Quintessentially British Dishes to Try in London
You have just landed in London and wonder what to eat. While London is, of course, famous for many international food options, that doesn't mean that you should skip British offerings altogether. That's right. Step into one of those famous pubs and eat locally! It will be an experience to remember and you may find that the food is smashing!
However before you go out with an umbrella, wellington boots, and a trench coat, you will need a local's food guide. An English-to-English translation if you will. Here are some quintessentially British dishes to sample and a rough idea of what each entails. So go forth and be brave!
Some posts on this site contain affiliate links, meaning if you book or buy something through one of these links, I may earn a small commission (at no extra cost to you!). Opinions are always my own and I’ll never promote something I don’t use or believe in. Also as an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.
Traditional British dish: Bangers and Mash
What are bangers and mash?
This is your typical and usually very yummy sausages and mashed potatoes. The Brits do know their meats and there is nothing like this comforting and very hard-to-mess up this dish.
Where to try bangers and mash in London
One of the best places to try bangers and mash in London is at The Brownswood, a Victorian pub near Clissold Park in Stoke Newington. It's the perfect place to try this dish for the first time. The restaurant lets you create your own bangers and mash dish. You choose your sausages. They have everything from lamb and mint (my choice) to chorizo to beef and ale. Then comes the mash. You can have it with cheese, with onion, wine, or gravy, oh my! Your vegetarian friends will not miss out either!
The Brownswood, 271 Green Lanes. Tube: a short walk from Manor House Tube, Finsbury Park Station, or Stoke Newington Station. By bus: 106 from Finsbury Park, 106 from Stoke Newington Station, and 141 or 341 from Manor House Station.
Make bangers and mash at home
Recipes from Simply Scratch and The Spruce to try this at home.
Quintessentially British fish and chips:
What are fish and chips?
Usually battered and then deep-fried cod or haddock served with chips, otherwise known as french fries in other parts of the world. If you get lucky, your fish will be accompanied by mushy peas and tartar sauce. When it's good- it's great!
Where to try fish and chips in London
Oh, where to start? There are so many great places to get fish and chips in London, but a few standouts include:
- Poppies for its vintage East End feel. It's like stepping back in history, but the fish is fresh and flaky and the chips are both crunchy and fluffy at the same time! The original Poppies is located at 6-8 Hanbury Street in Spitalfields and they have 2 additional shops in Soho (55 Old Compton St) and Camden (30 Hawley Crescent).
- Bonnie Gull Seafood Shack has it all. Haddock beer battered with Japanese tempura, homemade smashed peas, and ketchup! Bonnie Gulls is located in Fitzrovia at 21a Foley Street. They have a second stand in Soho at 22 Bateman Street.
- Fish Lounge gets a mention for having gluten-free Mondays! They've got delicate fish, fluffy chips, and a great tartare sauce (I personally prefer malt vinegar!). The Fish Lounge is located at 99 Brixton Hill, nearest Tube stop is Brixton.
Make fish and chips at home
Recipes from The Tasting Table and Jamie Oliver to try at home.
A British Tradition – Shepherd's Pie
What is shepherd's pie?
A meat pie with mashed potatoes, this dish is hearty. Shepherd's pie is sometimes confused with cottage pie. Cottage pie is made with minced beef and shepherd’s pie is minced lamb. Restaurants sometimes interchange the name, but who cares! It is a big dish, so much so that if you combine it with a pint and have my tolerance or lack thereof, you might be headed for a nap. That said, pies are very often the safest way to go in London and are usually delish. Just don't do what I did and have them at lunch!
Where to try shepherd's pie in London
Much like fish and chips, it's hard to find a bad pie in London, believe me, I tried! But here are some of London's best:
- The Ivy has reigned as one of the best shepherd pies in London for more than 25 years. It's made with a traditional mince of lamb and beef with a wine au jus. Well worth the wait! The Ivy is located in Leicester Square at 1-5 West St.
- The Windmill in Mayfair not only has a nice rooftop bar but an amazing Dorset lamb shepherd's pie with cheddar leek mash. They are located at 6/8 Mill Street.
- The one that got away, but on my list for my next pie adventures, the duck shepherd’s pie at Balthazar. The Francophile in me is dying to try the duck, vegetable pie with thyme and a red wine marinade! Balthazar is located in Convent Garden at 6 Russell St.
Make shepherd's pie at home
Recipes from Epicurious and Life in the Loft House to try at home.
A British Favorite – Toad in the Hole
What is a toad in the hole?
Again, in spite of its interesting name, you might be somewhat disappointed by the reality. This dish consists of sausages in Yorkshire pudding batter, usually served with vegetables and onion gravy. It dates back from the 1760s and at one point the original beef was replaced by sausage. This dish is a bit harder to find as it is considered something you'd make at home and not go out for.
Where to try toad in the hole in London
- Bistro Union serves its toad in a hole with Cumberland Sausage. They are located at 40 Abbeville Road in Clapham.
- Porter's English Restaurant in Covent Garden (they are also famous for their steak and kidney pie). Porter's is located at 16-17 Henrietta St.
Make toad in the hole at home
Recipes from Nigella and The Daring Gourmet to try at home.
A very traditional British Dessert – Spotted dick
What is spotted dick?
The name, well it's quite unique. The dish, however, is not quite as exotic as it sounds and consists of pudding with dried fruit served with custard. It's quite sweet so if you are not into the sugar rush, it might not be your cup of tea, or you may need to eat it with a cup of tea!
Where to try spotted dick in London
- You can do no better than Sweetings, one of the oldest restaurants in London (it opened in 1889!). Theirs is made with raisins and sits on top of a puddle of custard sauce. Sweetings is located at 39 Queen Victoria Street.
- Also known for its bangers and mash, S&M Cafe has a very good spotted dick that won't break the bank. Located at 4-6 Essex Road N1.
Make spotted dick at home
Recipes from Daring Gourmet and Good to Know to try at home.
How about you? Have a favorite traditional British dish you'd like to share or a great spot where you've had one of the quintessentially British dishes described above?
Like it? PIN it!
Great mix of dishes! I still need to try spotted dick. Sounds a but crude haha. I would also ad A Full English and Sunday Roast. I’m obsessed with Sunday Roast!
@Bobbi Lee, oh yummy, I love roasts!
These actually look really good and I’ve heard London is no longer stereotyped as having bad food but is becoming or is now a culinary mecca. Can’t wait to one day go. #1 on my list is a good pint #2 is afternoon high tea.
@Murissa, I ate my way through the town and had tons more to try in the short week I was there – you’ll love it!
I’m a big fan of fish and chips, and do not ever miss out on an opportunity to reward myself with a big plate whenever I’m in London. I love the Golden Hinde in Soho.
@Marie, for me they have to be really good ones, otherwise I get sick from the oil, I love fish and chips, I am just very picky about them!
@Marie @Andi I gotta agree with Andi on the fish and chips. A good one is great but a bad one can really spoil your impressions…. for a long time!
I love Shepherd’s Pie and I recently got a authentic recipe from my British friend. I’m so excited to try it out! 🙂
I recently made a delicious shepherds pie the other day. It wasn’t all from scratch, but it was tasty. Love a good hearty meal.
Fish & Chips and Shepard’s Pie are two of my favorite dishes. I’ve always wanted to jump “the pond” so I could try them from their native origins. I love that their chips/french fries are almost like chunky hashbrowns. I’d be in love!
The Spotted dick actually looks really good to me. I just need to get over the name. 🙂
I’d love to try fish and chips, and also the Shepherd’s pie! They both look really good . . . I think now I need to make some Shepherd’s pie for dinner! Maybe next week 🙂
Awesome roundup, Andi, it really doesn’t get any more quintessential than this! And thanks so much for including a couple of my recipes. I lived in England for 7 years just south of Cambridge and man, am I homesick. We’re looking forward to going back next year for a visit and taking our kids with us for the first time. As for the food, while living there I definitely had my share of bad British food, that’s for sure 😉 BUT, I also had many outstanding meals as well. I love all of the dishes you listed (agreed, provided they’re made well). A couple more of my favorites are Beef Wellington and sticky toffee pudding. My husband also loves Cornish Pasties and mushy peas, which usually accompany the fish & chips.