As part of my job as a restaurant reviewer, I have to read a LOT of feedback from diners over the years (not a perk of the job, I can assure you). As such, I can tell you with some confidence that there’s a common misconception among restaurant-goers that a meal out automatically gets better the more you pay for it – as if dinner out is a product with paid-for add-ons, like the latest stereo. In fact, as we all know, it’s possible to enjoy amazing blow-out meals and suffer through disappointing, waste-of-money ones just as it’s possible to find cheapo hidden gems vying for trade against restaurants with equally low prices but lacklustre food. I’m all about value – I don’t mind paying for a restaurant experience if I know I’m going to enjoy it. I bet most of you are, too. So here are five recommendations for London restaurants that may not be the cheapest in town, but are definitely worth every penny.
This is my local – but it’s so good it could hold its own in central London. Considering how much Peckham’s restaurant scene has come up in the world over the last couple of years, the owners could have got greedy with their prices – but happily, the brief menu chalked up on the blackboard is so reasonable it makes you do a double-take. Artusi does proper Italian food – amazing homemade pasta and ice creams, plus dishes that appear simple but are masterclasses in contrasting fresh, rustic flavours. Nothing I have eaten here has ever disappointed me – and if that isn’t recommendation enough, I don’t know what is.
161 Bellenden Road, Peckham SE15 4DH
This place is that most elusive of London jackpots: a snazzy restaurant slap-bang in the centre of town with good food, peerless pedigree (it’s by the people behind The Wolseley), swift service and ludicrously low prices – what’s more, it’s big enough to accommodate both bookings and walk-ins. It serves old-school French food at old-school prices, there’s a tremendously reasonable set menu, and the cocktail bar next door, Crazy Coqs, is one of the best in the area. I always recommend this place to family and friends because it ticks so many boxes – plus, nobody from out of town eating here can complain to me about inflated London prices.
20 Sherwood Street, London W1F 7ED
Another restaurant with faultless pedigree, Barnyard is the second restaurant from the chef/restaurateur who caused such a stir with nearby Dabbous. This place is a real departure from the tasting menus and hay-smoked-this, nitrogen-blasted-that of its Michelin-starred sibling, although the snacky small plates on the menu are still of startling quality – believe me, the homemade sausage roll is not just any sausage roll (nor should it be for £8…). The drinks are also really fun – there are boozy ice-cream shakes, plus posh versions of that uni staple, the turbo shandy. A perfect night out.
18 Charlotte Street, London W1T 2LZ
I’ve only visited this restaurant once because it’s not in my neck of the woods – but that’s not to say I wouldn’t make a special journey to eat there again. Its menu majors in Modern European dishes, all really precisely cooked and prettily served – things like gussied-up Provencal-style stuffed squid, and beautifully crisp sweet tarts topped with homemade ice cream. The service and decor are so spot-on that it feels like a central-London restaurant, even though it’s located on the far end of the King’s Road. Oh, to be a local…
438 Kings Road, Chelsea Sw10 0LJ
Yes, I know Michel Roux’s flagship Mayfair dining destination par excellence is one of the most expensive restaurants in London, and that it operates a three-month waiting list. But the set-lunch menu is widely renowned as the best-value gourmet lunch in town – it’s just over £50 per head for three courses (plus amuse bouche and petits fours), half a bottle of wine, half a bottle of water and coffee. Rachel, Rose and I can all vouch for its absolute stonking value for money – we came here for Rachel’s 30th birthday shindig. However, Le Gavroche is rightly celebrated for so much more than its exquisite French food. The service is second-to-none (how staff manage to make everyone feel so special when they deal with the same brand of gawping gastro-tourists day in, day out I don’t know…). The wine list is world-standard. The acoustics (more important than many realise) are brilliant thanks to the thick-pile carpets and white napery in the super old-fashioned dining room. Michel Roux is always there for service, and is super sweet when he does the rounds of each and every table. It just feels very special. If there’s a better way to sink 50 big ones, I’ve yet to find it in London.
43 Upper Brook Street, London W1K 7QR
Another King’s Road stalwart, but completely different to Medlar. When I first went to review this place, I was not looking forward to it – a US-themed restaurant with cut-price lobster, happy hours and live music? (And this was in the days before Burger & Lobster.) The thing is, when this kind of set-up is done well, it can be a lot of fun. So don your plastic bib and start chowing down, because although this might not be the best lobster you’ll ever have, it’s damn good for £20 including drinks and sides.
332-334 King’s Road, London SW3 5UR
Where have I missed? Which good-value London restaurants do you recommend to friends and family? Let me know by leaving a comment below!