Where To Take Someone When It’s Your Treat
Fancy-feeling places with set menus that’ll keep the bill under control, to great-value restaurants that feel special—here’s where to take someone when it’s your treat.
Eating out can be an expensive affair, especially when it’s an occasion, and especially when you’ve volunteered to pay the bill. Whether you’re taking your mum out to say thanks, or your best friend who finally got a job after months of living on Pot Noodles, don’t make the mistake of relying on them being too polite to order the £65 lobster. Pick a spot from this guide instead. It’s a mix of fancy-feeling places with set menus that’ll still keep the bill under control, and great-value restaurants that feel special enough without you having to transfer money from your savings account under the table.
photo credit: Karolina Wiercigroch
Quality Chop House
The Quality Chop House’s £25 set lunch is one of London’s best deals. If you don’t know the Clerkenwell restaurant, then you should. Its Grade II-listed building has been serving food since around 1869 and there’s a glorious ye olde British feel to the space, complete with original wooden pews. Be it a thank-you lunch or a several-years-belated birthday celebration, QCH is going to wow, especially as the three-course set lunch hits the marks labelled sensational and value. One week it might feature beef mince on dripping toast while the next could have treacle tart for pudding. Whatever you’re getting, it's guaranteed to be good.
photo credit: Aleksandra Boruch
It’s not an exaggeration to say that Mr. Ji is making some of the most innovative food in London. The Camden spot describes itself as ‘east meets west’—and you can see why with things like its unique béchamel-filled take on prawn toast or its dumpling skin tacos. But, more than anything, it’s a guaranteed good time that feels out of the ordinary. The room is a clean cut, modern affair that wouldn’t look out of place on Dezeen’s feed, but the food is the reason you want to take someone here—especially as 99% of it is under the £20 mark.
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The Cadogan Arms
A pub might not seem like the most wow-factor suggestion, but The Cadogan Arms isn’t a run of the mill pub. It’s a public house fit for the King’s Road, complete with gold detailing, crystal chandeliers, and velvet-clad armchairs. But don’t think this means ham, egg, and chips and a frankly outrageous rhubarb and blood orange trifle aren’t on the menu. If you don’t fancy a full sit-down affair, their bar is pretty slick and special-feeling too, plus the menu features a black pudding scotch egg, prawn cocktail, and buttermilk fried chicken.
Sudu means spoon in Malay—and that’s exactly what you’ll be encouraged to do at this charming, cosy restaurant in Queen’s Park. Spoon mouthful after mouthful of tender, rich beef rendang into a pillowy, egg-filled roti, or straight into your mouth. But it’s not just the excellent versions of Malaysian classics that make Sudu somewhere you can bring pretty much anyone. The laid-back, neighbourhood restaurant invites intimate catch-ups that feel special without having to spend a fortune. The aromatic chicken rice, the fact that the mains all fall around the £15 mark, and the buzz that you’ll find here on a Friday night all make this the kind of restaurant that makes us grateful to live in London.
The Coral Room
Stop scrolling through Groupon, because whatever 20% off deal you find there, the afternoon tea at The Coral Room, a high-ceilinged, artwork-filled room in The Bloomsbury Hotel is better. It’s not cheap, but it’s incredible value for the £45 you spend per person. It involves little egg mayonnaise brioche buns, a lemon and basil drizzle cake we wish we could supersize, and faultless service. You can order as many refills of tea as you’d like, and if you request it ahead of time, they can cater to any dietary requirements. It’s perfect for special occasions, finger sandwich-fuelled catch-ups, and pretty much any time that your priority is good lighting.
There are plenty of handmade pasta restaurants in London, but when we’re in the mood to make a night out of it—and pretend that we’re spending a lot more than we are—Bancone is our favourite. Whether you’re at the main bar or the oval counter around a live olive tree, this Soho spot is a truly lovely place to be. Thanks to their signature silk handkerchief pasta that feels well over the £11 price tag and excellent pappardelle, this place is great value for money. And it’s just as rammed as their original spot in Covent Garden, so make sure to book well in advance.
photo credit: Giulia Verdinelli
Bubala, a Middle Eastern restaurant in Spitalfields, knows best. No really, that’s what their sharing menu is called. Leave your overthinking at the door and surrender to the fluffy laffa to swipe through burnt butter hummus, and many-layered potato latkes with shards of salt and a garlic dip. With its pastel walls, a tiled bar area, and oversized plants, Bubala feels special but not in an obnoxious “I spent all of my rent money on this so you WILL enjoy it” sort of way. And with the generous collection of dishes on the set menu setting you back £40, you can afford to treat someone special to charred oyster mushroom skewers and not get the Sunday scaries about paying rent.
photo credit: Aleksandra Boruch
As you arrive at Tatale, full-length windows offer a sneak peek of Star beers clinking, happy friends and—it’s real, we’ve seen it—happy family meals. This pan-African spot in Southwark is a chilled but decidedly cool, cushion-clad space. The set menu of luminous orange nkatekwnan and ackee croquettes with a scotch bonnet slap is served sharing-style, so bring someone you don’t mind choking back spice-induced tears in front of.
photo credit: Charlie McKay
Maybe it’s the sleek, bare walls that are made almost entirely of marble and black cladding, or maybe it’s the wooden wrap-around counter that makes you wish you had an Acne leather jacket to wear. Or it could be the simple ceramic plates that are just a bit too big to fit in a bag and take home, but something about eating at Temaki makes you feel really cool. Rock up at this 18-seater sushi restaurant in Brixton and get involved in the set menu. For £32 you get things like akami tuna, crab, salmon, otoro, prawn tempura, and BBQ eel rolls. Get drawn into the fishy smoke show happening in front of you, order some yuzu negronis, and see where the night takes you. Spoiler: it's somewhere delicious.