Whether you like them gritty or glossy, the pub — the boozer, the local — is the cornerstone of any good neighbourhood, and the fair British capital is no exception. We’re not talking swanky cocktail bars tended to by suave mixologists in crisp white jackets. No, the best London pubs are proper pubs, with good beer on tap, bar snacks that make you thirsty, and great all-day menus that make Sunday lunch the star of the show. These are our favourites. Do drop in.
The Ship, Wandsworth Town
Best for: Party people looking for love
The lowdown: Long before Tindr, Grindr and other apps with a careless attitude towards vowels, The Ship is where London’s singletons came to bag a cheeky snog, and then some. Notoriously evacuated during one particularly boisterous bank holiday weekend — such is its draw with the professional, middle-class Clapham crowd — it’s a beast of an operation right on the River, complete with bookable cabanas beside the water for raucous parties, a wooden decking equipped with an outdoor barbecue for burgers et al, and a rambling Victorian conservatory rammed with all kinds of knick-knacks.
The highlight: Weekends are wild when this Ship sets sail, especially on Sundays when live music sets the scene for serious al fresco drinking (‘Shots! Shots! Shots!’). But beyond the boozing, deep in the bowels of this labyrinthine-like pub is where the action really happens, with a restaurant that takes itself as seriously as the revelry. The dining room proper serves up atmosphere aplenty alongside surprisingly fine, modern-British fare: the pick of the seasonal plates includes dishes such as breaded monkfish scampi with pea purée, slow beer-braised shin of beef, and whole steamed lobster with (get this) truffle fries. A dreamy way of mopping up all that drink.
41 Jews Row, SW18 1TB
The Selkirk, Tooting Broadway
Best for: Sell-out Sundays
The lowdown: Striking the right balance between old-school and up-and-coming is a toughie, but The Selkirk — a sprawling, neighbourhood gastropub in now-trendy Tooting — has absolutely nailed it. The two-floored Victorian building, said to be haunted by a floaty female spectre, comprises two wood-panelled rooms bedecked in an eclectic mix of reclaimed furniture, with the main bar and open-kitchen in one and a more formal dining room in the other. There’s a bright and airy conservatory leading out onto the signature walled garden, too, which catches the over-spill of drinkers during the summer months — a mix of firmly-installed regulars and middle-class newcomers fresh to SW17.
The highlight: While there are certainly posher, plusher pubs, The Selkirk is undeniably a foodie favourite: the menu includes everything from roasts to Robata grills, all cooked fresh daily. Try the hummus with dukka, salt and pepper squid, and perfectly pink rump with goose-fat roasties and a Yorkshire pudding the size of your head, all washed down with the best bloody Marys in the biz.
60 Selkirk Road, SW17 0ES
The French House, Soho
Best for: History lovers with a side of nose-to-tail dining
The lowdown: Famously housed inside a Grade II-listed building in what was once the capital’s naughtiest neighbourhood, The French House — formerly York Minster when it originally opened back in 1891 — is an undisputed Soho stalwart. Its history is rich and chequered, from the prolific creatives who have propped up the bar over the years (Dylan Thomas, Sylvia Plath, and Lucian Freud) to meetings during World War II amongst Charles De Gaulle and the French Resistance, but it has well and truly stood the test of time to remain an unwavering constant in London’s most-evolved part of town. Even the half-pints served from the mahogany bar date back to the very beginning by serving alcohol in French measures.
The highlight: Although no longer there, renowned restaurateur and chef couple Fergus and Margot Henderson opened the dining room in the 90s (he went on to open the Michelin starred St John while she runs Rochelle Canteen in Shoreditch), and have a left a legacy of extended lunch hours washed down with plenty of claret and champagne. The strict no-mobiles policy makes the menu the absolute focus: from pigs’ head terrine and pickles to calves’ brains with brown butter, it’s not for the unadventurous, though more familiar favourites such as sea bream and roast pork chop do cater to all. Long attracting a bohemian crowd looking for deep and meaningfuls about art, film and literature, customers should bring their A-game when it comes to dinner party conversation, or risk becoming exiled from what is surely Soho’s tightest social circle.
49 Dean Street, W1D 5BG
The Newman Arms, Fitzrovia
Best for: Pie enthusiasts
The lowdown: After a year-long closure The Newman Arms reopened in 2018 having been taken over by East London’s Truman’s Brewery. Founded in the 1730s after a short stint as a brothel, The Newman has kept its intimate feel, the ground floor bar holding not much more than a few dozen people at a time, and furnishings comprised of all dark wood and dark green leather decor. Upstairs the dining room is all caramel tones and candlelight – and, to the relief of those working and living in the neighbourhood, they’ve maintained the pub’s illustrious reputation for hand crafted seasonal pies that dreams are made of.
The highlight: Did we mention the pies? After a small selection of sharing boards and starters, the pies are the star of the show. The standout is by far the venison and wild mushroom cooked with red wine, but there are also your traditional steak and ale and chicken and mushroom options. All to be washed down with a variety of Truman brews.
23 Rathbone Street, W1T 1NG
The Royal Oak, Bethnal Green
Best for: The hipster brigade
The lowdown: Battling through crowds on Colombia Road clutching a bouquet of overpriced blooms on a Sunday? Ducking into The Royal Oak, a proper East End pub beloved by gangsters as much as it is hipsters, is an escape route with an edge. While there’s no Peggy Mitchell to meet weary punters with a motherly embrace at the wood-clad, horseshoe-shaped bar, there are ace ales dispensed from the pumps and prime people-watching from the stools downstairs, and an elegant modern European menu in the calm, restful dining room upstairs. A pub of two halves, if you will. Interiors look vaguely familiar? That’s because they are: the pub enjoyed 15 minutes of fame as a location in old BBC sitcom Goodnight Sweetheart.
The highlight: Away from the crush of creatives in vintage cast-offs on the ground floor, the restaurant is one worth reserving mid-week when the staff can give its undivided attention to in-the-know patrons. That’s when the magic really happens, with dishes including Suffolk mussels in cider and pumpkin and leek risotto served up on mismatched tables against the cosy backdrop of an open fireplace. It’s like a home away from home, albeit with a bill at the end of it. The best bit, though, has to be the cute courtyard out back which really comes into its own during the great British summer – come rain or shine.
73 Columbia Rd, E2 7RG
The Culpeper, Whitechapel
Best for: Rooftop garden day drinking.
The lowdown: With three floors and a rooftop greenhouse, this is one helluva pub. The ground floor is all casual pints and pub food, with a beautiful circular bar in the centre of the room with an exposed brick wall as backdrop, a few longer group-style tables, floor-to-ceiling windows, and lots of botanics and brass; it’s just as welcoming for an avocado on toast and artisan cuppa as for a pint or five. Upstairs the dining room is a bit more refined, with a fancier menu (steak tartare, duck breast), while the seconds floor is actually made up of five cosy bedrooms and the rooftop is a greenhouse where they grow as much veg as possible to use in the restaurant below.
The highlight: While the highlight has got to be the rooftop, the drinks list is not to be
overlooked. With a completely natural wine list from small growers the world over, a selection of beers ranging from continental draught lagers through locally brewed and bottled beers, to cocktails based on herbs grown on the roof, this is more than your average pub. What’s more, they’re open until 2AM at weekends. A rare thing for any London pub.
40 Commercial Street, E1 6LP
Windsor Castle, Notting Hill
Best for: Old school English charm
The lowdown: Want to feel like you’ve travelled back in time to Victorian-era England? Head to this classic wood-clad pub dating back to 1830s. It’s Notting Hill backstreet access makes for a locals-only vibe, while its low doors leading into each of its four ‘drinking areas’ (you’ve literally got to bend down to walk through them) and many nooks and crannies make this boozer welcomingly cosy, if tricky to stumble out of.
The highlight: The refurbished pub has a sizeable back garden with its own bar, making it a popular neighbourhood summer hangout, as equally fitting for a Pimms as a Harviestoun’s Old Engine Oil Dark Ale. Also, the food menu is solid and especially popular for Sunday roast – you’ll be dreaming about the rosemary and garlic camembert baked in sourdough for weeks and trying to replicate their juicy roasts forevermore. Try the real ales on tap and ready yourself for a long stay.
114 Campden Hill Rd, W8 7AR
The Harwood Arms, Fulham
Best for: A Michelin menu
The lowdown: The only Michelin-starred pub in London? We’ve got the in. Secreted away down a leafy street in Fulham, The Harwood Arms is the kind of place to take first dates or discerning parentals with a cool and relaxed atmosphere matched by charming décor — think bare wooden floorboards, black-and-white photos and beautiful mounted antlers — together with a crowd-pleasing menu that ticks all the right boxes. The crowd is as slick as one might expect, the boys in casual but crisp polos and the girls wrapped in cashmere pashminas, and can usually be found sipping bloody good beer and picking at the signature venison Scotch eggs.
The highlight: From fur to feather, the star-studded menu features the best of seasonal, British game — fallow deer, red-legged partridge, you name it — under the watchful eye and careful hands of head chef Sally Abe. The dressed crab on soft, pillowy English muffins is a definite stand-out, as are the crispy lamb sweetbreads with Wiltshire truffle cream. Presented as set-priced menus for both lunch and dinner — £41.50 and £49.50 for two- and three-courses, respectively — it’s all remarkably reasonable, too. Be sure to book.
Walham Grove, SW6 1QP
The Holly Bush, Hampstead
Best for: Your Instagram A-Game
The lowdown: Down a tiny cobbled road a stone’s throw from Hampstead Heath sits this 18th century boozer covered in vines, a former house built in the 1790s by portrait painter George Romney. Don’t expect a quiet, candlelit bevy in a leather banquette, though – the historian Adolphe Oppe called the pub at the turn of the 20th century ‘a dirty heaving centre of drunkenness’ and while its gastro-style menu and North London clientele gives it a much more upscale vibe today, it remains a guidebook destination for those keen on a daytime pint and park walk, or visiting tourists. Elbowing your way through the crowds of people at the front bar for a table or a spot in front of the open fire to sink a pint in while thoughtfully people watching has become increasingly difficult – but worth it. Just go on a weekday.
The highlight: If you’re feeling brave and can bag yourself a seat, the small outside space at the front of the pub is a nice space to take in a summer’s evening or snowy afternoon.
22 Holly Mount, NW3 6SG
The Queen’s, Primrose Hill
Best for: Pre- or post-park bevvies
The lowdown: The Queen’s is conveniently situated at the mid-east corner of one of London’s most sought-after summer destinations, Primrose Hill. They make good use out of this fact, offering up G&Ts in to-go cups to the hordes of passing tourists come summertime, while in the winter months the pub is filled with locals tucking in to mulled wine and familiar favourites such as bangers and mash and fish and chips. Having been refurbished under Young’s management, standard beers like Kronenbourg and Peroni accompany the signature brews on draught.
The highlight: Location location location! There are great views from the upstairs dining room and terrace, where lunches (Cumberland sausage sandwich, 8oz rump steak) and dinners (fresh oysters, pan-fried salmon) are served, while at the front of the ground floor bar punters enjoy pints at the raised front tables overlooking the street. When things get busy come summertime, the decked outdoor area fills up and spills out almost into the park, making for a fun intermingling between park and pub crowds.
49 Regents Park Road, NW1 8XD