We explain the best restaurants to book in London for every occasion
A long, long time ago, when I was young, free and single, I was taken on a date by a charming and handsome young man who had all the qualities one might look for in a husband. He took me to a Yo Sushi in a central London train station and, immediately, he no longer held any of the qualities one might look for in a husband—or certainly none of the ones I would look for in a husband.
He had grown up on a large estate in Norfolk, so perhaps he thought there was something rather cosmopolitan about colour-coded raw fish on a conveyor belt, but, for this west Londoner, it held all the allure of a Pret A Manger. The relationship never recovered. It never went anywhere, actually.
Your choice of restaurant and/or watering hole says a lot about you, not to mention your intentions. This is why it’s appropriate to take your wife to Scott’s for oysters, but not a young female colleague with whom you need to discuss a report. It is why tea at Claridge’s will please your elderly aunt, but might make your squash partner run for the hills.
It is why, years ago, my flatmate’s mother almost fainted when her son took her to a ‘cabaret’ at a trendy east London restaurant (well, she did love Liza Minnelli), only to find it involved drag acts and a fair few burlesque performers. Ever since, they have stuck with a West End musical followed by a trip to The Wolseley.
I would hate for any of these mistakes to befall you, so here’s our ultimate guide to dining like a proper gentleman, without getting it horribly wrong.
On a first date
‘I like to have a martini, two at the very most. After three I’m under the table, after four I’m under the host.’ This quote, wrongly attributed to Dorothy Parker, sums up why Dukes in central London is the very best cocktail bar there is: the waiters, who make master martinis named after James Bond characters (Ian Fleming used to drink here), will only allow you to have two before moving you on to something a bit weaker. This means that neither your date nor you will risk making fools of yourselves and, the next day, you can wake safely in the knowledge that no rules have been broken.
Tucked quietly behind St James’s Palace, Dukes is intimate and discreet and has luxurious rooms attached should you miraculously convince the waiters to give you both a third martini. Cheers!
Dukes (020–7491 4840; www.dukeshotel.com)
For Mother’s Day
I’m no gentleman, but, on this occasion, I tend to take my mother for a weekend at Chewton Glen, which always goes down marvellously. The beautiful country hotel is near the New Forest coast and has an array of eating opportunities: there’s the delicious Dining Room restaurant, the super-healthy Pool Bar and then there are the picnics that the kitchen can organise for you. Book her in for a spa treatment and put her in one of the Treehouse suites if you want to make her feel really special: there are hot tubs on the balconies and dinner (think lobster curry) can be delivered to you through a hatch. Even better, if mum is on a special diet, the hotel is more than happy to tailor a menu to it.
Chewton Glen (01425 275341; www.chewtonglen.com)
To cheer up a friend
Co-founded in 1863 by Charles Dickens for gentlemen interested in art, science and literature, the Dover Street Arts Club is now a lavish member’s bar and restaurant that is far cooler than any other club in London, boasting as it does a regular clientele that includes Beyoncé and Cara Delevingne, not to mention Gwyneth Paltrow. And what better way to boost a friend’s spirits than by spying one of them?
The Arts Club (020–7499 8581; www.theartsclub.co.uk)
To catch up with your godchildren
Where to start? It used to be that you would take your godson to your club upon turning 18, but that’s a little fusty and fuddy-duddy now and, if you want to appear cool, you’re going to have to venture into the unknown: namely, queuing up with everybody else outside one of the new breed of restaurants that are so damn hip they don’t actually take bookings. This may bring you out in a cold sweat, but be aware that, at the end of the two-hour queue, delicious treats await: mouthwatering burgers at Honest, incredible Indian street food at Dishoom and delicious brunches served by beautiful people at The Breakfast Club. Branches London-wide: Honest (www.honestburgers.co.uk); Dishoom (www.dishoom.com); The Breakfast Club (www.thebreakfastclubcafes.com)
This is by no means a plea to my husband, who last year cooked me a steak for our anniversary, but The Wild Rabbit is simply divine. Situated in the pretty Cotswold town of Kingham in Oxfordshire, it has been completely renovated by the Most Tasteful Woman In The Country: Lady Bamford. It is both a pub and a dining room, meaning you have the option of both formal and casual dining, and the food is, as you would expect from the woman behind the Daylesford Organic empire, completely delicious (not to mention pricey, but hey, that will surely only serve to impress your beloved). Think slow-cooked hen’s eggs and risotto of wild garlic and you’re halfway there. Even better, you can stay in one of the 12 bedrooms attached to the pub or even The Beehive, a glorious self-contained cottage from which you can go for long walks and try and spot celebrities from the Chipping Norton set.
The Wild Rabbit (01608 658389; www.thewildrabbit.co.uk)
There is only one place in the whole world fit for your grandmother and that is The Goring, a hotel just a stone’s throw from Buckingham Palace (indeed, during its 105- year history, it has been used as a sort of annexe for the residence, with Kate Middleton staying there the night before she became The Duchess of Cambridge). The team is completely divine and the owner, Jeremy Goring, is one of the most charming men in London (not to mention good-looking, which will surely cheer up granny). In fact, this is one of the few places you could get away with taking anyone to—drink in the garden, delight in the canapés and look out for me at the bar.
The Goring (020–7396 9000; www.thegoring.com)
To clinch that business deal
M-Bar in the City is lined with faux eelskin and sits looking down on one of the capital’s best steakhouses. Here, cognac can cost up to £3,000 a bottle, guests can play PlayStation games on the club’s extravagant mirrored television and chocolate M&Ms are monogrammed with the establishment’s logo. Impress clients by unlocking one of the exclusive ‘bottle lockers’, in which you can squirrel away your stash of expensive leftover booze from your last visit. If you don’t manage to sign on the dotted line here, you won’t manage it anywhere.
M-Bar (020–3327 7770; http://mrestaurants.co.uk/m-bar/)
To impress your father-in-law
Just a few minutes from the hideous hustle and bustle of Victoria station lies the Boisdale, a culinary paean to the joys of red meat, fine whiskies and cigar-smoking. You walk into the Belgravia haunt a slightly uptight male and leave a well-oiled, macho man—even if, like me, you happen to be a woman.
This is the place to listen to live jazz, to discuss hunting, shooting and fishing, not to mention asking for permission to propose to your girlfriend. All my male friends swear by the Boisdale for this precise purpose—and if you can’t make it to Belgravia, there are now branches in Bishopsgate and Canary Wharf.
Boisdale of Belgravia (020–7730 6922; www.bosidale.co.uk)
** This piece is from our recent magazine Gentleman’s Life: Read more on the modern gentleman.
** Read our piece on where to eat in The Cotswolds