Eat Like a Local: London

Five easy ways to amplify your London dining experience.

By / August 2012

The price of dining in London, especially with the dismal state of the dollar these days, can be hard to swallow. Between the Queen’s Golden Jubilee and the start of the Olympics, I spent a few days in the city this summer on a mother-daughter trip. While my mom, older sister, and I travel exceptionally well together, our mixed ages and budgets can require a tricky balancing act on the meal front.

The trip also required some restraint on my part, a traveler who tends to focus on food sightseeing, or what I like to call “eat-seeing.” There was Big Ben, Buckingham Palace, and Westminster Abbey to visit, after all. But in between evensong at Westminster and champagne on the London Eye, I got more than a mouthful of London. Here are five of my favorite ways to eat like a local in London, whether you’re a traveler who needs to eat or an eater who needs to travel.

1. Feast your eyes on Fortnum & Mason.
Rub elbows with history and hampers (picnic baskets) with a trip to this London landmark. As the go-to supplier of expedition gear and foodstuffs for British world explorers in the 1700s, Fortnum & Mason’s food hall is a multi-floor extravaganza of everything from traditional candies and jams to Scotch eggs, meat pies, and honey so local that the beehives buzz from the rooftop.

Olive vendor, Borough Market. Photograph by Martha J. Miller

2. Get your Stilton fix (and more) at Paxton & Whitfield.
Slip out Fortnum & Mason’s back door and into nearby Paxton & Whitfield for all things English and cheese. The handsome pots of Stilton make for great gifts as do the roomy and rustic market totes sold alongside. Chat up the friendly cheesemongers and part with a few pounds for a taste of some of the finest local cheeses.

3. Escape the hustle with a quiet lunch in Neal’s Yard.
Tucked down an unassuming side street in the Seven Dials neighborhood, Neal’s Yard is the place to go when the crowds, cabs, and chaos wear you down. This brightly colored interior courtyard is home to shops specializing in holistic medicines, the London Slow Food office, and vegetarian restaurants with expansive patios that offer a healthful lunch high on peace and quiet.

4. Graze your way through Borough Market.
Sure, London is chock-full of no-frills curry houses and dim sum dives for a quick and inexpensive meal, but a stroll through Borough Market is my fast-food meal of choice. Get there bright and early and join the long line at Monmouth Coffee for the best cup of brew in the city. Then, snake your way through the endless stalls of fresh produce, peppery salami, stinky cheeses, and towering pyramids of homemade brownies. Finish your trip with a lunch of fragrant curry simmered in giant paella pans, a crusty roll piled with duck confit and arugula, or a grilled cheese slathered with caramelized leeks.

5. Splurge on dinner in the ‘burbs.
I’m not saying you can’t find a great dinner in Trafalgar Square, Covent Garden, or Mayfair. What I am saying is that the absolute best dinner you can find is down in Fulham at The Harwood Arms. Located at the end of a quiet, residential block, this neighborhood gastropub is packed nightly with locals and in-the-know tourists alike. My recent dinner there – chicken leg stuffed with black pudding and cooked in mead (honey wine); monkfish cheeks with fennel and fairy mushrooms; and brown sugar doughnuts with sea buckthorn curd and sour cream – was well worth the final tab and cab fare.


Martha Miller is the food columnist for EthnoTraveler.