From traditional British dishes to new tastes and trends, food author Jenny Linford helps hungry travellers navigate the vast London dining scene
Credit: iStock

From traditional British dishes to new tastes and trends, food author Jenny Linford helps hungry travellers navigate the vast London dining scene

As a leading international city, London boasts a diverse blend of cultural influences that together have made it one of the world’s must-eat travel destinations. Combining imported flavours with homegrown classics, this cosmopolitan capital enjoys a thriving culinary culture – and with it comes a vast terrain of restaurants to match.

To help hungry travellers navigate the numerous eateries dispersed throughout London`s sprawling urban landscape is resident restaurant expert and food writer, Jenny Linford. Jenny has been chronicling London food culture for two decades, authoring over a dozen books along the way, including Food Lovers’ London, now in its seventh edition, and The London Cookbook. A long-time food lover, Linford knows exactly where to find the best of what London has to offer, from traditional British dishes – what she calls gastro-patriotism – to new tastes and trends.

Click through for her restaurant picks on your next trip to London.

Pellicci's Breakfast, 332 Bethnal Green Road

Pellicci's Breakfast, 332 Bethnal Green Road

Bacon and sausage with eggs – scrambled, fried or poached – plus toast, a bit of black pudding and a pile of hashbrowns, then add some baked beans or mushrooms and finish with a fried tomato and you’ve got yourself a hearty heap of savoury goodness, otherwise known as an English breakfast. What used to be the working man's morning meal has today become a British classic available everywhere from posh hotels to neighbourhood pubs.

But according to Jenny there is one place that has perfected this traditional breakfast feast and that’s Pellicci. Dating back to 1900, and still run by the same Italian family, Pellicci is known for its high-quality food, impeccable service and welcoming atmosphere. Wood-panelled walls and Art Deco accents add to the charm that sets this cafe apart.

“It’s one of these places that’s human; it’s not a chain,” says Jenny. “They’re really proud of what they do and they know their food.”

Monmouth Coffee, 27 Monmouth Street, Covent Garden

Monmouth Coffee, 27 Monmouth Street, Covent Garden

London was late to the game when it comes to coffee culture, but they’ve quickly made up for it. Cafes with gleaming espresso machines can now be found on every corner and tucked down every alleyway. But the real pioneers of the London caffeine scene are Monmouth Coffee and according to Jenny, they’re still one of the best.

Sourcing coffee directly from growers and roasting beans to their exact specifications, Monmouth approaches coffee as an art form. Rich and dynamic when enjoyed black or sumptuous when combined with freshly steamed full-fat milk, their coffees are simply delicious.

Staff are charming and share the passion that has made this little coffee company one of London’s greats. While all three locations reach capacity at peak hours, Borough Market is by far the busiest Jenny warns. But whatever the wait, it’s worth it.

Mrs. King's Pork Pies, Borough Market, 8 Southwark Street

Mrs. King's Pork Pies, Borough Market, 8 Southwark Street

Nothing says classic British cuisine quite like a savoury meat pie and according to Jenny, Mrs. King’s pork pies are the real deal. Pork pies are not traditionally hailed as a fine food, but Mrs. King has made it her mission to change that reputation. Using the finest ingredients the bakery has been churning out award-winning pies since 1853 and still uses the original recipe to this day. Beneath the crisp brown crust is a soft layer of jelly stock and a dense, succulent pork filled centre. The flavour is subtly peppery, delightfully satisfying and authentically British.

Toff’s of Muswell Hill Fish and Chips, 38 Muswell Hill Broadway

Toff’s of Muswell Hill Fish and Chips, 38 Muswell Hill Broadway

The debate continues over where this deep-fried dish originated, but a handful of chefs are making a strong case for London. And of the many fish-and-chip shops in this sprawling city, Jenny’s favourite is Toff’s of Muswell Hill.

Family owned and operated since it began in 1968, she praises this place for its atmosphere – unpretentious and affable. Toff’s has garnered a loyal customer base over the years for its use of fresh locally caught fish, oil-fried to perfection and accompanied by a heap of salty chips. Portions are generous says Jenny and the staff treats you like family.

Yum Bun Food Cart, Various Locations

Yum Bun Food Cart, Various Locations

London’s street food scene has exploded in recent years. New markets are constantly popping up all across town, each bringing with it a fleet of food vans and vendors offering up diverse cuisine from around the world seven days a week. With so many chefs taking their recipes to the streets, groups began to form and one that has consistently enlisted quality vendors is KERB. KERB is an organization of passionate food traders who are committed to raising the bar on street food.

One KERB vendor of particular note is Yum Bun. Serving up pillowy soft steamed buns filled with your choice of salty BBQ pork, spicy prawns, savoury mushrooms, succulent roast duck or deep fried and filled with ice cream, Yum Bun is fast becoming a favourite across London.

Find them at Street Feast and Dinerama food festivals every weekend.

Tayyabs Indian Cuisine, 83-89 Fieldgate Street

Tayyabs Indian Cuisine, 83-89 Fieldgate Street

As a former colony, Indian food naturally made its way across the ocean, bringing curry, dahl, exotic spices and grilled meats to British plates. While Indian food has a long history in the UK, it wasn’t until roughly 20 years ago that the true richness and diversity of Indian cuisine began taking route in British culinary culture says Jenny. Since then Indian food has become widespread, with restaurants drawing in droves of loyal customers every day of the week.

One such establishment is Tayyabs in Whitechapel and judging by the crowds, it’s a favourite among many – including Jenny. She loves this local haunt for its delicious dishes, atmosphere and affordability. The menu is lengthy and traverses the many dynamic flavours of India from spicy to savoury and sweet. She describes the food as gusty and authentic, and the service as astonishingly efficient and very affordable. It’s a meal that is as much about taste as ambiance and entertainment.

Claridge's Afternoon Tea, Brook Street

Claridge's Afternoon Tea, Brook Street

Afternoon tea is iconically British. Crustless finger sandwiches, warm buttery scones, clotted cream and sticky jams, sweet pastries, expertly steeped tea – and a flute of champagne if you’re feeling fancy. It’s an indulgent and elegant affair, best served in an establishment that matches and for Jenny that means Claridge’s.

This luxury hotel in West London’s posh Mayfair neighbourhood has been serving afternoon tea in its grand foyer for over 150 years. It was a tradition enjoyed by the elite for decades and today makes for a delightful afternoon of splendor and style.

Claridge’s is one of London’s great heritage hotels and retains its Art Deco decor. The tea room is plush and opulent with mint-coloured furnishings, grand mirrors and beautiful flower arrangements. Live music tinkles in the background as you feast on the best of classic British finery.

This afternoon treat is enjoyed by both locals – Jenny regularly brings her mother for her birthday – and visitors alike, so booking ahead is necessary. This is a classy affair not only in setting but also in practice, so be mindful of the dress code.

Ottolenghi Vegetarian Food, Multiple Locations
Credit: Natalie Walters

Ottolenghi Vegetarian Food, Multiple Locations

British cuisine, with its penchant for meat pies, sausage rolls and pork roasts, traditionally leaves few options for vegetarians – but not anymore. Today vegetarians can find plenty of flavourful and fresh options throughout London, but there’s one place in particular that is really getting it right and that’s Ottolenghi.

You may recognize the name, made famous by best-selling cookbooks Jerusalem, Plenty and most recently Plenty More. Yotam Ottolenghi is an Israeli chef based in London who back in 2002 began a string of delis that put vegetables on the menu. Ottolenghi quickly became famous for his intricate dishes and innovative flavours.

What Jenny loves about Ottolenghi is the style he brings to his food. The deli windows display stacks of sweet treats and delicate meringues, while the counters inside are lined with bowls heaped high with colourful salads each complex and unique.

“He’s really influenced the way restaurants are presenting salads,” says Jenny. And Ottolenghi’s salads are in a league of their own. Using a myriad of vegetables and grains, he uses Middle Eastern-inspired spice pairings and diverse textures to elevate the humble salad from side dish to main event. Even carnivores will be convinced.

A Wong Chinese Cuisine, 70 Wilton Road

A Wong Chinese Cuisine, 70 Wilton Road

You can find a number of Chinese restaurants across London serving up your standard fare, but A Wong is not one of them. When chef Andrew Wong took over his family business, he made it his mission to introduce new flavours to what was typically understood as ‘Chinese food.’ He set out to captured the true diversity of China’s vast culinary landscape and today his menu combines taste from all 14 of China’s national borders. Employing expert skill and genius creativity, Wong has created a series of dishes that celebrate Chinese culture in a way that is playful and contemporary.

Jenny praises A Wong for presentation and technique. His care and craftsmanship can be seen in every dish, each a treat for the eyes as well as the palate. The evening menu is a collection of small shared plates that together present the culinary melting pot that is Chinese cuisine.

The Duke of Cambridge Sunday Roast, 20 St. Peter’s Street
Credit: Natalie Walters

The Duke of Cambridge Sunday Roast, 20 St. Peter’s Street

A Sunday roast is pure comfort food, a decadent meal shared amongst family and friends at the end of a long week. And when not around a family table, the next best place to enjoy a Sunday roast is at a neighbourhood gastropub – Jenny recommends The Duke of Cambridge in Islington.

This cozy corner pub may look like any other from the outside, but inside the kitchen is cooking up fine food with locally sourced organic ingredients. Standards are high and it shows. The menu changes daily depending on what's in season and so offers a rotating choice of flavours every day of the week.

A traditional Sunday roast includes slow-roasted beef, roast potatoes, seasonal vegetables, gravy and Yorkshire pudding – expect this or something similar jazzed up with all kinds of seasonal specialties at the Duke.

Quo Vadis Contemporary British Cuisine, 26-29 Dean Street
Credit: Essex Eating

Quo Vadis Contemporary British Cuisine, 26-29 Dean Street

British food has long had a lacklustre culinary reputation, but in recent years a number of local chefs have taken it upon themselves to change this. One such champion of British cuisine is Scottish chef Jeremy Lee. His upscale British bistro Quo Vadis in London’s Soho district is elevating overlooked British ingredients – like the humble garden pea – to haute cuisine status.

Jenny describes the menu as “lovely comfort food” that is simple but tasty. Signature dishes include a smoked eel sandwich with horseradish and lamb sweetbreads with peas and mint. That being said, the menu changes seasonally.

The dining room matches the food in comfort and simplicity – crisp white table cloths, polished silverware, banquette seating and elegant flower displays make for a lovely dining experience. Quo Vadis has reinvented what it means to eat British.