Want to sample London's gourmet restaurants without splashing the cash? Take a seat at off-peak times and you can eat like a king for a lot less than you'd expect. Here are just a few the finest London restaurants with bargain pre-theatre deals and uncommonly cheap set menus.
Venue says: Best Italian Restaurant of the Year from the London Restaurant Awards.
Since 2006, when Theo Randall, long-time head chef at the River Café, opened this eponymous restaurant its reputation (and Randall’s media profile) has gone from strength to strength. The colourful, spacious dining room is high on comfort, if a little corporate, with cream leather, walnut wood and olive green shades. Service is caring and warm-hearted and the cooking, in our experience, is joyous. The carte is not cheap, featuring luxury produce such as Limousin veal and wild salmon. However, the set menu at lunch and early evening is not dumbed-down, and provides more than a glimpse of the kitchen’s quality output. We were blown away by the subtle combination of smoked eel, golden and red beetroots and horseradish – the dish was simple yet every component sang. Then, a perfect risotto with sea bass, prawns, vongole and monkfish nudged the flavour dial northwards. Wood-roasted guinea fowl, stuffed with parma ham and mascarpone, and served with porcini and portobello mushrooms, brought memories of long sunny Tuscan holidays. Indeed every part of our meal (bread, zucchini fritti, coffee) evoked sighs of pleasure. Portions are generous too; we were so full we had to forgo the Amalfi lemon tart.Read more
Most of London’s really exciting new restaurants open in the centre of town – and you’ll pay two limbs for the pleasure of eating in them. So when somewhere special opens in a residential area, word gets around. This last happened in Clapham in 2013, when The Dairy – a wine and British tapas bar –introduced an innovative, but reasonably priced small plates menu to the neighbourhood. The Manor is run by the same team, but this time has a fully fledged dining room as well as a bar. Prices are a little higher – but still reasonable – as the cooking has gone up a few notches, too. The Manor looks and feels casual, like a slightly more grown-up version of The Dairy, despite the graffiti, old desks and industrial light fittings. But the imagination and skill of the kitchen places it among the city’s most cutting-edge restaurants: The Clove Club, Story or Lyle’s, to give just a few examples. Case in point: two slivers of meat resembling pork belly were in fact crisp chicken skin. Something that resembled soft cheese turned out to be the flesh from a cod’s head mixed with sour cream. Fermentation, one of the most transformative kitchen techniques, is used to good effect on the ‘malt granola’ and fermented grains, both served with the claw-on leg and breast of partridge. The New Nordic technique of scorching and burning is used successfully on both kale and cauliflower, and a smoky aubergine purée (coloured green using mint) served with Irish-inspired potato scones was sublime. ThRead more
As your coats are taken and reservations checked, a pianist tinkles away on a baby grand by the entrance of Richard Corrigan’s Mayfair restaurant. If stopping for a drink, you’re led to a long marble bar topped with individual railway-style lamps; those eating continue to the dusky, romantically lit dining room, which has any solemnity removed by humorous feathered lampshades and metal bird sculptures. Pure luxury seeps from the copper-panelled walls in Corrigan’s where, for a price, a near-perfect experience awaits. All menus – the daily ‘market lunch’, bar, à la carte, tasting – are heavy on meat and fish (though there’s a separate vegetarian menu), and cooking is absolutely top class. A starter of battered and fried oysters on the half shell came with slices of smooth suckling pig sausage and ribbons of lightly pickled vegetables: impeccable mouthfuls each. The tasting menu at £75 shows off the adroitness of the chefs, but there’s still room for a down-to-earth side dish of chips. After such a sumptuous display of hospitality, the £2 ‘cover charge’ seems mean-spirited when the bill is more or less guaranteed to hit £50 a head – although most here won’t notice it. There’s plenty of scope for indulgence on the wine list too.Read more
The aptly named Plateau sits on the fourth floor of Canada Place, with sensational views of Canary Wharf from its huge glass and metal façade. The interior aims to impress with iconic contemporary furniture – marble-topped white Eero Saarinen Tulip tables and matching chairs, and Arco floor lamps – but the restaurant isn’t just a designer showroom for the moneyed classes; the beautifully presented cuisine is testament to the fact that head chef Allan Pickett takes his job very seriously, producing inspired dishes that pay more than just lip service to the principle of seasonal eating. Pickett took on the role in 2010, seven years after Plateau first opened, and has maintained its high standards with the help of a very professional team – our waitress was charming and knowledgeable. From the nicely priced menu du jour, we enjoyed a dazzlingly fresh starter of heritage tomatoes with basil cress and baby mozzarella. Fish mains saw wonderful sea trout paired with peas, broad beans and asparagus velouté, and equally tasty sea bream served on creamy mash with razor clams and roasted garlic cloves. A pastry-perfect peach tarte tatin with lavender ice-cream proved that lavender can taste as good as it smells. For more informal, music-infused dining, head to the adjacent Bar & Grill, though it lacks some of the magic of the main restaurant.Read more
This serene, elegant Marylebone dining room with bucolic views through arched windows produced a meal that astonished us in every way. The Ukrainian chef Igor Tymchyshyn has achieved the seemingly impossible – a £26 menu du jour of exceptional beauty, glamour and flavour. A starter of lobster bisque with seafood raviolo was pure luxury; chicken liver pâté was served on a raft of toasted Poilâne, heaped with tangy apple chutney and scattered with pea shoots. A main course of salmon was offered – and came – slightly pink, its quotidian flavours transformed by caramelised fennel and butternut squash; beef à la bordelaise was tender and fabulous. Crème brûlée came with a half moon of candied nuts, a lovely rainbow of spring colours. Every detail, down to the amuse-bouche (parsnip purée with white truffle foam) was faultless, and we loved the Japanese-style presentation with its asymmetric shapes. The wines (around £9 a glass) aren’t cheap, but the obliging French sommelier, one of an all-female trio, replaced our dry and unforgiving Loire chenin with a fruity riesling without demur. Dine on the rooftop terrace in summer and save up for the £60 menu gourmand (scallops, lobster and foie gras).Read more
Bar Boulud is located in the basement of the majestic Mandarin Oriental and attracts a diverse mix of families, hotel guests, business people and romancing couples. Overseen by renowned chef Daniel Boulud, the restaurant has an eye-catching view of the open-plan kitchen where chefs work in zen-like calm. Charcuterie from Gilles Verot is a big draw, as are the elegant French brasserie options and finger-licking American staples. We’ve had burgers here and loved every bite – perhaps a beef patty topped with pulled pork and green chilli mayonnaise or a French-US collaboration of beefy burger piled high with pork confit and morbier cheese. On our latest visit, we enjoyed such culinary gems as a robust french onion soup, resplendent with caramelised onions and topped with molten gruyère. A veritable mountain of steamed plump mussels cloaked in garlicky red chilli tomato sauce was another winner – every last saucy drop mopped up with chargrilled bread. The only downer was a lacklustre chocolate sponge layered with chilled coffee buttercream, although its accompanying scoop of coffee ice-cream saved the day. A class performance topped off by seamless service. The cheapest way in here is the 'Bouchon Menu' served daily from noon–7pm: 2 courses for £17 or 3 courses for £19 including a glass of house wine and coffee. Otherwise, Sunday Brunch (served 11am-3.30pm; £39pp) is a fun way to experience Bar Boulud's delights, mixing super-indulgent French and American dishes with plenty ofRead more
There’s something almost karmic about the location of this new sibling to the Cinnamon Club, occupying as it does a former warehouse of the East India Company. And it occupies it stylishly, with walls in soft pewter hues inset with lustrous mother-of-pearl patterns. The juxtaposition of exposed air-con ducts with intricate filigree light-shades works unexpectedly well under the lofty ceilings – as does the long tandoori-grill bar where chefs cook to order. Most dishes emerging from the conventional kitchen are clever, not contrived. An intensely coloured but subtly spiced creamy sweetcorn soup was perfectly paired with corn on the cob kebabs. Hot fruit kebabs were a joy: juicy sweetness coated with a tangy, hot chat-style masala, with apple, pineapple, starfruit and pear delivering a burst of sugar and spice. Fat red chillies stuffed with delicately seasoned hyderabadi lamb mince completed a triumphant trio of starters. Mains didn’t hit such high notes, but were still good. Tender roasted black-leg chicken with a crust of pungent fenugreek leaves worked well; and pleasingly plump prawns with bengali kedgeree were both comforting and lively, as was a side order of masala-spiked mash. The menu might be fairly short, but the queue lining up for a taste of it was decidedly long.Read more
Venue says: Bottomless Champagne brunch. Add a bit of sparkle to your weekend brunch with a bottomless glass of Champagne – £15 per person.
Clapham High Street’s a great place to meet up for a drink, with a couple of dozen bars and pubs vying for your attention like plaintive puppies in a dog’s home. But what many of them lack is ambition in the kitchen. They often start out well, but within months they become weekend drinking holes, with the food as mere ballast. Mommi is different. Although its large corner site superficially seems like a dozen others in the street – outdoor tables, sturdy-looking doorman, prominent bar counter – the grill and ‘raw bar’ have been set up to attract all-week custom, drinkers or not. Most passers-by will, like us, be drawn in by curiosity, and a drinks list that offers something a little different. There’s a Japanese-style (but Belgian-brewed) white ale called Kagua, with a distinctive citrus aroma; wines by the glass that are all South American, including a tannat from Uruguay; and pretty cocktails, all helpfully pegged at £8.50. Then you notice the open kitchen, with its dozen or so international staff wearing Japanese-style chef headbands. There’s a charcoal grill and sushi counter, preparing Japanese-Peruvian dishes (not an improbable fusion, as many of Peru’s best restaurants reflect the strong Japanese influence there). The small plates are beautiful to behold, Japanese tableware with artistic ingredient assembly. Raw tuna is seared (tataki), leaving the inside ruby-red, and featured the non-Japanese truffle oil along with toppings of perfectly crisp fried garlic sliverRead more
Venue says: Come enjoy live music at Canary Wharf! Dinner and show from £24.50. Details: http://tickets.boisdale.co.uk
This highly enjoyable member of the Boisdale triumvirate is almost laughably incongruous. On the second floor is an appropriately smart bar-diner that offers a brasserie menu and mollifying puffs in the Cigar Library or on the terrace, but the third-floor main restaurant has a cod-Scottish gentlemen’s-club theme entirely at odds with the office-casual modernist architecture around it. No cliché is knowingly ducked – mounted stag’s head and angling trophy, tartan carpet, table-top thistles – yet they’re delivered with a cheerful wink (a slightly lascivious wink when it comes to the waitresses’ tartan miniskirts). From the £19.75 ‘Jacobite’ menu, we were content with potted mackerel, despite it arriving cold rather than warm, and relished haggis with a quenelle each of orange neep and white mash: no fussy presentation, just gut-stuffing good flavours. A la carte prices trespass on expense-account territory, but crab tian (with another quenelle: avocado, this time) and king prawn caesar salad were up to the mark, big in size and taste. After 9pm there’s a stiff cover charge to watch jazz or blues from a stage at the far end of a pewter bar counter (where there’s a daunting number of fine whiskies).Read more
On the cusp of funky Camden and swanky Regent’s Park, this boutique hotel, bar and restaurant (part of the Gordon Ramsay empire), set in a magnificent stuccoed Victorian pub, fits the latter better. The spacious, soigné bar area serves superior snacks like truffled chips, burger and pizzas at fairly well-upholstered prices. The restaurant – an equally airy space with a Mediterranean-style courtyard behind (and plush basement overflow room) – seems constantly packed, with diners clamouring for zesty dishes like dill-cured salmon with fennel and orange salad or lamb with courgettes and mint gremolata. The decently priced and spritely set lunch is especially light on calories – and sometimes on advertised ingredients: legumes were scanty in a rocket-packed pea and broad bean salad with goat’s cheese. Estimably gamey chicken with broccoli and pasta lacked the promised hazelnuts, but was nonetheless intensely satisfying; bream with sweet, sticky, meaty juices was beautifully paired with puréed and sliced artichoke. Refreshing desserts might include a cool, creamy rice pudding with morello cherries. Y&A is perfect for lunching ladies and better for leisured classes than business: service is not paced for those rushing back to work. In the evening it’s understandably popular for well-heeled north London family occasions. The adjoining former stables is a rustic-looking deli and pizzeria serving top-notch thin-crust pizzas.Read more
More than a decade after it started wowing London’s big spenders with its classy Cantonese cooking, this Michelin-starred trendsetter remains a benchmark against which all high-end Chinese restaurants should be judged. The basement’s stylish interior (all dark wood lattice screens and moody lighting) still attracts the kind of beautiful people who might suppress their appetites – though there was little evidence of restraint on our midweek night visit. Plate after plate landed on tables around us, including signature dishes such as silver cod roasted in champagne, and jasmine tea-smoked organic pork ribs. We started with the dim sum platter, a basket of superbly crafted dumplings. The pastry was perfect in give and texture, just elastic enough to encase generous bites of flavour-packed meat and seafood. Sweet and sour Duke of Berkshire pork with pomegranate was equally good, the melting tenderness of top-quality meat turning the clichéd staple into a luxury – Chinese takeaways should weep with shame. Drinks run from cocktails via high-priced wines to specialist teas. The original Hakkasan that spawned a global empire (including a newer branch in Mayfair) retains all its appeal: cool enough to be seen in, yet authentic enough to dash pretension.Read more
This Swallow Street steakhouse is part of the UK-wide restaurant chain, and is staffed by an international bunch of fashionistas, but what Gaucho lacks in authenticity, it makes up for in quality. From the Argentinian-style cheesy breads to the dulce de leche pancakes, via the succulent empanadas, meat and fish dishes, the food is impeccably sourced and carefully prepared. The main event is the beef; before the meal, a waiter comes over with the five main steak cuts and explains how they’re best served and accompanied. If you want the meatiest meat, choose ribeye, though the fillet is heavenly for those frightened of fat. Service is attentive and can verge on the invasive, especially at the Piccadilly and Richmond outposts – have a polite word and the waiters will back off. The truly impressive wine list is pricey, but the house malbec is usually excellent. The newest branch is in Smithfield, bringing meat to London’s carnopolis, as it were, and there’s an O2 outlet where show-goers can hire a private suite. Even more lavish, the Hampstead branch has a private dining room (and a lovely outside space), and you can hire your own sommelier and grill chef – for a hefty sum.Read more
There’s a gentleman’s club feel to this grand, Grade II-listed Victorian building (once a library) and the high ceiling, book-lined gallery and crisp napery convey a sense of occasion. It’s an established haunt of sharp-suited power brokers and Westminster politicians who enjoy a fine-dining menu of updated rustic and regal pan-Indian dishes. We liked the sliced veal escalope with its toasted coriander seasoning – an innovative complement to creamy tomato-cumin sauce. The spongy uthappam griddle cake made for a dressy and tasty spin on South Indian street food, the ground rice and lentil base glistening with a topping of softened onions and green chillies. Cumbrian farmers have chef Vivek Singh to thank for his signature Herdwick lamb curry. The meat wasn’t as tender as we’ve enjoyed on previous visits and could have done with longer on the stove, but the masala was spot-on, the browned onion paste fried to a russet-brown and spiced with ginger, cardamom and fiery chillies. The kitchen excels in seafood preparations. A whiting fillet, cooked with precision, came with a marvellous rich coconut cream infused with ginger and turmeric. Prices are pegged at the sharp end, although the set menus are affordable. Service is professional, but doesn’t quite match the exemplary cooking.Read more
A long-time favourite, the Blueprint Café would be destination for the setting alone: wall-to-ceiling windows look on to a stunning view of the Thames and Tower Bridge, and a retractable canopy gives a great inside/outside feeling. Head chef Mark Jarvis’s seasonal menus are short and to the point – dishes are beautiful but in no way twee. Begin, perhaps, with just-seared yellowfin tuna with kalamata olives and a delicate salad niçoise, or a tender artichoke salad with a molten warm duck egg and mint. Line-caught cod beneath a zingy green herb crust, with yellow-tinged crushed potato with rapeseed oil and a flower and herb salad, was stunning – summer on a plate. Meat-lovers will be wowed by well-hung Hereford onglet with bone marrow and forest mushrooms. Even a tomato and onion side salad was a treat – jewel-bright, full-flavoured plum, cherry and green tomato heaven. There’s a first-rate wine list too, helpfully arranged. Service was a touch haphazard, but always friendly and, after all – with that view (plus mini-binoculars on every table) where’s the rush?Read more
It takes just a couple of steps along the decked, tree-lined entrance of this Mayfair mews restaurant for a sense of oasis and calm to descend – an atmosphere that is deliberately cultivated and carried through to the cool, well-spaced dining room. Solicitous greetings abound the moment you cross the threshold; the Greenhouse is a place where chairs are tweaked, tables brushed and every detail seen to by a considerate team. The place was buzzing on a weekday lunch with a pleasing range of perceptions, palates and purses. Short dish names on the menus merely hint at the perfumes and jewels to come, and the set lunch is barely less pretty and opulent than the carte, which is three times the price. Sea bream and passionfruit ceviche (from the set lunch) and pan-fried foie gras with malabar pepper (from the carte) both carried a perfectly balanced touch of the exotic. The set menu’s cherry dessert proved as painstakingly executed as the carte’s praline concoction, though the latter was arguably more inventive. Extraordinary appetisers and curious petits fours are served with both menus, and well-priced wine by the glass showcases the quality and interest of the extensive cellar. Neither menu was entirely free of slip-ups; the corollary is that the Greenhouse leaves you eager to return not merely soon, but often.Read more
Venue says: Two steaks, two regular side dishes and a bottle of chardonnay or cabernet/merlot - £60 for two. Available on Saturdays only.
Make your way down a Dickensian London court to enter a Hollywood-esque version of auld Edinburgh, with tartan seats, dark red and green walls, aged-looking woodwork and waitresses in wee tartan skirts. There’s a smart bar at ground level, and a cavern-like basement housing the main dining room. For all the shortbread-tin heritage vibe, this branch of Boisdale is a comfortable and well-run spot, where you immediately feel well looked after. The ‘Jacobite’ set menu – a City bargain at £19.75 – included what may be the world’s finest scotch egg, made with smooth, savoury haggis offset by hot mustard relish. To follow, a Pilmoor Grange chicken and mushroom pie in perfectly crisp pastry was a similarly enjoyable mix of comfort food and sophistication. Prices shoot up for the carte, which includes an imposing choice of Aberdeen Angus steaks, as well as oysters and other Scottish options. All three Boisdales host very respectable music programmes, with leading performers in jazz and other styles. They also share similarly impressive – but not overpriced – wine lists, and, naturally, a magnificent choice of whiskies. Havana cigars are a speciality too, but nowadays aficionados are advised to head for the Belgravia branch and its heated cigar terrace.Read more
When Marble Arch’s Kurobuta launched a pop-up version on the King’s Road, Chelsea sat up and took notice: anything cutting edge is rare in this manor. So successful was the punky Japanese joint that it eventually relocated to this larger, permanent premises a few doors down. The new Kurobuta Chelsea has been given a bit of a polish – despite its menu of Japanese dude food and blasting indie music, tables are well-spaced (with generous, curtained booths for the lucky few), the food offering has been extended to include waistline-friendly sushi and sashimi, and there are even private rooms. Founder Scott Hallsworth, former chef at Nobu Park Lane, has created a series of hit dishes that sound like they have been dumbed down, but which confidently balance shouty flavours. From the ‘junk food Japan’ section of the menu, the tuna sashimi pizza – a crisp tostada topped with wafer-thin slivers of tuna and clusters of wasabi-infused fish roe – delivered both on flavour and texture. Elsewhere, sticky cylinders of sweet miso-grilled aubergine were meltingly moreish, while steamed buns filled with thick slabs of robata-grilled pork belly drenched in sticky, peanutty soy sauce had us licking our fingers. Not everything worked so well – beef fillet tataki with shards of deep-fried garlic had a highly acidic marinade that overpowered everything else. The bar at the front of the restaurant is a destination in itself, offering Asian beers, modish shooters with blush-inducing names, and well-Read more
The route between the Almeida theatre over the road and this D&D London restaurant is a well-trodden one: visit of an evening and there’s an exodus before curtain-up. The pre-theatre menu here, then, is often just that – and is excellent value at £17 for two courses, £20 for three. Those without a show to rush to can take more time over the sophisticated cooking, which is broadly modern French with a few excursions around Europe and Britain. On our last visit, Cornish pollock was paired with golden sultana and cauliflower couscous, and a risotto was rich with wild mushrooms and parmesan; both were from the set menu and served beautifully in glazed pottery dishes. Such thoughtful touches set the standard high – crisp water biscuits with the cheese were seeded and clearly own-made; the charcuterie board is a rustic plank of rillettes, terrines and scotch eggs, all produced in-house. The open kitchen looks on to a discreetly elegant, modern room enlivened by a vast, colourful mural and broadsided by a small bar with its own food menu. As a special-occasion alternative to the many restaurants in Islington, Almeida is a star. NOTE: As of mid-September 2014, the restaurant has reopened after an extensive refurbishment. Among the changes is the elimination of a printed wine list in favour of suggestions from the waiter to fit in with your meal and budget, with the additional option of inspecting their 'Wine Wall,' where all the wines on offer are on show. There were also some chaRead more
The high-ceilinged oval dining room designed by the late David Collins instils a real sense of occasion on entry; this is just the place to celebrate an anniversary or go on an important date. Service on our visit was witty and courteous, though not always as attentive as it could have been. We needed to remind the waiters to bring the second glass of our half bottle of white wine – included in the menu du jour, which offers three courses for £45. A chilled vichyssoise starter was a perfect blend of delicate flavours and textures. Main course of duck leg served with cherry and pecan relish was a stunning testament to chef Chris King’s status as a rising star: the skin crisp and flavourful without being greasy, and the meat succulent. Less successful was a starter of white boudin with chorizo, which looked interesting yet tasted of little. Braised featherblade steak (from the shoulder), though decent enough, didn’t induce carnivorous ecstasy. The clear winner of the dessert selection was caramel ice-cream. Roux at the Landau is perhaps more of a gamble than it should be, but is still, ultimately, a worthwhile bet.Read more
It’s a well trodden path to the Grill from the Savoy Theatre, across the concourse of the world-famous hotel. Many diners seem to combine a meal and a show for a quintessential London night out. As such, the vibe can be quite touristy, but that in no way detracts from the quality of the experience. Following the Savoy’s epic £220 million refurbishment, completed in 2010, the restaurant looks as spectacular as it did in its heyday: a dark and glamorous room of polished wood, burnished mirrors and statement pendant lights. It’s now run by Gordon Ramsay, who largely keeps things classic on the extensive French/British menu. All the old favourites are here – snails in red wine, french onion soup, oysters, lobster thermidor, dover sole – and the grill itself sears a selection of steaks, chops and cutlets, from prime British breeds. At lunch, a trolley trundles around the tables dispensing a roast of the day with trimmings. Nothing is particularly cheap, of course, but the popular pre-theatre menu consists of simpler dishes and offers a more accessible route into this historic and celebrated dining room.Read more