photo credit: Karolina Wiercigroch
Where To Eat With A Third-Tier Friend
When you rope yourself into a meal with a friend you don’t see too often, use this list.
After several fictitious bouts of illness and friends' birthdays, it’s finally happening: you’re meeting up with a third-tier friend. Legally, you don’t have to hang out with this person. But socially, you’re obligated. So whether you accidentally talked your way into meeting up with a work colleague or someone you had jury duty with who seemed really nice at the time and now is maybe weirder in hindsight, use this list of places for a meal that won’t cost too much or take too long.
You don’t really know a great deal about this person, apart from that theirs is a lager and a pack of ready salted. In that case, going to the pub makes the most sense for all involved. The Canton Arms is an old-school-feeling gastropub in Stockwell that makes homely, Mediterranean-influenced food in its casual dining room, and killer toasties upfront in the bar area. You know what you’re getting in a place like this, which is helpful when you don’t know the person you’re with all that well.
Catalyst Coffee Roasters + Cafe
Holborn is a good place to meet in the middle, especially midweek, and Catalyst is the best lunch spot around. The Greek-leaning menu changes weekly but you can expect meaty deep-fried goujons in between a brioche bun for the city’s best take on a fish filet, as well as bigger plates like octopus and orzo, or a homemade chicken flatbread. It’s daytime-only, apart from on Friday evenings, but if you’re looking for an impressive hour-long lunch then this is your place.
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You don’t know a great deal about this person, but you do at least know that you both like pizza. The great unifier. In that case, try Theo’s Pizzeria. This south London Neapolitan specialist is one of the best cool and casual restaurants in the city. Whether you’re heading to their Camberwell spot or their Elephant & Castle one, you’ll find an easy restaurant serving affordable, excellent pizzas, as well as affordable, excellent cocktails. Don’t leave without ordering the tiramisu.
photo credit: Giulia Verdinelli
If, for some warped reason, you met someone new at a mutual friend’s party and agreed to meet up, we’d choose to go somewhere like Master Wei. The Bloomsbury restaurant is easy for walk-ins, conducive to chatting, and quick enough that you don’t have to sit through awkward pauses if the conversation runs dry. The Xi’anese spot makes superb food—their hand-pulled biang biang noodles are essential—and if all goes well you can stick around for much more.
Chick 'N' Sours
Chick ‘N’ Sours is one of those casual restaurants that’s perfect for almost any meeting with friends. Including that friend you met at your mate’s ironic Dirty Dancing party two years ago, and has somehow made this meet-up a reality despite your 86 ‘busy this week, but let’s definitely do next week!’ texts. This cheap and cheerful Covent Garden spot has a proper crowd-pleaser of a menu with Korean fried chicken sandwiches, disco wings, bang bang cucumbers, and beef dripping fries. As the name suggests there are also plenty of sour cocktails that will hopefully take the sting out of the fact you end this meal by saying “this next month is chaos, but you know, see you soon”.
photo credit: Giulia Verdinelli
Noodle & Beer
If you’re meeting up near Spitalfields, don’t wander over to Shoreditch and go to a place where you did something regrettable in your early 20s. Go somewhere comfortable and casual, like Noodle & Beer. Their lang-ya tu dou, handmade crinkle-cut chips wok-fried in chilli oil with onion and pepper, is a great edible ice-breaker and their noodle and rice bowls give plenty of options for any unexpected dietary requirement.
Time is valuable which means you should spend your evenings doing things you enjoy, rather than getting dinner with someone who claims you went to primary school together. Suggest a drink and a snack at Llerena, where you can ‘catch up’ over some wine, ibérico ham, oxtail croquettes, and more (if they are who they say they are). This low-key Islington tapas bar and restaurant has plenty of options big and small, meaning that you can stay for as little or as long as you want.
Sure, time flies when you’re having fun. But it has a way of dragging like a four-hour root canal when you’re meeting up with that friend of a friend of your friend’s cousin, who happens to work in the same industry as you. That’s why you should head to great little Japanese spot Okan in Brixton Village. Not only is almost everything here under a tenner but they’ll also feed you quicker than you can say “oh look! We’re finished, better be heading off”. When it comes to your order, you’re definitely going to want to get involved in their signature king prawn and squid yaki soba, the pork belly okonomiyaki, and a cheeky glass of plum wine. Job done.
Berber & Q Shawarma Bar
Clerkenwell is the ideal area for a midweek dinner that screams ‘home by 10pm, comfy socks on by five past’. It’s quiet and full of a broad range of restaurants that will, if chosen correctly, work perfectly for a lunch or dinner that’s equal parts tasty and efficient. Which is where Shawarma Bar comes in. This Middle Eastern-inspired mezze and grill restaurant on Exmouth Market, from the people behind Berber & Q, serves small plates like babaganoush or fried aubergine hummus, alongside kebabs and rice bowls, all at a reasonable price. And it’s got bar seating which is perfect for a snappy meal.
Max's Sandwich Shop
Nothing says ‘we’re here for a good time, not a long time’ like an eff-off sandwich filled with ham hock, piccalilli, and shoestring fries, alongside a couple of beers and a stroll back to Finsbury Park. That’s what will happen if you go to Max’s Sandwich Shop in Stroud Green, an ideal focaccia and fun-filled venue for someone you think could be a second-tier or more friend. Now you just need to break some bread (and a few glasses) with them to find out.
photo credit: Giulia Verdinelli
If you’re going for a meal with someone that you’d actively get on a random bus to avoid bumping into on the street, then you may as well make it worthwhile for yourself. Bao Borough is full of things—like Taiwanese fried chicken, a deep-fried curry cheese bao, spicy aged beef in butter rice—that do just that. It’s also a pretty buzzing, in-and-out space, meaning that once you’re finished, losing each other in the crowds of Borough Market is a definite possibility.
This all-day French brasserie is a pretty great place to get pissed over a bottle of sauvignon blanc and macarons. And if you’re really feeling wild, have some decent steak tartare as well. Despite being on Sloane Square, this place is very committed to feeling like you’re stopping by for a café crème in a terraced bistro in the Marais. Basically, all of the black and white French film posters, dapper waiters, and rattan table sets outside will give you something to chat about once you’ve covered any and all gossip about your mutual friends within five minutes of meeting.
Morty & Bob's
Morty and Bob’s is a grilled cheese specialist in King’s Cross that also serves things like burrata and focaccia, and parmesan truffle fries in the evening. It’s the ideal combination of middle-ground location and restaurant that doesn’t say you don’t care, but it doesn’t say you care that much either. The space is pretty big, easy to get into, and as long as whoever you’re with isn’t lactose intolerant, then it’s impossible not to enjoy their gooey cheese toasties. But you’ll know what they can and can’t eat anyway, right?
Fare Bar and Canteen
The cocktails at Fare Bar and Canteen are an excellent consolation prize for having to spend your evening pretending to care about this pseudo-stranger’s brother’s love life. After all ‘Bitter Orange Spritz’ is pretty close to what you once called this person when you lived together in the first year of uni—such fun. Be warned, the downstairs restaurant at this Farringdon spot is a little more on the serious side, but the big laid-back oval bar is perfect for a quick catch-up over a pizza. In case you’ve limited this person to daylight hours only—seriously, you can’t unsee the things you saw them do during Freshers’ Week—then it’s good to know that this place is also great for a lunchtime coffee and a light bite situation.