It’s such a nuisance: you really like some spot but you cannot find it on the Wonderland City Directory. Maybe it’s a well-maintained period boozer with friendly staff, or a diner with skinny fries so good you want to post some to your friends, or even an honest gaff in an interesting part of town. We find ourselves in that position often: “maybe I’ll just sneak it into the Directory. No one will mind, surely.”
But that would be wrong. As we say in our blurb: “we enjoy all sorts of conviviality but this site is dedicated to special places and events that maintain classic standards of beauty and civility. Places … where a couple in evening dress would not clash with their surroundings.” We don’t want the Directory to become simply a list of places our editors happen to like and frequent; as debased a coin as the modern meaning of “lady” or gentleman”, which have essentially been reduced to synonyms for someone one approves of. No sloppy lexicality here, sir!
And yet, the suggestions come in: “why not add that historic fish & chips place?”; “surely you cannot exclude Chez This-And-That!” So, we repeat: Wonderland City is about people, events and places that are both high in tone and ‘Golden Era’ in aesthetic. We modestly submit that this has nothing to do with snobbishness, but rather with focus.
To atone for our stringent stance and to insist it is not born of haughtiness, we thought some readers might enjoy the mention of places that, while not ‘Wonderland City’ in opulence of details, hold a special place in our festive little hearts.
Honest Hospitality, Nostalgic Surroundings
After the bubbly, after the swish soiree, in the cold light of morning (or on a lazy afternoon) the fine drapery and hushed elegance purveyed by the most elevated bars and restaurants might feel de trop. Also, and more to the point, we’re not all made of money. Never fear, you jolly people: there are still places that serve up comfort food in surroundings that have not made serious concessions to the banality of modern grubbiness. Some of them are even affordable (by London standards).
Our favourite more casual but old-style places are:
Andrew Edmunds (Lexington Street, Soho): a very atmospheric restaurant that hews to the ‘old Soho’ feel and serious cuisine.
Le Café du Marché (Charterhouse Square, Smithfield) : half-hidden trove of fine food and a French wine list deserving of the name.
Caldesi (Marylebone Lane): tasty Tuscan food and a welcoming atmosphere in one of Marylebone’s more suggestive corners.
Electric Diner (Portobello Road, Notting Hill): next to the original cinema, a proper diner with a nearly constant buzz.
Luc’s Brasserie (Leadenhall Market, City of London): French-inspired food and feel, City noise and a lovely place for a boozy lunch.
M. Manze (Tower Bridge Road, Bermondsey): possibly the most iconic “eel and pie shop” in London with lots of original features.
Mortimer House Kitchen (Mortimer Street, Fitzrovia): a relaxing ambiance and cosier than its modernity would suggest; for peoples who take brunch quite seriously.
The Oak W2 (Westbourne Park Road, Notting Hill): proper thin-crust pizza (and more) and a bar ft for ‘the hill’, upstairs.
The Regency Café (Regency Street, near Tate Britain): it’s as if the 1950s never went away; a mecca for appreciators of the Full English.
Riding House Café (Great Titchfield Street, Fitzrovia): a good informal place; ask for a banquette at the back.
A classic chop house in a narrow court in the heart of the City looks much like it did in the C19. Good value and wonderfully old school. *** Threatened with closure ***.
Sweetings (Queen Victoria Street, City of London): the foil to the Simpson’s Tavern’s meat-oriented menu, here emphasising seafood, but an equally useful survivor of old-school City lunch spots.
In addition to all those, of course, there are nicely kept historic pubs too numerous to list. Many London boozers are joyless drinking troughs that have had all the charm ‘renovated’ out of them. But there are plenty more that exude character and a sense of time and place: from the Dove on Hammersmith Mall to the Prospect of Whitby in Wapping; from Hampstead’s Holly Bush to the Crown and Greyhound in Dulwich.
What do you think of these places? Have you any suggestions along these lines? Don’t keep us in suspense; let us know in the comments below!