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Sep 17, 2010 09:25 AM

First hand info requested on dress codes for The Fat Duck, Hibiscus, and St John's

Coming to London (from the US) at end of Sept. Have reservations at the 3 places mentioned and need to know what my GF and I should really expect regarding level of dress so we won't stick out (for good or for ill).

Also, while I'm at it. Any recommednations for pubs/bar/casual meals/snacks?

Thanks in advance

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  1. There's a wide range of dress at these places. More casual at St. John and somewhat fancier at Hibiscus. My husband always feel happy with a jacket, although it would be acceptable to go more casual or more fancy. I always think neat and clean and no sneakers works.

    For casual, I love The Harwood Arms. Great food and atmosphere.

    3 Replies
    1. re: Nancy S.

      Thank you so much Nancy S, this is exactly the type of info I was hoping for!

      1. re: Nancy S.

        I would say they are three restaurants that people dress up for as all are seen as quite special. So I recommend making an effort at all three and you will feel comfortable. That said there will always be people who take pride in their scruffy dress and no doubt you will see a few at each place. As Nancy says St John is the most casual, but it is on the edge of the city of London so will have a fair number of suits midweek. Hibiscus, in Mayfair is in the centre of a very expensive suburb and dress reflects this. The Fat Duck attracts all sorts of global foodies thus the dress is more diverse, but most dress well, some really dressing up for the occasion.

        Funnily enough I went to 50th Birthday celebrations at each restaurant a couple of years ago and the men in the party all had fashionable suits or jackets with the girls were in their fashionable finery: we fitted right in.

        1. re: PhilD

          We tend to shy away from scruffy : ). I feel much better now knowing what to expect. Thanks.

      2. Hi Spiritchaser - you've chosen extremely well for restaurants. You could hardly find three better yet more varied restaurants than those three so well done!
        A lot depends on which night you're going. For St John which I'm most familiar with I'd say it would be tough to be too casual. Phil is right that there will be people in suits there on a weeknight but it has a genuinely separate bar attached so there will be plenty of people in jeans and t-shirts too. On a Saturday I wouldn't dream of wearing a suit or you'd really stand out. It really is a very casual atmosphere all the time and 'dressing up' too much would definitely be possible.
        The complete opposite is true for the other two, personally I'd probably wear a suit without a tie to either but it would be impossible to be too smart.

        For more casual places, if you're staying anywhere near St John (or beforehand) there is a lovely wine bar opposite it on St John Street called Vinoteca which does great wines by the glass and small plates.
        At the other end of the spectrum probably the best Sushi in London is served Mon-Sat at a place called Pham Sushi on Whitecross St (not a million miles from St John) in what feels like someone's front room.
        Another experience that has become really well known but that I'd still recommend to anyone is either Tayyabs or Lahore Kebab House in London's east end. Wonderful Pakistani food and good fun too. Both are bring your own alcohol with no corkage which makes them even better value.

        It all depends on where you're staying really as there are so many good places there's no need to really trek across London as there will always be something on your doorstep.

        12 Replies
        1. re: ManInTransit

          Thanks M I T, glad you gave the seal of approval on the choices, I was trying to mix it up a bit so it was a little of this and a little of that.

          We'll be staying at The Langham so I hope there is a lot nearby.

          1. re: ManInTransit

            Re: impossible to be too casual at St John - I have been to Bread and Wine (admittedly it is more casual generally) mid-summer on an unplanned extravaganza wearing flip flops, shorts and a fairly scruffy t-shirt. No member of staff batted an eyelid, though I expect there were some disapproving glances I didn't notice from other customers. My point is St John is not a place to be worried about not being smart enough in.

            Nevertheless I second the general consensus here - its worth being at least smart casual in any of these places, and if I were planning to go to any, I'd certainly make the effort to be smart. NB. I've never been to the Fat Duck but I couldn't imagine there would be many people who'd go to one of the most prestigious restaurants in the world anything other than smartly dressed.

            1. re: chief1284

              Thank you all that have provided such great info. So this is our plan:

              St John's (lunch) - nice but casual pants, nice button down shirt, very casual sports jacket

              Fat Duck (lunch) - dress pants, dress shirt, sports jacket (no tie?)

              Hibiscus (dinner) - dress pants, dress shirt, sports jacket with tie

              What do you think?

              1. re: Spiritchaser

                Sounds perfect. I think you will feel comfortable.

                1. re: Nancy S.

                  Hi Hounds, since part of this thread has digressed from information about specific restaurants to general talk and comparisons about attire in the UK and US, we've split that to the Not About Food board. Please continue general discussions about dress and attire there:

                2. re: Spiritchaser

                  I'd say that was spot on.

                  You can never predict what's going to be on the menu at St John but I can wholeheartedly recommend the Ox Heart in either starter or main form and if you or your girlfriend have not tried bone marrow then it's quite a good way to try it with parsley and on toast (as opposed to my first experience which was digging mouthfuls out with a spoon!)

                  As far as the Langham goes you're obviously in a brilliant spot. I assume you're done with the top-priced places so in that area there is:
                  Barrafina on Frith St - no bookings taken but reasonably-price tapas.
                  Arbutus also on Frith St. this has a Michelin star but does a brilliant value £17 three course lunch.
                  Finally you really aren't that far from the Edgware Road which if you fancy a change in atmosphere and some well-priced Schwarma is a great place to go. No specific recommendations as it's been a while and the turnover in quality can be high but you should be able to find somewhere. A quick search suggests Ranoush gets well-recommended.

                  1. re: ManInTransit

                    You mentioned both items that I'm dying to try - the Ox heart and the bone marrow (had bone marrow several times but want to see thier take on it). Funny sidenote - my GF is a vegetarian but St John's (as well as the 2 other places mentioned) have said they will accommodate her.

                    Thanks for those additional reccos in the area.

                    1. re: Spiritchaser

                      Ah so she probably isn't going to be one for bone marrow then.
                      If I'm honest I've often remarked about the St John menu how narrow it is for vegetarians. The mains usually only have one option and it's Goat's Curd or Swede Cake. If she eats fish it won't be a problem at all but if not then I hope she likes what's available.

                      All that said if the kitchen are aware of it then I am sure they will produce something very nice. I just hope she isn't fazed by the sight of a whole suckling pig being carved at the next table or a pig's head being carried around on a plate!

                      Keen to hear your reports from all three.

                      1. re: ManInTransit

                        Yes, I let the kitchen know at all three places so I'm pretty confident she'll be taken care of. She is really great when it comes to my eating, she's cool with me dong it as long as it doesn't affect hers : ).

                        I promise I will post my reports on anything we eat in London, really lloking forward to the trip and the chow.

                        1. re: Spiritchaser

                          Back from our trip and wanted to report back although I won't be able to go into a long review, work waits for no one.

                          The Fat Duck - what more can really be said? The restaurant EXCEEDED any hype, it truly is fantastic. Not only is the food wildly creative but it is also wonderfully fresh and great tasting! Service is an absolute perfect blend of professional and friendly, the staff is very good at reading the vibe they are getting from the diner and responding in the appropraite way, we engage in playful banter and they responded in kind - loved it.

                          St John - loved lunch so much we went back three days later for dinner. Simple straight forward dishes elevated to a certain "refinement". Between the two meals I had bone marrow, smoked eel with bacon (insanely good), grouse, oysters, smoked mackarel, and sweetbreads (fantastic, and the portion was so big it was like getting 5 times the amount of a NYC app portion). There wasn't a single thing I wouldn't gladly order again (but surprisingly the bone marrow wasn't my favorite dish). Service was just that - service, much like the restaurant in general, simple and straight forward, efficient but a little distant. Love the stark whiteness of the room.

                          Hibiscus - great food, beautiful presentations but won't be running to get back. Service was almost robotic even when it was obvious we were craving interaction. The Sommelier was fun to speak with and he discussed wines to great lengths with us, our Captain (?) seemed uncomfortable when needing to speak with us (but seemed like a nice guy), but the head Captain or F of H Manager was a stick in the mud, really brought down the whole evening, maybe she should stop reading their own press. Hard to believe, based on overall experience, this is a top 50 restaurant of the World.

                          Duke's Bar - wonderful place, like stepping back into a time that has passed us by. Alessandro, Alex and the bar staff are wonderful gentleman, their story telling is surpassed only by their drink making abilities.

                          1. re: Spiritchaser

                            Very glad to hear about your trip. Did St John produce suitable vegetarian dishes for your girlfriend? I'm not surprised you loved it though, genuinely unique I think and you can't say that about many restaurants these days.
                            Shame about your Hibiscus experience but sounds like the Fat Duck exceeded even the high expectations you had.

                            I hope you felt suitably dressed everywhere!

                            1. re: ManInTransit

                              Yes, my girlfriend was pretty happy with the St John selections (but no way could she be as happy as I was).

                              And although we risk getting sent to another board I will say we felt we were dressed perfectly for each environment.

            2. I went to Hibiscus for lunch and was surprised by some of the outfit on display (one guy was actually wearing a loose dress shirt open with a wifebeater on underneath)!

              1. St. John is pretty casual. The Fat Duck has no dress code I have seen jeans and suits. You would not feel out of place in either.

                Hope you enjoy London