London, we’ve come a long way from neat’s tongues, boiled calves’ head with oysters, soup of larks, and stretched sheep guts. All of which are somewhat terrifying examples of British cuisine in the 17th century. Fortunately, we have Mrs. Beaton to thank for that. Her cookbook, Mrs. Beaton’s Book of Household Management, has sold over two million copies since published in 1861 and was, at that time, considered the equivalent to the Joy of Cooking for Victorian middle-class women. Luckily for modern eaters, her recipes (and popular taste) moved away from the sheep innards and calf brains, and toward the traditional UK food we know today. Savory pies, puddings, potato dishes, and Scotch eggs all became local favorites, and while what’s now considered Brit-fare is still meat heavy, at least we aren’t just les ros-bifs (roast beefs) anymore, as the French used to call us. From modern twists on the classics to historically accurate British fare, London offers eaters a wide range for traditional British cuisine. Here are a few favorites.
Established in 1798, Rules claims to be the oldest restaurant in London. It’s a place where locals like to get their fix of good old-fashioned British food, and there’s nothing else quite like it in the city. If you’re game for game, visit during grouse-shooting season. It lasts from August to December.
Talk about traditional: The Ivy’s building has housed various incarnations of this iconic restaurant since the 1920s. A favorite of celebrity diners, service here is exceptional, and a menu of old-fashioned dishes—shepherd’s pie, lamb underneath crispy mashed potatoes, Welsh rarebit (glorified cheese on toast)— are made modern.
St. John Bar and Restaurant
Now a decade old, this restaurant is for the brave of heart (and stomach). St. John’s chef/owner Fergus Henderson pioneered nose-to-tail cooking at a restaurant in Clerkenwell, and brought the philosophy with him to London. Famous dishes include pig’s head and potato pie and grilled lamb’s heart. Less intimidating dishes with fish and shellfish are also on offer.
Simpson’s in the Strand
Could this have been Bertie Wooster’s spiritual home? It’s fun to think of all the lunches he might have enjoyed, only to end in confusion and knots for Jeeves to untie. Originally a chess club, Simpson’s used to wheel large pieces of meat on silver domed trolleys so as not to disturb the players. The service is still practiced today—the beef carvery that is, not the chess.
Dean Street Townhouse
The restaurant of this 39-bedroom hotel gives British staples a new twist. The menu’s mince and potatoes is just that, but far from the stuff of school nightmares. The Beef Wellington is also highly recommended. British ‘nursery foods’ like fish fingers, Scotch eggs, and sausage rolls are popular with the nostalgic, but hip, clientele.