{time for tea} Where I Like to Eat in London (and What I Do in Between Meals)

I would love to tell you about all of the best restaurants in London, but London, of course, is enormous! It’s also expensive. So I will just have to tell you about my personal favorites. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but it’s what works for me. In no particular order, here is what I like to eat…

Tea and toast at Paul Rothe & Son is a treat – and one of the cheaper things on this list. This generations-old shop in Marylebone is the perfect way to start a very English morning. Their white toast slathered with hunks of creamery butter and homemade jam go perfectly with a big cuppa.

The well-known Spanish restaurant Moro has been a favorite on London’s culinary map for some time now, but their tiny wine and tapas bar next door, Morito, is much more fun and a lot cheaper, too. Light-strewn Exmouth Market is a pretty romantic location anyway, even more so when you sit knee to knee and share innovative and well-crafted North African snacks like crispy chickpeas or lamb meatballs with pine nuts while you sip Spanish wine from short utilitarian glasses.

A top stop for me is always Neal’s Yard Dairy. For one thing, it gets you to the terrific Seven Dials shopping area in Covent Garden, which you might not ever happen upon unless you had a destination in mind. But mostly, it’s the cheese. All their cheeses are from English and Irish dairies, and all of them (at least, all of the ones that I’ve tasted thus far) are outstanding. They’ll give you so many samples you’ll be bursting at the seams. I like to buy a couple of cheeses and a loaf of bread and store them in my hotel mini-fridge for afternoon snacks.

It’s hard to pick from the many curry shops in London – Brick Lane tourist traps? High-end, white tablecloth type? For a cheap and satisfying Indian meal, there is always a branch of Masala Zone nearby. This might not be the most authentic Indian food you’ll come across (whatever that means) but it’s clean, the restaurants have a hip ambiance and good service, and it’s always very tasty.

Hawksmoor (there are 2 branches) boldly proclaims that it’s “the best steak restaurant in London,” and they might be right. Order a steak in this clubby, dark, steakhouse and you’ll get a giant white plate with a big hunk of meat on it, aged and cooked perfectly. Their cocktail list is imaginative and fun, with a whole page of juleps (who knew there were non-mint juleps?) that come in an iced-in silver cup.

I really wanted to try Dock Kitchen, and so will you, after you read this review. I didn’t make it there but it’s high on my list for next time.

I’m not ashamed to admit that there are a couple of grocery store foods in London that I just can’t get enough of. I always pop into a Tesco or a Sainsbury’s for a packet of scones and a jar each of clotted cream and jam (although this time I bought fancy jam from Neal’s Yard Dairy instead.) Hotel room breakfast has never tasted better. The mass-market grocery scones taste better than almost anything I’ve ever found called a “scone” in the US.

I also love the funky flavors of potato chips they offer in the UK. Why exactly haven’t they worked in the US? Although they’re both dear to my heart, I slightly favor the Roast Chicken Walker’s Crisps over the Smoky Bacon offering. But meat-flavored chips: what’s not to like?

You can also pick up bags of Thornton’s Toffee in the corner shop. These make great gifts, that is, if you can prevent yourself from eating all of it before you get back home. (Which I usually can’t.) For more selection you can hit up one of the full-on Thornton’s boutique shops scattered throughout town. It’s hard to get in the US; I’ve even tried to make it at home but the original is always the best.

Finally, I’m happy to say that world-class ice cream has arrived in London. Thanks to my traveling companion’s  penchant for ice cream, I got to sample quite a few ice cream and gelato shops. Scoop in Soho has them all beat by a mile. Their cioccolato fondante flavor is so good it almost had me in tears.

Things to do

In between all the food, you might want some activities to burn off the food and work up an appetite for more. No trip to London is complete without a visit to the Tate Modern – one of the premier contemporary art spaces in the world. Traveling with kids? No problem–they have spectacular programs to engage kids in their exhibits. We were lucky to see the Ai Weiwei exhibit “Sunflower Seeds”–with over 100 million handcrafted, handpainted porcelain replicas of sunflower seeds in an enormous pile. (There is a fabulous video that accompanies the exhibit–thanks to the internets, you can watch it here.)

We also saw a terrific Gabriel Orozco exhibit. The gift shop at the Tate Modern is also tops… unless, of course, you hit up the slightly better gift shop at the Design Museum. You know what else is great about the Design Museum? It practically forces you to walk across the Tower Bridge. After you’ve enjoyed this small and well-curated museum, you’ll be in the perfect spot to grab a glass of wine al fresco on the Thames, with a stunning view of the London skyline, framed by the Tower Bridge.

There is, of course, fabulous shopping in London as well. Again, it’s too numerous to go deep on the topic, so I would focus on the multitudes of markets to explore (here is a helpful list with locations and operating days.) But nobody ever had a bad day wandering the lanes of Soho or Seven Dials. And you know, in London, street art abounds, so you can get your fill just by walking around. I’m a fan of the Ben Eine letters you catch early mornings on Petticoat Lane, and the walk back through Shoreditch will take you past a few Banksys and other great street art. Plus, it will get you ready for your next meal.

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