London doesn’t have the best reputation for amazing cuisine, particularly in comparison to fellow European cities like Rome or Paris. But that’s an unfair assessment — the reality is that London’s restaurant scene has influences from all over the world, mirroring the diversity of its local population. Families can travel the globe, bite after bite, without ever leaving the city. Here are some of Ciao Bambino’s favorite restaurants and foodie finds for families.
From food markets to afternoon tea, London has amazing places to dine that will please every palette, even the pickiest of eaters. Here are some tried-and-true Ciao Bambino favorites for dining in London with kids.
Paris is only a 2-hour train ride from London, but families will be convinced they’ve crossed the English Channel at Bibendum, a French restaurant in South Kensington (walking distance from Hyde Park and Harrods). Housed in the former headquarters of Michelin Tires, the building itself is almost as impressive as the food. Families will love coming here for a fancy lunch, the time of day when the full effect of the incredible stained-glass windows is highlighted particularly well. For those with really young children, consider dining at the far more casual Oyster Bar on the ground floor.
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Families shouldn’t travel to London and miss out on a chance to sample some of its fantastic Indian and Middle Eastern cuisine. Brits order a curry from the local takeaway the way Americans call for pizza, but Dishoom is a great option for a more elevated, but still casual and fun, experience. There are several locations throughout the city, including Covent Garden, Carnaby and South Kensington. Their children’s menu offers some mild, simple dishes, but most entrees on the main menu are served family-style, so this is a great place to let kids try new foods in a no-pressure way.
In the era of celebrity chefs, one of England’s brightest stars is Jamie Oliver. Oliver has a robust lineup of casual restaurants throughout the U.K., the most popular of which is Jamie’s Italian. But I love Barbecoa, a high-end steakhouse that still caters to families (Oliver is a father of five and a vocal supporter of healthier children’s menus). When making a dinner reservation, be sure to request a window table for a stunning view of St. Paul’s Cathedral all lit up at night. One Ciao Bambino travel planning client said this was the best steak she’d ever had, and yet she still felt comfortable with her 6-year-old son there.
Most of England’s attempts at Mexican food are pretty far below average. But the exception to this is Wahaca, a small chain of Mexican street food-inspired restaurants. Not only is the food great and kid-friendly, but the atmosphere at every location we’ve tried is lively and fun. Kids are often given a children’s book to enjoy while they dine. The St. Paul’s location even has a tabletop soccer game that children (and adults!) can play while they wait for their food. Service is quick and friendly, and the locations are convenient to many of the major tourist areas around the city (like their South Bank location, just a quick walk from the London Eye). It’s a good spot for parents to have on their radar when hunger strikes threaten to derail the day’s sightseeing plans.
No trip to London is complete without indulging in the British classic, fish and chips. Every Londoner will lay claim to his or her favorite neighborhood “chippy,” so the options for enjoying this greasy goodness are endless. For a more upscale experience, try The Chipping Forecast in charming Notting Hill. All the fish served here is caught sustainably in Cornwall (the southwestern corner of England, known for amazing fish). They have a small courtyard, so if you get lucky with the weather you can dine outside.
London is more than just fancy restaurants. Some of its food markets rival those found anywhere else in the world. A favorite is Borough Market, the largest in the city, tucked away south of the Thames —walking distance from the Tower Bridge and Tower of London. Families love sampling from a variety of stalls or shopping for incredible picnic fixings to take to the Southwark Cathedral grounds nearby. If you’d like a more sit-down experience, try Roast, which Ciao Bambino clients tried last summer and loved. The restaurant gathers many of its ingredients from the market itself, including the items on the children’s menu.
Tourists visiting England are often surprised to learn that afternoon tea involves much more than the hot beverage. In fact, it’s essentially a decadent and delicious afternoon snack. Parents weary after a day of sightseeing will enjoy that many packages include champagne! Most of the 5-star London hotels offer very traditional tea service (Claridge’s, Brown’s and the Ritz are all noteworthy), but Ciao Bambino clients have enjoyed children’s themed teas offered by Taj 51 Buckinghamgate (an Alice in Wonderland theme) and the Chesterfield Mayfair (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory). I love the nod to two classic British children’s book authors in these themes. Start with the bottom plate on the 3-tier stand that will come to your table. That will likely be small sandwiches or other savory bites. Then move up to the middle tier, which is typically scones, clotted cream and jam. The top tier will be a variety of small pastries or chocolates. Be sure to make reservations in advance, and ask about dress code.
Parents traveling to Italy bribe their kids with gelato, and Paris has crepes and macarons. What to do on a family trip to London to cap off the day with a sweet finish? My favorite spot is the ice cream parlour at Fortnum & Mason, a landmark department store on Piccadilly in the heart of London’s major shopping district. This is also a great spot to pick up edible souvenirs to bring back home, like some of the finest teas in the world, biscuits (cookies) and luxury picnic baskets. In fact, a convenient tip is that Fortnum & Mason now has outposts at St. Pancras rail station and London’s Heathrow Airport so that you can grab gourmet food before a long flight or train ride.
Editor’s Note: Photos by Nicole Wiltrout except where noted.
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