Where To Eat With A Third-Tier FriendWhen you rope yourself into dinner 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 more weird in hindsight, use this list of places for a dinner that won’t cost too much or take too long.
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 £20 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 school night chicken-fest into something a bit more boozy with cocktails.
When you’re meeting someone who doesn’t know the real you and you’re trying to channel polite and likeable, your restaurant choice should too. Granger & Co is a safe pair of hands on Westbourne Grove, where it feels like Hugh Grant could pop out from any of the pastel-painted boutiques. The pretty Australian restaurant is ideal for civilised conversations over raw carrot salads, steamed hake, and coconut curry. Just like the chat you’re having, it’s all very… nice.
Mildreds is a plant-based spot in Camden that has dishes like Sri Lankan curry with toasted cashews and, crucially, its right by markets, the Regent’s Canal, and other third-tier friend distractions. Yes, this is an hour of your life you’ll never get back but it’s made all the more palatable by harissa patatas bravas, leek tortelloni, and knowing you’ll be out of here and buried in a Roundhouse mosh pit quicker than you can say, “not doing that for another year”.
Taste of Afghan is a no-nonsense spot on Peckham’s Rye Lane, ideal for when you didn’t make a reservation anywhere because that would mean admitting to yourself that you’re actually meeting up with this person. Tuck into Afghani plates of piping hot lamb kabali pilau loaded with carrots and raisins, chicken karahi in a fresh, light tomato sauce, and banjan borani. If you’re looking for a low-key spot that takes absolutely no organising, this is it.
Holborn is a good, central place to meet midweek and Catalyst is the best lunch spot around. The Greek-leaning menu changes weekly but you can expect oozy eggs and thick-cut bacon in between a brioche bun, as well as bigger plates like octopus and orzo, or a homemade chicken flatbread. It’s a daytime-only cafe, apart from on Friday evenings, but if you’re looking for an impressive hour-long lunch, this is your place.
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 and Castle one, you’ll find an easy restaurant serving affordable, excellent pizzas, as well as affordable, excellent cocktails. Don’t leave without the tiramisu, even if you think you don’t like them.
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.
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 Sichuan spot 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. This low-key Islington tapas bar and restaurant is perfect for a ‘catch up’ over some wine, ibérico ham, oxtail croquettes, and more (if they are who they say they are). They’ve got plenty of options big and small, meaning that you can stay for as little or as long as you want.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Morty & 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?
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”.
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.
You know the saying. A best friend is just a stranger you haven’t got pissed over a bottle of sauvignon blanc and macarons with yet. OK, we made that up—you’re welcome Hallmark—but this all-day French brasserie is a pretty great place to do both of the above. 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. 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.