Chris Wren's magnus opus aside, the area around St Paul’s is a strange one for drinking and dining. These days, much of EC4 is made up of glass fronted office blocks — albeit peppered by the occasional centuries-old building (London Stock Exchange, The Old Bailey...). Chain restaurants and food stops abound, catering to the 9-5 crowd. 2010 saw the appearance of One New Change; a giant development housing even more City offices that now dominates the postcode, bringing more eating and drinking variety with it — though still a mish-mash of independents and high street names.
There are gems to be found though, we promise. So, whether you’re playing tourist or looking for post-work drinks, here’s where we'd go in and around the area…
Where to get breakfast near St Paul's Cathedral
Gordon Ramsay's Bread Street Kitchen gets the thumbs up for a leisurely restaurant breakfast. It's a New York-style-big, sometimes buzzy, space — that works well for a working breakfast or a lazy weekend. Choose from a menu of standard English and continental breakfast fare that's been well sourced and well cooked by Ramsay's team. Prices shoot up and quality is rumoured to go down for later mealtimes, so make an early visit. On weekends there's a £40 bottomless prosecco brunch (1.5 hours, rather than your standard two though).
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Other early bird choices include Leon for the usual egg pots (go truffle mushroom, obvs) and Le Pain Quotidien where you can sit down to a plate of baked eggs with salmon, dippy egg or various breakfast bowls or takeaway a passable pastry.
Grace Café gets our overall vote though; artisan breads, good coffee, farm sourced meats all add up to a very nice £3 bacon sandwich thanks. Oh, and they have crumpets.
Where to eat lunch near St Paul's Cathedral
As we mentioned, the chain eatery is king in these parts (hello office workers), so you've got the likes of Chop'd, Itsu, and Wasabi, as well as Burrito Mama (from Masterchef winner and Wahaca co-founder Thomasina Miers) and On the Bab for a step up from the usual identikit lunch.
There’s a cute Up Market going on every Friday and alternate Wednesdays at One New Change where you’ll find independent stalls selling gourmet scotch eggs, sourdough sandwiches, delicious Napoli style pizza and oozy crepes. Yum.
A burger craving is easily solved by a trip to The Fat Bear, where American comfort classics are given the restaurant treatment without compromising on any of the calories or satisfaction. Feast on the duo of house-made beef patties smothered in American cheese, caramelised onions (controversial) and secret sauce stuffed into a potato brioche (£13 inc. fries). Or take a trip to the deep South with meltingly tender BBQ brisket, proper gumbo (vegan gumbo available) and cornbread. Order a pickleback (pickle brine & bourbon) if you've never had one, too.
Pubs, gastropubs and bars near St Paul's Cathedral
Well, there’s The Happenstance from the increasingly ubiquitous Drake & Morgan group; as with most of their spaces, this one is light, bright and welcoming during daytime and turns louder and rowdier as the sun goes down. Cocktails are decent, there's a wide choice of wines and beer and food is mostly good. Wine fans could duck into Veeno, a glass space of a wine bar in — you guessed it — One New Change. Actually, they lovingly serve family-produced Sicilian wines and platters of antipasti. We'd be tempted to take the rest of the afternoon off and go hell for leather with one of their themed tastings to be quite honest.
Traditionalists should take a look at The Bottlescrue, a wine bar with an old school feel from the Davy's crew, or The Paternoster over in the prettier part of EC4 — a Young's pub that’s been smartened up and has a commendable range of lagers and ales on pump and 40+ craft bottles.
Those looking for a more glamorous experience head to Coppa Club (not the igloo branch, unfortunately) where a small selection of cocktails such as the Cherry Manhattan and Rum Refashioned head up a menu of fizz, wines, beer and tempting bar snacks to be supped from high stools around a beautiful bronze bar.
Restaurants near St Paul's Cathedral
Back on the square, lots of people make a beeline for the Paternoster Chop House, famous for its regular starring spot on Channel 4's First Dates, but the general consensus is that potentially spotting Fred is a better pull than the food (average-to-good bistro fare).
Move on to Taberna Etrusca, a charming little Italian dinner spot that gets consistently good reviews thanks to its modern take on Italian classics: think spinach and burrata lasagne, Calabrian sausage bruschetta and salt baked salmon. There's also a darling little courtyard to eat in should the sun show up.
If you're lucky enough to grab a spot at the bar at City stalwart Sweetings, then order up a glass of something French (there's no choice in the matter) and get stuck in to all the seafood you can squeeze in to your lunch hour. Having served local workers fish dishes for over a hundred years, this charming seafood bar is a must-visit for Sweetings Fish Pie served with a slice of history. Sweetings has traditionally been a lunchtime-only restaurant, but has recently started holding monthly Wednesday Fish Supper Clubs — call for details.
Special occasion restaurants near St Paul's Cathedral
A grander Italian offering is presented in Manicomio, a stylishly designed upmarket restaurant housed in a dramatic glass fronted Norman Foster building on Gutter Lane. Stop for lunch at the takeaway counter or the café downstairs or splash out and go a la carte in the white tableclothed upstairs two floors. Deep pockets are required, with starters largely upwards of £12, pasta primis more (crab linguine is £25.50) and mains proper £25-£35, though the ingredients are seriously top notch with bottarga, Saltmarsh lamb and Galician octopus in the mix.
A pal recently raved about a visit to Cabotte, the French restaurant dreamt up by two master sommeliers and with Edward Boarland (ex Roux and Royal Hospital Road) in the kitchen. The menu is at a similar price point to Manicomio's and boasts dishes such as raw Cornish sardines dressed in juniper, peach and bergamot. The confit duck is excellent, should it be on, as is the duck liver starter with smoked duck.
Coffee shops and cafes near St Paul's Cathedral
Hit up Grace Café again for a well done cup of coffee (their house blend is roasted fortnightly and is exclusive to them but you can buy yourself a bag of beans). Otherwise, how about Soho Coffee Co. which is an independent selling organic, fairtrade coffee via baristas who know what they're doing. Fresh, tasty sandwiches, wraps and the like are handmade daily with good vegan and veggie options, plus there's almond, oat and coconut milk to choose from for those avoiding dairy. Oh, and the view of St Paul’s opposite is a bonus.
Artigiano on Paternoster Square does award winning espresso, juices – and, er, wine – in industrial chic surroundings as an alternative.
Searcy's-operated Wren Pantry within St Paul's Cathedral is also very lovely, with good coffee and freshly prepared cafe staples: soups, sandwiches, pastries and the like. Down in the crypt you'll find Wren's Tea Room, which is a more formal adventure where afternoon tea can be taken (best to book) featuring a roster of elegant handmade treats, a wide range of teas and a chilled glass of English sparkling wine.
Late night food and drink near St Paul's Cathedral
Madison, the big D&D bar and restaurant on the roof of One New Change dominates the scene here, and it's worth going up for the spectacular view of St Paul's alone. It gets horribly busy because somewhere with this amount of glorious outside space is always in high demand — even during winter — but you can easily book yourself a table if you're desperate. Expect City workers, a fair amount of jostling at the bar, but ultimately a good night out that lasts till around 1am. Don't turn up too casually dressed, especially in summer.
Discerning drinkers will enjoy the spirit wardrobe at Merchant House, which lays claim to the largest combined gin and rum collection in the world. And happily, various award-winning incarnations of these can be enjoyed till around 1am in the opulently jewel-toned surrounds of the bar and lounge. If you're looking for any later, try Core Bar (3am on Fridays and Saturdays) for the tried and tested combo of giant sharing drinks, happy hour offers and dance floor designed to lure in groups for the long haul.