London: land of 300 languages, and near-infinite dishes from around the world. But what about the English stuff? Where do you go to get a fry-up fit for Stephen Fry? Or fish and chips fit for, er, Michael Fish? Read this and find out.
More fool us for shunning the dear old fry-up most mornings for a yoghurt and under-ripe banana from Tesco. If we had all the time in the world (and rubber-lined arteries) we'd be scoffing our faces with bacon and eggs at the deliciously trad, little-but-shouty Regency Cafe in Pimlico; in the steamed-up art deco ambience of Bethnal Green's E Pellicci; or — bit different — with the thick bacon chop draped in 'Londoner' sausage at Roast in Borough Market.
If you're after a 'City worker's' fry up — that is, a coma-inducing concoction of meat and Guinness or fizz — then it has to be the Fox & Anchor, or The Hope, both by Smithfield Market. Slurping bone marrow as part of Hawkmoor's weekday breakfast makes for a legendary City pick-me-up, too.
BUT — whisper it — The Electric Cafe in Tulse Hill, does perhaps the friendliest and thriftiest fry-up in all of London. And they've no qualms doing you fried bread.
Fish and chips
One of the first bits of (any) advice we'd give to international visitors to London: eschew pub fish and chips in favour of the stuff from actual chippies: we're talking the crisp and chewy batter of Soho's Golden Union Fish Bar, and the fat, flaky fillets of moist cod from Sutton & Sons in Stoke Newington.
That's not to say that going slightly upmarket doesn't pay off: the kitsch-hip Poppie's outlets serve up some truly spectacular battered cod and haddock, while we often dream of Kerbisher & Malt's pleasantly chewy batter and proper mushy peas.
Read more about London's best fish and chips here.
Other fishy treats
Make like a common Georgian/posh modern Londoner, and shuck 'n' slurp a few oysters, courtesy of one of these oyster establishments — including Cornwall-bred oysters from Wright Brothers (during their daily 99p happy hour, naturally), and the well-turned-out Randall & Aubin.
If you're looking for an even swankier fish experience, then dive into Sweetings, which doles out portions of smoked eel, potted shrimps and dover sole, in fine Edwardian surroundings. For the full experience, bring a bowler and a broadsheet.
The savoury English pie is perhaps the single most ingenious culinary invention — and let us cast asunder any mutineers who suggest otherwise.
While we would never claim that the pies in London's traditional pie and mash shops are 'the best', they are an authentic taste of yesteryear's city (sawdust included — on the floors, not in the pies), and should be sampled at least once. That said, Goddards in Greenwich offer both spit and sawdust style dining, with actually-very-decent meat pies. Yeah, go there.
Otherwise, splash out on a posher pie, courtesy of The Camberwell Arms' ballsy steak, ale and bone marrow pie — or the artwork that is Bob Bob Ricard's well-lacquered chicken, mushroom and champers effort. More upmarket pie recommendations here.
HOWEVER — and we can't believe we're about to reveal this secret — the best meat pies by far come from Wellbeloved butchers, in Deptford. You can watch the father and son team spoon the meaty mixture into the pastry through the window (they're that fresh) — and they're cheap as you like too. Please don't buy them all. Please.
FOOTNOTE: As for the Cornish pasty; forgive us for saying that all of the usual train station kiosk suspects are guilty of smuggling way too much potato into the pastry (and also being hotter than the sun). The best we've found are those at Mrs King's Pork Pies in Borough Market. Otherwise, trains leave from Paddington to Truro every hour.
We've never really understood why people knock meat and two veg. One of the best slap up meals we've had was the Edwardian chop with peas and mash at Simpson's Tavern in the City. Rule's really, er, rules the roost when it comes to quality game; haunch of venison with samphire and chocolate (!) sauce; roast pigeon with mushroom and liver croutons. You'll pay heartily for the above, but it'll live in the memory forever.
As for your traditional roast with all the trimmings: allow us to pick just one from each of the compass points: the eclectic menu of roast meats, served with Harvey's bitter at Borough's Royal Oak (South). The crisp pork belly and ample trimmings at Tapping the Admiral in Kentish Town (North). The whole roast chicken orgy at Jones & Sons in Dalston (East). The slow roast scotch beef doused in bone marrow gravy at Chelsea's Admiral Codrington.
Read more about London's best roast dinners here.
Chips and gravy, eccles cake, Lancashire hotpot, Kendal mint cake. All apparently from this place called 'the north'. Anyway, we've summed all these, and more, up in this handy article.
- Bread and butter pudding: The English Restaurant (where else), Spitalfields
- Apple crumble: Cafe in the Crypt, Trafalgar Square
- Sticky toffee pudding: The Abingdon, Kensington
- Trifle: Temple & Sons, the City
As for afternoon tea — cripes, where do we start? The simple delights have largely taken a backseat, in favour of towering setups with more novelty value than sense. While, in theory, a Sherlock Holmes afternoon tea screams Britishness, the original (and affordable) taste of scones, jam, cream and a good pot of breakfast tea are best left to the museum cafes, like the Greenwich Fan Museum's Orangery, or in bookshops, such as Waterstones Piccadilly.
Come on then, what have we missed? Berate us in the comments.