No. That’s not how you spell fun. Fun is spelt BYOB. And Tayyabs is one of the best BYOB restaurants in London. This Punjabi spot is legendary, and we don’t say that lightly. If someone in your party isn’t screaming blood curdling cries of delight by the time the sizzling lamb chops arrive at your table (an absolute essential, by the way) then you’re doing something wrong. You’ll probably have to queue for a short time on Friday or Saturday nights, but, you know, that wine jacket will keep you warm.
Two seconds away from Highbury & Islington is Black Axe Mangal, or BAM to its mates, a slightly potty restaurant serving slightly potty food. This a restaurant that pushes all of your senses. From the Metallica blaring, to the fat and smoky scents coming from the kitchen, to the wallop of the foie gras and prune doughnut. It’s big, it’s bold, it’s in your face, and it’s exactly where you want to be for a good time.
The Best Cheap Eats In London
London has a catchphrase. And no, it isn’t ‘pour me a tea, mate’, even though we are obviously big fans of a cuppa. No, London’s unofficial slogan is, ’how much?’. You’ll hear sad Londoners shouting it through cinema doors. You’ll hear them muttering it with disbelief at the front of nightclub queues, their Monzo cards gripped protectively to their chests...
Don’t be alarmed. You don’t actually have to be an oligarch to live here. You just need to know where the steals are. Here’s our some of The Best Cheap Eats in London.
Roti King is the stuff of London legend. A full meal for under a fiver? What’s the trick? Do I have to donate a kidney as well? It’s alright, this cult Malay spot in Euston just so happens to serve tasty food at a particularly affordable price. No strings attached. They specialise in roti canai, and the curry lamb roti is just a couple of pounds extra. It’s definitely worth it.
Brasserie Zedel looks exactly like the kind of place you should avoid if you want to make rent. There are multiple chandeliers. That basically means taking out a loan, right? Wrong. At Brasserie Zedel, you can get yourself a very solid steak and fries, plus a glass of red for under £15.
A fiver is obviously the best note. Anything bought for a fiver is simultaneously satisfying and good value. And that’s definitely the case with a plate of seven Beijing-style dumplings with minced pork from Jen Cafe. You can see all of the dumplings being made through the window of this simple cafe in Chinatown, and at £5 it’s a deliciously good value snack.
“Pasta? You’re sending me to a pasta restaurant? Me and my trusty jar of Aldi pesto are just fine, thank you very much.” Well, the thing is, that pasta you’ve been living off for the past few months tastes nothing like the pasta from Padella in London Bridge. Firstly, their pasta is handmade, and comes with things like slow-cooked rabbit ragu, crab and chilli, or stuffed with ricotta. You’ll never look at the savers bag of dried penne quite the same way again.
Expensive doesn’t necessarily mean good. Take, for example, that fake designer jacket that has served you through four long winters. Or, the fact that we’d probably take a trip to Mangal Ocakbasi over many of their fancy-shmancy, gold-dust-baklava peers in London. This Turkish spot in Dalston is zero fuss, maximum taste, and delightfully cheap too. Grab your fellow interns a few of their starters, a couple fresh salads, and several of their grilled meat dishes. Or, take the person with the best Nietzsche jokes from your cultural studies class, and split the £32 Mangal Platter for two.
Souvlakiland is one of our east London go-tos when we’re in need of something that’s both filling and full of tasty stuff. The gyros at this little spot down Homerton High Street are packed full of pork, chips, salad, and homemade tzatziki. It’s easily one of the best value and best tasting meals around. So if you’re in the Homerton or Hackney Wick area, you know where to go.
where To Go On Dates In London
Put on your best undies people, because, it’s date night. Maybe, this is your first date and you’re delirious with hope and anxiety. Or, maybe it’s your 100th date, and you could pick the smell of their morning breath out of a line up. Either way, finding a top date spot in London can be tricky. On a Venn diagram of London restaurants, there aren’t many places that hit the sweet spot of not too much, and not too little. That’s why we’ve created a guide to the Best Date Night Restaurants, for everything from big anniversaries to first dates. Here are some of the best.
N.b. we also have a guide specifically for where to go on first dates.
Your idea of romance is finally busting out that coupon for your local sandwich shop. Stand down Romeo, we’d recommend heading to Naughty Piglets instead. This neighbourhood restaurant in Brixton serves creative French food (see, oysters with gooseberry granita) paired with natural wines. It has the kind of intimate atmosphere that’s perfect for a little hand holding. After dinner, head downstairs to the basement bar for a candlelit cocktail. See, romance ain’t dead.
Top tip: try not to dwell too much on the name of this bar. Especially conversation-wise. Depending on the emotional state of you or your date, unpacking this name after a couple of excellent (and strong) drinks may not the ideal topic. Or it might be, judging by how busy this place gets.
You’re not sure how it happened, but you’ve found yourself living in a harem with your partner, the remote, and a takeaway curry. It’s time to take things back to two with a date night at Morito. The Spanish and Moroccan inspired food is super fresh. The cava’s on tap. And the lighting is very good, so you can finally remember what your date looks like without the glow of Netflix in the background.
Come on. Who are you kidding? This isn’t love. It’s barely lust. There’s no point going all out on it. Head to the ’Spoons at Liverpool Street, load up on a few £4 doubles and see what happens. If the worst comes to the worst, it’s literally attached to a rail station.
P Franco is the kind of the place you take the love of your life. Or, take someone here when you want to convince them that you’re the love of theirs. This wine bar in Clapton is refined but never boring, tasteful but fun, cool but unpretentious. It’s basically all the things you want to be on this date. You might have to do some subtle shoulder barging to get two seats at the main island, but it’s worth it for an intimate evening of seasonal food and - obviously - plenty of wine.
Llerena is a cool tapas spot on Upper Street. It’s a top place for keeping things casual and pretending you haven’t been stalking your date’s dalmatian on Instagram since the two of you matched on Bumble. Start with a glass of rioja, the ewe’s cheese, and a plate of ibérico. And, if all goes well (it will, you’ve got this champ), move on to a bottle, oxtail croquettes, and several other dishes. Just remember not to mention Spot’s lovely walk in Victoria Park last Wednesday once you’re a bit tipsy and waiting for the churros.
Flour and Grape is the kind of restaurant you see in a sophisticated rom-com scene, where Ryan Gosling lovingly brushes a strand of hair from Emma Stone’s face. And, you think ‘that looks lovely, but I’m not adult enough for that, am I?’ You are. This homemade pasta spot in Bermondsey is a classy date option where you can do worldly things like share a starter, and avoid eating with your hands. But, with the entirely unshareable roasted pork shoulder tortelloni coming in at only £9, you don’t have to worry about spending a fortune on an evening with a person you realistically might not like. Of course, if it does go well, there’s always the gin bar downstairs.
Your mate recommended you for some sort of exclusive dating app and you appear to have matched with what (appears) to be royalty. Well tally-ho and bottoms up, it’s time for a snifter at Scarfes Bar in The Rosewood Hotel. The cocktails are strong in alcohol content and price, and the atmosphere suits anyone whether they’re 400th in line to the throne, or not.
You’re meeting a complete stranger from the internet who could feasibly become your great love, or lock you in a cupboard for the rest of your youth. Yes, online dating is quite a treat for the nerves, but Neapolitan-style pizzeria Santa Maria is just the place to calm you down. They serve great pizza with simple ingredients, and have enough £6.50 cocktails to make the whole evening tolerable, even if your date meant ‘part-time magician’ when they said they were in the entertainment industry. Plus, it’s a lovely, open space with a big pizza oven, and plenty of witnesses in case they start to seem a bit Patrick Bateman.
You’ve come a long way since they unironically used the word ‘eargasm’ about your favourite band when you first met. You’ve even moved to London together. Theo’s in Camberwell is the perfect date night pizzeria that you can wander to together, week after week. Their massive pizza oven bangs out some of the best in London, and with the choice of adding on anything from parma ham to aubergine. We’re no dating experts, but we’re pretty sure a regular cheap and cheerful pizza at Theo’s is the secret to a winning relationship.
WHERE TO EAT WITH A COUPLE WHEN YOU'RE SINGLE
They say three’s a crowd. But, is three a crowd when your only two friends are in the corner conjoining themselves like a couple of spooning octopuses, and you’re alone, trying to stare at Twitter? Riddle us that reader. Look, eating with a couple isn’t easy (we’ve got a whole guide to it), but there are places that are just right. Depending on the type of couple you’re with.
One joke. You made one joke that your friend would be better off with so and so, and now it might actually be happening. You can’t spend time with that person. They think Netflix was invented to rot the world’s brain. You’ll have to sit in silence and talk about the moon. No no no. Book Lady of the Grapes in Covent Garden for some wine and nibbles and make what was stagnant sexy again, before leaving them be because you’re dog sitting a dog, somewhere, or something.
Wanting a friend’s new partner to like you is a dangerous game. Start a three-way Whatsapp group too early and, well, it may be misinterpreted. Play it too cool and your chances of being invited to that family villa you’ve heard about are minimal. What you want to do is take them to Brigadiers. This Indian BBQ restaurant is a place to have a laugh. Think bone marrow biryani with espresso martinis in the pool room. You’ll have that invitation to the south of France in no time.
The fact an announcement didn’t happen sooner is ludicrous. Absurd. The way they first shared a croquette was practically x-rated. A croquette is the size of a toe. It is clearly, clearly, not a sharing food. Whatever. At least you’ll get the credit for taking them to the ideal ‘we’re-about-to-share croquettes-for-the-rest-of-our life-restaurant’ in Noble Rot. This restaurant and wine bar is the place in London to celebrate anything and everything. How did you know they’d want a magnum of bubbly? Who doesn’t want a bloody magnum of bubbly?
where to book for a work dinner
There will come a day, not far from now, when you will need to splash the cash. Stop laughing, because yes, you’ve just moved to London, so right now you’re single-handedly boosting pot noodle sales by 50%. But, give it a month or two and we can guarantee that your brand new boss will want you to book a business lunch. Or, the founder of that startup you’re interning for will demand quickfire suggestions on where to eat excellent sushi with plenty of dry ice, but, also, in a casual setting. Here are a few suggestions for when you’re staring down the barrel of a business meal, and have absolutely no idea where to go.
Your boss treats your office supplies startup as if it’s NATO. Every ballpoint is spoken about as if it’s a ballistic missile, and, frankly, it’s a bit tiring. Every swashbuckling prat should have their day though, so take them to Hide. This £20-million mega-restaurant has got fine dining upstairs, à la carte on ground, and a bar down below. You can choose from its vast and expensive wine cellar via an iPad, and the tasty (but spenny) food all comes with flowers on top. Obviously. It should please anyone with an unhealthy amount of self-importance, and better credit than you.
Lurra is the bi-annual magazine of restaurants. It goes on weekend trips to Sicily ‘just to get away for a minute’. It has an Aga in London, and in the house in Devon. It puts on a ratty jumper from the bedroom floor and looks like a model. It’s that kind of place. This Spanish Basque restaurant serves ultra-tasty food in an ultra-trendy environment. It’s as good as it looks.
There is something innately right about being in the pub with coworkers. The office, and the pub. They’re the only places that are normal, really. Everything else is just, a bit weird. You ever done karaoke with your office? Absolute car crash that ends with an HR intervention, right there. The Coach is an excellent choice for food and drink with work. The food in this boozer-done-good is French bistro, and the surroundings are comfortable and classy. Book upstairs if the weather isn’t looking great. Or, even better, their private room.
Sometimes you just need a safe option. A recognisable name with guaranteed good food. Barrafina is just that. This tapas mini-chain is part of the furniture in London nowadays, and with good reason. Both the Adelaide Street and Drury Lane restaurants have private dining options, so if you’re looking for a low-risk, high-satisfaction option, look no further.
If there was ever a way to ‘seal the deal’, (see, we’re quite business-y), then it’s booking Noble Rot. This is our favourite place in London, period. Everything is just spot on. The food is lovely, the wine excellent (it’s a wine bar and restaurant), and the atmosphere comfortable and classy in equal measure. Really you want to come here with workmates you really like, or, at least, with workmates you want to really like you.
There’s something very decadent about booking a business lunch. Is anyone actually going to get any work done? We doubt it. Has everyone just watched a bit too much Mad Men? Almost definitely. That said, if you are going to do it, you may as well do it properly. So go to Kitty Fisher’s. This cosy restaurant in Shepherd Market feels a bit old school with its velvet decadence, but the food itself is anything but. It’s the kind of restaurant that takes about an entire day and about a week’s pay. It’s exactly what you want when someone else is paying.
‘ABC baby, AY-BEE-SEE. That’s right. Always. Be. Closing. That’s what we do’. If that sounds like something you’d hear in your office then, our commiserations. Fortunately, Goodman is the ideal place to close the deal on a steak hungry workplace. These guys focus on beef, and it’s a good spot to fulfil the needs of anyone particularly carnivorous amongst your workmates.
Spots Where People Might Actually Talk To You
London has this strange reputation for being unfriendly. Okay, sure, if you wave at someone on the Tube they’ll definitely think you’ve just suffered an aneurysm. But, there are some spots in London where you can get talking to strangers without anyone throwing you any funny looks. You might even make some brand new friends. We’ve got a guide on Where To Eat When You Want To Talk To People, but here are just a few suggestions to get you started.
The Prince in Earl’s Court is three bars, four restaurants, and an English summer garden all rolled into one. A spot of many talents, it’s great for grabbing some street food, getting chatting to your neighbours, or even having a cheeky flirt over a £7 frozen margarita. There’s a monthly musical chairs of street food vendors, but you’re pretty much guaranteed a great burger, and the chance to bond with one of the other people enjoying the view.
Nothing, absolutely nothing, connects people like loving and/or despising the same films. The Lion King was your ticket to friendship in primary school, and these days, your best mates know exactly how you feel about Kubrick. Electric Diner in Notting Hill is next door to the Electric Cinema, and you’ll often find people in animated chats about whatever film they’ve just wandered out of. But, that’s not the only reason this American-style diner is a conversation hot spot. Electric Diner has the combination of a lovely yet lively atmosphere, very shareable sides (shoutout to the mac ‘n’ cheese) and, a cocktail called ‘payday’ which could make even two paper bags best friends. If you’re not part of a Facebook Spike Lee fan club by the end of the night, then that’s on you.
Drink, Shop & Do
You Googled ‘how to make new friends in London’ and there were a lot of suggestions. Things like ‘join your local book club’, ‘start playing netball’, or, our personal favourite, ‘just walk up to people you think you’d get on with and say hello!’. Well, maybe you’re over reading Fitzgerald for fun, you’ve never been athletic, and you don’t want to get arrested. It’s okay, Drink, Shop and Do in King’s Cross have fun activites (yes, they exist), like Simpsons quiz nights, musical bingo, and even pimp your pineapple classes. Plus, it’s always easier to start a conversation with a stranger when you’ve got a 22-strong menu of cocktails at your disposal. Be sure to try one of their fresh cakes with your potential new pals.