If you want to dine in style in London without paying £100+ a head, follow my advice and enjoy a lunchtime bargain
“Lunch is for wimps.”
Perhaps the observation might more accurately be "lunch is for wallet wimps”.
If you don’t have the stomach for £100+ a head but still aspire to the high life of London’s elite, go and do lunch. Many top London restaurants offer great lunchtime deals and, what’s more, midday dining is better for your digestion than a night time banquet.
Besides the health benefits, it’s always much easier to secure a table for lunch. The posh restaurants make their serious money after 8pm, but they still have bills to pay to cover the rest of the day, hence the abundance of lunchtime deals. But beware, I’ve been to several top London restaurants where the waiter lies and denies the existence of the advertised lunch special menu, like a reluctant lover clinging to his last Rolo.
Don’t always assume that the lunch special cuisine is the real thing either. I recently visited one very top end Chinese restaurant in a posh Park Lane hotel where the Set Lunch Menu seemed to good to be true, and it was. The food was awful, whilst the a la carte dishes on other tables looked delicious.
Nevertheless, lunchtime bargains around London’s finest abound:
Miyama is a totally understated Japanese restaurant sitting between Mayfair’s Curzon Street and Piccadilly. The staff are all Japanese and, more significantly, so are almost all of the customers. The set-lunch options range in price from £15 to £27. I splashed out on the £27 full set lunch and couldn’t finish it – a Camel first for Japanese food. The banquet included a piece of black cod so large I doubt if it could have been bought on nearby Selfridge’s fish counter for less than £27. Exceptional food at a truly exceptional price and that applies to the £15 menu as well. (If you do over order ask for a take home doggy bag.)
Miyama, 38 Clarges St, London W1; 020 7493 3807; www.miyama.co.uk
The Red Fort
A massive fire in the building next door forced this Soho institution to close for kitchen refurbishment, but The Red Fort is now back in business and offering a two-course lunch for £12. I did have to fight for the right to see the lunchtime bargain menu but it was worth the hustle. A selection of starters was followed by a chicken dish, vegetables, lentils, rice and a basket piled with different breads.
The Red Fort, 77 Dean Street, London W1; 020 7437 2525; www.redfort.co.uk
This 80-cover diner, hidden around the back of Marylebone High Street, is packed every day with locals who greet the waitresses with a ‘Mwah Mwah’ air kiss before being escorted to their favourite table. It’s oh so Sex in the City! Union Café is a goldmine and a genius concept – great food served by your best friend. Book early for an early (or late lunch) table.
Union Café, 96 Marylebone Lane, London W1; 020 7486 4860; www.brinkleys.com
Polpo describes itself as a Bacaro – a Venetian taverna. Now wouldn’t it be convenient if Polpo, located at 41 Beak Street, could contrive a connection with the sinking city. Well oddly enough Canaletto, who painted Venice as often as a gondolier sings 'Just one cornetto’, used to live at 41, Beak Street. The food is cheap and fabulous. Reservations at lunchtime only but you can’t choose your table so go early or late for the best seating.
Polpo, 41 Beak Street, London W1; 020 7734 4479; www.polpo.co.uk
The Providores Tapa Room
The Providores, 109 Marylebone High Street, London W1; 020 7935 6175; www.theprovidores.co.uk
Obika is the wild card in my top 10 pack. Sandwiched between Stella McCartney, Chloe and Marni on the 2nd Floor of Selfridges, Obika may appear to be, but is not, a quirky café for ladies who lunch. This establishment serves some of the best mozzarella in London and has outlets all over Italy, one in Tokyo, one in New York, and one, curiously, in Kuwait.
Obika, Selfridges, Oxford Street, London W1; www.obika.co.uk
Le Pont de la Tour
Sir Terence Conran was first on the scene in the late 1980s when Butler’s Wharf was redeveloped and Le Pont de la Tour became his flagship. Tony Blair entertained President Bill Clinton there and Rupert Murdoch has been known to perch on the end of an evening-time table. It’s best to go when the weather is fine and sit outside watching Tower Bridge go up and down. The tourists love it so if you do have friend to entertain from out of town, this is the ideal place. Set lunch in the restaurant is £31.50 but the better deal is two courses for £15 in the bar area.
Le Pont de la Tour, Shad Thames, London SE1; 020 7403 8403; www.lepontdelatour.co.uk
Wild Honey was a Gentlemen’s Club in its past life. The new owners have retained the dark oak wall panelling of that era, but lightened the mood with bright modern art. Small tables line the walls of the slim dining room and these can be arranged, like building blocks, to accommodate any size of party. The three course menu du jour is £16.95 and the food is generally very good although we weren’t impressed with the polenta chips. It would be a pity to be abstaineous at Wild Honey their excellent wines are available in 250ml carafes at the same pro rata price as a bottle.
Wild Honey, 12 St George St, London W1; 020 7758 9160; www.wildhoneyrestaurant.co.uk
The Cinnamon Club
The Cinnamon Club, 30 Great Smith Street, London SW1; 0845 166 4256; www.cinnamonclub.com
Pearl at The Renaissance Hotel
Pearl at The Renaissance Hotel in Holborn is the most expensive restaurant in my London lunch top 10 but at £26 for two courses it is a relative bargain when compared with the £47 price tag of two courses in the evening. Chef Jun Tanaka draws on all of his Japanese, American, French and English influences to create dishes such as caramelised langoustines, pork cheek tortellini, pineapple and black radish. The flaw in this pearl is the shell, an ostentatious Edwardian banking hall that was once the shop floor of Pearl Assurance. But love or hate the space, the food is fabulous.
Pearl, The Renaissance Hotel, 252 High Holborn, London WC1; 020 7829 7000; www.pearl-restaurant.com