It is no surprise that I am a foodie. It is also no surprise that I like to eat in beautiful surroundings, be it taking a picnic to the grounds of a castle in Derbyshire or a restaurant I wish I had decorated myself. Most people are used to me being obsessed with the 18th century, but another period in history that I love (for its arts, architecture and literature) is the fin de siècle, or for the English-speaking audience the end of Queen Victoria’s reign and the beginning of the Edwardian age. While it is very much a Parisian thing, and this love for it goes back to spending hours reading Verlaine and the other poets in my French Literature textbooks as a teenager, there is plenty of it in England, and in particularly London, too.
The very first design of this blog incorporated a famous quote from The Picture of Dorian Gray, “The only difference between a caprice and a lifelong passion is that the caprice lasts a little longer”, and I have talked about my love of Oscar Wilde before, although maybe never to the extent of my youth, when you would really have thought I must be an elective descendant at best, reincarnation at worst (it’s still in there somewhere!).
Pizza Express, Coptic Street (Bloomsbury)
Hidden in the area most famous for being the home of the Bloomsbury group and the British Museum, this corner building (between Coptic Street and Little Russell Street) was once the home of the Dairy Supply Company. Built in 1888 by architect R.P. Whellock, the dairy is partly preserved not only in the outdoors structure of the building, but also in the interiors of the restaurant, with the original round windows and tiles giving an original touch to what is a chain that looks the same wherever you visit a branch.
📷 copyright Ghostly Tom’s Travel
Bibendum and Bibendum Oyster House at Michelin House (Chelsea)
The Grade II listed 1911 building by François Espinasse, with features that are Art Nouveau and features that are to be Art Deco and images that betray its past as the UK home of French tyre giant Michelin even if you had no idea that Bibendum is the nickname of the Michelin Man. The architectural features are more visible from the Oyster Bar than the restaurant, but since the restaurant is run by Claude Bose and you walk through the ground floor to reach it I thought it’d still deserve a mention. While Chelsea isn’t lacking in good architecture, Bibendum’s fish soup is lush.
Byron Proper Hamburger, Strand (Covent Garden)
American food in the former home of the Adelphi Theatre’s restaurant, who would have thought it? Enjoy the burger chain favoured by the previous tenant of no 11 Downing Street the night before a budget and enjoy the reflected light from the massive mirrors, golden mosaic ceilings and (modern) chandeliers of this Grade II listed 1887 building by Spencer Chadwick for the Gatti Brothers.
Leadenhall Market, Gracechurch Street (the City)
While the Leaky Cauldron is not, alas, an option, there are plenty of good eateries (and drinks retailers!) at this historic covered market. While the market itself dates back to the late Middle Ages, the current arcades were designed in 1881 by Sir Horace Jones. Catch Fine Wine Wednesdays at Amathus for discounts on selected wines, including cases, and it’s really worth getting a privilege card if you work in the area (more discounts than just Pizza Express!). The Old Tom’s Bar is almost a best kept secret at the market, but it’s worth looking for because of the original 19th century tiles incorporated into their decor.
Granaio at the Criterion Restaurant (Piccadilly)
If you, like me, are a sucker for the adorableness of Charles Edwards as Michael Gregson, you know this interior inside out from too many re-viewings of Downton Abbey rather than expensive eggs on toast at Savini (reopened this past summer as rustic Italian restaurant Granaio). The 1873 neo-byzantine opulent building by Thomas Verity is one of the oldest restaurants in the world, the setting of the first meeting of Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson and the meeting place of many meetings of female suffrage organisations so, while slightly early for the scope of this post, I think it deserves a mention.
Harrods Food Halls and Tea Rooms (Knightsbridge)
With 23 restaurants covering a variety of cuisines, this 1884 building (completed in 1905) by Charles William Stephens had seen walking into its doors Oscar Wilde himself among other contemporaries and celebrities of later years (including members of the Royal Family), and still shows features of the day in what is the floor the least affected by the most recent ownership. The food court isn’t as tacky as the rest, but if you can’t bear to stop for a bite to eat just have a wander around (be aware it’s very busy) and leave with some of their amazing dates with candied fruit and Christmas presents for easily impressed relations you don’t really like that much. The tea room on the 4th floor, based in the old Georgian Restaurant, is also worth a visit, if only for the stunning open ceiling.
The Langham Hotel (Marylebone)
While the building by John Giles was completed in 1865, and it’s in an earlier style than this post, I thought it fitting to round up the list with a restaurant that has a real life connection to Oscar Wilde. At the restaurant of this hotel, he had lunch with the publisher that commissioned the story that would then become the Portrait of Dorian Gray. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was not only meeting the same person (Joseph Marshall Stoddart) at the same lunch, but also set A Scandal in Bohemia and the Sign of Four in part at the Langham. The interiors are mostly exquisite and they have their own tea if you’d rather have an afternoon feast than dinner. I really recommend the Artesian cocktail bar, but the interior there is a modern take that may not suit everybody’s taste (you’ll forget it if you drink enough).