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May 24, 2014 11:52 PM

Which classic English spot? [London]

Want classic British cuisine with fabulous atmosphere. Should I choose Rules, Simpsons in the Strand, or Harwood Arms? Or is there somewhere else better? Thoughts?

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  1. I presume you're only interested in suggestions for London, rather than anywhere else in the country?

    I have never been to Simpsons. I have been to Rules (it may be my favourite restaurant in the capital) and it would certainly hit your mark for "classic" and, as it is London's oldest restaurant, it certainly has atmosphere.

    Harwood Arms' cuisine is very much in the Modern British style - certainly not classic. We've had a pleasant enough meal there. The food is very similar to many places throughout the UK and I wouldnt be in any particular rush to eat there again.

    14 Replies
    1. re: Harters

      Simpsons doesn't have a fabulous atmosphere.

      Rules, Wiltons both vastly superior.

      Sweetings for fish at lunch is a classic British spot.

      1. re: brokentelephone

        +1 for Sweetings. Simpsons has gone so far downhill.

          1. re: kagemusha49

            That is depressing. I'lll have to send out my spies to get confirmation/refutation. Of course, what they do (did) best is not Rocket Science.

          2. re: brokentelephone

            I think Simpson's has a marvelous atmosphere. I don't get to Britain that often these days but the place is always re-assuring. As is always the case with Fame, there will be detractors but I've done well there for 50 years.

            1. re: hazelhurst

              No argument about the atmosphere at Simpson's (gotta love the carver) but the food is no longer excellent and they are just a little too greedy trying to sell you stuff these days.

              1. re: kagemusha49

                Oh! that is terribly dispiriting to hear. Thanks for the warning.

          3. re: Harters

            Just an observation from a Yank . . .

            The singular best dinner I had in London last month was at The Harwood Arms; the best lunch, St. John Bread & Wine. Neither would I describe as "classic," yet I'd say both were excellent.

            To the OP: take this with how many ever grains of salt you deem appropriate, as I have not been to either Rules or Simpsons.

            1. re: zin1953

              Thanks, Zin1953. I read your earlier post and that inspired me to book the Harwood Arms. Inferred from your post you are from SF? Me too. I trust an SF Chowhound with good recos!

              1. re: mrsflynn

                Across the Bay, in Berkeley . . .

                1. re: zin1953

                  Off topic here, but did you ever eat at Gather?

                  1. re: zuriga1

                    It's one of those places that people seem to either love (it's very Berkeley), or hate (it's very Berkeley). It remains on my "list" of places to try, but it was featured once on some television show as a great spot to go, and *nothing* looked good to me, so . . . no, I've eaten at Gather. ;^)

                    1. re: zin1953

                      I just wondered because my niece used to be the manager there. We had lunch with her about 3 years ago, and it was 'different' to say the least.. but enjoyable. Maybe I was a bit 'biased.' :-)

          4. I would probably replace all of those with breakfast at Hawksmoor, dinner at St John and Sunday lunch at The Albion. Although Simpsons could do for Sunday lunch if you were set on it.

            3 Replies
            1. re: Foxeyblue

              Thanks all (although I have now added The Albion and Hawksmoor to the overlong list of places I want to go). Keep ideas coming!

              1. re: mrsflynn

                I wouldn't put Hawksmoor or St John in the classic British bucket. Its far more than just meat and offal.

                How about Wilton's - cracking write up from MoL in the Guardian a few weeks ago - she is not know to lavish undeserved praise:

                1. re: PhilD

                  Thank you for appending that review. I've eaten there since before they were "there" (when they were on Bury Street). It was my father's favorite London place. Never had a poor meal. It is ever reassuring. The reviewers notice that it is not "chef driven" speaks to much of what its adherents enjoy. And there are no fanny packs in there.

            2. If you are interested in seafood, J. Sheekey is both classic & contemporary.


              1 Reply
              1. re: DavidT

                Actually, I rather liked Scott's (J Sheekey's more elegant sibling)

              2. Rules: They apparently (according to the waiter) use vegetable suet in their puddings which as far as I'm concerned is an automatic disqualification.

                Simpsons in the Strand: If anyone can tell me a better place in London to get roast beef *reliably*, I'd be interested but as long as you're going for the roast, it's a place to choose.

                Harwood Arms: Too far from the centre to go to spend too much time in too crowded of a place at too early a time in the evening - and it's not *really* even a pub, not anymore. But as a food experience it might be worthwhile, if you want that and aren't bothered about "classic" necessarily.

                Sweetings: It's the service here that matters, not really the food, which is decent but ultimately targetted at City workers on their lunch (which means probably not too fussed)

                Hawksmoor: Much is written about the breakfast, particularly in the City branch. It's reasonable, but not worderful, and as for the steaks they can be improved upon. Zero atmosphere; more or less bog-standard steakhouse.

                St. John: Atmosphere isn't really the point. The food is cracking, some of the best British available, a national point of reference, and the prices are reasonable. But again if fabulous atmosphere is wanted, look elsewhere.

                J. Sheekey: Might have it all. Atmosphere is ideal, location is central, and the fish is about as good as you'll find. Book early, though, or face being turned away.