This weekend it is St Patrick’s Day — officially Saturday 17 March — and celebrations will kick off across London. For clarity’s sake, this is no Julie Burchill homage; the tired tropes of drunken Irishmen need not be honoured any longer, least of all of Ireland’s national day.
The day’s alternative name is the Feast of Saint Patrick and is described as “a cultural and religious celebration” held on the traditional date of the death of Saint Patrick (c. AD 385–461), Ireland’s foremost patron saint. While there’s no religion here, there can be found feasts, and it’s worth remembering that London’s hospitality scene owes a debt to the Irish far greater than just Guinness and Kerrygold. The Irish pub is among the world’s most far-reaching and familiar exports. That its closest national neighbour is well served on that front ought to come as no surprise. That so many of their imitators fall short may not either.
Among the bandwagon-jumping, branded felt hat and costume issuers, there are three pubs that stand out — be it for their iconic status, a commitment to serving Guinness properly and/or quickly, or genuine embrace of revelry, not just on St. Patrick’s Day — and three restaurants, which includes a classic Mayfair fine-dining establishment alongside two of London’s most forward-thinking modern restaurants of the past five years.
But, more than anything, all six will show a special determination to celebrate the deeper riches of the Emerald Isle this weekend. Sláinte.
The Auld Shillelagh boasts, on its website, an award from the Irish Times declaring it the “most authentic Irish pub in the world outside Ireland,” and it certainly feels like it. St Patrick’s Day celebrations here are a thing of legend, and are only made better for the brilliant community spirit that flows through its tiny rooms as hordes of locals seek to subscribe to the Shill’s motto: “Off the leash and on the lash.” This year promises to be an even bigger occasion, as Ireland take on England in a bid to complete a Grand Slam of the Six Nations rugby tournament, so expect some raucous celebrations if they achieve the clean sweep over their most fiercest of rivals.
The Coach & Horses
A true retreat from the mania of Covent Garden; an Irish pub in the truest sense. Many claim it is here one will find the city’s best pint of Guinness, but the vast selection of Irish whiskeys is equally worthy of note — and exploration. Worthy of a visit any time of year, but sure to be a riot this weekend, and, conveniently, just over the road from the official festivities in Trafalgar Square.
The Sun Tavern
A relative newcomer, The Sun Tavern boasts one of London’s best collections of poitín; a traditional Irish distilled spirit with a storied history of prohibition and bootlegging, made legal in 1997 and still comparatively uncelebrated. This year The Sun is celebrating St Patrick’s Day with Teeling Distillery — newcomers themselves, as the first new distillery in Dublin in over 125 years when they opened in 2015 — to put together a list of poitín and whiskey-based cocktails to accompany the fresh-shucked oysters that will be passed around. The rugby will be showing from 2:30pm on Saturday, and there’ll be a traditional Irish band playing live, too.
There’s not much to say about Nuala that hasn’t already been said. Suffice to say, its opening on Old Street roundabout late last year — while met with an element of critical ambivalence and stupefying ignorance — has been hailed a success, and Niall Davidson’s solo debut has come to be regarded a representing something new — and if nothing else, London’s first modern Irish restaurant. Menus find their roots in Davidson’s heritage, and this weekend is all-Irish, with live traditional music and entertainment kicking off on Friday night, and continuing through Saturday, inclusive of Ireland’s Six Nations finale showing on the big screen in the downstairs bar.
Richard Corrigan’s eponymous Mayfair institution has been the standard bearer for Irish cooking in London for years. It certainly makes for an extravagant — and refined — St Patrick’s Day, but Corrigan’s will be celebrating this Saturday with lunch and dinner menus of traditional fare, including collar of bacon with truffle and cabbage, alongside crispy crubeens with beetroot and horseradish, and treacle and Guinness tart with whiskey cream.
Irishman Robin Gill’s Clapham icon is regularly named on essential lists as one of the foremost modern British bistros in London. As it happens, this St Patrick’s Day also coincides with the restaurant’s fifth birthday, and there’s a full week’s worth of celebration to mark the occasion. The team wanted to eschew the usual St Patrick’s Day tropes, so are focussing on “the small producers and purveyors of Ireland, ones that you might not know about or necessarily associate with the Emerald Isle.” Menus with a firm nod to new and old dishes of Ireland will see sea urchin, abalone, snails, Achill lamb, and sea weeds championed, while a list of poitín and whiskeys will be be on hand to help things along.