Lunchtime in London

You’ll see cafe and restaurant chains all over the city, but how do you choose where to grab a quick bite to eat?

The UK lunch market is worth £16 billion to the economy. “Which lunch market? Greenwich, Spitalfields, Borough?” I hear you ask. Actually, I’m taking about the sector of the food industry. And as fewer and fewer people in Britain bring homemade lunches to work, the lunch market is growing by about 3% each year.

According to the BBC, we are more likely to dash to the nearest takeaway to grab something quick and then bring it back to their desk. On average, we spend £670 a year on takeaway lunches, with those of us in London spending at least £830 each year.

I first noticed this when I tried to explain chains like Pret a Manger, Itsu, and Vital Ingredient to my family back in the United States. Now, I will be the first to admit that cities like New York, Chicago, Austin and my hometown of Seattle have plenty of great takeaway lunch options. However, I’m unaware of any widespread chains that aren’t blatantly in the “fast food” category. While Americans have plenty of burger and chicken places, I wouldn’t consider Pret to be like MacDonalds (despite the latter being the parent company).

Londoners especially have mercurial food tastes: we move seamlessly between cuisines and formats. So what do I recommend for lunch when you’re in the Big Smoke? If I’m in need of something cheap and cheerful, usually head for one of the following chains.

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Best for Soups and Sandwiches – Pret
Pret offers Sandwiches, baguettes, desserts, fruit cups, crisps and bakery items, as well as sushi, salads, soups, and cakes. They also have hot and cold drinks, including smoothies. There really is something for everyone at Pret. The company emphasises the use of natural ingredients and advertises all sandwiches are made on the day of purchase.
Budget £5 for a sandwich or salad with a can of fizzy drink or bottled water.

Runner up – EAT.
EAT offers a really good rotation of weekly hot food, like chicken pot pie and macaroni and cheese. They also have sandwiches that you can toast – toasties!
Budget £5 for a sandwich or salad with a can of fizzy drink or bottled water.

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Fine Dining in Europe

This is not an exhaustive list, but rather my curated list of restaurants I’ve been to, and those I’d love to visit.

Key
Michelin Stars  ★
Been ✔

United Kingdom

South

The Fat Duck, London  ★★★

Midsummer House, Cambridge  ★★
✔  September 2016

Marcus, London  ★★

Kitchen Table, London  ★
✔  February 2016

Alimentum, Cambridge  ★

North

L’Enclume, Cartmel  ★★
✔  December 2014

Gilpin, Windermere  ★

Forest Side, Grasmere  ★

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Favourite Food in London

The photo is one I took at Kitchen Table Bubbledogs, which you can read about under “fine dining.” Below, see my recommendations for what to eat in London, from chains and quick eats, to BBQ and Seafood…

All of the following restaurants have at least two locations. Those indicated with an asterix have only one premises (as of July 2016) in the United Kingdom.

Chains & Quick Eats

  • Pret – coffee, sandwiches, salads. There’s a Pret on practically every corner of every city!
  • itsu – grab-n-go sushi and noodle pots for the lunch crowds.
  • Leon – great for breakfast, with any item + any coffee for £4.35. For lunch, they have middle eastern salads and pots. Many restaurants around central London.
  • POD – a healthier option. Great scrambled eggs for breakfast.
  • Vital Ingredient – £6-8 to build your own salads. A favourite lunch place!

Something for Everyone 

  • Wahaca – Mexican street food. Excellent for ordering several small plates to share!
  • Bill’s – casual dining with a big range of options.
  • Café Rouge – British interpretation of a French brasserie, with sandwiches, salads, and steaks.
  • Pizza Express – casual restaurant with pizzas, pastas, and salads.
  • Nando’s – casual spot for rotisserie chicken, chicken burgers, and salads. Somewhat of a British cultural icon, see also: “Cheeky Nandos.

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