London’s Best Value Tasting Menus
Just Opened London’s ‘Best of’ series covers a combination of recently opened venues and established London favourites, to make sure you get the full lowdown on where to spend your time and hard-earned cash.
Tasting menus have long been the preserve of the Michelin brigade, with many an inflated chef offering numerous fixed courses for ludicrous amounts of money, with no option to order more thriftily from an a la carte menu. Thankfully, those days are no more (some restaurants in Mayfair excepted) and now, there is a gamut of young, inventive and unstuffy chefs keen to showcase their well-crafted wares for a more reasonable price.
We’re seeing tasting menus of around four or five courses under the £50 mark all over town, and we’re pretty happy about it. Here are some of our favourites…
Smoke & Salt
These guys have popped up all over town with their heady menu of expertly smoked, fermented and/or cured food. They say they do ‘modern dining with ancient techniques’ and people who have sampled their signature five-course tasting menu concur – it’s actually pretty fancy. This is unsurprising really, considering the chefs’ calibre: combined they have a decade’s worth of experience at The Shed, The Latymer, Heston Blumenthal’s Dinner and more.
Their residency at Chapel Bar in Islington was tremendously well received through its year-long duration and we’re looking forward to more of the same this summer; we hear Pop Brixton is the first stop. Simple-sounding dishes like Crab – Seaweed – Gooseberry – Spring Onion clearly won’t be. There’ll be five of those for £30 and we think it’s money very well spent.
Smoke & Salt, at Pop Brixton, 49 Brixton Station Road, SW9 8PQ
Nutbourne, along with Rabbit in Chelsea and The Shed makes up the Gladwin brothers’ trio of restaurants. They pride themselves on being true to ‘farm to plate’ style cooking and eating, with every single ingredient sourced from their own West Sussex farm called, you guessed it: Nutbourne. By every single ingredient, we mean every single ingredient – from meat right through to wine. Those that they cannot produce themselves are foraged or begrudgingly and sympathetically sourced from a similar smallholder.
Their tasting menu consists of a dizzying twelve courses of lovingly reared gourmet plates and includes such gems as mushroom and marmite éclair with confit egg yolk, a Lulworth scallop with blood pudding, candied lemon and langoustine sauce and fallow deer with venison cigar, celeriac and Comice pear. We’re not even sure how they can offer all that for £42 a head, but offer they do.
Nutbourne, 29 Ransomes Dock, 35-37 Parkgate Road, SW11 4NP
Galvin Bistrot de Luxe
Though Bistrot de Luxe is one of the less formal restaurants in the Galvin group’s portfolio, the cooking is still faultless and certainly feels like a treat. This Baker Street Parisian-style bistro is smarter than many in town – aided by the dark wood interior set off by crisp white linens and Chef Patron Chris Galvin’s imaginative menu.
The ‘menu gourmand’ is a four-courser plus aperitif for the bargain basement price of £25. For that, you’ll get dishes like aged organic goat’s curd, pumpernickel and pear membrillo, roast Herdwick leg of lamb, grilled asparagus and English pea salad. The optional wine pairings are even better value, at an extra £19.
Galvin Bistro de Luxe, 66 Baker Street, W1U 7DJ
St Luke’s Kitchen at LIBRARY
This place is kind of under-the-radar as it’s set within LIBRARY, a Covent Garden-based private members club housed in a lovely five storey townhouse. So-called because St Luke (patron saint of artists, bookbinders, brewers, butcher and stained glass makers, obviously) watches over visitors heading towards the kitchen from his stained-glass window, the cooking here is Italian/French influenced and aiming towards the higher end of things.
They make their own sourdough and source things seasonally and locally – you get the picture. Impressively, their five-course tasting menu (including dishes like beef in homemade mustard, leek souffle and fish soup with XO sauce) is a very approachable £35. Feeling flash? Make it seven for £55 and have the leek soufflé, with onion, Stilton and fleshed mushroom too. Any old Tom, Dick or Harry is welcome, though members are given preference when booking.
St. Lukes Kitchen at LIBRARY, 112 St Martin’s Lane, WC2N 4BD
Salon, high above Brixton market, is an incredible small-plates casual restaurant that still feels very special. Their only brief is to be ‘seasonal and inventive’ and the result is an impressive array of primarily plant-based dishes sourced from British (ideally local) ingredients that really do wow.
There’s an emphasis on ethical and sustainable eating, though this does not detract – as it needn’t – from the imagination of the kitchen. Their tasting menu consists of six creative courses like Hispi cabbage, tarragon and smoked almond sauce, halva ice cream sandwiches and vegetables served every which way for £49; this is tremendous value.
Salon, 18 Market Row, Coldharbour Lane, SW9 8LD
Clapham favourite The Dairy was one of the first places we can recall to offer good value tasting menus. Considering the stellar calibre of the cooking here, prices on the a la carte menu are mind-bogglingly reasonable (most dishes £9-13) but seriously, the five course tasting menu comprising dishes like sourdough, smoked bone marrow butter and chicken liver mousse or the barbecued mackerel with white asparagus and bread miso for just £48 is out of this world.
Vegetarians get an even better deal at £43 and The Dairy is one of the only establishments to recognise that veggie dishes cost less and this should perhaps be passed on. If we were you we’d get that veggie menu anyway as many of the herbs and vegetables featured are grown on their rooftop garden and the freshness is palpable.
The Dairy, 15 The Pavement, Clapham Old Town SW4 0HY
Jay Rayner said of The Frog’s Chef Adam Handling, ‘He has the talent the way UKIP has nutters’ and we are inclined to agree. He’s come a long way since his baptism of fire on Masterchef: The Professionals, and now his Shoreditch restaurant, The Frog, is one of the most innovative and talked-about restaurants in town showcasing his love of well-sourced, seasonal ingredients and slightly Japanese-influenced style.
Go and try almost everything by booking the £50 ten course tasting menu and enjoy cheese and truffle doughnuts and crab, apple, dill and gin. We’re excited about his new Covent Garden restaurant, too.
The Frog, 2 Ely’s Yard, Old Truman Brewery, Hanbury Street E1 6QR
Stevie Parle teamed up with Tom Dixon at Craft, producing very stylish results. The focus here is on produce, and sourcing all ingredients from experts obsessed with ‘crafting’ (geddit?) their wares, whether it be coffee, smoked fish or honey. The kitchen garden means that vegetation gets a lot of love, and the cooking techniques are thoroughly modern.
The standard tasting menu is a bargain at £55 for five courses of loveliness, but really you need to be coming on a Tuesday for ‘Test Kitchen Tuesdays’ whereby around six dishes are blind tested on us willing guinea pigs for the non-princely sum of £28. Here, dishes are super seasonal and the kitchen takes advantage of the fact they have free reign to play about with flavours, ingredients and techniques. Fabulous.
Craft London, Peninsula Square, Greenwich Peninsula SE10 0SQ
Small British plates and matching wine flights not your thing? Firstly, why not? Secondly, that’s ok because here is Booma – another Brixton based gem – with a menu of really good Indian food paired with craft beers. And the best bit? Four courses are a measly £19.95 and that includes the booze; we’re impressed.
Start with poppadoms before moving on to achari paneer tikka, tandoori machhi, tulsi seekh kebab and a duck kathi roll, all paired with drinks like Camden Gentleman’s Wit. The vegetarian menu sounds equally great and has been expertly matched with a whole other menu of ales too.
Booma, 244 Brixton Road, SW9 6AH
Over in Hackney, the clever clogs at Pidgin are serving up a four-course taster (plus snacks and petit fours) for £45 before any wine gets involved. The menu changes weekly and the pride themselves on never repeating a dish – which is actually almost a shame if you have loved something there.
Food is the ubiquitous modern British style but we detect a few Asian accents too. This week the menu is the intriguing sounding beetroot with stracciatella, cumin and chocolate, then turbot with what they’re calling English green curry sauce, cucumber, jersey royals, coconut milk and cider vinegar. Pedestrian, safe cooking this is not and we love them all the more for it.
Pidgin, 52 Wilton Way, E8 1BG
Picture opened last year to massive acclaim, which was a surprise to precisely nobody considering the guys behind it are ex-Arbutus (how we loved it there). They position themselves as a neighbourhood restaurant, but considering those neighbourhoods have W1 postcodes, things are rather smarter than popping out to your local brasserie. Both restaurants (Marylebone and Fitzrovia) offer a generous six courses for £45 and the dishes change to reflect the seasons, as you’d hope.
Currently you can try things like asparagus, pea and wild garlic veloute and hake brandade, brown shrimps, parsley cromesqui and sea purslane but of course, these will soon make way for altogether more summery ingredients. Some of our most in-the-know friends count this as one of the best value – and most impressive – tasting menus in town, so it’s definitely worth a punt.
This is the one that gets our number one vote – and hard earned cash. Anglo opened last summer in a quiet street in Farringdon and quietly started serving a fixed menu of seven courses plus snacks for £45. We went, we loved it and then Grace Dent likened it to Noma and everyone else went and realised it too.
The cooking is assured and accomplished (patron Mark Jarvis started in Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons when he was 16 and head chef Jack Cashmore is ex-Sat Bains, so that explains it) and things like the cheese and onion on malt loaf started gaining star status. We loved everything from the yeasted butter to the adventurous combinations like dill with yoghurt and lemon pudding. Dishes change frequently but remain simple, refined and pretty darn special whatever the weather.
Anglo, 30 St. Cross Street, Farringdon, EC1N 8UH