Lunch is tough for most London restaurants. While dining rooms are often packed for dinner, they are quieter during the day.
That means chefs have to offer deals to entice us. Why resist? Here are 10 lunches to savor:
The Clove Club
This informal restaurant in Shoreditch Town Hall, East London, is a destination for chefs from around the U.K. and overseas. It’s so popular, you have to buy a ticket and pay in advance for dinner. Chef Isaac Hayes is at the forefront of modern British cooking, using a few great ingredients to create memorable dishes. No need to pay upfront for the bargain lunch. It’s 35 pounds (about $53.90) for three courses; 65 pounds ($101) for five. 380 Old St., The City, EC1V 9LT; www.thecloveclub.com.
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Angela Hartnett is one of Britain’s best-loved chefs, known for her warm personality and unfussy Italian food. The new branch of Cafe Murano, in Covent Garden, looks great. Friendly service helps, but the seasonal food alone would probably keep you coming back. The set lunch may feature dishes such as risotto with peas and Berkswell cheese and apricot tart with mascarpone. It’s 16.50 pounds ($25.41) for two courses, 21 pounds ($32.34) for three. 34-36 Tavistock St., Covent Garden, WC2E 7PB; www.cafemurano.co.uk.
This is simply one of the finest lunches in London. Ollie Dabbous is gaining an international reputation for his creative gastronomy. The chef’s restaurant in Fitzrovia has a stripped-down industrial look, so all your focus is on the plate. That’s fine because his dishes easily withstand such scrutiny. Each is so well-balanced, the only wobble you are likely to get is from the table. The peas and mint is one of my favorite starters in London. Lunch is 35 pounds ($53.90) for four courses. 39 Whitfield St., Fitzrovia, W1T 2SF; www.dabbous.co.uk.
Simon Rogan is among Britain’s finest chefs. It’s unlucky for Londoners that his flagship L’Enclume is more than three hours away by train. It’s worth the trip, but you can sample his seasonal cooking a little closer to home at Fera at Claridge’s. The set lunch is great value, with dishes such as guinea hen with salt-baked celeriac, buttered kale, and cider sauce. It’s 30 pounds ($46.22) for three courses. 49 Brook St., Claridge’s, Mayfair, W1K 4HR; www.claridges.co.uk (at the “Restaurants & Bars link, open “Fera at Claridge’s”).
I like Gymkhana so much, I once ate at this Mayfair restaurant four times in a week, including twice on the same day. The set lunch is my favorite in London. Indian food isn’t for everyone, but few could fail to appreciate Gymkhana’s fine ingredients, precise cooking, and faultless spicing. My favorite meal is to get together with friends and order all five starter and main options on the lunch menu. Gymkhana can get very busy; book early. Lunch is 25 pounds ($38.52) for two courses, 30 pounds ($46.22) for three. 42 Albemarle St., Mayfair, London, W1S 4JH; www.gymkhanalondon.com.
This is one of my favorite Chinese restaurants in London for food, particularly the Sichuan dishes. Factor in the stunning views from level 33 of the Shard, and you are surely on to a winner. I often recommend Hutong, especially to people who tell me food isn’t good at restaurants with a view. And yet I hesitate to include the set lunch here because I’d rather go and order dim sum. The lunch is 35 pounds ($53.90). The Shard, London Bridge, SE1 9RY; www.hutong.co.uk.
This is a restaurant that for a few years might have been described as once-fashionable. No more. Following a refurbishment this year, this Covent Garden institution is packed. It’s buzzy, beautiful and fun. The bar in the center of the room is one of the best places to sit, so don’t feel short-changed if you end up there. The menu is eclectic, accessible and inexpensive. The set lunch may include watermelon carpaccio with creamed feta; and sesame, Turkish delight, and pistachio coupe. It’s 21.75 pounds ($33.50) for two courses and 26.25 pounds ($40.42) for three. 1-5 West St., Covent Garden, WC2H 9NQ; www.the-ivy.co.uk.
Pierre Koffmann mentored countless chefs – including Marco Pierre White and Gordon Ramsay – at the three-Michelin-star La Tante Claire. These days he is cooking simpler food at his restaurant in the Berkeley, in Knightsbridge. But his focus on flavor is ever-present. He’s in the kitchen on most weekdays, cooking the kind of food he learned to love as a child in southwest France. The set lunch includes dishes such as roasted rack and belly of pork with turnip gratin. It’s 26 pounds ($40) for three courses. 1 Wilton Place, Berkeley Hotel, Knightsbridge, SW1X 7RL; www.the-berkeley.co.uk/knightsbridge-restaurants/koffmanns.
The Ritz restaurant is among the finest in London and also one of the most beautiful. It’s unfortunate that more people don’t get the chance to try chef John Williams’s superb French cooking. The prices are slightly less scary than you might think: There’s a three-course menu for 49 pounds ($75.36). It’s the wine list that is unforgiving, along with the dress code. This is the only restaurant I know in London where men must wear a tie. But it is worth it if you can get a table on the terrace on a warm and sunny day. 150 Piccadilly, Mayfair, W1J 9BR; www.theritzlondon.com.
This grand brasserie – from the owners of the ultra-fashionable Wolseley – is dramatic. It looks like something out of an impressionist painting, with its high ceilings, marble pillars, brass rails, large mirrors and waiters scurrying across the room. The menu fits the bill, with all the usual brasserie favorites. But the real shock comes from the prices, which are low. The prix fixe menu is 9.75 pounds ($14.99) for two courses and 12.50 pounds ($19.23) for three; the Formule menu is 19.75 pounds ($15) for three courses, including a glass of wine, water and coffee. 20 Sherwood St., Soho, W1F 7ED; www.brasseriezedel.com/brasserie-zedel.
5 more to try
Craft London: Chef Stevie Parle and his team make the butter and cure the meats in this new restaurant next to the O2 Centre. The set lunch is 28 pounds ($43) for three courses. Peninsula Square, Greenwich Peninsula, SE10 0SQ.
Galvin at Windows: You may come for the views from the 28th floor of the Hilton on Park Lane and come back for the cooking of Joo Won. It’s 28 pounds ($43) for two courses, 33 pounds ($50.77) for three. 22 Park Lane, Mayfair, W1K 1BE.
Le Gavroche: The set lunch is magnificent: It includes wine and water as well as fine French cuisine. You may need to book as far as three months ahead; it is very popular. It costs 55 pounds ($84.61). 43 Upper Brook St., Mayfair, London, W1K 7QR.
Helene Darroze at the Connaught: This restaurant has been buzzing since Darroze was named the world’s best female chef this year. Lunch in the beautiful and elegant dining room costs 30 pounds ($46.11) for two dishes, 38 pounds ($58.46) for three, and 45 pounds ($69.23) for four. 16 Carlos Place, Connaught Hotel, W1K 2AL.