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.
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
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
Venue says: “Club Gascon special offers. Six-course dinner, £80. Two-course lunch, £32.50. Three-course lunch, £39.50.”
The presence of the three-strong Gascon group (as well as Comptoir Gascon, there’s wine at Le Bar) 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, 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 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.
Venue says: “Best Italian Restaurant of the Year from the London Restaurant Awards.”
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.
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.
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.
The former restaurant 'Marcus Wareing at the Berkeley Hotel' was renovated and reopened as 'Marcus' in March 2014. The review below is for the previous restaurant. Food & Drink Editors Like sinking yourself into a glass of fine Bordeaux, this long-established dining room is a treat, confident in its quality and style. Deep wine tones are brightened by white linens and a circular glass motif for an ambience that is cosseting and elegantly comfortable. Meals begin with the sommelier wheeling over a trolley of champagne on ice and talking you through the various bottles offered – frankly, it’s hard to say no. Then comes a bread basket with four loaves and, on our visit, airy gougères to snack on. From that point in the meal things just got better: a heavenly pea-themed amuse-bouche with ricotta foam (not at all sudsy); the clean zingy flavours of sardine, sweetcorn, coriander and cucumber in a high-end, not-quite Asian salad; just-so roast pork with a plate-licking jus and aubergine caviar. Desserts are a strong point, and the dish described as ‘apricot, vanilla, oats’ looked like Halley’s comet streaking across the plate: a large crusted ball of two ice-cream flavours, with grilled fruit and compote sparkling in its chocolatey wake. Then superb chocolates and coffee to finish. Every menu is available with a wine-pairing option and, although the list is predominately French, the sommelier selected an Argentinian malbec to match the pork.
The long riverside dining room is elegant if a little soulless, but the setting is picture-perfect: dining on the outside terrace with a view of Tower Bridge feels like posing for a London tourist brochure. Cynics might expect the food to disappoint. It didn’t. The lunch and dinner menu du jour offers great bang for buck, with many dishes lifted from the carte. Vegetables cost extra. New potatoes were an unnecessary addition to a lovely crisp-skinned bream with courgettes, fennel and tomato. A snappy salad added much-needed colour to a rewardingly varied plate comprising pithivier of rabbit leg confit and a ballotine of the saddle around herby forcemeat, either side of exquisite mashed potato. A nicely tart raspberry crème brûlée again showed what the kitchen does well: matching fine technique with focused flavours. The food may be French, but on a fine day Le Pont de la Tour can be a top London attraction. Typically British: our waiter admitted he’d arrived in the country only a few days earlier, and service slowed terribly towards the end of lunch. The adjoining primary-coloured Bar & Grill offers food that is more brasserie in style: more cheaply, more informally and with less sense of occasion.
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?
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.
Venue says: “Try our special 'Taste of Spring' menu with 4 courses and a glass of Champagne for £48”
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 f
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.
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
Opera-themed restaurant TWID is a picture of old-school opulence. Everywhere you look there are velvet swags and gilt flourishes. Squint and you can imagine it’s the ’80s and that’s Andrew Lloyd Webber in the next booth, taking his latest leading lady for a slap-up dinner. But TWID's nightly opera performances are more than enough to blow any lame retro cobwebs away. The night I visited, a seriously talented soprano was making the restaurant ring to the sounds of everything from to Rossini to jazz standards – even the odd Disney song. Like its star performer, TWID works best when it blends old and new. Generous ‘small plates’ of cod and roasted duck had a French-accented allure that was heightened by their delicately flavoured accompaniments of Jerusalem artichoke and pickled cauliflower. And the hefty plateful of plump, tender scallops was worth starting a fork-fight over, especially with the unlikely but delicious addition of fresh raspberries. TWID's modish collection of vegan and raw food dishes felt a little less assured. The kimchi was the star of the show, resplendent in two dainty, cabbage-wrapped towers, and bursting with zesty flavour. By comparison, the slightly soggy stuffed mushroom had all the charisma of a diva caught in a rainstorm. And although tarty daubs of raspberry sauce made the raw chocolate cake look just as naughty as the divine salted caramel torte, its wholesome taste was a little frumpy. Still, it feels ungenerous to carp on about the occasional
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.
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 i
Venue says: “We have just launched our new menu at the Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park, based around dishes from the Loire Valley.”
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.
The Grill at the Dorchester
This venerable Mayfair restaurant reopened in 2014, having been given a new lick of paint and a little bit of a makeover. Well, you'd need one too if you'd been around since 1931. By the looks of things, it remains one of the grandest places in London in which to eat. Service will no doubt be every bit as impressive, too. As the name implies, it majors in grilled meats. Expect dishes such as Welsh lamb with polenta au gratin, salsify and almond, wild venison with a red wine jus, Highland Wagyu sirloin, pan-seared and braised pigeon, grilled suckling pig and grilled John Dory with mussels, jerusalem artichoke and kale. Set lunch, dinner and pre-theatre menus also feature, as do Sunday roasts.
Venue says: “Take a front row seat at our wine counter evenings and enjoy a wine and canapé journey covering six different pairings for £59.”