Exposed light bulbs, gimmicky pop-ups and hand-foraged ingredients get a little tiring. Soothingly, these London institutions stick to pitch-perfect food in surroundings that have remained largely unchanged since time immemorial. Whether it’s The Ritz’s haute cuisine in its Versailles- inspired dining room, or Andrew Edmunds’ candlelit dinners for two in Soho, devotees come back decade after decade. Find your own regular haunt:
Things have moved on at Wiltons – but not in the past century. Having started life as a shellfish stall on nearby Haymarket, it became a restaurant on Jermyn Street in the 1840s. Since this flurry of early activity, the pace has slowed. The dense fabrics, oil paintings and soft lighting around the room create a hushed, gentle atmosphere. As soon as your coat is eased off your shoulders at the entrance you have the calm sensation that all is in hand. The clientele are grand and advanced in years, and would not be content with anything less than the class act that Wilton’s clearly is. On my last visit, our booth on one side held Lord Heseltine, and on the other an elderly group of friends, who were talking loudly about shooting and the Hambro family. It’s that kind of place. It’s worth going for the truffle mash alone.
Hosting first dates since 1986, Andrew Edmunds has all the eighties hallmarks of sophistication – dripping candles, a handwritten chalk menu and an extensive, mainly French wine list. The menu is suitably eighties as well, with plenty of rich sauces, red meat and carbohydrates. It’s an uplifting, unpretentious throwback to old Soho. Among the Wagamamas and Cafe Neros, its brooding black exterior gives you a sense of stepping into another, altogether more seductive world.
The Dorchester Grill
The Dorchester’s famous draw these days is Alain Ducasse’s flashy three-Michelin-star restaurant. However, along the foyer is the low-key, fail-safe Dorchester Grill, which is considerably less expensive, and more relaxing. As the Grill has no windows, it is particularly welcoming on a grey day: you can totally forget what’s happening in the outside world in here. Instead you settle into the squashy banquettes, surrounded by floor- to-ceiling antique jelly moulds. It’s surely the only restaurant in London to have a dedicated soufflé menu, and they really are towering works of art.
It’s hard to praise a hotel enough when it has given the English language a phrase to describe luxury. The only drawback is its main thoroughfare, the Palm Court, which is packed to the rafters all day for afternoon tea sessions that bizarrely start at 11.30am. Elbow past, and you’ll find an entirely different experience at the Michelin-starred restaurant overlooking Green Park. Lovers of the free market might like to request Margaret Thatcher’s old table by the window (in the left corner as you walk in). Chef John Williams has been at the helm for the past fifteen years, and there is no public figure who he hasn’t cooked for. Starting with sublime amuse bouches, every forkful, to borrow Marie Kondo’s phrase, sparks joy. Value for money might sound an odd idea at this level, but given how memorable and decadent the experience is, it really is. Sit out three mediocre dinners and book here instead.
Impervious to fashion, old friends on Oslo Court menu include veal schnitzel and crab a la Rochelle. It is the kind of 1970s sophistication that Basil Fawlty was aiming for, but sadly
never achieved. Where else in London could you enjoy steak Diane, while ensconced by pink tablecloths and gathered floral curtains? By the time that the pudding trolley has arrived, it has become a fully immersive blast from the past. It enjoys a very loyal fanbase, partly from the residential flats upstairs, so before you go hunting for it in St John’s Wood booking is a good idea.
London’s most venerable restaurant opened when George III was on the throne and William Pitt the Younger was Prime Minister. It doesn’t come much more old school than that. It’s upmarket without being intimidating and, if you ever have visitors from abroad with you, this is bound to impress them, starting with doorman decked out in black and gold. The menu is seasonal and sophisticated, mainly involving game from its own Lartington Estate in the Pennines. Other classic highlights include oysters, pies and hefty puddings.
Admittedly past its heyday, when its chef was Richard Shepherd and its part-owner was Sir Michael Caine, Langan’s Brasserie is still one of the most jolly places in London to lose a few hours on a long, leisurely lunch. You come here to drink a lot of wine and get stuck into no-nonsense comfort food. You would be hard pressed to find anywhere else in Mayfair serving rice pudding and bangers and mash, let alone for £25. Its charm is weighted towards the atmosphere rather than the food. As its notorious proprietor Peter Langan once explained to Michael Caine: ‘When you walk in, you are the star. When you sit down, you are the audience.’ Langan’s rule is enthusiastically upheld, and the people- watching is great fun.