Long gone are the days when fast food meant only questionable grease-soaked, deep-fried items served in cardboard. London now boasts some cracking options for diners in a hurry who don’t want to sacrifice the quality, freshness, or healthiness of their food. While there’ll always be a place for late-night takeaways, here are the options for when you want to feel virtuous.
This fast-food chain has come a long way since opening the doors of its Carnaby Street flagship store in 2004 – it now boasts 56 stores in the UK, has also opened outlets in Amsterdam, Oslo and Washington DC, and is setting its sights on the European and US markets. Leon was one of the first players in the emerging “good food on the high street” movement. It sells a wide variety of meal boxes, wraps, snacks and sides, sticking firmly to the ethos that it is “possible to serve food that both tastes good and does you good”. Multiple locations
Popular Israeli chef Yotam Ottolenghi opened his first London deli in 2002, and now operates six branches across the city, including two formal restaurant and four deli restaurants, which have an emphasis on takeaway food. Customers have the option of picking up ready-made breakfast and lunches, or assembling their own from the tempting deli counter, which serves hot and cold dishes. Be warned — this one’s not cheap. The salads, meats and sandwiches on offer change daily depending on seasonality and availability, so while there are classics you should try (the roasted aubergine with tahini miso, almonds, chilli and herbs and the grilled broccoli with chilli and garlic) you’ll never see exactly the same thing twice. Multiple locations
Founded in 2015 by healthy eating blogger Ella Woodward (aka Deliciously Ella) and her partner Matthew, the Deliciously Ella deli (formerly the Mae Deli) focuses on natural, simple foods, with the philosophy that “eating well is not about diet or deprivation, but about celebrating what you can do with simple, unprocessed ingredients to help you feel your best”. Alongside her signature Energy Balls, the menu at the Weighhouse Street Deli revolves around bowls packed with plant-based dishes, while meat and fish are regarded as optional sides.
Since the first store opened in Westbourne Grove in 1995, the UK’s first organic supermarket has steadily weathered the economic storms that have battered other retailers. Selling natural, organic, and sustainable products, Planet Organic – the brainchild of Renée Elliott – was also among the first London stores to introduce an organic juice bar. Fill a box with tasty hot and cold food at one of their mouthwatering deli counters, or pick up a pot of warming soup from their wide selection — you’ll be surprised at the reasonable prices. Multiple locations
Founded the year after Leon, Pod was inspired by the “fast, fresh food offerings emerging in other parts of the world like the speedy ‘made-to-order’ delis of Manhattan”. Today, Pod is one of the best spots to pick up a healthy breakfast when you’re in a hurry — they serve gluten-free porridge, toasted sandwiches and a range of scrambled eggs on toast dishes — while their wide selection of soups are the standout feature of the lunchtime menu. Multiple locations
Also founded in 2005, Tossed bespoke salad bar now operates 13 shops across central London. It was set up by new university graduate, Vincent McKevitt, who was determined to prove that a salad-led company could thrive in the UK as in the USA, despite the relatively high cost of fruit and vegetables here. Besides their house salad boxes, Tossed also offer a make-your-own salad counter, a range of healthy breakfasts and some delicious hot meals. Multiple locations