Where to Eat and Drink Near London Zoo
Tourists and Londoners alike flock to London Zoo in vast numbers, and yet, the eating and drinking options nearby are decidedly dodgy. Your best option at the zoo itself is to take along a picnic, as the cafes there, though licensed, aren’t up to much. Once you’ve emerged from your animal kingdom you’ve a few options: head north to pretty Primrose Hill, east to Camden or back towards town for a bit more choice. Of course, there are chains around who will do you right – there’s a decent Franco Manca at the top of Tottenham Court Road, The Diner up in Camden and an Honest Burger at Camden, near-ish Baker Street and Warren Street (get the Tribute). But, we’re all about the independents here, so were we to head out for a day with the penguins, this is where we’d eat – and drink – afterwards, even if some of them are a bit of a walk.
York & Albany
This Gordon Ramsay pub-hotel is only a short walk from the zoo entrance and you could definitely do worse than popping in here. Open from breakfast til late, the vibe is relaxed and unfussy but with a nice menu of classics and more. Prices are what you’d expect (a full English is £14, à la carte mains are £14–£26), but with dishes like roast sea bream with pak choi, sesame and lotus root, we’re ok with that. Besides, kids under 12 eat free for every adult dining. There’s also a tempting afternoon tea menu of open sandwiches and pretty cakes at a reasonable £30 including prosecco, a tasty brunch on weekends, and more than enough in the way of bar snacks to keep you going without ordering a full meal – or pizzas at £11.50. They’ve got it pretty much covered here, we’d say.
York & Albany, 127–129 Parkway, NW1 7PS
For our money, Mestizo is one of the only properly authentic Mexican places in London. And it’s good, so we promise it’s worth the 25 or so–minute walk down from the Zoo. There’s a colourful dining room, a frankly gargantuan menu and quite the party vibe should you visit of an evening, perhaps down to the fact they house the largest collection of tequila around. Choose from incredible tostadas, empanadas and all the queso fundido (a pool of melted chihuahua and Oaxaca cheese to do what you will to with tortillas and pico de gallo) before going wild with the tacos – there’s chicken tinga, pollo con mole and all the big names. It’s not fancy, and the presentation is never going to win any prizes, but who cares when we’ve loved everything we’ve had here. If you can, book to visit on a Sunday, when their all-you-can-eat Mexican brunch buffet comes out for a mere £20 a head (children £10, or free if – bizarrely – under 1 metre tall).
Mestizo, 103 Hampstead Road, NW1 3EL
London’s oldest vegetarian restaurant, having landed in Primrose Hill in the late 1960s by way of California. Since then, it’s changed ownership a few times, but the original ethos of nourishment with an LA accent remains. It’s now fully vegan, but done so in a way non-vegans can definitely enjoy, and gluten-dodgers will find dining here a boon too, with plenty of homemade organic GF breads and more. Produce is local, organic and fair trade where possible, with a menu made up of sun-drenched items such as maki rolls, buffalo cauliflower tostada, and our current choice, the Caribbean platter of Jamaican stew, rice, jerk tofu, plantain and red onion kebab with a coleslaw and pineapple ackee salad. Things aren’t too virtuous though; there’s an indulgent dessert menu of sticky toffee pudding, cakes and a dazzling array of ‘vice creams’, to which you can add shots of organic amaretto, whiskey or cognac. Prices are good for the area, with starters around £9 and mains £14.
Manna, 4 Erskine Road, NW3 3AJ
We love this street food market. A diverse collection of now 34 stalls selling well-sourced, exciting, global food all housed in Camden market and you can bet your bottom dollar anything will be delicious here – unlike the questionable sweet and sour chicken you’ll find being peddled in other parts of the market. With traders including Kimchinary selling what they describe as ‘Swedish-Mex-Korean technicolour magic’ aka some very interesting burritos, and vegan royalty Club Mexicana selling loaded cheez nachos like there’s no tomorrow, you really are spoilt for choice. Other highlights include the halloumi fries at Oli Baba and Blu Top’s famed ice cream sandwiches.
KERB Camden, Unit 62, The Loft, Camden Lock Market, NW1 8AF
Honey & Co
Heading away from the park and into Fitzrovia, you’ll find a far wider selection of places to eat, and the quality is generally better. One of our favourites around the area is lovely Honey & Co, which is a well-established Middle Eastern mish-mash of sharing party plates (standard starters and mains are also available, but we love the mezze too much). The chefs and owners are ex-Ottolenghi and it shows through their expert use of Levantine ingredients to produce dishes like Yemeni meatballs with lentils on burnt pit with green tahini, amazing homemade labneh or roasted mauve aubergine with BBQ tahini crust, jewelled rice and lime. Nothing is a dud here, so go ahead and feast, but be sure to leave room for dessert as the cakes and pastries are a sight to behold. The whole table sharing set up is £28.50 and includes a main from the menu each, or £32.50 with pudding.
Honey & Co, 25a Warren Street, W1T 5LZ
A ten-minute walk away up into Primrose Hill is The Lansdowne, a traditional pub and dining room with a British/Mediterranean menu along with some pretty decent freshly made pizzas. It’s not the comfiest of pubs, as it’s all wooden tables and chairs in a high-ceilinged and fairly sparse room, but the welcome is generally warm and the beers and wines are good, so we’ve spent several happy afternoons exploring them. Weekends – particularly Sundays – are busy, with tables tucking into the £35 roast chicken with all the trimmings to share, but otherwise you should be able to bag yourself a table. The weekday offer of two pizzas for £12 between 12 and 3pm is great value (we’d make sure one of them is the fennel sausage, sprouting broccoli and chilli), otherwise there’s a smattering of well-priced sandwiches, or have a glance at the à la carte for dishes like grilled halloumi with toasted almonds, tomato and roasted fig salad or grilled lamb kofta, couscous, harissa, yoghurt and flatbread. Starters are around £7 with mains in the mid-teens.
The Lansdowne, 90 Gloucester Avenue, NW1 8HX
If strolling around Regent’s Park has got you feeling all romantic then head to Odette’s a short stroll away, where you can’t help but feel the love. One of London’s original dining rooms, it’s decked out in full art deco regalia, all velvet sofas, mirrors and soft lighting, and there’s a lovely little garden where you can eat too, should the weather permit. Odette’s calls itself a neighbourhood restaurant, but it’s a fancy one, with definite Michelin pretensions; chef and owner Bryn Williams has cooked up a fine dining menu using the best ingredients he can get his hands on. The à la carte changes seasonally and at the moment you’ll find an adventurous crispy pig’s head starter with pickled mooli, black garlic and apple (£8), and the slightly more approachable Cornish mackerel with blueberries, lavender and oyster (£9), with corn-fed roast chicken, lettuce, girolles, lardo and Caesar dressing (£22) tempting us from the mains. The Sunday lunch is brilliant value at £28 for two courses, or there’s the £49 tasting menu for a special occasion – and surely worth it for the Odette’s Jaffa cake pudding.
Odette’s, 130 Regent’s Park Road, NW1 8XL
Another self-awarded ‘neighbourhood restaurant’ – though we’d love to know who could ever afford to call Fitzrovia their neighbourhood – Clipstone appeared on the restaurant scene last summer to great critical acclaim. And for good reason: the sibling of Michelin-starred Portland (from restaurateurs Will Lander and Daniel Morgenthau of Quality Chop House and 10 Greek Street respectively) is a laid-back, casual dining dream. The concept is largely small sharing plates, where seasonal delights such as pumpkin tempura and house ponzu nestle next to Hereford snails, parsley, sorrel and potato millefeuille, and salame Toscana; it’s a real romp around the globe. The charcoal grill is used to great effect, serving up plates like Longhorn onglet, parsnip, pommes dauphine and pickled walnut, or a beautiful mallard with chestnuts, Jerusalem artichoke, hedgerow jam and foie gras. We love. You will too, so keep that in mind as you walk the mile or so there.
Clipstone, 5 Clipstone Street, W1W 6BB
Feng Shang Princess
This is probably the nearest restaurant to London Zoo excepting the park cafés (which are actually ok for a snackette), and what a little beauty it is. The Feng Shang Princess is a handcrafted, crimson red floating pagoda restaurant situated within the Cumberland basin – you’ll have seen it as you entered the zoo over the bridge – serving surprisingly good Chinese cuisine. For somewhere that could easily have been a simple tourist trap serving depressing, MSG-laden lemon chicken and the like, we’re happy to report that here you’ll find nothing but well-cooked, fresh Chinese, Japanese and Malay dishes in a quirky and beautiful environment. Order classics like salt and pepper squid or crispy aromatic duck, or branch out with deep fried sea bass, black cod in honey sauce. Can’t decide? Order the set menus, starting at £32.
Feng Shang Princess, Southern Star Cumberland Basin, Prince Albert Road, NW1 7SS
Taking in the monkeys can be thirsty work, and while there are a handful of decent pubs nearby (The Engineer, The Dublin Castle and BrewDog amongst them), true beer fans will know that if you’re anywhere near the NW1 postcode you should shun all others and take a walk to the Euston Tap. Possibly the most peculiar little pub in London – it’s housed in a Victorian gatehouse – there is a frankly eye-watering selection of beers and cider here. As we speak there are 25 keg varieties and 16 cask beers on tap, all written up on an overhead blackboard. There’s no hot food, the bar snacks consist of old school nuts, crisps and pork scratchings and it’s practically standing room only, but when the beer’s this good, who cares?
Euston Tap, 190 Euston Road, NW1 2EF
The Cheese Bar
We’re not usually for single-item restaurants BUT when it’s cheese we’re talking, we’ll make an exception. Up in Camden market proper you’ll find The Cheese Bar, catering to all your melted, stringy, oozy requirements. If you’ve been to their other place, Archie’s Bar down in Deptford, you’ll know that their melted cheese toasted sandwiches mean business: try Rosary goat’s cheese, honey, walnut and rosemary butter for size. But wait, there’s so much more cheesiness going on here! A beastly fondue, potato and salt beef–spiked raclette, Instagram-friendly poutine, cheesy ice cream, and much more, spanning thirty or so cheeses. Sit up against the marble bar and tuck into as much cheese as you can handle.
The Cheese Bar, North Yard, Chalk Farm Road, NW1 8AH
Small but exquisitely formed, Primrose Hill’s leading cafe-restaurant is popular with locals and tourists alike, and for good reason. Light, bright and welcoming with an extensive all-day menu, food is imaginative, impeccably sourced and just really, really good. You’ll struggle for a table on sunny days thanks to the handful of pavement tables, but to be honest it’s probably best to book whatever the weather, as the Primrose Hill set are big fans of the healthy-ish global fare. Come for coffee and cake, or if you’re after something more substantial, there’s a set menu during the week, where two or three courses are £13.50 and £15.50 respectively, comprising dishes like sea bass ceviche and Moroccan spiced lamb burger with pickled cucumber, harissa mayo and sweet potato fries. The Cannon & Cannon charcuterie plate also draws in the crowds, as does the weekend brunch of fresh crab, poached egg and hollandaise on sourdough, and the usual Benedicts and waffles. Later on, work your way through the wine list (happily including many carafes) and bottles of craft lager.
Greenberry Café, 101 Regents Park Road, NW1 8UR