Eleven Restaurants To Go To When You’re Not Paying
Everyone should have a list of London restaurants on hand for those times when you have absolutely no intention of reaching for your wallet.
Respite from adulthood can be put into three categories: sleep, free meals, and the big sleep. We’re not sure why, but there’s a deep, immeasurable pleasure in having a lovely time and eating something delicious, for nothing. These opportunities don’t come around often either. Whether it’s a birthday meal, or you’re out on your boss’ card, you need to be prepared to make/hint at the right recommendation. It’s not about choosing the most expensive restaurant around. It’s more that some extremely enjoyable meals come at extremely unenjoyable prices, so, ideally, this is when someone else pays. Logic, see.
With that in mind, please enjoy (and take note) of our guide to where to eat when you’re not going to be asking for the bill.
There’s something a little bit Dickensian about Kitty Fisher’s. No, not the squalor. The other side. The filthy rich. That bit. It’s a little restaurant in Shepherd Market where you want to have a good amount of money. Or, ideally, not have to worry about money at all. The hearty but refined British food is both superb and adds to the candlelit and velvet-draped decadence of this restaurant. There’s a bit of an atmosphere of ‘thank heavens we’re not out there’. And, more importantly, ‘thank heavens I don’t have to worry about the bill’.
On the face of it, going for a curry probably isn’t your first choice when you know the bill isn’t coming your way. But Gymkhana is something different. Decadent doesn’t really do this place justice: you may find yourself sitting on a Chesterfield eating biriyani off a gold table, and, in all likelihood, loving it. Aside from the raj-ish vibe, the food here is undeniably spectacular. And with that comes some spectacular prices. But why should that matter? You’re not paying. Get a wild muntjac biriyani, a few lamb chops, and the pork cheek vindaloo, just for the hell of it. This couldn’t be further from your average Indian, and that’s why it’s not made for an average meal.
Sign up for our newsletter.
Be the first to get expert restaurant recommendations for every situation right in your inbox.
Core By Clare Smyth
Fine dining restaurants can often be your first thought when somebody else is paying. That said, once you get there, you often find yourself suffocated by a room that has the personality and warmth of a traffic warden, given a lecture on the menu by your tutor for the evening, and, as a result, can’t fully enjoy the food. But Core isn’t like this at all. Things here are all about the food and it makes for a fantastic experience. It’s seasonal, so nothing is a mainstay on the menu, but you’ll be sure to enjoy whatever. Especially as there’s no damage on you.
Sometimes, the moment you walk into a restaurant you think to yourself: yes, yes I like this, we’re going to spend quite a while here, and return often. Luca is one of these. It’s an understated Italian restaurant, and we say understated because there’s no big song and dance when you walk in, or have the menus given to you, or want to have some water but not have it refilled every time you take a sip. The only song and dance is when the food arrives (and possibly the bill) because it is really excellent. Their parmesan fries - basically churros - are made as if touched by an angel, as is everything else.
The phrase ‘oldie but goodie’ has come into sharp questioning for our divided little island in the past couple of years, but with J Sheekey it still stands up. Coming here is a bit like coming back in time - it’s all wood panels and white table cloths - but the prices are almost offensively modern. It’s a lovely place to come whether at the bar, in the dining room, or outside on the terrace. Their fish pie is a given, but, seeing as you’re not going dutch or anything, why not get 30g of oscietra caviar in? You may as well…
Frog by Adam Handling
Any restaurant that’s ‘by’ a chef means serious business. Imagine if there was a McDonalds by Ronald. Would sir care for Le Big Mac? Frog by Adam Handling is a serious food place for people who like seriously good food. The tasting menu is the ideal way to go about things in this situation (you know, the you not paying a penny situation) and we’d recommend the wine pairing while you’re at it. Things can get pretty interesting food-wise here: cheese and truffle doughnuts, posh baked potato (hint: it’s got caviar) and it does feel like the sort of food and atmosphere that’s made for occasions.
Kerridge's Bar And Grill
In the middle of this restaurant is a statue of a gold suit. Some might call this art, but we call it aspiration. Kerridge’s Bar And Grill is a very expensive restaurant inside a very expensive hotel, and it’s the kind of place where you can eat excellent takes on British classics and potentially see someone famous. Don’t miss the lobster thermidor omelette starter. Or the chips. Or the banana souffle with spiced rum sauce. Actually, get all three. You’re not paying, remember?
Every now and again it’s okay to be a bit pretentious and that’s what somewhere like Kitchen Table is for. It’s a chef’s table setup, so the poor guys and girls are sort of performing in front of you - a micro herb delicately placed with tweezers here, a series of intricately placed blobs there. It is very entertaining and the food is really very very good. All you have to do is nod to their ‘food philosophy’ and try not to eat every plate in one mouthful. This sort of thing is a laugh every now and then. It’s a riot when it’s for free.
Look, the River Café didn’t invent Italian food. It invented Italian food in Britain. It’s the OG, and because of that, it can invent whatever prices it wants. But that’s not the point here because it’s irrelevant to you anyway. The point is that pretty much everything you’re eating will be delicious. So, so simple but so, so delicious. You won’t believe your plate only has three to four ingredients on it say. And that’s the beauty of the River Cafe. It seems straightforward to get the best produce available, but to do what they do with it: that’s not so straightforward.
Bob Bob Ricard
There are times when you just want to be silly and not think of the consequences - mainly because there aren’t any for you - and that’s what Bob Bob Ricard is for. We mean, a button at your table to call for caviar? If that doesn’t say ‘I’m sure as hell not paying’ then we don’t know what does. It’s way over the top here, in case the button didn’t give you that hint, and that’s really what you’re going for. Caviar, champagne, oysters, truffle, lobster. Gold on the ceiling, gold on your table, gold on your floor. Because, well, you know why.
photo credit: Paul Winch-Furness
There is no restaurant you want to go to more in London without paying than Sexy Fish. Admit it. You dirty, filthy, youknowwhat. But to be honest, you’re right. Because the thought of coming to Sexy Fish, the thought of seeing a man gyrate over DJ decks as you try and eat your subpar dinner, the thought of being the one to foot a bill that will include £16 for two nice-ish scallops is all, frankly, as sexy as a dog on heat on your new sofa.