Where to Eat, Drink and Play In London

Nick Nomi

Senior Contributor

In one of the world’s most culturally diverse culinary destinations, it’s easy to find good food, but the cultural ingredients that make London so evocative, revolutionary even, are spread far across the city. Traditionally, travellers flock to the West End for all kinds of cuisine, and while neighbourhoods like Fitzrovia and Seven Dials have undeniably incredible restaurants, it’s not where one finds London’s culinary soul. Rather, it’s in the brick-lined streets of Bermondsey perched just south of the Thames where cafes merge with cocktail bars stuffed with locals, in the East End where graffiti-covered vintage stores and 100-year-old bagel shops bookmark Michelin-starred upstarts from every part of the globe, and in modern Soho, where a lustful past has been replaced with a new sin… Gluttony.  

South London Charm: Bermondsey

The warehouse conversions, railway arches and cobbled streets of Bermondsey hide some of London's liveliest food spots. But for so many visitors, the love affair begins and ends at nearby Borough Market or the Shard, casting its skinny pyramid shadow over the neighbourhood, but Londoners skip Borough Market at the weekends and head to Maltby Street Market and the Bermondsey Beer Mile. The highlight for food lovers has to be Bermondsey Street, south London’s answer to Columbia Road (home to the flower market). The street towers with converted warehouses boasting cafes hung with flower baskets and convivial restaurants at street level, while loft apartments hover a few floors up. There’s a decidedly continental flare here, with wine bars and pubs overflowing onto the street, tables scattered in front of boutiques, galleries and museums, and cafes blossoming into cocktail bars in the evenings.

Pasta at Flour and Grape is simple but delicious, and one can watch the chefs make it through a window on the street, while the French menus scribbled exclusively in French on the daily menu at Casse-Croûte taste as though plucked fresh from the tables of Paris. Afterwards, walk along Bermondsey Street towards London Bridge and ascend 34 floors up the Shard for an evening of views in the sublime Shangri-La hotel. 

Swapping Lust for Gluttony in Soho

While Soho’s days as an adult entertainment hub are almost behind it, the seedy aesthetic lingers with neon-soaked signs boasting nights of burlesque between Japanese Bakeries and cafes selling flavoured ice. It’s this capacity to celebrate the past as it merges with the present that makes Soho so successful as one of London’s premiere nightlife spots, and as a foodie destination. Soho is where Londoners and tourists blend, hunting late-night buffets in Chinatown, dates with Michelin stars, and bar crawls through cocktail joints, pubs, LGBT bars and sports bars. Soho takes London’s melting pot blueprint and serves it as a smorgasbord of private members’ clubs slotted between Korean pochas, Sri Lankan fine dining and diaspora food joints that celebrate London’s fabulous diversity.

Stroll Brewer Street for modern Thai food at Kiln, where curries come with bones dripping marrow served from an open kitchen of flames caressing clay pots as vinyl spins 90's hip hop from the bar. For a Soho institution, try 10 Greek St, and for drinks, Soma serves Indian-inspired versions of classic cocktails in a sublimely chic and shadowy setting, perfect for dates.

East End Grit in Shoreditch and Dalston

Multiple renaissances happened in Shoreditch over the last few decades, taking it on a journey from a declining east-end backwater to a fashionable centre for creative cultures. Today, the creatives are still there for work, but they tend to journey up Kingsland Road to Dalston and Hackney’s rougher edges for cocktails, sharing plates and live music. But whether sticking to Shoreditch or journeying deeper east, the East End food scene has never been better. Old-school 24-hour bagels invite queues day and night, while the new guard of London restaurants has given Shoreditch a cult-like status for food lovers, with Bangladeshi food on backstreets, wine bars hidden in barely accessible courtyards, and street food popping up everywhere from Columbia Road to Ely’s Yard and Brick Lane. 

Journey to Smithfield for the excellent British fare at St John or dip into the street food at Boxpark. Photobook Cafe offers a book-stuffed spot for coffee and cocktails, with the occasional book signing spilling onto Leonard Circus, where the cafe’s owner makes sandwiches for passing office workers. Old Street’s Tayēr + Elementary crafts sublime cocktails across two rooms with a soundtrack of almost exclusively European hip-hop and electronica: a lighthearted, post-Brexit jab crafted by the owners.

(S)Upper Street, Islington

The affectionate epithet Supper Street has described Islington’s Upper Street for at least a decade now, but this stretch of kitchens pluming smoke between Angel and Highbury is perhaps the best spot in North London for food at any time of day. While Camden impresses with its new eateries and a cleaned-up Camden Market stuffed with every kind of cuisine, the sheer breadth of restaurants and the tangible sense of community make Upper Street that bit better. A decade of openings has brought everything from deep-fried pasta and Tiki cocktails to worldly vegetarian fare and romantic French bistros, while the pubs and late-night venues of Angel link Upper Street perfectly to north London’s nightlife. 

Journey down a backstreet bathed in neons emanating from the windows at Meatliquor to visit Detroit Pizza for a taste of Detroit's legendary deep-dish pizzas with an American dive bar upstairs. Alternatively, try the original Ottolenghi restaurant for sublime vegetarian fare with an Eastern flavour, and gobble up the beautiful patisserie at Belle Epoque for dessert. Journey to Angel for cocktails at chic 69 Colebrook Row, or 'The Bar with No Name', as it’s known locally. 

Become a member to join the conversation!

Become part of the world's leading travel & lifestyle community!