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: Lima Floral post-theatre menu. Monday-Thursday 10pm-10.30pm. From £17.50. Check it on www.limafloral.com
Turning up at a smart destination restaurant with a large suitcase is always going to be awkward. What’s more awkward is not being able to find the front door. I’m not sure who was more surprised, us or the kitchen porters, when we marched, suitcase in tow, through the kitchen door of Central, currently the hottest restaurant in Lima, Peru. Central is so discreet it doesn’t even bother with a sign. But its dishes are the opposite, with plate after plate dazzling its mixed clientele of tourists and wealthy Lima residents. There’s no such problem finding the new London outpost – its sign is clearly visible. And considering the near-impossibility of transposing chef Virgilio Martinez’s uniquely Peruvian style of cooking more than 6,000 miles, they’ve done a pretty good job. This is Martinez’s second London restaurant, following on from the success of Lima in Rathbone Place, an elaborate affair that has already bagged him a Michelin star. Lima Floral, on Covent Garden’s Floral Street, is not a copy but an extension of this gambit, and showcases more Peruvian classics. This time there’s a little less fuss, a more reasonable price tag, and a bar in the basement serving pisco cocktails. Interesting textures and depth of flavour, rather than the high-tech wizardry of Central or Lima, take centre stage here. Sea bream ceviche comes as a sublime starter, teamed with mounds of guacamole-like avocado uchucuta (salsa), speared with dried onion slices and sprinkled with toasted corn. Sea bRead more
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
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
Genial staff take obvious pleasure in working this historic dining room, with its beautiful wood panelling and floral plasterwork ceiling. India Mahdavi’s feminine interior of velvety golds complements the original features, while Damien Hirst’s artwork keeps it grounded in the present. Waistcoats, silver jugs and Baccarat crystal denote formality, so first-timers may be surprised by the rusticity of the food on display: a leg of ham for carving, butter pats as big as cheese truckles, huge biscuit jars. Best to go with the flow. Darroze put trendy piment d’espelette on the culinary map and her menus reveal a passion for all things peppery. Yet this is not fiery cuisine; sometimes we wish it was a little less French, such as in the irritating refinement of hake with razor clams, salsa verde and minuscule girolles, which anywhere else would have been a muscular dish. No complaints, though, about perfectly proportioned foie gras crème brûlée with bright apple sorbet. Dessert was a clever globe of chocolate, which, when hot chocolate sauce was poured over, collapsed to reveal a layered tower of black-forest-themed indulgences. The sweet avalanche continued with a whole trolley of petits fours to choose from – cinnamon marshmallow and an apricot and salted-caramel macaron were particular favourites. Such is the special-occasion nature of the place that everyone is presented with a personalised souvenir menu; but rest assured, the experience is memorable in its own right.Read more
Venue says: Kopapa is perfect for your pre or post theatre visit. We have set menu options available with 2 courses for £18.95 or 3 courses for £21.95
Fusion maestro Peter Gordon (of the Providores & Tapa Room) co-owns this handily located, stylish all-dayer. He oversees an exciting and well-executed menu that runs from breakfast to dinner, with missteps a rarity. Turkish eggs (poached eggs with yoghurt, hot chilli butter and flatbread) – a favourite from the Tapa Room – makes a welcome appearance on brunch and breakfast menus. Lunch features weighty sandwiches (steak on focaccia with caramelised onion, mustard cream cheese, roast tomatoes and pickles) and burgers (soft-shell crab burger with Asian salad, spicy peanut mayonnaise and avocado), alongside salads (belper knolle cheese, roast grapes, mixed leaves, pickled ceps, walnuts and black vinegar dressing) and a selection of more inventive dishes. Many of these also appear as large or small plates on the evening menu. Pan-fried sea bream with broccolini, rainbow chard, coconut coriander chutney and paprika crumbs is a typical main – quality produce, imaginatively teamed. There’s the occasional disappointment (a slightly flabby serving of deep-fried sesame and Urfa chilli salted squid with sumac mayo, for example), but you’ll never be bored. Smiling staff are attentive and clued-up about the menu, which changes monthly. A wide-ranging wine list is buttressed by an eclectic set of cocktails, and even the modish brasserie-style decor globe-trots, very prettily in the case of the Turkish floor tiles.Read more
Venue says: Join us for Sunday brunch in the heart of London, served with a Bar Boulud twist. Available from 11am to 3.30pm and priced at £39 per person
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: Glass of prosecco, half lobster, ribeye with chips: £49 for two! Available only for dinner Mon 31 August. Quote 'Bank Holiday'. T&Cs apply.
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
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
Mercifully for its devotees, the modern ‘GH Soho’ sign outside the time-honoured red frontage doesn’t signal a flashy rebranding. Inside, all is as it should be at the Gay Hussar: dark wooden panelling bedecked with political portraits or Martin Rowson caricatures; nicotine-brown ceiling; polite, prompt Hungarian staff; and shelves of political biographies. Gladstone stared bleakly down at our wooden settle, having perhaps eaten one too many dumplings. Since the restaurant’s 1953 inception, the powerbrokers of the political left have dined here. Despite the odd tourist party, they were still in evidence during our good-value lunch. More than a dozen traditional Hungarian dishes are offered for starters and mains. On a sweltering July afternoon we should have ordered the chilled wild cherry soup, or even the fish terrine with beetroot sauce and cucumber. Nevertheless, bean soup, a hearty, salty, wintery ‘soup of the day’, was lifted by slices of intensely smoky sausage. Intense flavours also characterised a main course of paprika-rich venison goulash, served with splayed out gherkin, tangy red cabbage and couscous-like tarhonya. A glass of Bull’s Blood (just £4.50) made a satisfying match. For afters? The fruity, jelly-like mixed berry pudding provides needed refreshment; were he still active during the Gay Hussar’s 60-year lifetime, it might even have cheered up Gladstone.Read more
The Lockhart got off to a shaky start, but this changed towards the end of 2013 with the arrival of a new chef, Brad McDonald, and whole new menu. McDonald hails from Mississippi via Brooklyn, and while his cooking has all the knowing contemporary class of a hip NYC bistro, it's firmly rooted in the sweetness, spice and smoke of the Deep South. We particularly enjoyed the shrimp and grits, which had an umami savouriness to the mushroom, bacon and prawn ‘soup’ poured over the polenta-like cheesy grits. Southern-fried chicken was crisp and dry, the chicken meat unusually flavoursome, seeing it far apart from fast food chain fodder. Served with fried green peppers and a lush coleslaw, this was a dish not for paupers, but fit for kings – or even The King (as Elvis was born in Mississippi). The two floors are both light and bright, done out in reclaimed wooden furniture with mismatched vintage crockery and fresh flowers – a pleasing, easy-going space for soul food.Read more
The distance north of Shaftesbury Avenue, though only 20 metres, is important. Barshu (the original of a Sichuan quartet along with Ba Shan, Baozi Inn and newcomer Baiwei) is distinct from Chinatown’s mostly Cantonese restaurants in looks and pricing, as well as cuisine. The dark wooden ground floor is brightened by red lanterns and partitioned by a beautifully carved screen; upstairs is similarly woody. Despite such rusticity, you could spend extravagantly here – though there are ways to lessen the bill. Order tea (£2 per person) rather than wine (the cheapest bottle is £21.90). You’ll need to slake your thirst to counteract the fiery, numbing and sour flavours that characterise western Chinese cookery. The menu holds much interest, listing the likes of pea jelly, prairie tripe, and stir-fried chicken gizzards with pickled chilli – each dish is depicted. To start, order from the ‘Chengdu street snacks’ section, rather than the pricey appetisers; sweet-potato noodles in hot and sour sauce was a filling bowlful of noodle soup, chilli oil and numbing peppercorns, for just £4. Main courses of fish-fragrant pork slivers (a pleasing textural mix including wood-ear fungus and crunchy bamboo shoot) and stir-fried long beans, chopped small and well-paired with minced pork, also hold delight. Drawbacks? Many dishes are hot and oily, so order steamed rice and (expensive) plain vegetables for balance. Service could be sharper too, but Barshu nevertheless remains London’s prime exponeRead more
Venue says: Rextail spring offer- 1kg moules mariniere and crispy chips for £9.95! Available all day, every day!
‘Who are all these people?’ it’s tempting to ask as you look around this room full of the international super-rich. For them, dining in a fabulous Mayfair restaurant such as Rextail is an commonplace occurrence. But for the rest of us, this is for special occasions; a well-tuned dining destination that disguises its professionalism behind quirky good looks and bouncy Baltic beats. Rextail is the latest London restaurant from Russian restaurateur Arkady Novikov (of Novikov restaurant, also in Mayfair), but this time he’s cracked it.The service is enthusiastic, and there’s lots of it. The menu concentrates on grilled meats, with some steaks – but not all – at prices best reserved for oligarchs. Choose carefully though, and you might be rewarded with a moist, rich-flavoured burger (wagyu on our visit: £14.50), with molten cheddar encased in a brioche bun, and perfectly crisp fries; or slow-braised beef short ribs, meltingly tender and served with bone marrow and plenty of roasted side vegetables (£24). The Josper grill is to the fore, but the skills of the kitchen extend to excellent desserts: a Russian-style Napoleon, a mille-feuille of puff pastry and cream; and a perfectly risen chocolate soufflé with a scoop of vanilla ice-cream. With slick service, a good bar and cocktail list, an intriguing soundtrack and dishes that are simple but perfectly executed, Rextail’s too good to leave to the rich.Read more
The 2011 reopening of architect George Gilbert Scott’s former Midland Grand Hotel has resurrected one of the most visually arresting edifices in London; its former ‘Coffee Room’ is now home to this relatively casual venture from chef Marcus Wareing. His mark is evident in the well-drilled, personable service and flawless cooking. As with the rest of the hotel, the space is nothing short of spectacular – this is Victorian embellishment at its most exuberant, with pillars, gilt, cornicing and huge windows. But, thankfully, it’s no temple to fine dining: the please-all, best-of-British menu shows off the dedication and imagination of the kitchen with dishes such as crispy pig’s head with pickled cockles and sea herbs, or curried parsnip soup with onion bhajis. More traditional diners will be impressed by the sterling renditions of battered cod and chips, or beefburger with braised oxtail.Desserts continue the homeland theme: eccles cake with cheddar ice-cream, ‘Mrs Beeton’s snow egg’, Irish cheese with honeycomb. The weekend brings roasts and a popular brunch, complete with pianist. The equally handsome bar at the entrance is good to know about in an area short of quality drinking options. Situated next to the Eurostar terminus, where Continental Europeans enter England, this is a restaurant of which we can all be proud. Don’t wait for a train journey to book a table.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: Saturdays the ladies can enjoy 50% off all Champagne and sparkling wine at Boisdale of Bishopsgate burger & oyster bar from 6pm. T&Cs apply.
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
For such an obviously swanky restaurant, this Gordon Ramsay Mayfair outlet is exceedingly casual, and staff bring a personal sparkle to the generally accomplished service. A sushi bar, complete with bar stools to watch the chefs in action, opened inside the long, stylish space in autumn 2012, adding a full menu of sashimi and sushi. Its arrival seems to have angled the food further towards the Orient and almost every dish now comes with an Asian twist on French foundations. The menu of small plates is largely designed for sharing – indeed, Maze was one of the first haute cuisine establishments to offer an alternative to the amuse-starter-main-dessert formula. From the set menu (a steal at £25 for four courses) came a supreme of quail with jalapeño miso dressing, bream with dashi broth and enoki, and beef carpaccio with chilli: all perfectly balanced platefuls, although perhaps lacking the zing that might elevate them from strong to distinguished. On our visit, Maze was buzzing as new arrivals trooped in every few minutes: groups of tourists snapping pictures of their food, lunching couples, even families with young children. It’s easy to see the appeal – this is a distinctive and approachable entry point to the higher end of the Ramsay stable.Read more
Although the name tells diners what to expect, there’s more to Hix than chops and oysters – Blythburgh pork crackling with apple sauce, for example (an ideal nibble), or irresistible deep-fried sprats with caper mayonnaise, followed by roast free-range Goosnargh chicken with wild garlic sauce (for two). But oysters (there’s always a choice, Helford natives for £3.20 each, say, or Colchester rocks at £1.95), chops and steaks feature prominently. Most diners have been male whenever we’ve dined here. We watched in admiration as one table tucked into a medley of steaks; the choice includes porterhouse (for two) and hanger steak with baked bone marrow. We can vouch for the barbecued Galloway beef ribs. Mixed beets with goat’s curd and watercress is among the lighter starters. Puds are nicely retro with modern twists; you can stick to steamed treacle sponge with custard, or dare to try absinthe jelly with vanilla ice-cream. Alongside the global wine list there’s a good choice of beers and ciders, including Hix Oyster Ale, brewed by Palmers of Bridport. Like St John nearby, Hix offers feasts for ten or more people. Owner Mark Hix is also director of food at the Albemarle.Read more
The team behind South Place Hotel – D&D London – understand their City clientele. Smooth service is always required, as is a reliable and consistent dining experience. As such, their fine dining restaurant on the sixth floor (they also have a more affordable brasserie, South Place, on the ground floor) is never going to be the most daring restaurant in London, but it makes up for this in technical excellence and professionalism. The bevy of greeters may direct you past the wine wall to one of the understatedly monochrome tables, or in good weather, the slim outdoor terrace (no bookings are taken for this, it’s first-come). The à la carte is for expense-account diners, and there’s no shortage of these here. By comparison, the set menu at £27.50/£32.50 for two/three courses, seems good value. Ingredient quality and cooking skill was impeccable in everything we tried, from a creamy ‘potted salmon’ layered under a cucumber and apple jelly, to a succulent piece of cod with brown butter, tiny capers and a copper pot of buttery mash. Our only criticism is that the presentation of some of the dishes takes 'deconstruction' a step too far. Their expression of a waldorf salad – delicious though it was – had so many ingredients strewn across the plate it looked more like a Jackson Pollock canvas than a starter; even a simple risotto was garnished with a crash–landed fried courgette flower, candied orange and strips of both sweet pepper and courgette. But the texture of the rice was fRead more