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Britain’s reputation for food has undergone a radical change in the last few years, and now ranks with the best in the world. The public has become more discerning, chefs have higher profiles and the country now creates its own culinary trends. Top restaurants celebrate traditional British food, adding glamorous touches to such staples as bangers and mash, fish and chips, and steak and kidney pie. These are also standard dishes on most pub menus, along with adventurous offerings served in the new breed of ‘gastropubs’, which provide first class meals as well as good beer.
Britain’s colonial past adds to its culinary mix. Curry is said to be the nations favourite dish. London has exciting modern restaurants serving traditional Indian, Pakistani, or Banglasdeshi dishes, fusions of Indian and European cooking or the latest innovations from Mumbai. Thai food is currently enjoying a boom, and Middle Eastern and Northen African restaurants are particularly popular in the city. Another long-standing British favourite is Italian food. As well as the home-grown pasta and pizza chains there are innumerable Italian-run restaurants and cafes – often the best bet for a decent cup of coffee and a snack.
London is at the hub of all this gastronomic innovation and you can find pretty well anything in its streets, from cutting-edge modern cuisines to through to the Bangladeshi delights of Brick Lane. In some parts of the city some basic cafes still sell pie and mash and jellied eels, the latter being something of an acquired taste but worth trying as part of London’s culinary heritage.
Read more on this destination in the AA Key Guide to London.
Recommended restaurants in London
110 Whitfield Street, S1T 5ED
They dare to be different. The international dishes on the menu are inspiring and adventurous, transporting diners to the four corners of the globe. It's not the best place for the timid, with exotic concoctions like spiced kangaroo fillet with spinach and pak choi, peanut crusted wildebeast or African crocodile bites.
9 Kensington High Street, W8 5SA
Superb roof-garden restaurant. Proceed through the cavernous marble foyer, hop into the lift and then walk past the fishtanks that form a wall of the small bar area. The generous and varied menu may offer delights such as tender baby squid bursting with king prawns.
264 Brompton Road, SW3 2AS
Take the long neon-lit catwalk from the Brompton Road entrance to this former fashion warehouse and you will find a bustling ground-floor bar and balcony restaurant. Black-clad staff, crisp linen, brick walls and contemporary seating set the tone for the Modern British menu, which includes seared tuna sashami with shiitake mushroom and cucumber salad; chargrilled rib steak with Bearnaise sauce; and mango carpaccio with coconut sorbet. Good selection of wines to complement the courses.
66 Rivington Street, Shoreditch, EC2A 3AY
Dine in comfort during shows by established stand-up acts, in a venue with a no-heckling policy.
1-5 West Street, Covent Garden, WC2H 9NQ
There's still a buzz at the Ivy; people clearly want to be heard as well as seen here. In the heart of theatreland, the V-shaped building opens into a small bar, which leads on to the main room with leaded windows and coloured glass. The menu offers simple dishes, ranging from snacks to main meal, with international influences.
28-32 St. Martins Court, WC2N 4AL
This much-loved restaurant, off the beaten track in theatreland is in a class of its own when it comes to fish.The freshness of the catch is second to none. Look for the Cornish fish stew, roast whole gilthead bream with herbs and olive oil and grilled sardines piri piri. You need to reserve in advance.
The Oxo Tower Restaurant
8th Floor, Oxo Tower Wharf, Barge House Street, SE1 9PH
With its amazing views through floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the river Thames and the city, this cubed tower tends to impress all those who visit. Cuisine is modern european with elements of fusion; typical dishes on offer could be monkfish tail, pearl barley sauce with cauliflower and almond puree or venison saddle and shoulder with cranberries, celeriac cream and juniper jus. Desserts might include wild strawberry souffle with milk ice-cream.
Pizza on the Park
11 Knightsbridge, SW1X 7LY
See good mainstream jazz every night, some well-known international names, in the dining area. Book ahead.
Smiths of Smithfield
66-67 Charterhouse Street, EC1M 6HJ
The sizable building started life as a warehouse in around 1886 before the completion if the Smithfield Meat Market nextdoor. The upper floors have panoramic views that take in the City, St. Pauls Cathedral and the Old Bailey. The organic, additive-free Mordern British cooking includes the likes of crisp belly of pork and roasted monkfish.
32 Broadgate Circle, EC2M 2QS
Known for its authentic Japanese food. Upstairs is the teppan-yaki dining room, with chefs cooking at the table in front of the customers, downstairs is the more traditional Japanese a la carte and separate sushi bar. An appetiser here might be lightly breaded scallops marinated in vinegar with a seaweed salad.