London Trip--Need Restaurant/Food Recommendations
Looking for London Restaurant recs
I'm visiting London in September and am looking for restaurant recs. I'm interested in the must-not-miss places, traditional pubs, afternoon tea, etc. There are so many options I have no idea where to start. Any recommendations for special evenings out, quick, inexpensive lunches, tea, fish and chips, Indian, etc.
Any help would be appreciated! Thanks!
First recommendation on where to start: the search function in the upper right-hand corner. :o)
Type in phrases like "best Indian London," "fish and chips London," etc. You will be rewarded with a wealth of input, and regular posters won't need to keep reinventing the wheel. Do some reading, see what appeals and then come back with some more specific questions (including your budget, where you'll be staying, etc.).
Yes, using the search function for specific topics is a very good idea. You can also take 5-10 minutes to scroll down thru the many threads here, as the questions you are asking get asked and answered here regularly.
Here is a recent thread that should be helpful:
I got the same response about the search function when I asked a few wks/months ago. Truth be told, I did use the search function and was overwhelmed/couldn't make sense of all the various threads since I didn't know much about London.
Rec'd various responses, most of which I wasn't able to follow up w/, simply b/c sightseeing took precedence over eating (which is both good and bad, I suppose.... ;). I just returned from Europe yesterday.
Thought afternoon tea at The Ritz, while extremely expensive, was actually lovely. Beautiful room, attentive but unobtrusive service, and the food was tasty. I'm assuming that if you're more worried about food quality (instead of ambiance), there are probably many more affordable options. You could also try this: http://www.fodors.com/news/photos/the... (a Google search will provide other, more recent lists).
I thought indian food in London would be substantially different than it is in LA (which is my hometown). Perhaps I didn't go to the right places, b/c, while I thought the few restaurants I tried were tastier than my usual places at home, I didn't think they were exponentially better. My partner and I went to Moti Mahal and Woodlands.
For breakfast, our favorite place was near our hotel in Earl's Court (Bencho's). The shaksouka there is great.
Borough Market is definitely worth a visit. I met some US friends there, and we went to Cafe Bloom (which was nearly impossible to find since the listed address doesn't actually map correctly). It's in the "Green Market" area; I vaguely recall it being in the NE cormer of the market. They have delicious paella and pimms/sangria.
We had fish and chips in a variety of places. I thought the one at Blackfriar's pub was tasty and truly enormous (no need to get the large size!).
For quick and cheap, Pret A Manger is fantastic. The quality for the price is unbelievable, and I desperately wish we had something like it in LA! ::sigh::
Here's a list of other places that were recommended to me by the board (some overlap w/ what I mentioned above):
Windsor Castle (pub
)Churchill Arms (pub)
Pret A Manger (quick bite)
Café Rouge (quick bite)
Golden Hind or Master’s Superfish (fish and chips)
Lehore Kebab House (Indian/Pakistani)
Anteplilar Green House (Turkish)
Roganic (fine dining)
Alyn Williams (fine dining)
Opera Tavern (Spanish tapas)
Quality Chop House (British)
Food halls at Harrods and Fortnum and Mason
Duke’s Hotel (dry martini)
Wolsely; Ritz; Fortnum and Mason; Intercontinental
I went to Moti Mahal recently and thought it was unbelievably bog standard as well, and the menu was a farce. They didnt have starters, mains or whatever, just a list of things that i was supposed to be able to discern based on price whether they were starter or mains sized. I've never seen such ridiculousness at a mid-tier curry restaurant (though at michelin starred prices). I watched them pour half a bottle of that crappy indian beer Cobra from a bottle into a small glass and charge me something like 6.50 for it -- what an absolute mug off.
I'm not sure who propagated this notion that Moti Mahal is a good restaurant, but I refuse to remain silent any longer! Next time, try Trishna, Quilon, Benares or even Amaya if you want to be impressed by Indian in London (at that price point).
Funny different experiences BT. Although I have to say I felt completely mugged as well by the beer prices (and the wine is even worse) and then the sneaky cover charge they put on the menu just for the privilege of dining.
On the food front I did really enjoy most of what we ate though, was better than my meal at Benares. I know Howler's a fan so I feel sufficiently confident to stick my head above the parapet.
This was my review
"I'm not sure who propagated this notion that Moti Mahal is a good restaurant"
I'd be one.
And I stick to my opinion - based on the food eaten on both my visits (the best Indian food I have eaten). As I think has been pointed out (not just by me), Indian cuisine does not define itself by the westernised concepts of starters and mains so I found it reassuring that Moti Mahal's menu reflects that tradition.
My vehement opposition was intended to to balance out the resoundingly positive reviews, though I genuinely didn't really enjoy my meal.
As far as the menu goes, they certainly abide by Western portions and coursing i.e., some were definitely appetizer sized and some main,so I don't quite see the point of complicating things on the menu. If they want to be truly authentic why not write the whole thing in Hindi and charge rupees?
I've eaten at a lot of Indian places since my move to the UK almost ten years ago. I'd have to say that the quality of the meal it really depends which Woodlands one goes to. I enjoyed the Marylebone location, but their restaurant near Piccadilly was not very good at all.
FWIW, Pret A Manger was a huge flop in NYC. I've always thought it must have had something to do with the contents of the sandwiches... probably changed for the American palate. I always found Pret A Manger a bit exotic when I came here as a tourist, and I still enjoy their food.
Ah, good to know. I'm pretty sure we went to the Piccadilly location.
Really? Hmmm.... I think NYC and LA have very different tastes, so it'd be interesting to see how Pret A Manger would do here (apparently they had been scouting a location in Downtown 1-2 yrs ago?). I think it'd be a huge hit, esp on the westside (where cheap, good prepared food that seems halfway nutritious is not necessarily easy to find) and not at all foreign for people on this side of town.
Thank you! My apologies for the (very!) late reply. Like you, I was totally overwhelmed by the various threads on the topic on CH. I also live in LA and wish we had something like a Pret a Manger (they are, however, in DC and NYC). Blackfriar's is on my list and Borough Market is almost reason enough to visit London. I was thinking of lunch or breakfast at Roast?
Ottolenghi – This guy makes amazing food. I cook stuff from his two cookbooks all of the time. He is Israeli so his food is very Mediterranean/middle eastern and focused on fresh food. He has one in Notting Hill, Kensington and Islington.
Wahaca – There’s one in Soho and another in Covent Garden – really good “street food” style Mexican food and quite inexpensive.
Maroush/Ranoush – if you go to Edgware Road, you’ll feel like you’re in a different world. This whole street is lined with Middle Eastern shops and is just off Oxford Street. There is a place called Maroush/Ranoush (different names but the same) and they do the best shwarma in London imho. He also has a few other stores around London. Super tasty – and make sure you get the lamb one.
Vapiano – this place is just off Oxford Street – it’s actually a German chain but this is their first London store – simple pizza and pasta dishes, affordable and made fresh to order.
Hache – Very good burgers, similar in style to Jus. There’s on in Chelsea, Camden and Clapham.
Hawksmoor – Ok, so this place is not cheap however it is value for money. By far the best steakhouse I have ever been to in the world – the have one in Shoreditch, Covent Garden, Soho and in the City. They do amazing cocktails as well. If you don’t want to go for a steak, then I must recommend grabbing the bar menu and getting their signature burger and triple cooked chips. Perfectly cooked patty, flecks of bone marrow – heaven!
Ginger Pig – this is one of, if not the best, butchers in the UK. Their meat is amazing. If you see a pub or somewhere advertising that they sell ginger pig pies or use ginger pig meat, you can be sure that they actually give a fuck about what they serve and that the food will be good.
Tayyabs – Best Indian (well Pakistani technically) in London, and so cheap. Just off Whitechapel Road. Ignore Brick Lane (for curries that is – for the market on the weekend Brick Lane is great, and there is a super cheap 24 hour bagel place that’s been there forever, as well as Rough Trade East, which is the largest independent record store in Europe. Needoo Grill and Lahore Kebab House are also excellent.
Borough Market – without a doubt one of my favourite things to do in London. It’s open on Thursday and Friday afternoons, and Saturdays (the best time to go is on one of the weekdays as it gets swarmed with tourists on Saturday). There is a huge variety of both fresh produce markets and actual cooked food stalls to sample. There is stuff from all over the UK and Europe, and you could get a semi decent feed just from walking around and sampling stuff.
Chilango – The burritos from here are amazing. When I worked in the area I found it so hard to resist getting one every day – there aren’t cheap (about 9 pounds if you get guacamole) but so, so worth trying. On Fleet Street near the Ludgate circus end so near St Paul’s.
Pizza East – They have one is Shoreditch which is huge and in a converted warehouse, and another on Portobello Road. They have the most amazing pizzas and cured meats and cheeses.
Franco Manca – Considered by many to be the best pizza in the UK. The original store is in Brixton, but he also has, of all places, a store at Westfield Stratford (the food selection there is actually surprisingly good – they really put effort into attracting some good names there). Simple ingredients, beautiful woodfired base.
Paul A Young – The chocolates that this guy sells are amazing. I cannot emphasis this enough. You have to go and try a few. I cannot explain how much this guy’s chocolates are above anything else you’ve tried before. He has a store in Soho, Camden and the Royal Exchange near Bank.
Hummingbird Bakery – the famous cupcake shop. To be honest standards here have gone down – last year, over the course of the year the increased the price, decreased the quality and decreased the size. Still, their red velvet cupcacke is pretty damn awesome. There are a fair few now, main ones you might be near are Portobello Road, South Kensington (near the tube station) and Soho.
Hummus Bros – You’d probably ever only be near the Soho one – they do really good hummus, flat bread dishes and are a great affordable option – especially at lunch when it’s cheaper.
Beas of Bloomsbury – Better cupcakes than Hummingbird Bakery imho and amazing cakes in general. The original is in Bloomsbury but they have also opened near St Paul’s, in Chelsea and near London Bridge.
The next few I never went to as they opened after I left, but were the places everyone has been talking about and by all accounts are very awesome.
These two I really wish I could have tried:
Meat Liquor - 74 Welbeck Street, London W1G 0BA
Pitt Cue & Co - 1 Newburgh Street, London W1F 7RB
Patty & Bun - 54 James St London W1U 1HE – a friend of mine made it his mission to try every burger he possibly could in London before moving back to Australia. The "Ron Jeremy" is what he claims to be the best burger in London!
Flat Iron – new place in Shoreditch. Was a pop-up above a pub in August and opened properly last month. Does steak and a few sides.
Burger & Lobster – Pretty self-explanatory. Looks like there are 3 about the West End.
Coffee – Despite what people say, good coffee can be found in London. My favourite was Monmouth Coffee – one in Covent Garden another at the Borough Market. Also good are Sacred and Flat White – both in Soho/Covent Garden area. Oh and although I never went, I just found out recently that they guys behind St Ali (the place in South Melbourne that basically kicked off the coffee fad in Melbourne) opened a place called Workshop in Clerkenwell last year. By all accounts the coffee and food is amazing.
Another two places which I only recently heard about but never went to that is supposed to be good is Kaffeine, just off Oxford Street.
If you ever get out to Fulham, then go to The White Horse – amazing pub, right near Parsons Green tube. Sukho – great Thai on Fulham Road. Gola – great Italian on Fulham Road. Local Hero – great coffee on Fulham Road.
If you want to have a Michelin Starred meal, I have to recommend the Ledbury. The place has 2 Michelin stars and the owner is a guy from Newcastle, Australia. The food is amazing, the vibe is unpretentious, and for the quality of the food and reputation that the place has, it’s not as expensive as you’d think. If you are going to go though – book now.
Thank you so much for such a thoughtful reply. Here's my list so far. I think I'm lacking in pubs and lounges, so please feel free to recommend. We will be splitting our time in London between apartments in Hammersmith and Notting Hill. Also, we'll be visiting Bath and the Cotswolds in the middle of the week, returning to London Thurs-Sat.
Day 1(Fri) --Need dinner recommendation
Day 2 (Sat)--Borough Market in the morning. Lunch at Roast. Afternoon in The City (St Paul's, Temple Church, The Tower). Still figuring out dinner options and looking for a lounge.
Day 3 (Sun)--Brunch at The Wolseley. The rest of the day in Westminster and Trafalger Square area. Still trying to figure out dinner.
Day 4 (Mon)--Afternoon tea at Brown's and theater in West End. Possible late-night snacks at Green Man, French Horn, or Bocca di Lupo.
Day 5 (Thurs)--Back in London. Afternoon in South Kensington, possible lunch at Harrod's. Seeing a play at the Globe, so I'm interested in eating dinner near the theater.
Day 6 (Fri)--Portobello Road Market in the morning and Bloomsbury in the afternoon.
So, here's my restaurant list. I am totally overwhelmed by London's restaurant scene. Even though I'm from LA, there are so MANY great options in London and I really have no idea where to start. I would really appreciate help in prioritizing and please let me know if there are any glaring gaps. Thanks everyone for all your help!
The LONG list:
The Cinnamon Club
Wagamama (quick lunch option)
Bocca di Lupo
Pollen Street Social
Harrod's Food Hall
Social Eating House or Little Social
Beas of Bloomsbury
The Clove Club
St John Bread and Wine
Bull & Last
Honey & Co.
For day 3 when your near Trafalgar Sq I would recommend Terroirs which is very close. The Harp pub is also very nearby which has great beers but get's very packed.
For day 5, near The Globe I would suggest eating at Wrights Oyster bar by Borough Market or if you want fish and chips then it's about 10 minutes to Masters Superfish.
For Portobello Road I would suggest the Portuguese places or the Moroccan stalls which are on nearby Goldborne Road.
I 'm not really a lounge person but can highly recommend the cocktail bar upstairs at Rules. You can also have food off the main menu up there.
Not been to all the places on your list but very much like St John and Polpo, also Monmouth coffee.
Have been to Roast twice and wasn't particularly wowed. Wagamas is bland chain food . I'm sure you could do better for quick food, depending where you are.
FYI The Green and French Horn is one single establishment.
Also I assume you mean the Blackfriars pub. Good choice fantastic interior and good beers.
About the places on your list:
Roast is merely OK (and pricey for for merely OK) -- I'd strongly recommend going to Eliot's instead, if you want a nearby alternative.
Haven't been to Polpo in a while, but I've heard lots of downhill reports. Was pretty good a few years ago when I ate there, but apparently they haven't maintained standards while expanding. Nevertheless, would appreciate an update if you do go to Polpo or any of it's relatives.
I wasn't particularly blown away by Barrafina, Jose is probably better, but perhaps harder to get in. What I would do is to go to Pizzaro and get the Iberico pork with pineapple and lentils.
Would love an update on Pollen Street Social - was one of those places where I was rather unimpressed with the food (great technique, but the dishes never really came together), but never hurts to get updates. They're related to Social Eating and Little Social, so perhaps choose one of the 3.
If you're going to Borough Market for Monmouth Coffee, I'd recommend going to a few doors to Eliot's for their coffee instead. The espresso drinks are superior, but the espresso blends they use are heavy on fruit and acidity, so stick with the milk based ones. They also do good brews of a couple of filter coffees. The quality is high but Monmouth has a larger selection if you happen to be looking for a specific bean from a particular grower/region. If you have more time, and are serious about coffee, get the Ethiopian coffee ceremony at Queen of Sheba -- they roast the beans to order and bring it to the table for you to smell the lovely aroma, grind it up, and brew the coffee in the traditional earthen ware.
(BTW, "The Green Man & French Horn" is one restaurant.)
I'm a fan of Honey & Co, and I would put the Bull and Last very high on your list. Another place that I love is Trinity in Clapham - go for grouse.
If you can get a reservation, Restaurant Story is superb, brilliant technique as well as novel, interesting and highly cohesive flavour and texture combinations. Great deal for £65 for 10 courses at lunch. Easily superior to my experience at Roganic (once last year) and the Ledbury (twice over the last few years).
Around Hammersmith, love to hear an update on Indian Zing.
The Wolseley is merely OK, the main attraction comes from the beautiful main dining room. You could have a much better brunch at say Workshop Coffee or Caravan, and get superior coffee to boot.
I'd skip Wagamama -- you have way too much great Japanese and Chinese in LA for something that is so soulless. You can get better quick lunches anyway. If you're craving noodles, get the Guizhou noodles with crispy pork fat in a spicy broth at Maotai Kitchen in Chinatown.
In terms of obvious gaps:
There are several cuisines you should go for. Such as Singaporean/Malayian - Sedap for Nyona food would be one example - as well as various African and Indian. Great Sri Lankan, Tamil, Pakistani, Keralan etc in East Ham, and some good options in Tooting. There's an excellent West African place - Le Taliet uncovered by our intrepid JFores: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/876397 as well as excellent Nigerian at 805. Also Turkish - Hala in Green Lanes for example.
Thanks, everyone. Here's the itinerary--I'm thinking of not scheduling lunch since we'll be on the go. But please feel free to recommend some good pubs or restaurants.
Fri: in London in time for dinner. On waiting list for the River Cafe, no reservations available. A better dinner alternative in the neighborhood?
Sat: Breakfast at Roast in Borough Market. Trafalger Square by lunchtime and spending the afternoon in that neighborhood then heading to Westminster. Dinner at Social Eating House.
Sun: Breakfast reservations at both the Wolseley and the Delaunay--trying to figure out which is better. Any advice?
Spending the morning at the British Library and thinking lunch at Honey & Co. would work, or possible Sunday roast in a nearby pub. Any recommendations? The Well was highly recommended by a friend. Afternoon at the British Museum. Dinner at Bull & Last.
Mon: River cruise in morning and lunch picnic from Ottolenghi at Hyde Park. Afternoon tea at Brown's, then catching a play in the West End. Hopefully we won't be hungry after the play lets out, but if so, Green Horn?
Tuesday: Leaving for Bath/Cotswolds. Dinner in Bath. Undecided.
Wednesday: Bath/Cotswolds. Dinner at the Horse & Groom in Upper Oddington.
Thurs: return to London. Dinner at St John. Play at the Globe Theatre.
Fri: Morning in Portobello Road market and afternoon in the City. Dinner at the Jugged Hare.
I know I'm missing Indian restaurants, so am thinking I could fit one in for lunch. Any suggestions? Also, a place for Sunday roast? I was thinking Poppie's for fish and chips during lunch. Are there any pubs off the beaten path/hidden gems not to be missed?
As always, thank you fellow Chowhounders for your recommendations!!
Friday - have you tried Hedone? Not too far from Hammersmith.
Sunday - Wolseley and Delaunay are run by the same people and are both excellent. I wouldn't worry too much and would go to whichever is more convenient so probably the Wolseley.
If you're having dinner at hte Bull and Last then don't go to a gastropub for Sunday Lunch, Honey and Co sounds a much better idea.
A little late now, but this interesting post inspires some comments:
Ottolenghi: The food is particularly interesting and the visuals amazing. Death-defying pastries, cakes etc. particularly. The quality isn't mind-blowing, but it's good enough considering how different it is from almost anything else you'll be used to having.
Vapiano? Not impressed. I'm surprised it would be mentioned. For a similar type of food and better quality I'd go with Princi; yes, it's constantly packed, but takeaway is a viable option.
Hawksmoor: You really need to experience more steakhouses, if this is the best you've ever had. Peter Luger in New York, for instance, annihilates them on quality. As do at least 3 others I've been to, and there are multiple others in the same class as Hawksmoor. That said, it's perfectly OK, just not revelatory.
Ginger Pig: Same thing applies to their butchery. Relative to what I know is possible, they've been somewhat uninspiring when it comes to the meats. However the takeaway food counter is one of the best in London - you MUST have a sausage roll, and their Scotch eggs are terrific as well. They always have at least one or two hot lunch items. I make it a point of stopping for lunch any time I'm in the area.
Borough Market: Declining. It used to be interesting, but sadly the level of truly good sellers there is declining exponentially. The Brixton market on Electric Avenue is more genuine, even if quality is uneven. Which is the real reason, BTW, to go to it, not Franco Manca whose pizza is, again, uninspiring. Best I've ever had in England was at the Pizzeria Francesca in Newcastle, although this was many, many years ago. (But it still does offer the best in Newcastle)
Paul Young: What you don't realise is, even on a world scale, PAY is one of the finest there is. MUCH better than even most of the top chocolate shops in Paris. Must-get: the salted caramels (the dome-shaped ones) which are the best in the world. The Royal Exchange shop usually has slightly better selection; the Soho shop the longest hours. Another chocolatier of equal calibre is William Curley on Ebury Square. Very different style. PAY is wild and experimental, Curley refined and classic. But both the prime exponents of chocolate in the UK.
Bea's cupcakes are what I would call classic - what people expect - rather than high-quality per se. For cakes, I've found the best so far to be Konditor and Cook near Waterloo station, although even here they have a long way to go to be outstanding.
Coffee: Flat White continues IMHO to outpace the competition - despite increasing pressure from the ones mentioned and from others like Dose, Prufrock, etc. etc. Monmouth I'll go to if close, but their service I find to be off-putting.
Michelin stars: It seems to me that the classic here must be considered the St. John, perhaps THE iconic London eating experience. People love Arbutus for low prices relative to its star, and it is nice, but I wouldn't say the value is astonishing. Another experience worth it for feeling like an important person is Rhodes 24; it's all about the location here, although the food is very good too.
Nobody's mentioned Anchor and Hope. You have to fight the crowds but the food is archetypal gastropub. Good central location too.
When I went to Bocca di Lupo, I was extremely impressed. Very authentic. By contrast when I went to Barrafina I was not especially impressed. Authentic, yes, but they don't really approach Cal Pep - the place they're obviously trying to emulate - on quality.
Golden Hind is possibly the best in London for fish and chips, although an exhaustive survey is probably impossible for anyone - if the numbers don't get you heart disease probably will before you finish. GH though in addition to good food has very nice service: friendly Greek ownership. While there the food hall at Selfridges is much better than Harrod's. In turn both are arguably beat as a "destination shop" by Fortnum & Mason.
Pollen Street Social, I must say, I've found so UTTERLY underwhelming I can't understand why people rave about it. It would seem people are awarding marks for "degree of difficulty" rather than actual execution or for that matter, taste.
It's so much of a known quantity now that it's almost fashionable to dismiss Simpson's, but I wouldn't underestimate them for their roasts. Really, they are quite a lot better than most of the other restaurants you might try serving roasts. Well worth a visit - as much for the experience as the food.
It's not worth trying to compare UK steakhouses to those in America, especially Luger. The cows don't eat the same food, don't taste the same. Americans (of which I am one) prefer a certain taste and the British are used to another and are usually just fine with Hawksmoor and other places.
...except that I'm British. Which weakens the argument for regional preferences being the issue. I'm not at all convinced that differences in reaction come down mostly to differences in personal or national preferences.
It's not a matter of a "different" or a "certain" taste. Actually, I've seen this reason frequently given on Chowhound as an explanation for food disappointment, and it seems to me to be, at very best, a partial explanation.
There *are* differences in the typical style and flavour of steaks in different countries, indeed in the same way you'd expect wines in different countries to taste differently. But real quality can't hide - and I notice that the ability of people, even with zero training, to recognise greatness in food when they see it, is near-universal. In other words, give anyone, anywhere, a great steak in almost any style and they'll think it tastes really good.
While "de gustibus non est disputandum" to some degree, in actual fact there's a remarkably good level of agreement in people around the world as to what tastes yummy and when you have it, it's instantly obvious. Great food is in some sense quantitatively better than other food.
With respect to steak in particular, I recognise that a popular (although not universal) component of the "American" steak style is the "grain fed" characteristic: meat with a mild flavour and high tenderness, containing not just a lot of marbling but also in general large fatty masses within the steak, which lend a very oily, smooth finish. It's a style that favours texture over flavour, all things considered. That, as people will know, is not typical of England or in fact of Europe in general, where steaks will typically be leaner in external fat and stronger in flavour, with a grassy, pastured taste to them. In Australia I've seen yet another style, with intense, concentrated flavour almost like a beef consommé and very heavy marbling indeed - with almost no external fat. Australian steaks also tend to be a lot drier; I suspect this is longer aging. And in Japan there is a fourth etc. etc.
But I'm definitely not judging Hawksmoor relative to some imagined typical American standard (as if Luger's is typical of an American steak in the first place!). The simple truth of it is that Hawksmoor is OK but not great, in *any* style - including the "English" one, if there is such a thing.
However there *is* a difference in English vs. American culture which could account for some of this. Steak is really a central part of American food, in a way that it isn't in England. We like our steak, but we don't obsess over it to the same degree. As a result there is less competition in the market, and, it follows, much less incentive as a restaurant to get obssessive over quality because it's unlikely to be reflected in any difference in the bottom line. Over a certain quality threshold, you might say, many Englishmen will be perfectly happy and won't be bothered if the steak they got was in absolute terms not as good as it could have been.
As an example I draw a sharp contrast with Florence, Italy, where steak very much *is* part of the local food culture, to a degree that perhaps exceeds even the USA. People there aren't just obsessive, they're fanatical. It should come as no surprise, then, that the steak market there is intensely competitive - and almost everywhere serves an *awe-inspiring* steak. Even in Florence there is the merely great and the unimaginably incredible, and the ability to get that incredible level comes down to a culture that places a high value on something.
So it is to be expected that steakhouses in the uncompromising vein you find in America are going to be rare at best. Indeed, in London, I get the impression that many of those that exist are to some extent catering to American expats (or tourists). That's not to say that there might not be a place in London or anywhere else in England whose steak is sublime, but Hawsmoor isn't it. Hawksmoor may be exceptional relative to the London scene, but it's not exceptional by world standards - my way of saying, steak is perhaps not the first thing to be looking for when taking a trip to London.
Rather look to things that *are* part of the English food culture (it will be said that the English in general tend not to obsess over food on the whole, which may put a general damper on things) - e.g. fish and chips, meat pies, puddings. Or go for unique London experiences - Ottolenghi is a good example - that may not be traditional but are again utterly unlike something you'd find elsewhere. But I would certainly not fall into the trap of constructing an apologia for generally disappointing steak in London by appealing to a "different style".
It is a German chain... and spreading quite rapidly. The first time I ever went to Vapiano was several years ago in NYC with a German friend who highly recommended it. To this day it ranks as one of those "Can you BELIEVE how much money I paid for X crappy food?" experiences. T'was not good. That said, I've been several more times — I did live in Germany for a year, so I suppose it was a requirement ;) — and once here in London. It's "fine," and has been better here in Europe than in the US, but it's not some place that I would ever recommend to either a local or out-of-towner as a "you really should try" place in this city.
Same has to be said about places listed above like Chilango. Sure, it might pass as somewhat decent Mexican in London (which is sad in its own right), but it pales miserably compared to Mexican food pretty much anywhere else that has even the smallest thriving Mexican community. But given the wealth of quality restaurants in this city, I wouldn't give it a passing thought as a recommendation other than a 20-minutes-for-lunch-and-there's-one-near-the-office kind of deals.
Very helpful - I consulted this list for our London trip, and had great experiences at Ginger Pig, Monmouth Coffee and Tayyabs. Ottolenghi was also on my list, but never made it there. We also hit the Roast sandwich cart in Borough Market, and had both the crispy pork and roast beef sandwiches. I could've spent the whole trip eating my way through Borough Market (and would have, if I hadn't been physically removed by my family, something to do with seeing sights not involving meat).