Harry Mount

The Elizabethan grandeur of Middle Temple Hall

Anyone can eat among the lawyers of the Inns of Court

  • From Spectator Life
(Middle Temple Hall)

It’s the most beautiful restaurant in London – and the oldest. Built in 1573, Middle Temple Hall is celebrating its 450th anniversary. It’s also where Shakespeare held the premiere of his Christmas play, Twelfth Night, in 1602. How strange that hardly anyone knows about the best Elizabethan hall in London. It’s mostly used by barristers but the public can eat there too, as long as you book ahead

I looked up to high table to see a purple-faced bencher, glaring down at me

The food is lovely, substantial, marvellously unponcey fare and fantastically good value for such a staggering spot – on the western edge of the City, on the banks of the Thames. When I was there this month, I had cream of mushroom and tarragon soup (£4.50), followed by turkey breast with sage and onion stuffing (£12), and a glass of Middle Temple Bordeaux Blanc (£6). But you’re not really there for the food, so much as the staggering architecture. 

The four Inns of Court – Middle Temple, Inner Temple, Lincoln’s Inn and Gray’s Inn – have a tremendous range of buildings, going back to the Temple Church, built by the Knights Templar in 1160, in imitation of Christ’s Sepulchre in Jerusalem. Lawyers have been practising in this corner of London for 700 years.

Middle Temple Hall is the best of all those buildings. Even though I had a hundred lunches there in my brief career as a barrister – and had to eat 12 dinners to qualify – I still never tire of staring up at the double hammerbeam roof, the best in London. (These days, aspiring barristers attend ten qualifying sessions, which combine dinner with lectures and debates).

(Middle Temple Hall)

I have had the odd low moment in the hall. One day, as I ate a solitary lunch, reading a paper, a worried waiter walked the length of the hall to say, in a kind way, ‘I’m so sorry, sir, but a bencher [a senior barrister] has asked me to remind you of the rule about not reading in hall.’

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