Our pick of the best heritage restaurants, seasonal produce and pubs in Britain
Historic London restaurants
Combine a meal out with a trip back in time at one of London’s historic restaurants. Pinning down the oldest restaurant in the capital is a challenge because the word itself only appeared in the 1820s. But before that, lots of pubs and street stalls in London sold food – oysters and pies being particularly popular. Today, a wealth of restaurants and pubs proudly display their roots, serving British classics in charming settings.
Founded in 1798 by Thomas Rule as an oyster bar, Rules in Covent Garden has a strong claim as one of the oldest places still around. Offering traditional British dishes (game, as well as more oysters and pies), it has served a long list of illustrious diners in its time: from Charles Dickens and Laurence Olivier to Clark Gable and Charlie Chaplin. Look out for its wittily-named cocktails including Kate Middleton’s ‘Royal 29’ with No2 Gin and Finlandia Vodka, and Meghan’s ‘Royal 19’ with Cuvee Champagne.
Wiltons in Jermyn Street also started life selling shellfish, back in an even earlier 1742 (it celebrates its 275th birthday this year). Initially, it was a stall, before becoming a fishmongers’ and then a seafood restaurant. It gained its first Royal Warrant in 1836 for supplying oysters to the Royal household; Queen Victoria was later said to be a fan. Today, it offers an oyster bar as well as upmarket takes on other British dishes, from lamb cutlets with mint jelly to bread and butter pudding with vanilla custard.
Staking a claim as one of the oldest pubs is The Punchbowl in Mayfair, which was founded in 1729. Selling itself as ‘a slice of cosy countryside in the heart of the city’, framed cartoons, Toby jugs and candlelight furnish this Grade II-listed Georgian building. Tuck into ale-battered fish and chips or hearty burgers with hand-cut chips in the pub area, or book a table in the elegant dining room for a special occasion.
For more comfort food, equally well-executed, head to The White Swan Pub & Chophouse in the City of London. Meat from heritage breeds raised at British farms is the focus of this chophouse, a 16th-century institution embracing feasts, good company, fine wines and ales. The menu, which boasts ‘gutsy flavours’, includes venison mince and turnips, Hebridean hogget with kale and gravy, and Longhorn brisket steak with bone marrow mash. There are fish and vegan options, too. Exposed brickwork and vintage Champagne racks add a touch of indulgence to the surroundings.