Several of London’s restaurants have been around for a hundred years. Sometimes, even, two hundred or more. But being of a certain vintage has only got them so far – these ten, in one way or another, still hold up well or go far beyond modern standards.
Quality Chop House
QCH recently celebrated its 150th birthday. The church-like pews and chequered floor tiles of this butcher-restaurant are evidence of its age, but that’s about it – the impeccable sourcing, the famous confit potatoes, and the New World wines are more forward-thinking than they are traditional.
Out of all London restaurants, Rules has been going the longest – since 1798, in fact. Often first on a tourist’s agenda as a result, this doesn’t seem to affect its place in the heart of London locals. Maybe that has something to do with the British favourites all in fine form – including shepherd’s pie, steak and kidney pudding, and steamed sponge with custard.
At Quo Vadis, more than 90 years old, much-adored chef Jeremy Lee is running an old business on young legs from breakfast through to dinner, with plenty of smoked eel sandwiches in between. If it’s comfort food you’re after, the pie of the day is sure to hit the spot.
Name a critic who hasn’t said something good about Mon Plasir. Having been going since the 1940s, much of the interior hasn’t changed since. The menu meanwhile promises the best of France outside of it – beef tartare, moules mariniére, rabbit with mustard sauce, and coq au vin, among others.
Mon Plasir has made a few headlines for being London’s oldest French restaurant, but L’Escargot may have something to say about that. The Soho institution, which has 15 or so years on Mon Plaisir, has been winning over the restaurant crowd with garlic parsley butter snails (once farmed in the cellar) since 1927.
Wiltons became a restaurant business in 1840. Evolving from a shellfish-mongers, the tradition still very much stands with oysters, molluscs, lobsters, and caviar taking up a large proportion of the menu.
Simpsons in the Strand
With 191 years of experience behind them, Simpsons specialises in classic British cooking and superb Sunday roast. It might not be cheap, but their dry aged Scottish beef – carved tableside on silver trollies – is worth every penny.
At 93 years young, Veeraswamy is London’s oldest Indian restaurant. It still out-does many of its juniors, not with an Anglo-Indian approach (perhaps unsurprisingly) but with influences from the streets of Punjab, Kashmir, and Goa.
The Savoy Grill
If it’s star-spotting or a taste of history you’re after, The Savoy Grill will undoubtedly deliver. At this nothing short of iconic restaurant, Gordon Ramsay has been careful not to tinker too much with the old classics – expect British dishes with a bit of French thrown in. For special occasions, the beef Wellington (for two to share) is a real showstopper.
Many things change in 130 years, but Sweetings isn’t one of them. A City institution that serves fish pie, sticky toffee pudding, and is open at lunch only – that’s the way things have always been, and always will be.
This is a guest post from freelance food journalist Hugh Thomas. He’s contributed to Foodism, Time Out, Great British Chefs, and is part of British Street Food’s small team of vigilant writers. Find him on twitter @hughwrites.