Westminster the area should not be confused with the City of Westminster, a London borough which covers most of the West End. The “west minster” itself is the abbey church, founded in the 10th century and the venue for the coronations of kings and queens since William the Conqueror in 1066. It is, too, the final resting place for many of them.
On Monday September 19, now a bank holiday, the Abbey will be the stage for the Queen’s state funeral. At present, Her Majesty is lying in state in the neighbouring Palace of Westminster. This continues until until 6.30am on the morning of the funeral. The Palace will be open 24 hours during those times.
The Palace has been the seat of government since the 13th century, though the original medieval structure was destroyed by fire in 1834 and replaced by the Gothic Revival complex that stands on the river today — and is home to Big Ben.
London’s answer to the Eiffel Tower and Empire State Building is an icon that serves as instant visual shorthand for the capital — though as any pub-quiz fan will tell you, the name “Big Ben” specifically refers to the largest of the five bells within the Elizabeth Tower, the clockface of which is looking resplendent after a five-year renovation.
The Prime Minister lives up the road behind the revolving door of 10 Downing Street but while there’s no shortage of sightseeing in Westminster, what one will not find here is a plethora of decent places to eat, especially for diners on a tight budget. The Regency, arguably the best greasy-spoon café in the capital, is a notable exception.
What Westminster does have, though, is a trio of terrific modern Indians, as well as historic pubs, old-school Italians and smart hotel restaurants. We’ve measured distances below from Big Ben but do keep an eye on the clock: not one of them is open on a Sunday. Whether you are in the area purely to see the sights, or in order to pay respects to her Majesty, here’s where to eat.
The Regency Café
A pint in a pub or a fish-and-chip supper might feature near the top of any tourist must-do list in London but for an authentic taste of retro Britishness, a greasy-spoon café is hard to beat. And the Regency is a gem, pulling in everyone from builders and black-cab drivers to civil servants and members of parliament. Whoever you are, the rules are the same: queue up to place your order, spend the waiting time deciding what to eat and don’t panic that there won’t be a seat: somehow a table always comes free. Orders are barked out from behind the counter when they’re ready to be collected; full English breakfasts are the house special no matter the time of day, with chubby sausages and runny-yoked eggs bounded by moats of baked beans and slices of fried bread, but an honourable mention must go to school-style puddings with custard, and it’s all washed down with tea poured from a giant metal pot. If the place feels familiar, the lino-and-formica interiors have starred in everything from Vogue shoots to Guy Ritchie movies. Heaven for the hungry, hungover and anyone on a tight budget, but note that the Regency currently closes at 2.30pm.
How far? A 15-minute walk
How much? Full English breakfast from £6; lunchtime specials £6.75; puddings with custard around £3
17-19 Regency Street, SW1P 4BY, 020 7821 6596
The Cinnamon Club
This part of town is unusually well-served with high-end Indians — Michelin-starred Quilon and Atul Kochhar’s Mathura are well worth a look — but the template was set when The Cinnamon Club opened in the Old Westminster Library in 2001 and swiftly established itself as the curry house of choice for the House of Commons. The spicing and sauces of the subcontinent are grafted on to well-sourced ingredients from Europe, with just as much attention given to texture as flavour: chargrilled chalk stream trout with carom seed, samphire and pickled radish, say, or double-cooked pork belly with masala mash, raw mango and chilli sambal. There’s a vegan menu, too, a vegetarian tasting menu, and a two/three course set lunch for £30/£35 to avoid the steep à la carte prices. Even the most ardent opposer of local-government cuts would have to admit that the book-lined dining room looks far swisher than its previous incarnation, while there’s a clubby bar dispensing subtly spiced cocktails served at leather tub chairs.
How far? A nine-minute walk
How much? Starters around £13, mains around £28, desserts around £10
The Old Westminster Library, 30-32 Great Smith Street, SW1P 3BU, cinnamonclub.com
Legend has it that this pub is haunted by the ghost of a small boy who died in a fire here, though it’s the spectre of long-forgotten political careers that lends the pub its nostalgic atmosphere. The Westminster Arms is one of six local pubs containing a division bell that alerts MPs when a vote is about to be taken; the view of Big Ben disappeared when the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre was built opposite, but there’s still a view of Westminster Abbey for the drinkers congregating outside. Before rushing back to work, MPs might have tucked into fish and chips, sausages and mash, ham and eggs or a steak and ale pie, either ensconced in one of the conspiratorial booths in the flag-floored basement wine bar or at a properly set table in the first-floor dining room. In-between, the ground-floor bar serves pints of Spitfire ale brewed in Kent from owner Shepherd Neame, Britain’s oldest brewer.
How far? A seven-minute walk
How much? Sandwiches around £6, main courses and burgers around £14
9-10 Storey Gate, SW1P 3AT, westminsterarms.co.uk
It might be housed on the ground-floor of a new-build block of flats but once through the door of Osteria Dell’Angelo the atmosphere is resolutely old-fashioned, with only tables of civil servants from the Home Office opposite dispelling the fantasy of dining circa 1970 in Umbria, which is where head chef Demian Mazzocchi hails from. The cooking is slightly more contemporary than the brown leather and white tableclothed surroundings suggest: seared scallops with paprika, caponata and almonds followed by roast quail with crispy polenta and braised red onion, say, with mascarpone and vanilla cheesecake with plum sorbet for pud. To keep the fairly steep prices in check, order a pasta such as tagliatelle with rabbit ragù and a bowl of ice cream, or there’s a two/three-course set lunch for £24.50/£28.50. The all-Italian wine list has nine by the glass for under a tenner.
How far? A 12-minute walk
How much? Starters around £13, mains around £25, desserts all £7
47 Marsham Street, SW1P 3DR, osteriadellangolo.co.uk
Ekstedt at the Yard
Real-life Norseman Niklas Ekstedt grew up hunting with the Sámi tribes of northern Sweden and made his name (and a Michelin star) with a self-titled Stockholm restaurant eschewing gas or electricity in the kitchen and instead cooking only with fire. The wood-burning shtick is repeated at his restaurant within the Great Scotland Yard hotel (formerly the Metropolitan Police HQ) in an exposed-brick dining room with the fiery furnace of the oven on full view in an open kitchen. Sirloin comes smoked with hay and turbot with juniper on a menu bristling with pine shoots and bitter leaves. It is gently challenging food that offers what for many diners will be an entirely new flavour palette, although there can be a disconnect between the primal nature of the cooking and the prissiness of the presentation on the six-course tasting menu and the no-choice three-course set. The wine list takes a similarly natural approach or there’s a rewarding kombucha pairing for non-drinkers and the curious.
How far? A nine-minute walk
How much? Three courses £80, six courses £135
Great Scotland Yard Hotel, 3-5 Great Scotland Yard, SW1A 2HN, ekstedtattheyard.com