Who needs London’s TikTok restaurants when you have the classics?

London, you’ll be happy to hear, is finally properly eating out again.

Last year a whopping 253 new restaurants opened in the capital, the most since 2019, after which we saw the brutal gutting of hospitality in the wake of the pandemic. Over the past four years hundreds of long-standing London favourites, from iconic greasy spoons such as The Shepherdess Cafe in Hoxton to pioneering vegetarian restaurant Vanilla Black, have closed. So how nice it is that a host of new restaurants are giving it a go, letting loose a wave of young chefs on our palettes, all of whom keen to find out if they have what it takes to be a culinary success in the dicy, treacherous world of London food.

These are the places that have qualities that outlive immersive disco toilets

A prime example from the new school is Abby Lee and her magnificent Mambow, which has just topped our brand new 2024 list of the Best Restaurants in London despite only opening in Clapton at the end of last year. But lest we also forget the fabulous old timers, the storied London restaurants that, were they made of flesh and blood instead of chrome and ceramics, would be collecting their free bus passes. These are the places that have qualities that outlive immersive disco toilets. Places whose menus offer something more significant than teetering, reel-friendly burgers that look great on camera but taste of sod all.

Was August Escoffier big on the ‘gram? Did MFK Fisher have serious social media clout? How often did Keith Floyd update his Substack? Sharable, social media cool means nowt when you have the classics at hand. 

Mark O’Flaherty / Alamy

Instead, we at Time Out are celebrating the grandmas and grandaddies of the scene, restaurants that have been pumping out perfect plates for decades, and in the case of the furiously fishy Sweetings and Dickensian meat palace Quality Chop House well over a century. At these restaurants you’re unlikely to find influencers who are more interested in filters than their food, and in their place dishes which are there to be eaten, rather than photographed. Here, cutlery is king – rather than a ring light and a mini mic. 

Many a small plates Peckham natty wine bar will come and go over the next couple of years, but the spots with character, charm and rickety wood-panelled walls are the ones that make London special. Places like the historic India Club, classic Jewish deli Harry Morgans and the deeply ye olde Simpsons Tavern, all of which have recently shut up shop, leaving London with a little less character than it had before.

That’s why we’ve pumped our latest Top 50 full of aching reliable restaurants and resolutely untrendy standards. These are the places where time stands kind of still and tyranny of small plates is ignored – or at best, downright mocked. At timeless Bloomsbury trattoria Ciao Bella you’ll get a plate of pasta as big as your head, while the dreamy Oslo Court will make you feel like a Barbara Cartland heroine, as you practically drowning in pink tablecloths while another chipper 100 year old celebrates their birthday on the next table over duck a l’orange. We’ve got time too for the Tiroler Hut, open since 1967 and still subject to nightly cowbell and karaoke shows from charming octogenarian host Josef.   

There are other London icons too, which didn’t quite make the cut but we still adore; Wong Kei in Chinatown, Maggie Jones in Kensington (which, at the time of writing, is worryingly closed but with the promise of reopening soon), the very, very old Veeraswamy and the even more ancient Rules – thought let’s not pretend that we’re there for anything other than the hidden upstairs cocktail bar. And there are newer places too which plug into this trad bistro energy; Josephine in Fulham, Bistro Freddie in Spitalfields and even the likes of Trullo in Highbury, none of which are too coy to shy away from the classic restaurant standards; a little lacy half-curtain, starched white linens and booths, lovely booths.

Alongside great food, when I go out for dinner these are the things I want; ineffable charm, sturdy reliability, a vaguely flirtatious waiter and the sense that something special is happening, something that is both familiar and fresh. Sure, I’ll take a few shockingly bad snaps on my phone (I’m only human!), but I’m not going to dinner just to create content, I’m going to dinner to embrace London’s incredible history and to head home full not just in my stomach, but full in my heart. Bon appétit.

Revealed: Time Out’s 50 best restaurants in London for 2024.

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