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.
Restaurateur Jason Atherton has had a great year. Berners Tavern is the third restaurant he’s opened in the West End this year; the other two, Little Social and Social Eating House, were very well received for their playful and appealing dishes. This new venture is more of the same, but in a much grander setting. It’s housed in the new Edition hotel in Fitzrovia, which looks like the older, more sophisticated sister of the Sanderson hotel just down the road. Both places were given makeovers by hotelier Ian Schrager, but Edition is an exercise in slick metropolitan taste, with opulent chandeliers, framed art-by-the-yard covering entire walls, and improbably elegant staff. The huge lobby bar looks fabulous; but the vast dining room, with its ornate plasterwork ceiling, very low lighting and lively bar area, looks even better. The menu’s prices are alarmingly high – but most of the dishes we tried were very good. Head chef Phil Carmichael turns out tender pork belly with a sauce of sharp capers, golden raisins and apple coleslaw to cut through the fat. The flavours of this and a pan-braised halibut (perfectly cooked) with a little saucepan of savoury squid ink risotto were sublime. A starter of ‘egg, ham and peas’ updates a signature Atherton recipe; a breadcrumbed duck egg is held upright by a purée of fresh peas, the crisp Cumbrian ham almost a garnish. The only culinary disappointment was a chocolate éclair dessert, as the pastry – which should be very slightly stale – wasRead 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
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
Venue says: Join us in the pub every weekday lunchtime and enjoy sausages and mash and a drink for just £10!
Typical of the ETM chain, the Gun is an attractively spruced-up pub, with attentive staff and stiff prices. The focus is on making both diners and drinkers feel at home. The restaurant menu is available throughout – not just in the smartly dressed dining space – and there’s a standalone bar menu too. The handsome bar counter is lined with real ales (Adnams bitter is a regular, and there’s always a guest ale), but also offers cocktails and a global wine list. Cooking is assured, if not quite good enough to justify the prices: slow-cooked Middle White pork belly with battered skate knobs, carrot purée, sprout tops and ginger and port jus cost £19 for a small portion – making sides such as chips or dauphinoise potatoes a neccessity. Also, £9 seemed a lot for a (not very) devilled chicken liver starter. Better value is to be found on the bar menu, where £7.50 buys a substantial ‘fish finger sandwich’ (more like goujons in toast) served with plenty of tartare sauce, and a decent steak sandwich with caramelised onions and horseradish cream is £9.50. Lightly themed (prints and a few antique pistols), with wooden floors, white walls and an open fire, the Gun is a fine spot in any weather, but its USP is the terrace. Refurbished in spring 2013 with fold-back glass panels, this is right on the river, looking out over the O2. Neophytes, beware – the pub can be tricky to find first time around. For more ETM pubs, go to their website.Read more
Venue says: Valentine's at Mommi. Bespoke brunch with bottomless rosé bubbles and curated five-course dining over the Valentine's weekend. From £27.50pp
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
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
Venue says: Enormously popular since its launch last year, our Sunday brunch now has a refreshed menu offering even more variety for a decadent weekend.
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
Venue says: Two-course set lunch menu for £15 or three-course for £18. Delicious new coffees, speciality teas and detox smoothies.
This Greek spot in Marylebone didn’t exactly hit the ground running. In Opso’s first month it took me three visits to find the kitchen in full tilt. Visit one had a partial menu. On visit two the restaurant was unexpectedly closed. A stoic third attempt was rewarded with some excellent meze dishes. Opso blends its modern architectural look with a contemporary menu of small plate dishes – mezédes – that are pimped up almost beyond recognition. ‘Taramas cream’ (taramasalata) was a world away from bright pink supermarket tubs. Served with crisp olive crackers, the pale, untinged cod roe was delicate and fresh. Served as a dessert, tsoureki – a brioche-like bread usually eaten at Easter – was like a panettone in appearance and lightness. This, like all the other baked goods, was made in house. It came flavoured with mahlab and mastic, traditional Greek spices made from cherry kernels and tree resin respectively, giving it a distinctive, almost bitter almond or cedar aroma. Served with clotted cream and sour cherry jam, it was like an Attic afternoon tea. Not all dishes were improved by modernisation, though. Pastitsio is usually a lasagne-like slab of macaroni baked with ground beef and béchamel sauce: comfort food. But here the elements were deconstructed and swapped around, then plated in a mound, ‘MasterChef Greece’-style. Although the allspice flavours in the beef were good, tagliatelle-style pasta was a fiddle too far. The simpler dishes worked best, such as the dakos,Read more
Venue says: February is the time to share the love. Bring your group to maze and dine at the exclusive kitchen table, or enjoy our a la carte specials.
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
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
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
Some people claimed that gastropubs would save the British pub industry and even British gastronomy. Maybe it didn’t quite work out like that – Cajun wings and sloppy burgers have elbowed their way ahead of indigenous British dishes of late – but in vast swathes of London, gastropubs still offer the best of both worlds, straddling both smart pubs and casual restaurants. South Ealing has the latest case study in ‘How to Make a Gastropub’. The refurbished Ealing Park Tavern has big windows, leather seats, a fire, an open kitchen, cutlery and thick napkins, taxidermy and wood panelling. A microbrewery will soon open out the back, beside the beer garden. It welcomes dogs; it shows the rugby; it even serves cocktails. You can drop by for a pint of real ale (Dark Star Espresso Stout, £2.30 a half) and a read of the papers. You can park the pram and have a Sunday roast (a pretty amazing roast beef and trimmings for £14), or pre-book a whole suckling pig if there are eight of you. And you can book a table in the more formal restaurant for a three-course meal (mains from £11). The Ealing Park Tavern is run by the ETM Group, which has form – it also runs a few other classic and pleasantly posh London gastropubs such as the Gun in the Docklands and the Botanist on Sloane Square. Like those fancified pubs, the Ealing Park Tavern hits the spot with most things. Apart from some muddled service, everything was just as it should be – welcoming, friendly, good value, locally rooted, professRead 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 subsRead 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
An abundance of wood and soft lighting give this City branch of the three-strong 28°-50°group a low-key, almost rustic feel. It’s a type of place you wouldn’t be surprised to find in Paris. Wine bars are often a funny hybrid of bar and restaurant: are you ordering food with your wine, or wine with your food? This place does it both ways, offering both proper meals and bar snacks of refined pedigree, including cheeses from La Fromagerie. While you can certainly splash out a barrelload on vino if you wish to (the ‘Collector’s List’), the ordinary list offers loads of interesting stuff for under £30 a bottle – and much of it by the glass, including a 75ml measure for those just wanting a taste.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
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
You really know a restaurant is expensive when even the walls are textured. Set within super-swanky Claridges, this dining room has been decorated in sombre tones (including plenty of dark olive green), which may well not be to everyone’s taste, but the interiors are pretty much the last reason you’d visit Fera. Meaning ‘wild’ in Latin, Fera is chef Simon Rogan’s first permanent eatery in the capital. (His Marylebone pop-up, Roganic, was a roaring success, while his two-Michelin-starred Cumbrian restaurant L’Enclume, is widely held to be one of the finest restaurants in the UK.) As you might expect from the name, many ingredients are wild and little-known, from dittander (a salt marsh plant, here served with Cornish lobster, pickled golden beetroot and other ‘sea herbs’) to ‘pineapple weed’: a type of wild chamomile, here used in a pudding of butterscotch and celery. Yes, really: celery. Others are grown according to the seasons at Rogan’s Cumbrian farm. Dishes are intricate and imaginative, like tiny works of art. Highlights from our visit included ‘snacks’ of puffed barley wafers topped with smoked eel mousse and the petals of ox-eye daisies; a bowl of ‘grilled salad’ (literally – curly endive leaves grilled over embers) with sunflower seeds and a rich, savoury ‘truffle custard’; and a dinky parcel of hake wrapped in caramelised cabbage, which came served with tiny chicken-fat-cooked potatoes. Service is warm and polished, with many of the eye-opening dishes brought out iRead 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