Where To Eat With A Third-Tier Friend

When you rope yourself into dinner with a friend you don’t see too often, use this list.
A spread of tacos and elote from La Chingada.

photo credit: Aleksandra Boruch

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 an ex-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 great food and a meal that won’t cost too much or take too long.

Looking for a spot with a spending limit? Here’s where to go for dinner for two for £50.


photo credit: Aleksandra Boruch



$$$$Perfect For:Big GroupsDining SoloQuick EatsCasual Weeknight Dinner


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La Chingada adds colour and flavour to a surreptitious location in that dingy middle area between Euston and King’s Cross—which is an accurate reflection of this no-man's-land friendship. It’s the perfect combination of a middle-ground location and a casual restaurant, that doesn’t say you don’t care, but it doesn’t say you care that much either. The warm, comfortable space with multicoloured murals and two long banquettes, is ideal for speed-eating a beef burrito. And as long as whoever you’re with likes Mexican food, it’s impossible not to enjoy their juicy al pastor. But you’ll know what they can and can’t eat anyway, right?

Lagom has the winning formula for this kind of meet-up. Dishes come out fairly quickly and are quick to eat—think blistered pork bites thrown back like popcorn. The drinks are plentiful—it's inside Hackney Church Brew Co.. And they've got one of the best burgers in London. So even if this catch-up is a complete dud, you'll come away with butter-stained jeans courtesy of a pillowy bun, half a disaster date story because you were too busy focusing on the lacy crust of a smashburger, and plans of returning. Maybe with a top-tier friend next time. 

At Alley Cats Pizza, a walk-in only, NYC-style pizza spot in Marylebone, there’s a projector playing The Sopranos on an exposed brick wall. And that’s all the conversation starter you need to get through a 1.5-hour dinner with someone you don’t have all that much in common with. Diners fill the buzzy, industrial-looking room, dipping crispy margherita crusts into the fiery scotch bonnet dipping sauce, and getting messy with a sweet onion jam-heavy mushroom slice. The pizzas are thin, covered in a rich tomato sauce, and are big enough to share. And if the conversation dies down, just pick up where you left off with the projector wall. 

photo credit: Aleksandra Boruch

Counter seating is a god-send in situations like these, because no one wants to be eye-to-eye with someone they’ve been avoiding for six months. Sit side-by-side at this chaotic but beautiful Sri Lankan counter in Borough. You can watch as your roti is being scrunched, and as the excellent gundu dosas are being flipped. Warmth radiates from all corners of the plant-filled dining room, and you’ll be so excited by the incredible food that you might actually have fun. Just don’t agree to another hangout until your Rambutan-tinted glasses are off. 

This Indo-Chinese restaurant has an almost cult-like following of lamb chop-yielding enthusiasts, claiming that Fatt Pundit’s chops are some of the best in London. And we can confirm that they are indeed meaty, tender, and a cause we can 100% get behind—but that’s not all we like. It’s a small space which means reservation times are respected, so even if your “friend” isn’t finished talking after an hour and a half, you’ll be politely asked to give up the table. The perfect segue for you to very obviously start checking Citymapper. 

This hidden sandwich shop in Notting Hill hasn’t got much space for loitering. There are black, plastic booths (no cushions so don’t get too comfy), and there’s really no reason for anyone to stay for long after they’ve finished their sandwich. The sandwiches are, however, hefty enough that you could stretch a lunch here to 35/40 minutes. Perfectly formed blocks of Tokyo milk bread hold the perfect ratio of filling—whether that’s tuna, mayo, and lettuce, or the T.L.T (turkey, lettuce, tomato). Plus there are fun toppings like bacon crumb or crispy shallots that you can add as well. Our favourite combination is the tuna mayo with salt and vinegar McCoys crisps.

Daddy Bao is a tiny, low-key Taiwanese restaurant in Tooting that looks like a cool, slightly moody bar, and happens to make some of the most formidable bao in London. Grab a counter seat to make it look like you’re casual and relaxed rather than planning a quick exit. Then get the shiitake mushroom bao as compensation for having to listen to another endless story about people you haven’t met and probably don’t want to. If you aren’t completely bored out of your mind, there are sharing specials and plum wine negronis to explore. 

Casa Do Frango is a Portuguese spot in Southwark that says, “I’m invested enough not to have taken you to the Nando’s at the bottom of my road, but I won’t spend a penny over £25 on this meet-up”. You can get sides like chorizo rice and the main event, the half chicken in a garlic glaze, and still have change left over. If by some miracle you find yourself considering raising your third-tier mate to that covetable second tier, transform your casual weeknight chicken-fest into something a bit more boozy with cocktails.

Holborn is a good, central place to meet midweek and Catalyst is the best lunch spot around. The menu changes weekly but you can expect oozy eggs and thick-cut bacon in between a brioche bun, or 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 and there’s a smattering of seats in the airy cafe, so if you’re looking for an impressive hour-long lunch then this is your place. Grab a space looking out on to the street for people-watching in case conversation dries up.

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. 

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 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.

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 lots of the menu 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, get involved in their signature king prawn and squid yaki soba, the pork belly okonomiyaki, and a cheeky glass of plum wine. Job done. 

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