Visiting London for the first time? Just moved here dragging five skip-like IKEA bags with you? Let us help you out. Firstly, drop the bags. Secondly, don’t even think about IKEA. You’re gonna get real familiar soon enough. Thirdly, you need a drink and something to eat.
This guide isn’t a definitive list of London’s best restaurants – it’s just what we’d do if we were in your shoes, if we just moved here, or were visiting with a weekend in front of us and a whole lot of options to sort through.
THE ESSENTIAL SPOTS
Essentials: Rarebit, roasted bone marrow, & freshly baked madeleines
Walk into St. John’s white-walled bar area eyes closed and, when you open them, you’d be easily forgiven for thinking you’d walked into some kind of restaurant heaven. The Clerkenwell institution is London’s most famous British restaurant. Its ‘nose-to-tail’ cooking approach first defined by head chef and workwear icon Fergus Henderson is known the world over. Its pies are, quite simply, an experience that every person should have at least once in their life. In fact, the whole restaurant is. From the signal-less bar and bakery area filled with the noise of glasses clinking and madeleines baking, to the all-white dining room where a lunch will turn into a dinner and dinner into the next day, everything about St. John is simply and straightforwardly iconic.
Essentials: All of the dim sum, crab meat dumpling soup, & peking duck
Royal China is the place to be when you want dim sum, duck, and Cantonese dishes that are so good your ‘quick lunch’ turns into a three-hour feast. There are a few locations dotted around London, but their flagship restaurant on Baker Street is our favourite. Not only is the location very handy if your partner is insisting on going to the Sherlock Holmes Museum, but thanks to the huge tables in their elegant dining room it’s much easier to nab a group table here. Be warned, you can only get their winning dim sum during the day.
Want more dumpling options? Check out 10 Dumpling Spots You Should Go To Right Now
Essentials: Tomatoes on toast, confit garlic on toast, & anything on toast
Towpath is one of London’s most undisputed top spots during the summer. The seasonal café is only open during our sporadic warmer months and a glorious canal-side seat alongside a plate of confit garlic and goats curd on toast is very hot property when the sun does decide to shine. Although the brunch and lunch menu is what we find ourselves eating most often - crispy fried eggs alongside slide a pool of mojo verde is a forever food - there’s also the occasional evening set up which extremely dreamy as well.
Or try these 15 other options for Outdoor Brunch
Essentials: Beyti, manti, & a metric tonne of flatbread
From Dalston up to Haringay and, in fact, dotted all over the city, London has a tonne of brilliant Turkish restaurants - but Gökyüzü is the place you should start. The ginormous ocakbasi grill restaurant on Green Lanes is an OG London legend and that’s for very good reason. Çöp shish, kofte, and any meat coming off the grill here until 2am is a guaranteed winner. Juicy and charred and, often, greedily picked up by one of our flatbread-gloved hands to smear in cacik or douse in chilli sauce. It’s a combination that a lot of Londoners grow up eating, loving, and sharing - and continue to for the rest of their lives.
Essentials: Full English, lasagne, & tea one sugar
Arguably the definitive East End caf, these days E. Pellicci manages to juggle being both a tourist destination for those seeking a glorious, coronary-inducing fry up (featuring both bubble ’n squeak and hash browns) of the most English variety, and those who have been coming here for donkey’s years - though probably not since it opened in 1900. If you’re looking for a more lowkey experience in terms of busyness, come in the week. That said, Nevio (owner, son, geezer, and front of house) and his family always make sure Pellicci’s is a lively and lovely place to be.
Essentials: Salt beef beigel, English mustard, & a cold Ribena
It is essential. Absolutely essential, that you say yes to mustard when you order a salt beef bagel at Beigel Bake. Standing outside this white fronted, 24/7 East End bakery and biting into a bagel before hitting the inevitable (yet unexpected) dollop of eye-watering, nose-leaking mustard is a quintessential London experience. These are London’s most famous bagels and still, probably, their best.
Otherwise, check out our guide to London’s Best Bagels
Essentials: English breakfast udon, curry atsu-atsu, & a very healthy appetite
If you’re looking to ‘eat like a Londoner’ then we sadly have to inform you that most of this city’s occupants tend to panic eat sandwiches whilst running for the tube and avoiding eye contact with strangers at all costs. We’re not going to recommend you do that, but we are going to encourage you to try Koya, a Japanese restaurant that Londoners keep in their back pocket for when a serious noodle craving strikes. A proper Japanese-style dining experience, you come here to eat their fresh hand-pulled udon at the bar whilst enjoying the buzz of the kitchen. The tempura, katsu, and those thick noodles make this place permanently popular, so prepare to queue.
Essentials: Champage and a full English
If you arrived in London expecting to feel like a Lord or Lady but your Airbnb isn’t quite cutting it, then drop your bags and head to The Wolseley instead. This is a historic and over-the-top grand café that’s housed in a former vintage car showroom. It’s a stunning place, and the food and service is well worth pulling on a proper shirt for. It’s popular at any time of day, so book ahead.
Essentials: French toast, fried eggs, and a very good coffee
Hitting the spots that locals go to is always the ambition but rarely the reality when you’re visiting somewhere for the first time. Esters is a local spot worth making into a destination. This is one of London’s best neighbourhood cafes serving one of the best brunches around, as well as freshly baked cakes and cookies. Although you can’t book, you never seem to wait longer than ten minutes, and the brilliant staff will always make sure that everyone outside is offered excellent coffee.
Essentials: Cod’s roe, a glass of Cremant, & no other plans
You should go to Shoreditch to check out the neighbourhood’s restaurants, shops, and galleries. And you should absolutely book lunch at Rochelle Canteen. It’s hidden away behind a gate in a quiet square a few minutes away from the high street, and housed in an old refurbished school canteen. The process of finding Rochelle is part of the appeal, of course, but the British food and nicely curated wine list are impeccable as well. It’s lunch only most days, but the restaurant does open for dinner at the weekends during the summer.
Essentials: Bread, wine, repeat
Sure, you probably have ‘Madame Tussauds’ written down on your travel itinerary. Pick up your pen, scribble a line through it, and write ‘get pissed at Noble Rot’ there instead. Whether you come for dinner and drinks, or just drinks and more drinks - we promise you that you’ll have a much better time at this Bloomsbury wine bar. According to some very smart people - yes, us - Noble Rot is not only the best wine bar to drink in, but it’s also the best restaurant in London. Come here for one glass that turns into three bottles, eat their dream-inducing bread, do some proper people watching from the bar area, and regret nothing when you wake up feeling a little tender the next morning.
We’ve also got 19 other spots Perfect For A Casual Glass Of Wine
Essentials: Oh-so-tender spicy goat ayamase
Chances are you want to make some nice memories whilst you’re in London. That’s why you got soaked as you walked across Tower Bridge in the rain, right? Well, the good news is that Chishuru is a West African restaurant that will serve you an entirely knockout meal that you’ll remember for all the right reasons. The peanut sauce that is a certified texture party. The tender goat shoulder that sits in a glorious bath of fiery green peppers. The upbeat chatter of head chef Joké Bakare cooking up a round of fluffy waina in the tiny open kitchen. It’s all fantastic. You’ll find this great little spot inside buzzing Brixton Village in south London and it’s definitely worth working up an appetite by having a look around the market before your dinner.
Essentials: Oysters, scotch eggs, & a doughnut
If you did some advance research on the food scene in London, you probably heard that we have a lot of food markets around town. Borough Market is the most famous. It’s particularly known for fresh produce, but there are literally a hundred food stalls dotted around. The best thing to do is scope the vendors out first before making a decision, and definitely take a look at our guide. In short, the Kappacasein cheese toastie, Bread Ahead vanilla donut, and oysters from Richard Haward get our vote.
Essentials: Biang-biang noodles, liangpi noodles, pork dumplings
Londoners are pretty serious about football and if you’re partial to pairing the sometimes beautiful game with an always-beautiful meal, then we have a two-for-one offer for you. Head up to Xi’an Impression where you’ll find some of the best Chinese food in London, conveniently located directly across the street from the Emirates Stadium where Arsenal, north London’s ‘finest’, play. The hand-pulled belt noodles here are second-to-none, slippery and chewy and almost impossible to share without making a mess and being filled with regret. Not as much regret as if you prioritised the football over a meal here, though.
Essentials: A lunchtime sandwich, any fritters, & the whole menu
There’s no lack of superb wine-focused bars and small plates restaurants in London. In fact, since 2018, it feels like no type of new restaurant opens more often. 40 Maltby Street continues to do it better than a majority of the rest though. The old converted railway arch in Bermondsey serves up small plates and truly sensational sandwiches with such consistency that it means if you are heading towards Maltby Street Market - then this should be your first (or possibly only) stop. Open Wednesday to Saturday with a changing menu that jumps from terrine to fritters to rhubarb jelly with Jersey cream, this is an any day, any night, any situation kind of establishment.
Essentials: Classic bao, Taiwanese fried chicken, aged beef with soy
The now-legendary first restaurant of the Taiwanese mini-chain is famous for its long queues. Now, you may be wondering if it’s worth waiting to try the food here - it definitely is. Though the best way to go about it is to pop in for a snack around 4pm, when you should be able to get in quickly and be eating pillow-y bao in no time. It’s an in and out kind of place, so it works well for this. The bao buns are what a lot of people come for, but you definitely want to try some of the small plates like trotter nuggets or beef with aged soy as well.
Essentials: A glass of something sparkling to get you going
Bright is smack-bang in the middle of London Fields, a perennially busy and scene-y part of Hackney. If that doesn’t sound like your sort of thing then let us tell you that Bright will be. Despite being very much in the mix, Bright feels totally effortless. Their small plates menu is constantly changing, the biodynamic wines always flowing, and the odds of eating something that gets you excitedly talking - from ceviche mixto to a spring lasagne - is guaranteed. Every area of the restaurant, inside or out, is buzzing and it continues to be one of the places to be on a Friday or Saturday night.
Looking for more options in east London? Our guide to The Best Restaurants In Hackney has got you covered
Essentials: Pie, pie, pie
If you’re looking for pies, then you should be heading to the Pie Room at the Holborn Dining Room. This grand all-day restaurant connected to the Rosewood Hotel is home to London’s undisputed pastry masters. The pies - be it chicken and mushroom or potato, comté, and caramelised onion - are precise, artisanal creations that are the finest around. The best thing, though, is that you can get them to go as well. Check out their pie hatch outside if you haven’t got the time to sit down.
_ Find more pies worth checking out in our to guide on Where To Eat Pie In London_
Essentials: Crab custard-topped jollof rice & a very serious wine pairing
If you’re looking to splurge on one OTT mega-fancy meal in London, then you’ll want it to be at Ikoyi. The food at this West African-influenced fine dining restaurant is unique. Like, seriously one-of-a-kind. The tasting menu ranges from the familiar, like jollof rice, to unfamiliar and subtly transformative touches, like crab custard-topped smoked jollof rice. As per any three-figure-a-head restaurant, the space is comfortable if uninteresting, but things like sweet and tangy caramelised plantain in ginger and kelp, or tiger nut custard with caviar will more than make up for it. The wine list (by the folks at Noble Rot) is also superb.
Find some more excellent fine dining options on our guide to Where To Eat When You Want To Go Fancy
Essentials: Stilton mousse, creamed fish pie, & a sofa to lie down on afterwards
There’s only one thing Londoners love more than complaining about the weather, and that’s a Sunday roast. And there are few places in London better to have one than Maggie Jones’s in Kensington. This old school British restaurant serves an excellent roast dinner and fresh game throughout the week. Come here to be completely charmed by candlelight or go all in on the pork belly roast for Sunday lunch.
Essentials: Whitstable oysters, terrine, chocolate mousse
The French House, or The French as it’s known to regulars, has been serving booze to fuel conversation for Soho for a very long time. Consistent red wine hangovers means that no one is entirely sure how long exactly. But it’s been ages, okay. This pub’s legendary status precedes itself, and arty sorts have been pitching up here here since way before you knew how to pronounce Kir Royale and talk about the novel you haven’t started writing yet. Upstairs the candlelit dining room is the place to for a long, long lunch over oysters and steak frites or a pinot-fuelled dinner ending with a perfect Paris-Brest or an eye-rollingly good chocolate mousse.
Try these 17 Pubs With Good Food as well
Essentials: The French toast in the AM, the exceptional tasting menu in the PM
Hide is one of those restaurants that is not only very rare in London, but pretty rare on planet Earth. Mark our words, there are some very jealous aliens out there just waiting to get their hands (antennas?) on this huge, fancy Mayfair restaurant’s French toast with blueberry compote. The sophisticated fun here starts early with their truffle croque madame breakfasts and lasts all day through, but it’s the upstairs evening tasting menu and wine pairing that you really need to know about. Expect big prices, a jaw-dropper of a space overlooking Green Park, and opulent plates of food where you’ll have absolutely no idea what you’re eating but will be entirely happy that you are.
Essentials: Squid flatbread and anything deep-fried or offaly
Wherever you go in the world, you want a ‘unique’ experience. Lots of restaurants think that what makes a place ‘unique’ is the food. But watching someone pour liquid nitrogen on top of a snail while you sit in a beige room full of white tablecloths isn’t unique. It’s ten a penny. There’s more to uniqueness, and Black Axe Mangal gets that. It’s loud, smelly, a little bit unhinged, and at times you won’t know what you’re eating - either because it doesn’t look like anything recognisable, or because you can’t hear, or you weren’t paying attention because you’re having such a good time. This is what eating out in London is all about.
Essentials: Bone marrow varuval and a lot of dosas
Hoppers combines the casual Soho experience (no bookings, anything-goes vibe) with some of the best curry you can eat in London. The cuisine focuses on the Sri Lankan ‘hopper’ (a flaky, crispy bowl-shaped pancake) that’s perfect for eating with an assortment of chutneys and spicy curries. The black pork curry is the one to get, and the devilled shrimp dish is incredibly good as well. The waits can be long, but they’re definitely worth it.
Essentials: Pizzetta, pasta, & a slice of one of London’s richest and most legendary cakes
The River Café is as famous as Buckingham Palace. Okay, it’s not quite as famous, but last time we checked you couldn’t get this iconic Italian restaurant’s taleggio pizzetta and zesty lemon tart at the Queen’s gaff, so that counts for something. This big, bright, and deeply classy restaurant on the Thames in Hammersmith has been serving fresh tagliatelle, radicchio salads, and their oh-so-rich chocolate cake since 1987, but importantly, they still do all of the above better than any other restaurant in London. As you might expect, the prices are sky-high but it’s entirely worth it for a special occasion and a slice of London restaurant history. Not to mention a slice of that chocolate cake.
Essentials: Fish pie and a spot on the terrace
When people ask us about visiting a classic London restaurant, the first and only restaurant that we suggest is J Sheekey. It’s a classic place in the middle of the theatre district and an old-fashioned spot to enjoy a few glasses of wine and eat some high quality shellfish. For all its elegance, J Sheekey is also unpretentious and relaxed, especially at their bar or outdoor terrace. As for the crowd, it’s a late-night hangout for theatre and movie folk, which means, actually, tourists like you should probably come here.
Essentials: Pici cacio e pepe, pappardelle beef shin ragu
If it’s your first time in London, you’re probably going to end up at Borough Market at some point. And if you find yourself overwhelmed by the food stalls and organic soap stalls, head to Padella. You’ll sit at the bar and eat handmade pasta for £5-6 that’s as good as any in London these days. Get the pappardelle with slow-cooked meat, or the ravioli with herb butter and goat cheese. There’s a chance you’ll have to queue, but unlike half of the stuff at the market, the food here is actually worth it.
Essentials: Sizzling lamb chops and more sizzling lamb chops
The experience of hitting the East End for a curry is an experience that’s as old as London itself, and as authentic as it gets. Tayyab’s, a Punjabi restaurant near Whitechapel, is the best place for that experience, and you can’t really say you’ve been to London before you’ve fought your way through the heaving scrum at the door and made it to a table. A meal at Tayyab’s is basically like rugby, except you get lamb chops at the end. It is important to note that you should go to the off-license (corner store) before you head inside as it’s BYOB. Grab a few Kingfisher beers and get ready to have an excellent night.
You could also check out Dishoom or try somewhere Instead Of Dishoom After Someone Suggests Dishoom For The Millionth Time
Essentials The caviar-clad steak tartare, a credit card
If you happen to have a couple of sequin jackets in your suitcase that are just crying out for a spin around the capital, then we’d like to introduce you to Bob Bob Ricard. This extremely glam and entirely OTT restaurant is styled to look like the world’s first Swarovski train carriage, complete with ‘press for champagne’ buttons and superfluous truffle on absolutely everything on the menu. Is it all a bit silly? Yes. Is it also the perfect restaurant for getting dressed up and toasting to your inevitable hangover? Absolutely.
Essentials: Octo-hummus, shakshukit
Dining at the counter is a thing in London now, and nowhere is this done better than at The Palomar. An evening here might be the most fun you can have in a restaurant in London, mostly due to the nearly unexplainable energy that you’ll feel the second you walk in the door. The Israeli small plates are excellent, but you’ll really remember the banging tunes, the bartenders who’ll tell you what to eat and offer you shots, and stumbling out at midnight feeling like you own this town.