Food might not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of London. Mentions of the UK capital may instead conjure up images of double-decker buses quickly casting flashes of vermillion as they whizz past the jagged spires of the Palace of Westminster. Or maybe crowds of suited-up bankers, pints in hands, spilling out of wood-framed pubs onto city sidewalks after a day of work.
Perhaps London makes you long to spend days wandering among museums full of masterpieces or revamp your wardrobe at one of the world’s most celebrated department stores. While London has long been renowned for its art, architecture, and performing arts, for many years, the city had a reputation as a beacon for all flavors bland.
Fortunately, the world is an ever-changing place, and London is now among the best food cities on the planet, especially for vegans who like to eat more than just salads and the occasional hummus wrap. These days, you’ll find everything from classic British foods reimagined for plant-based palates to flavor-rich global cuisine—after all, over a third of Londoners were born on foreign shores.
Start your London culinary exploration the traditional way: with a full English breakfast at The Gallery Café. This down-to-earth spot serves a fully vegan take on Britain’s quintessential morning meal, complete with roasted mushrooms and tomatoes, savory tofu scramble, vegan sausages infused with earthy notes of rosemary, pan-wilted greens, and tangy housemade baked beans—all rounded off with a slice of grilled sourdough bread. If you’re visiting on a Sunday, you may want to opt for something lighter, such as a flaky croissant, so that you can save room for another British custom: Sunday roast.
While plenty of London pubs offer a vegan-friendly Sunday roast option, your best bet is to head to The Spread Eagle, a plant-based pub a couple of miles north of The Gallery Café. Sunday roasts usually consist of roasted root vegetables with something green thrown in for good measure, plus a protein and a serving of Yorkshire pudding—a fluffy, airy roll similar to a popover. The Spread Eagle follows the old-school format, offering beet Wellingtons enrobed in flaky crusts, hearty roasts made of walnuts and cashews, and crisp potato cracklings, all doused in rich gravy and served with a cornbread-esque interpretation of Yorkshire pudding. Even if you can’t make it for Sunday lunch, this classic pub is still worth a visit for its seasonal British and international fare (think artichoke paella and savory pies served with mashed potatoes).
Across town, in swanky Notting Hill, Farmacy takes a food-as-medicine approach, crafting many of their delightful whole-food concoctions from organic, biodynamic produce grown at their very own countryside farm. While their menu is eclectic and worldly—with treats ranging from sweet-and-umami miso-roasted eggplant to rich-and-creamy truffle mac and cheese—the folks at Farmacy also pay homage to Britain’s time-honored custom of afternoon tea, served up the traditional way: on a three-tiered cake stand.
While afternoon tea menu options are subject to change with the seasons, you’ll likely find dainty little finger sandwiches with savory fillings such as herby tofu cream cheese on the bottom tier, and maybe even a few miniature quiches stuffed with caramelized onions, sun-dried tomatoes, and olives. The middle tier is devoted to scones served with whipped vegan butter, rich cashew cream, and sweet fruit preserves, while the top tier is all about tiny desserts like blueberry lemon tea cake and tropical chocolate parfait.
The UK is home to a thriving South Asian population, and people with roots on the subcontinent have played an integral role in shaping the city’s cultural and culinary fabric for generations. Indian food is hugely popular here, and while many Indian dishes rely on dairy products, you’ll find fully plant-based Desi delights at Thenga Cafe.
Tucked away on the mezzanine level of a YMCA near King’s Cross railway station (Harry Potter’s Platform 9 3/4, anyone?), this unassuming spot serves homestyle fare made from fresh, healthy ingredients. Try the masala dosas (thin lentil-and-rice-batter crêpes stuffed with meltingly soft potatoes spiced with turmeric and mustard seeds) or go for the thali, a daily set-lunch menu of fluffy rice, warming lentils, and seasonal vegetables. Wash it all down with a mango lassi, a cool, sweet drink made with plant-based yogurt.
To get to your next meal, head to Peckham in Southeast London for a taste of Caribbean comfort at Deserted Cactus. Dreamt up by vegan influence Esme Carr, this plant-based café specializes in Caribbean fusion with portion sizes as big and bombastic as Carr’s flavors. The fried jackfruit pulls from the southern US and looks so convincingly like golden-fried wings that you may do a double take, while the Roasted Coconut Jerk Cauliflower and Sweet Potatoes, saltfish-inspired Smoked Salted Jackfruit Leek Fritters, and XXL Fried Dumplings are mouthwatering options. See something you like? Be sure to load up, because the menu at this one-woman operation changes daily depending on what Carr’s inspired by.
Finish your evening with a fancy night out in the West End theater district at Gauthier Soho, which brings fine-dining flavors from across the English Channel to London diners. Founded in 2010 by Michelin-starred French chef and restaurateur Alexis Gauthier, this upscale spot took a turn for the best in 2021, going fully vegan all the way down to the wine menu.
For the full experience, reserve a seat at the Grand Dîner, a 10-course presentation of seasonal French fare, starting with delicate canapés and culminating in decadent desserts. If you want to try some of Europe’s finest vegan wines, the sommelier wine pairing menu won’t disappoint. If you’d rather save a little cash, reserve a 5 o’clock slot for the abridged, seven-course Petit Dîner menu, which will get you well-fed and out of Gauthier in time to make it to a night of musical theater at one of the many West End venues nearby.
From the architectural and historic marvels of Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, and Tower Bridge to the can’t-miss experiences at Piccadilly Circus, Natural History Museum, and the shoppers’ paradise that is Oxford Street—there is no shortage of incredible things to do and see for lovers of art, history, and culture in London. And thankfully, for vegans, this cosmopolitan city is proving itself a capital for high-quality, tantalizing plant-based cuisine, too. After discovering the diversity of flavors and culinary experiences that London has to offer even the pickiest of diners, you’ll likely be counting the days until you can come back for more.