The days of pubs serving pints alongside nothing but over-salted peanuts are over. And try as pubs might, two pints of craft lager and a packet of artisan crisps simply isn't enough to get London's hungry punters through the doors either. This is where the contentiously named gastropub steps in. While we're not the sort of people who are ever going to complain about a boozer that's got a load of quality cask beers on tap, we (as we're sure you are, too) are also the kind of people who are perennially hungry.
If the question is "fancy a beer?", then the answer is: yes, yes we do. But if the question is followed up with "would you also like something glorious to eat while you drink that pint?", then the answer is: hell yes, hell yes we do.
Good food and good beer go hand-in-hand, really. You shouldn't have to make a choice between having one or the other, and, in a city as large as London, you're never going to be pushed for a range of pubs that claim to be experts in both. Finding which ones are worth your time, however, is an entirely different matter...
To help you explore the pubs which are just as committed to quality British produce as they are at pulling dishy bitters, we've collated this little guide. From nouveau gastropubs like The Plimsoll to the old-school watering holes your nan and granddad would have no problem frequenting such as historic spot The Red Lion and Sun, there's a reason that London's pubs are starting to get some serious Michelin-levels of recognition.
The best gastropubs in London
55 Great Portland Street, W1W 7LQ
When Dom Jacobs – the pub landlord behind acclaimed recent opening The Cadogan Arms – takes over a formerly vacant but beautiful old pub a stone's throw from Oxford Circus, you stand up and take notice. When he recruits James Knappett of the two-Michelin-starred Kitchen Table to put on the food, you don't question it; you simply form an orderly queue behind us. Before the opening of its beautiful upstairs restaurant, The George was already a vibey boozer serving cracking cocktails and one of the best pints of Guinness in the West End, but Upstairs at The George has taken the whole proposition to another level. In a beautiful and down-to-earth room that still sticks to its pub roots, Knappett shows a characteristically deft touch to British comfort food, from excellent kidneys on toast and a wicked beef tartare to deep-fried langoustines in their shell and a simply exquisite lamb hotpot. What's more, Jacobs has overseen the creation of what is – alongside Sven Hanson-Britt's Oxeye – surely one of the two best English wine lists in the capital. Beautiful English sparklings like Squerryes and Rathfinny are a great way to kick off, while big-hitting Burgundian-style bottles from Danbury Ridge or Davenport will see you through mains.
The Princess of Shoreditch
76-78 Paul Street, EC2A 4NE
At first glance The Princess of Shoreditch may seem like any other boozer; wood panelling, free flowing booze, leather-padded banquettes. Glance at the menu, however, and you’ll see it certainly is not. Head up the spiral staircase, and you’ll discover there’s a whole lot more. With chef Ruth Hansom at its helm, the downstairs menu would rival many standalone restaurants, while the upstairs Dining Room is a whole new ball game. Hansom’s impressive tasting menu changes with the seasons and speaks to her immense skill in the kitchen. Need more convincing? The pub received three AA rosettes in 2021, and is currently the only pub in London to hold that honour.
The Harwood Arms
Walham Grove, SW6 1QP
A list of London’s best pub food would feel incomplete without The Harwood Arms – it being London’s first Michelin-starred pub, after all. This beautiful boozer from The Ledbury’s Brett Graham has done for London what The Hand & Flowers has done outside of the capital: making people realise that gastropub food can be done to fine-dining standards while still retaining accessibility and wide-ranging appeal. There’s a big focus on game, with Graham and the team breaking down venison carcasses, while newly installed head chef Jake Leach has gently refreshed the menu with bar snacks like beef tongue on dripping toast with celeriac, oyster schnitzel and more, and beautiful, elegant mains that showcase the venue’s enviable supply chain – with a few classic items unchanged.
Four Legs at The Plimsoll
52 St Thomas's Road, N4 2QW
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The guys at Four Legs changed the pub dining game with their residency at Islington’s Compton Arms pub. They have since gone on to open their own spot in Finsbury Park, The Plimsoll. Four Legs’ food was always good – that is unsurprising when you consider the combined CVs of Ed McIlroy and Jamie Allan include stints at BAO and Hill & Szrok – but at The Plimsoll, with the space to flex their muscles a little, it’s gone stratospheric. It’s more interesting, they’re pushing the boundaries a bit, all the while sticking to what made it so great in the first place – elevated pub grub with a playful-yet-serious feel. Oh, and they still do the Dexter Cheeseburger, and trust us, you could have a very happy meal here simply eating the Dexter Cheeseburger.
The Compton Arms
4 Compton Avenue, N1 2XD
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Speaking of Four Legs, their departure from Islington’s Compton Arms left a gaping kitchen hole and the opportunity for a whole new direction. Well, the good news is that Reece Moore has come in and done just that with Belly London, following a stint in the kitchen at Satsu at The Gun. The menu is European-led and takes that term seriously, skipping about the continent to pick up influences from all corners of it. The menu changes daily but you can expect everything from beef tartare to mutton and bacon sarma. There are whiffs of Four Legs still in the air here, but Moore is making the kitchen firmly his own.
Hot 4 U at The Prince Arthur
95 Forest Road, E8 3BH
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The pub kitchen residency concept is responsible for some of the city’s most exciting food, and that has never been more true than at Hot 4 U in Dalston’s The Prince Arthur. Launched by Eddy Tejada and Matthew Scott (Tejada has sent left the team), Hot 4 U focuses on produce-led food that pulls on influences from around the globe – koji fried chicken sits alongside mussels in a spring broth, oysters can be topped with sour apple and ajo blanco or hot curry butter and pickled raisins. This melee of flavours is proof of Hot 4 U’s draws – inventive, exciting food that perfectly contrasts with its comparably classic pub surrounds.
The Camberwell Arms
65 Camberwell Church Street, SE5 8TR
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The Camberwell Arms is like that neighbourhood pub you always wish you lived close to. It, like many others on this list, serves a kind of vaguely undefinably British-European selection of food – one that still manages to anchor itself in what one might think of when they consider 'pub food'. This is food that pushes the grain but it still feels 'British' – especially on a Sunday when the menu sees a distinctly European take on the classic roast – beef osso bucco and lamb with braised escarole, raisins, almonds, mint and roast potatoes.
Marksman Public House
254 Hackney Road, E2 7SJ
There's a reason why The Marksman became the first public house in London to be awarded the Michelin Pub of the Year award: it's simply that damned good. Located a short walk from Hoxton in London's East End, the Marksman is owners Tom Harris and Jon Rotheram's ode to all that makes a British pub great. You'll find great local lagers, ales, ciders and an equally impressive list of wines alongside a menu that changes daily to ensure only the freshest ingredients are allowed to pass your lips. The Marksman's Cookbook Dinner series additionally allows great guest chefs to bring their talents to the kitchen. Not that it needs much help considering it serves one of the finest Sunday lunches in the entire city. Bosh.
The Red Lion & Sun
25 North Road, N6 4BE
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The Red Lion & Sun is a pub that means business, and that business is filling you with hearty British produce. All of the meats – which are deployed with absolute accuracy during the Red Lion's weekly Sunday roasts – are supplied by Phyllis and Lee Harper from the nearby Highgate Butchers. It's not just the meat that dominates the menu, either. Fresh seafood gives you ripe pickings of the best that the British seas have to offer. Work your way through half-a-kilo of steamed Cornish mussels or half-a-dozen Jersey rock oysters as you sink oceans of cask beer. Worth a visit whether there's rain or sun on the climate menu, there's not one, but two, beer gardens on the premises. And if you don't feel like taking a seat inside the plush interior? Well, it's even started offering takeaway fish and chips every day from noon till 10pm. With all of this located within walking distance of Highgate cemetery, we can guarantee that the only thing haunting you after a visit to The Red Lion & Sun will be the ghost of inferior boozers past.
The Drapers Arms
44 Barnsbury Street, N1 1ER
The Drapers Arms is an Islington institution. The gastropub, with its iconic green bar, delivers a cracking atmosphere for necking quality brews while doubling as a more-than adequate stadia for quality food consumption. The downstairs bar can typically be found full of regulars quaffing the excellent range of craft ales on tap as the upstairs dining room plays host to a brigade of hungry Londoners. Staggering up the stairs, after all, comes highly recommended. The signature Drapers Cheeseburger is a sight to behold – a griddled mass of meat and cheese gently nestled in a St John bun. And the roast cauliflower and lentils? A vegan sensation. Still not convinced? Well, how does the fact that 50p of every purchase of a suet crust salt beef pie is donated to Action Against Hunger sound? Charity has never tasted so rich, thick, and meaty.
94 Haverstock Hill, NW3 2BD
Unlike your traditional safe-bet sort of affair, The Belrose is a pub that specialises in serving Italian-inspired cuisine, placing a particular focus on the use of seasonal produce. Small plates of padrón peppers and Cornish mussels make for stonking drinking accompaniments. And so, too, do The Belrose's clay-fired Romano-style pizzas. An on-site microbrewery pumping out pints of The Belrose's very own IPA means choosing what to wet your whistle with is also a pretty easy decision whenever you're knocking about Belsize Park. That being said, there's still plenty of (unsurprisingly) Italian whites, reds and a decent smattering of natural wine on the menu to boot. We'll drink to that.
159 Farringdon Road, EC1R 3AL
The Eagle is the sort of person you absolutely hated in secondary school. A swot who had immaculate grades, clear skin, and still got invited to all the trendy get-togethers. The uncomfortable truth is that The Eagle is well-liked for a reason. It serves great pints, even greater dishes, and – honestly – we'd be hard-pressed to give it anything but full marks. The menu is a fuss-free blackboard of seasonal dishes chalked up five minutes before service starts. The dishes are consistent crowd-pleasers encompassing everything from braised partridge with pancetta to rigatoni and Napoli sausage ragu. The Eagle's cause is also helped by the fact that the kitchen has been graced by a who's who of London's finest chefs over the years, including the likes of Sam & Sam Clark, Margot Henderson, and David Eyre. In spite of The Eagle's top-notch pedigree, the vibe inside remains refreshingly unpretentious, always sticking by the mantra 'never forget it's a pub'.
The Cleveland Arms
28 Chilworth Street, W2 6DT
This Paddington local has been open for business since 1852, so needless to say The Cleveland Arms has always known its audience. But the quality of the food has only improved over time: bought in 2014 by local businesswoman Maria Tamander (who also produced the Spice Girls music video for 'Wannabe'), the pub has been given a much-needed face-lift over the last few years. It's now a fully CAMRA-recognised bar where you can find Timothy Taylor's on tap, and head chef Louis Lingwood (formerly of Oldroyd) in the kitchen. The menu is Italian-inspired – think potato gnocchi and Perigord truffle; beef carpaccio, artichokes and pecorino; delicia squash and sage risotto. And if you're looking for a lunchtime bargain, you'd also be silly not to take advantage of the Cleveland Lunch Club that runs between 12 and 3 every Monday to Friday, where for just £10 or £12 with a pint of beer or glass of wine, you can treat yourself to The Cleveland Arms' special of the day. Don't tell me that's not what you want, what you really, really want.