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A plate of peas and pea shoots.
Peas, unmushed, at Lyle’s.
Ola Smit

The 15 Best Restaurants in London to Experience British Cuisine

Yes, it exists. Here’s where to eat it.

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Peas, unmushed, at Lyle’s.
| Ola Smit

“Is there even such a thing as British food? All you guys have is fish and chips, overcooked meat, and fried breakfasts. Your food sucks.”

This is a question-answer-insult that most Britons have been presented with at least a dozen times — with, actually, some justification. However, while British food can not be succinctly defined as a mono-cuisine, there are certain characteristics that unify the restaurants in London that could be described as “British,” even if those traits aren’t unique in isolation.

A focus on seasonal ingredients, a desire to utilise all parts of an animal, a strong sense of place yet an openness to global techniques and flavours, and a relatively minimalist approach are all things that typify contemporary British restaurants. And it remains possible, with relative ease, to join the dots of “modern British,” from the oft-derided but centuries-old East London caffs, pie and mash, chippies and chop shops, via the mother ship of “British” cooking, through to the development of gastropubs. It’s food that’s unfussy and flavourful, it’s meat and two seasonal veg, and it doesn’t all suck.

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Marksman Public House

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There’s an air of no-nonsense boozer about this pub restaurant, situated within a hydrangea’s throw of Columbia Road (Sunday) flower market. Yet the food served at the bar and in a light-upstairs dining room is right up there with the very best of modern British. Chefs Tom Harris and Jon Rotheram have put a stylish slant on the potted shrimps, devilled mussels, pies and pork chops they cooked when at St. John. Everything is quality, though it’s difficult to avoid beef and barley buns with horseradish cream, and the brown butter and honey custard tart. Excellent Sunday roast — one of the city’s best — too.

Rochelle Canteen

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Originally only accessible to those who could get to this literal old-school dining room in Shoreditch for a weekday lunch, Rochelle now opens for breakfast and lunch every day, and on Thursday to Saturday evenings too. Dishes like braised lamb, mint and peas, mushroom quiche, and strawberry ice cream sound plain, yet they compel loyal diners to return again and again. Simple, classic and joyful — with a light nose-to-tail touch.

The Quality Chop House

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At the top of many people’s lists (whether headed “British” or “London in general”) and for good reason. A chop house has stood on this Farringdon Road site since 1869, and there’s a nod to that heritage in that it’s still possible to choose a simple but outstanding chop or steak to go with *those* confit potatoes. Yet it’s much more, too, with the evening menu and snacks in particular an enticing and innovative representation of British produce, occasionally glittered with other world-class ingredients. Some grumble about the upright benches (like church pews) in one half of the restaurant, but really the only legitimate complaint is that it’s practically impossible to choose just three dishes.

Lyle’s

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The open kitchen and bare walls, floors and tables of this Shoreditch restaurant hint at chef James Lowe’s past life at St. John Bread and Wine. There’s reverence to common sense cooking too. Yet it’s anything but backward-looking. Rather, Lyle’s is refined, focused, creative, and contemporary. Lunch a la carte and evening set menus are uncompromisingly seasonal, and the dishes deceptive in their simplicity: “eel, beetroot and dulse,” or “rabbit livers, yoghurt and ramson” will initially appear little more than those named ingredients, but each is at its peak, prepared and cooked with skill, and the end result far greater than the sum of its parts.

St. John Restaurant and Bar

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Much of what is considered “British food” is derivative of this restaurant. In part that’s because of the long list of chefs and front-of-house staff who’ve worked here, at the Spitalfields outpost Bread & Wine, or in the bakery. But the nose-to-tail ethos, noun-laden blackboards, and love of unglamorous items like faggots, Welsh rarebit and dandelion now spread far beyond Fergus Henderson’s direct protégés. It follows that everyone should pay their respect to the original at least once. Settle in to the austere white-walled restaurant for a plate of langoustines and mayonnaise, then hare and trotter pie, and perhaps a classic British pud; or take lunch in the cathedral-like bar and bakery area — bone marrow and parsley salad, devilled kidneys on toast, Eccles cake and Lancashire cheese to finish.

The Fryer’s Delight

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Battered haddock, mushy peas, and a pun of a name — what’s more British than that? The chips are the real draw here, as they’re fried in beef dripping, assuring both crunch and deep savouriness. Takeaway is an option, but it’s better to stay and enjoy an iconic formica and vinyl decor that has been untouched for years. It’s debatable whether the restaurant’s claim to “the tastiest fish and chips in town” stacks up, but it’s a strong package nonetheless.   

Café Deco

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Anna Tobias is an alum of Rochelle Canteen and worked with Quo Vadis’ Jeremy Lee, while this Bloomsbury restaurant is in partnership with 40 Maltby Street, so it’s in one way clear where lineage lies. But Café Deco is as much a forward-looking evolution of modern British as a glance back at its hallowed names. So it’s not a Niçoise, it’s a tuna, borlotti bean, onion, and egg salad; it’s not borscht, it’s chilled beetroot soup; it very definitely is roly poly and custard.

Holborn Dining Room

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The Rosewood Hotel’s buffed and slick salon-style restaurant has always had a British edge — charcuterie from each corner of this isle (and not beyond), local meat and fish, a textbook main-course-and-sides offering, and even London’s largest collection of gin. But then former executive chef Calum Franklin started experimenting with pastry, and a refreshingly unmodish niche was found. On Wednesdays there’s a superlative beef Wellington, whilst other meat-filled suet puddings and extraordinarily detailed hand-raised pies are rolled out each day. Classy stuff.

Quo Vadis

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Though the menus are ornate, tablecloths starched, seats padded, and service proper, there’s no stiff upper lip at Quo Vadis, whether in the downstairs restaurant or the private club on the floors above. (Indeed, a notable cocktail menu means things can get quite loose.) Chef Jeremy Lee’s food is always seasonal in both ingredient and mood, and mixes treat with comfort in equal measure; the chef’s eel sandwich is one of London’s unmissable creations. It’s essential to leave room for pudding — few places cover the classics better, and Lee’s fondness for combining the triple threat of cream, ice cream and custard on the same plate is to be applauded.

Sweetings

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A historic City institution with a unique service model, Sweetings’ primarily seafood-based menu is plainer than its price point suggests: Think oysters, cod’s roe on toast, catch of the day served with minimal fuss (though lobster mash is a side option) and spotted dick for dessert. Regulars tend to wash that down with premier cru Chablis or a solid silver tankard filled with equal parts Guinness and champagne (a “Black Velvet”). NB: This is among St. John co-founder Fergus Henderson’s favourite London restaurants, in case another class of recommendation were required.

Blacklock City

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An unpretentious celebration of quality British meat. Though premium cuts are an option, the £24 per person “all in” piles of perfectly grilled beef, lamb and pork chops are hard to beat for either value or taste. Diners can satisfy meat-and-two-veg urges with a selection of superb sides — chips, grilled baby gem lettuce with anchovies, and fiercely roasted sweet potatoes are stellar. Blacklock currently has two basement sites in the City and Soho; both are always buzzing. Two more locations, in Shoreditch and Covent Garden, have also opened.

Billingsgate Market Cafe

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No experience is more authentically East London than a predawn visit to the cafe at the city’s wholesale fish market. Order fried scallops and bacon between cheap white bread, and wash that down with milky builder’s tea served in a polystyrene cup (not just because the coffee is undrinkable). Arrive early, mind, as by 7 a.m. things are winding down and some of the atmosphere is lost.

Dinner by Heston Blumenthal

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Heston Blumenthal’s shrine to historically inspired British cuisine continues to impress, holding two Michelin stars and spots on world“best-of” lists because it serves precise and innovative food with élan. Meat Fruit, an exquisite chicken liver parfait, is an essential order for the table. From there, each dish is dated and rooted to food from centuries ago. In that context it may come as a surprise that the flavours involved seem to take a global outlook, but then — yeah, actually — Britain once did, too.

40 Maltby Street

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Set in a rustic railway arch in Bermondsey, this humble-looking kitchen and bar presents some of London’s most flavourful food. There’s a certain Frenchness, from baguettes through terrines and the provenance of natural wines on offer. But then, techniques and traditions from across the channel pervade British cuisine, and the essence of the food here is that of so many restaurants on this list: seasonal vegetables, rich heritage-breed meats, local farmhouse cheeses. Save for its extraordinary cooked ham, the menu (scrawled on one blackboard, of course) is never the same. Recent highlights include carrot, crab and monk’s beard broth, oyster fritters with laverbread mayonnaise, and a celeriac and Ardrahan pie.

Canton Arms

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This sibling of the Anchor & Hope and dearly departed Great Queen Street is set in an unremarkable grey building on a seemingly permanently grey artery road in Stockwell. Inside, however, are bar snacks and toasties from the gods, and a menu that’s totally “British gastropub” in that it confidently embraces other cuisines, matching diverse and eclectic flavours with first-class local ingredients. Spiced lamb pie, for example, sits next to rib of beef, chips, and bearnaise for two; while Cornish brill with wild garlic vies for attention with grilled gurnard and (Italianish) blood orange, fennel, and agretti.

Marksman Public House

There’s an air of no-nonsense boozer about this pub restaurant, situated within a hydrangea’s throw of Columbia Road (Sunday) flower market. Yet the food served at the bar and in a light-upstairs dining room is right up there with the very best of modern British. Chefs Tom Harris and Jon Rotheram have put a stylish slant on the potted shrimps, devilled mussels, pies and pork chops they cooked when at St. John. Everything is quality, though it’s difficult to avoid beef and barley buns with horseradish cream, and the brown butter and honey custard tart. Excellent Sunday roast — one of the city’s best — too.

Rochelle Canteen

Originally only accessible to those who could get to this literal old-school dining room in Shoreditch for a weekday lunch, Rochelle now opens for breakfast and lunch every day, and on Thursday to Saturday evenings too. Dishes like braised lamb, mint and peas, mushroom quiche, and strawberry ice cream sound plain, yet they compel loyal diners to return again and again. Simple, classic and joyful — with a light nose-to-tail touch.

The Quality Chop House

At the top of many people’s lists (whether headed “British” or “London in general”) and for good reason. A chop house has stood on this Farringdon Road site since 1869, and there’s a nod to that heritage in that it’s still possible to choose a simple but outstanding chop or steak to go with *those* confit potatoes. Yet it’s much more, too, with the evening menu and snacks in particular an enticing and innovative representation of British produce, occasionally glittered with other world-class ingredients. Some grumble about the upright benches (like church pews) in one half of the restaurant, but really the only legitimate complaint is that it’s practically impossible to choose just three dishes.

Lyle’s

The open kitchen and bare walls, floors and tables of this Shoreditch restaurant hint at chef James Lowe’s past life at St. John Bread and Wine. There’s reverence to common sense cooking too. Yet it’s anything but backward-looking. Rather, Lyle’s is refined, focused, creative, and contemporary. Lunch a la carte and evening set menus are uncompromisingly seasonal, and the dishes deceptive in their simplicity: “eel, beetroot and dulse,” or “rabbit livers, yoghurt and ramson” will initially appear little more than those named ingredients, but each is at its peak, prepared and cooked with skill, and the end result far greater than the sum of its parts.

St. John Restaurant and Bar

Much of what is considered “British food” is derivative of this restaurant. In part that’s because of the long list of chefs and front-of-house staff who’ve worked here, at the Spitalfields outpost Bread & Wine, or in the bakery. But the nose-to-tail ethos, noun-laden blackboards, and love of unglamorous items like faggots, Welsh rarebit and dandelion now spread far beyond Fergus Henderson’s direct protégés. It follows that everyone should pay their respect to the original at least once. Settle in to the austere white-walled restaurant for a plate of langoustines and mayonnaise, then hare and trotter pie, and perhaps a classic British pud; or take lunch in the cathedral-like bar and bakery area — bone marrow and parsley salad, devilled kidneys on toast, Eccles cake and Lancashire cheese to finish.

The Fryer’s Delight

Battered haddock, mushy peas, and a pun of a name — what’s more British than that? The chips are the real draw here, as they’re fried in beef dripping, assuring both crunch and deep savouriness. Takeaway is an option, but it’s better to stay and enjoy an iconic formica and vinyl decor that has been untouched for years. It’s debatable whether the restaurant’s claim to “the tastiest fish and chips in town” stacks up, but it’s a strong package nonetheless.   

Café Deco

Anna Tobias is an alum of Rochelle Canteen and worked with Quo Vadis’ Jeremy Lee, while this Bloomsbury restaurant is in partnership with 40 Maltby Street, so it’s in one way clear where lineage lies. But Café Deco is as much a forward-looking evolution of modern British as a glance back at its hallowed names. So it’s not a Niçoise, it’s a tuna, borlotti bean, onion, and egg salad; it’s not borscht, it’s chilled beetroot soup; it very definitely is roly poly and custard.

Holborn Dining Room

The Rosewood Hotel’s buffed and slick salon-style restaurant has always had a British edge — charcuterie from each corner of this isle (and not beyond), local meat and fish, a textbook main-course-and-sides offering, and even London’s largest collection of gin. But then former executive chef Calum Franklin started experimenting with pastry, and a refreshingly unmodish niche was found. On Wednesdays there’s a superlative beef Wellington, whilst other meat-filled suet puddings and extraordinarily detailed hand-raised pies are rolled out each day. Classy stuff.

Quo Vadis

Though the menus are ornate, tablecloths starched, seats padded, and service proper, there’s no stiff upper lip at Quo Vadis, whether in the downstairs restaurant or the private club on the floors above. (Indeed, a notable cocktail menu means things can get quite loose.) Chef Jeremy Lee’s food is always seasonal in both ingredient and mood, and mixes treat with comfort in equal measure; the chef’s eel sandwich is one of London’s unmissable creations. It’s essential to leave room for pudding — few places cover the classics better, and Lee’s fondness for combining the triple threat of cream, ice cream and custard on the same plate is to be applauded.

Sweetings

A historic City institution with a unique service model, Sweetings’ primarily seafood-based menu is plainer than its price point suggests: Think oysters, cod’s roe on toast, catch of the day served with minimal fuss (though lobster mash is a side option) and spotted dick for dessert. Regulars tend to wash that down with premier cru Chablis or a solid silver tankard filled with equal parts Guinness and champagne (a “Black Velvet”). NB: This is among St. John co-founder Fergus Henderson’s favourite London restaurants, in case another class of recommendation were required.

Blacklock City

An unpretentious celebration of quality British meat. Though premium cuts are an option, the £24 per person “all in” piles of perfectly grilled beef, lamb and pork chops are hard to beat for either value or taste. Diners can satisfy meat-and-two-veg urges with a selection of superb sides — chips, grilled baby gem lettuce with anchovies, and fiercely roasted sweet potatoes are stellar. Blacklock currently has two basement sites in the City and Soho; both are always buzzing. Two more locations, in Shoreditch and Covent Garden, have also opened.

Billingsgate Market Cafe

No experience is more authentically East London than a predawn visit to the cafe at the city’s wholesale fish market. Order fried scallops and bacon between cheap white bread, and wash that down with milky builder’s tea served in a polystyrene cup (not just because the coffee is undrinkable). Arrive early, mind, as by 7 a.m. things are winding down and some of the atmosphere is lost.

Dinner by Heston Blumenthal

Heston Blumenthal’s shrine to historically inspired British cuisine continues to impress, holding two Michelin stars and spots on world“best-of” lists because it serves precise and innovative food with élan. Meat Fruit, an exquisite chicken liver parfait, is an essential order for the table. From there, each dish is dated and rooted to food from centuries ago. In that context it may come as a surprise that the flavours involved seem to take a global outlook, but then — yeah, actually — Britain once did, too.

40 Maltby Street

Set in a rustic railway arch in Bermondsey, this humble-looking kitchen and bar presents some of London’s most flavourful food. There’s a certain Frenchness, from baguettes through terrines and the provenance of natural wines on offer. But then, techniques and traditions from across the channel pervade British cuisine, and the essence of the food here is that of so many restaurants on this list: seasonal vegetables, rich heritage-breed meats, local farmhouse cheeses. Save for its extraordinary cooked ham, the menu (scrawled on one blackboard, of course) is never the same. Recent highlights include carrot, crab and monk’s beard broth, oyster fritters with laverbread mayonnaise, and a celeriac and Ardrahan pie.

Canton Arms

This sibling of the Anchor & Hope and dearly departed Great Queen Street is set in an unremarkable grey building on a seemingly permanently grey artery road in Stockwell. Inside, however, are bar snacks and toasties from the gods, and a menu that’s totally “British gastropub” in that it confidently embraces other cuisines, matching diverse and eclectic flavours with first-class local ingredients. Spiced lamb pie, for example, sits next to rib of beef, chips, and bearnaise for two; while Cornish brill with wild garlic vies for attention with grilled gurnard and (Italianish) blood orange, fennel, and agretti.

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