Modern restaurants began to develop in London in the mid-18th century, when dining-out culture as we know it – menus, place settings, waiters and waitresses – started to rise up in the city. Early institutions like The London Tavern and Vauxhall Royal Gardens and even Rules, which still exists today, helped burnish Londoner’s appetite for a meal out.

It is, therefore, a comparatively recent phenomenon, and yet one that has firmly stuck. These days, existing in London is inexplicably tied in with dining out, be that a salad on the go during your lunch break from work, or a long, languorous dinner in a gilded dining room that transports you right back to those early days of the capital's restaurant scene. The city is awash with potential places to eat, from the high and mighty to the hole in the wall.

And yet some, more than others, have taken firm lodgings in our wider consciousness, becoming icons in their own right. Some of these have been around for nearly a century (and some for multiples of them), others are less than a decade old and yet have garnered a frenzied following. All of them seem to be on the tip of anyone’s tongue (or at the top of their Instagram feed), should you talk about a meal out in this wonderful city. So, without further ado, we present to you: London’s most iconic restaurants.


34-35 Maiden Lane, WC2E 7LB

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Established by Thomas Rule in 1798, Rules is widely considered to be London’s oldest surviving restaurant, something that not only earns it a place at the top of this list, but also no doubt offers up some strong marketing potential. Sitting inside, it’s not difficult to imagine what it would have been like to dine here two centuries ago, and also easy to assume that the menu has remained largely unchanged. Dishes are gloriously British, with a particular focus on game.

The Ritz

150 Piccadilly, St. James's, W1J 9BR

While we’re on the topic of restaurants that hark back a bygone era (and were opened in one, too), The Ritz is at the top of most people’s lists when it comes to iconic places to dine in London. Its history and literal impact on the wider lexicon with the name coming to define a certain type of luxury are, of course, contributing factors here, but what keeps The Ritz in everyone’s minds isn’t just its impact in years gone by, but also the fact that it remains one of the city’s best restaurants. Executive chef John Williams continues to operate a kitchen that makes even the most classic dishes seem decidedly modern.


Various locations

Dishoom has only been around since 2010, and yet in the space of 13 years it has completely entrenched itself in the dining culture in London. Ask someone what they need to eat while in London and it’s likely many will answer the Dishoom bacon naan…. Or it’s black daal… or it’s Keema Pau… or it’s okra fries… and, well, you get the picture. With six locations across London, it’s fair to say the restaurant’s influence isn’t slowing down anytime soon – just make sure you get there early to beat the queues that still linger outside each restaurant on any given night.

Wong Kei

41-43 Wardour Street, W1D 6PX

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There’s this dish you saw on social media. You’re not quite sure what it is at first glance, but it looks to be a glistening pile of food atop rice, punctuated by beacons of chilli and… Wait… are those aubergine slices? The plate is bordered by a cherry red ring and emblazoned with the words 'Wong Kei’. You visit and trawl the menu for what you assume that dish is: stuffed bean curd, green pepper and aubergine in black bean sauce. It arrives, you eat it, and inevitably your life is forever changed. You return time and time again, your picture of it inevitably inspires someone else to go there, maybe they find their favourite dish on the extensive maze of the menu, and the cycle continues. Such is the power of Wong Kei.

J Sheekey

28-32, St Martin's Court, WC2N 4AL

Another one for the history books, J Sheekey has been serving up cracking seafood from its iconic, cherry-red home in Covent Garden for 125 years. A celebration of not only British heritage, but also the ways in which fish and shellfish are inherently tied to our cuisine, J Sheekey’s is a restaurant to visit with an empty stomach and a hankering for the fruits of Davy Jones’s Locker.

St John

Various locations

When St John opened in Smithfield in 1994 it quickly changed the entire definition of what it means to cook British food – and to eat in London. Responsible for the rapid-fire growth of the nose-to-tail approach to cooking, Fergus Henderson and Trevor Gulliver unwittingly launched a culinary revolution. Over the past two decades its influence has never faded – on the contrary, it has grown, as has the business – they now have two more restaurants in London, St John Bread and Wine and St John Marylebone, alongside bakeries and the St John wine which is stocked in house and around the country.

Quo Vadis

26-29 Dean Street, W1D 3LL

Opened as a restaurant in 1926, the building that Quo Vadis sits in has an enormous history that predates its gastronomical life. Formerly both a brothel and the home of Karl Marx (we assume at different points in history), the Dean Street location is the kind of building that would have a lot to say should the walls be able to talk – and that’s before you consider the people that have passed through its doors since its iteration as a restaurant. Once overseen by Marco Pierre White, the restaurant now sees chef Jeremy Lee at its helm – a match so deeply perfect it would be easy to think the chef has been there forever.

E Pellicci

332 Bethnal Green Road, E2 0AG

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Joining the century club is E Pellicci, the small-in-size-large-in-personality classic Britalian caff on Bethnal Green Road. Opened in 1900 by members of the family that still own it, E Pellicci is an integral part of the Tower Hamlets community, serving both locals and visitors alike with the same infectious conviviality no matter if it's your first visit or your hundredth. Go for heaping Full Englishes, Italian-accented classics and the kind of warm, joyous environment that just might have you leaving with a new friend.

The River Cafe

Thames Wharf, Rainville Road, W6 9HA

When The River Cafe opened in 1987, no one could have predicted the immense impact it would have on the London dining scene. Launching at a time when seasonality was simply a prediction of the weather, it has gone on to revolutionise not only how we eat in restaurants, but also how Londoners cook at home. A good indication of the restaurant’s timelessness is not only the largely unchanged decor, but also the menus themselves – executive chef Sian Wyn Owens claims that a menu from two decades ago is almost exactly the same as one you’d get today. How’s that for iconic?


Various locations

If you see a group of hungry looking people wrapped around the block in Borough Market, it’s highly likely that they’re waiting in line to nab a spot at Padella, the pasta-focused restaurant from the team behind Trullo. Opening in 2016, with a Shoreditch location following in 2020, their pici cacio e pepe quickly became a dish written into London legend, while the concise menu of predominantly pastas, alongside snacks and burrata, enticed diners to wait for lengthy times year-round, come rain or shine. The fact that seven years on the restaurant still attracts the same crowds is a testament to its influence.


Various locations

Speaking of long queues, when BAO first opened in Soho in 2015 it was responsible for snaking lines of people along the already-cramped central-London pavements. Partly the responsibility of the soft, cloud-like baos and the reputation it had garnered from its successful market stall and partially down to the sheer compact size of the space, it was safe to say Bao had arrived in London with a bang. Seven years on, they have five locations around London, each with its own unique footprint but staying firm to the identity that made it such a smash hit in the first place.

Beigel Bake

159 Brick Lane, E1 6SB

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Since 1974 Brick Lane’s Beigel Bake (the white one, not the yellow one down the road, although locals are split on their preference) has been serving up hungry punters 24 hours, seven days a week – as their lit-up sign so proudly advertises. Visit here at any time of the day (or night) and you’ll likely find a queue of hungry revellers looking for their carbohydrate fix. It’s an institution in the purest sense of the word – friendships have been forged, love affairs have started and even a few celebrity sightings have occurred within its strip-lit, few-metres-squared space.


83-89 Fieldgate Street, E1 1JU

A cult classic, easily one of the city’s most joyous places to eat and BYO to boot, Tayyabs is easily one of London’s most iconic restaurants. The enormous, sprawling space (seriously, every time you think it can possibly extend any further, it does) is often home to a hodgepodge of diners, from boozy, BYO-fuelled revellers to family meals and everything in between, resulting in a cacophony of noise that works to simply heighten the experience. If you’re going to order anything, please make sure it’s the lamb chops – they’re world famous for a reason.


54-56 Great Eastern Street, EC2A 3QR

Love ‘em or hate ‘em, the Big Mamma restaurants are quietly taking over London with their sexual innuendos, fever dream-like interiors and heaping plates of pasta that are so Instagram-friendly that they’ve developed their own subsection of social media fame. Gloria was their first foray into the UK, and remains arguably the best of the lot. This is the place to come armed with your iphone and an empty stomach – the walloping plates of food haven’t become photo-friendly for aesthetics alone. Here, size really does matter.