1. Wiltons55 Jermyn St, London
2. Simpson's Tavern38 Cornhill, London
3. Rules35 Maiden Ln, London
4. Simpson's-in-the-Strand100 Strand, London
5. Kettner's29 Romilly St, London
6. Criterion Restaurant224 Piccadilly, London
7. Gordon's Wine Bar47 Villiers Street, Embankment
8. Sweetings39 Queen Victoria St, London
9. The Golden Hind73 Marylebone Lane, London
10. Quo Vadis26-29 Dean St, London
Although it’s changed locations around Piccadilly several times through the last nearly 300 years, little else has actually changed at Wiltons. What started as a small food cart selling oysters, blossomed into a fishmonger shop with an oyster counter and from there a full-fledged restaurant was established in 1840. Expect white table cloths, a carving trolly, and a dress code.
It’s a bit of a mystery when this tavern transitioned from pub to restaurant, but little else has actually changed since it started as a Father-to-son gift. Called the “Oldest Chop House in London," it’s got a mixed feeling of an eating hall and an old man pub (women weren’t allowed in until 1916), and you can feel the ghosts of folks who lunched there in days gone by.
Often cited as the oldest restaurant in London, it has been on Maiden Ln since Napoleon was still merrily invading his way across Europe. Starting as a humble oyster, porter, and pie bar, it quickly became a hangout for the young intellectuals of the time, solidifying its place in London lore. Over 200 years later, Rules is still keeping to its traditional roots with OTT comfortable luxury and a million staff on hand to take care of your every whim.
Before Angry Birds became everyone's second job, people would gather at SITS for vigorous games of chess to pass the day. Players attention would be so singularly focused on the checkered tables in front of them, servers would bring massive joints of meat to carve directly from a trolly to not interrupt the games. With a myriad of cultures finest having drifted through its doors like Vincent van Gogh, Charles Dickens, and George Bernard Shaw, expect top-notch service.
Although it’s gone though a few incarnations since Auguste Kettner (chef to Napoleon III) set up this Soho institution, Kettner's current set up harkens back to the 1930s, with candles, mirrors, and plenty of plush furniture. With eight private rooms upstairs, and the buzzing Champagne bar, the party that started with Oscar Wilde is obviously still going.
Opulence is the name of the game here. Marble, mosaics, mirrors -- this vast space was where Sir Arthur Conan Doyle imagined the first meeting of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, and has more recently served as a backdrop for screen classics like The Dark Knight & Downton Abbey. The food itself is a bit hit or miss, but frankly you’ll be blinded by the bling, so it won’t really matter.
Buried deep beneath cobbled streets in Covent Garden, Gordon's Wine Bar is composed of multiple caves and tunnels filled with small candlelit tables and copious bottles of wine, which is somehow more romantic than it is gimmicky. Gordon's has been around since 1890, and is still going strong serving its wide selection of global wines (ranging from red to rosé to vegan) and a handful of snacks, such as cheese plates, a smoked salmon salad, and peppers stuffed with feta cheese.
This City institution has quietly been serving lunch to city folk, Monday through Friday, for over a hundred years. Sitting in a Grade II-listed building and smugly ignoring the rise and fall of skyscrapers all around it, it still sources its fish daily from sustainable sources, serves beer in pewter mugs, and resolutely doesn’t take reservations.
This joint is known for their fish and chips. An add-on? Their generous BYOB option.
Part private members club, part restaurant, QV has changed hands a few times over the years, but it's still a favourite in town for tasty, classic British food (if you're willing to shell out the money for it).