For decades (centuries, really) British food was seen as bland and uninspiring. In recent years, however, the United Kingdom has emerged as a culinary hotbed and its multicultural capital – London – is now widely recognized as one of the world’s great food cities. How did this dramatic change come about? A massive influx of immigrants and their diverse culinary traditions certainly helps. Combine with that a movement to make British food flavorful and exciting. London is home to dozens of chefs who are cooking classic British dishes with fresh ingredients and creative techniques. Finally, as we will see, London is home to some amazing vegetarian and vegan restaurants.
The British Classics
Fish and chips, bangers and mash, shepherd’s pie, Sunday roast: chances are you are familiar with many of the classic British dishes. No matter how many times you’ve had these meals in the states, there is simply no substitute for having them at a cozy, elegant London pub, or (increasingly) at a cutting-edge British restaurant that is redefining the classics. For the former, try centuries-old Prospect of Whitby. This iconic pub, on the banks of the River Thames, was built in 1520—long before America was even a thought. Centuries later, Londoners still flock here for the legendary fish and chips and Sunday roast.
For the latter, I recommend the Duke of Cambridge in the central borough of Islington. Opened in 1998, The Duke of Cambridge is notable for being London’s first fully organic pub. This means organic beer, wine, and sustainable seafood. Dive into a selection of cheeses from nearby Bath, or enjoy briny brown crab meat on toast with spicy Sriracha. This is pub food reimagined in all the right ways.
Global Melting Pot
When thinking of Britain’s “national dishes,” you can put chicken tikka masala right up there with Yorkshire pudding and shepherd’s pie. As the UK’s former Foreign Secretary Robin Cook declared back in 2001, the vibrant curry is “now a true national dish.” Seen on many Indian restaurant menus here in the States, the popular dish actually originated in the United Kingdom. The dish, as we know it, is believed to have been first whipped up by famed chef Ali Ahmed Aslam, at his Glasgow restaurant Shish Mahal in the 1970s.
That this is considered a national dish is a testament to Britain’s status as a culinary melting pot. South Asian flavors are big in London, as are the flavors of East Asia, Africa, the Middle East, Continental Europe, and the Caribbean. Like New York or LA, London offers every type of cuisine imaginable. To savor a bite or two of all the cuisines at once, check out Camden Market in hip Camden Town. The market – which is also home to over a thousand (yes, you read that right) eclectic shops – houses dozens of food stalls serving everything from Indian, to Hawaiian, to Mexican, to Afghani, to classic British food. This is a great, and relatively cheap, way to sample London on a plate.
Top 5 Vegan/Vegetarian Restaurants in London
Another British food stereotype that has (happily) gone by the wayside is that meats and gravies rule the day. London is full of great vegetarian and vegan options—so much so that even the most carnivorous of tourists will likely enjoy London’s plant-based gems. Here are my top five vegetarian/vegan restaurants in London.
1. Indian Veg
While vegetarian/vegan restaurants are very much a worldwide trend right now, this no-frills Islington curry house has been proudly vegetarian since its opening in 1985. The walls of this iconic restaurant are covered in posters extoling the virtues of a vegetarian diet, so you know they are serious about plant-based food. They are also serious about quality: Indian Veg serves up tasty vegetarian curries. For those looking to fill up on the cheap, check out their all-you-can-eat buffet.
With several locations in London, Mildred’s has been serving up global plant-based dishes since 1998. Mildred’s website proudly declares that the restaurant is “100% plant-based. All day, every day.” This is music to my vegan ears. The eclectic, global menu features such delicious dishes as “harissa home fries,” “spinach gyoza,” and a “Korean fried chick’n burger.” Mildred’s even has a garlic/onion free menu for those looking to keep their breath smelling fresh (I’ll just bring my breath mints, thank you).
3. Holy Carrot
This trendy central London spot shows that plant-based food can also be sophisticated and ultra-creative. Holy Carrot has earned its place on the shortlist of some of the most acclaimed, high-end restaurants in the city. Food here can cost a pretty shilling, but for vegans looking to splurge on a once-in-a-lifetime meal, Holy Carrot is the place to go. Food ranges from the somewhat familiar – like a vegan take on shepherd’s pie – to truly decadent dishes like truffle risotto.
Tendril describes itself as “a (mostly) vegan kitchen.” At this hip Oxford Circus spot (located in the heart of central London), award-winning chef Rishim Sachdeva serves up colorful, flavorful dishes like blue corn tostadas and crispy beetroot bao. The menu changes frequently, but you can rest assured that it will always be good. Adventurous diners should check out the fixed-price tasting menu and let Chef Sachdeva curate a memorable evening of delectable vegan flavors.
5. Rudy’s Vegan Diner
For hearty, vegan comfort food in the aforementioned Camden Market, check out Rudy’s Vegan Diner. Rudy’s is an unfussy, unpretentious spot that offers vegan takes on diner classics like hot dogs and hamburgers. For folks craving a taste of the States, this plant-based all-American menu should help cure any lingering homesickness. Cleverly named dishes include the “Double or Nothing” vegan burger and the “Push and Pull”: a vegan take on a pulled pork sandwich. Rudy’s also offers all-day brunch, because – let’s face it – it should always be brunch o’clock.
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