Rules is generally regarded as the oldest restaurant in London and a popular dining spot for eager tourists seeking the silver service they might assume everyone enjoys in the UK from watching shows like Downton Abbey. However, local Londoners who are food connoisseurs know if you want a truly traditional restaurant that has been charming diners since 1742, they need to head to Wiltons.
Celebrities and commoners alike have passed through the famous doors of Wiltons for centuries enjoying their celebrated oysters, wild fish, and game. During our lunch, Lord Heseltine was sitting quietly in a discrete corner and there is no doubt, the establishment likes to dine here because the only journalists/photographers they will see are restaurant reviewers like myself.
You can sing the praises of every dish on their menu, such is the endurability of their classics. Their Dover sole is widely regarded as the best in town whether it is grilled, in goujons or à la meunière. It is all carefully deboned for you and easily their most popular dish on the menu; they serve about 200 each week. Even if you are not normally a fan of fish skin like myself, you will be readily devouring this given how well-flavoured it is and adds a slightly crunchier texture to the dish.
Remember to also ask for their daily specials from the carving trolley; you can count the number of restaurants in London that still offer a carving trolley on one hand. They offer this Monday – Friday lunchtimes as well as most evenings. During, our Tuesday lunch visit, we tried an extremely well-executed rack of free-range Blythburgh pork with crackling and apple sauce. The meat was superbly tender whilst the crackling was suitably crunchy; you normally get one or the other but rarely both.
It’s great to see how Daniel Kent, the head chef of Wiltons supporting smaller, independent producers that value quality and things like animal welfare before profits. For example, Blythburgh pigs are genuinely reared free-range (only 3% in the UK are reared in this way). The smoked salmon I tried was from Secret Smokehouse and ‘London cured’; they only work with the most renowned Scottish sustainable producers and always RSPCA high welfare certified. They never use frozen fish, sugar, colouring agents, etc.
Their ethos might be to use high-quality ingredients that are simply prepared but the presentation is always impeccable. Case in point is their dressed crab which has the individual parts carefully separated from the white meat to the mustard of the crab. You will struggle to find a better presented dressed crab anywhere else in London.
Desserts are not an afterthought at Wiltons and not-to-be-missed. I’ve never rated bread and butter pudding with custard as often I find the dish quite dense and heavy but Daniel’s version is soft and sponge-like, readily soaking up the custard goodness. And their chocolate fondant is an undeniable classic with rich aromas due to the fact they’ve used high quality 70% Amedei chocolate and there is a pleasing textural variety with the addition of peanuts.
I suspect Wiltons has one of the highest returning customer ratios in London and it’s not hard to see why based on all the fantastic food we tried.