Photos: Top, courtesy of Cinnamon Club. Middle, courtesy of Koffman's. Bottom, courtesy of the Square.
Hundred-dollar entrées, five-figure wine lists and opulent settings aren’t uncommon in London’s best restaurants. The expense makes them inaccessible to most, but on a recent trip, I managed to dine in some of London’s most elegant restaurants without breaking the bank. My MO? Make lunch my primary meal of the day, and take advantage of some incredible deals on set menus.
One such elegant restaurant is the Michelin two-starred Square. Here if you leave the table, even for a moment, you can expect a waiter to appear upon your return, bearing a silver tray with a single folded napkin, offered in exchange for your old one.
My meal at the Square began with champagne, segued into langoustine on a bed of Parmesan gnocchi, followed by a sauté of Ayrshire beef with glazed carrots and salsify, and ended with warm chocolate fondant with granola ice cream. Chef and co-owner Phil Howard’s elegant French-inspired cooking is decidedly rich but expertly balanced. Dinner at the Square will cost upward of £100, but the lunch menu is a bargain at £35.
At Tom Aikens, there’s an even more elaborate lunchtime tasting menu that spans five courses and still comes in under £50. Aikens’ food is marked by an immaculate visual style: The bright bouquet of crab and citrus banishes even the dreariest London afternoon. The crazy-intense squab, sticky and dark, hints at Moroccan pastilla with its raisins and apricots, and the dessert of chocolate dacquoise, with peanut mousse and milk ice cream, tastes every bit as delicious midday as it does at dinner.
Even Pierre Koffman, one of England’s most beloved French chefs, is offering an affordable lunch option at his much-anticipated new restaurant, Koffman’s, in the Berkeley hotel. For £22.50, I dined on a deluxe creamy carrot soup before moving on to roast sea bass: a lovely crisp-skinned and gently flaky fish with a rich buttery side of small intensely flavoured wild mushrooms. The meal ended with a peach poached in champagne with raspberries – a pink, orange and red fantasy that was so retro, it felt new.
Of course, no trip to London would be complete without a curry. The Indian import is now considered England’s national dish, and one of the best places to have it is at the Cinnamon Club, a gorgeous restaurant in the old Westminster Library on a quiet side street in the heart of the city. Start with a cinnamon bellini (it tastes a bit like red hot gum) in the restaurant’s colonial library bar before moving into the main dining room, a bright Art Deco space with cinnamon-bark-coloured accents, high leather-backed seating and a small mezzanine. Cinnamon Club offers a more ambitious tasting menu at lunch for £45 and a three-course set lunch for £22. From the latter, I sampled a complex tandoori-spiced chicken dumpling with fenugreek sauce, a delicately spicy South Indian beef pickle with a crispy rice pancake, and a creamy rice kheer seasoned with cinnamon that brought the whole meal full circle.
(Chris Johns is an award-winning food and travel writer.)