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 ‘exercise clothes’ all weekend. That’s why we love them, even though most of them serve some pretty mediocre (and occasionally offensive) food. But not these pubs. From an 18th century Soho spot serving handmade terrine, to excellent Thai food at a Paddington boozer, these are the pubs where you’re guaranteed a great meal.
For a pub named after a giant predatory bird, this old school Farringdon pub 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 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 £13.50. Be warned, this place is popular so you’re going to want to reserve a spot.
This old school Fitrzrovia boozer has a speciality. And yes, after walking in you might think the speciality is wooden panelling. It isn’t. The speciality here is handmade pie. Chicken and leek pie, steak pie, venison pie, vegetarian pie, shepherd’s pie - okay, we’ll stop now before it starts to feel like the Great British Bake Off has requested a new opening theme by Eminem. But the point is, the pies here are great, with an excellent crust, and are arguably just the right size for one person - if, of course, you’re as greedy as us. Outside of their pies, you can’t go wrong with the chorizo scotch egg or the Cumberland sausages in a red wine sauce, but your best bet here is to get fully involved in the pie to ale pairings, followed by a sticky toffee pudding.
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 do. People do come out of their way for the food here 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, you should 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.
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 mostly that, if you walk up the creaking stairs 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) because the popularity of their famous cheeseburger hasn’t waned at all.
The Clarence 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 delicious pubs 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 their latest venture that somehow feels like it’s been making fried pumpkin, roast brill, and slow-cooked lamb shoulder with dauphinoise forever and ever. Simultaneously relaxed and delicious, it manages to make lots of effort seem effortless, and it’s as good inside as it is outside.
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 might make at home if you could be arsed, but even then it would never be as good as this. Whether you’re pitching on a stool at the bar for pints and snacks, or you’ve booked a table on a Sunday, this is a pub that will always stay in your mind.
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 completely satisfying, and exactly what you want after a few beers. The front garden is what people call ‘a spot’ and the back dining room ‘a lovely place to be’.
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.
There are more pubs in Stoke Newington than there are exposed ankles. Actually, that’s a lie, but there are a lot. None though have food as good as The Prince. This done-up neighbourhood pub is at the civilized end of things. As in, you’ll be fighting over the last strawberry on the Eton mess, rather than seeing a scrap over the fruity. The space is divided between bar area and dining room, with a menu that’s simple but solid: padron peppers, handmade tortellini, and a very decent burger, of course.
St John's Tavern
If you’re looking for a great, reasonably priced wine list from a pub then St John’s Tavern should be close to the top of your list. But if you’re looking for damn near perfect Sunday roast then this Archway spot should be right at the top of your list. You’ll also find oysters, pickled cockles, and potted shrimp on the menu in the spacious and woody dining room at the back of the pub. And as well as a changing seasonal menu, they serve solid plates of food for dinner from Monday through to Saturday, and lunch Friday to Sunday . Things like a whole plaice with brown shrimp butter, or a suckling pork shoulder and quince sauce to share. Whatever you do don’t miss out on the croquetas or the desserts. Both are consistently excellent.
If someone asked us to describe The Marksman in one word, we’d say “Dickens”. This old school Shoreditch spot has been around since Queen Victoria, has a proper mahogany bar, those little scallop lampshades that went out of fashion in the 1950s, and a more modern dining room upstairs. These days you’ll find food like salt lemon surf clams, some of the best savoury pies in London, and their excellent beef and barley buns.
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 for their terrace or otherwise. It’s a wander away from Well Street Common and Victoria Park, and everything from Satsu’s changing menu - from a perfect mess of a double smash patty cheeseburger, to crab katsu rice - is great.
Spitalfields isn’t an area lacking when it comes to food or drink, but The Culpeper is one of the few that combines both very well. This is 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 for a few drinks, padron peppers, and nibbly bits like croquettes. While the restaurant is a little more burrata and risotto with the family or a date.
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 bernaise loaded burger to a crab and chip butty, are ideal boozing snacks and can also be ordered to their outside terrace.
Ah, The Camberwell Arms. That smell of butter in the air. That big dining room. The 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 no matter what they’ve got going on on their blackboard, you know you’re in safe hands. Our game plan is to start things off with a pint, before going a full three courses. Yes, even if it’s a Tuesday.
Eastenders superfan or not, most people know The Queen Vic is at the heart of the action around Albert Square. Only in reality the pub in question is The Canton Arms, and you won’t find any balding perma-angry brothers or pints being thrown here. Instead 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.
Anchor and Hope is not only the name of our eventual sailor rom-com, but it’s also a seminal gastropub in Southwark that serves some pretty amazing Mediterranean-inspired pub food. From the outdoor picnic tables, to the smoky dim lighting, this place feels like your quintessential pub just 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 poppyseed cheesecake was.
There are pubs that hypnotise you with the flashing lights and spinning wheels on a bank of fruit machines, and there are those that knock you sideways with elaborate architectural detail. It’s the latter that’s on offer at this show-stopping pub refurb on the King’s Road. Happily, they keep the food simple and delightful. We’re talking a £17 ham, egg and chips that could easily end up being one of the top ten pub meals you ever eat, or a massive golden brown chicken kiev served with a shaved fennel salad that somehow manages to feel both reserved and slightly decadent at the same time. Elsewhere, there’s a non-stop playlist of polite rock, as befitting any SW3 walk-in boozer, a menu of bar snacks that includes a 10/10 pork and sage scotch egg, a classic prawn cocktail, and an unmissable plate of crispy lamb ribs. Also unmissable is the trifle, which is - like the prawn cocktail - 50% fantastic and 50% absolute 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, fellas, and fantastic Thai food downstairs. The restaurant space is the budget karaoke room of your birthday dreams - a not often seen combination of pink walls, neon lights, and TV screens flashing lyrics, combined with 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. 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 The 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 do have a £12 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 whilst still being a pub. It’s on a little street that feels more country than town, and once inside, you’ll find neutral walls, deer antlers, sophisticated furniture, and a posh ’20s bar that we absolutely cannot picture Peggy Mitchell standing behind. You can expect dishes like whole baked lemon sole, strawberry and lavender trifle, and plenty of things involving fresh game. The three-course set menu is fifty quid, which yes, could get you pretty far on the fruit machine at your local, but trust us, the food here is worth it.