Fresh off the boat in London? Only got a limited amount of time here? Full-time Londoner who wants to make sure you're eating the right things? Here are 11 quintessential dishes that should be on your to-scoff list.
Fish and chips, Kerbisher and Malt
Fish and chips are everywhere in London, but so many place fall short of the yarkstick. Ignore the pubs peddling this English classic for £15, and go instead to modern chippie Kerbisher & Malt. You'll be welcomed by a breezy, seasidey ambience, and fresh fish deep fried in pleasantly chewy batter, fat crisp chips and (if you choose) a healthy side-dollop of mushy peas. A crisp glass of white, or a Kerbisher pale ale finish the job nicely.
Vegans needn't miss out on the fish and chip experience anymore: a number of establishments make the dish with non-fish substitutes: here are the best.
Lamb chops, Tayyabs
Eschew the typical lamb rogan josh for Pakistani-Punjabi restaurant Tayyabs, and their sizzling lamb chops. They've been cooking these beauties up on a massive grill since 1972, and have had oodles of time to perfect the seasoning, not that they'll tell you what's in it. Roughly speaking, the secret is a paste of spices featuring the likes of cumin, coriander, fennel and cardamom. As well as flattening the chops, they cook them fast — that's important for making them so lip-smackingly excellent, apparently. It's BYOB, so you can make a pretty frugal feast of it. Make sure you book a table well ahead of time.
Tayyabs, 83-89 Fieldgate Street, Whitechapel, E1 1JU
Pie and mash, Manze's
London's so pie-centric, it should really be wrapped in one almighty case of pastry. You're spoilt rotten for meat pies in this city, but the quintessential pie experience is to be found in a proper pie and mash emporium, such as one of the Manzes. With their beautiful wooden fittings, over-sized mirrors and tiled walls, these places were built to last — and some have already clocked up a century or so. You could fit the whole menu into a tweet: pie (minced beef, although some places do a vegan option), mash, liquor, eels. It's very cheap too. Wash your order down with a sarsaparilla or cup of tea, and appreciate that while this may not be the best pie you'll ever devour, it's the best pie experience you'll ever have.
Manze, 87 Tower Bridge Road, SE1 4TW; 105 High Street, Peckham, SE15 5RS; 226 High Street, Sutton SM1 1NT; 76 High Street, Walthamstow, E17 7LD
British cheese board, One Inn the Wood
Coming across a non-stingy cheese platter in London is like finding a needle in a haystack. Gordon's Wine Bar is rightly renowned for its fat wedges of brie, taleggio, smoked comte and Dambuster cheddar, served with a heap of pickles, and at an extraordinarily reasonable price. Just as good, though, is the Kentish cheeseboard at Petts Wood micropub One Inn the Wood. Here, you can feast on sizeable hunks of Ashmore cheddar, Chaucer camembert and Kentish blue, with crackers and homemade pickled onions. A nice cask IPA or porter stands in for the usual wine. You'll probably meet a nice local or two as well.
One Inn the Wood, 209 Petts Wood Road, Petts Wood, BR5 1LA
Duck and waffle, Duck & Waffle
Half the appeal of this dish is its setting (although we suppose you could eat it in the low-lying Covent Garden branch too). You must vanquish your fear of heights, to ascend to the 40th floor of a skyscraper (in a see-through elevator), to be served up Duck & Waffle's eponymous dish. It consists of a crispy duck leg balanced on fluffy waffles, topped with a fried duck egg, and self-drizzled with spiced maple syrup. Allow your tongue to process this strange, but strangely-good concoction, while your eyes feast on a ringside view of London's ever-expanding forest of glass towers.
Duck & Waffle, Salesforce Tower, 110 Bishopsgate, EC2N 4AY
Sunday roast, Blacklock
The Sunday roast is as close as many Londoners get to a religion these days — and there are hungry dialogues on everything from how sizeable a yorkshire pudding should be, to whether you should have to pay extra for gravy (you shouldn't, of course). The other big question is 'where serves London's best roast dinner?'. The man who has the last say on that is Lord Gravy, a clandestine figure who has given himself to the cause, by sampling a different roast in London every weekend. His verdict? Blacklock has the finest roast — a stonking 9.29 out of 10 — thanks to it's three-in-one meat option, crispy roast potatoes, deliciously charred carrots and hearty gravy. Amen to that.
Blacklock, various locations
Salt beef bagel, Beigel Bake
At the risk of inviting a raft of heated comments, we judge the superior salt beef bagels of Brick Lane's neighbouring bagel houses, to be those from The Beigel Shop (that's the yellow one). They cram more of the delectably falling-apart, slightly fatty beef into their chewy bagel rolls, to the point where, when you take a bite, some of it invariably it falls out into the paper bag it's served in. We have our salt beef bagels with mustard and gherkin, naturally. And also mayonnaise, which might just be our skewed taste. Whether you go for mayo or not — and indeed, whether you side with Beigel Bake instead — this is an east London eating experience not to miss. Veggie bagel options are available.
The Beigel Shop, 155 Brick Lane, E1 6SB
Fry up, Regency Cafe
Taking part in London's greatest fry-up involves getting shouted at a bit: you decide what you're having at the counter of Regency Cafe before taking a seat, and waiting for your order to be bellowed out across the room. With its chintzy-chequered curtains and Formica tables, this greasy spoon is both a film set and a tourist attraction, but don't let that put you off — plenty of 'real' Londoners come here too, tucking into the ocean of baked beans, thick-cut bacon charred until black around the edges, soft fried egg and peppery cumberland sausage. Once you've licked your plate clean, you're ready to tackle London. Or to have a little nap.
Regency Cafe, 17-19 Regency Street, Westminster, SW1P 4BY
Fish pie, J Sheekey
The simple things are often the best. While the wealthier pre-theatre diners at J Sheekey might beckon platters of caviar-topped blinis and halibut on the bone to their tables, you can be safe in the knowledge that the fish pie is one of the thriftiest, and satisfying dishes on the menu. A crumbly, cheesy crust gives way to creamy mash inundated with hunks of cod and salmon. Spooning this into your mouth, surrounded by the wood panels festooned with signed images of stars of the stage, you feel a million dollars.
On a similar foodie theme, The original Ivy restaurant is round the corner from Sheekey, and does the best shepherd's pie you'll ever stick a fork into.
J Sheekey, 28-32 St Martin's Court, Covent Garden, WC2N 4AL
Afternoon tea at The Ritz
We're not going to pretend you don't need a bit of pocket money for this one. Afternoon tea in London is big business (trust us, we've tried a few in our time) and you can discover almost any variation you can think of, from Alice in Wonderland to chicken wings. The Ritz, though, does the kind of classic afternoon tea that the Queen would be satisfied with: fine cut sandwiches (cucumber with cream cheese, Scottish smoked salmon with lemon butter); freshly baked scones with preserve and clotted cream; seasonal pastries and cakes; and an assortment of 60 teas to choose from. And while everyone has their own views on what constitutes the ultimate afternoon tea, you can't whack the Ritz's bling Palm Court setting, resident jazz pianist and all.
The Ritz, 150 Piccadilly, St James's, W1J 9BR
Biang biang noodles, Murger Han and Murger HanHan
Like curry, Chinese cuisine has been a staple of London cuisine for centuries, but as Jay Rayner says, "If you're a bit handy with a pair of chopsticks these are great times to be alive." You could close your eyes and stick a pin in the menu at X'ian restaurant Murger Han (and twin Murger Hanhan), and make a guaranteed good choice. But the dish to end all dishes here are the freshly-stretched, bouncy-as-you-like biang biang noodles — so long that you can do a 'noodle pull' stood up (which we have). Mixed with spring onion and chilli, tomato and egg sauce — or the latter with added braised pork or slow-cooked beef, this is a rich, piquant taste sensation that will live on your taste buds' memory as long as it will on your Instagram feed.