Whether you think Brexit is long-prayed-for manna of deliverance, or merely fuel for delusional fruitcakes, it is time we all came together as a nation!
And how better to herald in a new era of unity for 2017, than with a tub-thumping, red, white and blue, Top 10 of Great British Venues.
The following top 10 are were chosen on the basis of their performance in the Harden’s annual survey, and represent the editors’ pick of the top 10 London venues serving traditional British cuisine.
1. St John
St John, EC1
26 St John Street 020 7251 0848
Fergus Henderson and Trevor Gulliver opened St. John in October 1994. It is not hype to say that St John has helped reshape attitudes to British food and its ‘nose to tail’ exploration of offal and austere, functional aesthetic has blazed a trail that many have followed.
The focus on meat is appropriate for a former smokehouse, situated around the corner from London’s Smithfield Market. The Georgian building had fallen into serious disrepair since it ceased operation in 1967 and had seen many uses before its emergence as an icon of British cooking.
Typical price per person for a 3-course meal with wine: £65 per head
âŠ› St John Menu
Harden’s Says – “A pioneer of British food” – Fergus Henderson & Trevor Gulliver’s “austere” but “staunch” Smithfield ex-smokehouse remains an “amazingly consistent, ever-quirky” source of “honest” enjoyment. “Staff are so accommodating, the atmosphere is relaxed and constantly buzzing”, and the focus is on the “incredible” dishes: be it “outlandish stuff (all the bits of the animal that you didn’t know about that you then think you could maybe eat); or something traditional done impressively well.” Top Tip – regulars go to the “atmospheric” adjacent bar, with its “simple but perfectly adequate menu”..
35 Maiden Lane 020 7836 5314
As you would expect for London’s oldest restaurant, a fair few famous faces have passed through over the years, including literary greats such as Charles Dickens, William Makepeace Thackeray and H G Wells. In fact Rules itself has also appeared in numerous novels, including those by Evelyn Waugh, Graham Greene, John Le Carré, and Dick Francis.
Some of the greatest stars of the stages have been regulars – from Henry Irving to Laurence Olivier – and customers in times past from the world of cinema include Buster Keaton, Stan Laurel, Clark Gable, and Charlie Chaplin.
Typical price per person for a 3-course meal with wine: £78 per head
âŠ› Rules Menu
Harden’s Says – “History oozes out of the walls” of London’s oldest restaurant (established 1798) – still one of its most “iconic”, whose “olde-worlde, panelled interior” has a “priceless warmth and depth”. Many a Londoner still considers it “a reliable old favourite” for “traditional British roasts, games, pies and oysters”, but it has seemed more and more “overpriced” in recent times – any more, and it will achieve the Covent Garden tourist-trap status it’s heretofore miraculously avoided.
3. The Quality Chop House
The Quality Chop House EC1
94 Farringdon Road 020 7278 1452
It was in 1992 that this Grade-II listed dining room was “yuppified”, as part of a cultural reclaiming of anything with a traditional British culinary heritage.
Today, it’s still laid out to the original design from 1869 with the original (famously incredibly uncomfortable) bench booths for parties of 3-6. In the noughties it was extended to incorporate the adjoining premises.
Typical price per person for a 3-course meal with wine: £48 per head
âŠ› Quality Chop House Menu
Harden’s Says – “Evocative”, restored Victorian ‘Working Class Caterer’, near Exmouth Market, whose “authentic wooden booths” have infamously “uncomfortable benches”. At its best currently, it’s an all-round success with “enthusiastic” service and “superb quality” British-sourced fare (“meat especially”) but it’s not consistent – bad days feature “staff all over the place” and “unremarkable”, “expensive” dishes. An “exceptionally well-chosen” wine list is the pluspoint you might expect of somewhere part-owned by Jancis Robinson’s son. Top Menu Tip – “confit potato to die for”.
Marsham Court, Marsham Street 020 7834 9552
Proximity to parliament defines the clientele of this well-known establishment. Once owned by the famous founder of Langan’s Brasserie, Peter Langan, this Westminster den has also included Sir Michael Caine in its list of past-owners, as well, of course, as Richard Shepherd himself. The current proprietor is Lionel Zetter, who has lived and worked in SW1 for more than 30 years.
Typical price per person for a 3-course meal with wine: £54 per head
âŠ› Shepherd’s Menu
Harden’s Says “It’s back, and doing a good job for the lobbyists!” This traditional Westminster stalwart – a well-known politico haunt – re-opened last year, and “retains its excellent ambience with booths and well-spaced tables, plus very good food and service. Top Menu Tip – The shepherd’s pie (of course!) is recommended…”
55 Jermyn Street 020 7629 9955
George William Wilton opened his shellfish-mongers close to Haymarket in
1742, and the business gained its first Royal Warrant for supplying Oysters to the Royal household in 1836. It is said to have been one of Maggie Thatcher’s favoured haunts.
Typical price per person for a 3-course meal with wine: £95 per head
âŠ› Wiltons Menu
Harden’s Says – “The equivalent of the best of St James’s clubs”; this “bastion of traditional British cuisine” (est 1742, here since 1984) offers a “truly magnificent”, “old-school” experience majoring in “wonderful fish” (“the best-ever sole meunière”) and “great game” (“it’s the only place I’ve ever had the chance to eat snipe, then woodcock!”). “Long may it survive, even if prices are crazy!”
Corrigan’s Mayfair W1
28 Upper Grosvenor Street 020 7499 9943
(NB. Before any reader pipes up, we do know that Richard Corrigan is Irish not British, but the fact that he has championed ‘British Isles’ cuisine well before it became trendy to do so earns his place on the list.)
According to his publicity, his menus are inspired by his humble, rural upbringing combining
21st century luxury and style with down-to-earth, home-inspired cooking. However humble the inspiration, he must be doing something right as he’s cooked for the Queen twice…
His Park Lane restaurant forms part of the Grosvenor House Hotel, built in the ’20s on the former site of the Duke of Westminster’s London Home, whose family name is Grosvenor. (The hotel is perhaps best known for its huge ballroom, which was originally built as an ice rink, and which housed the US officers’ mess during WWII).
Typical price per person for a 3-course meal with wine: £92 per head
âŠ› Corrigan’s Mayfair Menu
Harden’s Says – Richard Corrigan’s “clubby” Mayfair HQ is “an opulent place with fine cuisine”, but also a “manly” and business-friendly destination (“the decor shouts hunting, shooting, fishing!”) “The menu reads as a homage to gutsy, comfort stalwarts, and though the food looks more delicate than you might imagine, there’s nothing dainty about the flavours”. “Great private dining options”.
7. Dinner, Mandarin Oriental
Dinner, Mandarin Oriental, SW1
66 Knightsbridge 020 7201 3833
Heston Blumenthal’s restaurant is famously a showcase for historical recipes: for example, the scallop dish dates from 1826 and was published in The Cook and Housewife’s Manual Mistress by Meg Dodds. Wacky Heston’s ice cream trolley was constructed from Corian by Mike Smith Studio at a cost of £25,000. Powered by a hand crank, it mixes custard and liquid nitrogen to create instant ice cream at the tableside.
Dinner, with views onto Hyde Park, is at the rear of The Mandarin Oriental, which was built in 1889 as a Gentleman’s Club. After a fire ten years later, the building was reopened in 1902 as the Hyde Park Hotel. Legend has it that as one of the conditions of redevelopment, the front, parkside entrance was closed and reserved for the Sovereign, so the front door on Knightsbridge is what was originally the back door!
Typical price per person for a 3-course meal with wine: £106 per head
âŠ› Dinner Menu
Harden’s Says – Heston Blumenthal’s “theatrical” menu “loosely based on historic British recipes” has won fame for this large, swish dining room, with “magnificent views over Hyde Park”. Arguably the shtick “relies more on history-telling than cooking” however, and “now that the original hype is over” reporters divide between the majority for whom the cuisine is still plain “incredible” and a sizeable minority for whom “the original ‘ooooohs’ and ‘aaaahs’ have been superseded by ‘so whats’”.
39 Queen Victoria Street 020 7248 3062
The original Sweetings opened in 1830 as John S. Sweetings, Fish and Oyster Merchant, in Lad Lane, Islington. The present premises (part of a Victorian Gothic block constructed in 1869) at 39 Queen Victoria Street have now been occupied for more than 100 years and the business is one of the oldest fish and oyster restaurant’s in London. Little has changed it was a favourite haunt of painter Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec.
Typical price per person for a 3-course meal with wine: £75 per head
âŠ› Sweetings Menu
Harden’s says – “Untrammelled by fads and fashion” – this “quirky old restaurant, with its cramped tables and bar seating” has been an “unchanging staple” of City life since Victorian times. “Fun but fearsomely expensive”, you get “great fish done the old-fashioned way” (“ie nothing is overly mucked around with”) and alongside wines and champagnes, “Black Velvet in tankards” is another tradition. Arrive early if you want a seat.
13-15 Eccleston Street 020 7730 6922
Few restaurateurs can claim to hail from one of the oldest known families in the world. Boisdale owner, Ranald Macdonald (nothing to do with the burger chain), the elder son of The 24th Captain of Clanranald can claim a lineage dating back 750 years.
Boisdale, named for Loch Boisdale, was founded in 1988 by the then wine merchant Ranald, and was one of the first in London in recent history to make a virtue of traditional British Isles cooking, with a focus on meaty Scottish fare.
Typical price per person for a 3-course meal with wine: £63 per head
âŠ› Boisdale’s Menu
Harden’s says – Ranald Macdonald’s “civilised and fun” Belgravia bastion – if you like all things hearty and male – is known for its meaty Scottish fare (“splendid grouse” and other game in season), marvellous wines and whiskies, “excellent cigar terrace”, and live jazz. Even those who feel prices are excessive, or have encountered “poor service”, say they use “superb quality meat” and admit that results are “pretty good”..
10. Piebury Corner
Piebury Corner N7
209-211 Holloway Road 020 7700 5441
Piebury Corner began in 2011 as a food stall in Paul and Nicky Campbell’s front garden in Highbury N5, selling hand made gourmet pies to Arsenal fans on route to the Emirates Stadium. In 2012 They opened “Piebury Corner” (The Pie Deli), a 30-seat Licenced Deli / Café in Holloway N7, which coincidently had originally been a Pie & Mash Shop before the first World War up until 1984. Each pastry creation owes its name to an Arsenal legend.
Typical price per person for a full meal with beer: £19 per head
âŠ› Piebury Corner Menu
Harden’s says – “Pies rammed to the brim with fillings” and “fabulous gravy” draw Gunners fans and foodies to this small, “very friendly” deli near the Emirates; “good selection of craft beers” too..
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