What was the last time you went out for dinner? Was it a big birthday dinner, or a pilgrimage to some obscure outer borough for authentic eats? We’re willing to bet that it was a night when you made vague plans to meet a friend, yet completely forgot until they texted you at work that afternoon for directions to dinner.
It’s the casual midweek dinner, and though no one really talks about it, it ends up being the reason we eat out the most. All you want is a place that’s easy to get into, that’s affordable and will get you home in time for Gogglebox at 10pm. Oh, and with actual good food too.
Here are a round-up of some of our go-to spots, mostly central and easily accessible by tube, that will allow you to grab something on a Wednesday night without dropping too big a wad of cash.
Vietnamese places are a shoe-in for casual dinners, but Cay Tre manages to take all of your favourite dishes and put them in a sleek-looking restaurant that feels like it should be in an interior design magazine. The food’s good, and the ox cheek pho is particularly good when it’s on, while the spring roll noodle salad is a nice way to mix things up. Share a plate of summer rolls, and you’ve got a perfect midweek dinner. They also have a branch in Shoreditch if you’re out east.
What Honest Burgers understands better than other hip burger restaurants is that most people don’t want to eat standing at a counter, or in the lap of some stranger sitting next to them. It’s a comfy, laid back place to grab dinner with a couple of friends in the middle of the week, and for us, grabbing a burger here is the very definition of a casual meal. The burger itself is simple and satisfying, and you won’t go wrong with the rosemary chips and a craft beer either.
Bush Hall Dining Rooms should be your go-to if you’re out near Shepherds Bush, not just for the neighbourhood diner feels, but also for the menu of posh gastropub dishes that’ll cover anything you’d want to eat in the middle of the week. Their salads are good if you want something healthy, and there’s loads of comfy leather seating that you’ll never want to get up from. It’s perfect for meeting a mate, but it’s also nice enough that you could take your parents or a low-key date as well.
Briciole is the kind of place that you wish would open up in your neighbourhood, but it’s in Marylebone because that’s where all the nice things tend to end up. The bastards. It’s a cute but actually kind of nice Italian restaurant, and it takes the trattoria you knew growing up and makes it somewhere you’d actually be chuffed to go and eat. The pastas are nicely made, and we particularly like the gnocchi and rigatoni with pork ragu. Order a big glass of wine and split a plate of burrata, and you’re all set.
Do you like steak? Of course you do. Steak specialist Flat Iron does a nice one for a tenner, and it’s perfect with chips or a salad if you’re dodging carbs or clean eating or whatever. They occasionally have fancier cuts of beef on the menu (like bavette steaks) and the odd wagyu burger, but none of it will leave a gaping hole in your wallet and it’s all brilliant for what you’re paying. We prefer the Covent Garden shop, as it’s easier to get a table there as a walk-in - you’re likely to hit a queue if you go to the original Soho restaurant. Don’t bring your vegetarian mate.
Jar Kitchen is a bit of a restaurant unicorn. It’s central though away from the tourists, it’s cosy and the service is on-point, and while the quality of food is impeccable, you can still get away with having a main and a drink here for less than 20 quid. The French and Italian-influenced food, like a braised ox cheek with risotto milanese, feels classy but Jar Kitchen still has the ambience of a friendly neighbourhood restaurant, and it’s a great spot to take a mate for an awesome midweek dinner. A casual dinner here can easily escalate after a few of their house negronis - in a good way.
As far as restaurants go, Spuntino is the cool little brother who dropped out of school, disappeared for a few years, and resurfaced with tatts and an extremely cool personality. You come to Spuntino to relax with a burger and a cold beer while pretending you’re Charles Bukowski, even if you’re exhausted because you’re on the night shift and your toddler’s tethered to a bollard outside while you sink a few rounds. There’s a cool US-diner vibe that doesn’t feel kitsch, and little plates of mac ‘n’ cheese and fried chicken you can share.
We love the sharing plates at Koya Bar, but it’s very easy to go mental and overorder and end up eating Heinz baked beans for the rest of the month. Stick with the udon noodles and donburi rice dishes though, and you’ll be golden - they’re affordable, very tasty, and the combination of a seat at the bar-slash-open kitchen and nice Japanese food makes a nice change to the usual midweek fare. It’s no reservations, but the line’s usually manageable.
Ramen noodles should be a staple of your midweek lineup, not just because they’re a big comforting bowl of F*ck You to whatever crap you’ve put up with that day, but also because they’re not expensive and they’re all over town. Shoryu does a very good one for less than a tenner, and you can easily get a beer and share a couple of sides for less than 20 quid. Helpfully, it’s usually easy to get a table as a walk-in and there’s usually space if there’s a few of you meeting for a casual supper.
Padella feels trendy, but the food’s actually both really good and quite affordable, even if your usual jam is curry night at ’Spoons. The handmade pastas here are ridiculously tasty and at a fiver a pop, you can easily order half the menu to share between you and a friend. The cacio e pepe is legendary, but our favourite is the slow-cooked beef with pappardelle. This is the one exception on our list in that there’s usually a fair wait for a table, but it’s worth it because the pastas are really bloody good - get there early if you really hate queues.
Like finding out that the word ‘slang’ is short for ‘shortened language’, you might do a double take when you realise that yes, Granger and Co is open in the evenings and yes, their dinner menu is actually pretty good. The restaurant is pretty enough to linger in on a Wednesday night, and though the casual Aussie bistro-style food won’t blow your mind, it doesn’t need to be as the whole experience is totally likeable. The shrimp burger and fish curry are the ones to get.
Most of the authentic Chinese eats tend to be scattered around town, but you can hit up Baozi Inn for some legit Sichuan-style scran. The food’s much spicier than your garden-variety Cantonese cuisine, but it’s totally worth it. Order the dumplings in chilli oil, the dan dan noodles, and the spicy beef noodle soup. The service isn’t the best, but it’s worth it for those dumplings.
Like the Kelly Clarkson of restaurants, Jackson and Rye is the very definition of good but not great, and it’s pretty much our break-in-case-of-emergency restaurant in central London. You’re not going to remember the kinda-American comfort food when you leave, but they’ve something for literally everyone and it’s totally acceptable for a midweek dinner when you meet up with that friend you haven’t seen in ages and probably won’t see again for like five years. The buffalo wings and steak and eggs are satisfying and a safe bet, and they also have a huge selection of American whiskies if you’re into the brown stuff.
This isn’t the original railway arch Berber & Q, but their smaller, more casual shawarma restaurant in Exmouth Market. You can get better traditional Turkish kebabs in Dalston or Green Lanes, but that’s missing the point - the point here is to enjoy said kebabs with a cocktail in a cool-looking room with tunes pumping over the stereo, which you don’t get at a classic kebab joint. The food’s not traditional at all, but it’s still very tasty, and it’s the kind of fresh food you can enjoy while still being sober as a daytime screening of Hotel Rwanda.