Where To Eat When You Want To Feel Incredibly CulturedNine places to whip out your knock-off Celine reading glasses while pretending you absolutely need them to see the menu.
Culture—we live, sleep, and breathe it, baby. That’s why we go to see important exhibitions on footwear through the ages. That’s why we wear Ace & Tate glasses we almost definitely need. And that’s why we like to watch foreign films through osmosis while we scroll Twitter in the evenings. Sure, we just had to google ‘what does being cultured actually mean’ but that’s why we love restaurants. They always have our backs. Here are the places that are perfect for the aficionados of culture among us and more importantly, anyone who just wants to prove that ‘Reality Television Permanently Melts Your Mind’ think piece wrong.
Whatever mainstream culture is doing, it’s always much more cultural to do the opposite. Those are the rules and it’s why we keep ending up with mullets. So, in a world that floods us with choice, a restaurant that gives you no choice is the epitome of culture. At Hunan in Victoria, you don’t need to worry about anything because you won’t know what you’re getting until it arrives at the table. This legendary Chinese restaurant operates on a ‘trust us’ menu where you simply tell them your dietary requirements, and, you know, that you hate coriander. They’ll do the rest.
Most of the time when someone asks us what we did last night, our answer involves the words bath, sleep, or Disney Plus. So imagine the grandeur of being able to say ‘actually I went to this wine bar in Fitzrovia and a chef visiting from Amsterdam handed me a dressed oyster’. That’s the power of Carousel, a warm but entirely cool rotating chef residency operation where the servers will convince you to try a new zesty orange wine and you’ll actually like it. You’ll find yourself surrounded by interesting people, great wines, and the fantastic notion that maybe you did understand the ending of that Booker Prize novel after all.
Look, the only reason any of us listen to current events podcasts is so that we don’t get stuck at a dinner party asking if Michael Gove is the guy in the new Christopher Nolan film. You go to River Café in Hammersmith for the same reason. Well, and for the exceptional pasta. And some of the best Italian food this side of Turin. And for the riverside terrace. The name alone is synonymous with the best of the London dining scene and absorbing facts about legendary owner and chef Ruth Rogers while also consuming the signature chocolate nemesis tart is the ultimate cultural one-two punch. Rinse and repeat these facts at your next dinner party.
The word literary and the word cultured spend a lot of time together. That’s why being able to drop a sentence like ‘did you know that Dylan Thomas once left one of his manuscripts under a chair here’ while nibbling on a pork rillette is an exceptional power move. Actors, writers, and famed narcissists have all passed through The French’s doors and the Soho boozer still keeps an air of encouraged debauchery and privacy with the no phones rule in the upstairs dining room. Get involved in the daily changing menu, order a half-pint—no full pints available as per tradition—and drop Francis Bacon’s name at least 40 times. Sorted.
What is culture? Pause, furrow your brow, notice Phoebe Waller Bridge eating a langoustine in your peripheral vision, take an elongated sip of wine, and then lean in to quote a NYT article you only read the first three lines of because paywall. Welcome to Sessions Arts Club. To be seen at the scene that is this Clerkenwell restaurant is to be part of the cultural zeitgeist. A culture that prides itself on candlelight and crab croquettes. Prepare to get a little Anna Delvey if you want a Friday night booking.
La Fromagerie. La. Fromagerie. Say it out loud. “Last night? Oh, I just got dinner at La Fromagerie with Celeste. Of Daphne and Celeste fame, yes”. Is that not the most cultured sentence you’ve ever heard in your life? Translated from French it just means: the cheese shop. But La Fromagerie is a classy, almost clandestine-feeling wine bar in Marylebone, full of booze and charcuterie, gossiping and smelly stuff. The cheese shop, on the other hand, sounds like somewhere a lowly medieval peasant eats a fistful of cheddar.
If being greeted by approximately 78 waitstaff during your short journey from the front door to your table doesn’t make you feel like you’re kind of a big deal, we’re not sure anything will. While it’s nice to think they might have mistaken you for a (very) distant relative of Beyoncé, that’s just how this white tablecloth, British-Mediterranean spot on the ground floor of this Grosvenor Square hotel rolls. With a lavish room that says it’s OK to order oysters and spend £19 on a bowl of cacio e pepe, The Twenty Two is the perfect place to dramatically roll your eyes when your friend asks for some ketchup with their chips.
As soon as you step into this underground Japanese restaurant in Belgravia, you automatically feel like more of a functioning adult. It’s just the way it works here. Front-of-house staff and servers greet you with an air of nonchalance, there’s a sushi chef slicing hamachi behind a counter, the place has a shadow-heavy Japanese aesthetic, and semi-private booths say ‘this is a serious catch-up’. A meal here is for real adults who like hotate nigiri and are waiting for someone at the sushi bar to ask what moriawase is so they can rattle off a description they read two minutes before on the menu.
Yeah, we didn’t think the words “Kingly Court” and “cultured” would ever appear in the same sentence either, but hear us out. This airy, blue-window-framed restaurant on the top floor feels like a courtyard in the Mediterranean—and obviously we feel most cultured on holiday. The menu has excellent traditional Syrian small plates and an amazing wine list where you can show off your (googled) knowledge before eventually landing on a Macedonian orange number. Bring some friends, wait your turn as owner Imad makes the rounds introducing himself to the dinner guests, and eat some of the best baba ghanouj in London.