Falstaff´s pick of London’s set menus

Falstaff´s pick of London’s set menus

The wonderful world of London’s prix fixe menus: 8 not to miss


Lunch, pre- and post-theatre are the times to head out into London’s fine-dining scene for easy booking and great value.

It's one of the worst-kept secrets amongst jobbing gourmands, foodie fanatics and the plain greedy that a thoroughly good meal is to be had at a remarkably fair price if you dine off-peak. Something that might blast a hole in the wallet during evening service suddenly becomes a more reasonable proposition during the less fashionable hours of the day.

Luncheon (to distinguish it from pre-packaged-sandwich-at-your-desk infamy) from one of the capital’s excellent prix fixe menus is a very civilised affair. Provided you avoid the middle-management accountants on expenses, you can be assured a regal welcome and usually a short, to-the-point menu of seasonal ingredients. Wine by the glass rather than the bottle seems somehow more acceptable at these odd hours, too: another saving.

Then there’s the pre-theatre menu to excite the palate and reassure the purse. Admittedly you do have to eat unfashionably early (usually between 5pm and 7pm), but you’ll be rewarded with both chef and waiters’ undivided and unflustered attention. And for the truly committed night owl, there’s the lure of post-theatre dining which comes with the frisson of the fashionably late.

Here's our pick of London’s set menus, from the reassuringly inexpensive to those “special occasions just for me”.

Wild Honey

I once spent a very pleasant month dining almost exclusively from the pre-theatre menu at the sadly defunct Arbutus in Frith Street. My memories revolve largely around some very good homemade bread and the inevitability of one too many of their superlative martinis before heading off into the Soho sunset (not a euphemism I can assure you).

Luckily, you can now enjoy its bigger and slightly smarter sister, the ravishing Michelin-starred Wild Honey in St James’s. They offer a wonderful-value lunch/pre-theatre menu: three courses at £40. The cooking is a treat ­­– resolutely British with a lightness of touch, a hint of whimsy and a due nod to the glories of France and Italy. There’s usually something nice from the field like slow-cooked ox cheek or imaginatively prepared venison, some fresh-caught Cornish cod or mackerel, and interesting-sounding vegetarian fodder to boot. Marylebone luminaries La Fromagerie provide the cheese, and there’s usually a bit to be had on the prix fixe, if you can resist the custard tart pud, that is. There’s an extensive list of wines by the glass and the carafe (well done), from a very reasonably priced Marsanne/Viognier to something wildly aspirational from Aloxe Corton in Burgundy.

Ben Colvill

  • Wild Honey
  • Address: 8 Pall Mall, London SW1Y 5NG


Time was when you could enjoy the light touch of Skye Gyngell’s cooking amongst the studied elegance and boho verdigris of Petersham Nurseries. Now only a pilgrimage to Somerset House will secure you a place at her bountiful table. The dining room here is light and airy, vernal even, and so is the weekday lunch menu (two courses £29 and three courses £33). It’s a sort of playground of yuzu, goats curd and impeccably dressed leaves with the odd hit of fresh fishiness and a pleasingly decadent tart to wrap it all up. Very good it is too, and just the sort of ephemeral but quietly memorable food to set you up for an afternoon amongst the Impressionists at the Courtauld Gallery next door.

There are glasses of some nice, lesser-known Italian grapes on offer: Catarratto, Fiano, Dolcetto et al. But if you don’t want these, go for a chilled glass of Austrian Zweigelt rosé instead and dream of warmer days. Special mention must go to the innovative scratch menu (served Tuesday to Saturday 5.30pm to 6.30pm) which is made from scraps and otherwise redundant odds and ends without sacrificing quality or flavour. All deliciously worthy.

Ben Colvill

  • Spring
  • Address: Somerset House, New Wing, Lancaster Place, London WC2R 1LA
Spring at Somerset House, London
photo provided
Spring at Somerset House, London

Brasserie Zédel

It’s easy to panic when hunger strikes at Piccadilly Circus. This heaving Central London intersection is a distressing medley of flashing neon, hordes of unruly teenagers, and shops dedicated to tourist tat. It may look as though the only refuelling options are Hard Rock Café or Pizza Hut, but just metres away lies the glorious Art Deco subterranean refuge that is Brasserie Zédel.

Brimming with character and large enough that you’ll never have to wait long for a table, this is also the place to come for keenly-priced, classic French brasserie fare, including the prix fixe that is such a staple of this genre. Revive yourself with a three-course medley: minted pea soup, chopped steak American and a chocolate & caramel tarte all for just under £20? Yes, please. Delay your return to the hellish streets above with a wander through to the Crazy Coqs cabaret.

Gabriel Stone

Brasserie Zédel, London
Brasserie Zédel, London

Noble Rot

There’s no cooler place to be a wine geek than Noble Rot. From its Bloomsbury original, this “shrine to the vine” has stretched tendrils into Soho and, recently opened, a third site in Shepherd Market. Whichever you visit, the approach is very much a physical manifestation of Noble Rot’s sister magazine: an effortlessly cool celebration of gastronomy that has absolutely no time for the pretentious elements of tradition.

The set lunch is a perfect encapsulation of Noble Rot’s ethos. The three courses for £22 are reliably enticing with a distinctively ‘Franglais’ accent. Think trout rillettes followed by bavette and then lemon posset. Wise diners take up the thoughtful wine recommendation with each dish: a perfect gateway to this place’s generously-priced, gloriously eclectic by-the-glass list. It’s a line-up packed with rising stars, unfairly neglected regions and famous classics usually only sold by the bottle. Come on in and join the party.

Gabriel Stone

  • Noble Rot
  • Address: 2 Greek Street, London W1D 4NB (Soho)


Everyone is keen to get a taste of the delectable dishes at Nopi, which roughly stands for ‘North of Piccadilly’, owned by renowned chef and restaurateur Yotam Ottolenghi. Aside from this Soho-based eatery, he co-owns several restaurants and delis across London and uses bold, zesty flavours reminiscent of cuisine from his home country of Israel. Normally, dishes at the establishment will set you back around £20 for lighter meals such as grilled ox tongue with anchovies, or the membrillo glazed pork belly, while hearty mains like the butterfly sea bass with apples and radish are £40.

Served Monday to Friday between 5pm and 6.30pm, Nopi’s slightly unorthodox pre-theatre menu is just £35pp, or £51 including wine, and is designed for sharing. Among the variety of mezze-style starters are sour cherry molasses, sumac chutney and wasabi labneh. The two sizeable mains on offer are mackerel with sheep’s yoghurt and kaki salsa, or the aforementioned ox tongue, which is garnished with parsley and yuzu. Wine pairings hail from France and Austria, and with its convenient central London location hidden behind Regent’s Street, it’s within strolling distance of the West End’s biggest theatre shows.

India-Jayne Trainor

  • Nopi
  • Address: 21-22 Warwick St, London W1B 5NE

Railhouse Cafe

In the heart of London Victoria, a stone’s throw from the Victoria Palace Theatre, Apollo and The Other Palace, the industrial chic Railhouse Cafe serves a menu of international fare. Plates large and small will satisfy even the most discerning of diners, from the crispy oyster mushrooms with miso dip to start, to the king prawn curry with Jerusalem artichokes, and the whole grilled seabass with pickled cucumber.

With dishes hovering at around £20, their pre-theatre meal for two, four or six people at £35pp is a veritable steal, consisting of a tasting menu of selected favourites. Currently, this includes sourdough boule with black tahini butter, truffle mac & cheese with crispy shallots, and 45-day aged côte de boeuf, accompanied by kale, chilli and garlic. For as little as £18 extra, the menu comes with a flight of four wine pairings from across Spain, France and Italy. Should you choose not to opt for the flight, the Railhouse cocktails are reputed to be delicious, with the Masaka Martini (sake, lychee liquor and lemon) and the Cinnamon Sour (Maker’s Mark, apple, cinnamon and egg white) being particular highlights.

India-Jayne Trainor

Murano/Cafe Murano

Many will be familiar with Angela Hartnett’s largesse from her television appearances and cookbooks like Cucina, and it’s a generosity that translates onto the plate at her exclusive family of Italian-flavoured restaurants in London. The granddaddy of the bunch is Mayfair’s Michelin-starred Murano where the lunch menu comes in at £45 for two courses or £50 for three. I do worry sometimes about eating the likes of linguine with sardines in a fine-dining establishment, albeit one less formal than most. This is cucina povera after all – food just as well, if not better, eaten sitting on a plastic chair in the backstreets of Palermo than perched on the leather dining chairs of Mayfair. But it’s hard to muster any real complaint when the cooking is such a fine mix of skill and genuine flair.

Mayfair is undeniably a smart affair, so you might want to head to the less rarefied air of her Cafe Muranos. The outposts in St James’s and Covent Garden are both handy for the theatre (there’s a third, newer venue in Bermondsey, too) and offer an excellent value lunch/pre-theatre menu (two courses £23, three for £28). Wonderful things like fish stew with orzo are on offer but it’s really very hard to resist the delicious fatto-a-mano pasta, especially when served simply with guanciale and pecorino. A bowl of this savoury, perfumed delight followed by a slice of light, but extraordinarily tasty, almond cake is really all you need for the requisite post-prandial glow. Paired with a glass or two (or carafe!) from the Italo-heavy wine list (hint, go for the Tuscan Vermentino), you’ll be perfectly armed against even the most avant-garde of theatrical performances.

Ben Colvill

  • Murano
  • Cafe Murano
  • Address: 20 Queen Street, London W1J 5PP (Murano) and 36 Tavistock Street, London WC2E 7PB (Cafe Murano, Covent Garden)

Dinner – by Heston Blumenthal

Some years ago, I bumped into Heston Blumenthal in Bloomsbury. I opened a door and there he was – taller than expected, but recognisably domed and bespectacled. He was off to judge a jelly competition at the local architecture school I think, and I was off to stuff my face with Canelé from Miel Bakery. Since then I have eaten his food as often as occasion and meagre writerly wages allow, and have developed two cunning strategies for doing so. First, eschew the bright lights of the Fat Duck for his lovely pub down the road, The Hind's Head; the same gastronomic genius reigns over both, but in the pub flamboyance (and price) is toned down to comfortingly familiar yet still exceptionally executed levels. I only ever have the oxtail & kidney pudding (deep savoury joy) followed by milky, nutmeggy hug of the Quaking Pudding. Predictably pudding-y I know, but both are too good to resist.

My other ploy is to go to his flagship Hyde Park restaurant, Dinner, somewhat perversely for a weekday luncheon (yes, that’s what he calls it too). It’s not inexpensive at three courses for £59 but then all things are relative (and we are in two-Michelin-starred territory here). You can skip the wine pairing at £49 per head if you must (personally, I mustn’t) but whatever you do don’t miss the Meat Fruit which, oh lucky people, has made it onto the set menu. You’ll be rewarded with a glossy mandarin-like sphere, perfect and understated. Inside is the most exceptional chicken liver parfait I’ve ever eaten. Like the other dishes, it’s inspired by the history of British gastronomy. Anything involving cardamom custard is to be welcomed with religious fervour, and the rhubarb tart here is no exception. Sadly, no architecturally splendiferous jellies were noted on my visit.

Ben Colvill

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