Serving seafood to the British public since 1742, Wiltons can proudly call itself London’s oldest restaurant. From humble beginnings selling oysters to tradesmen from a market stall, Wiltons has risen to esteemed status as one of the capital’s most exclusive establishments.
History of Wiltons
The forties were definitive decades in Wiltons’ almost three centuries of service. In 1742, George William Wilton stocked his barrow with oysters at the Haymarket for the first time. In 1840, a beer and wine licence facilitated the creation of a fully-fledged seafood restaurant. And in 1942, a Luftwaffe bomb came close to destroying it.
The nearby demolition of St. James’ Church, Piccadilly, is said to have prompted then owner Bessie Leal to remove her apron, proclaim she would no longer live in London during the war, and ask regular Olaf Hambro if he knew anyone who would purchase Wiltons. Hambro, chairman of Hambros Bank at the time and ancestor of the current owners, calmly asked Leal to add the restaurant to his bill. Leal obliged, leaving for Cornwall the next morning.
Such was Wiltons’ early reputation that after just a few years as a restaurant, it earned a Royal Warrant as Purveyor of Oysters to Queen Victoria. That superior standing has sustained, particularly when it enjoyed unofficial exemption from World War II rationing which limited the price of three-course meals to five shillings. Devoted regular Winston Churchill may well have had a say in that.
In 1984, Wiltons moved to Jermyn Street, its current location – a renowned London street which at different times had housed eminent historical figures such as Sir Isaac Newton, Sir Walter Scott, William Gladstone, and W.M Thackeray. Now associated with high-end fashion, haberdasheries, and restaurants, the move to Jermyn Street ensured Wiltons’ clientele remained exclusive, and its menu expensive.
The interior remains relatively untouched – the private gentlemen’s club aesthetic of green velvet banquettes, pale golden walls, and private booths has been retained. Nowadays, the restaurant is considered an ideal location for high level business meetings. The £7bn merger between Boots and Alliance Unichem apparently took place after several days’ discussions over courses at Wiltons.
Getting to Wiltons
Wiltons is less than a five-minute walk from Piccadilly Circus tube station on the Piccadilly and Bakerloo lines, or Green Park on the Jubilee, Piccadilly, and Victoria lines. The restaurant is also a 10-minute walk from Leicester Square.
Boasting some of the world’s oldest restaurants, London is a place where even a bite to eat can immerse you in the city’s fascinating history. Here are 5 of the oldest restaurants where you can explore the Big Smoke's culinary past.