London is among some of the older cities in the world, having been in existence for almost 2,000 years. Its stunning architecture and city layout reflect this history. It has been said many times before that London is a city made up of a collection of villages, now known as boroughs. Its architecture is a mixture of newer, shinier skyscrapers like The Gherkin and The Shard against a backdrop of historic buildings, many from the Victorian and Edwardian eras. This mixture of old and new paints a unique picture that embraces the city's history partially due to its visibly venerable settings.
Beyond the city's layout, architecture, and museums, residents of Britain's capital also embrace the city's history through the London restaurant scene, with some eateries dating back hundreds of years. Such restaurants feature something extraordinary by preserving their sense of history and tradition in ways that make it classic and timeless without being gimmicky or over-the-top, ensuring that they're set up to carry on serving customers for the next hundred years. Read on to hear more about some of the city's oldest restaurants, and what gives them their staying power.
In 1742, shellfish vendor George William Wilton established a stall near Haymarket, where he sold oysters. Over 280 years later, Wiltons is still going.
According to the restaurant website, in the early days, Wilton proffered his shellfish alongside traders of all kinds, selling everything from hot eels to buttons to hay and straw for livestock. Eventually, George passed the business on to his son, who in turn passed it on to his nephew, who in turn passed it on to his wife. By 1840 the stall had officially grown into a restaurant, and it wasn't until 1889 that ownership eventually extended past the Wilton family.
While much about the world has changed since Wiltons first opened, some things remain the same — namely, the oysters featured on the menu, alongside other seafood favorites like crab, lobster, and caviar. Wiltons remains a destination for fish dishes, with mains like Dover sole and lobster thermidor. However, a few land-based dishes are also available via their carving trolley, featuring daily-changing offers like beef Wellington and roast leg of Dorset lamb.
55 Jermyn Street, London SW1Y 6LX
+44 (0) 20 7629 9955
Rules dubs itself as "London's oldest restaurant" on its official website, having been established by Thomas Rule in 1798. While this assertion may be subject to debate, we're not here to argue either side — Rules is still quite old, and is well-known for its traditional British specialties.
The Rules menu reads like an ode to British cuisine, including oysters, savory steak and kidney pie, slow-cooked shoulder of Herdwick lamb, and all the game you could ever want, including venison, pheasant, and grouse. Those who love a traditional pudding can choose between sweet varieties. Other classic desserts include a crumble with custard, or finish your meal with an English cheese plate.
An upstairs room at Rules bears even more British history, as the restaurant states this was King Edward VII's favorite private spot for his "clandestine amorous encounters" while serving as Prince of Wales. Nowadays, non-royal guests are warmly welcome at Rules, although children under 10 are not permitted after 7 p.m. and a smart-casual dress code is enforced.
35 Maiden Lane, London WC2E 7LB
+44 (0) 20 7836 5314
Revered as a London seafood destination since 1851, Scott's has paved the way for the city's fine dining experiences and taste for well-sourced British fish dishes.
According to an official Scott's website, the restaurant was originally opened by fishmonger John Scott as an oyster warehouse on Coventry Street. In the late 1960s, the establishment relocated to Mayfair's Mount Street. Now run by restaurateur Richard Caring, Scott's has retained its reputation for elegant dining, seafood, and wine selections, opening a second branch south of the River Thames in London's Richmond borough in 2022.
Fish and seafood lovers will want to wrap themselves up in every inch of the menu, which includes a selection of oysters and caviar, a selection of raw fish spanning sashimi to tartare, and mains like seared sea bass and fillet of hake. Choose from the wide-ranging wine collection, including a lengthy list of sparkling wine and Champagne to accompany your meal. Both locations of Scott's are open daily for lunch and dinner.
20 Mount Street, London W1K 2HE
+44 (0) 20 7495 7309
Kettner's might have the most varied history of all the establishments on this list. According to an Eater London article, the restaurant made its debut in 1867 when chef Auguste Kettner — who purportedly prepared meals for Napoleon III — opened his namesake dining destination. Soon afterwards, Kettner's also became an alleged venue for Edward VII and his mistress; a story in The Standard states that the then-prince went so far as to have a secret tunnel installed between the eatery and the Palace Theatre, where his lover performed. It's been a favorite of royalty, writers, performers, and politicians of all kinds, whether or not they were having an affair.
Kettner's has changed hands repeatedly over the years, moving from the height of society to becoming an exclusive branch of the Pizza Express chain. Kettner's newest partnership is with the Soho House members' club, a network of exceptional eateries, hotels, and entertainment venues. The site has been expanded as a boutique hotel and restored to its original elegance, now serving seasonal British cuisine punctuated by Mediterranean influences, alongside an extensive wine list. Only Soho House members can visit Kettner's, although more easily obtainable Soho Friends memberships allow access to stay and dine at the property.
29 Romilly Street, London W1D 5HP
+44 (0) 20 7734 5650
The Quality Chop House
While history buffs will delight in dining at this eatery that dates back to 1869, so will everyone else with taste buds. The "quality" in Quality Chop House remains true. Like a steakhouse, a chop house is a restaurant known for its meat-based options. Chop houses were established by the 1700s as places for London workers to eat basic meals at communal tables — but these days, this is not what you'll find at The Quality Chop House.
The kitchen has been led by head chef Shaun Searley since 2012, offering exceptional steaks and chops along with seasonal options. Sunday roasts come highly recommended, as does finishing off any meal with a bowl of their Capezzana olive oil ice cream, which comes in a glorious golden pool of exceptional olive oil. The Quality Chop House is open for lunch and dinner Tuesday through Saturday, and for lunch only on Sundays.
88-94 Farringdon Road, London EC1R 3EA
+44 (0) 20 7278 1452
The Sweetings website states that this is "probably the oldest fish and oyster restaurant in London." With roots dating back to 1830, Sweetings began life as a fish and oyster purveyor, but now it offers a wide variety of seafood. The original Sweetings was opened in London's Islington borough, and after moving a few times, Sweetings has occupied its current location for over a century. With no poultry or meat dishes on the menu, a taste for fish and seafood is a must to appreciate this establishment fully.
The menu includes everything good in the water, from lobster to oyster, eel to crab. A variety of smoked fish and roe are also available. All fish can be fried, grilled, or poached based on diner preferences. Sides include a range of potatoes, peas, samphire, lobster mash, or classic bubble and squeak — a mixture of cabbage and potatoes mashed together and then fried.
39 Queen Victoria Street, London EC4N 4SA
+44 (0) 20 7248 3062
London's Savoy Hotel and its landmark Savoy Grill were both initially opened by Richard D'Oyly Carte in 1889 to accompany his prestigious theater, which might be why it began to attract so many high-profile guests.
According to the restaurant website, over the years the Savoy Grill has served a laundry list of important people, from actors to royalty to writers. Guests have included the likes of Winston Churchill, Charlie Chaplin, and Ava Gardner, to name just a few. Chaplin preferred a table by the window, while couples like Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton or Grace Kelly and Prince Rainier of Monaco chose more secluded spots by the side entrance.
The Savoy Grill's famous Arnold Bennett soufflé — made with smoked haddock and Montgomery cheddar sauce — is named after the writer, a regular patron here who created the dish himself as an omelet that has since been replicated worldwide. Nowadays, the Savoy Grill is run by another celebrity known for creating dishes: star chef Gordon Ramsay.
Savoy Hotel, Strand, London WC2R 0EU
+44 (0) 20 7592 1600
Opened in 1896 in the heart of Covent Garden, London's theater district, J.Sheekey has long been a destination for arts patrons and cast members with a taste for seafood and a stiff drink. According to the restaurant website, the operation began when Lord Salisbury, then serving as prime minister, permitted Josef Sheekey to serve fish and shellfish in St. Martin's Court, with the caveat being that Sheekey would also provide the prime minister's after-theater parties with provisions. The rest, as they say, is history.
Keep your gaze fixed on J.Sheekey's tomato-red awning and frontage, then follow your nose to some of the city's best seafood. All the favorites are there, from oysters and caviar to fish pie and lobster. British specialties like potted shrimp, dressed crab, and fried haddock are also ready to be ordered. J.Sheekey's offers live music, with a jazz band every Sunday adding a bit of pizzazz to the end of the weekend. The restaurant is open for lunch and dinner bookings seven days a week.
28-32 St. Martin's Court, London, WC2N 4AL
+44 (0) 20 7240 2565
M.Manze has come a long way since its humble beginnings, opening for business at the turn of the century in 1902. According to the restaurant website, founder Michele Manze first arrived in the U.K. from Italy in 1878, when he was just a small boy. Manze branched out from his family's ice cream business by opening a shop featuring East End London classics of pie, mash, and eels. Manze went on to open a total of five pie and mash shops in the city, and several of his brothers did the same.
Manze's son Lionel took over the pie and mash shops when Manze passed away. Still under original family management to this day, there are three pie shops now open — one on Tower Bridge Road, one on Peckham High Street, and the last in London's Sutton borough. All three locations are now overseen by the great-granddaughter of Michele Manze, making her the fourth generation of Manzes to lead the pie and mash business. The longstanding history of pie, mash, and jellied eels within London — as well as the extended history of this particular pie shop — make it a quintessential visit for anyone interested in tasting some of the city's delicious history through the lens of one family's journey.
87 Tower Bridge Road, London SE1 4TW
+44 (0) 20 3011 0214
The Ritz London
Opening in May of 1906, The Ritz has been associated with elegance, prestige, and charm since day one. Named after its founder, César Ritz, the hotel is considered a destination stay, located in the center of Piccadilly and the heart of the city.
The Ritz has left an impression on many famously important guests, including Edward VII, Winston Churchill, Dwight Eisenhower, and famous ballerina Anna Pavlova (namesake of the meringue-based pavlova dessert). According to its website, The Ritz is the only hotel bestowed with a Royal Warrant for Banqueting and Catering Services. The royal family is known to have attended many celebrations at the world-famous hotel, which hosted the 80th birthday festivities of Queen Elizabeth II.
In 2016, The Ritz Restaurant was awarded its first Michelin star, which it still retains today. This is one of the premier destinations for afternoon tea in London, with booking typically required months in advance.
150 Piccadilly, London W1J 9BR
+44 (0) 20 7493 8181
Bentley's Oyster Bar & Grill
Known as "The Grand Dame of Swallow Street", Bentley's has been feeding Londoners its famous oysters and seafood for over a century, opening in 1916. With chef Richard Corrigan now at its helm, Bentley's has been reinvigorated and infused with enthusiasm and dedication to precision.
Opened initially to capture the hearts and appetites of theatergoers, Bentley's is known mainly for its oyster bar and other seafood offerings, from Cornish mussels to langoustines. The restaurant even hosts oyster masterclasses and was home to its first-ever oyster championship in 2023, with plans to repeat the event in 2024.
The menu boasts other seafood specialties, including caviar, lobster, Cornish dressed crab, and baked scallops. For those who prefer land to sea, there's a Himalayan-salt-aged sirloin or a game bird pie just for you. And for guests looking for a quick and early pre-theater dinner without sacrificing quality for speed, Bentley's offers a special shellfish platter — complete with lobster and crab, and accompanied by two glasses of sparkling wine — for a flat fee of about $125.
11-15 Swallow Street, London W1B 4DG
+44 (0) 20 7734 4756
According to the Veeraswamy website, this is the oldest Indian restaurant not just in London, but in the U.K. as well. Open for business since 1926, Veeraswamy was founded by the great-grandson of an English general and an Indian princess. There is a certain amount of regality, luxury, and class built into the restaurant's bones, from its food to its interior design, which was extensively refurbished since the late '90s.
The restaurant's menu features Indian dishes you have to try from across diverse regions, including Goan roast duck vindaloo, Kashmiri rogan josh, and a slow-cooked Patiala lamb shank served with marrow sauce. This wide selection of Indian cuisine has earned Veeraswamy a Michelin star.
Veeraswamy is open for lunch and dinner seven days a week; notably, children under six are not permitted during weekend lunch, while children under 10 cannot visit at all other times. A dress code that excludes shorts, sweatpants, or "scruffy clothes" is enforced to match the elegant and upscale atmosphere that the restaurant works hard to preserve.
99 Regent Street (entrance on Swallow Street), London W1B 4RS
+44 (0) 20 7734 1401
L'Escargot claims to be the oldest French restaurant in London, situated in a Georgian townhouse with an even longer history than the restaurant itself. According to the L'Escargot website, this restaurant's roots stretch back to when founder M. Georges Gaudin opened another eatery in a different London location under another name, which soon earned a reputation for its famous escargot, being the first restaurant in the city to offer this French delicacy.
When Gaudin eventually moved to a bigger location in 1927, he changed the restaurant's name to feature the dish he had become famous for serving, hosting a snail farm in the basement for this express purpose. So while L'Escargot may specifically date back to 1927, the origins of Gaudin's French establishment and fine cuisine date back to the opening of his first restaurant in 1896.
Though still famous for the escargot, the restaurant also offers other French classics — from lobster bisque to foie gras terrine to coq au vin. L'Escargot is open for lunch and dinner from Tuesday through Saturday, for lunch only on Sundays, and is closed on Mondays. Booking is recommended.
48 Greek Street, London W1D 4EF
+44 (0) 20 7439 7474
Read the original article on Tasting Table.