How To Navigate London's Airport Food

Helen Graves
By Helen Graves Last edited 25 months ago
How To Navigate London's Airport Food
Waiting for a plane at Heathrow, by Ian Rawlinson via the Londonist Flickr pool.

You’ve packed your toothbrush, your flip-flops and those special shorts that only make an appearance on holiday, but did anyone remember to bring the sandwiches? Once you’re at the airport, you’re captive, and have no choice but to run the gauntlet of chains. Some options though, are better than others. And we’ve suffered so you don’t have to.

We’ve grouped this list by type of food with airport locations underneath, to avoid repetition. Luton doesn't even make an appearance since the options are so dire and anyway, it's miles away.

Breakfast

Wagamama: The okonomiyaki here is easily one of the best airport breakfast options. It’s like a Japanese omelette, filled with prawns, bacon, cabbage, chicken, mushrooms — all sorts, basically — and topped with an equally busy garnish of spring onions, seaweed, okonomiyaki sauce, bonito flakes and sweetened wasabi mayo. There’s a lot going on, but you’ll have to trust us on this one — it's good.

Where? Heathrow Terminal 5, Gatwick North (both after security).

Leon: You can do a lot worse than the porridge pots at Leon, although they don’t exactly scream ‘holiday’. The poached egg pots are definitely worth a try though. The ham and truffle Gruyere version is the best, although there’s a full English if that’s more your bag.

Where? Heathrow Terminals 2 and 3 (after security). Stansted (after security).

Sandwiches

Pret a Manger: The sandwiches at Pret are highly variable but our favourites include the jambon beurre, which contains decent ham, a few (well-drained and sliced) cornichons, and an adequate amount of butter (just a little more wouldn’t hurt guys, come on). Top tip: it’s best if allowed to warm up for half an hour or so. On a similar porcine note, the Parma ham, tomato and basil baguette is pretty solid. The rocket and crayfish is a favourite of many, although we prefer the simple smoked salmon and butter on brown bread. Most of the other sandwiches just all taste the same.

Where? Heathrow terminal 3 (before and after security), and terminals 4 and 5 (after security). Gatwick North and South (after security). Stansted. City (before security).

Leon: It’s all about the fish finger wrap with cod fish fingers, gherkin and herby tartare.

Where? Heathrow Terminals 2 and 3 (after security). Stansted (after security).         

Non-Sandwich Lunches

Get your gob around the gobi lunchbox at Leon.

Comptoir Libinais: It’s important to remember that standards need to be lowered, and so while Comptoir Libinais might not be up to much outside of the airport, inside it looks a lot more appealing. Stick to the basic mezze like hummus, baba ganoush (one of their best dishes), and perhaps a fattoush salad. The mains and pastries all suffer from a lack of skill, training or interest in the kitchen, so don’t bother.

Where? Heathrow Terminal 4 (after security), Gatwick North (after security).

Leon: Yes, it’s Leon again, but this ‘healthy fast food’ chain is consistently pretty good. The lunch boxes are worth a punt, and the Gobi version, with spiced cauliflower, sweet potatoes and coconut milk is particularly good (it's also vegan). The lamb kofte meatballs aren’t bad, plus there are extra sauces available to buy alongside the salads, like Argentinian chimichurri.

Where? Heathrow Terminals 2 and 3 (after security). Stansted.

The chicken katsu at Wagamama, by Alpha on Flickr

Wagamama: Everyone likes the chicken katsu curry, right? It’s kind of a cheap thrill, which is why we enjoy it.

Where? Heathrow Terminal 5, Gatwick North (both after security).

Jamie’s Italian: We used to enjoy the spaghetti vongole here, which was surprisingly decent. It seems to have vanished from the menu though, so some investigation is needed. The crab spaghetti should be a fair replacement.

Where? Gatwick North (before security).

Cheffy Places

Gordon Ramsay Plane Food: When Plane Food first opened it promised so much. It delivers, certainly, on the claim that they can serve two courses in twenty minutes. The problem is that those two courses aren’t very good. It’s a tricky balance for them, because the place has the air of a proper restaurant, which raises expectations above what it’s possible to deliver in terms of quality. We’ve not tried everything on the menu though, so there may well be options worth exploring. Whatever you do though, don’t order the burger — it’s a terrible grey tasteless arrangement. The carry-on picnic is also sad, consisting as it does of a few slices of smoked salmon, some undressed rocket and a lump of cheddar with crackers. You’d be better off at McBurgerKing.

Where? Heathrow Terminal 5 (after security).

Heston’s Perfectionists Café: Big hitter Heston opened this shiny new restaurant in 2014 and the people seem to love it. Reports glow. Tales are told of perfect chips and fish steamed just so inside the lightest beer batter. There's also Hansen and Lydersen smoked salmon, pizza and ice cream frozen using liquid nitrogen (this happens at the front of the restaurant). Of course. Our verdict? We've never found ourselves at the right terminal, dammit.

Where? Heathrow Terminal 2 (after security).

James Martin Kitchen: The Saturday Kitchen chef has a ‘grab n go’ place at Stansted airport which we’ve also yet to try. It appears to cover many bases though, from breakfast through to sandwiches, salads and cakes. It's just not as appealing as Heston's ice cream dramatics though, is it?

Where? Stansted.

Cakes and coffee

A tricky area this. Coffee options are generally limited to Costa or Starbucks and the like. There's not much we can say that you don't already know.

Abort your landing and avoid

A good idea? Champagne and seafood at Heathrow, by Nick Seeber on Flickr.

All the ‘seafood bars’: Eating oysters that have been sitting around for too long is never a good idea pre-flight, nor is ordering smoked salmon that’s curling at the edges. Fortnum and Mason (Heathrow terminal 5) is the best of the bunch, and there’s always the option to order some champagne, but we’d rather save our pennies for frosty G & Ts by the sea.

EAT: Whenever we've eaten here the bread has tasted stale, which is pretty shameful for a sandwich shop.

Yo Sushi: Just depressing. Sit and stare at the plastic dishes trundling past and contemplate what has become of your life. Itsu is better than Yo Sushi, but over priced.

Pizza: Universally terrible (with the exception of Heston?), but we have been spoilt when it comes to pizza and there’s no turning back.

Pub food: Fancy eating a mediocre fry up while surrounded by rowdy groups supping crap lager at 7.30 in the morning? This is the place for you.

Have tips on how to survive a trip through London's airports without getting gut rot? Tell us in the comments below.

Last Updated 30 September 2015

Isabella

haha Amazing article and pretty similar to my own taste! Definitely worth adding WonderTree at Gatwick terminal South (after security) where I had a pretty decent brunch ;) Airport food doesn't need to be depressing!

Koola

Come on now, airports should be for progressing through as cheaply and easily as possible - less of the gentrification of airport terminals, I want to save my money for a decent meal at my destination! Wetherspoons definitely serves a valid purpose for the speedy traveller :)

Mark Stone

Best coffee out of all London airports is Harris + Hoole at Stansted

Rory

There is no Leon after security at T3. There might be one before security.