Old Fashioned Dining: London’s Top 10

When I read AA Gill’s searing review of the Gilbert Scott restaurant at the new St Pancras Renaissance Hotel, I wondered why he hadn’t gone to Rules instead. Anyway, without further ado, here is my top 10 list of old fashioned eating houses in central London:

1)    Rules

Sources say: Established by Thomas Rule in 1798, Rules is reputedly the oldest restaurant in London. Serves traditional British food, specialising in classic game cookery, oysters, pies and puddings.

Susan says: Rules is curiously old fashioned, and fun – perfect for those fond of Christmas lunch (all year round).

2)    Sweetings

Sources say: One of the great city institutions of London, Sweetings has been on its present site since 1889. The house speciality is fine fresh fish, cooked in an uncomplicated manner. The menu has changed little over the years, though the turtle soup was recently removed.

Susan says: Essex meets eccentric at Sweetings. Great for City lunches of smoked salmon, or a pint of prawns with thickly buttered brown bread – plus lashings of syrup sponge or jam roly poly pudding for those missing School Dinners.

3)    Bleeding Heart

Sources say: Bleeding Heart restaurant offers French food in historical surroundings. According to the history books, the Bleeding Heart yard was named after a 17th century beauty, Lady Elizabeth Hatton, who was found murdered there. Charles Dickens said, “The gentler and more imaginative inhabitants, including the whole of the tender sex, were loyal to the legend of a young lady imprisoned in her own chamber by a cruel father for remaining true to her own true lover – but it was objected to by the murderous party that this was the invention of a spinster and romantic, still lodging in the Yard”.

Susan says: Cosy décor, vintage charm and a romantic setting make the Bleeding Heart an ideal venue for illicit lovers.

4)    Boisdale

Sources say: The Cigar Terrace, located above The Macdonald Bar, is clad in Boisdale trademark tartan and furnished with sofas, armchairs, cushions and rugs. In winter months, outdoor heaters and an awning keep cold and rain at bay, and guests visiting the terrace are offered warm cashmere blankets in Boisdale livery, brought over especially from Scotland.

Susan says: Hearty Scottish fare, live jazz and a large selection of cigars make the Boisdale a great choice for a noisy boys’ night out.

5)    Wiltons

Sources say: Wiltons was established in 1742 and has consistently enjoyed a reputation as the epitome of fine English dining in London. The restaurant specializes in wild fish, shellfish, and game, whilst meat dishes are sourced from the finest farms and there is an exclusive wine list. Wiltons combines a modern philosophy on service with all that is English, to create the perfect dining experience.

Susan says: Wiltons offers impeccable service and a traditional fine dining experience that is ideal for expense account lunches, or pre- and post-theatre dinners for visiting tourists.

6)    Veeraswamy

Sources say: The UK’s oldest Indian Restaurant, established in 1926 – and the only UK restaurant named by National Geographic as one of the 10 Best Destination and Special Restaurants in the world. The luxurious, chic and exotic decor reflects Veeraswamy’s heritage. It evokes Maharajas’ palaces of the 1920s with silver painted ceilings, dark wooden floors, Moghul floral design carpets and black granite speckled with gold.

Susan says: Conveniently located for shops and nightclubs, with tasty food and traditional Indian restaurant décor (complete with disco lighting) – an exotic dining experience is guaranteed at Veeraswamy.

7)    Gordon’s Wine Bar

Sources say: Gordon’s wine bar is thought to be the oldest wine bar in London and was established in1890. The building in which the bar is situated was home to Samuel Pepys in the 1680s and more recently (1820) by Minier & Fair, a firm of seedsmen who used it as a warehouse. Rudyard Kipling lived in the building in the 1890s as a tenant and famously wrote “The light that failed” in the parlour above the bar, the building is now named Kipling House. Arthur Gordon who set up the bar in 1890 was one of the few remaining “free vintners”. The current owners, the Gordon family, are not actually related to Arthur Gordon.

Susan says: There’s an amazing ambience at Gordon’s Wine Bar: A combination of candlelight (with oodles of dripping wax), fading memorabilia, plus cheap food and wine make this a perennially popular place to get pleasantly p***ed.

8)    Simpson’s-in-the-Strand

Sources say: Simpson’s-in-the-Strand originally opened in 1828 as a chess club and coffee house – The Grand Cigar Divan – and soon became known as the “home of chess”. It was to avoid disturbing the chess games in progress that the idea of placing large joints of meat on silver-domed trolleys and wheeling them to guests’ tables first came into being, a practice Simpson’s still continues today. One of the earliest Master Cooks insisted that everything in the restaurant be British and the Simpson’s of today remains a proud exponent of the best of British food.

Susan says: Simpson’s-in-the-Strand is renowned for its famous ‘business’ breakfasts – the Ten Deadly Sins consists of everything you’d expect from a Great British breakfast, plus liver, fried bread, bubble and squeak and baked beans.

9)    Oslo Court

Sources say: “The dessert trolley is pure theatre”, at this “real 1970’s”-style “time warp”, at the foot of a Regent’s Park apartment block – the preferred birthday-party venue locally for those of a certain age; its “hilarious” (but highly professional) staff serve up an “amazingly large” menu that delivers surprisingly “excellent” results – “you simply have to love it!”

Susan says: Oslo Court is quite a curiosity, even in St John’s Wood – take your parents for Sunday lunch – they will love it.

10)    The Parlour at Fortnum & Mason

Sources say:

Susan says: Not just a children’s delight, Fortnum & Mason’s Parlour has bonafide retroprogressive credentials, being first in the UK to serve Knickerbocker Glories in 1955 – and still offering them to this day, along with a myriad of mouthwatering modern desserts.

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About Author Profile: Susan Muncey

Trend consultant Susan Muncey, is Editor of Visuology Magazine. In 2008, she founded online curiosity shop, ShopCurious.com. She writes on style and trends for several blogs, including Visuology.com, ShopCuriousMag.com and The Dabbler. She previously owned cult West London boutique, Fashion Gallery, one of the first concept stores in the world. Susan graduated in geography from Cambridge University and is also an Associate Member of the CFA Institute. She lives in London with her husband.

6 thoughts on “Old Fashioned Dining: London’s Top 10

  1. Wormstir@gmail.com'
    October 1, 2011 at 08:31

    Great list Susan, I think I’ve managed about half your list so far. The bleeding heart was my de facto date venue when I lived in farringdon, good food and a lovely cosy venue (and flattering low lighting)

    Oslo house sounds awesome, Glad you didn’t mention langhan’s, I had a truly appalling meal there recently

    • Gaw
      October 1, 2011 at 20:53

      Oslo House has impressive napery, a menu from the ’70s (great steaks), and a clientele half of whom could be played by Maureen Lipman. Well worth a visit (if you can find it).

  2. info@shopcurious.com'
    October 1, 2011 at 10:22

    Langan’s was great back in the day, Worm, and maintains its fabulously retro ’70s time-warp interior and considerable art collection. I love the portraits of the late Peter Langan, who presided over the restaurant in an elegantly drunken fashion, generally causing mischief and mayhem. I have a copy of the first menu somewhere. The prices have changed a bit – but I’d still recommend the cheese souffle with anchovy sauce. The customers are probably less glamorous than they used to be – but it’s an amusing place to meet ‘old’ friends and reminisce.

    • Wormstir@gmail.com'
      October 1, 2011 at 16:54

      Oh I think that’s probably the problem with Langhan’s now, Langhan himself was such a brilliant character that the restaurant has been able to coast along on his laurels for years. The meal I had there in march was truly awful, but I’m sure it can be excellent on good days. The clientele on the night I was there were mostly young men in ted baker shirts sweatily wooing bored looking secretaries.

      I’ve always been fascinated by those ‘establishment’ restaurants favoured by politicians, like the gay hussar or the cinnamon club; I should try and go to some I suppose, although I don’t think I have the right kind of suit

  3. finalcurtain@gmail.com'
    October 1, 2011 at 11:27

    So, the next Dabbler summit will be where?

  4. Gaw
    October 1, 2011 at 20:56

    Very useful and entertaining – thanks Susan. Rules rules but I must find someone with an expense account to take me to Wiltons.

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