Everything You Need to Know about Eating in London

by Heather Robinette / Jan 12, 2016 /
Heather Robinette's picture

During my time studying abroad in London, I had the chance to try some different types of food. Some of it surprised me, because it actually tasted better than it looked. I, of course, had my fair share of fish and chips from a variety of places. There were times when I missed the food back in the states, and now there are times when I miss the food from London. I have put together some information about what I learned from eating in London while studying abroad. Here are some great tips so you know what to expect, advice so you are ready for your first meal in London, and how to eat on a budget. My best advice is: don’t be afraid to try new food! 

 Everything You Need to Know about Eating in London

Traditional British Foods

Two traditional British foods you must try are fish and chips and Sunday afternoon roast. Fish and chips is a dish known worldwide as a traditional British food. You’ll notice fish and chips almost everywhere you go. Near the Tower of London, a small takeaway restaurant sold fish and chips, which I thought was interesting. This is my personal opinion, but after eating fish and chips in London, any time I have had it in the United States, it does not quite taste the same. I guess it is just another reason to go back to London! 

Try the fish and chips! From  Everything You Need to Know about Eating in London

Fish and chips stand near the Tower of London. From  Everything You Need to Know about Eating in London

Sunday afternoon roast was a dish I was not as familiar with before studying abroad, but on our first Sunday, our group went to the Three Stags and had Sunday afternoon roast. The meal consists of a roast of rump beef, roast potatoes, vegetables, horseradish cream, and Yorkshire pudding. It tasted a lot better than I thought it would. It is a large meal, so make sure you go hungry because you’ll leave full! One thing to know beforehand is that it can be an expensive meal, depending on where you go. Our meal was prepaid through the cost of using the program provider. If I had paid for the meal, it would have cost £38, which translated to almost $60. It’s not the least expensive meal in London, but you probably won’t have to eat dinner!

Sunday Roast. From  Everything You Need to Know about Eating in London

Three Stags. From  Everything You Need to Know about Eating in London
 
London Fast Food (Takeaway)

A popular fast food restaurant in London is called Pret A Manger. They offer sandwiches, soups, and wraps. I ate here for lunch every day after class. Pret is fairly common so you can find them throughout London. I ate the chicken & bacon sandwich or California club. A few other common takeaway places are Caffé Nero and Eat

Eat! From  Everything You Need to Know about Eating in London

Several of the takeaway restaurants don’t offer seating and if they do, it’ll cost you to eat there. Keep this in mind when you order the food because they will ask you if you’ll be eating there or if it is a takeaway order. When you decide to eat in the restaurant, you are charged a VAT tax. My advice is to order takeaway and find somewhere outside to eat. Many times, I would eat on nearby steps or in a nearby park. In popular food areas, you’ll notice a lot of people doing this so you won’t be alone. 

American Fast Food in London

Like many other places around the world, American fast food restaurants like McDonalds, Burger King, and Subway exist. Many of the food items are similar, but the menus are different. McDonalds has a value menu, but the items are different. England isn’t known for their large amount of cattle, so the beef does taste different. I didn’t think it was too bad, but you can definitely taste the difference. I ate at McDonalds a few times because it is a cheaper meal when you are out and about in London. The McDonalds I went to was actually kind of hidden in an underground shopping area called West One Shopping Centre on Oxford St near Oxford Circus and it was usually not crowded. The McDonalds near Tottenham Court Road is a two story McDonalds and it was typically crowded. 

In the states, I typically do not eat Burger King, but in London, I ordered mint chocolate chip ice cream at least once a week. I’m not sure why it was different, but I loved it! After returning from my trip, I did some research and realized that was only in the UK, not in the United States. 

Grocery Stores and Ready-to-Eat Food in London

If you are going to be in London for a while, I would highly recommend going to the grocery store and preparing your own meals to save money. You’ll find the grocery stores to have many similar, if not the same, foods. If you don’t want to cook, another option is to purchase Ready-to-Eat meals in some of the smaller grocery stores. These are very popular in high traffic areas because people will walk in and grab lunch. 

Ways to save money while studying abroad in London? Hit the grocery store! From  Everything You Need to Know about Eating in London

Simply Foods (Marks & Spencer)  
These stores are more focused on ready-to-eat products, but they can be more expensive. I would grab a few meals from here from time to time. 

Sainsbury’s 
In the smaller stores, they offered some ready-to-eat meals at a less expensive price, but the selection was smaller. I did most of my grocery shopping in Sainsbury’s. 

Tesco Express 
These are smaller stores under the Tesco brand. You’ll find several of these in central London in busy foot traffic areas. The store is similar to Sainsbury’s, but less expensive than Simply Foods. I usually had good luck with finding a ready-to-eat meal in the Tesco Express by the Great Portland Street Tube Station. 

Coffee in London

For those of you worried about not having Starbucks, Costa is London’s equivalent and they are everywhere. However, if you are like me and don’t really like coffee, you’ll have to try their cooler ice drinks. The watermelon and strawberry fruit cooler was my favorite. I typically treated myself to one every Friday. I haven’t found anything like it back in the states so it will be one of the first things I get in the London airport when I arrive next time. 

Try the Costa Coffee - it's delicious! From  Everything You Need to Know about Eating in London

Cookies in London

Even after four years, I still crave Ben’s Cookies. I’m not sure what they do differently when they bake them, but the cookies were amazing. Having a Ben’s Cookie is a must when visiting London. When you taste one, you’ll understand what I mean. According to their website, they have a USA website domain coming soon, which hopefully means they are looking at opening stores here. Until then, it looks like I’ll have to make a trip back to London soon! 

A must-try: Ben's Cookies! From  Everything You Need to Know about Eating in London

Etiquette in London

One of the biggest differences when eating at a restaurant in London is that you need to ask for the bill, unlike in the United States where the waiter or waitress will eventually bring you the bill. In England, they view it as being rude because it seems like they are trying to hurry you out of the restaurant. If you never ask for the bill, you could be there awhile. Another tip is to let the waiter or waitress know you are going to be splitting the bill beforehand or they may refuse to split the bill. 

Tipping for a meal in London has a few major differences compared to the United States, so make sure you understand them before going out to eat. In London, you tip based on your satisfaction with the meal and service. Typically, around 10% is expected unless the meal wasn’t good or the service was terrible. Always double check the bill before leaving a tip because some restaurants will include a ‘service included’ charge, which means the tip is already included. In the United States, most people usually tip 15-20% or less if they thought the service was bad. Especially if you’ve worked in the restaurant service industry, you know waiters get most of their money from tips and don’t make anywhere near minimum wage. 

When it comes to ordering drinks, there are a few things you need to be aware of or you may be in for a shock. The biggest one for me is that you don’t get ice unless you ask for it. The second one is that water is not free. When you order water, they will bring you a bottle of water and you will be expected to pay for it. Make sure you check out the drink menu before ordering!

 

I hope that this information can help you in experiencing different types of food in London. I never would have thought I would have enjoyed some of the meals I did. But, I’m glad I tried new things. You don’t know if you will like it until you try!  

 Everything You Need to Know about Eating in London

 

Heather Robinette is the London Study Abroad Editor for Wandering Educators. She notes, "During the summer of 2011, I studied abroad for six weeks in London at the University of Westminster with Academics Programs International. I graduated from Kansas State University in Manhattan, KS in December 2012 with a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration. I currently work as a marketing analyst for a small company in central Texas. I currently work as a marketing coordinator for a real estate firm in Las Vegas, NV. I am also pursuing my MBA. While I was abroad in London, I was able to create many unforgettable memories that I will never forget! My study abroad experience helped me gain various skills, but above all else, it helped me to learn more about myself and the world around me." You can find her online at http://www.heatherrobinette.com/

 

All photos courtesy and copyright Heather Robinette, except:
Word Photo Wikimedia Commons: Martin Falbisoner, adapted by Wandering Educators

Costa photo courtesy and copyright Costa

Three Stags photo courtesy Ewan Monroe, Wikimedia Commons