The Lost Restaurants of London
Log out of TripAdvisor and exit the OpenTable app – we step back 100 years and reveal that there was more to life than Nando’s and GBK
Going out in London and you’re usually confronted with the challenge of where you should go if you fancy a bite to eat. Particularly in my age bracket, the choice seems to be the Chicken place, the Burger place or the Italian place. But what of years gone by? How did our dearly departed cope without Peri-Peri sauce and Pesterella?
Here’s the top 5 restaurants many of those buried six feet under would have eaten in in days gone by.
32 Oxford Street, W1D
Frascati’s was one of the most prestigious places to dine in London. Incredibly popular with Freemasons, social clubs and anniversary dinners, its opulent decor including the ‘Winter Room’ and the ‘Balcony’ (which is described in a newspaper cutting of the 1890’s as a ‘Forest of Palms’). It was THE place to go if you wanted to sample good food and spot the odd celebrity, although it’s probably best if you did it discreetly behind your copy of the London Illustrated News.
DANCING NIGHTLY. © British Newspaper Archive 2017.
Opening in 1893 and becoming an immediate favourite with businessmen and aristocracy alike, it boasted dishes such as Blanchaille (Whitebait) and Calle de Vigne sur Canape (God knows) for 5/-, following a pattern identified in Karl Baedeker’s London and Its Environs: Handbook for Travellers;‘at first class restaurants, the cuisine is generally French’. A musical accompaniment, including that top 10 number ‘Der Obersteiger‘ by Zeller and the unforgettable classic ‘Laughing Water‘ by Hager, were often heard playing in the background.
Recreate the dining experience by eating your Chicken Katsu Curry from Wasabi with this playing in the background:
The finest example of French cuisine ended when the building was bombed during the Second World War.
40-48 Great Portland Street, W1W
Perhaps French cuisine and the genteel atmosphere of Frascati’s wasn’t for you. Take a trip to Great Portland Street and marvel at Signor Pagani’s famous establishment; a far more bohemian affair and popular with musicians and entertainers – probably helped by the close proximity of Queen’s Hall, where the Proms were held until, again, bombing obliterated it and the event was moved to the Royal Albert Hall.
Boasting a wall of over 5,000 signatures from patrons such as actress Sarah Bernhardt, painter James Whistler and composer Pietro Mascagni (it’s now preserved in the Museum of London), you could sample mouth watering treats such as Petite Marmite and Saumon de Montrose Bouilli; Jerome K Jerome dined there with J.M.Barrie for 2/- a head and got sozzled on several bottles of Chianti. The building’s demolition is a true loss to London architecture.
271 Seven Sister’s Road, N4
Pazzi’s in its heyday. Image © Warsaw1948.
So you don’t fancy eating out in the centre of town. Why not take the Edgware, Highgate and London Railway from Moorgate to Finsbury Park, where a large St George’s flag flies over the titular Pazzi’s. Pietro Pazzi hailed from an Italian speaking part of Switzerland, fleeing from Ticino after floods had devastated his neighbourhood during the winter of 1868.
Opening in 1874, the following year he also used it as a base for planning the political uprising in his native hometown. The uprising saw Luigi Rossi, a Conservative Politician shot dead by Pazzi’s associate (and latterly sculptor of the state of Queen Victoria in Kensington Gardens) Angelo Castioni. Pazzi allegedly ensured his safe passage back to London; his extradition back to Switzerland was refused on the grounds that the murder was politically motivated and set a precedent for how similar crimes were handled in this country to this day.
Pazzi turned his back on these shenanigans after the revolt’s failure and died in 1914, where he was buried in the Circle of Lebanon in Highgate Cemetery in a private vault. I have no idea what food he served but the kitchen conversations during the height of the revolt must have been thrilling.
His restaurant is now a LIDL.
4. The Alexandra Trust Dining Rooms
136-144 City Road, EC1V
Where else in London could you eat and have the King looking over your shoulder? © British Newspaper Archive 2017
So none of the above is quite what you’re after, and more importantly, more than you can afford. Seeing as McDonald’s doesn’t exist yet, head over to Old Street where the generosity of Sir Thomas Lipton (yes, he of the Iced Tea empire) had built an imposing building to feed the working classes en masse. Six boilers could heat 500 gallons of soup and a three-course meal cost 4.5d in 1898 – an easily affordable 2p in today’s money.
For a penny-halfpenny, salivate at a Bloater, Kipper or Sardines with a rasher of Bacon, two Sausages or a small steak pudding for an additional half penny.
Who needs a Greggs?
5. Simpson’s Tavern
Ball Court, Cornhill
Simpson’s is one of those institutions that have been frequented by the great and the good over the years – Samuel Pepys, Charles Dickens and William Makepeace Thackeray to name but a few – situated down an alley where time has decided to stand still.
Opened in 1757 originally as a Fish restaurant to the porters of Billingsgate, it’s the only one from my list which is still operational – I’ve spent many a lunchtime sampling things from its’ 250 year old menu, such as home made Steak and Kidney Pie and Calves Liver with caramalised Onion and Bacon. It’s like a Georgian version of Wagamama’s and special events such as the Georgian Dining Academy hold regular events there. You also get a real sense of the past when dining here – above some tables are hat hooks where a gentleman could (and still could, I guess) hang his top hat as he devoured some scrummy tuck.
What long-gone places would you have liked to have dined in? Let me know in the comments below or on our social media!