London’s Best British Restaurants
Ask a hundred people on the street what their favourite cuisine is and I’d bet good money that you wouldn’t get more than five people who would answer that question with: “British”. French, Italian, Indian, and Chinese food all hold a much firmer place in the hearts and stomachs of most Brits than the food that’s considered “native” to the isle. I think that’s partly because defining British cuisine is, in and of itself, a difficult task.
The perfect example of the blurred definitions of British food can be found in the chicken tikka masala. Dubbed Britain's national dish by former British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook because it’s “a perfect illustration of the way Britain absorbs and adapts external influences”, the chicken tikka masala was a mild and delicious dish created in the UK by canny restaurateurs to cater directly for the less adventurous tastes of British customers. Go to an Indian restaurant in India, though, and you won’t find it anywhere on the menu. It is, in many ways, the most British dish there is – a delicious mash-up of multiple cultures when it’s good and a cloying disappointment when it’s bad – but you’re unlikely to find it served at a restaurant that prides itself on British cuisine.
What you will find is seasonally-focussed cooking that employs simple techniques and makes the most of the isle’s natural bounty of produce. That's the definition of “British food” which I’ll be working off for this particular list. Another hallmark of the genre is that most of the chefs cooking quality British cuisine (both modern and traditional) pay particularly close attention to the provenance of the ingredients they’re using. High-quality cuts of meat or fish are typical of what you expect from a good British restaurant and I’m thankful that there are a number of quality restaurants serving that brand of direct, precise cooking in London. This list of the best British restaurant in London is far from exhaustive but I’ve tried my best to provide you with an amuse-bouche of the landscape and recommend a few places where you can realise that British food is so much more than pease pudding and pies. No shade to either of those dishes though.
Not only is St. JOHN one of the most British restaurants in London but it’s also comfortably one of its best. Chefs have been heavily influenced by Fergus Henderson’s white-walled temple of nose-to-tail eating ever since it opened and it's only gone from strength to strength since. The restaurant's reputation has grown into something more akin to an Arthurian legend and having a St.JOHN stint on the CV is a real seal of approval for any ambitious chef looking to prove their skills on the stoves. The menu is as minimalist as the dining room with plates of pig tongue with chicory and sorrel sitting happily next to ferric servings of calf's liver, with bacon and mash. All of it is good.
26 St John Street, Barbican, EC1M 4AY
Quality Chop House
What’s more British than meat and potatoes? Quality Chop House is a proper old school gaff that serves impeccably cooked meat and fish alongside a range of cleverly prepared sides, snacks, and starters. The confit potatoes at Quality Chop House are, pound-for-pound, the tastiest form of potato you’ll find in London and – although it’s not cheap – it’s a restaurant that I think every Londoner should visit at least once. Unless you’re a vegetarian or vegan, in which case you might be better off giving it a swerve.
92-94 Farringdon Road, EC1R 3EA
Bright room, open kitchen, Guinness bread. That’s all you really need to know about Café Cecilia before you pay it a visit. Having worked at the River Cafe, Spring, and St. JOHN Bread and Wine, chef and owner Max Rocha has an impressive resume to his name and you can see how his time at those dining institutions has influenced the style of cooking he’s brought to his debut restaurant. It’s the hippest spot in town to grab a bacon sandwich or kippers on toast for your breakfast or a skate with spinach, brown butter, and capers for your lunch. The menu leans British but you’ll still hear the taste of pleasant French and Italian accents throughout. The deep-fried bread and butter pudding is a must-order.
32 Andrews Road, E8 4FX
Sessions Arts Club
Florence Knight’s food is hard to pin down. As the chef at Sessions Arts Club, Knight has the rather daunting task of producing a menu that matches up to the destitute, romantic glamour of the space it inhabits. While the kitchen doesn’t strictly and devoutly deal in British cuisine, pretty much every dish has a strong seasonal bent that coaxes the best out of fresh, seasonal produce. Sessions Arts Club is a restaurant that proves how deliciously versatile the catchall of “British” can be.
Old Sessions House, 24 Clerkenwell Green, EC1R 0NA
Tucked away in a quiet but green nook of Bloomsbury, Café Deco is a restaurant that serves beautifully beige British food. Head chef Anna Tobias has built herself a reputation for cooking simple dishes, executed perfectly while working at icons like the River Café and Rochelle Canteen and has brought that ethos with her to Café Deco. Whether it’s a simple asparagus vinaigrette or a sturdy chicken, rabbit and bacon pie, every dish is presented as openly as honestly as possible. There are not many places in London where dinner feels more right than Café Deco.
43 Store Street, WC1E 7DB
St. JOHN Bread and Wine
As the sequel to St. JOHN, St. JOHN Bread and Wine resides under the shadow of a rather large and imposing force. Not only has it lived up to the expectations set by its trotter-loving predecessor but it’s actually, in many ways, surpassed them. The food at Bread and Wine still fits in the British minimalist vibe set by St. JOHN but it’s served in a more casual, less austere environment that suits the cooking’s lack of pretension. A very worthy spot that has more than earned its place on this list of the best British restaurants.
94-96 Commercial Street, E1 6LZ
The Hawksmoor group can, along with Messrs Dishoom and BAO, lay comfortable claim to being of the best chains in London. With seven restaurants spread across the city, each is regularly packed to the rafters with customers looking for a taste of rare rib-eyes and succulent sirloins. Hawksmoor, if you hadn’t guessed it by now, specialises in steak and remains one of the most consistent spots for beef-eating around town. Proper British starters like potted beef and bacon with Yorkshires and onion gravy might sound a bit OTT but they work perfectly in the heavy cutlery context of the restaurant.
There aren’t many restaurants in London that are more steeped in the city’s wonderfully seedy history than Quo Vadis. Formerly a brothel and the home of Karl Marx, this restaurant and members' club serves seasonal, regional British cooking with a real sense of panache. Chef Jeremy Lee is the man behind the menu and his bon vivant approach to hospitality is just one of the many, many things that make Quo Vadis so special. A rather faultless restaurant.
26-29 Dean Street, W1D 3LL
The Camberwell Arms
Pubs are the lifeblood of British culture. The nation practically bleeds lager so you can’t be too surprised that some of the best places to find British food in the city also happen to be pubs. If you’re after some of the finest British cooking south of the river then The Camberwell Arms is probably what you’re after. It’s a pub, it’s a restaurant, and it’s a bloody ripper. When the chefs here are on form, there’s nowhere I’d rather be than at a table inn the corner with a pint of Guinness and too many plates of food in front of me.
65 Camberwell Church Street, SE5 8TR
Proper caffs in London are becoming increasingly rare. Skyrocketing rents and a dwindling desire for the classic fried breakfast have seen many shut up shop for good. Norman’s, however, is not a caff – it’s an accents-and-all café populated by yuppies and young parents in beanies simply styled after a traditional London caff. It might cater for a very different target market but the prices are still low in comparison to other wallet-gouging brunches, the ingredients they’re using are really high quality, and it’s all cooked well. Norman’s is very, very good at what it does and it’s worth a visit if you’re after a really solid breakfast and a glimpse at what the future of the full English looks like.
167 Junction Road, Archway, N19 5PZ
40 Maltby Street
Open for dinner Wednesday to Saturday and running a strict no-reservations policy, 40 Maltby Street is one of the harder tables to get if you’re after prime time dining. The reason those tables are so scarce is that this restaurant is very, very good. In fact, good doesn’t really do it justice. It’s excellent. The menu is always perfectly weighted with a mix of life-affirming snacks and larger plates; every dish is well-sourced and sharply composed. This is one of the best British restaurants in London bar none.
40 Maltby Street, SE1 3PA
Inspired by the simple, seafood-forward cooking that chef-restaurateur Jackson Boxer encountered in his youth spent holidaying in the Western Isles, Orasay is a British restaurant you should absolutely have on your radar. The laidback bistro atmosphere is part of the restaurant’s charm and it’s always a balm to dine somewhere in west London that isn’t completely hounded with the Made in Chelsea set. The fish is fresh, served with a few simple ingredients, and allowed to shine. As it should be. Is Orasay one of the best British restaurants in London? Certainly.
31 Kensington Park Road, W11 2EU
The Anchor and Hope
Established in 2003, The Anchor and Hope is a pub where there’s so much more going on than meets the eye. Start with a hunk of Little Bread Pedlar sourdough slathered in good french butter before moving on to other franglais dishes like Provençal beef shank and Dorset skate and spinach with crab beurre blanc. It doesn’t matter what you order, to be honest, because it’s damn hard to go wrong with a meal here. This bilingual pub simultaneously manages to serve some of the best British and French cuisine in the capital. Not an easy feat.
36 The Cut, SE1 8LP
Holborn Dining Room
Let’s face it: you’re going to Holborn Dining Room for the pies. Eating in the restaurant’s private pie room is a one-of-a-kind dining experience; however, even if you’re in the main room sampling the normal menu, it’s those flaky, weighty pies that you’ll want to be getting in a round of. Filled with everything from chicken, chestnut mushroom, and tarragon to Dauphinoise potato, the pies are picture-perfect and look like something straight out of a children’s storybook. They’re a far cry from your football stadium pukka pie in terms of price but they’re streets ahead when it comes to quality, too. If there was ever a dish that summed up HDR’s retro approach to British cuisine it’d be the dense and delicious beef cheek and celeriac steamed suet pudding.
252 High Holborn, WC1V 7EN
The Clarence Tavern
Working with quality producers like Neal’s Yard Dairy, Swaledale Butchers, and E5 Bakery is just one of the many, many reasons why The Clarence Tavern is so damn good. Not only is their sourcing of ingredients impeccable but the chefs are all dab hands on the stoves and able to give those ingredients the love and attention they deserve. This isn’t just a steak, chips, and pie kind of pub – you can find sauce vierge and courgette caponata on the menu, darling – but I’d be lying if I said the steak, chips, and pie at this joint weren’t all really, really good. It’s pub grub made with a difference. And that difference is heaps of skill.
102 Stoke Newington Church Street, N16 0LA
Stodge is all well and good but the thing that British cuisine does the best, in my eyes, is fish. Give me a freshly caught fish that’s been shown the pan with a dangerous amount of butter and I am a happy man. And that’s just the sort of thing you can expect from Parsons. This unassuming spot specialises in the classics and boasts a medley of fish dishes inspired by the British Isles. Potted shrimp croquettes. Cod cheek fritters. Cornish mackerel with pickled red cabbage. There’s all that (and so much more) at this seafood lover’s paradise.
39 Endell Street, WC2H 9BA
Good food is one thing but serving quality plates of cooking in a pleasant atmosphere with excellent hospitality is a lot more difficult than it looks Llewelyn’s in Herne Hill is a restaurant that makes it look easy. This place is on most people’s list of the best romantic restaurants in London (including my own) and it’s not hard to see why. As well as being one of its most swoon-worthy, it's also one of its most British. I’ve got a feeling that Colin Firth would love this restaurant – that’s the sort of vibe that Llewelyn’s gives out.
293-295 Railton Road, SE24 0JP
Occupying an antique-filled Georgian mansion, Brunswick House has one of the most breathtaking dining rooms in the whole of London. It’s a proper gasp-when-you-walk-in sort of spot and the food is – thankfully – more than capable of living up to the standards set by the decor. Come for the well-timed Tamworth chops and west country lamb rump, stay for the warmth that emanates from every member of staff. Lunch or dinner here is a real hospitable affair.
30 Wandsworth Road, SW8 2LG