London is one of the world’s most highly recognizable and historic cities, known far and wide for many remarkable things: The Royal Monarchy, iconic landmarks and posh traditions. Unfortunately, food isn’t one of them. Described by outsiders as “unfussy,” “uncomplicated” and more harshly, “inedible” British cuisine has gotten a bad rap over the years, despite London’s seat as one of the world’s most metropolitan and trendy cities.
So what should a first time visitor eat? As an advocate of unfussy cooking and a lover of any and all things comfort food, I proudly see the Brits’ idea of uncomplicated, cozy dishes as a culinary success; just one more of their remarkable contributions to the world. During a recent 3-day trip to London, my main priority was to fit in as many meals as I could in 72 hours. The ultimate destination for comfort food; London boasts everything from legendary steak and ale pies to authentic, fresh Indian food. The local drinks aren’t bad either. After three days, a full belly and a happy heart, I am proud to declare the reasons why I deem London the ultimate comfort food city.
Perhaps the foundation of London’s culinary identity is the ubiquitous public house.
On a 72-hour time crunch, I always recommend that a first timer starts with (of course) fish and chips, steak and ale pies and my personal favorite, sausages and mash. Simple and hearty, pub food is the pinnacle of British cuisine, and a great starting place for anyone looking to experience the city in a short time. And who doesn’t love an excuse to have a beer with lunch? There are plenty of pubs within walking distance to the main tourist sites, like the Sherlock Holmes on Northumberland Street – a quick walk to Trafalga Square, the London Eye, Westminster Abbey and the National Gallery.
If you are lucky enough to spend a long weekend in London, do not miss Sunday roast. A tradition dating back centuries, Sunday roasts were typically enjoyed as a feast following church services – the leftovers of which provided family meals throughout the week. The finest example of traditional British cuisine, a full Sunday roast means beef, potatoes, vegetables, Yorkshire pudding and gravy. Check out some fantastic examples from Time Out London, here.
Authentic Indian Food
It’s no secret that Britain is wild about Indian food, and London is a hotbed of renowned and authentic curry houses. For Indian street food with a modern spin, try Roti Chai, within walking distance from Hyde Park, Oxford Circus and the Marble Arch. With classics like malabar mooli prawns, butter chicken, vegetable pullao and new additions like five spice pulled pork, you won’t be disappointed.
Afternoon tea is a classic British tourist trap, but for first timers, the tradition can be a fun way to pretend you’re a dignified royal (and might make you feel better about spending the first two days at the pub). The Fortnum and Mason Diamond Jubilee Tea Salon is my personal favorite - and offers visitors an impressive, elegant (and unlimited!) spread of tea, sandwiches, scones and cakes for around £44 a person.
Finally, Banoffee pie. Do not miss the Banoffee pie. Bananas, cream, toffee…just order it.
After eating like a true Brit for a few days, it’s impossible to say that British cuisine isn’t one of the most satisfying comfort foods in the world. I mean, they have roast chicken and thyme chips for Christ’s sake.
A lover of food, wine and travel, Laura is a freelance writer from NYC eating and drinking her way through the world. A graduate of the Institute of Culinary Education, Laura is a trained chef with a degree in culinary arts and a WSET II award in wine & spirits.