Sometimes you want to look like you’re the real deal. A proper, successful, human. Like for Skype interviews, when you curate your top half outfit (and background bookshelf). Or like when you hide your lunch loyalty card behind the unused gym one. Occasionally you need a restaurant to do the same. A swashbuckling, water-pouring, napkin-folding restaurant to impress a date, or your family, or even just yourself. All without breaking the bank, of course. These are the places you should go when you want to feel like you’re rolling in it, even though you’re not.
Luca is one of those restaurants where you walk in and instantly become aware of the successful looking humans around you. It’s the kind of place where you’ll instantly adopt your face usually saved for listening to intellectual podcasts on public transport. This upscale Italian in Clerkenwell has the same effect on everyone, even when you’re just hitting it for the super-accessible bar menu. Two courses are around £20, but the parmesan fries are essential.
Aside from being our go-to London location for all sorts of occasions, Noble Rot also happens to do the best set lunch menu in the city. Hands. Down. It’s under £20 for two courses, which leaves you lots of flex to choose from the best wine list in London, some of which is available in half-size (and half-price) glasses.
Nothing says ‘mum I’m convinced I’ve made it’ like walking into a restaurant with a gold-suited statue in the middle of it. Don’t let her, or whoever you’re with, lock eyes on the lobster omelette starter though. That thing will see a lot of frantic, under the table, online banking occur. Instead, soak up all the opulence with their lunch or pre/post theatre sets. You can get three serious courses for around 30 quid, or two for under 25. Impressive and sensible.
“What? This old place?” you say, having never, ever, stepped foot inside The River Café in your life. Whoever you’re with is visibly impressed which, naturally, makes you visibly distressed. Don’t worry, there are ways to do The River Café and keep this pretence up. For a start, they run a seasonal set lunch menu at around £30 quid a head. If that’s not on you can always have a pasta each, share a secondi, and still escape with some change from fifty quid. Wandering back along the Thames is a nice idea, isn’t it?
St. John is the kind of restaurant you want your old boss to see you in. Not because it’s flash, but because of the opposite. St. John is the restaurant where a person who lives the life goes. The kind of person who was born to eat bone marrow, and pie, and chocolate mousse. Share these sorts of things (between three or four of you) and you’ll be well fed, and be well happy spending under £50. Everyday is an occasion, after all.
Bocca is one of those restaurants that makes you feel like a regular even though you’re not. The staff here could probably charm a gummy snake from a pack of Haribo. And if that wasn’t enough, it’s also one of London’s best Italian restaurants. The food here is seriously lovely but, reassuringly, the pasta is available in small or large portions. Believe us, the smalls aren’t that small, and they’re under a tenner. A few of these and a salad at the bar will do you very well.
The beauty of The Delaunay is that it’s a really quite beautiful restaurant. A real looker. But best of all is that it’s a lovely restaurant to eat in as well. Come here in the evening when the light is a bit yellow and everything feels Midnight in Paris if you squint enough, and the menu rapide of tarte flambeé and salad with a glass of wine, and a coffee is under £15.
Presumably, you’re not in a position to give your loved one a present that makes them say ‘cor, a pearl!’. So, take them out for a meal here instead. Cora Pearl is a glammed up British restaurant in Covent Garden that’s all big sofa seats and fancy ham and cheese toasties with pickle. The food is tasty but can get pricey, so keep things reasonable with the pre-theatre set that runs until 7pm, but supplement it with some of their chips and the milk and cookies dessert.
Pollen Street Social is a classic fine dining restaurant in that it does all the things that other ones do. Things like introducing food as if you’re meant to curtsy to it, or sticking half of Columbia Road on your lunch. What isn’t classic fine dining about it is the relaxed atmosphere, and the excellent, under £40 set lunch. This is described as a three course meal but there are many theatrical parts in between, a bit like the Oscar ceremony, or dinner with your extended family. Only all these extras are edible.
Nothing says you’re minted but retain a modicum of taste like a very small bit of gold detailing. Admittedly, Gymkhana chucked this out of the window with a few of their entirely gold tables, but it’s all the better for it. This Mayfair Indian restaurant is London’s best, and although it’s an absolute treat it will hurt your bank balance. You can, however, get the best of both worlds if you go for their two or three course tasting lunch.
Old school restaurants tend to be the best kind of restaurants for feeling all Richie Rich, even though, in reality, you’re much more Mr. Bean. As in, that’s what you’re mostly eating. Directly from the tin. If you feel like fooling yourself for a couple of hours, head to Quo Vadis. This is an OG Soho classic, and it’s generally not cheap, but if you sit down for a couple of oysters and a smoked eel sandwich, you will absolutely feel the business, without it costing you a bomb.
That fact that good-looking, good-tasting restaurants have the ability to make you feel, in turn, good about yourself, is sometimes underrated. Eating out is basically a very delicious form of therapy, and Frenchie is one of our favourite places to pretend we’re the dog’s bolognese. You can get a two or three course lunch here for around £30, just make sure you don’t miss that bacon scone.