A good pub is like a beloved best friend. They’re always there for you. You still like them even when they’re a bit smelly. And they’ll never judge you for getting completely smashed or wearing your ‘workout clothes’ for an entire weekend. That’s why we love them, even though most of them have some pretty mediocre food. But not these pubs. From an 18th-century Soho spot serving terrine, to excellent Thai food at a Paddington boozer, these are the pubs where you’re guaranteed a great meal.
photo credit: Aleksandra Boruch
The George is a decadent take on a pub. The downstairs bar is Fitzrovia’s usual mix of slurring suits and those trying to ignore the slurring suits, while upstairs there's a debauch dining room. The room gives off an energy that mixes the Tudors and the posh bit of the Titanic while the staff, who are friendly rather than fawning, will very much encourage you to eat foie gras. Indulgent? Yes. Silly? Certainly. The knickerbocker glory for dessert? If a certain kind of British excess gets you going, then The George isn’t just extravagant. It’s extremely enjoyable.
For a pub named after a giant predatory bird, this old-school Farringdon joint is actually pretty laid-back. It’s got a dark green front, dark split leather, and a simple dining room with lots of mismatched wooden chairs—but don’t let the casual feel fool you. This place serves some truly excellent classic British dishes, and whether you come for lunch or dinner, you need to get involved in their steak sandwich. It’s basically a whole meal between bread and is completely worth £15. Be warned, this place is popular and they only take bookings for six plus.
We tend to like our pubs how we like our dogs. Old, scruffy, and loyal enough that you don’t mind their scent. But we’ll make an exception for The Wigmore. A glossy green pub inside The Langham hotel, this place is less rowdy boozer and more sophisticated sipper. The menu has got that whole modern European croquetas-to-crumpets thing going on but you should know that the best thing here is the burger. A proper two-hander meat fest that comes topped with grilled ox tongue, it’s super satisfying, especially when combined with the fat-dripped chips and a pint.
The Guinea Grill is a tiny pub on Bruton Place in Mayfair, and perhaps owing to its size or the fact that it’s a bit out of the way, it doesn’t often attract huge crowds like other Mayfair pubs. People do come out of their way for the food though. They serve a limited menu of pie and oysters in the bar, as well as sandwiches for lunch. But if you’re looking for somewhere more spacious, head to the very old-fashioned and sedate restaurant in the back. Pies and oysters are still on the menu, but what you really want to get involved in are their excellent but pricey steaks.
The French House
Few London pubs are as well known as The French House in Soho: this place is a classic and the food very much follows suit. While the downstairs of this drinking institution is still kept to just that, walk up the creaking 18th-century stairs and you’ll find a red-walled, yellow-lit dining room. This place is made for consumption. Specifically terrine, steak, coffee mousse and, of course, wine. You’ll be leaning over the table and stage whispering conversations before you know it.
After their storming success in the kitchen at the Compton Arms, the fellas from Four Legs have their own pub in the shape of The Plimsoll in Finsbury Park. What was once an Irish boozer that let Guinness rightfully rest, with Arsenal on the projector, is now the kind of pub that lets Guinness rightfully rest while serving a whole lemon sole from the kitchen. The bar area is still ideal to perch in with a pint but make sure you book ahead if you want dinner in the week (there’s a limited menu on weekends). The popularity of their famous cheeseburger hasn’t waned at all.
The Clarence Tavern
The Clarence Tavern is another gastropub from a lineage of excellent London gastropubs. Older siblings the Anchor & Hope and the Canton Arms are two of the most consistently excellent pubs for food around—that still maintain a feeling of comforting pub-ishness. There’s no danger of seeing a mini shopping trolley full of chips here. The Clarence on Stoke Newington Church Street is somewhere that feels like it’s been making fried pumpkin, roast brill, and slow-cooked lamb shoulder with dauphinoise forever. Simultaneously relaxed and delicious, it manages to make lots of effort seem effortless, and it’s as good inside as it is outside.
The Compton Arms
The Compton Arms is a little boozer off Upper Street that used to be frequented by Arsenal fans and is now frequented by Arsenal fans, as well as those seeking very good food. The weekly changing small plates menu, served by current chef residency Belly, is generally very enjoyable—be it a whole dressed crab or pork chop with apple sauce and chilli oil. Book ahead whatever you do, especially if you want a seat in the garden.
Knowing about the Norfolk Arms means never ever having to choose between your love of cold pints and eating goats’ cheese. An old-school pub near King’s Cross, this place still has its Victorian tiled exterior and retro stained-glass windows, but these days it serves charming little tapas dishes in a warm, candlelit room. The tzatziki rightfully packs a serious punch of garlic, the octopus comes on a bed of rich hummus, and ‘Grandma’s meatballs’ will have you contemplating whether you can feasibly ask a pub to adopt you. The answer is probably no but the good news is that this place is usually a safe bet for walk-ins, so you can hit up those meatballs anytime.
The Drapers Arms
Some pubs stay with you for much of your life, like a compliment your art teacher once gave you, or a particularly ratty but sentimental pair of pyjamas. The Drapers Arms is one of those. It’s an Islington stalwart, down a residential street, that’s suitable for drinking, dining, and drowning your sorrows. The food is classic, comforting stuff. Baked camembert, sardines on toast, pies, chops, and the like. It’s stuff you could make at home but often can’t be arsed and never as good as this. Whether you’re pitching up on a stool at the bar for pints and snacks, or you’ve booked a table for 10 on a Sunday, this is a pub that will always stay in your mind.
The Scolt Head
A pub that’s good for food, families, football, and Friday night drinks is, really, the best kind of pub. And that’s exactly what The Scolt Head is. This De Beauvoir local is a regular for young and old, and its food is consistently crowd-pleasing. From courgette fritters, to homemade pies, to Sunday roasts, everything here is consistently satisfying and exactly what you want after a few beers. The front garden is what people call ‘a spot’. The projector room ‘a mess’ (particularly when Arsenal are on). And the back dining room ‘a lovely place to be’.
photo credit: Karolina Wiercigroch
The Bull & Last
A pub, a pint, and a great big plate of roast beef overlooking Hampstead Heath is what you need, we need, everyone probably needs. The Bull & Last is easily the best gastropub around the Heath (though if you’re just looking for a pint and a pork bap, The Southampton Arms is down the road) and its menu of gastropub favourites is hard to resist. The scotch egg is strong, the fish and chips chunky, and the setting lovely.
If someone asked us to describe The Marksman in one word, we’d say “Dickens”. This old-school Shoreditch spot has been around since the Victorian times, with a proper mahogany bar, those little scallop lampshades that went out of fashion in the ‘50s, and a more modern dining room upstairs. These days you’ll find food like Aylesbury duck, salt lemon surf clams, and some of the best savoury pies in London. Plus, their £40 three-course Sunday menu is always a good idea.
Exercising your right to sit outside when there is only the briefest glimmer of sunshine is something all Londoners born or adopted pick up naturally. So if you’re around Hackney then it’s worth heading to The Gun on Well Street for their terrace. They've had rotating chef residencies in the past and it's currently the turn of Ling Ling's, serving Chinese-inspired dishes and Sunday roasts.
Spitalfields isn’t an area lacking when it comes to food or drink, but The Culpeper is one of the few places that combines both very well. This a very modern pub, in that it’s not just a pub. It has a rooftop, an upstairs restaurant, and also rooms to stay in if you have a few too many bevvies. Food-wise, the bar is where you come after work for a few drinks, padron peppers, and snacks like croquettes. The restaurant is a little more burrata and risotto with the family or a date.
The Duke of Richmond
Some pubs require tactics. Bar positioning. Table grabbing. What to order and what not to order. The Duke of Richmond in Dalston is one of these. Although you can have a full slap-up meal in the dining room, we think it’s best used as a beer and burger place—because it’s extremely good at both. The more casual dishes, from a béarnaise-loaded burger to a crab and chip butty, are ideal boozing snacks and can also be ordered to their outside terrace.
The Camberwell Arms
Ah, The Camberwell Arms. That smell of butter in the air. That big old-school dining room. Those inevitable three pints you weren’t planning on but oh well, you were just having such a nice time. This spot in Camberwell does have excellent food, from huge pork chops to banging pasta dishes, but it still very much feels like a boozer where no one’s going to judge you for getting smashed on a Tuesday. The seasonal menu changes daily but whatever's on their blackboard, you know you’re in safe hands. Start things off with a pint at the bar before going full three courses. Yes, even if it’s a Tuesday.
At The Canton Arms, you’ll walk into a boozer that feels a little like it’s from another era. Where old boys todder in for a glass of red and a haggis toastie, and families get together in the front bar, in the back dining room, or wherever they can fit. The food is a touch European and a touch British. Put simply, it’s very nice. Think a plate of peach and stracciatella, only combined with a pint. You wouldn't expect a taste of Rome on the South Lambeth Road, but The Canton Arms is full of surprises.
The Anchor & Hope
Anchor & Hope is not only the name of our eventual sailor rom-com, but it’s also a cosy boozer in Southwark that serves some pretty amazing Mediterranean meets British food. From the outdoor picnic tables to the smoky dim lighting, this place feels like your quintessential British pub with some bonus things on the menu like three cheese and hazelnut soufflé, crab beurre blanc, and chopped octopus salad. Once you’re sufficiently full and buzzed, go for a stroll along the South Bank and reminisce over how good that baked poppy seed cheesecake was. It’s great for dinner with out-of-towners.
The Cadogan Arms
This show-stopping pub refurb on the King’s Road is glamorous on the eye but simply delightful when it comes to the food. The ham, egg, and chips could easily end up being one of the top 10 pub meals you ever eat, or a massive golden brown chicken kiev served with a shaved fennel salad that manages to feel both reserved and decadent at the same time. There’s pie, steak, and grilled fish on offer too, but whatever you do, make sure you get extra chips on the side—they’re excellent. There’s also an unmissable trifle which is a brilliant ‘80s dinner party throwback.
From the outside, The Heron looks like the sort of pub that doesn’t so much indulge in lock-ins as live by them. It’s a wide bungalow-like spot in Paddington that’s full of football and fantastic Thai food downstairs. The restaurant space is the budget karaoke room of your birthday dreams. It’s a not-often-seen combination of pink walls, neon lights, and TVs flashing lyrics, plus food that will blow your socks off. If it sounds slightly bizarre, that’s because it is. And if it sounds brilliant, that’s also because it is.
You might think that a pub called The Cow would specialise in beef, but you’d be wrong. Plot twist: this upmarket pub and dining room near Notting Hill actually specialises in seafood. One of the go-to orders here is oysters and Guinness, but you’ll also find an £89 seafood platter and fresh crab tagliolini on the menu. When it comes to the space, it looks like it was designed by a super-fan of both Moulin Rouge and The Apprentice. Basically, it’s a bit luxury, a bit retro, a bit French, and a lot of bright red leather. Although this place can be pricey, they have a £14 dish du jour available in their saloon bar.
If your idea of a pub involves fruit machines, sticky floors, and drunk locals that have somehow been sat on their stool since the ‘80s, then think again. The Harwood Arms in Fulham is about as close as you can get to being an upmarket restaurant while still being a pub. It’s on a little street that feels more Cotswolds than city and inside, you’ll find neutral walls, deer antlers, sophisticated furniture, and a posh 1920s bar that we absolutely cannot picture Peggy Mitchell standing behind. Expect dishes like whole baked lemon sole, strawberry and lavender trifle, and plenty of things involving fresh game. The three-course set menu is 65 quid, which yes, could get you pretty far on the fruit machine at your local, but trust us, the food here is worth it.