Restaurants

The 7 Most Exclusive Private Dining Rooms in London

You might have to spend $1,300 for dinner, but at least you’ll feel like royalty.

Private dining rooms can be louche, they can be loaded, they can be loud. Champagne and wine flow freely. They’re the perfect place to celebrate a milestone birthday or a closed deal. And they are brisk business for restaurants.

London’s Zuma restaurant gave Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin sole use of a 14-seat room when they showed up for dinner with their new baby Apple in 2004. Pied a Terre recently turned over its upstairs room for a very exclusive charity gig by Boy George.

“People want to celebrate and be loud,” chef Adam Handling says. “You can do anything in there.”

His new restaurant, The Frog in Covent Garden, features a private room for 20 guests with its own kitchen, where chefs are available to discuss the food. “There’s a lot of demand,” he says. “People want to splash out and have everything tailored. We have hired a woman just to take care of all the special needs for that room.”

The private room at Bob Bob Ricard in Soho, one of the most acclaimed in London, accounts for more than 10 percent of the restaurant’s revenue, owner Leonid Shutov says. It’s such a success, he’s going to have no fewer than three private dining suites when he opens his second restaurant, Bob Bob Cité, in January. These will feature a separate reception room for cocktails before guests enter the dining room.

The rooms sometimes come with minimum spending requirements that can run above £1,000 ($1,320) for a dinner party.

The secluded, exclusive rooms have been with us for centuries. Rules, London’s oldest restaurant, has two: It was here that King Edward VII regularly took his mistress Lillie Langtry. Long before the paparazzi took to gathering outside celebrity restaurants, Rules hid the stairs to the upstairs room behind a specially installed curtain to shield pair from diners’s eyes.

Here’s my pick for the top seven spots in London.

Bentley’s Oyster Bar & Grill

The Crustacea Room at Bentley's Oyster Bar & Grill
Source: Cuff Communications

The Crustacea Room is a clubby space that’s classic but not old fashioned. The windows are draped with heavy curtains, and paintings from Chef Richard Corrigan’s private art collection hang on the walls. Celebrity diners include singers Rihanna, Gary Barlow and Van Morrison. Corrigan is a great host, and his spirit is evident at his restaurants, including Bentley’s, where he serves some of the finest oysters in London. He’s often seen dispensing drinks and anecdotes at the bar with actors, artists and other friends. Bentley’s has been in business at the same Mayfair address for more than a century. Corrigan acquired it in 2005 after working there as a young chef. “Restaurants wouldn’t survive in London without private dining,” he says.

Size: Seats seven to 15.
Cost: Starts at £55 for lunch, £72 for dinner. No minimum spend.
Best for: Business meals and quiet, grown-up celebrations.

11-15 Swallow Street, W1B 4DG; +44-20-7734-4756

Bob Bob Ricard

The room is modeled on the Royal Dining Carriage.
Photographer: Paul Winch-Furness via Bob Bob Ricard

The luxurious private dining room at this Russian-owned Soho restaurant gets a lot of attention, and deservedly so. I struggle to think of a more glamorous place to eat in London. It has always been packed with celebrities, including musicians such as Pharrell Williams, Janet Jackson and Kylie Minogue. But it’s often booked by friends who save up for a special occasion. Just don’t count on getting in during London Fashion Week. The menu is an eclectic mix of luxurious Russian options such as Oscietra sturgeon and baked oysters Brezhnev (with black truffle), and British comfort food such as smoked fish pie and Eton Mess. Don’t miss the flaming vanilla crème brûlée. 

Size: Seats 10 to 16.
Cost: Minimum total spend of £750 for lunch, £1,000 for dinner, but you get to choose from the whole a la carte menu.
Best for: Glamorous birthday parties for people whose age only starts with a 3, 4, 5 or 6. (Children are banned.)

1 Upper James Street, W1F 9DF; +44-20-3145-1000

The Delaunay

Source: Corbin and King

This glamorous theater-district restaurant is owned by Chris Corbin and Jeremy King, who also own the high-profile Wolseley. They are famously discreet and won’t even whisper the names of the celebrities who have dined here. The Delaunay is like a prewar European cafe, with tiled floors, dark-paneled walls and brass fittings. The menu is filled with tempting comfort food such as kedgeree and my favorite-ever chopped chicken salad. There are two private dining rooms—the Corner and the Kean. You might be asked to accept a limited menu, so it is worth checking. “There’s a dearth of good private dining rooms in London, but a fair number of bad ones,” King says. The Delaunay’s are slightly raised so that guests have a view of the main restaurant. The windows onto the street are coated with film to protect the privacy of diners. If you are looking for somewhere discreet, this may be the restaurant for you.

Size: The Corner Room seats as many as 10, the Kean 14.
Cost: Minimum spend of £200 for breakfast or afternoon tea in the Corner Room; book the Kean for dinner and it’s £800.
Best for: Breakfast meetings and dinners to celebrate theater premieres.

55 Aldwych, WC2B 4BB; +44-207499-8558

Gymkhana

One of the two private dining vaults at Gymkhana.
Photographer: David Loftus via Gerber Communications

This Indian restaurant in Mayfair serves some of the best food in London. It won a Michelin star and the title of best U.K. restaurant within a year of opening for dishes such as wild muntjac biryani, pomegranate and mint raita. There are two private dining vaults, both tucked away downstairs. To reach them, you may need to squeeze past guests like chefs Daniel Boulud and Anthony Bourdain. Footballer David Beckham threw a birthday party for his mother-in-law in one of the rooms. It’s a great place to drop names and cash.

Size: You could squeeze 10 slim people into the smaller room, and 14 into the other. (This might require sitting on someone’s knee.)
Cost: Minimum spend is usually £55 per person for lunch; dinner is £800 or £1,000 per room.
Best for: Big eaters who appreciate Indian cuisine and know how to have a good time. (Don’t ask for a balti.)

42 Albemarle Street, W1S 4JH; +44-20-3011-5900

Rules

The Graham Greene Room.
Source: Rules

When the lights are dimmed, it looks as if nothing has changed since this Covent Garden restaurant opened more than 200 years ago. Rules traces its history to 1798, when Thomas Rule sold oysters on Maiden Lane. The restaurant has featured in novels by Graham Greene, Dorothy L. Sayers and Evelyn Waugh. Rules is so discreet, the restaurant created a secret entrance in the late 19th century so that the Prince of Wales (who became King Edward VII) could dine with his mistress Lillie Langtry. There are two private rooms and a hidden cocktail bar worth seeking out. But it’s not just for tourists. Rules is a charming restaurant with first-class British food.

Size: The John Betjeman Room can seat 10 and the Graham Greene Room 18.
Cost: There are room charges of £200 and £350, respectively, for weekday dinner; no charge for lunch and weekends. You choose from set menus costing from £62.50 to £80.50.
Best for: Kings, queens and anyone fancying a slice of Olde England.

35 Maiden Lane, WC2E 7LB; +44-20-7836-5314

The Stafford

The Stafford London vaulted wine cellar.
Source: Sauce Communications

The Stafford Wine Cellars may be among the coolest private dining rooms in London. The cellars are about 380 years old and you can almost smell the history as you enter via a staircase in the Stafford London hotel, which started life as a private residence in the 17th century. During World War II, the Stafford served as a club for both American and Canadian officers stationed in Europe, with the cellar used as a bomb shelter. You can still see memorabilia such as gas masks and wartime posters there. The walls are lined with fabulous old wines that master sommelier Gino Nardella will proudly describe. The Stafford is the type of place where David Beckham and Prince William stop in for Christmas drinks, so it’s probably not the ideal venue to show up in a Halloween costume or to hold wild bachelor or bachelorette parties.

Size: Up to 32 or 40 guests, depending on the table, or 70 for a drinks reception.
Cost: The menus range from £65 to £98.
Best for: Plutocrats and anyone troubled by the prospect of North Korean missiles.

16-18 St James’s Place, SW1A 1NJ; +44-20-7493-0111

Xu

Reminiscent of a film set of a 1930s Taipei tea house.
 Photographer: Carol Sachs via Gerber Communications

Here’s what I’d call a secret private dining room: Two mah-jong tables, closed off behind curtains. They are so hidden, you wouldn’t know they were there if it weren’t for the clatter of the tiles. There, you can eat Taiwanese dishes such as numbing beef tendon and cuttlefish toast, or chilli egg drop crab in a restaurant designed to look like a film set of a 1930s Taipei tea house. Ceiling fans revolve slowly above walls lined with dark polished wood, as waiters in white jackets dispense cups of tea.

Size: Each table seats just four, but you can take both and accommodate eight.
Cost: Minimum spend of £75 per head, £300 per room.
Best for: Gamblers and old China hands in search of a flavor of the East.

30 Rupert Street, W1D 6DL; +33-20-3319-8147

Richard Vines is the chief food critic at Bloomberg. Follow him on Twitter @richardvines and Instagram @richard.vines.

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