Heathrow Airport (LHR) is the U.K.’s largest airport, one of the world’s most famous, but its restaurants, bars, and cafes do little to assuage the pretty widely accepted truth that the worst part of travel is not the travelling. No, the worst part of traveling is transit; those dead hours spent getting to the airport, negotiating security, before walking for 20 minutes down a never-ending hallway with the same HSBC advert repeated 100 times. To make things worse, British airports, like so many of the nation’s travel hubs have long left a lot to be desired on the dining front.
And yet, since 2019 things are beginning to improve — the food offering at Heathrow, at least, is pretty good. And as international travel gets closer to something vaguely normal, it’s time to take full advantage.
Heathrow Airport’s best restaurants, cafes, and bars:
Caviar House & Prunier
One of the great mysteries of airports — who actually goes to those weird oyster and champagne bars that are always plonked right in the middle of the least glam part of the concourse? If the answer is “me!” then Caviar House is actually pretty decent — it has concessions in Harrods and elsewhere also — and has a good selection of fresh oysters, caviar, and smoked salmon, among others.
[Every terminal. The caviar supremacy is real.]
Fortnum & Mason Bar
Without doubt one of the more indulgent options at Heathrow, Fortnum & Mason’s bar serves British classics. There’s everything from a breakfast offering that includes a pretty mean sounding croque monsieur to easy all-day options like salade niçoise (with the optional supplement of half a lobster, of course), Wye Valley asparagus with hollandaise, or a Welsh rarebit toastie served with tomato compote. For those with the time to sit and enjoy, there’s an impressive seafood menu including dressed Dorset crab, among a range of seafood platters and other shellfish. Oh, and, the coffee is actually quite good.
[T2, after security, 5:30 a.m. to 9 p.m.]
The satellite of Russell Norman and Richard Beatty’s legendary Soho dive bar has reopened after a COVID-19-enforced hiatus. Only order from the “Classics” section of the menu.
[T3, after security, “open for all flights.”]
Gordon Ramsay’s Plane Food
Swear Box Gordon might be feeling a bit under siege recently, but his Heathrow restaurant Plane Food has over 10 years at Heathrow. The menu here is pretty much as to be expected for a restaurant in an airport — that “something to please everyone” mix of cuisines and styles — but it has its moments, and it definitely beats another chicken, bacon and avocado baguette from EAT. Think butter chicken curry, a short-rib beef burger, roast cod with “tartare mash”, or wild mushroom rigatoni. There’s now also a painfully on-trend “raw bar” serving the requisite yellow fin tuna tartare, and a seared (not actually raw) Hereford beef tataki, as well as a good choice of grab’n’go options, but it’s the express menus — 2 courses in 25 minutes for £22, or 3 in 35 minutes for £26 — that make Plane Food a real traveller’s delight.
[T5, after security, “open for all flights.”]
The Perfectionist’s Cafe
Save for the terrible name, this Heston Blumenthal-backed joint is a good shout for those travelling from the Queen’s Terminal. It’s a pretty “classic British” affair: breakfast features all the poach egg variants (Benedict, Florentine, Royale), and the actually-pretty-appealing black pudding scotch (quail’s) eggs, served with piccalilli. The rest of the menu is, to be honest, basically the same as at Plane Food — the “British Favourites” section features a peculiar trio of crab on toast, chicken tikka masala, and chilli con carne — except with the addition of a range of wood-fired pizzas and a different celebrity chef’s name on the door, but the appeal is the same and the express menus are still a great way to get a fast, decent meal, without too much fuss.
[T2, after security, “open for all flights.”]
One of the capital’s strongest wine bar chains makes the move into transit fare at Terminal 5, with a self-pour craft beer wall and 100 wines available from earliest morning to latest night.
[T5, after security, “open for all flights.”]
Maybe the only Shanghainese restaurant in the London orbit to serve eggs Benedict, Shan Shui’s addition of dim sum to the Heathrow roster is welcome.
[T2, after security, 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.]
Heathrow Airport’s restaurant, cafe and bar best of the rest:
Pret a Manger
It’s maroon, it’s full of predictable sandwiches, it’s got coffee — an airport is not an office but a Pret a Manger is always a Pret a Manger.
[Every terminal, almost all of the time.]
No longer just Yo! Sushi, offering takeaway sushi, noodles, and other pan-Asian dishes.
[T2, after security, “open for all flights; T3, after security, “open for all flights.”]
Wagamama gets a bad rap these days, but all the things that made it such a hit back in the noughties — punchy (but accessible) flavours, generous servings, quick service — make it well suited to transit. A quick plate of yaki soba with a bowl of miso on the side is barely £10.50.
[T5, after security, 6:30 a.m. to 9 p.m.; T3, after security, 6:30 a.m. to 9 p.m.]
More “British Classics”, more gastro-pub-meets-Bill’s food. But decent, quick, and a self-styled “soon-to-be-world-famous” drinks list (that actually includes some pretty good craft beers and surprisingly not-terrible wines).
[T3, after security, 5:30 a.m. — last departing flight]
Pubs, pubs, pubs. Heathrow has more pubs than, well... London. The Prince of Wales, The Market Gardener, The Darwin, The George, The Crown Rivers, The Flying Chariot... the list goes on. In some ways, there’s something kind of depressing about an airport pub, but they’re often also some of very few places to sit and get a bite to eat before security — for the best drawn out melancholy family farewell before jetting off to a gap year in New Zealand a millennial could hope for.
[Every terminal, always.]
But in truth, the best Heathrow airport restaurants and bars ... Aren’t in Heathrow at all
Travellers in search of genuinely excellent food (and with the time to spare, perhaps if arriving the night or day before a flight) will find the best option is to leave the airport entirely. There’s a fine branch of Madhu’s at the Sheraton hotel, for example, and the most willing diners should consider a trip into Hounslow or Southall for biryani, or, the ultimate pre-plan move: a reservation at Taste of Pakistan. Do not go without one.