London’s Oldest Restaurants

By Ellie Smith

11 months ago

These legendary eateries have stood the test of time


New restaurants open every week in the capital, but that doesn’t mean we should forget about the golden oldies. Some eateries have been around for centuries, and have all sorts of interesting stories and secrets embedded in their walls – from hosting royaltyhosting royalty to witnessing World Wars. Years on, they retain their traditional British charm, while staying relevant with modern twists, refurbs and buzzy chefs. From the legendary Rules which dates back to 1798 to seafood stalwart J Sheekey’s, here are the oldest restaurants in London.

Oldest Restaurants in London

Wiltons Jimmy Marks Room

Wiltons

When George William Wilton opened his shellfish-mongers in Haymarket back in 1742, he never would have thought it would still be thriving over 280 years later. One of the capital’s most esteemed seafood restaurants, Wiltons has a rich history: the shop passed through George’s family, changing names and moving locations a few times over the years – eventually arriving at its current home in Jermyn Street in 1984. But the heart of the venue has always remained the same: timeless elegance and top-quality British fare. Oysters were a success there from the get-go, attracting the attention of Queen Victoria, who granted the restaurant its first Royal Warrant in 1836. Other signature dishes include the Dover Sole, which is filleted at the table for you, alongside a carving trolley which serves up a different meat each day.

55 Jermyn St, St. James’s, London SW1Y 6LX, wiltons.co.uk

Rules

The official oldest restaurant in London is Rules in Covent Garden, which opened its doors in 1798. Its 200-year history has spanned the reigns of nine monarchs – though, surprisingly, only three families have owned the restaurant since it first began. The original founder was Thomas Rule, who launched it initially as an oyster bar, passing it down through the generations. It even stayed open through the Second World War, offering rationed meals for five shillings – and, over the years, a whole host of literary figures and actors have dined there, from Charles Dickens to William Thackeray. The restaurant has also appeared in a number of novels and TV shows, including recent cameos in Downtown Abbey and Spectre. The sense of heritage remains to this day, with a menu focused on traditional British food, specialising in game cookery, oysters, pies and puddings.

34-35 Maiden Ln, London WC2E 7LB, rules.co.uk

Veeraswamy

The capital’s oldest Indian restaurant shares a birthday with the late Queen Elizabeth II, opening in 1926 by the grandson of an English army general and an Indian princess. When it launched on Regent Street, Veeraswamy was the first of its kind, offering authentic Indian food among opulent surroundings. It quickly became a hotspot for the rich and famous, attracting royals such as Edward, the Prince of Wales, alongside influential Indians, such as Indira Gandhi. In the 80s, the restaurant underwent a transformation, giving it a contemporary twist alongside a new menu. If you visit today you’ll be treated to a mix of classical and modern Indian cooking – highlights include roast duck vindaloo and lamb shank cooked for six hours in a marrow sauce.

Victory House, 99 Regent St., London W1B 4RS, veeraswamy.com

J Sheekey

J Sheekey

This West End stalwart had its beginnings in 1893, when Josef Sheekey was granted permission by Lord Salisbury to serve fish in St Martin’s Court – in return for supplying meals to Salisbury’s post-theatre dinner parties. And so Sheekey’s was born: another of London’s oldest and most iconic restaurants. A string of A-listers have been spotted there over the years, from Kate Moss to the Beckhams, who flock there to soak up its perennially buzzy atmosphere and tuck into decadent fruits de mer platters and the legendary fish pie.

28-32 St Martin’s Ct, London WC2N 4AL; j-sheekey.co.uk

Kettner's Townhouse champagne bar

Kettner’s Townhouse

It might be a surprise to Soho House regulars, but Kettner’s Townhouse was one of the capital’s first French restaurants. The original venue opened its doors back in 1867 under the helm of a German chef called August Kettner – believed to have been employed by Napoleon III. In its early days, Kettner’s developed a somewhat risqué reputation. It was reportedly the courting place for King Edward VIII and his mistress Lillie Langtry, and rumour has it he even ordered for a secret tunnel to be built between the restaurant and the theatre where she performed. Oscar Wilde was a regular and, over the years, it has played host to everyone from Winston Churchill to Margaret Thatcher. Nowadays, you’re more likely to spot young London socialites there: the Soho institution was bought by Soho House in 2016, swapping traditional French food with British dishes with a Mediterranean twist. Despite being part of the members’ club, the restaurant recently reopened to the public.

29 Romilly St, London W1D 5AL, sohohouse.com

Bentley's Oyster Bar

Bentley’s Oyster Bar & Grill

For over 100 years, glamorous Londoners have been popping into Bentley’s on Swallow Street for oysters and champagne. After being founded by the eponymous Bill Bentley in 1916, it was an instant hit, renowned for its convivial atmosphere. The restaurant underwent a bit of a dip under the ownership of disgraced businessman Oscar Owide, but in 2005 Richard Corrigan stepped in to return it to its former glory. Oysters remain the centrepiece, with over 1,000 shucked each day – from the classic Jersey to Vietnamese dressed and garlic baked – alongside fresh, seasonal seafood and game. The vibe remains celebratory and lively, particularly at the downstairs bar.

11-15 Swallow St, London W1B 4DG, bentleys.org

Simpson's in the Strand

Simpson’s in the Strand

This London institution has been standing proudly in the West End since 1828 – though initially it was opened as a club, becoming a restaurant in 1848, frequented by names like Arthur Conan Doyle and Charles Dickens. It’s a mere hop, skip and jump from The Savoy, and was refurbished under The Savoy’s name in 2017 after murmurs that it was losing its touch. The restaurant is known for its top-class old-school service and delicious English dishes with a twist: the perfect roast beef which is wheeled directly to your table on a huge silver trolley and carved before your eyes – this celebrated tradition began as a way to avoid disturbing chess games in progress. However, the restaurant’s future is looking a little uncertain at the moment. It has been closed since 2020, and it was recently announced that some of its furniture – including the famed silver trolleys – is being auctioned off this August. Could this be the beginning of the end?

100 Strand, London WC2R 0EW, simpsonsinthestrand.co.uk