There are times for special occasion dinners, there are times for travelling to an outer borough to finally try that place you’ve been meaning to get to for the past three years, and there are times when you have to swallow down whatever that was served at that experimental supper club. But we’re guessing that more than any of those, your dinners out are of the casual mid-week variety. In these cases, you want a place that’s easy to get into, that’s affordable, that serves great food, and which will get you home in time for your self-inflicted 10pm curfew so you can plough through a few more episodes of whatever you’re currently watching.
Here’s 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.
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 the best-known dish, 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.
At first glance, there is nothing casual about Brasserie Zedel. Chandeliers that look like they swung in from the 20s? Not casual. Enough marble and pink table cloths to make you think that Liberace had a hand in the decor? Not casual. So, why is it in this guide? Because the prices at Brasserie Zedel are affordable, notably the prix fixe which gets you a steak haché, fries, and a chocolate something for dessert for just £10.50. Under the shiny allure of all the gold detailing and art deco ceilings is the very real possibility of eating some good French food, splitting a bottle of wine, and leaving only £20 lighter.
Vietnamese places are a shoo-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.
We’d happily block out two hours of our diary every Tuesday from now until the apocalypse to ‘catch up’ with Gunpowder’s lamb chops. Their Indian dishes are some of the best in London and their booths are a top catch up setting whether it’s a dinner for two or six. We should warn you though: much like when you go to that farmer’s market to save money on avocados and leave with £80 worth of matured brie, you can end up spending more than you need to at Gunpowder. Stick to the rabbit pulao, a couple of venison and vermicceli doughnuts, and the lamb chops, and you’ll be set for a good evening.
When you’re meeting a mate who has requested something ‘tasty, interesting, kind of healthy, and not too expensive’, we’d recommend Sushi Atelier. This spot in Fitzrovia does a truly fantastic six piece sushi or sashimi omakase for less than £20. Everything here comes with a twist - expect to find foie gras, ponzu jelly, or a bit of parmesan on sushi. It’s definitely a little more exciting than your usual Tuesday night spot.
Flour & Grape is another pasta-focused spot, and it’s where you should be if the lines at Padella are just too long. Much like Padella, you can get an excellent plate of pasta for a tenner or less. We suggest ordering the roasted pork shoulder tortelloni which is so good, it will make you temporarily forget that other pasta-focused restaurants even exist in London. Then forget some more with some G&Ts in the gin bar downstairs.
Weeknight steaks can be a recipe for mid-month bankruptcy. Luckily, you can easily wander into Blacklock, eat some great steak, down some red on tap and only risk a score. Also, did we mention the beef dripping chips and five quid cocktails? You should probably order those too. There’s also an ‘all in’ deal where you can get ‘pre chop bites’, chops with coal flatbread, and a side for £20.
This old school Italian spot in South Kensington is the kind of place to have an evening of inexpensive pizza, handmade pasta, and a bottle of red. Our game plan would be to split the primavera pizza and the lasagne al forno. Not because of the prices, but because, realistically, you need both. The candles, tastefully rustic decor, and little Italian touches will make you feel like the Circle and District line stops in Tuscany now.
Yes, the weekend will forever be reserved for roast chicken. That’s just the law of this land. But, there’s something distinctly satisfying about eating piri piri chicken on a weeknight. Casa Do Frango’s half chicken comes with either piri piri, oregano, or lemon and garlic glaze for £9.50. Their sides include batatas fritas, African chorizo rice, and fresh salads for a fiver and under, as well as some very affordable small plates, like piri piri grilled prawns. They’ve also got a selection of cocktails if you’re looking to transform your casual school night chicken-fest into something a bit more boozy.
At Tanakatsu, you can get a really good pork katsu curry for £12.50 in a slick, grown-up restaurant, any weeknight you fancy. If that’s not reason enough to head there after a soul crushing day in the office, then we don’t know what is. But, just in case, we’ll give you some more. There’s sushi, and a selection of teriyaki dishes, but if you leave here without eating at least one portion of chicken karaage, we don’t know who you are.
Dum Biryani’s biryanis aren’t the cheapest around (the lamb shank biryani is £16), but they are some of the very best, and they’re also huge. Plan to bring a mate to share one, and get some chicken wings and prawns as well. Located in a Soho basement, this place is full of bright colors and often has Tupac tracks playing on the speakers. In other words, it’s fun.
Arguably, there are only a few places in London where you can use the words ‘suave’, ‘laidback’ and ‘cheap’ in the same sentence without sounding like an entitled asset manager who got his own Smythson diary embossed with ‘BIG BOY’. But, that’s kind of what Old Compton Brasserie is. They have a long menu, with everything from wild mushroom gnocchi to dressed up fish and chips, and if you stick to wine rather than cocktails, the night will be fairly easy on the purse strings.
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.
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.
You finally booked tickets to see that play at the Old Vic on a Wednesday night, but it’s left you a little bit skint on the other side? Yamagoya is just down the road and a great place to hit up for a quick bowl of affordable Japanese ramen. Their signature Yamagoya ramen is a rich, fatty, almost creamy broth, and will set you up for sitting through that long and hopefully interesting play.
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.
We love the sharing plates at Koya Bar, but it’s very easy to go wild 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.
We’re of the opinion that affordable pasta spots make for great mid-week dinner spots, so here’s another one, located in Soho. Although the lines can get long, they go fast as the canteen setting doesn’t invite you to hang around too long. The pastas are good, but the tiramisu is even better, so save some room for that.
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.
Hit up Baozi Inn in Chinatown for some excellent Sichuan-style food. Things here are generally 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.
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.