London's Best Affordable Group Dinners guide image


London's Best Affordable Group Dinners

Where to get dinner with a group when you want the food to be more memorable than the bill.

Nothing ruins a group meal like an unexpectedly expensive bill. It changes everything. Happy chatter becomes the silent tapping of adding and dividing on phone screens. Free-flowing drinks turn into cautious counting. Love for your oldest friend is transformed into uncontrollable loathing (because they refuse to pay £1.50 for a bite of prawn toast). It is the ultimate mood kill.

This can be avoided. Not every group dinner has to be an overdraft-extending event. So here’s our guide to where you can eat great food, have a few drinks, and spend around £30 a head, tops.

£15–£20 A HEAD

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23-25 Queensway Market, London
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Normah’s is the kind of place where sharing is essential. The tiny Malaysian spot in Queensway Market has it all (and by all, we mean that’s the kind of approach you should adopt when ordering). Tender beef rendang with the flakiest of roti, sweet and spiced king prawn coconut laksa, crispy chicken wings that will have your gang crying out for more. Considering mains are around a tenner each and extra roti—which is essential—is a few quid, more is exactly what you’ll be getting.

The first thing you’ll notice when you walk into Zeret Kitchen in Camberwell is how diverse the crowd is. There are couples doing their best to romantically share a platter of injera with a load of misir wot. There are families with toddlers piling into the enormous platters (around a £10 for one person or 20-odd for two) topped with Ethiopian-style chicken. And then there are friends doing a mixture of the two, making a little mess, and having a brilliant time.

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The Kurdish restaurant on Rye Lane always has two big glistening shawarmas on the go and while the chicken qozi is fantastic—it glistens with honey and lemon, with potatoes cooked underneath, absorbing all the fats and flavours to evolve into an entirely new kind of carbohydrate—it’s the vegan mezze we think about most. The perfect group sharer, it includes crunchy and light falafel, pistachio hummus, and dalooja (a red pepper and pomegranate dip). Loaded up onto a tear of soft hajari bread, it makes for a faultless mouthful. 

photo credit: Giulia Verdinelli

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La Chingada Mexican Food

We could go on about La Chingada’s crispy el pastor or soft suadero tacos for hours. Or one of its hot salsas, a deep brown habanero number. Same with their fried chicken. A juicy golden pile that’s waiting to be smothered in the tingly, vinegar-ish red of chile de arbol and butter sauce. But it’s not just the food. It’s the day-glo chicken shop aesthetic of the spot in Surrey Quays. It’s the standing, the leaning, and the eating. It’s the night you’ll spend ordering, eating, drinking, ordering, smoking, digesting, ordering, and eating some more. A meal on the pavement may not be everybody’s thing, but it is ours and it should be yours too.

£20–£25 A HEAD

‘If in doubt, get the set menu’, is not usually advice we give out or heed, apart from when it comes to Persepolis in Peckham. That’s because the £25-a-head tasting menu at this Persian-inspired deli and restaurant is easily one of London’s most intelligent and delicious meal decisions. It begins with a meze plate packed with dips, falafel, and even a Wotsit, before moving onto soup, a couple of mains like sesame-topped halloumi in honey, before ending on an excellent dessert platter. It’s all vegan and vegetarian and, even better, is that it’s BYOB.

When you think of Finsbury Park, what do you think of? Is it the reds and greens of enormous trees in the park? Or the old rush hour pileups outside the station at 7am on a Wednesday? Maybe it’s hordes of Arsenal fans skipping to the stadium and then trudging back. We think of all these things, to be honest. But we also think of Max’s sandwiches. Big, pavement-slab-sized focaccia whoppers, filled with ham hock, gooey egg, piccalilli, and shoestring fries, or roast guinea fowl and tarragon salsa. For around £12, along with deep-fried jalapeño mac and cheese balls, that’s probably the thing we think of most.

More restaurants should settle down next to breweries, especially when they’re as excellent as Acme Fire Cult. Vegetables are the star of this pyro-cooking show in Dalston, where smoked potatoes with a smoother than smooth tahini mayo will have you gooey-eyed and a fermented squash hummus gets you feeling hot and bothered. This is a great bits and bobs restaurant. The more you order—be it butterflied mackerel with tomato gribiche or Ararat flatbread with Marmite butter—the more fun you’ll have.

It’s weird how your mate who notoriously steals toilet roll from their office because ‘they’re so broke’ suddenly gets a taste for the finer things in life come their birthday. Quite the mystery. But that’s why Brasserie Zédel by Piccadilly Circus is perfect for big group celebrations, because despite looking like a film set from The Great Gatsby, this place serves a three-course prix fixe menu for £17.25. As group special occasion spots go, it’s hard to find anywhere cheaper, that also happens to have a live band and a tarte au citron we’d ditch most birthday cakes for. 

Roll up to Sông Quê in a group on a Thursday, Friday, Saturday or, sod it, most nights, and you’ll find that approximately 90% of east London appears to have had the same idea. The reason being is that this now institutional Vietnamese spot on Kingsland Road is the best around, and it’s also excellent when you need to book a big group dinner. Don’t be put off by the almost encyclopedic menu. Just know that a £10 bowl of pho is essential, alongside some crispy squid and a pancake to share. Add a couple of beers in and you’re sorted.

Much like lie-ins and singing Thong Song when gloriously smashed, Gökyüzü is pretty much universally liked. This all-day Turkish spot in Harringay has been open for over 20 years. It has the kind of silence-inducing manti that will keep you coming back, and a price tag that means you’ll be able to afford to. Booking a big table here is easy and, as well as their legendary sharing platters, a lot of the best dishes are perfect for big group sessions.

You always want to be at Sadaf with a group. That way you can get the mixed starters selection—which means more opportunity for scooping excellent kashk e bademjan in warm bread—as well as some meaty koobideh skewers, perfect lamb chops, and juicy charred joojeh for the table. The grilled meats (around the £15 mark) come with rice, but we’d still recommend ordering the chicken biryani because, well, it’s just that good. While the service can be a little slow when this Persian spot in Kensington is busy, one thing you never have to worry about when hitting Sadaf is whether all stomachs in your party will leave satisfied. And, if you get the biryani, you won’t have to worry about your lunch the next day either.

Born to do it. No, not Craig David’s first album, but Ciao Bella’s suitability for a generous, affordable, and raucous group meal. No other restaurant in London brings groups of friends and family together in quite the same way as this old-school Italian on Lamb’s Conduit Street. Spaghetti will be shovelled, wine will be spilt, and dessert will be ignored in favour of a cigarette out front. That’s just the kind of restaurant this is, and that’s why everyone loves it.

A single portion of Afghan naan at this Peckham spot is enough to feed a whole group of you. It’s properly huge. Unidentified Flying Object huge. This probably gives you an idea of why this is a great spot for groups, but it’s not actually what you should be ordering here. What you should be eating here is the lamb kabali pilau, that arrives to your table piping hot with a tender lamb shank on top, and a large serving of the chicken karahi to share. And the best part? You’ll almost certainly find space for a group of you, even if you did forget to book. Again.

£30–£35 A HEAD

A lager to start. A Guinness for main. And a gin and tonic for dessert. Plus a palate-cleansing course of scratchings. That’s how most group dinners at the pub tend to go, but that isn’t the case at The Compton Arms. This little Islington pub is home to a superb and always-changing small plates menu. Things like bavette in peppercorn sauce, lardo-covered white asparagus, and beer-battered pollock with tartare sauce have all featured.

Few things are more painful than going to a Cantonese restaurant and realising, thanks to the cruel limitations of biology, that you can only eat so much of the enormously enticing menu. So, any trip to Orient for dim sum or otherwise should be with many bellies and many dishes in mind. The dim sum at this classic Chinatown restaurant is always great: fried and steamed, pork and prawn-filled, with more dishes than there are twitchy fingers at the table. The big round tables or banquettes can also fit double-figure groups with ease.

Plaza Khao Gaeng is a southern Thai curry house full of fire and flavour, plastic tablecloths, and white strip lighting on Tottenham Court Road. The ratio of brows being mopped to beers being drunk is pretty even, and the 12 or so dish menu is built for hungry groups who want to have a bite of this and an inhale of that. Curries reign supreme here but don’t miss out on the miang phuket: a sweet and startling spicy starter that simply has to be accompanied with a bucket of beers.

Bao’s London Bridge location has a private 14-person karaoke room. This is important information. Mainly because your legendary Kate Bush impression will be greatly improved by having a chicken nugget bao to smother your mouth at the same time, and your friends will be all the more thankful that there are multiple soft, pillowy props to muffle the horror. FYI you can book for groups over five. There are lots of excellent plates on offer like glazed tofu, fried chicken, xianjiang mushrooms, and aged beef with rice.

Tayyabs is one of London’s most beloved group dinner restaurants. Not just because a curry is a classic group staple, or because the famous sizzling lamb chops are £8 for four, or even because it’s BYOB. The reason this Punjabi powerhouse in Whitechapel is so loved, is because you always have a good time. Bar none. 

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