Below is our list of 15 traditional British foods and cuisines that you need to try when you are in London, including a few places where you can taste them.
Be sure to also check out our other related posts:
WHAT TO EAT IN LONDON
The foods listed below have origins in England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland.
And in this post, we list great places to get them in London, as well as which of our tours either includes a shop or takes you nearby.
Read this post en español.
Some of these foods and locations can be found on our East London Food Tour.
1. Fish & Chips
There’s nothing that says ‘British Food’ like Fish & Chips.
Known the world over, this traditional British dish is at the top of any foodie list for visitors to London and the U.K.
Although fish & chips are best eaten at the seaside, it is possible to get great fish & chips in London.
Our Recommendation: Poppies, Shoreditch, or Camden.
Read our full post on the top fish and chip shops in London.
On a Budget?: Poppy's is happily affordable with a massive portion of fish & chips (easily split by 2) for under £7.00 each!
Our East London Food Tour visits Poppy's, so consider signing up to try a sample! Check out the video of our guided tour below.
2. Sunday Roast with Roasted Meat and Yorkshire Pudding
Sunday roast is a true British classic. Traditionally this meal is eaten any time from noon to 5 pm (17:00) on Sundays.
Although you can get Sunday roast with turkey, beef, pork, chicken, lamb, and veggie options – it’s important to always make sure you get your Yorkshire pudding!
Traditionally served with beef, Yorkshire puddings are a true British classic and can often be added to any Sunday roast order.
A traditional roast comes with meat, roast potatoes, gravy, and vegetables and should be so large you find it difficult to walk afterward!
While many people love making their own Sunday roast or heading to their nan’s (grandmother’s) house, some of the best traditional Sunday roasts can be found in local pubs.
These days, vegetarians and vegans are well catered to, with a veggie protein option and onion gravy.
Our Recommendation: We think the best traditional Sunday roasts are found in local pubs and our favourites are:
- The Three Stags, Kennington
- The Windsor Castle, Notting Hill
- Anchor & Hope, Waterloo
- Blacklock Chop House, Soho, and Shoreditch
- The Old Red Cow, Farringdon
- The Bull and Last, HighgateThe Stag, Belsize Park (near Hampstead Heath)
On a Budget?: Sunday roast at The Windsor Castle starts at £12.00 for a MASSIVE portion so dog in!
3. Full English Breakfast
The full English breakfast is a mighty meal!
Traditionally, you need to find a dish that incorporates: sausages, eggs, bacon, baked beans, mushrooms, tomatoes, mushrooms, potatoes, and toast.
It also comes with black pudding (also known as black sausage, or blood sausage).
Perfect for a hangover (not that we’d know!), a full English is a great traditional British dish – easy, tasty, and usually inexpensive!
Our Recommendations: You can’t go wrong with a filling Full English at The Albion Café in Shoreditch or The Guinea Grill in Mayfair, which will set you back around £12 (but honestly, most pubs do an equally nice version).
On a Budget? Be like Anthony Bourdain and head to E. Pellici in London’s East End (a Full English is £8.60) or find yourself one of the thousands of cheap and cheerful “builders’ cafes” throughout the city.
4. Pie, Mash + Liquor
Did you know that pie is one of the most ancient British foods? It’s true! Romans brought pies here to Londinium nearly 2000 years ago.
They became really popular in Victorian times, particularly in working-class areas, as the combination of mashed potatoes and meat pies was filling, cheap, and delicious.
A truly classic pie is either filled with minced beef, chicken and ham, or eel, but today you can get all sorts of flavours, including chicken tikka masala!
Pie shops became cultural institutions in the East End, where eel pies and mashed potatoes were served up with a pale green sauce called ‘liquor.’
Originally made from the broth (or liquor) left over after boiling eels, it’s loaded with parsley and onion.
Keep in mind that liquor is only usually available in a proper pie shop. If you choose to get your pie and mash at a pub (an equally valid choice), it will come with ladlefuls of gravy instead.
Similarly, once you leave Essex or London, liquor disappears from the menus.
Our Recommendation: For a traditional pie shop, head to G Kelly, F Cooke, M Manze, or the other authentic options listed in this handy guide. A full plate of pie, mash, and liquor will cost you around £6. We also like Mother Mash in Soho for a more modern take on this classic dish.
5. Bangers and Mash
Another classic of British cuisine with mashed potatoes as a side is Bangers and Mash.
Essentially sausage and potatoes, this is a hearty British staple that is guaranteed to keep you full, happy, and warm on a cold London day!
Our Recommendation: Mother Mash, Leadenhall, and Soho
On a Budget?: Mother Mash will give you a bangers and mash meal fit for a king and all for under £10.00!
Oftentimes reserved for the more adventurous eaters, cockles are a small type of clam, and are traditionally associated with London’s East End where they were a cheap, staple food for decades.
Today cockles can be found in grocery stores, but also in some of London’s tastiest markets!
Our Recommendation: Borough Market
On a Budget?: Cockles are one of the cheapest, and most authentic, foods going at Borough Market - so load up!
7. Eton Mess
A simple and delicious dessert, Eton Mess is named after the prestigious boys' school of the same name.
A fabulous mix of crushed meringue, cream, and strawberries, Eton mess is a classic British treat.
Keep an eye out for variants made with different kinds of fruit or with ice cream instead of cream – although we believe that the best experience is with the classic strawberry ingredient.
Our Recommendation: The National Café, The National Gallery
On a Budget?: Desserts at the National Gallery Cafe hover around £5.00 so are easily affordable.
8. Sticky Toffee Pudding
Originating in Scotland, sticky toffee pudding consists of moist sponge cake stuffed with raisins or dates drenched in a toffee sauce and served with custard or ice cream.
What else is there to say? Delicious!
- The Queens Arms, Kensington
- The Holly Bush, Hampstead
On a Budget?: Both these pubs are run by the same - affordable - company so get your dessert fix for around £6.00.
9. Afternoon Tea
The ultimate British tradition, afternoon tea is a fabulous way to while away the time and enjoy true British delicacies.
Traditionally comprised of finger sandwiches, scones with jam and cream as well as pastries, and your choice of tea, afternoon tea is meant to be an experience so make sure you reserve a couple of hours to enjoy yourself!
It’s also a lot more filling than you might expect, so I always like to book it at around 16:00 (4 pm) and treat it as an early dinner.
It usually includes small sandwiches, petits fours (small pastries and sweet treats), and scones served with clotted cream and jam.
Some establishments include a savoury selection of elevated snacks, such as Scotch eggs (boiled eggs covered in sausage meat and bread crumbs, then fried) or sausage rolls.
Oh, and if you’re having afternoon tea, you may as well add a glass of champagne as well!
We have a whole post on afternoon tea in London.
Our Recommendation: Fortnum & Mason’s Diamond Jubilee Tea Salon, Piccadilly
On a Budget?:
If Fortnum & Mason is a bit out of your price range, get a classic tea, cake (and a cheeky glass of bubbles), and Bea's of Bloomsbury where you can order as much - or as little - as you like, all with prices anybody can afford.
Did you know that people have been eating oysters in London for thousands of years?
In fact, the Romans thought that Londinium had the finest oysters, and they packed them in barrels and shipped them throughout the Roman Empire.
In the 19th century and earlier, oysters were considered food for the poor because they were plentiful, fiddly to open, and of course, potentially dangerous.
After all, in the era before refrigeration, eating certain foods was a gamble. Our Georgian ancestors would be shocked to see wealthy people chowing down on shellfish.
Today, oyster houses can be found throughout London, and tourists and locals alike enjoy them on the half shell.
Our Recommendations: For a decadent experience, treat yourself to a seafood tour (including raw oysters) at Randall and Aubin in Soho, or really splash out at Bentley’s in Mayfair.
On a Budget? If you’re on a budget and craving oysters in London, you’re still in luck. Plenty of oyster bars do an ‘oyster happy hour’ in the late afternoon where oysters are ‘a pound a pop’ – just £1 each.
Some other places do 6 oysters and a glass of fizz for £10. I’ve had a great experience at Wright Brothers (various locations), The Seafood Bar in Soho, and Oystermen in Covent Garden.
11. Chicken Tikka Masala
This beloved dish is a true fusion of cultures – the spices of South Asia meet a mild and creamy British sauce.
While we love a truly authentic Goan, Gujarati, Sylheti, or Punjabi meal, nothing says British curry house more than chicken tikka masala.
Originally popularised by South Asian chefs working in Britain in the 1970s (some say, Glasgow, some say Birmingham), the dish combines classic chicken tikka (chicken dry rubbed in spices and cooked in a tandoor oven) with a sweet, creamy tomato sauce.
Based loosely on the Punjabi butter chicken masala, the dish is beloved across the country – and it’s now even on menus across India, Pakistan, and Nepal!
When you’re at a curry house, don’t miss out on the other dishes.
Some of the most famous include aloo gobi (potatoes and cauliflower), lamb rogan josh (tender lamb in a spiced sauce), and chana masala (spiced chickpeas).
Our Recommendation: You can’t go wrong with the classic cuisine at Punjab in Covent Garden.
On a Budget? If you’re looking for great chicken tikka masala on a budget, you’re in luck – every street food market will have a cracking one!
12. Jellied Eels
Yes, you read correctly: jellied eels are one of the most traditional working-class foods of London!
The Thames River used to be heaving with freshwater eels, and they made for a cheap and plentiful meal for London’s dockworkers.
Eels, pie, and mash became a beloved combination (hence the ‘liquor’ sauce detailed above), heavily associated with the East End.
A naturally gelatinous fish, when boiled with spices and left to cool, they would set like a jelly. Eager Londoners would then eat them cold alongside bread and butter.
Throughout the 20th century, eels were a threatened species, but the Thames is once again clean enough to support an eel fishery.
That said, they’ve mostly fallen out of favour with modern customers, but you can still get them from some pie and mash shops and chip shops.
Our Recommendations: Head to one of London’s classic pie and mash shops or chippies, as most serve up jellied eels. M Manze in Bermondsey, F Cooke in Hoxton, or G Kelly in Bethnal Green are all solid recommendations! One portion will cost around £5.
13. Salt Beef Beigel
Salt beef beigels are an East London institution, perfect for soaking up your pints from earlier in the evening or as a meal in its own right.
Salt beef beigels were brought to London by waves of Eastern European Jewish immigration in the late 19th century.
While bagels (note the different spelling) are often associated with New York and Montreal, London’s beigels are slightly softer and sweeter; they rise higher, closing up the hole.
As a result, they’re the perfect canvas for a hearty sandwich, and nothing is heartier than salt beef.
Salt beef is very similar to corned beef – in fact, ‘to corn’ is an old-fashioned way of saying ‘to salt!’
It’s a brisket, simmered in water, peppercorn, bay, onion, and saltpeter until it's tender and pulls apart.
The saltpeter, which is a nitrite, helps maintain its bright red colour.
Salt beef is served on a beigel with English mustard (which packs a punch like wasabi) and a sweet gherkin (cucumber pickle).
Our Recommendation: Our recommendation is the recommendation – it’s gotta be the Beigel Bake on Brick Lane. And at £4.90, it’s as budget-friendly as it gets.
Make sure you grab one after the Street Art Tour or Jack the Ripper, or while you’re on the East End Food Tour.
14. Victoria Sponge
Britain is known for its wonderful cakes and baking – after all, this is the nation that brought you the Great British Bake Off (also known as the Great British Baking Show)!
It’s a light and delicate yellow sponge cake slathered with strawberry jam and a thick layer of whipped cream.
On rare occasions, you might even hear it called “Victoria Sandwich” – Queen Victoria herself enjoyed a slice in the afternoon with a cup of tea.
Prior to the invention of baking powder in 1843, only the most skilled bakers could master the complicated cake.
Today, everyone can try their hand at the sponge cake – baking soda allows bakers to add more fat to the batter for a lighter texture.
While it’s not a traditional pairing, I love my Victoria Sponge with a healthy serving of vanilla custard on the side. In fact, try adding vanilla custard to any British dessert (all desserts are called pudding, by the way!).
It is lovely with sticky toffee pudding and fruit crumble.
Our Recommendations: We love the Victoria Sponge at Lola’s Cupcakes (locations throughout London) and Primrose Bakery in Primrose Hill.
On a Budget? Head to any grocery shop for their take on the classic sponge – the version from Marks and Spencer is particularly nice!
15. Beef Wellington
Perhaps the item with the most British name on the list, beef wellington is made up of filet steak, oftentimes covered with pate, which is then wrapped in puff pastry and cooked.
Moorish, flaky, and filling, beef wellington is a standard British classic, despite the fact it is now believed that the dish was NOT named after the Duke of Wellington, but instead after the town of Wellington, New Zealand.
But we won’t say anything if you don’t!
Our Recommendation: Simpsons on the Strand [www.simpsonsinthestrand.co.uk]
On a Budget?: Beef Wellington is notoriously expensive but Simpson's can serve you up a classic dish - split between two - for just over £15.00 each.
- Check out our main food tours page for our other self-guided London food tours and posts.
- Consider one of our London walking tours.
- Save money on tickets to popular London attractions.