As London grew as a city its greater contact with the outside world resulted in more eating establishments being created. As a major trading city more produce was coming into the capital from both other parts of Britain and overseas. The rapid rise of growth in the city also meant that people identified an opportunity to create wealth by producing and selling meals. In the 12th century many stalls and shops would line the Thames selling food.
The urbanites eating habits were far different from those living in rural areas. The country people ate mostly what they grew whereas most of those living in London would purchase their food. Even in these early times they had access to wine coming from Europe and spices obtained from the Crusades. The food routes were now open. It became a symbol of a family’s status how much they spiced their food with ginger, cloves, saffron and pepper. Restaurants were not really to appear until the end of the 18th century with most people eating out in inns and taverns It was from these inns and taverns that the first restaurants were created. There are now many establishments in London that would claim to be the oldest restaurant in the city.
The Wiltons opened in 1742 and started as stall selling oysters shrimps and cockles on a stall in Haymarket. As business grew the owner opened up a fish monger shop with a sit in oyster room by the Trafalgar square in 1805.
It became a fully-fledged fish restaurant in 1840 when it moved to new premises off the St James’s Street. It then moved locations on several occasions until it found its current address in 1964 in the Jermyn Street. Rules in the Covent Garden opened in 1798 and from the start specialised in serving game. Its popularity grew in WW2 when non-rationed products such as pheasant, rabbit and grouse were still served.
Another London restaurant steeped in history is the Simpson’s-in-the-Strand. It originally opened in 1828 as a smoking room and coffee house, before 20 years later developing into a restaurant of the finest traditional food. Food is still served here on trolleys rather than individual plates. This due to the fact that for many years chess was famously played and the waiters did not want to disturb the games by lying out the food. As the country became industrialised and urbanised the scale of serving food simply multiplied in the capital city and certain restaurants would specialise in cooking certain foods.
The Newman Arms Pie Room opened in 1863 and specialised in the making and serving of pies. It was around this time that French restaurants started to appear in London and in 1867 the Kettner’s opened. The owner Auguste Kettner had previously been the chef to Napoleon III of France. From the earliest times the food in London had an international feel. With the UK’s trade with the commonwealth and the rest of the world so many different products became available. The multi-cultural aspect to the cuisine in London would continue as the country experienced in-migration from the Commonwealth countries and other areas of the world.
A combination of greater wealth and faster transport has continued to change the eating habits of Londoners. The growth of the large gastro pubs, the new coffee house and the explosion of vegetarian and even vegan eating has shaped the type and range of eateries that are available in London.