London's Classic Restaurants

Harrumphing British establishments, Cantonese canteens, a trailblazing ocakbaşı, and lots more.
A smoked eel sandwich from Quo Vadis.

photo credit: Karolina Wiercigroch

A classic restaurant is like a classic car. They’re familiar to lots of people, often endearingly imperfect, and you’ll more than likely see Jerry Seinfeld sitting in one of them. We don’t think of a classic as something that solely equates to age or is faultless, though. It just needs to make you feel something. It can have great noodles but bad lighting, average lasagne and an amazing atmosphere. As long as it gives everyone that feeling—that indefinable rightness—well, then that’s what makes it a stone-cold classic.

You also might want to check our guide to The Best 25 Restaurants In London. Or, if you know someone planning a trip, Where To Eat When You’re Visiting London.


photo credit: Karolina Wiercigroch



$$$$Perfect For:Classic EstablishmentEating At The BarLunchPeople WatchingUnique Dining Experience
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A Classic Order: A black velvet and fish pie

Nostalgia and a prawn cocktail go hand in hand, and that’s very much apparent at Sweetings. The classic City seafood spot has been serving prawn cocktail and sticky toffee puddings for over 130 years. The heady mixture of pewter tankards of black velvet (champagne and Guinness), white tablecloths, and bumbling waistcoat-clad waiters make this place a true old-school classic. Just know that its City location is only open Monday to Friday, and just for lunch. 

A Classic Order: Prawn cheung fun

Queues for London restaurants are commonplace these days but Royal China on Baker Street is one of the OG spots that’s had a line outside long before any TikTok algorithm. The more casual sibling to Royal China Club across the road, this legendary Cantonese restaurant channels the atmosphere of a dim sum convention, an airport terminal, and a wedding you’ve crashed—all at once. Slippery char siu cheung fun and wonderfully textured turnip cake should be on your table, and a bowl of crispy chilli beef never goes amiss. 

photo credit: Koray Firat

A Classic Order: Lamb sweetbreads

Nine years before Gökyüzü opened on Green Lanes, Mangal 1 became the first Turkish ocakbasi restaurant in Dalston. Known for its legendary grilled meats, and in particular its tender sweetbreads, the BYOB spot has reigned supreme in a city that has numerous Turkish restaurants. It’s a classic for its cooking, its rowdy atmosphere, and also its story: one of the co-owners expanded down the road and opened a place, now run by his sons. It’s called Mangal II.

A Classic Order: Beef rendang and roti

Normah’s is about as homely as a restaurant can get. The functional Malaysian spot deep inside Queensway Market has been around since 2015 and is made up of one person, and one person only: Normah. She sends out plate after plate of perfectly fried chicken wings, mee goreng chicken, and king prawn laksa. Her beef rendang is one of our death row meals and, as for that flaky roti? Well, we’d happily be wrapped up in it and eat our way out.

A Classic Order: Egg mayonnaise sandwich with anchovies

This century-old Marylebone deli will do anything you like when it comes to sliced and quartered sandwiches. Egg mayo with glistening anchovies, luminous coronation chicken, sizzling bacon with a squirt of ketchup—you name it, Paul Rothe will do it. Inside it’s somewhere between a caff, a deli, and a Ye Olde Chutney Emporium. Jars of jams, pickles, and condiments line the wall and there are formica tables plus a little counter to call dibs on. Hover politely, nab a table, and you’ll be settled in with a cup of tea in no time.

A Classic Order: Borscht

Daquise has the air of a dining room that hasn’t changed for half a century or so. Chandeliers hang and borscht is ladled into your bowl tableside at this wonderfully old-school Polish institution in South Kensington. Sitting in its grand, semi-distressed dining room makes us wonder why this traditional ideal of a restaurant is no longer in vogue. The clientele—additional pieces of Daquise’s antique furniture—decompress while sitting somewhere they’ve sat many times before. FYI, the goulash is overcooked, so order a fail-safe schnitzel instead.

photo credit: Rob Greig



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A Classic Order: Roasted bone marrow and madeleines

St. John’s original restaurant has the feel of a gastronomic heaven. The walls are white, the uniforms are the same, and the scent of freshly baked goods wafts through the air. The Clerkenwell institution is London’s most famous British restaurant for good reason. Its ‘nose-to-tail’ cooking approach, first defined by co-founder Fergus Henderson, is known the world over. And the food—from pies, to rarebit, to bread pudding and custard—is the best example of British cooking done brilliantly.

A Classic order: Roast duck on rice

Wong Kei is one of London’s great time capsules. A reminder that cash can still be king and that great service does not always need a smile. The cash-only Chinatown Cantonese canteen is a sanctuary for everyone. The miserable and the happy, the alone and the raucous, the roast meat and rice lover, the noodle soup and chilli oil worshipper. Nothing costs much over £10 and it’s rare you’ll spend longer than your self-allotted hour or so here.

A Classic Order: Chocolate nemesis cake

This Italian institution in Hammersmith has been serving everything from rosemary pizzettas to whole pancetta-covered pigeons since a time when London thought antipasti was a movement against pastries. It has earned its reputation through the glorious medium of exquisite Italian food, and its legendary chocolate nemesis tart that is oh-so rich. It’s worth knowing that a meal here will cost you a small fortune, but no London restaurant quite has an aura like it.

A Classic Order: Rare beef phở, and salt and pepper squid

Roll up to Sông Quê in a group on a Thursday, Friday, Saturday or, in fact, most nights, and you’ll find that approximately 90% of east London appears to have had the same idea. The reason being is that this institutional Vietnamese spot on Kingsland Road is one of the best around. The cavernous pastel green room is full of noodles being slurped and cold beers being clinked, but come by in the day and you’ll find a soothing space for one-person lunches

A Classic Order: Champagne and whatever else

If you’re the kind of person who loves first edition Penguin classics and candlelit romance, you’ll appreciate Andrew Edmunds. It’s an old-school Soho bolthole that takes mood seriously—you’ll eat by candlelight and order from a modern European menu scrawled on a chalkboard. Yes, you’d be happy just staring into the eyes of your beloved here, but the food is excellent too.

A Classic Order: English breakfast udon

Koya’s English breakfast udon bowl—that mixes the pig fat of a fry-up with a gooey tamago egg and shiitake mushrooms—is one of the great modern London dishes. The little Japanese udon bar first opened on Frith Street in 2010 and the standards remain very high indeed. Queues snake outside from lunchtime onwards and, come nighttime, the dimly lit counter is a corridor of hunched shoulders and constantly moving chefs.

A Classic order: Spaghetti al cartoccio

If you leave Ciao Bella analysing your spaghetti con polpette, then something has gone very wrong. This old-school Italian restaurant in Bloomsbury is so much more valuable than a bowl of perfect handmade pasta. It will feed you well and make you happy. So much so that when we eventually keel over, this is where we want our wake. Not just because Ciao Bella will stuff everyone into a stupor, but because it’s one of the most perfect celebrations of eating out in London.

A Classic Order: Everything

Hunan is one of the ultimate IYKYK restaurants in London, a Chinese fine dining spot located on a pretty street in Pimlico. There’s a ‘trust me’ tasting menu that changes every day, and although you don’t have a choice in what you eat, you needn’t worry. The food comes out in small, immaculate courses, and the prawn toast and crispy duck are both excellent. It’s a lovely spot for a serene white tablecloth-type lunch or dinner that saves all the surprises for its food.

A Classic Order: Eggs, bacon, and black pudding

Thanks to the Regency Cafe’s long-established fame both as London legend and through Hollywood features—hello Daniel Craig in Layer Cake—the Westminster cafe is just as popular with tourists as it is with blokes named Terry. One thing that never changes inside its beautiful black-tiled building are the blood-curdling cries that match the colour of the floor. ‘FULL ENGLISH! Double eggs! Extra black pudding!’. A fried breakfast here is never not an event.

A Classic Order: Roti canai

We love a specialty. And the specialty at Roti King in Euston is soft, flaky roti canai. The Malaysian spot’s menu has grown over the years, as have their locations, but you’ll still find their signature roti served with a bowl of excellent curry, with your choice of dhal, chicken, mutton, or fish. While the rest of their menu, which includes things like nasi lemak and beef rendang, is all pretty great, if you only get one thing here, make it the roti canai. 

A Classic Order: Breton cidre and steak frites

Fondly referred to as ‘The French’ by regulars and those who’ve watched one too many Guy Ritchie films, the Soho boozer's devious upstairs dining room isn’t just a historical inclusion. The no mobile phones rules and famous patrons, both literary and legless, add a little glitz, but it’s everything about The French House that’s fantastic. Whether you’re sinking cidres downstairs or settling in upstairs on a Thursday—their imperious steak et frites day—you always feel a part of something a little secret (and potentially sordid).

A Classic Order: Bread pudding and custard

There are family-fun restaurants, and then there’s witnessing E. Pellicci’s manager Nevio Jnr. hollering to his mum Maria. A daytime Italian cafe in Bethnal Green that’s been open since 1900, this place runs on strong cuppas, various formats of fried bread, and good banter. It’s high-energy, big fry-ups, and sloppy lasagnes. Be sure to inspect the pictures of celebrity patrons that line the ‘40s panelled wooden walls, and for the love of god, never leave the bread pudding unfinished.

A Classic Order: Smoked eel sandwich and a pie

Few restaurants maintain the gold-stamped guarantee of a good time quite like Quo Vadis. The British restaurant and members' club is a warm Soho institution that’s home to many classics. One comes in the shape of Jeremy Lee, QV’s amiable chef-proprietor who has made Dean Street not just his home, but a home to many others. The second is in the delicately poised shape of his famous smoked eel sandwich.

A Classic Order: Tandoori lamb chops

Tayyabs has been serving crowd pleasing Punjabi food since 1972, and the masses absolutely love it. This heaving Whitechapel go-to is constantly buzzing with families and friends, some with jingling bags from the off licence (it’s BYOB), and others just excited to sit down with the smell and sound of Tayyabs’ famous sizzling lamb chops everywhere. When it comes to big group get-togethers, few restaurants in London do it better.

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