What makes a restaurant truly iconic? The food? The interiors? The history? Or could it be that certain indefinable quality that lends itself to the most renowned establishments; a feeling you get when you set foot through the door that tells you you’re in for an utterly unique, treasured experience — one that you’ll be talking about for years to come?
Iconicity can certainly be a difficult factor to put one’s finger on; but regardless, there are restaurants that are indisputable, inarguable icons of the culinary sphere. And so we’ve curated a selection of the 50 most iconic restaurants of all time: a collection of establishments that maintain their proud, undisputed iconic status, and which will go down in gastronomic history as the icons they truly are.
Wiltons, Jermyn Street
When a restaurant’s been going since 1742, you know it’s got something special. And where Wiltons is concerned, ‘special’ translates to ‘one of the greatest culinary institutions ever to have graced the world’s gastronomic stage’. With its history (and current cuisine) rooted firmly in oysters, it’s a treat for food lovers and history aficionados alike.
What to order: Oysters. No question. Choose from Loch Ryan Natives, West Mersea Natives, Jersey Rock oysters or abundant other choices; just make sure to order oysters.
Osteria Francescana, Modena
Fancy going on a journey? We bet you do, in this era of travel restrictions; but once you arrive at this iconic restaurant, you won’t need a negative PCR in order to travel your way through the menu. Because it is a journey: a journey that starts at the table, with its pristine white tablecloth, and continues through Italian landscapes, traditions and passions. As the team are keen to emphasise: ‘it is not mathematical. It is emotional.’
What to order: ‘Misery and Nobility: spaghettini alla Cetarese with smoked mozzarella and caviar’. If you’re wondering how a dish can be both miserable and noble, we’d advice ordering this one forthwith.
Langan’s Brasserie, Mayfair
It’s long been a bastion of London’s culinary scene; and it’s set to reopen in autumn of this year, when it’ll be fully restored to its former — breathtakingly glamorous — glory. If you were unaware of Langan’s before, that glory is one of timeless style, jaw-dropping luxury and blissful escapism. It’s a London institution in every possible sense; with a ground floor lounge, shellfish bar and invitation-only late lounge among its offerings, the reopened Langan’s will have tongues wagging all over Mayfair (and beyond).
What to order: Well, who’d go to a shellfish bar and omit to order oysters; or caviar; or both?
It was the stuff of legends. It was where celebrities flocked to; and where everyone else flocked to in order to catch a glimpse of the world’s elite. We’re using the past tense, of course, because Elaine’s is — regrettably — no longer in existence. It closed in 2011, following the passing of its owner, Elaine herself. As Elaine’s partner said, “there is no Elaine’s without Elaine”; and, certainly, her constant presence was a driving force in making the restaurant the icon it still is — and will always be — today.
The Fat Duck, Berkshire
This one will, presumably, ring more than a few bells since it comes to the gastronomy world courtesy of Heston Blumenthal. And as you may therefore be aware: eating at The Fat Duck isn’t about merely popping out for a meal. We’ll avoid cliches by calling it an ‘experience’; instead, it’s more like participating in a fairytale for that brief window of time when you’re party to the sublime, unique menus that only Blumenthal could create. And this year is its 25th anniversary, too: cue a series of ‘anthology menus’. We can’t wait.
What to order: We don’t want to ruin the surprise of the anthology menus; so we’ll just encourage you to say yes to everything. Trust us on this one.
We’ve waxed lyrical about this one before; or, rather, Michelin star chef James Knappett has. Such is its iconic status, that it’ll be recommended by those in the know (and, indeed, those out of the know, too) left right and centre. Knappett described owner and Head Chef Grant Achatz as being “at the forefront of modern culinary creativity”; and who are we to disagree with a Michelin starred recommendation?
What to order: You’ll experience a multi-course tasting menu at the Alinea dining room: a multi-sensory menu that combines fine dining with experimental moments. What more could you want?
Spago, Los Angeles
Ever heard of Wolfgang Puck? Well, you have now; he’s a chef (and rather a good one, at that), and Spago is his flagship restaurant. Snugly nestled among the lush palm trees and blazing sunshine of Beverly Hills, it serves — would you believe it — Californian cuisine, with market-driven menus; and the sleek, minimalist design makes the most of natural ingredients for a thoroughly organic aesthetic.
What to order: Lacquered Liberty Farm’s Duck Breast. There’s just nothing like it.
St. John, Smithfield
We assume you’ve been to this London stalwart? Opened by Fergus Henderson and Trevor Gulliver in a disused smokehouse, it’s a restaurant with a distinct philosophy: one of ‘purpose and simplicity’. Henderson famously ‘puts it on the plate’ (he’s largely responsible for the vast appetite for offal dishes we see everywhere today, thanks to his work at St. John) and Trevor ‘puts it in the glass’. There you go: purpose and simplicity.
What to order: The menus are updated daily; but on the day of writing, we’d have to go with the Pig Tongue, Chickpea and Green Sauce.
Sukiyabashi Jiro, Japan
Have you been watching Jiro Dreams Of Sushi on Netflix? Yep — this restaurant is so iconic that a documentary has been dedicated to it; or, more specifically, to Jiro Ono himself. Trust us, gents; this is sushi like you’ve never experienced sushi before. You’ll never be able to eat sushi out of a plastic supermarket carton again; but it’ll be worth it. The website encourages guests ‘not to be late’, to ensure you enjoy your sushi to the fullest; and with just ten counter seats, you’ll want to book that reservation promptly.
What to order: Whatever Ono recommends. The guy is a sushi icon. He knows his stuff.
El Bulli, Catalonia
It brings us no pleasure to say that this particular iconic restaurant is no more. The news that it would close in 2011 sent the culinary industry into paroxysms of grief; such was its status as a culinary tour de force. Ferran Adrià long ago joined the hallowed halls of iconic chefs; and El Bulli will always be renowned as one of most experimental, avant garde restaurants known to man (or food) — we’re talking lobster gazpacho, for one.
It’s a glittering stalwart of London’s culinary scene; and we’re not the only ones who think so. Ian Fleming was often to be found at Scott’s Bar in the 1950s and 60s; and the restaurant’s ineffable luxury, elegance and style continue to see the world’s elite flocking through its doors.
What to order: Head straight to the world-famous Oyster and Champagne bar; and keep those oysters coming. (And the champagne, of course. Always the champagne.)
If iconicity is found in food, Noma would be raking in those culinary icon medals like there’s no tomorrow. Co-owner René Redzepi coined a new genre of cuisine, aptly named ‘New Nordic’; and it focuses on foraged, seasonal ingredients with a strong emphasis on fermentation. The restaurant offers just three menus per year; and the ‘Summer Season’ offering (June — September) promises lots of ‘delicious vegetables’, together with seafood. Just the thing for the post-Covid health boom.
What to order: Vegetables. Doesn’t matter which ones. Just make the most of them — they’re among the best vegetables you’ll ever eat.
Alain Ducasse au Plaza Athénée, Paris
If you’ve been paying attention, you’ll be no stranger to Alain Ducasse. This restaurant is, sadly, closed (for now, at least — we’re holding out hope); but it changed the world of haute cuisine forever, with its removal of meat and emphasis on ethical consumption; and its futuristic dining rooms, with curved seats rounded by sleek, glossy steel in the manner of cloches, will surely be remembered forever.
El Celler de Can Roca, Girona
The Roca brothers’ culinary reputation precedes them — they’re among the great and the good of modern gastronomy — and this particular restaurant is famously ever-evolving. It’s described as the most definitive of the Roca brothers’ enterprises, but strives for constant innovation and creation. The dining room is structured around an interior forest (yes, really), and guests are encouraged to engage in a ‘dance of the senses’.
What to order: The ever-evolving nature of the restaurant means there’s no definitive answer here; but you’ll be good to go with any number of the traditional Catalan recipes on offer.
The Test Kitchen, Cape Town
It’s the first fine dining restaurant to have opened in Woodstock, Cape Town. We’ve got Luke Dale-Roberts to thank for this one; and his genius sees world-renowned dishes being prepared with a unique South African twist. This one’s a sensory experience; be prepared to get involved.
What to order: If you’re having dinner, you’ll be party to the set ‘Discovery Menu’: from which we have a particular fondness for the Coconut Laksa.
As you’d expect from a restaurant housed in Singapore’s National Gallery, it’s worth visiting for the aesthetics alone: stepping inside is a little like stepping into a warm bath, such is its instant aura of relaxation and luxury; not to mention the glass-enclosed kitchen, through which guests can watch their dishes being prepared in front of their very eyes. Cuisine-wise, it offers supremely refined French dining: inspired by Odette herself, the grandmother of Chef Julien Royer.
What to order: Something you’d be happy to watch as it’s prepared. That said, these chefs know their stuff; so that’s probably the whole menu, really.
Marco Pierre White is another chef to have carved his name into the culinary Walk of Fame; and he lent his gastronomic skills to this somewhat enigmatic restaurant. While it was open, between 1987 and 1993, it was less of an enigma and more of a talking (or shouting) point among food lovers and A-listers alike. Now, however, it can be viewed through a haze of nostalgia and fond reminiscences, owing to its closing before the age of social media (and, indeed, before the Internet took off). It may not be widely documented in cyberspace; but you can rest assured it’ll trip off the tongue of anyone who knows their culinary icons.
As luck would have it, it’s another restaurant recommended to us only this week: this time by two Michelin starred chefs (Jason Atherton and Mark Birchall). And for good reason, too: if creativity is one of the bastions of what makes an iconic restaurant, then this restaurant is well and truly in the icon hall of fame: the modern Nordic cuisine with Japanese influences is as original — and delicious — as they come.
What to order: It’s a fixed menu; so we’d suggest merely sitting back and enjoying whatever is placed in front of you. And enjoy it, you will: trust us.
Le Caprice, St. James’s
If a culinary icon is measured in terms of the human icons who’ve visited it, then Le Caprice must surely be among the very greatest culinary icons of them all. Covid-19 saw it shut its doors last year (before reopening as a training academy); but in those good old pre-Covid days, Le Caprice — situated just behind the Ritz — was an undisputedly iconic restaurant. Diana, Princess of Wales, was such a regular that she always sat at her own corner table; and the restaurant’s other A-list frequenters could fill a book.
The French Laundry, Napa Valley
It’s sleek, it’s chic; and it’s iconic, in every possible sense. Chef Thomas Keller had a dream of bringing fine French cuisine to the Napa Valley. When he stumbled across a rustic cottage, he knew he’d found his setting — and the rest is culinary history. Cut to today, and the restaurant is sleek, stylish and has a daily changing menu bursting with classic French ingredients.
What to order: Since the menu changes daily, we can’t be too overbearing on this one. But if you’d visited on 12th August, we’d have encouraged you to go for the Wolfe Ranch White Quail “Rillettes”.
White Rabbit, Moscow
With panoramic views across one of the most beautiful cities in the world, this restaurant is a force to be reckoned with in terms of location alone. But that’s before you even take into account the exceptionally creative cuisine, courtesy of Vladimir Mukhin who utilises the very finest Russian ingredients; or the Alice in Wonderland theme that pervades the space and helps guests to understand that this isn’t an experience confined to the palate.
What to order: Go for the Metamorphoses tasting menu. You’ll never look back.
Pierre Gagnaire, Paris
It’s the flagship restaurant of the world-famous chef of the same name (who, presumably, needs no introduction…); offering modern French cuisine, it’s broadly recognised as a flag bearer for the very best fusion cooking across the world. Gagnaire himself describes his culinary ethos as ‘facing tomorrow but respectful of yesterday’; so you can expect forward-thinking cuisine with its roots in heritage and tradition.
What to order: The Royale spiny lobster and artichoke from the Bretagne region. Can’t be matched.
What if we told you there was a restaurant uniting multi-sensory technology with food, to create a totally unique, unprecedented dining experience? We don’t want to spoil the (inevitable) surprise by saying too much more here — but we will say that this restaurant was 16 years in the making by inimitable French chef Paul Pairet. And once you see — or, rather, experience — the high tech theatrics, you’ll understand why.
What to order: That would be telling…
Basil’s Bar, Mustique
Ok, you’re right; it’s known more for its rum punch than for its cuisine. But, frankly, the Mustique rum punch is an icon in its own right (as is proprietor Basil Charles himself), not to mention the enduring legendary status of the bar; and the recent addition of Head Chef Luke Ferguson has seen a revamped menu that’ll enable guests to sip their rum punch while watching for that green flash and waiting for their indubitably excellent meal to arrive.
What to order: You’ll be spoiled for choice; but we’ve got our eye on the Squash & Coconut Arancini, followed by the Prawn Linguine.
The Ritz Restaurant, St. James’s
It would hardly be an accurate list of culinary icons if we didn’t include The Ritz Restaurant. Michelin star chef Victor Garvey informed Gentleman’s Journal that this is his favourite restaurant of all time, and we’re hardly surprised; those lavish interiors — not to mention its exquisite French cooking and inexhaustive history — have cemented it as a culinary icon forevermore.
What to order: From the ‘Arts de la Table’: you could certainly do worse than the Bresse Duck.
Ithaa Undersea Restaurant, The Maldives
Undersea means — quite literally — under the sea. Part of the Conrad Maldives hotel, guests who eat at this restaurant will be seated five metres below the ocean’s surface; if panoramic ocean views comprised of the actual ocean — not to mention the myriad fish species that will swim their way past you and your fellow diners while you eat — isn’t a criteria for iconicity, we really don’t know what is.
What to order: The set menus are matched with unique wine concepts; and they’re composed of local flavours, fusion style and Western influences.
La Tour d’Argent, Paris
It’s a centuries-old restaurant imbued with tradition, glamour and heritage to the last degree. Poised by the River Seine, its history could fill pages; Henry IV famously frequented the establishment (favouring the heron pâté), and various other world leaders opted to stroll through those doors across the centuries. The rest, as they fondly say, is history; and La Tour d’Argent continues its world famous iconic status.
What to order: If you don’t order duck in some form or another, you’d be committing a grave culinary faux-pas.
Blue Hill at Stone Barns, Pocantico Hills
We’ve been fairly urban-centred with our iconic restaurant choices so far; so this farmstead restaurant, set in 80 glorious acres just 30 miles north of Manhattan, should appeal to all you country gentlemen. ‘Eco-friendly’ is the phrase du jour here; chef Dan Barber is keen to extract every ounce of flavour from ingredients found in the ground, and they often leave said ground just hours before ending up on the plate you’ll find in front of you.
What to order: A 30-course tasting menu? Say no more…
Wolfgat, South Africa
The restaurant building dates back some 130 years; but of greater significance is the Wolfgat cave that remains on the premises. Anyone with a penchant for archaeology or geology should prick their ears (or, rather, eyes) up here: one archaeological survey found ceramic remains and sheep bones dating back to any time in the last 2000 years.
What to order: It’s a seasonal tasting menu; and, as is increasingly fashionable, it focuses on indigenous ingredients that are sustainably sourced. Book yourself in quickly, though; there are 20 diners per sitting.
Nestled at the foot of a mountain, just a stone’s throw from the Italian border, sits this culinary gem which spills over three levels on the picturesque mountainside. The interiors are no less spectacular; with panoramic views of the sea and more light than you’d think one room can hold, you’ll find yourself unable to resist capturing the moment on your phone repeatedly throughout the meal.
What to order: We want to leave something to the imagination. But we will add that chef Mauro Colagreco’s current culinary ‘pick of the month’ is girolles (a small, flavourful mushroom; make of that what you will.
The Polo Lounge at The Beverly Hills Hotel
We wouldn’t be doing our iconic due diligence if we didn’t mention the Polo Lounge. You’ve doubtless heard of it; you might even have been lucky enough to step foot through those hallowed doors, where so many Hollywood A-listers have stepped before. Once described as ‘Hollywood’s commissary’, that candy-striped ceiling is a design icon in and of itself; and the abundantly lush greenery all echoes the unique aesthetic of the one and only Beverly Hills Hotel.
What to order: For dinner, we’d suggest the Steak Tartare, followed by the Lobster Risotto.
Pasture, New Zealand
A restaurant with just six seats? We’re listening. And you should, too; this is a restaurant you won’t forget in a hurry. There aren’t even any tables: guests are seated at the bar, where they’re presented with a tasting menu that’s been specially curated for the season.
What to order: The tasting menu, naturally. Not that you have any choice, really.
It’s sleek; it’s shiny; and it’s got more style than you could shake a piece of polished wood at. Like many of the restaurants on this list, the food is constantly changing; and the cuisine quite literally has its roots in Mexican ingredients, with a focus on foraged produce and enduring creativity.
What to order: Opt for the tasting menu, where delicacies like ceviche de lubina and nicoatole de fresa await.
The Ledbury, Notting Hill
As luck would have it, it’s been a happy week for this Notting Hill culinary stalwart, courtesy of Brett Graham. Food loving Londoners were crushed to learn last year that The Ledbury wouldn’t be reopening following a period of Covid-19 hardship; but as it turns out, The Ledbury will be opening its doors once again. We don’t yet know when; but we’re thoroughly relieved to know that its iconic story will continue.
What to order: That remains to be seen…
La Colombe d’Or, France
As a cultured, refined gentleman, we know you’ll already know all about this world-renowned institution; all the more so if you’re a Gentleman’s Journal subscriber, since it was featured in this year’s summer issue. Here, we’ll just say that it’s a restaurant steeped in history, good food and great art.
What to order: A lot. It’s a world-famous restaurant; and in these Covid-stricken times, who knows when you’ll be able to go again?
Eleven Madison Park, New York
Overlooking Madison Square Park, this fine dining restaurant is housed at the foot of a historic Art Deco building. Dating back to 1998, it’s long been a stalwart of New York dining; and Chef Daniel Humm has modernised the menu to the high standards you’d expect of such a renowned institution. It’s not cheap; but every dinner paid for at the restaurant provides five meals to New Yorkers experiencing food insecurity. So you’ll have a meal you’ll never forget; and you’ll do a philanthropic deed at the same time.
What to order: Once again, we’d opt for the tasting menu: which consists of purely plant-based dishes. Your body will thank you, we promise.
MNKY HSE, Mayfair
A modern Latin American restaurant, cloistered behind an almost invisible entrance on Dover Street? It’s intriguing before you’ve even set foot through the (almost hidden) door, and once you’re inside, the intrigue continues. It’s a multi-sensory experience, in every sense (literally); and Head Chef Mark Morrans offers up a delightfully bold sharing menu, comprised of original Latin American cuisine.
What to order: In a somewhat recurring theme, you’ll want to opt for the fish; and you could certainly do worse than the Butter Roasted Lobster.
Restaurante Sobrino de Botín, Madrid
It dates back to 1725; and you can assume this is a restaurant that has seen some sights and heard some gossip over the years. Famously, it was Ernest Hemingway’s favourite restaurant; and Graham Greene is another literary icon to have frequented the centuries-old establishment.
What to order: If you know what’s good for you, you’ll opt for the House Menu. Garlic soup and roasted suckling pig both make an appearance; oh, and sangria. You’ll want to order the sangria.
This restaurant is as refreshing as they come. It’s iconic, yes; but there’s nothing fussy or unnecessarily lavish about this world-renowned institution. It doesn’t pontificate; instead, it gets straight down to it with exceptionally rare ingredients (bunya nuts have been known to appear), and guests needn’t always use cutlery if the meal could be better sampled with fingers.
What to order: This is the time to push your culinary boundaries. If you don’t recognise something on the menu, order it.
Patagonia Sur, Buenos Aires
Situated in one of La Boca, one of Buenos Aires’ most famous neighborhoods, this restaurant couldn’t be described as sleek; but it could be described as intimate, chic and the epitome of luxurious neighbourhood cuisine. It’s gourmet; it’s decadent; and you’ll find yourself wanting to linger all night.
What to order: You’ll want to take the chef’s recommendation on this one; grillmaster Francis Mallmann knows what he’s about (and his Argentinian cuisine is as excellent as you’d expect from one of the most iconic restaurants in the world).
Café de la Paix, Paris
Poised on the corner of the Boulevard des Capucines and the Place de l’Opera, this famous institution is a veritable masthead for the thriving (Covid permitting) Paris theatrical industry. Guests over the years have included Victor Hugo, Ernest Hemingway (the man seems to have been everywhere) and Emile Zola; to name just a few.
What to order: If you’re there in the morning, sit outside on one of those pristine chairs and order coffee and a croissant. If you’re there for dinner: the Médaillon de veau façon milanaise will have you sorted.
Le Bernardin, New York
This culinary icon was born in Paris, in 1972, before making its way across the pond to midtown Manhattan. Its specialty appears in the form of seafood; and you can trust us when we say that this is French dining as you’ve never experienced it before.
What to order: The chef’s tasting menu. What else? Expect to find caviar, langoustine and lobster among others; and pair it with a wine (per person) for the full experience.
It’s all about playfulness, creativity and fun. You’ll be there for approximately three hours; if that makes you shudder inwardly, we can assure you that, by the time you’re there, you’ll be fully in the spirit of things. It’s a restaurant that’s all about asking questions, pushing limits and expanding boundaries: and guests will be party to a primal, seasonal culinary experience that they’ll never forget.
What to order: You’ll want to wait to see what’s on offer when you get there, really; but Mugaritz creations include tantalisingly named dishes like “PREJUDICE Strain your Brain”, and “FIRST KISS Natura”. Intrigued? Us, too.
Are you an expert in Brazilian gastronomy? It’s a fairly niche area; but once you’ve experienced it, you won’t want to go back. Created by chef Alex Atala, it shone a light on Brazil’s unique flavours when not a great deal was known about them; and it merges classical and contemporary Brazilian ingredients to tantalise the tastebuds and give guests (limited seating, mind) an experience they’ve never had before.
What to order: Once again, the tasting menu is the only way. The unique gastronomy can’t be done justice with just one dish; best to go for broke.
The Clove Club, Shoreditch
There’s something infinitely bright and bustling about The Clove Club — the birthchild of three friends who used to run an experimental supper club in Shoreditch — which gives it an even more appealing aesthetic in the wake of those empty lockdown London streets. Its modern British menu, too, give it a sprightly feel; as do the perpetual surprises to be found in the rare ingredients and ongoing creativity.
What to order: There’s a tasting menu, which we’d certainly recommend; otherwise, 100 day old Lincolnshire chicken has certainly caught our eye.
The Wolseley, Piccadilly
Splendid, magnificent and endlessly, enduringly iconic: we wouldn’t normally heap so many superlatives on one institution, but when it comes to The Wolseley we’ll make an exception. We’d know that domed ceiling, sweeping staircase and glittering, sparkling aesthetic anywhere: and we’re betting you would, too.
What to order: Opt for oysters. Or prawns. Or the Salmon Rillettes; or the Potato Mousseline. Or the Escargots. Oh, just order it all. You only live once.
El Floridita, Los Angeles
If walls could talk, these walls would have a field day. It’s a world-famous Hollywood restaurant, named after the bodeguita in La Habana, Cuba; and it serves up authentic Cuban and Caribbean cuisine from (relative) dawn till dusk. The original Floridita was a haven for A-listers across the world, and this newer iteration is no different.
What to order: Take the plunge, and order something you’ve never had before. Rope Vieja? Go for it. Pierna de Puerco? Just say yes.
Café de Flore, Paris
If ever a coffeehouse could be described as a celebrity haunt, it would be this one. It manages to seamlessly merge charm with prestige; and its extensive guestbook over the years includes Pablo Picasso, among others (on which note: the Art Deco interior, rife with red seating and mahogany, has been virtually untouched since the Second World War).
What to order: Rillettes of pork with Poilâne bread. Indisputable.
Dinner by Heston Blumenthal, Knightsbridge
We’ve mentioned Blumenthal twice; but that’s for good reason. The man is a culinary icon in and of himself, and his restaurants will likely carry his legacy on forever. With a restaurant name chosen for its ‘linguistic playfulness’, you can assume the food will be unlike any other food you’ve eaten before; and you’d be right.
What to order: The Truffle, followed by the Roast Halibut & Green Sauce. It’ll be a meal you’ll never forget.
Café Tortoni, Buenos Aires
If there was ever an intellectual hub, it would be this one. This world-famous coffee house has borne witness to conversations happening between the likes of Albert Einstein, Hillary Clinton, Robert Duvall and Federico García Lorca (not all together, of course; that would be quite a feat).
What to order: You wouldn’t usually catch us saying this where any sort of food and drink is concerned; but here, we’d recommend simply ordering a strong coffee, before engaging in your best intellectual discourse. It seems only fitting, after all.
Looking for more iconic destinations? Here are 50 hotels every gentleman should visit before he dies…
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