For a Quiet, Cheap, Lunch: Yalla Yalla
Wander off from Piccadilly Circus looking for a bite, and you'll be stuck in a maze of pricey sit-down chains and sex shops. In the midst of all this, Yalla Yalla is a fine place for a meal: billing itself as a "Beirut Street Food" restaurant, it serves a fine selection of wraps, meze, and full lunch plates; we loved the garlicky, lemony hummus topped with lamb shawarma and a pressed halloumi wrap. Best part? Two can eat for under ten pounds.
For a Pub With Great Food: Harwood Arms
The single best meal I ate on a recent trip to Europe was at Harwood Arms, a pub in Fulham with a serious kitchen (and, now, a Michelin star). It's a place that's giddy with the possibilities of meat and British tradition—wild rabbit, prune, and bacon come together in loose, juicy faggots (a traditional dish of meats wrapped in caul fat); a Scotch egg is wrapped in ground venison and fried to an incredible crunch, its yolk a glorious orange-yellow suspension; absurdly tender beef cheeks pair with a smoked bone marrow toast. It's powerful, gutsy food that uses salt and animal fat to extreme effect. With wide wine and beer selections and service worthy of a much more formal restaurant, it's worth making a detour out to Fulham for. (Note that it's still a pub; Tuesday trivia nights are sacrosanct.)
For a Pakistani-style Party: Tayyabs
I enjoy Tayyabs for the experience as much as the food. It's a loud, brash, always-jammed Pakistani Punjabi restaurant on an otherwise quiet Whitechapel street of apartments and mosques. The sort of place where you're nearly sitting on your neighbor, where the waiter speeds a searing-hot mixed grill platter by your table and you're left coughing and spluttering on cumin smoke.
But I mean all those things in a good way. And once you're past the wait, the food descends immediately: spicy and shatter-crisp popadoms and homemade chutneys before you've picked up your menu, followed perhaps by a tandoor-cooked lamb chops or a boldly spiced but intensely lamb-y Karahi Gosht. Go with a group, bring your own booze, order as much as possible, and leave with your wallet intact.
For a Meal of Grazing: Borough Market
There are other food markets in London, and surely some with fewer food tourists, but none of them invite immersion in the way of Borough Market, its maze of food stalls almost a city in itself. Whether you're looking to ingredient-shop or taste sweets of six different national origins or chat up an ostrich farmer, this is the place to do so. Don't miss the Raclette at Kappacasein, where the cheese is melted under hot irons, or the pork Scotch egg at Roast To Go.
Borough Market for the Crowd Averse
Want to see Borough Market, but don't want to get stuck in its vast expanses? Grab a flat white at Monmouth Coffee; duck into Brindisi for jamon Iberico; and pop into Neal's Yard Dairy for an education in cheese. There's far, far more to see, of course, but the crowd-averse might prefer this option.
Neal's Yard Dairy: 6 Park Street, SE1 9AB (map); 020 7367 0799; nealsyarddairy.co.uk; Monmouth Coffee Company: 2 Park Street, SE1 9AB (map); monmouthcoffee.co.uk; Brindisa: The Floral Hall, Stoney Street, Borough Market, London SE1 9AF (map); 0207 407 1036; brindisa.com/shop
For Animal Parts and Culinary History: St John
Few spots are so closely associated with the revival of English cuisine as St John, in a former smokehouse near Smithfield Market—Fergus Henderson's mighty, meaty restaurant that's been a destination for nose-to-tail cooking since 1994, a place where you'll order something called "Gull's Eggs & Celery Salt" or "Ox Heart & Chips." While St John is hardly news these days, it's still a place for an excellent meal: a recent visit brought a remarkably crunchy crumbed veal and a surprisingly tender, slippery-rare pigeon breast over heavily bacon-ed greens.
For a Blowout Brunch: Cookbook Cafe
While the Cookbook Cafe might not quite serve the best brunch I've ever had, it serves far and away the best buffet-style, all-you-can-eat (and drink!) brunch I've ever had. Start with a cold table whose selections range from incredible British and Irish cheeses to smoky, creamy baba ganoush to buttery salmon sashimi and beet-cured gravlax; move on to a crisp-edged waffle topped with clotted cream and berry preserves, or, better yet, one of the day's roasts: on our visit, a fork-tender lamb shoulder and a fine sirloin with Yorkshire pudding. All the while, your champagne glass is cheerily topped up.
In the Intercontinental Park Lane, it does have a five-star hotel's steep prices and air of slight formality, but if you're celebrating an occasion or looking to spend Sunday afternoon in a happy food daze, this is a fine place to do it; the food is as tasty as it is plentiful.