From the people to the buildings, history runs deep through England’s capital. And there’s a whole host of London restaurants that ooze character and folklore too. If your inner historian fancies more than just a fine-dining experience, here are three historic London restaurants that are well worth a visit.
The Spaniards Inn
You’ve been stretching your legs on Hampstead Heath when you find The Spaniards Inn. And as a history buff, you recall that Charles Dickens immortalised this country-like beerhouse in his first novel, The Pickwick Papers. The inn’s slightly worn exterior lures you into the wooden bar. You’ve worked up an appetite on the heath, so you order some food—their well-known Scotch egg and a ham hock terrine for starters, followed by the chicken hotpot and beef shin and kidney pie. The flavours are bold and British. You’d normally order a pint with your food, but as the history books claim, Keats drank a ripe class of claret at The Spaniards Inn while he penned “Ode to a Nightingale,” so it seems only right to order two glasses of red in honour of the great poet. As you sink into the cosy armchairs, you and your partner marvel at the Dickens novels on the shelves and the old tankards that hang over the roaring fire. The history in this 16th century pub is palpable and you’d like to stay. But it’s time to visit Keats’ house on the other side of the heath—the perfect end to a captivating meal.
If you’re looking to parle français in the capital, Mon Plaisir in Covent Garden springs to mind. You revel in historic tales, especially when they’re coupled with old French glamour. So you and your companion are in the right place when the moustached owner Alain Lhermitte greets you with a friendly tête-à-tête and escorts you to your beautifully set dining table. Alain tells you and your fascinated guest that his family has owned Mon Plaisir for 50 years and this is the oldest French restaurant in London. He brings you a bottle of the blanc maison from Bordeaux and you listen to his beguiling tales about the bar that was salvaged from a brothel in Lyon. For starters, you tuck into some traditional escargot and French onion soup. For your mains, you indulge in the veal cutlet and Coq au Vin, which transport you both to a bygone era of French style of dining. The service is as slick and old-fashioned as a 30s Parisian bistro, French conversation fills the air and you can’t wait to tell your friends about the glamour of Mon Plaisir.
London restaurants would do well to echo the charm of The Gun. And when you visit this Grade II listed pub on the northern banks of the River Thames, you can see why. The signage looks like a cannonball has recently smashed through it—a whimsical nod to the explosives fired here, at the West India Import Docks in 1802. The Gun is also among the London restaurants where Lord Nelson allegedly enjoyed trysts with his mistress, Lady Hamilton. You can feel the history oozing from the walls. Your friend orders some cask ales from the bar as you check out the taxidermy hanging from the walls and explore the Gun Room, where rifles hang beside an original Georgian fireplace. You could almost be in a museum. The Chesterfield armchairs beckon you, but you’re here for gastropub cuisine, so you seat yourselves in the dining room. You’re not quite sure what Lord Nelson would have eaten, but the cider braised pork belly sounds divine. Your companion chooses the wild Suffolk fallow deer loin. Both are tasty and succulent. After dinner, you admire the impressive views of the state-of-the-art O2 Arena. But for now, you’re going to enjoy the antiquities of yesteryear, right here.