Discover the full range of great restaurants, hotels, pubs and bars with the RestaurantsinCoventGarden-dot-net website. Covent Garden is one of London’s most popular areas and it has literally dozens of places to eat. The range of cuisine on offer in London WC2 is simply enormous. Let us guide you through the good, the bad and the ugly in the world of dining.
Where Is Covent Garden?
The area known as Covent Garden occupies the space between High Holborn and Shaftesbury Avenue to the north and the Strand in the south. It is bounded by Leicester Square in the west and Kingsway in the east. Some of London’s best restaurants can be found there and you can experience almost all of the world’s great cuisines without leaving London WC2.
The centre of the area is a square or “Piazza” in the centre of what was the old market. This was the scene of London’s biggest wholesale fruit and vegetable market, until it was relocated to Nine Elms at Vauxhall in 1974. It is now known as New Covent Garden Market.
The fruit and vegetable market was forced to leave the area when it became impossible for ever-larger transport vehicles to gain access. It had been operating continuously since 1654, when traders set up stalls against the walls of the Bedford House garden. The Duke of Bedford was granted a market charter by King Charles II in 1670.
What Restaurants Are There?
The choice of places to eat in Covent Garden is immense. You can experience food from just about every part of the globe. This includes cuisine from Belgium, Italy, France, Spain, India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, the USA and Mexico, Brazil, Japan, Korea, China and Thailand – even Great Britain.
You can eat burgers, ribs and fajitas; pizza, pasta and risotto; Traditional and Modern British, French and the wider European; Pan Asian, which includes Chinese, Japanese and Thai food; frites and moules, plus one of London’s best British fish and chip restaurants can be found right in the heart of the area. As are three of London’s most famous and longest-established restaurants:
- Rules – has been serving traditional English food in Maiden Lane since 1798. London’s oldest restaurant started life as an oyster bar, but are now famous for serving great British cuisine, with the emphasis on game and roast meats. Oysters are still very much part of the menu and now sit next to the likes of London Peculiar soup (pea and ham hock) and roast quail salad on the starters’ menu. Rules has its own farm in the Pennines, from which it sources produce and game. Among Rules’ celebrated customers are Graham Greene, Sir Laurence Olivier, Sir John Betjamin, Henry Irving and Evelyn Waugh. Rules is one of the very best restaurants London has to offer. Rules Restaurant, 35 Maiden Lane, London WC2E 7LB: 020 7836 5314
- J Sheekey – the renowned fish and seafood restaurant in St Martin’s Court, with an Oyster Bar adjacent to the formal restaurant. A sister to the nearby Ivy (see below), it offers fresh and divinely cooked fish and seafood at fairly high prices. A good excuse to spoil yourself. Their fish pie is famous, but the menu offers far better fresh alternatives and the dover sole comes highly recommended. J Sheekey, 28-32 St Martin’s Court, London WC2N 4AL: 020 7240 2565
- The Ivy – where many major celebrities come to eat British food and be snapped as they leave their West Street dining rooms. I have personally seen Sir Michael Caine, Sir Richard Attenborough and Dame Judi Dench either leaving or arriving. It first opened in 1917 and the paneled dining rooms reflect its Edwardian beginnings. The Ivy, 1-5 West Street, London WC2H 9NQ: 020 7836 4751
At the bottom end of the pile are quite a few tourist cafés where food is prepared elsewhere or in advance and reheated to order. We will guide you away from such establishments, where the only ambiance comes via the ping of a microwave. The prices are usually high and the value for money is low or non-existent.
Two Historic Landmarks
The Royal Opera House was built as the Theatre Royal by Edward Shepherd in 1732. Although it presented ballet and opera from its earliest days, to begin with it was used as a general theatre. The current building is the third on the site and dates from 1858. Its facade and interior were designed by Edward Barry, though most of what we see today was rebuilt during an extensive rebuilding project that added on shops and offices, incorporating the Floral Hall of the old market and destroying the 18th century facade of Russell Street.
The Royal Opera moved there in 1945 and the Royal Ballet a year later. To many the Royal Opera House is known simply as “Covent Garden”.
To be found at the western end of the Square, St Paul’s Church, also known as the “actor’s church” was built in 1631 to a design by Indigo Jones. How much of the original church is open to doubt as several fires have taken their toll over its long history and most of what we see today are 18th and 19th century renovations.
Covent Garden Hotels
There are a number of hotels in the area. The two best appointed hotels are:
- Covent Garden Hotel: A 58-room five-star boutique hotel in a former hospital and dispensary very near the Seven Dials junction. The style is old-style with antiques, bric-a-brac and gorgeous fabrics everywhere you look. Their Brasserie Max is the stylish house bar and restaurant. Covent Garden Hotel, 10 Monmouth Street, London WC2H 9HB:
- The Waldorf Hilton Hotel was built in 1905 by William Waldorf Astor, the First Viscount Astor. Now a five star hotel and part of the Hilton Group. Waldorf Hilton Hotel, Aldwych, London WC2B 4DD: 020 7836 2400
As you’ll see from the map, you can take the London Underground to any one of five stops to gain access to the sights and sounds of the area. These are Holborn (Piccadilly and Central Lines), Leicester Square (Piccadilly and Northern Lines), Piccadilly Circus (Bakerloo and Piccadilly Lines), Charing Cross (Bakerloo and Northern Lines), and Covent Garden (Piccadilly Line only) itself. Because Covent Garden station has only lift access to the street and can get very busy, we recommend you use one of the larger stations and walk.
You can easily walk there from anywhere in central London, including Leicester Square, Piccadilly Circus, Oxford Circus and Trafalgar Square. There are numerous buses that pass by, but none that venture into its narrow streets.
To get there from Heathrow Airport, take the Piccadilly Line from your Heathrow terminal to Leicester Square, Covent Garden or Holborn tube stations.
Check out the Transport for London (TFL) website for more London travel options.
Here is a short video of the decor at Rules’ Restaurant:
The small chain of Hawksmoor restaurants bill themselves as “A British steakhouse and cocktail bar” and this just about sets the tone for what is to come. There’s some confusion about the former use of the impressively large basement. Time Out London says it used to be a fruit warehouse, whereas the owners say it was the former Watney-Combe-Read brewery. Both may well be true.
These days you’ll be hard-pressed to find many bananas here, or indeed many hops or barley. Meat is the main component of what Hawksmoor is about. Starters start and £8.50 and travel all the way up to £17.50 for half a native lobster. Other delights (which come in pretty sizeable portions, so be warned) include bone marrow with onions, potted beef and bacon (served in Yorkshire puddings), prawns on toast, Tamworth baby ribs, and potted mackerel.
The king of the main courses is the massive 850g chatubriand, best served with anchovy hollandaise, triple cooked chips, mash, and the succulent bone marrow gravy. (Other steaks are available). Other accompaniments include beef dripping fries, a very cheesy macaroni cheese and, if you’re in the mood, half a grilled lobster.
They know how to cook steaks and meat really is the name of the game at Hawksmoor. It’s not the place to bring yor vegetarian maiden aunt, or a posse of Buddhist monks. Never mind the fact that you’d probably end up several hundred pounds down. Posses in general are not a good idea here, especially if you are the one paying the bill at the end.
Wimps and non-steak eaters can have lemon sole or some concoction of grilled vegetables that no one ever buys. Now for the puddings. Gooseberry pie, sticky toffee pudding and raspberry eton mess are the pick of the puss, most of them around £7 each. One of them (the chocolate and caramel tart) costs 50p more which they donate to Action Against Hunger, which seems to be taking the piss somewhat. It’s easy to spend £100 a head at Hawksmoor and 50p out of that to hungry children only highlights the gluttony. Still the food is very good.
Cocktails are featured, though the licence states you’ve got to be eating to indulge. The wine list is immense, you can get a decent ale, plus loads of lager, and Sunday Lunch is fast becoming an institution at Hawksmoor, Seven Dials. If you enjoy eating meat, drinking and have a large disposable income, you’ll love it.