Want to sample London's gourmet restaurants without splashing the cash? Take a seat at off-peak times and you can eat like a king for a lot less than you'd expect. Here are just a few the finest London restaurants with bargain pre-theatre deals and uncommonly cheap set menus.
Venue says: Best Italian restaurant of the year from the London Restaurant Awards.
Since 2006, when Theo Randall, long-time head chef at the River Café, opened this eponymous restaurant its reputation (and Randall’s media profile) has gone from strength to strength. The colourful, spacious dining room is high on comfort, if a little corporate, with cream leather, walnut wood and olive green shades. Service is caring and warm-hearted and the cooking, in our experience, is joyous. The carte is not cheap, featuring luxury produce such as Limousin veal and wild salmon. However, the set menu at lunch and early evening is not dumbed-down, and provides more than a glimpse of the kitchen’s quality output. We were blown away by the subtle combination of smoked eel, golden and red beetroots and horseradish – the dish was simple yet every component sang. Then, a perfect risotto with sea bass, prawns, vongole and monkfish nudged the flavour dial northwards. Wood-roasted guinea fowl, stuffed with parma ham and mascarpone, and served with porcini and portobello mushrooms, brought memories of long sunny Tuscan holidays. Indeed every part of our meal (bread, zucchini fritti, coffee) evoked sighs of pleasure. Portions are generous too; we were so full we had to forgo the Amalfi lemon tart.Read more
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
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: On 3 November 2015 Daniel Boulud welcomes Michelin-starred chef Mauro Colagreco for a 6 course menu of Lyonnaise & Mediterranean cuisine
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: Buy two Chang beers and get one free at Champor-Champor in London Bridge.
Champor-Champor has been on Time Out’s radar long before this stretch of the South Bank became trendy. With the Shard springing up nearby, it’s no longer off the beaten path, yet still feels like a hidden find. In Malay, ‘champor-champor’ means ‘mix and match’, and it’s a fitting name for both the interior and the menu. The walls are painted in vibrant shades and hung with colourful masks, and there’s carved teak galore, plus winking candles and acres of Thai silk. The place exudes a yogic calm. The cooking is described as ‘Thai-Malay’, but influences reach beyond this south-east Asian peninsula, unashamedly fusing East and West with the likes of gruyère cheese and lime with river prawns, served with wasabi-spiked potato salad. What could end up being a backpackerish mash-up is sophisticated and creative. Fish dishes are well rendered, as in a main course of Malaysian-style red snapper; the fillets halved and served atop twin pools of kicking-hot sambal sauce. Vegetarians needn’t go hungry; a vegan starter of green papaya som tam with tofu, cashew nuts and star fruit was suitably spicy (though not great value at £6.95). Desserts – steamed taro and black rice pudding, say, or chocolate-chilli cheesecake – are more than an afterthought.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
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
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
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
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
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
It’s a well trodden path to the Grill from the Savoy Theatre, across the concourse of the world-famous hotel. Many diners seem to combine a meal and a show for a quintessential London night out. As such, the vibe can be quite touristy, but that in no way detracts from the quality of the experience. Following the Savoy’s epic £220 million refurbishment, completed in 2010, the restaurant looks as spectacular as it did in its heyday: a dark and glamorous room of polished wood, burnished mirrors and statement pendant lights. It’s now run by Gordon Ramsay, who largely keeps things classic on the extensive French/British menu. All the old favourites are here – snails in red wine, french onion soup, oysters, lobster thermidor, dover sole – and the grill itself sears a selection of steaks, chops and cutlets, from prime British breeds. At lunch, a trolley trundles around the tables dispensing a roast of the day with trimmings. Nothing is particularly cheap, of course, but the popular pre-theatre menu consists of simpler dishes and offers a more accessible route into this historic and celebrated dining room.Read more
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
The 1990s may have been all about Blair, Britpop and ‘Baywatch’, but in smart restaurants the trend was to stack up their food into towering, overblown shapes: timbales of seafood, stacks of polenta and twice-baked soufflés. We also ended up with Yorkshire puddings looking like David Hasselhoff. The well-stacked phase only lasted as long as the Hoff’s singing career, but in the latest Gordon Ramsay restaurant in 2014, I’m having a flashback. The rum baba struts its way into the room, permatan-bronzed, casting a long shadow across the sandy expanse of linen. The atmosphere of London House in Battersea is a trip back to the ’90s. This is fine dining as it used to be, with the staff spiffingly well-dressed, roses on the tables, low lighting and diners dressed in their finest. Yet, apart from the alarmingly buff rum baba, the food on chef Anna Haugh-Kelly’s menu is perfectly rendered and up-to-the-minute. The dinner menu’s a three-course prix fixe (£35), with several choices at each course. A starter of tuna loin is coated in a herby, chlorophyll-green gremolata crust, cut through to contrast the dark sashimi-red of the flesh; a salad of pig’s head croquette is garnished with pale curly endive leaves, soft-cooked quail eggs and carrot strips. The main courses are more prosaic: a fillet of sea bass served on slow-cooked fennel with a light bergamot sauce, or a perfectly pink beef fillet with a parsnip purée and potato gnocchi stuffed with braised beef cheek. And if you don’t fanRead 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
If walls could talk, no doubt they’d have plenty to say at this former Victorian curiosity shop in Borough. But Edwin Brady’s ‘Hole in the Wall’ closed down moe than a century ago, and you won’t find stuffed animals, skeletons or jars of formaldehyde here today. Instead, the most gory item on offer is rare-roasted venison, because this is the latest venture from Parched Pubs and the focus is food, not phantasmagoria.Other than the name – a homage to Mr Brady – this airy dining room above the Trinity pub only nods to its former self with an antique candelabra here, a heavy curtain there, and retro-chic fittings.The Modern European dishes are well-prepared and presented. Our strips of tender rabbit arrived atop a crisp polenta cube with a gravy earthy enough to make any bunny feel at home. A plate of paella-like orzo pasta cooked in a rich seafood sauce and topped with pan-fried cod was also packed with flavour. Unfortunately, a deep-fried filo parcel tasted so little of the scallop it encased that they could have smuggled just about anything in there.From sherry bars to French bistros and new-wave Italians, SE1 has no shortage of decent eateries these days, but for the curious diners, there’s now another one to tick off the list. By Celia PlenderRead more
Beneath a Shoreditch street, down a muralled stairwell, are the vaults where restaurant mastermind Conran presents his vision of dining. It’s a magnificent space with soaring bare brick pillars, clever lighting and decor that mixes funky and luxury. Service is unrushed, and cooking – in a trademark open kitchen – is impeccably French. No tricks, no surprises, just superbly done. For a price, mind, and the prix fixe menu wasn’t offered unprompted. From this, don’t miss the charcuterie trolley with its rillettes, terrine and saucisson, giving as good as the carte. Monkfish with artichokes and broad beans or duck confit with a sticky reduction, tiny fungi and the smoothest of mashed potatoes were subtly excellent, as was an amuse-bouche of radishes with goat’s butter. The seven-course tasting menu includes greatest hits such as the charcuterie, fish with seasonal veg, and beef fillet with ravioli and wild mushrooms. Though crème brûlée was terrific, more out-there desserts such as peach tarte tatin with thyme ice-cream or mandarin soufflé with roast almond ice-cream provide a sniff of innovation. Otherwise, the Chris Martin and Cara Delevingne lookalikes and expense account holders don’t seek out this well-concealed location for experimentation. Or to eavesdrop – tables are very well spaced. The sommelier can help with an awesome list arranged by region; for stronger drinks, there’s an over-furnished 1950s-style bar. Six floors up, the Boundary rooftop bar and grill is completelRead more
‘Holy the sea’ says a wall-mounted slogan at this landmark establishment, and it’s clear from the bright, colourful interior design – heavy on the piscine motifs and maritime paraphernalia – that fish is the religion of the rejuvenated Kensington Place. Sure, you can toy with a ham hock or waste your time on a veg risotto, but the smart money’s on some fresh fillets plucked from banks of ice in the in-house fishmonger (which in turn is supplied by Billingsgate and the fisher-folk of Cornwall). These might be grilled and served with a raucous beurre noisette or a smoky sauce vierge, heavy on the capers. On recent visits, we’ve been particularly taken with the sea bream and the lemon sole, teamed with triple-cooked chips and a pichet of blanc. Starters of mackerel rollmop with a delicate potato salad, and spiced crab with apple, were standouts, and an earthenware pot of raspberry and apricot crumble provided a splendid end to the meal. True to theme, the water is served in fish-shaped jugs, which glug rewardingly every time you pour. KP also contains a pleasant bar: a fine place to cradle a tawny port after an epic seafood session. Very civilised.Read more