These are London’s oldest restaurants

They were here before you, and they’ll be here after you’ve gone. But how do these ancient eateries outlive the competition? (And are they any good?)

Some of them are older than America. Others still pre-date the bicycle. All of them have been around longer than you. Here are London’s most venerable, aged, but undying restaurants — and their remarkable lessons in longevity. Live long, eat well, be merry.

Wiltons (Founded 1742)

You’ll have filed Wiltons in your mental library under “restaurants you can still acceptably take your grandfather to”, “places where round, red men go to nap”, and “things older than America”.

It is that last point which is most telling. Wiltons turned 276 this year, and it’s fair to say that its dining room has done a fat lot more good for the world’s cultural and economic prosperity in those years than the teenaged nation across the pond.

Indeed, it’s a not-very-well-kept secret that Wiltons was, for many years, the proxy financial centre for the real dealmakers of London, back in an age before email addresses and compliance lawyers, when due diligence amounted to little more than “was he a good scrum half at prep school” and “where does he buy his shirts” (just across the street at Turnbull & Asser, presumably).

In fact, Michael Heseltine, the former Deputy Prime Minister and co-founder of the publishing behemoth Haymarket, memorably described Wiltons as his company’s “work canteen”.  

Good seafood, too.

Good to know:

Survival tactic: You’ve got to network to get-work.

Timeless dish: Oysters

As old as:  George Frideric Handel’s oratorio The Messiah

These are London’s oldest restaurants

Wiltons Restaurant

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Simpsons Tavern (Founded 1757)

Even in the mid-eighteenth century, Simpson’s was a place of heritage and custom. “Traditions and customs were strictly maintained at mealtimes by the Chairman who would preside over each meal,” reads the history of the place.

“It was they who, for instance, would ensure that lunch would start promptly at one, introduce notable guests and measure the cheese. Many of them were noted for their longevity of life.”

Simpson’s has outlasted even these long-lived cheese-measurers. A traditional chop house, the East London institution still serves calves liver and bacon, devilled kidneys, chump chops and a joyous mixed grill, which is happily worth its toll in early-onset gout.

Good to know:

Survival tactic: Routine, tradition and custom are the keys to a long and fruitful life.

Timeless dish: Stewed cheese dessert

As old as: William Blake

These are London’s oldest restaurants

Simpsons Tavern

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Rules (Founded 1798)

These are London’s oldest restaurants

The headline for the Rules website (so modern!) says it all: “London’s oldest restaurant. It serves traditional food.” And while the title of “oldest” is up for debate, you can’t fault the sentiment. This is a traditional place that is proud of its past.

History in a restaurant is rarely a sign of class, as it may be in a watch brand, for example. But here, age is everything. This is a serious, proper, grown up, unpretentious, generous establishment that knows it has been at the top of its game for centuries.

Rules does classical British cuisine, inflected heavily by the french fine-dining revolution of the nineteenth century. Expect rich game, pot roasted bits and pieces, steamed steak and kidney puddings.

It’s all wonderfully comforting and utterly confident of its place in the world. The jugged hare is a must.

Good to know:

Survival tactic: If you’re good, never, never change.

Timeless dish: Roast young grouse

As old as: The Smallpox vaccine

These are London’s oldest restaurants

Rules Restaurant

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Simpsons In The Strand

These are London’s oldest restaurants

“Simpson’s in the Strand is unique. Here, if he wishes, the Briton may, for the small sum of half a dollar, stupefy himself with food,” so wrote P.G Wodehouse in 1915.

“It is a pleasant, soothing, hearty place — a restful temple of food.” Those words could have been written yesterday (though the rates may have adjusted slightly. Inflation, you understand).

Simpson’s-in-the-Strand is still a magical, defiantly old-fashioned temple to hearty eating. The menu, which was updated thoroughly last year, is fulsome and honest, with a reliance on locally sourced, well-reared ingredients that speaks of the patrons who have crossed its parquet flooring. (Princess Diana hosted her staff Christmas party here in 1993, for example.)

Though the place has been pepped up and updated over the centuries, the powers-that-be have preserved Winston Churchill’s favourite table in its rightful position by the far fireplace.

The gutsome Commander in Chief prized that seat as the premier vantage point in London – from it he could see the town’s Who’s Who toing and froing, as the waiters and diary writers cooed and lowed.

One senses the old boy would still approve.

Good to know:

Survival tactic: Have famous friends (and lots of them.)

Timeless dish: Roast rib of Scottish beef from the trolly

As old as: The Democratic Party of the United States

These are London’s oldest restaurants

Simpsons In The Strand

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Sweetings (Founded 1830)

These are London’s oldest restaurants

Sweetings advertised itself as some “Very Superior Oyster Rooms” way back in the nineteenth century, when lobster was thought a food for peasants and oysters had never heard of Whispering Angel.

Fortunes may have changed for seafood, but little has changed at Sweetings, which still retains the wonderfully ramshackle and down-to-earth sensibilities of its working man’s routes.

Its seafood is still excellent, and the menu has not strayed very far at all from its beginnings — expect lobster bisque, potted shrimp and smoked eel by the plate-load.

With DNA like that, it’s likely that Sweetings will long outlive the vast banking establishments that have sprung up around it in the City.

Good to know:

Survival tactic: Do one thing incredibly well.

Timeless dish: Dover sole

As old as: The Book of Mormon (the holy text, not the hit musical)

These are London’s oldest restaurants

Sweetings Restaurant

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Further Reading