7 Must-Visit Old-School London Restaurants

Photo: Courtesy of Raffles Hotels & Resorts

I read a review recently of Simpson's in the Strand, a restaurant that opened in 1850, in which the writer described the restaurant as "old-fashioned." It went on to say: "Simpson's does not look like a place that changes." That could have been written yesterday — but it's actually from 1899. The reviewer, Lieutenant-Colonel Newnham-Davis (how many restaurant reviewers nowadays have a military rank?), went on to say: "Carvers ... leisurely push carving dishes, with plated covers, running on wheels, from customer to customer." Simpson's is a bit faded around the edges now, but in the wood-paneled dining room, white-coated waiters still push huge joints of roast beef around on trolleys. In a city like London, with its vibrant culinary scene, it's easy to get swept up in the new — in pop-ups and food trucks, in Instagram-friendly dishes and on-trend vegetables — and forget about the familiar faces. But the city's longest-established restaurants also have some amazing food to offer. Here are seven old-school London restaurants that aren't just old; eating at them is like stepping back in time. — Henry Jeffreys, 2016

01 of 07

Maggie Jones's

Maggie Jones behind Kensington High Street
Courtesy of Maggie Jones Restaurant

First stop is the 1970s. The menu at Maggie Jones's behind Kensington High Street in West London has barely changed in nearly 50 years. There's prawn cocktail, duck pâté, and chicken in tarragon sauce. The prices haven't budged much either, with starters at £9.50 ($11.50), mains at £23 ($28), and £5.50 ($7) for a glass of house wine. Best of all, they bring the wine bottle to your table and charge you by how much you drink. It's like a rabbit warren inside, with tables squeezed into little nooks and crannies. All the couples look like they're having affairs. maggie-jones.co.uk

02 of 07

Oslo Court

Oslo Court
Courtesy of Oslo Court Restaurant

Inhabiting the early 1980s and rather more upmarket is Oslo Court in St John's Wood, North West London. Again, the menu is a time warp that includes veal Holstein and duck à l'orange. The interior is a riot of pastel pink with so much sound-absorbing fabric, the napkins alone could be used to soundproof a small recording studio. oslocourtrestaurant.co.uk

03 of 07

Rules in Covent Garden

Rules in Covent Garden
Courtesy of Rules

The previous two places are mere babies compared with the patriarch of London restaurants, Rules in Covent Garden, which was founded in 1798. The interior has thick carpets, old paintings, and dark wood. The wood-paneled private dining rooms are particularly convivial and you get your own personal waiter for the evening. Unlike Simpson's, which is considered a bit of a tourist trap, Rules has never really gone out of fashion. It's still popular with actors from the nearby theaters, politicians, and anyone with a bit of money to splash around. The thing to order here is game such as pheasant, rabbit, and grouse. rules.co.uk

04 of 07

J. Sheekey Fish and Seafood Restaurant

J Sheekey Fish and Seafood Restaurant
© Sim Cannety-Clarke

A short walk away from Rules in Covent Garden is J. Sheekey's fish restaurant, founded in 1893. Try to eat in the wood-paneled (are you detecting a theme here?) dining room rather than at the bar for the full old-fashioned experience. Along with Scott's and Wiltons — both in Mayfair — Sheekey's makes up the holy trinity of West End fish restaurants. Both Sheekey's and Scott's are part of the Caprice group, and their menus have been updated somewhat, but Wiltons is still resolutely traditional. It began as a shellfish store in 1742, and though it's moved around a lot since then and has only been at its current Jermyn Street address since 1984, it has the air of an unchanging institution. The lobster and crab omelet is legendary. j-sheekey.co.uk

05 of 07


Sweetings in the City
© Jemma Watts

Also famous for its seafood is Sweetings, which has been going since 1830. Only open at lunchtime, the regular clientele is largely bankers, lawyers, and stockbrokers, and the prices reflect this. Dover sole and oysters are the specialties — washed down with pints of Black Velvet, a mixture of Guinness and champagne served in pewter tankards — but it's also famous for traditional heavy puddings. sweetingsrestaurant.co.uk

06 of 07

India Club

India Club
Courtesy of India Club

The first Indian restaurant in London, the Hindoostane Coffee House, opened in 1810. It didn't survive, unfortunately, but Veeraswamy, which opened in 1926, has prospered. Sadly, the premises just off Regent Street, largely unaltered until the 1990s, have had a number of makeovers since then — as has the menu. The current look is best described as colonial bling. The food can be very good, but I believe that the place has lost some of its history. Instead, for the ultimate old Anglo-Indian experience, go to the India Club in the Strand Continental Hotel. It was founded in 1946 and not much has changed since then. The threadbare white ocean liner-style jackets worn by the waiters look like they were made when the place first opened. The food is delicious: good lamb bhuna, great dosas, and chapatis. theindiaclub.co.uk

07 of 07

Simpson's in the Strand

Courtesy of Raffles Hotels & Resorts

Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of India, used to meet Edwina Mountbatton, wife of the last Viceroy of India, for very friendly meals at the India Club. It sits almost next door to Simpson's in the Strand. The two restaurants may be a world away in price, but they share a similar grandeur. Simpson's has been temporarily closed since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, but it is said to announce a reopening date in 2023. Should we be lucky enough to dine there again in the future, I heartily recommend the steak and kidney pudding. simpsonsinthestrand.co.uk

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