It’s a fact well known that we are partial to a private members’ club. These discrete clubs pepper London, from the fusty chandeliered dining rooms of St James’ to the cool in-house restaurants of Soho, and many of them are signed up to the Eat Out To Help Out scheme.
The scheme, which offers diners 50% off their bill (up to £10), runs from Monday to Wednesday throughout August and it’s been a hit with restaurants. But private members clubs are an even better bet, often they already subsidise the food to make it more affordable, and many clubs have allowed members to bank up their membership subs over lockdown to spend on food and drink. Which makes Eat Out To Help Out an added bonus.
Here are some of our favourite clubs offering the Eat Out To Help Out discounts…
The Groucho Club
If you haven’t got a copy of OK Magazine to hand then don’t worry, simply head to The Groucho Club and see anyone-who’s-anyone in the flesh instead. The sometimes discreet, sometimes outrageous Soho club is a mecca for London’s media types, with no visit complete without meeting at least a handful of your heroes from stage and screen and at least one popstar to boot.
Launched in the ’80s, the club takes its name from Groucho Marx, who famously exclaimed that he wouldn’t be a member of any club that would accept him as a member.
There are two restaurants, The Dining Room, offering smart fine dining (plus shepherd’s pie) or Bernie’s, named after the Groucho great Bernie Katz and offering a more relaxed environment.
Ten years after its launch as London’s edgiest new club, Shoreditch House has retained its cool credentials but gained a little maturity, and a lot of members. Housed in (where else?) a converted East London warehouse, Shoreditch House offers members use of a bowling alley, Cowshed Spa and an impressive gym. But where Shoreditch House reaches dizzying heights is the top-floor restaurant and the rooftop pool with iconic views across London.
The recently added ‘Shoreditch Rooms’ means you can now live amongst the hipsters with an overnight stay at one of the sister clubs; members have the option to make the most of facilities of Soho Houses in Istanbul, Toronto, New York, Berlin and Barcelona.
Restaurants include the Sixth Floor Rooftop restaurant, offering a fusion of Californian and Mediterranean dining and the Fifth Floor British restaurant.
The Ivy Club
Part of the ever-expanding Ivy empire, The Ivy Club is smart and refined. Accessed via a discrete entrance round the corner from the eponymous restaurant, a short lift-ride and you’re in the exclusive confines of the three storey club.
The wood panelled drawing room features a pianist and bar while upstairs the minimalist loft feels like a spaceship or laboratory. The club is home to a membership made up of mainly creative types drawn from the media.
Given the Ivy’s obvious restaurant pedigree you’d expect dining here to be special, and it is. The Piano Bar and Loft offer informal dining, while the Drawing Room is smarter and serves a medley of Ivy classics (including the restaurant’s famed Shepherd’s Pie).
The Hurlingham Club
Britain doesn’t really do ‘country clubs’, probably because if we did they’d all be eclipsed by the Hurlingham Club. The Fulham club is where well-to-do Londoners go to hang out. Forget the racy Soho clubs, leave the fusty St James’s spots to grandpa, grab your tennis whites, we’re going to The Hurlingham. The imposing house and manicured gardens are only as impressive as their waiting list.
It’s currently closed to newcomers, having reached 30 years long. The only way in is to be born to a member (a tricky option for you at this stage) or to marry one. Genuinely, it really is worth it.
Putting the yummy in yummy mummy, the restaurants are packed with Kate Middleton wannabes all day long. The Dining Room is formal, crystal chandelier and high ceilings to match. But informal dining is available for members in The Harness Room.
Chelsea Arts Club
Chelsea Arts Club is undeniably an institution of the members’ club scene, just one that’s a bit tricky to pigeon hole. Established in 1891, the club boasts over a century of artistic credentials and somehow it’s as bohemian as ever.
Its creative crowd of members include painters, sculptors, filmmakers, poets and actors – making it the rebellious younger sister to the stuffy St James’ Clubs. Indeed, the club was banned from holding it’s annual ball in the Albert Hall in the 1950s due to its notorious reputation for ‘rowdiness, nudity and public homosexuality’. Still legendary for its parties, the Chelsea Arts Club also hosts a more reputable series of exclusive exhibitions, talks, screenings and performances from its artistic members.
The Dining Room famously includes the table at which Monet was once entertained by James Whistler, but the Frenchman would have probably preferred to eat in the garden outside, which is also an option.
Home House is perhaps the perfect townhouse club. Occupying a vast property on Portman Square, Home House is a mix of imposing and homely, stately and welcoming. It’s got 7 different bars (including the Home Bar with its incredible, sculpted, Dame Zaha Hadid design). Home House set the standard for large scale luxurious and modern townhouse clubbing, yes Annabel’s might be more beautiful, the Arts Club better connected, the House of St Barnabus more frenetic, but Home House was seemingly ahead of the curve, opening in 1998.
Remaining relevant for 20 years is a challenge, most members’ clubs have either been about for ever, or stagger off the scene, because they can’t find enough members or they go off the boil. Home House has lasted the course and is well on the way to becoming an institution.
The main dining choices are dining in the form of the creatively named The Restaurant, a brasserie-style dining room specialising in British produce, and the more informal Drawing Rooms, a series of interconnected rooms where you can order from a casual dining menu.
If you’re the sort of person who refuses to watch the remake of The Thomas Crown Affair or Oceans Eleven, then you’re probably after the original Soho House too. To you, all the other Soho Houses are as worthless as the rebooted Jumanji or Italian Job, and good for you. Ground zero in the seemingly exponential explosion of Soho House as it spreads its achingly cool appeal across the globe one rooftop pool after another, Soho House Greek Street really is where it all started.
Occupying five historic Georgian townhouses the club has an outdoor courtyard, roof deck, bar, restaurant and many many club rooms. Labyrinthine and always chokka block of people you know, think you’ve met before or want to meet now, it’s always a party and always fun.
Getting a seat was always a challenge for members, but post-pandemic that’s a simpler matter. Serving classics like the Mac and cheese and their chicken wrap, the food is a solid part of the Soho House experience.
Where are we going? Quo Vadis… The restaurant and club, housed in a former brothel that was once the home of Karl Marx (presumably not at the same time), combines a triumphant Soho restaurant with a private members’ club.
The restaurant, small and nearly perfect, is available to muggles, but members upstairs can enjoy the Dean Street club’s private dining room, as well as the homely ‘snug’ room and two bars, making it an ideal respite from the carnage of a Soho evening. Quo Vadis underwent substantial refurbishment in 2016 and the new interior is a gorgeously lit masterpiece of lush carpets and moodily painted walls, giving an old-school luxury feel.
The restaurants, for there are technically three, but with a single kitchen and menu the aim is to separate the non-members from those who can sneak upstairs. The fare is seasonal, regional British fare.
Once home to Charles Fortnum (of ‘and Mason’ fame), this Soho townhouse now plays host to Black’s Club, an institution that’s enjoyed something of a recent revival. Despite spurious claims to having been formed in 1764 (when Samuel Johnson, David Garrick and Joshua Reynolds formed a supper club) history wasn’t really made until 1992 when Black’s launched with a reputation as an enjoyably ‘louche’ bohemian drinking den.
Today, perhaps with the wisdom of age, it has a more wholesome reputation and with the building restored to its original Georgian glory the club celebrates its supper club roots. Unassuming, it’s easily mistaken for someone’s actual house from outside, but inside is cosy and welcoming with a genuine home-from-home feel. All this is made all the more comfortable by one of the club’s key perks: it’s dog-friendly! So your four-legged friend can laze in front of the open fire while you enjoy all the spoils of the dinner menu.
The restaurant sums up the Black’s experience, with a comfortable and cosy feel and upmarket nursery food (try the sausage and mash) served alongside more grown up food.
The Ned is something totally different. Unfairly likened to a posh motorway services by one wag, The Ned is a one-stop shop for London fine dining, this vast club houses dwarf everyone else, you could probably fit at least half the clubs on this list into its 8 floors of prime space. It has ten individual restaurants. Ten! Not all eateries are members’ only, letting you try before-you-buy, but the club also boasts two pools (one subterranean, the other rooftop) just for members, plus a floor of dining, meeting and relaxing space; an invaluable resource in the heart of London’s financial centre.
Part of the Soho House empire, unusually membership doesn’t automatically give you access elsewhere, as The Ned stands apart from the rest of the Soho House structure.
Where to start? It’s all dining, pretty much. Start at Cecconi’s and work your way round the ten restaurants…