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.
"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. Th
It’s not easy to open a spate of brand-new restaurants and maintain high standards, but chef-patron Jason Atherton has clearly moved on from being the sorcerer’s apprentice (under Gordon Ramsay) to being the sorcerer himself. His Little Social deluxe bistro only opened in March 2013, right opposite his fine dining Pollen Street Social in Mayfair. He followed this up, weeks later, with an even more ambitious restaurant in Soho, by delegating the chef role to his buddy and long-time head chef at Pollen Street Social, Paul Hood. The ground-floor dining room has a mirrored ceiling to create the sensation of space in a low room; upstairs is a smart cocktail bar, called the Blind Pig, which also has a separate entrance. Most of the action is in the dining room, though, with a kitchen brigade who are clearly at the top of their game. Smoked duck ‘ham’, egg and chips is a dish that’s typical of Pollen Street Social’s playfulness. ‘Ham’ is cured and smoked from duck breast on the premises, served with a breadcrumbed duck egg that’s molten in the middle, but with an aroma of truffle oil. Umami – savouriness, the taste that enhances other flavours – was also plentiful in a roast cod main course that uses powdered Japanese kombu seaweed in a glaze, served with a creamy sauce of roasted cockles and just-in-season St George’s mushrooms. Presentation is a strong point of Hood’s dishes, just as they are for his mentor Atherton. A starter of ‘CLT’ – crab meat, a fan of blonde castelfranco
The presence of the three-strong Gascon group (as well as Comptoir Gascon, there’s wine bar Cellar Gascon) ensures that a small area of east-central London has a flavour of south-west France. This is the most expensive of the trio, a Michelin-starred sanctuary of haute cuisine. Heavy wooden screens shut out the world; inside is a serene and urbane room of greys and golds with marble panels. Head chef Pascal Aussignac is from Toulouse, and the hallmarks of the area’s cuisine shine through in his food, although it’s given the fancifications this level of restaurant requires. A playful approach means many dishes come with descriptions in inverted commas or feature unusually prepared ingredients. Flavour combinations are bold, which adds to the sense of occasion, and the technique is flawless; perhaps less so the tendency to unorthodox plating. However, everything else was note-perfect.
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.
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.
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.
It’s hard to believe that nine years have passed since Richard Corrigan first overhauled this grande dame of the capital’s restaurant scene (established 1916). The interior remains as polished as ever, with art deco windows, the original marble oyster bar and wood panelling. Weeknights in the more formal first-floor Grill restaurant have a restrained business-dinner vibe, but the downstairs oyster bar is pleasingly laid-back. Theatrics at the gleaming marble counter (part staff speedily shucking, part competitive knocking ‘em back) provide entertaining distraction as you decide between menu classics and imaginative daily specials. Our oysters (Dorset rock, Mersea natives) were exquisitely fresh, while mains of perfectly grilled langoustines, and scallops served with broad beans, crispy pork, parma ham, toasted cashew nuts and blood orange were faultless in flavour and presentation. Despite its proximity to touristy Piccadilly, Bentley’s retains a distinctly London buzz. We sat among gregarious City boys, Notting Hill couples on third dates and Regent Street shoppers – the bar’s tightly packed tables mean eavesdropping is inevitable. Even comically haphazard service – after the third omission our smiling waiter took to periodically appearing at our table to check if he’d forgotten anything – failed to dampen our experience.
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.
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).
"Happy 'Janu-Mommi'! 40% off your food bill when dining with us from Sunday to Thursday, from 5.30pm."
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 sliver
"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.
"January offer: 50% off the a la carte menu for up to four diners at lunch and dinner, Mon-Sat."
Situated by the Millennium Bridge and facing the Tate Modern, the Shard and Shakespeare’s Globe, Northbank is worth visiting for the views of the Thames and the South Bank alone. That the food is great is almost a bonus. Northbank offers a modern British menu with a nod to owner Christian Butler's Cornish roots. From Dorset crab and Falmouth Bay scallops, to Tregothnan Estate duck and west-country cheeses, the south-western influence is evident throughout. A starter of pan-fried scallops with confit chicken wings kicked things off beautifully. It’s not a pairing you come across often, but it works; the soft, sweet scallops balanced perfectly with the salty crispiness of the wings. The mains are where Northbank really shines. Red mullet with roasted Jerusalem artichoke, truffle purée and artichoke crisps is a triumph; delicate, yet full of fascinating flavours and textures. The cauliflower and truffle risotto with parmesan crisps was another highlight; surprisingly light yet ridiculously moreish. A side of cauliflower cheese arrived at the table still bubbling – gums were blistered, but it was worth it. The desserts don't disappoint, either, with a rum and passion fruit soufflé as light and fluffy as a cloud. The Northbank ‘Viennetta’ with honeycomb, meanwhile, is a nostalgia-pricking treat, executed with elegance. The cocktails at Northbank deserve a shout out, too, not least because there’s a whole section dedicated to drinks made with Cornish mead. Try the Honey Mead Rise
You know how Kris Jenner names daughters? As in, Kourtney, Khloe, Kim, Kylie and Kendall (where have you been, living under a rock?). Well, that’s how acclaimed chef Jason Atherton names his restaurants. He likes to keep things ‘Social’, from Pollen Street Social to Social Wine and Tapas, or my personal favourite, Social Eating House. Luckily for Atherton, that’s where the comparison with the Kardashians ends, because unlike the internet-breaking attentionistas, the Social family are restrained and intelligent, and this latest baby is no different. What is different is the cuisine: Sosharu serves modern Japanese. But then, you’d already guessed that. They’ve done the smart thing and carved up the room’s industrial proportions using suspended wooden beams (kind of like eating in a giant four-poster bed) and Oriental lattice screens for intimacy. Do check out the counter bar (outstay your allotted two hours and you’ll be moved here anyway), so you can watch metal-chopstick-wielding chefs arrange the fiddliest of ingredients with astonishingly steady hands. It’ll make you want to jump up and challenge them to a game of Operation (don’t: you’ll only lose). Every plate is a thing of beauty, its flavours as intriguing. Take the must-order ‘open’ tuna temaki, (pictured above): a twist on a traditional handroll, the seaweed wrapper comes tempura-battered (it really works) and set into a ‘U’ shape, much like a hard taco. It’s then filled with perfect sushi rice, raw tuna, shredded s
"As we undergo a venue refurbishment, Bar Boulud will be temporarily relocating to Harrods Food Hall between January 9-29."
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Situated on a fine stretch of the riverbank between Hammersmith and Putney bridges, this vast Victorian venue is within shouting distance of Craven Cottage, the homely home of Fulham Football Club. It's been given a grandiose, gastro-tastic going over, and is the latest feather in the bow of posh boozer specialist Realpubs. We've also been mightily impressed by two of their other venues recently, The Queen Adelaide in Shepherd's Bush and The Pembroke in Earl's Court. Housed beneath the huge high-vaulted ceiling is the big lounge bar framed by deep, maroon leather banquettes, weighty wooden tables, a smattering of stools, paintings, old photos and all the ornate accoutrements you’d expect. The locals approve, and on a sunny day can be found in their droves enjoying some of the nicest waterside drinking in the city. The seats under the weeping willow deserve especial mention. As well as a restaurant bathed in white linen at the rear, there’s a gorgeous, gigantic beer garden, bedecked in wood and stylish shrubbery, which flows down to the riverfront. It’s really rather lovely, if truth be told. As befits a chalk-board clad boozer, the wine list is extensive, with bottles beginning at £13.50. Ales available include Doom Bar, Theakston Best (a little lacklustre on this occasion), Spitfire and Deuchars IPA, the often-seen Scottish session sip. There’s cider from Aspall or Symonds, Duvel lurks in the chiller while lager drinkers can opt for Sagres, Birra Moretti and Bitburger.