11 British Dishes To Try When Visiting London
If you are visiting London there are some essential dishes you should definitely try. These dishes are synonymous with Britain and are not just iconic they are also incredibly tasty. Where better to try them than in London.
Britain is not a place that many people associate with great cuisine. The countries' cooking is often associated with bland, unimaginative dishes made with cheap ingredients. It is certainly fair to say that the nation has, at least not in recent times, had a reputation for being at the centre of the gastronomical good food map.
These perceptions arguably do not do justice or reflect the rich culinary history of our tiny isles. Especially given the influences brought to us by our former conquerors and the ubiquitous, celebrated Kings and Queens of gastronomy, the French; who not only influenced our tastes but also our language when it comes to the dinner table.
The notoriety associated with the British kitchen has started to change though, particularly in London where many of the World's best and most celebrated restaurants can be found, and where many recognised chefs ply their trade.
If you are visiting any country there is no better path to a better understanding of that country's culture by sampling their traditional food. With those thoughts in mind allow us to present to you our top picks for the best dishes to try when visiting London, and of course, recommendations for where to try them.
Full English Breakfast (with Black Pudding)
One of the most iconic British meals of the day is without doubt breakfast which is a meal with little competition around the globe in terms of iconic status at least from an English man's perspective.
Try serving any other kind of breakfast to an English man and you will no doubt receive an unimpressed look in response. Try serving an English breakfast to a dietitian and you can certainly expect a lecture about what a morning meal should consist of from a nutritional perspective.
The key ingredients that make-up a traditional full English breakfast are up for debate, but few could argue with sausages, bacon, fried eggs, mushrooms, grilled tomatoes, beans in tomato sauce (baked beans), fried bread, and sliced and fried blood sausage (known to us as black pudding) being the key components.
Calorific, fatty, and salty but oh so tasty; a full English breakfast is the perfect way to set yourself up for a busy day of exploring London. There are plenty of great places to try an English breakfast.
The perfect protein rich, portable snack, Scotch Eggs - boiled eggs wrapped in breadcrumbed sausage meat and deep fried - are unsurprisingly and unapologetically from Scotland, the country that even chooses to deep fry its Mars Bars.
Scotch Eggs - along with pork pies, Cornish pasties, chutneys, and sandwiches - should be a key part of any British picnic. So if you are planning on heading to one of London's famous parks for a picnic they should be in your basket.
As a cold item, the London department store Fortnum & Mason claims to have invented Scotch eggs all the way back in 1738, as a traveller's snack. Although Fortnum & Mason have "somehow" lost the evidence for this claim they certainly helped popularise them, including them as part of their various hampers.
Several local variations exist. The Manchester Egg uses a pickled egg wrapped in a mixture of pork meat and Lancashire black pudding, and the Worcester Egg uses an egg pickled in Worcestershire sauce, and clad in a mixture of sausage meat and white pudding (broadly similar to black pudding but without the blood).
Roast Beef (with Yorkshire Pudding)
Britons love their Sunday Roast. A meal that's long cooking time made it perfect for being left to cook above a hot fire whilst people flocked to their local church for Sunday services; ready to be enjoyed on their return.
Of course it is not a proper roast beef dinner if it is not served with Yorkshire pudding.
Other key accompaniments are certainly roast potatoes (shallow fried potatoes cooked in lard) and seasonal vegetables (most commonly carrots, green beans, and broccoli).
Few Brits, given the choice, would not want to tuck in to a Sunday Roast with their family on a Sunday afternoon, and roast beef with Yorkshire pudding is the most popular preference for most.
Afternoon Tea (with Sandwiches, Scones & Cakes)
Afternoon Tea or High Tea is a British tradition and social ritual that dates back to the early 19th century when the Duchess of Bedford supposedly decided that not eating between lunch and dinner was a ridiculous way of living.
To follow etiquette it should be served on the dot at half past three every afternoon; the closest person to the pot of tea should be the pourer; and you should remember not to slurp your tea or lift your little finger whilst drinking from your tea cup.
Crust-less sandwiches, filled with cucumber, salmon, ham, or egg and cress; Victoria sponge (named after Queen Victoria herself); scones; are all essential constituents.
There is an ongoing debate within England with regards to how scones should be served with different regions favouring different compositions. If you are Cornish you will be calling the Devonian (or Devonshire) method of construction heathen and vice-versa. It all comes down to whether jam or clotted cream should be the primary addition to the scone. Either way they scones and afternoon tea itself can perfectly revitalise your afternoon.
Pie & Mash (with Eels and Liquor)
There aren't many more hearty winter foods, or more typically British foods, than Pie and Mash. Meat baked in pastry was a dish that at one time built the British Empire with dock workers brought up on this basic, filling, and cheap, mainstay of British cuisine.
Served on the streets of London since the 1800s and then later in "Eel Pie Houses" it is a dish that is as popular now as it has ever been. If you are ever feeling depressed with the British weather there are few better pick-me-ups than a pie served with mashed potatoes.
The most well known variety served in London, a staple of the East End of London, consists of a beef, onion, and beef kidney baked in suet pastry, accompanied with boiled eels from the river Thames; the aforementioned mashed potatoes; and green liquor sauce (a parsley and eel infused gravy - that contains no alcohol).
Although perhaps not as widespread in Britain as more luxurious combinations, such as steak and ale or chicken and mushroom, if you are visiting London and looking to rejoice in traditional fare then you have to plump for the original London pie.
Bangers & Mash
Although Bangers and Mash sounds more like the name of a pair of brutal enforcers from a low budget Hollywood film than a meal, it is actually the rather less intimidating combination of sausages and mashed potatoes in the local vernacular.
Best served with garden peas and drenched in an onion gravy it is the British dish you are likely to find on the menu of any good pub.
Cheap, yet tasty and filling, the variety of sausages used add more sophisticated nuances to the dish than may be expected by the simple core ingredients of cheap cuts of ground meat (usually pork) stuffed in to pig intestines.
Each different variety is flavoured with tried and tested combinations of herbs, seasonings and even vegetables, with Lincolnshire, Cumberland, Oxford, and Newmarket all being popular regional types of sausages.
There are many traditional British dishes that have unusual names but few have names as unappetising as Toad in the Hole. Don't worry though because despite its rather off-putting name Toad in the Hole is rather more tasty than it sounds.
A compliment of sausages baked in a batter (one that is almost identical to that which Yorkshire Pudding is constituted of).
Often served with lashings of onion gravy and seasonal vegetables, Toad-in-the-Hole is a moreish comfort food that once sampled can never be forgotten.
Fish & Chips
With Britain being a collection of islands it is no surprise that the British diet has consisted of fish dishes for as long as the islands have been inhabited. Fish not being rationed during the Second World War only bolstered the dish's place as a key staple of the British diet.
At its best, the fish part of fish and chips is deep fried in a golden, and light crispy batter; served with chips (or as our American cousins would say, fries) - that have been deep fried multiple times - and seasoned with a dash of salt and a splash of vinegar.
Famed for being served in yesterday's newspapers the most popular species of fish is cod however haddock, pollock, and plaice are just as good and more sustainable.
Additional sides you may wish to add to your meal are pickled eggs, mushy peas and pickled onions - all traditional and perfect compliments. If you are not concerned with your waist line then adding a saveloy sausage or a battered sausage is not uncommon.
Chicken Tikka Masala
Tikka Masala, roughly translated from some Indian dialects, means "smalls pieces in sauce". Although that title is not inaccurate it certainly doesn't do this dish justice.
Chicken Tikka Masala is a delicious combination of chicken breast roasted in a tandoor (an Indian clay pot oven), onions, and traditional Indian spices.
A byproduct of the British Empire's occupation of India, and popular in England since the mid-twentieth century, the dish combines the British love of gravy with the delicious spices India has long been known for.
"Going for an Indian" on a Friday night has been a British tradition for more than half a century.
For great Indian food the most well known area of London to head to is Brick Lane, an area in the east of London, near the city of London, with a predominantly Asian population.
Sticky Toffee Pudding
Once known as "Icky Sticky Toffee Sponge", Sticky Toffee Pudding is the perfect mix of richness, sweetness, and sourness to end a meal. Usually served with thick double cream, it is many British people's favourite traditional dessert.
Spotted Dick (with Custard)
For most people, if they heard their friend had a spotted dick when they were in London and it was great their emotions may vary between disgust and concern. Fret not though, there is nothing to worry about if their friend was talking about this delicious (if unusually named) British dessert.
Perhaps the most unfortunate association related to the obvious schoolboy humour that the name of this dessert invokes was that of the Kilburn sisters. They were so well known for satisfying hundreds of sailors with their spotted dicks that in 1892 their exploits made the local newspapers in London.
So the next time you are visiting London make sure you try at least some of these dishes. Take a look at our recommendations for great pubs and restaurants to try them at; or if you can't get to London why not cook them in your kitchen for a taste of Britain in your own home.
For more recommendations of places to eat and what to eat when you visit those places browse through our London guide and London blog.
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Last updated on 6/5/20, 4:37 PM