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: Four-course set lunch menu for £25, Wednesday to Saturday.
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. ThBook now 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.Book now 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.Book now Read 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.Book now Read more
Please note: Theo Randall at The InterContinental reopened in February 2016 following an interior refurbishment. The review below pertains to our visit in 2013. Eating & Drinking editors, Feb 2016. 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.Book now 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).Book now Read more
Venue says: NYE fiesta! Five-course decadent dining plus bottomless Mommi drinks. Plus bespoke Christmas menus and perfectly decorated tables await.
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 sliverBook now Read more
London’s docklands were bustling with ‘On the Waterfront’ activity right up until the 1960s. Containerisation – the adoption of uniformly sized cargo that could be lifted easily from vessel to vessel – made London’s docks obsolete, as the bigger ships moved to the deeper waters of Essex and beyond. As the working docks moved out of the city, the new offices and corporations moved in. In 1977 a major new hotel project was built on the South Bank, but failed to come to fruition. The near-complete concrete edifice, perched right on the river’s bank, was acquired by a shipping company and became Sea Containers House. After the bankruptcy of Sea Containers Ltd in 2006, the edifice was in the doldrums for a while before eventual conversion back into a hotel. Sea Containers is now the name of the hotel’s flagship restaurant. The shipping theme is carried through the Mondrian London hotel’s lobby, bars and dining area. Model freighters from its former use are still on display in cases. There’s even the illusion of a vast copper hull along one wall, a trompe l’oeil created by designer Tom Dixon’s team which has given the hotel its makeover. A model yellow submarine is suspended over the restaurant’s bar. The hotel dining room could easily be soulless were it not for an open kitchen on one side, and views of riverside joggers and strollers on the other. The menu name-checks slightly too many trends and diverse dish styles, yet manages to render them well. A South American-style cevicBook now Read more
Venue says: Karpo grill offers great steaks from Britain, aged a minimum of 28 days, complemented by fun dishes from far and beyond.
A hypercoloured graffiti mural covering the top four floors of the building sounds warning bells. Is Karpo going be a style-over-content kind of joint? Thankfully, no – the food delivers innovative flavours, the staff are friendly, and the location is ideal for an easy-going dinner date or catching up with friends near King’s Cross. A small entrance opens up to the main restaurant, giving a wide view on to chefs working in the kitchen. Dark decor and a quirky wall covered in plants keep the bohemian look going inside, but the focus is on the food. We started with cocktails in the railway-inspired basement bar, where you can also order nibbles such as soft-centered ham croquettes from the upstairs menu. From a seasonally-changing menu, mains are playful: roast venison came with an on-trend side serving of tender salt-baked celeriac, but it tried too hard with an overly-sweet chocolate garnish to the meat. Mac ’n’ cheese went retro, arriving in a hot cast-iron pan, and the mixed leaf salad had a tangy red wine vinegar dressing. To finish, rhubarb fool was a tasty jive off traditional trifle, coming with a rich custardy cream served between layers of stewed rhubarb, pistachio nibs and a fine shortbread crumb.Book now 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 £19 or 3 courses for £21 including coffee.Book now Read more
How often do you remember the texture of a dish? If you’ve eaten at Paradise Garage you just might. Underneath the railway arches, down Paradise Row - home to some of the best bars and restaurants in the area - the chefs have an intuitive grasp of what makes dishes that delight the tongue.Take a lamb’s heart. It’s an undervalued ingredient, the meat considered too tough, too full-flavoured by some; but when it’s cooked rare and cut into slivers, the firm bite of the meat makes you notice the purity of iron-rich flavour. To match such an uncompromising cut you need bold flavours. The sharp aniseed of fennel is accentuated by fermentation (think fennel kimchi). Pair this with the meat and you get a double-whammy of unusual textures and sour tastes: one of this year’s must-try small plates.Paradise Garage also fools around with seafood. Shellfish are deep-fried so they puff up like pork scratchings and end up decorating a plate of squid-ink emulsion with dabs of contrasting white salt cod brandade; the crunch and squidge of the dish gives childish pleasures. For the Chinese, such ‘mouthfeel’ is as important as presentation, aromas or flavours; yet it’s still rare to see European chefs giving much thought to it. It’s easy to make a mess of daring experimentation, but Paradise Garage has form. It’s the latest offshoot of The Manor in Clapham, recently declared the best new restaurant of the year by Time Out. Prior to that, The Dairy – head chef Robin Gill’s first branch, also in CBook now 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.Book now 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.Book now Read more
This Covent Garden fixture reopened in spring 2013 after a major refurbishment of its grand, imposing premises (Grade II-listed and formerly a casino). Everything we ate during our weekday lunch was excellent: two starters from the carte and a couple of dishes from the set lunch. Two clichés of London’s American restaurant scene, caesar salad and crab cakes, were flawlessly executed. From the set lunch, beef carpaccio was top-notch yet almost overshadowed by a main of blackened salmon with ‘jambalaya risotto’. The flavourful rice showed real understanding of cajun seasoning – rare in London – and the flavourful fish was properly blackened while remaining juicy within. You can pay serious money for steak or Maine lobster, but the Martini Bar serves relatively inexpensive meals. The pre- and post-theatre set menu is a bargain, and brunch offers everything from granola to ribeye steak. Service is confident and competent, and the wine list is a welcome rarity for places of this kind: ignoring expensive trophy bottles, sharply focused on offering quality at every price range, starting from around £20. Many American-style restaurants have popped up since this venue opened in 1991. They still have much to learn from Christopher’s.Book now Read more
Venue says: Pre- and post-theatre menus available at 45 Jermyn St.
This glamorous dining room on London’s famous tailoring strip could have been lifted straight out of an ocean liner. From the lacquered tables and salmon red leather banquettes (one of which snakes down the centre in a dramatic double S bend) to the Art Deco lamps and crackled glass panels, 45 Jermyn St makes you feel under-dressed in anything less than a beaded shift (ladies) or spats (gents). Fortnum and Mason green is the second theme colour, which is no coincidence: they own the joint. Conversation was hushed despite the restaurant being half full. Dimming the lights would help, but this is a place to see and be seen and the greeting from waiting staff was warm. Given that the place wasn’t crammed, the meal felt a tad rushed – starters arrived within 10 minutes of ordering and mains followed with barely time for a convenience break (on that note, follow the door marked ‘Peas and Leeks’ – not a dedicated vegetable kitchen, but a punning pointer to the loos). But you can’t fault the food, which is served in generous portions and lovingly put together. Oysters and caviar top the menu – if you like theatre, the latter arrives by trolley and accompanying eggs are scrambled at the table. A dressed Portland crab and a tomato, treviso and goats curd salad were both excellent. Main courses include as many vegetarian as meat dishes, an unusual touch. in the end, I couldn’t resist flesh, so ordered a perfectly executed calvados braised guinea fowl and a fillet of hake with whiteBook now Read more
Venue says: Enjoy our set menu offer for lunch and dinner – two courses at £20, three courses at £25.
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?Book now 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.Book now 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 chaBook now Read more
Beyond the opulent five-star hotels of Hong Kong, ‘Cantonese fine dining’ can seem an oxymoron. Cantonese restaurants in London are better known for garish decor, abrupt service and slapped-together dishes shared by noisy families. HKK reinvents the entire experience. The Hakkasan Group describes its latest venture as ‘bespoke Cantonese fine dining’. While it’s unclear what the tailor-made aspect is – our prix fixe menus (and their prices) were only presented to us at the end of the meal, and there was no à la carte option – the latter half of the promise is no exaggeration. HKK serves up beautifully presented, exquisitely prepared dishes crafted from high-quality ingredients. The eight-course lunch menu offered at lunch (£48) will persuade even the most sceptical (including Prince Philip who famously said, ‘If it has four legs and is not a chair, if it has two wings and flies but is not an aeroplane, and if it swims and is not a submarine, the Cantonese will eat it’) that Cantonese food can be sophisticated. The tone is sealed the moment you bite into the first starter, a delicate mouthful of fried silken tofu, pickled water chestnut, and shimeji mushroom tied with a translucent strip of Iberico ham. The next course, a trilogy of dim sum, was among the best of we’ve had. As was the peking duck, ceremoniously carved in front of diners. The perfectly crisped skin is served with both hoisin sauce and a pinch of sugar, just like in Beijing’s top roast-duck restaurants. Each subsBook now 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.Book now Read more