Eat Smart

Tastes Abroad: Food Chains in London

by Rebecca Toback, blogger

London is food-chain crazy! Not just with fast food, but with all types of food. There are chains everywhere: From Pret a Manger, a sandwich place which also has locations in New York City to Ask, a casual Italian restaurant, to Garfunkel’s, a restaurant that often offers great deals and serves British foo and multicultural foods.

I can’t even list all the chains that you can find around London. There are multiple not-so-great sushi chains such as YoSushi and Wasabi. At Itsu, they have sushi as well, but they specialize in healthy food and also sell frozen yogurt, packaged snacks, and more.

Then there’s Bella Italia, Strada, and Ask, which are all Italian restaurants. But they’re nicer than you’d expect from a chain. In America we have Carabbas, which is similarly valued to these restaurants, but you don’t find a Carrabas every three blocks you walk. If I leave my flat, I can walk three blocks in either direction and find Bella Italia. There’s also a Strada about five minutes away and two Ask locations within a ten-minute radius to my flat. So though in America we do have chain Italian restaurants they’re not nearly as predominant as the chains in London.

Recently, I stumbled upon Carluccio’s, just a few minutes away from my flat. Carluccio’s is a market that sells meats, bread, olives. But it also has a restaurant that appears to be swarming with customers. The first time I went in, I bought a mozzarella, tomato, and pesto panini for lunch—it was great. I went again a few days later for dinner and got a pasta e fagioli soup. It was delicious. That night, I was telling my friends about Carluccio’s and one of them told me there was one right by their flat too, and that they got food poisoning from chicken they ate there! Little did I know they had more than one location, or that maybe it wasn’t so good.  My experiences had been nothing like the horrible review my friend was sharing with us, and I’m not going to change my mind just because of someone else’s unfortunate experience. I looked up Carluccio’s and they have 16 locations just within 4.5 miles of my flat! Boy, is it a chain. They also have a blog and 13 cookbooks, many of which are sold in America.

Even when the food in London is half good, and acceptable to eat, the negative association with chain restaurants can slip away. Still, I think I’d rather stick to non-chain restaurants in America where the food is better than half-good—and my friends don’t get food poisoning.