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London - Best traditional British grub, afternoon tea, and fish & chips?

Chestnut Mar 19, 2006 05:01 PM

I'm a Californian heading to London on Wednesday, and was wondering where I would be able to find traditional British food at an affordable price - maybe a pub/gastropub? I'm itching to try classics like steak & kidney pudding.

Also, an affordable place for wonderful afternoon tea would be great. I saw the earlier post recommending Brown's - is there anything even cheaper than that? (It was listed at around 27 pounds).

Finally, a couple of excellent fish & chip places would be much appreciated. Again, I have no bias against, and actually would prefer, eating said excellent fish & chips in a pub (ideally one that's old-fashioned and traditional), if possible. I read in my Time Out - London guide that they've pegged Sea Cow as the best fish & chips in London - comments?


  1. v
    vanillasprinkle Mar 23, 2007 10:23 AM

    I just got back from london, and affordable food is hard to find. The best place we found for traditional english tea was an adorible little tea house call The Muffin Man which the concierge at the hotel recommended. Its located on Wright's lane across from the Kensington Close hotel. It's small and affordable, it was the cheapest lunch we had our whole week in london, and the devonshire cream is absolutely delicious. As for fish and chips there's a great place near picadilly circus called shakespeare's head (its owned by some of shakespeare's decendents or something), the upstairs dining room is adorible, and they had traditional fish and chips with mushy peas (which you must try while in england!). There was also a place in Earl's Court just a few steps from the tube stop called the blackbird that has amazing meat pies (if you go try their blackbird pie, its worth it!).
    I must warn you to brace yourself, though, for Americans London is EXPENSIVE

    1 Reply
    1. re: vanillasprinkle
      mrnyc Mar 23, 2007 09:25 PM

      oh gawd. im going friday to hang out with my camera, thx for the tips and the warning.

    2. s
      Simon Majumdar Nov 2, 2006 09:11 AM

      I tried to back in the Summer, but when I arrived for lunch ( which I had booked with them the day before ) there were workmen everywhere and the place was closed.

      Now, unfortunately, closed for good.



      1 Reply
      1. re: Simon Majumdar
        SpikeyD Nov 3, 2006 07:21 AM

        That's terrible news - wonder what's happened to those bad tempered Spanish waiters? I suppose it'll have turned into another tedious, mediocre (or worse) chain place or some fusion nonsense... Still they did pretty well, really - must have been there at least 50 years, by my reckoning.

      2. s
        SpikeyD Nov 2, 2006 08:49 AM

        "You can eat jellid eel at any working class caffe around east london" - interesting comment - I was under the impression that only Tubby Isaacs and Manze's were still dishing up jellieds and pie 'n liquour. Not that that makes them worth eating; sometimes, dishes become endangered species for a good reason.

        Fish and chips in Central London is always a problem - the best (and best value) ones are generally out in the suburbs. But Golden Hind is a always a good bet and has the benefit of good fresh fish, nice staff and being bring your own (wine, that is, not fish). I remember that Manzi's in Soho used to do the most wonderful fried plaice and chips - but that was many years ago, and I think that wonderful old institution is a pale reflection of its previous glory :( Anyone eaten there recently, as a matter of interest?

        1. k
          kevina Oct 31, 2006 10:07 AM

          Allo Chestnut, my advice on the great british food would be to try a full english breakfast and lunch at a 'greasy spoon' cafe. Just your usual high street cafe, not a dirty lookin one. Then head slightly out of the centre and find a traditional english pub for your fish and chips. Cromer on the north norfolk coast, 'The Pink Palace' is my favourite. You could always have a curry as that's now our national favourite dish! Whatever you decide, enjoy.

          1 Reply
          1. re: kevina
            abpstigand Mar 23, 2007 11:01 AM

            I respectfully disagree!

            Pub fish and chips are generally pretty bad. They rarely have the turnover or fryers to do really good F&C, so chances are you'll something from Sysco/Brake Brothers indifferently cooked. If you want F&C, go to a fish and chip shop. If you're eating in a (normal, non-gastro) pub, go for something like sausages and mash, sandwiches, or perhaps a pie.

            And having the full English at a greasy spoon isn't always a surefire route to deliciousness either. Most greasy spoons will serve you an uninspiring fry-up of battery eggs, mealy sausages and 'value' bacon; it's certainly authentic, but you could do so much better. Try one of the pubs around Smithfield market instead for the real thing, with much better quality ingredients in an equally unpretentious atmosphere.

          2. g
            gadogado Oct 30, 2006 08:31 PM

            Hello Chestnut. talking about fish, if you want to have very English gastronomic experience why don't you try Jellied Eel? I guess this is cockney than english but certainly this will be good suvenior story to tell the folks back home. You can eat jellid eel at any working class caffe around east london. This type of place often serve traditional pie and mash as well.

            1 Reply
            1. re: gadogado
              accecil Mar 23, 2007 10:38 AM

              I live in the East End, and it's not my experience that all caffs have jellied eels. I'd go to G Kelly in Bethnal Green Road for that side of London 'cuisine.' Also, the Brick Lane market on Sundays is a good place to score jellied eels, if you're into that sort of thing. E Pelicci is a good run of the mill East End caff that would be worth a visit if you want quite basic food (bubble, shepherds pie, etc. - don't think they do jellied eel). I also really like Canteen in Spitalfields for English food (roasts, etc.) and St. Johns Bread and Wine in Commercial Street for traditional puddings.

            2. Abi Oct 30, 2006 11:07 AM

              Without doubt the best fish and chips in London is at Brady's in Old York Road - Wandsworth town


              Sadly fish and chips in a pub is not a good idea anymore - go to a place that specialises. They even have a wine list!

              1. s
                Simon Majumdar Oct 30, 2006 10:10 AM

                Someone above asked about The Sea Shell. So, I tried it on Saturday

                Quite the most abominable F&C's it has been my misfortune to try in London. Really, really horrible and not cheap ( Rock & Chips, £15!! Anyone/)


                The Golden Hind and Masters Superfish still remain head and shoulders above for me.

                I also see that Geales has been bought by Mark Fuller and Gary Hollihead so it will be interesting to see what happens there


                1. zuriga1 Jul 19, 2006 06:57 AM

                  Karl... thanks for the Thatched Cottage suggestion. We were there last week, taking a friend to lunch who had docked on the QM2. It was a terrific meal - good price, lovely service!

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: zuriga1
                    karl1969 Nov 3, 2006 09:27 AM

                    Excellent, I'm glad you enjoyed it!

                    Brockenhurst is good also for the wild ponies and cows that wander out of the forest - it is very quaint.

                  2. m
                    Miss Kittee Jul 18, 2006 04:24 AM

                    I second The Golden Hind on Marylebone St. My husband and I always go there the first night we arrive in London-- no matter how cranky and jetlagged I am I WILL drag myself out for dinner there.

                    1. wleatherette Jul 9, 2006 04:21 PM

                      my favorite fish and chips spot is something fishy on lewisham high street. it's very basic and quite cheap, but the fish always seems very fresh and the chips are wicked. huge portions, and wonderful strong tea as well. it's right opposite the market, and thus as a bonus you can listen to the leathery women behind the counter exchange double entendres with the traders.

                      1. s
                        Simon Majumdar Jul 8, 2006 10:19 AM

                        I can't comment on The Sea Shell as it is too long since I went. However, IMHO, the best F&C's in London that I have tried have been at The Golden Hind in Marylebone.

                        Beautifully fresh, perfectly cooked and they have a BYOB policy. I posted this link to our meal there recently.


                        1. s
                          Simon Majumdar Jul 8, 2006 07:20 AM

                          I would certainly recommend booking for afternoon tea. It is very popular throughout the week, not just at weekends.

                          it is served from 3-6pm, I believe.


                          1 Reply
                          1. re: Simon Majumdar
                            Petitpois Jul 8, 2006 08:10 AM

                            How is Seashell? Have you eaten there? I posted above but think it got lost.

                          2. b
                            btanmoran Jul 7, 2006 08:02 PM

                            Question -- Do you need to make reservations for afternoon tea at Brown's? We'll be going during the week sometime.

                            4 Replies
                            1. re: btanmoran
                              zuriga1 Jul 8, 2006 09:39 AM

                              Just a note about tea at Brown's... people tend to dress up for this tea, unlike the one at some other spots. There's a nice tea at Sotheby's auction house, too.. near the good shopping on New Bond St, Oxford St. etc.

                              1. re: zuriga1
                                HeatherFL Mar 25, 2007 12:31 PM

                                How dressed up? Is a dress without gloves okay? I am off to London next month before heading to France for a meeting. Thanks so much for the Brown's recommndation! I am looking forward to it.

                                1. re: HeatherFL
                                  zuriga1 Mar 25, 2007 02:20 PM

                                  Oh, for the days of kidskin gloves (this reveals my age for sure). You won't need gloves in London except warm ones if the weather is cold. I think anything aside from jeans is probably fine - nice slacks, jacket or top, skirt etc. I do think men usually wear jackets but I'm not sure about that. I'm off to Barcelona tomorrow - glad I caught this before leaving. Enjoy the tea!

                                  1. re: zuriga1
                                    HeatherFL Mar 25, 2007 02:58 PM

                                    Thanks! Have fun in Barcelona. I love it there. =)

                            2. k
                              karl1969 Jul 6, 2006 10:02 PM

                              For afternoon tea you have to leave london for the New Forest and Brockenhurst.

                              There you will find the Thatched Cottage, and the greatest afternoon tea available in the country: http://www.thatched-cottage.co.uk

                              It's an hour and a half by train, book tickets here http://nationalrail.co.uk

                              honestly, we stayed up the road, with some miserable old woman, the place looked nice but she just whinged the whole time - wish I could remember where it was to warn you off... anyway

                              GO TO THE THATCHED COTTAGE.

                              not only afternoon tea, but wild ponies and cattle and stuff just wandering aroundthe streets and hanging out at the bus stop.


                              1. h
                                Henry Mar 21, 2006 06:30 AM

                                I'd highly recommend Canteen in the new bit of Spitalfields Market (E1). One of the most exciting places to open in London since St John. 100% British menu, well sourced, seasonal ingredients and astonishing prices. I went for brunch last weekend and went back for dinner that same day!

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: Henry
                                  mrnyc Mar 23, 2007 09:20 PM

                                  im going to london friday so that is exciting, thx for the tip!

                                2. c
                                  Chestnut Mar 20, 2006 06:49 PM

                                  Thank you, everyone! I was originally strongly leaning towards doing tea at The Orangery, but it seems so skimpy. Thanks esp. to Simon for that mouthwatering blog entry - I will definitely try to make it out to Brown's now. I will also check out the other recommendations.

                                  I split my time between Northern and Southern CA, so I feel very blessed foodwise (and thus feel no desire to explore the many Indian/East Asian options in London). But I do feel that there's a severe lack of traditional British places in CA, so I am very excited about the traditional interestingly-named British grub I'll get to eat. (Ruby, I've actually been to the Peninsula Beverly Hills, but I was not too impressed with their lunch offerings - thanks for the tea tip, though, I'll have to try it sometime!)

                                  Thanks again!

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: Chestnut
                                    Candy Mar 21, 2006 07:10 PM

                                    Subcontinental (India, Pakistane etc.) is different over there. We never know we liked it until several trips to London. Now just dieing to go to India.

                                  2. r
                                    Rafael Mar 20, 2006 04:11 PM

                                    If you would like traditional English food, the place to go is St John. The restaurant is on St John St in Clerkenwell and there is a cafe across the street from Spitafields market that serves snacks and lighter food. It isn't a pub but the food is wonderful and authentic.
                                    Brown's just reopened after a major reburfishment and change of ownership. Their tea used to be wonderful. Although I haven't tried their new tea service I can tell you that the place doesn't look like an English room any more. You can also order just tea and a scone rather than the full service if you are not hungry enough for the entire feast.

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: Rafael
                                      Simon Majumdar Mar 22, 2006 04:59 AM

                                      There is often an argument about St John being traditional English or not. I don't think it is, although the view that is disingenuous to kill an animal and not eat as much of it as possible is common to the peasant cookery of many cultures

                                      Anyway, I had a disappointing meal there last niight. I had not been in a while and it may be down to the nature of a place with an ever changing menu or it may be that it is over the hill. I hope the former, suspect the latter.

                                      A shame because, at its best it can be very special

                                      That being said, if you want to try a restaurant that is entirely different to anything you may have tried before, it is still worth a punt


                                      Link: http://majbros.blogspot.com/

                                    2. t
                                      Tom Mar 20, 2006 07:26 AM

                                      Geales for fish and chips. Not a pub but great food.

                                      1. s
                                        Simon Majumdar Mar 20, 2006 04:54 AM

                                        Even though it is expensive, I really do recomment Browns.

                                        Every other place is, IMHO, a pale shadow.

                                        £27 is a lot to pay, but bear in mind they keep bringing food until they have to roll you out of there and you will be incapable of eating for the next 24 hrs! So, it is not bad value.

                                        See the post below from my blog. It has some pictures which might help persuade you:-)


                                        Link: http://majbros.blogspot.com/2006/02/t...

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: Simon Majumdar
                                          JBC Mar 20, 2006 01:07 PM

                                          I want to strongly encourage you to find the money somewhere and go to Brown's! I am also from California, have been to London 6 times, and experencing agruably the Best Tea in London will make your trip so MUCH more enjoyable and memorable. If you think about, it's not that expensive if you can stuff yourself, you can have it instead of dinner maybe even lunch too.

                                          Trying to save 10 to 12(?) pounds per person for a second/third rate tea experience is a poor travel decision. You need to splurge a little somewhere and 10 (?) pounds extra one time is nothing long term memorywise.

                                          According to their website, they have 3 options: cheapest is 29.50 pounds.

                                          Link: http://www.brownshotel.com/restaurant...

                                        2. s
                                          SpikeY Mar 20, 2006 03:22 AM

                                          Afternoon tea at Fortnum's isn't bad (try the Fountain Room), but not sure how much it is these days. If the Sea Cow you're referring to is in Lordship Lane, SE something, I wouldn't bother - it's not worth the trek from central London. Stick with Seafresh in Lisson Grove (any cabbie will know it).

                                          Pub choices are too many to list - try this well resourced (and opinionated) site... But note that the best food in pubs these days tends not to be in what tourists would think of as traditional boozers - e.g. the Eagle in Farringdon St was the first London "gastropub" and still dishes up great food - but traditional it ain't.

                                          Link: http://www.fancyapint.com/

                                          2 Replies
                                          1. re: SpikeY
                                            fai jay (fai jackson) Mar 20, 2006 07:30 AM

                                            I think you may mean The Sea Shell in Lissome Grove. I agree on Brown's for tea. Do what a lot of English do and order one tea with an extra pot of tea. The tea at Fortnums is not good and the surroundings less than pleasant, although it is less expensive that B. The Savoy is an experience--but a very costly one--we did the one tea for two there. Have a good time, TA TA,

                                            1. re: fai jay (fai jackson)
                                              Petitpois Jul 7, 2006 12:08 AM

                                              would love to hear more about the Sea Shell as I have driven by it a few times and seen the take-away queue. Is the restaurant good too? I love fish and chips and would love to find a good chip shop with excellent fresh food!

                                          2. r
                                            ruby Mar 20, 2006 01:51 AM

                                            brown and dorchester both offer great high tea although the latter is probably more pricey. i don't know which part of california you're from but the peninsula beverly hills offer a great high tea experience comparable to that in england. their scones are exceptional...in fact, better than any i've sampled in london.

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