Which are the oldest surviving restaurants in London?
Although the word 'restaurant' dates from 18th-century Paris, it wasn't until the mid-19th century that a fashion for fine dining really caught on in London
Some existing eating establishments evolved to meet the trend, and still draw crowds today. Rules, established in Covent Garden in 1798, is generally accepted to be the city’s oldest surviving restaurant. Now famous for its traditional British cuisine, it first drew well-to-do gents primarily as an oyster bar.
Simpson’s-in-the-Strand opened in 1828 as a coffeehouse and chess club, where customers were wheeled silver platters of meat so as not to interrupt their long games. By 1848, it was described as a “grand restauratum”.
This transition towards the continental preference for haute cuisine was cemented with the launch of huge, lavishly decorated establishments with a host of waiters and a printed menu.
Kettner’s was founded in Soho in 1867 by a former chef of Napoleon III, and was frequented by Oscar Wilde and the future Edward VII. In Piccadilly Circus seven years later came the grand complex Criterion, with an opulent restaurant, theatre and ballroom.
From specialist upper-class haunts to those offering a more inclusive (but undeniably more luxurious) dining experience, each establishment marks a different moment in the development of London dining.