Fine dining in the United Kingdom certainly has its place in the country’s culinary repertoire from the restaurants of Gordon Ramsey to the local pub, but sometimes you need something quick and cheap and maybe on the go. Sure, there are American fast food options in Britain, but you didn’t travel across an ocean to have McDonald’s (I do recommend trying the nuggets with curry dipping sauce, though). Throughout the British Isles, there are a number of home-grown fast dining options that you can sample, each with its own uniquely British menus so you can experience the food of Britain without paying a high cost.
If you want a coffee and sandwich shop that can give Starbucks a run for its money, Pret-A-Manger is a place you need to visit. The restaurant prides itself on natural ingredients and offers an array of coffees, teas, sandwiches, soups, and salads that will help you eat healthy while not taking a chunk of your wallet. If you’re fortunate enough, you may live in a city in the United States that already has one, so you can sample the offerings before you get to the UK and try more British-centric menu items.
Found across Ireland (including in Northern Ireland), Supermac’s is an exclusive fast food restaurant to that island. Derived from a nickname for owner Pat McDonagh, it offers the usual fast food options of burgers, chicken, and fries, but puts a few unique spins on them. Some of the more unique menu items include taco fries, cod & chips, and the super breakfast roll. McDonald’s attempted to sue them over the use of the name, but Supermac’s prevailed in court, causing the Golden Arches to lose the trademark for “Mac” across the entire European Union.
Fish and chips are a staple of British cuisine, and owner Pat “Pop” Newland has been involved in bringing this fast food staple to the people since he was eleven years old and cutting up copies of the Daily Mirror to wrap the meal in. Newland’s restaurant harkens back to the days of his childhood from the uniforms to the music, though the food itself is timeless. Beyond the classic dish, they also serve a number of uniquely British options including jellied eels, meat pies, mushy peas, and puddings.
West Cornwall Pasty Co.
Pasties are another great fast food option throughout the UK, and the West Cornwall Pasty Co. has been making this pastry and meat dish readily available for over twenty years. From Traditional Cornish to the vegan-friendly Quorn, they have a pasty to suit nearly every palette, and a few more options besides including breakfast rolls, sausage rolls, potato wedges, scones, and Cornish chips. The shop also has a loyalty program if you plan on staying in the UK for a while. The coffee there is organic and free trade if you want a little piece of mind with your morning caffeine.
Originating in South Africa, Nando’s serves primarily Portuguese peri-peri style chicken but has become an intrinsic part of British meme culture in recent years. Known as “Cheeky Nando’s” by most Brits, the phrase produced some confusion from Americans on the internet, but it mostly just refers to a quick bite at this beloved chicken chain. The peri-peri style comes from the chilies of the same name found in South Africa, and the chicken can come in various levels of hotness depending on how much of the chilies are used. You’re not going to find a lot of variations of meat here, but you’re not really going to Nando’s for a burger or a kebab, though there are some fantastic side dishes from grilled corn to macho peas.