An American standing in front of a decent pub
I always recommend a trip to the UK for an American's first visit overseas. The language is recognizable, the people friendly, and yet there is so much to see and do that excitement will fill your every moment travelling there.
For a small island, England has a lot to offer. In fact, I'm sure most people would find something to their liking, especially if they just forget all that silly small talk, misconceptions, and 'facts' that everyone assumes to be true. No, it doesn't rain all the time in the UK, and yes, there are many restaurants and pubs that serve some excellent food, and no, beer is not necessarily served warm.
One problem Americans in particular face when confronting England is the food. One joy of travelling is discovering new things, and the best place to start is food. However, the moment we Americans arrive, we right away look for something familiar and comfortable, and this is a mistake. I, as a new traveller my first time to the UK, learned these things the hard way, and would like to steer you right.
England is more culturally diverse than America, by far, and so there is a wide variety of foods to choose from. However, this is England we're talking about, not some remote forest village. The water is safe to drink, and I doubt anyone is serving crunchy catepillars, so why the fuss?
First off, true British food, what I would call Pub Grub, is fabulous. Shephard's pie, fish and chips, and surprisingly many vegetarian options are offered by pubs, along with some terrific beer. All fairly safe foods, so don't be intimidated.
It is true that some British folk overcook their veggies by our standards, but I think you'll see this less and less in restaurants. Also, what may be familiar in America may not be familiar in the UK. My first meal ever in the UK was served in an 'Italian' restaurant. Suffering a wee bit of jet lag and culture shock, I looked for something familiar, and regretted it. The veggies were overcooked, and the pasta was soaking in way too much oil, and the cheese was overcooked until it too became unrecognizable and the spices were different than I was used to. Blech. Another meal, found along the vein of seeking comfort, was nachos in a trendy sports pub. How can you go wrong with nachos, right? Cheese and salsa on chips, toasted until the cheese melts. Well, fortunately my brain has forgotten the details of that frightful meal.
Every country has specialties, and their own versions of things. In England, stick with a real pub, not one of the trendy chain pubs that are taking over the old pubs too rapidly. Or find a restaurant that looks crowded... a good tip for any trip. What is familiar here is not familiar there, where ever you go. Unfortunately for me, I went to places that just wanted tourist money, and tried to cater to tourists. Thankfully I learned to go with the flow, and do as the locals do.
When you are feeling more adventurous, try some other places. It's best to have recommendations from friends or up to date guidebooks. I would recommend some places, but things are changing too fast for that. Some of my favorite places have disappeared or changed too much. Indian food in England is usually very good, especially in established restaurants, or some of the new fusion places. There are some bad places, but again, those were aimed at tourists, and gave you little for your money.
Most places in the theatre district are pretty good from my experience, and there is a Chinatown not far away. Chinatown, though, is like Chinatown in other big cities, and should be approached cautiously by the unadventurous. You're not going to find the Americanized Chinese food we have here. My experience in New York and London is that this food is very authentic, and not for the faint hearted. A dim sum experience in London revealed foods that I could not identify by sight, and some, like fried chicken's feet, were too identifiable. If you're seeking adventure, that's the place. :0)
European food can also be found, in restaurants that specialize in Swiss style eating, or Belgian, French, etc. One place I can recommend is My Old Dutch Pancake, which is not too far from the British Museum, but I always get lost trying to find it. The first time I went there it was a family friendly place, but the last time I went it was an upscale cafe with much higher prices. The food, service, and atmosphere is always nice, though, and something unique.
A different American standing before My Old Dutch Pancake
In any country, it's best to go where the locals go, or to a slightly more upscale place. Noone is going to deliberately serve bad food, but there are some places it's best to avoid. A place looking to accumulate tourist money is not going to be aiming for repeat business... they'll take your money, and then the next guy's, and the next, for as long as they can get away with it.
If a place is known for something, then it's safe to aim for that. In England, go for the Fish and Chips or other pub food. We've all heard about the Brits eating Fish and Chips, right? Then again, I've had the best Chinese food... in India!
Which just goes to show what an adventure travel can be. Just be sure the surprises you find are good ones!
Cheers, JOHN :0)