a taste of London

Clean eating is dominating London’s culinary zeitgeist more than ever before, with these eight notable spots at the helm. 

Unlike its neighboring European capital of Paris, whose culinary genius lies in its unapologetic inability to be anything but itself, London is a hotbed of gastronomic globalization. Streets, thrumming with a youthful and diverse energy, are lined with a dizzying array of diverse restaurants.

Hole-in-the-wall Middle Eastern spots dish out spreads of mezze — from bowls of creamy homemade hummus to lamb meatballs doused in parsley-studded tahini. Italian restaurants are easy to find, whether you’re craving hearty, stick-to-your-ribs dishes of the North or Mediterranean, fish-forward specialities of the South. Chinatown is awash with dim sum, hot pot, and noodle spots, and Indian curries are *almost* as accessible as the city’s ubiquitous Prêt A Manger cafés. And then, of course, there are pubs for the requisite mince pies and beer-battered fish and chips.

But on my most recent visit, what stood out the most was the palpable evidence of a clean, close-to-the-land food movement making an indelible mark on London’s food scene. From restaurants touting nose-to-tail techniques to plant-based cafés and bustling markets, it’s as exciting a time as ever to visit England’s storied capital.

Here’s a taste of eight select spots well worth a try…

26 Grains

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This hole-in-the-wall café in the quaint Seven Dials neighborhood of Covent Garden serves up “Bowls of Hygee” in the form of grain-based dishes combining traditional Nordic spices, unrefined sweeteners, nut or coconut milk, and toppings ranging from seasonal fruit and nuts to homemade compotes and granolas.

Arrive early, since lines do tend to get long, and don’t miss the savory blend of oats, barley, and rye topped with a tangy blood orange compote, sprinkle of granola, and dollop of thick Greek yogurt.

Mon – Fri 8 – 4pm ; Sat 9 – 4 ; Sun 10 – 4

The Good Life Eatery

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Elevated simplicity is standard at this bustling, all-day café prioritizing local and sustainably-sourced ingredients.

The menu includes a wide selection of breakfast bowls, superfood salads, sandwiches, soups, and breads that cater to a handful of speciality diets.

I opted for part-savory, part-sweet with a coconut yogurt bowl doctored up with granola, nuts, berries, and bee pollen alongside wheat-free chia flax bread layered with thick avocado.

Various locations and hours 

Daylesford

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For a taste of England’s idyllic countryside, make your way to Daylesford — the part-speciality grocer, part-café, part-home goods shop that also boasts one of the UK’s most sustainable organic farms in the southwest region of Gloucestershire.

The straight-forward, no-frills menu allows the farm-sourced ingredients to take center stage, as they did with my thick slice of toasted sourdough, softly scrambled eggs, smoked salmon, mushrooms, and arugula (or as they say in England, rocket).

If you have time, wander through the maze of artisanal compotes, vibrant produce, and humanely raised meats. And don’t forget to peek downstairs at the minimalistic, Pinterest-perfect kitchenware practically begging for a spot in your luggage.

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Mon 8 – 7 ; Tues – Sat 8 – 9:30 ; Sun 10 – 4

Farm Girl Café

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This Australian-inspired eatery is steps away from the Portobello Market in the heart of Notting Hill, with additional locations in Chelsea and Soho. Reservations are only available at the Chelsea location for dinner, so it’s best to arrive on the early side — or run the risk of waiting upwards of an hour.

If you do snag a table, I highly recommend the millet porridge with chia seeds and a pinch of Himalayan sea salt. Ask for cacao nibs and creamy almond butter on the side, as they make for welcome toppings.

Mon – Fri 8:30 – 5 ; Sat – Sun 9-6

Deliciously Ella

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If you’re around Hyde Park, Ella Woodward’s namesake deli is not to be missed. Vegans and non-vegans alike flock to the hearty sweet potato pumpkin curries, spiced lentil soups, Tuscan bean stews, and banana breads — all of which are sans wheat, dairy, or refined sugars.

Overcome with indecision, I opted to make my own bowl for a taste of four cold salads: maple-roasted sweet potatoes, beetroot hummus, ginger kale broccoli salad, and mixed white beans with salsa verde.

Mon – Fri 7:30 – 7 ; Sat – Sun 9 – 7

Honey & Co

The first thing you’ll notice upon entering this unassuming Israeli restaurant in the residential neighborhood of Fitzrovia is how small it is. But then again, perhaps that’s part of its hole-in-the-wall charm. The simple white room, whose walls are bare save for the shelf lined with their eponymous line of cookbooks, directs all the attention to the food itself. And for good reason.

The stellar mezze starter spread is a must, as it offers a taste of almost every appetizer: butternut squash falafel, tahini with date molasses, hummus, whipped feta, savory olive pastries, kalamata olives, a tomato eggplant and red onion salad, quince with hazelnuts and mâche greens, and a trio of homemade breads (sesame, pita, and challah).

For a main, don’t miss the lentil stew spooned atop charred chunks of eggplant and topped with a drizzle of tahini, just-set egg yolk, and garlicky herb zehoug.

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A stone’s throw away from Honey & Co is Honey & Spice, a speciality food store selling a range of ingredients used in their kitchens — from fruits and vegetables, to spice blends, freekeh, pomegranate molasses, and tahini.

Honey & Co: Mon – Fri 8 – 10:30 ; Sat 9:30 – 10:30 

Honey & Spice: Mon – Fri 9 – 8 ; Sat 9:30 – 6

Wahaca

Vibrant Mexican street food shines in this market-driven, seasonal restaurant with outposts throughout the city. Most ingredients are sourced locally, and what does hail from Mexico is done responsibly, in partnership with cooperatives supporting local farming communities.

The diverse selection of tacos is impressive, as are the veg-heavy salads and bowls. Mine came with brown rice, black beans, green slaw, seasonal squash, broccoli, radishes, pickled cucumbers, and creamy guacamole.

Various locations and hours 

Borough Market

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With a seemingly endless maze of hot food stalls and stands selling produce, meats, seafood, cheese, and everything in between, Borough Market certainly lives up to its hype as Britain’s most renowned food market.

Wander past the gigantic pots of fiercely sizzling mushrooms, slow-cooked spelt risotto, and aromatic paella. Sample the warm, long-fermented sourdough, crusty on the outside and light on the inside. And if you’re there in the gloomy, cold-weather months, pick up some bright citrus for the road.

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Mon 10 – 4 ; Wed – Fri 10 – 5 ; Sat 8 – 5 

WHAT ABOUT YOU?

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