London is a great city to be hungry in; you’re never further than a stumble from a delicious dinner. Knowing where to start is the challenge, because the uneducated eater may find themselves with a penchant for pizza with only small plates in sight, or seeking an amuse bouche in an area that's best for soul food shacks. This guide to the neighbourhoods you most want to eat in is your meal map, so peruse the menu, then jump on the Tube.
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Essential restaurants:KERB, Chin Chin Labs, Porky’s The first rule of North London is never take a chance on a Camden food stall. Thankfully, street food collective KERB has now filled the West Yard with its tried and tested traders, so choose from that section, and your unfortunate-risk factor diminishes to all but zero. Once you’ve enjoyed your lunch by the canal, join the queue for Chin Chin Labs, where the ice cream is blasted with liquid nitrogen to order, and comes in mad scientist flavours to match. It’s a long way from gourmet, but Camden’s pretty tasty when you know where to look.
14. Covent Garden
Essential restaurants:Balthazar, Flat Iron, Polpo Few true Londoners head to Covent Garden for a night on the tiles, but if you find yourself stuck there (and hungry), all is not lost. It’s home to the quietest branches of several favourite home-grown chains (Polpo, Flat Iron, Meat Market) and a good few international imports. New York’s Balthazar has a grand old dining room just off the cobbled piazza that’ll serve you nearly any time of day, seven days a week.
Essential restaurants:Voodoo Ray's, Mangal 1 Ocakbasi, Lucky Chip Locals shop at the food markets by day, hipsters queue for the bars by night, and Dalston’s identity shows little sign of bridging the gap, which means that nobody gives a damn who’s eating where. Authentic Turkish food sits beside street food residencies and opposite NY-style pizza slices… plus Lucky Chip, which started out serving from a van in Hackney, has even opened a wine bar where it also serves burgers, but don’t think that makes it OK to wear anything fancier than Reebok Classics in there.
Essential restaurants:Chiltern Firehouse, Portland, Trishna Iron your shirt, cos shit just got fancy. The majority of restaurants in Marylebone may be a glittering rip-off, but if your credit card can stretch to it, there’s some fun celeb spotting to be done over the incredible food at Chiltern Firehouse. More low-key but just as high-quality is the seasonal British menu at Portland. The queue for MEATliquor isn’t really the place to be these days, though I won’t judge if you stop to take a selfie with the neon "MEAT" sign.
Essential restaurants:Forza Win, Peckham Bazaar, The Begging Bowl As much as Peckham’s gentrification has left it an area of two halves, it can be proud of its homegrown food talents, which generally manage to be both unique and welcoming in generous measure. Seasonal supper club Forza Win offers “Awesome Sauce” nights, where a bowl of fresh pasta and a glass of wine is just £10, and the authentic, flavour-packed Thai food at The Begging Bowl has spawned a citywide spice epidemic.
Essential restaurants:Smokehouse, Black Axe Mangal, Ottolenghi The road from Angel to Highbury is lovingly nicknamed “Supper Street,” and it’s a really bad idea to walk up it with an empty stomach. The jewel in its edible crown is still the original Ottolenghi, the restaurant that sold a thousand pomegranates. But there are trendier, meatier options at the Highbury end. Anyone who is not a vegetarian should make sure to visit Smokehouse and order the chopped brisket roll with gochujang.
9. Notting Hill
Essential restaurants: The Ledbury, The Shed, SNAPS + RYE Decades of being well-heeled has left leafy west London with fewer special restaurants than you’d expect, but the ones they do have are real winners. The Ledbury is at the top of every London food-obsessive’s “to-eat” list, and if you want to embrace the ladies who lunch aesthetic, you’re spoilt for choice… just don’t expect to fix your burger craving.
Essential restaurants:José Tapas Bar, Maltby St Market, Casse-Croûte The cobbled squares and grand old buildings of Bermondsey could be straight out of a period drama, and you’ll get a picture-perfect meal to match. Jose Pizarro likes it so much that his tapas and sherry bar (José) and restaurant (Pizarro) are but metres from each other. On the weekends, any London food-lover worth their Maldon will be eating their way around Maltby Street Market and its newer, cooler cousin Druid St (before stopping at a bottle shop for a fine craft beer or two).
Essential restaurants:The Eagle, Noble Rot, Caravan How can a famous chunk of central London be such a pain to get to? Nobody knows, but the food haven that is Exmouth Market sure is worth a bit of navigation. You can take your pick from The Eagle (our original gastropub), modern kebabs at Berber & Q, Antipodean-style small plates at Caravan, the Middle-Eastern menu at Moro, and many more. If you’ve somehow exhausted that lot, walk west for 10 minutes to Noble Rot, a wine bar with seasonal British food that’s based on the magazine of the same name.
Essential restaurants:The Dairy, Dip & Flip, BabaBoom The neighbourhood feel in Clapham may be a little Desperate Housewives for some tastes, but it has bred some restaurants that are so good they make north London jealous. The nearly haute cuisine at The Dairy is perfect for those who want to eat fancy but still leave full. Nearby rows of uninteresting bars are peppered with welcoming little locals doing everything right; don’t miss the cheeseburger at Dip & Flip or the short-rib kebab at BabaBoom.
Essential restaurants:Franco Manca, Salon, Kricket You can still get a top-notch box of jerk chicken in Brixton, but thanks to the bundles of independent and imaginative little food places in the Village Market and Pop Brixton, you can also get great pizza, Thai, Japanese, burgers, and loads more besides. Kricket’s Indian-spiced small plates are unmissable, and the original branch of Franco Manca is still the best. If you’re counting the pennies but still want a good meal, Brixton will save the day.
4. Bethnal Green
Essential restaurants:Sager + Wilde, Typing Room, E. Pellicci Bethnal Green was essentially the overflow car park for Shoreditch cool stuff until recently, but the addition of Sager + Wilde and Paradise Garage have made it a delicious destination all of its own. The handsome Town Hall Hotel was once home to Nuno Mendes’ Viajante, which has a very worthy successor in Typing Room. The area may not be beautiful, but it sure can feed the fine-tuned taste bud.
Essential restaurants:The Barbary, Flesh & Buns, Dishoom By day, the pretty, cobbled streets of Seven Dials are a haven for the trendier consumer, and the area’s restaurants reflect that. You’ll eat great food at the sort of price that you can squeeze out of an already-battered bank account, but you’ll need to be ready to queue if you want to try Neal's Yard’s hot young thing The Barbary, or the wonderfully non-fancy Indian food at Dishoom (though you’ll get a free cup of chai while you wait at the latter). If you prefer a guaranteed seat, book for a lively meal at Flesh & Buns, or classy seasonal food at Jar Kitchen.
Essential restaurants:Hawksmoor Spitalfields, som saa, Beigel Bake With its cool credentials came cool restaurants, and with money came some very expensive ones. Shoreditch’s eating scene ranges from 24-hour salt beef bagels to eight-course Michelin-starred tasting menus, but whatever price bracket you’re sticking to, your dinner’s very unlikely to be crap. It’s home to a new breed of cult classics; Hawksmoor, Lyle’s, The Clove Club, and som saa are all famous for their quality rather than their clientele.
Essential restaurants:BAO, Barrafina, Little Social It may no longer be the seedy stomping ground that it became famous as, but Soho is still central London’s main party animal, and it has a desirable dinner spot for every mood and budget. From 6pm, the streets are lined with well-dressed, patient queues outside hip, new no-reservations places such as BAO, Patty&Bun, and Hoppers. When the post-work pub crowd has calmed a bit, the more expensive Soho classics (10 Greek St, Barrafina) start to buzz. Then as the pubs start to close, the tipsy masses are soaked up by Chinatown’s late-night buffets. And now that we can get the Night Tube home, the eating marathon is even more epic.
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Ashleigh Arnott is a food writer with a sideline in cross-stitch celebrities and the works of Hanson. She is never not hungry. Follow her rumbling stomach: @ashleigharnott.