Britain is a culinary marvel, and it’s given us the likes of Gordon Ramsay, Jamie Olliver, Nigella Lawson, and Paul Hollywood. Most Anglophiles know there’s a wealth of good food to be found in the country and that London is as much the food capital of the UK as it is the political capital. If you find yourself in London and want to sample some local cuisine, we recommend trying one of these ten dishes below. Since this isn’t an exhaustive list, you can share some of your own favorite British and London foods with us in the comments.
Department store Fortnum and Mason claim to have invented the Scotch Egg as early as 1738 as a traveler’s snack, though the documentation that was the basis for this claim has been lost to time. The dish is made with a boiled egg at the center covered in sausage and bread crumbs and then deep fried. Now you can find them all over the city, but F&M is certainly the top place to get one.
Pie & Mash
Pie & Mash is a working-class meal that originated in East London near the docks. It consists of a savory beef pie, mashed potatoes, and a parsley sauce known as “liquor.” It’s very often served with jellied eels (more on those below) and can be found in pie & mash shops throughout the city that remain as popular with Londoners as fish & chips shops.
Tea has been an important part of British culture since the 17th Century, and you’d be hard-pressed to find a society on this side of the globe that loves it more. While coffee houses preceded tea rooms in London, the culture quickly flipped when Thomas Twining opened the city’s first tea room in 1707. Now you can find them in every borough and neighborhood. There are great options for every taste, from those who want a bit of fun with their afternoon tea to more traditional meals.
The Bacon Butty is one of nature’s greatest (and probably most fattening) gifts. It is, at its heart, a bacon sandwich, sometimes with brown sauce or another condiment. It’s easy to find all over London and made in a variety of ways. It’s also the perfect thing if you have a hangover from the night before.
Sticky Toffee Pudding
Sticky Toffee Pudding consists of a moist sponge cake, chopped dates, and a sticky toffee syrup. It can be served with vanilla ice cream or custard. The exact origins are disputed though the two leading contenders exist well outside of London in Yorkshire and Aberdeenshire. It experienced a popularity explosion in the 1970s and can be found as a popular dessert at restaurants throughout the city.
Eton Mess is a dessert that’s believed to have originated at the elite public school (what we would call a private boarding school) of Eton College in London. It’s made with a mixture of berries, meringue, and whipped cream. It was supposedly served for the first time after a cricket match against rival Harrow College, which calls the dish “Harrow Mess.” You can get it in plenty of restaurants served a variety of ways, but one of my favorites are the Eaton Mess Doughnuts from Bread Ahead.
Bubble & Squeak
The humorous name belies a classic working-class dish made of cabbage and mashed potatoes and fried in a pan. The name “bubble and squeak” actually comes from the sounds the dish makes while cooking it. You can find it most often in cafes, pubs, and restaurants with a focus on breakfast and styles that range from traditional to nuanced.
Cockles might be the type of dish best braved by people who like oysters. They have long been popular in seaside communities and were once sold outside London pubs by street vendors as a snack. Today you can find them in the grocery store or at any number of seafood restaurants in London prepared in a variety of ways.
Jellied Eels were a popular dish in London’s East End starting in about the 18th Century. It was popular with the Cockney working class as eels were relatively cheap and available, often from nets pulled right out of the River Thames. The dish is prepared by chopping the eels into rounds and then boiling them in water and vinegar with lemon juice and nutmeg. Proteins in the eels release when it’s cooked, turning the mixture into a jelly. Pie and mash shops in London still sell them as the dishes are commonly eaten together.
Fish & Chips
Brought to England by immigrants, each of the dishes that makes up fish and chips came together in London, though some detractors will claim it first came about in London. Equally muddled is which chippy opened first, though the National Federation of Fish Fryers agrees the city’s first fish and chip shops were opened by Joseph Malin around 1860. The first mention of it in literature comes from Charles Dickens in A Tale of Two Cities, one year prior to Malin’s first shop. You might want to try asking around for the best chippies since everyone is likely to have their own opinion.