Being a parent is hard. Trust us - we once looked after our colleague’s dog for an afternoon, and it was the hardest thing we’ve ever had to do. Christ knows what sacrificing most of your adult life to raise a mostly ungrateful little sod would be like. Your parents’ visits to London, then, should be an opportunity to say thank you. And also a chance to get to places you wouldn’t normally go to with your mates, but which you secretly love because inside, you’re actually a 50-year old with an interest in gardening and antique globes.
The restaurants on our list have a few things in common. First, they all take reservations. Second, they’re all comfortable to sit in, because comfort is key after you’ve metaphorically carried another living person around their entire life. Third, all of them have good service and fourth, all serve very good food that isn’t too adventurous, because your dad hasn’t forgiven you for the time you took him to a small plates restaurant and they expected you to share three scallops between four people.
Here’s our list of places you should take your parents to in London.
Cafe Murano is parental catnip. It’s a pretty Italian restaurant in Covent Garden, and it’s run by Angela Hartnett, who no doubt your folks have seen on Saturday Kitchen asking celebrities to make omelettes or whatever they do on that programme these days. The food leans more towards actual Italian with the odd regional speciality, but more importantly your parents will love it and you’ll be able to get a glorious pasta-filled dinner out of it as well. There’s also a second restaurant in St James if your parents loathe tourists as much as you do.
Perhaps your parents clicked a link on Facebook about Buttercup Cumbersnatch being papped (is that even still a thing?) leaving J Sheekey, and it would be a good excuse to take them to this flawless seafood restaurant for dinner. Not just to show them that you can use cutlery properly and be all fancy like, but also because the atmosphere and food are incredible. You can get a nice piece of fish here, and don’t miss the rhubarb pudding if it’s on.
Your folks are in town for the weekend, and you’ve taken mum and dad for a wander along the Southbank to do the requisite checking out of cultural stuff. Afterwards, wander down to gastropub The Anchor and Hope for one of the best meals you can get along the river. They’ll appreciate the laid back atmosphere, as well as the excellent food, and you can get a few drinks out of it too. You can eat in the main pub bit or the more formal dining room, and the menu constantly changes, so considering making it a reward - sorry, ‘tradition’ - for every time your ’rents come to visit.
Dean Street Townhouse is a no-brainer for dinner with the parents. It’s central and takes reservations, it’s incredibly comfy and parents will love all the velvet and polished wood, and it’s just the right amount of buzzy. The restaurant is always crowded, but you’ll still be able to hear your mum when she snipes at your dad about his triglycerides when he orders a steak. The English comfort food is spot-on, and just about anyone will be able to get on board with the dishes here.
Chelsea doesn’t want for posh restaurants with mediocre food, but if you’re going to shell out for dinner with your folks, the food should at least be good. Elystan Street delivers in spades on that front, and is the kind of sleek yet grown-up kind of place that the parentals will appreciate. You’ll get formal service that’s also laid-back for this part of town, as well as very good upscale French and Italian food.
St. John might be famous the world over for bigging up nose-to-tail eating, but we all really know that the food there is meat and two veg. Everyone loves meat and two veg, particularly so those with adult children who read guides on the internet about where to take them out for dinner. The menu changes constantly, but anything involving roast meat or fish is a good call, and you might want to order the slightly butch-looking bone marrow salad if only to convince your mother to stop pinching your cheeks every time she sees you in public. The main restaurant is relaxed and comfy, but the bar is a good spot if your parents are actually cooler than you (ours definitely are).
Nothing charms parents more than a French brasserie, and they don’t come much prettier than Zedel. It looks like a perfectly elegant bistro from the outside, but once you head down to the main restaurant, you might feel like you’ve walked into Louis XV’s private rec room. Despite all this, Zedel is remarkably reasonable cost-wise, so long as you don’t get carried away with the grog. If your Francophile mother keeps talking about how bloody easy it is to get to Paris (yes, we know) from London, take her here.
Steakhouses are a sure bet with parents. They’re spacious and comfy, and nothing on the menu is even remotely challenging but still very tasty for the most part. Hawksmoor is the best one we have in London, and it’s where you should arrange to take them lest they have a hankering for well-hung beef. The Covent Garden outpost is one of our favourites, and although prices are predictably high, you’ll get excellent aged meat, cocktails, and the waiters will be nice to your folks. Feel free to ignore your mother’s protests that Aberdeen Angus does the best steak in town.
You grew up eating prawn toast and sweet ‘n’ sour chicken from a place called Magic Wok in Sheffield, but since you arrived in London, you’ve discovered that there’s so much more to Chinese food. Royal China is a reliably good spot with a few locations in town (we like the Baker Street one) where you can treat your folks to upmarket Cantonese food in a dining room that’s busy but not loud, and it’s an excellent place to kick back with a few plates of noodles and roast duck. Dim sum here is an excellent call, and the round tables are particularly good if you’re with extended family.
We’re still struggling to pronounce the name of this place, which is a shame because it’s excellent. It’s the London branch of a very upmarket Parisian restaurant, and as you’d expect, there’s fancy French food, loads of comfy leather booths, and an exceptional wine list. This is the sort of place you take your parents when you want to show them what’s up, instead of lowballing them with dinner at Côte. You’ll all get a relaxed fine dining experience without any of the typical stuffiness.
Statistically speaking, there’s a 100% chance that your parents have seen Jamie Oliver or the Hairy Bikers traipsing around the US eating BBQ from roadside shacks and getting emotional on television about the whole experience. They’ll love Pitt Cue, then, if not for the industrial-ish ambience that’s comfy and actually quite smart, but also for the hearty dishes of barbecued rare-breed pork, beef and lamb on their menu. They’ll love the throwback rock tunes that they play over the speakers, but also the fact that the nice chaps running the place turn the music down enough for you to chat politely.
Taking your parents to Ottolenghi might be the best decision or the worst decision you’ve made lately. On the upside, they’ll love the classy decor and posh Middle Eastern food. The meat dishes are satisfying, but the vegetable ones are even better - ordering the grilled squash salad and courgette fritters might momentarily convince your parents you don’t completely live off a diet of Domino’s and Pot Noodle. On the downside, there’s a very good chance they’ll become insufferable and regale your poor neighbours with anecdotes about tahini, and ‘that Ottolenghi bloke’, when they get back to Cheshire.
If parents are in town, there’s a fair-to-certain chance you’ll end up getting dragged to the West End to see Mamma Mia or something equally cheesy. Pray to Jeebus that you don’t, but if you do, take them to Opera Tavern so at least you can salvage something out of the evening. You’ll eat classy little plates of Spanish tapas, and there’s a nice combination of classic standbys like patatas bravas and tortilla, as well as some more adventurous options. You’ll never regret ordering the prawns.
Moro does the balancing act between ‘grown-up’ and ‘cool’ better than any place in London. It’s definitely one of the trendier options on this list, but it’s the sort of place your parents will thank you for taking them for years. You’ll get upscale Spanish-meets-North African food in a dining room that’s smart enough for real wine glasses, but without any white table cloths.
A restaurant like The Wolseley should be held back for the heavy duty parental business. Say, softening them up before asking for help with a deposit on a house, or to tell them you that you’re leaving your accounting job to become a barre instructor. They’ll see you in your smart clothes and, as you enter the restaurant, the stunning space will knock them for six (it used to be a vintage car showroom). They’ll love the banter from the servers, and they’ll be all over the posh French brasserie cuisine. Choose your time to pounce wisely - perhaps after they pass out with pleasure at dessert, but definitely before the bill arrives.