The Best Restaurants In Clerkenwell
Move over Soho, sod off Shoreditch, because Clerkenwell has some of London’s most superb and celebrated restaurants.
Few areas in London make you feel like the real McCoy quite like Clerkenwell does. This is an old-fashioned part of London that somehow always feels new. You might be here looking at gems on Hatton Garden, or you could be here, physically at least, stumbling out of Fabric at 6am, or maybe you’re out getting industrial quantities of bacon from Smithfield. There’s a lot going on around here, and that extends to Clerkenwell’s restaurants. A lot of them are London essentials. The kind that you tell people they must visit.
There’s everything from a true restaurant icon, to an Italian-style trattoria, to a fish supper spot. That’s just the kind of area Clerkenwell is.
This Clerkenwell institution is London’s most famous British restaurant. St. John's ‘nose-to-tail’ cooking approach from head chef and workwear icon Fergus Henderson is known the world over. Its pies are, quite simply, an experience that every person should have at least once in their life. In fact, the whole restaurant is. From the signal-less bar and bakery area filled with the noise of glasses clinking and madeleines baking, to the all-white dining room where a lunch will turn into a dinner and dinner into the next day, everything about St. John is simply and straightforwardly iconic.
Sessions Arts Club
First impressions may not be everything, but the one Sessions Arts Club makes upon everyone cannot be understated. The feeling is wonder. Pure, unadulterated, Disney-ish wonder. Not at big mouses or giant turkey legs, but at a towering balconied room. A home to waltzing candle flames and charming staff who serve nonchalantly elegant food made for swilling glasses and seducing over. This is an adult kind of wonderment: at improbably long panisse, lusciously interchangeable squid and calamarata, a wine list that wills you to stay forever, columns that would have Kevin McCloud keel over, and the wondrous feeling of hours flying by in a perfect restaurant on Clerkenwell Green.
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Clerkenwell is an area rich in pubs but none of them are as influential as The Eagle. The original London gastropub, The Eagle was doing exciting things with food long before Jamie Oliver had begun kickflipping around his kitchen while he put a lamb shank in the oven. Options change daily and it’s mostly Mediterranean-inspired, but their steak sandwich is always on and continues to be the beastly stuff of legend.
Tongue & Brisket
We don’t use this word lightly, but whoever first invented the sandwich was a genius. A bloody champion of crust. A messiah of bread. And if you’re looking for a proper sandwich near Farringdon, Tongue & Brisket on Leather Lane is a great bet. This isn’t the kind of sad sarnie shop that’ll leave you questioning exactly how many hours, minutes, and seconds there are until dinner. This is a place for whole schnitzels, and piles of salt beef (ask for lots and lots of mustard) inside rye. That being said, if you’re looking for some suave interior design then Tongue & Brisket might not be for you, but if it’s a proper sandwich you’re after, they’ve got you covered.
Quality Chop House
Surely it’s not just us who wakes up now and again and thinks, ‘I feel like living like a Tudor monarch today’. When it happens, get to the Quality Chop House pronto. This restaurant knows how to be a restaurant. Meaning you’re going to be fed and watered extremely well. It’s hearty but refined, so you’re just as likely to be eating venison here as you are some superb handmade pasta. And it suits both lunch and dinner. There’s no excuse not to go. Not one.
Ever since opening in 2019, the night-time operation of QCH’s shop, Quality Wines, has slowly and quietly become one of London’s most gorgeous and intimate places for dinner. Initially more of a wine bar than a restaurant, the little corner spot is now a destination thanks to the consistently delicious quality of food. Things change regularly, from lobster rolls to osso bucco, but there always tends to be a distinctly Italian touch to things on the menu. If it’s got lardo, order it and don’t hesitate on the cannolis. The cherry and almond is the best we’ve had in London.
The Drunken Butler
The excellent French meets Persian restaurant on Rosebery Avenue could very well be filed under ‘dream retro dining room’ on that Pinterest board you keep for ‘motivation’. A huge marble centre table, vases of wild flowers, stacked bottles of wine, and a constant cool soundtrack in the background. It’s all about their £85 Persian-style tasting menu. Expect exquisitely presented dishes like crunchy tahdig, zesty ghormeh sabzi, and more excellent takes on Persian classics.
Nobody doubts that opening a restaurant is hard business. Harder still is opening one that’s good. And yet, when you go to Brutto, you can’t help but think they’re making it all look so easy. If there is such a thing as a naturally-gifted footballer (who has trained tirelessly for years), then Brutto is a naturally-gifted restaurant (which is the result of tireless hard work from many people). The Tuscan-inspired trattoria around the corner from Farringdon station is so relaxed in its own skin, it imparts a natural feeling of scialla into all its diners. So sit back, get comfortable, and finish with a wedge of London’s best (and most generous) tiramisu.
Moro is another permanent fixture restaurant in London. It’s been serving delicious Mediterranean-inspired food to Londoners for over 20 years, and it’s an ‘every life stage’ kind of restaurant. As in, people will come here for a first date and share some escabeche, then come for an anniversary and a whole chargrilled halibut. Before they know it, there’ll be a couple kids next to them shovelling chicken fatteh into their mouths.
Morito is Moro’s tapas sibling next door. Like all the best and most memorable little brothers or sisters, it’s small, loud, and absolutely non-stop. The tapas here is very good, and it’s a perfect date spot. Just be wary that it gets very busy, very quick. Even on days you might not expect it to. So book ahead. Otherwise you’ll be looking at that crispy lamb or patatas bravas, from the outside in.
If you’re looking for a restaurant experience that makes you feel as classy as an embossed business card, then Luca is where you want to go. This an extremely proper Italian restaurant. Not bow tie proper. But sit down and pay good money for some good food, proper. Although it’s pricey, it is worth it (especially for the parmesan fries). Anyone you bring here will be seriously impressed.
Every area in London needs at least two excellent fish and chip options. Clerkenwell has that, plus one that has live music an evening a month. That’s just one reason we really like Fish Central. The food here won’t blow you away: perfectly cooked scallops, some crispy scampi, a decent bit of haddock. But it’s the old-school atmosphere that makes it. This is a ‘fish supper’ kind of restaurant, where generations old and young will sit down and have a good old-fashioned beige meal.
London isn’t known for the best sushi in the world. In fact, when you leave here and try fairly mediocre stuff in, say, LA, you feel like you’ve just woken from The Matrix. Only without all that gooey stuff. That said, London does have a handful of sushi spots that are gems, and one of them is undoubtedly Sushi Tetsu. It only seats seven people and bookings for the two seatings a day go fast, but if you want to spend big money on serious sushi in London, this is one of the best places to go.
Anglo is one of those restaurants that makes very fancy-looking food—the kind that looks like it could either be art, or an ant’s dinner. However, it does it at very accessible prices. The 10-course tasting menu is around £80 and the food is pretty good. If you’re looking for a fine dining experience in London that isn’t going to lead to a month of Cup-A-Soup dinners afterwards, this is your place.
La Petite Ferme
When was the last time you ate some cheese? No not standing in front of your fridge, drunkenly munching on a block of cheddar. We mean sitting at a table showing a Mont d’Or the respect it deserves. If it’s been a while, head straight for La Petit Ferme. This spot on Farringdon Road is full of knickknacks and mildy questionable floral tablecloths, but serves an all-you-can-eat raclette for £29 per person. Come here for a candlelit date night, or to eat your bodyweight in cheese with some friends.