by Clare Finney, The Daily Telegraph, November 30, 2016
Why is it that, when you’re going to the theatre, the food is so often demoted to second fiddle? Why, when London’s culinary scene has never been better, do we not choose our meals with as much thought as we choose our musical or play?
If you’re a food-loving theatregoer who often finds themselves eating a Pret sandwich in the interval, or a meal deal in some ubiquitous Italian chain on the way to the show - stop.
Look at this list, comprising dedicated theatre restaurants which have made leaps and bounds in the last few years to become food destinations in their own right, as well as nearby joints you might not have considered, but cater amply for pre and post theatre - ensuring the idea of Hobson’s Choice is confined strictly to the stage.
Theatre Roya, Harold Pinter Theatre, Criterion Theatre, Her Majesty's Theatre
This spot is ideal for early diners, and even better for late ones, taking orders until 11.30pm and providing, in the form of the low-lit, sultry Bar American, a digestif spot a mere stumble away from the dinner table. You don’t even have to leave the building.
Recommendations for pre-theatre (to avoid the post-prandial doze) include steak entrecôte and frites, the sole Colbert, or the hake. Post-theatre, order a bottle of house red and go for broke*
*you won’t. This place is incredibly good value.
Brasserie Zedel, 20 Sherwood Street, London
020 7734 4888; brasseriezedel.com
Don’t be put off by the queues snaking outside its baby sister, the Barbary: the Palomar is bookable. You can walk in, but unless you plan on dining post theatre, booking ahead is strongly advised. The Palomar is always busy, and rightly so.
Head chef Tomer Amedi's unique brand of Mediterranean-Jewish cuisine comes steeped in tradition, tahini and a liberal scattering of creative flair which brings smoky beetroot together with labneh and prawn jus (The Beets go Prawns) and stone bass with octopus and courgette (Stone Bass Machluta).
Pre-show eaters: leave as much time as you to eat - not because it’s not fast, but because it’s fantastic. Post-show diners: sit at its notoriously raucous bar counter. With percussion on the pans and arak shots aplenty, it’ll add the perfect finish to a good performance, and the perfect remedy for a bad.
The Palomar, 34 Rupert Street, London
020 7439 8777; thepalomar.co.uk
Queen's Theatre, Gielgud Theatre, Prince of Wales Theatre, Palace Theatre, Soho Theatre, Leicester Square Theatre
To include a no-reservations restaurant on this list seems counter-intuitive, but Blacklock has so much to recommend it beyond that, it’s snuck on by a whisker: what little time you waste waiting, you’ll make up for when choosing from the blessedly brief menu.
Choose the size of chop; choose the breed of chop (lamb, beef or pork); choose your sides. Then rest easy in the knowledge that the chaps behind the chophouse are veterans of Hawksmoor, the meat is well sourced, and the speedy service will never induce one to exclaim ‘chop chop’.
Blacklock, 24 Great Windmill Street, Soho, London
020 3441 6996; theblacklock.com
This unassuming townhouse had been serving West End thespians, chefs, shopkeepers and creatives for centuries before Martin Morales took over.
Expect vibrant, lively dishes of watermelon and quinoa, sea bass ceviche and a marinated medley of prawns, chupe cream, potato, and quail egg. Service is fast, and the flavours so dazzling they’ll last yo u right through to the curtain call - after which, you will doubtless come back for more. They stop serving at half 11.
Casita Andina, 31 Great Windmill Street, Soho, London
020 3327 9464; andinalondon.com
You could see Henry IV parts one and two back-to-back and still be in time for dim sum at this shabby-chic den in Chinatown - it closes at 2.30 am. The musty incense and distressed furnishings are reminiscent of the eponymous dens of yore: the sophisticated cocktails shaken dramatically from Chinese ‘potion bottles’ and the potent taste of of truffles and mushrooms concealed in pearly translucent dumpling skin is anything but.
Opium, ‘The Jade Door’, 15-16 Gerrard Street, Chinatown, London
Recommending Chinatown for theatre dining is like recommending the Alps for skiing: blindingly obvious, and entirely useless unless you can be more precise. Bai Wei is the Meribel of Chinatown: characterful, well established and so extensive, it will please both thrill seekers and those who like to play safe.
Bai Wei, 8 Little Newport Street, Chinatown, London
020 7494 3605
Adelphi Theatre, Lyceum Theatre, Vaudeville Theatre, Novello Theatre, Duchess Theatre, Aldwych Theatre, Drury Lane Theatre Royale
The tables are small, the plates smaller still, but what Encant lacks in size it makes up for in substance: the flavour it packs into creamy aubergine and cheese croquettes, sizzling octopus legs or crispy shards of shredded sweet potato rolled up in a thick slice of sloe liquor-cured salmon is a revelation - and and quick to arrive, too. With a cute little passageway leading straight onto the Strand behind it, the theatres are only a stumble away.
Encant, 16 Maiden Ln, London
020 7836 5635; encantlondon.com
See Colbert near the Royal Court Theatre if you’re wondering about atmosphere or decor. This is old-school European - bottle-green leather banquettes, gleaming brass rails, marble - with a pitch-perfect blend of style and decorum. It will be posh, yes, but it won’t be excessive: if you want ketchup with your brioche burger and fries, you can get it - but you can also get a pretty mean steak tartare as well as a whole host of Austrian sausages and schnitzels. All this within a stollen’s throw of the theatres, served right up until 11.30pm.
The Delauney, 55 Aldwych, Covent Garden, London
020 7499 8558; thedelauney.com
‘Dear Lord’, prays every theatregoer with tastebuds. ‘Grant me an affordable restaurant serving delicious, uncomplicated food in a familiar environment; grub that will fill me up without sending me to sleep in Act Two.’ And the Lord said: ‘Go to the Opera Tavern and order the bar snacks, particularly the jamon and manchego croquetas and the Morcilla scotch eggs.’
We ordered it, and we saw that it was good - as indeed everything is that has been touched by Ben Tish, the executive chef of the Salt Yard Group (of which Opera Tavern is part.) With cheese and charcuterie boards, bowls of olives and habas frittas and bookable tables from 5 to11pm, this is the answer to every theatre goer's prayer.
Opera Tavern, 23 Catherine Street, Covent Garden, London
020 78836 3680; operatavern.co.uk
Eneko at One Aldwych
Three-Michelin-starred chef Eneko Axta grew up in a small village in the Basque Country, Spain. On a hill just a few miles from there he set up his first restaurant. Azurmendi - a homegrown, largely self-sustainable institution that has been in the world’s top 50 restaurant list for some time. Safe to say, the concept of a ‘pre-theatre’ menu should be alien to Eneko, given the Basque tendency to prioritise food over all other activities. Yet you can’t open in theatreland and and not cater for the stomachs of the theatregoing masses swarming that area, and you’d go a long way - to the Basque country in fact - to find roasted Iberico presa, wheat in chickpea sauce, and garlic cream before curtain call at the Novello.
Eneko at One Aldwych, Covent Garden, London
020 7300 0300; eneko.london
Shaftesbury Theatre, Phoenix Theatre, New London Theatre, Cambridge Theatre, Royal Opera House, Palace Theatre
Compaigne de Vins Surtanels
If there is a more deliciously sophisticated way to crown a night at the theatre than a glass of wine and a cheeseboard, enjoyed from a plush chair in a posh drawing room-come-restaurant - write to me. Until then, make a board of French cheeses and a glass of Bourgueil at CVS your regular grand finale. Pre-theatre pickers, meanwhile, should note that ‘bar snacks’ here translates as truffled foie gras terrine, wild mushroom tartine, smoked beef tartare and heirloom marinated beetroot. Only the French…
Compaigne de Vins Surtanels, 8-10 Neal’s Yard, Covent Garden, London
020 7734 7 737; cvssevendials.com
As above, but more utilitarian in feel (and pricing). The staff are wondrously knowledgable, so if you’ve time to quiz them on the eclectic wine list, do.
10 Cases, 16 Endell Street, Covent Garden, London
020 7836 6801; 10cases.co.uk
Italian food, the Appian Way, is how the culinary offering of this place is described on its website. For those not well acquainted with Italian geography, this means bowls of fresh, pert pasta lathered in a medley of squeaky girolles and robust olive oil or guanciale, tomato, chilli and pecorino; it means pizza, its base weightless, its pools of buffalo mozzarella melting into scarlet blooms of ripe tomato; and, because it’s theatre-conscious, it means all this at a decent lick at bookable tables. If you don’t have time for the gelato, come back after the show.
Vico, 1 Cambridge Circus, Seven Dials, London
020 7379 0303; eatvico.com
Young Vic, Old Vic
Penny doesn’t take bookings, but this deceptively laid-back, wooden-tabled cafe is based below the Old Vic, so they know what pre theatre means. Arrive 45 minutes before your final call and the chances are you'll be able squidge on the end of a table with a generous cheese or charcuterie boards, your deep, honeyed pumpkin risotto or a sourdough sandwich of toasted portable mushroom and blue cheese - and still make it to your seat before the show.
Penny, The Old Vic, 103 The Cut, Southwark, London
020 7928 2651; penny.bar
The ultimate test of a theatre-based restaurant is whether you dine there even if you weren't seeing a show. The answer, in the case of Young Vic’s The Cut is, yes: I have, many times, and doubtless will again.
The ingredients are scrupulously sourced and the menu hangs on their quality, with boldly simple dishes like Thai raw salad, smoked haddock and poached eggs, and a variety of tapas options. Choose freely: everything here is designed to be served in time for a quick dash to the show.
The Cut, Young Vic, 66 The Cut, Southwark, London
020 7928 4400; thecutbar.com
Marie's Thai Cafe
You wouldn't take your parents here, or indeed anyone of advancing years. The decor - builders' caff by day, Thai take away by night - is what it is, as they say. But the pad Thai, spring rolls and curries stirred up by the eponymous, Thai-born proprietor hit the spot at speed and joyfully low prices. Marie is charming, and it’s BYO. The dream.
Maries Thai Cafe, 90 Lower Marsh, Lambeth, London
020 7928 1050; mariescafe.co.uk
The Anchor and Hope
It's a gastropub in so far as its a pub serving food, but there's a world of flavour, creativity and atmosphere between the Anchor and Hope, and your average Ember Inn. The menu changes; vegetables are treated with as much tenderness as the meat, which is carefully sourced and butchered nose to tail in house. Fresh fish arrives twice daily. The wines are artisanal. Yet the pub has lost none of its pub-ness with the addition of a damn fine restaurant: on the contrary, the numbers of regulars, the no-frills decor and the pride with which pints are pulled by fast, friendly staff suggest the effect has been quite the reverse.
Anchor and Hope, 36 The Cut, Southwark, London
020 7928 9898; anchorandhopepub.co.uk
Victoria Palace Theatre, Victoria Apollo Theatre
In an area that has long been in dire need of good grub, A Wong is king. This contemporary, informal-but-serious-about- food Chinese restaurant undoubtedly is. Not being in Chinatown has freed it from the the confines of regionality or traditionalism, and you’ll get Gunadong dim sum as well as Shanghai dumplings of pork and fresh ginger, Sichaunese aubergines and red braised fermented fish from Anhui. Late eaters should check out the myriad snacks available at Forbidden City, their underground bar.
A Wong, 70 Wilton Road, Victoria, London
020 7828 8931; awong.co.uk
The Thomas Cubitt
Thomas Cubitt is steeply priced, but sumptuously creative in the kitchen, where the best of British ingredients meets sophisticated takes on British cuisine. Tell them you’re pre theatre: it’s a popular place in a land otherwise starved of fine food, and they may have to warn you off the slower dishes. Iron-age pig is delicious, but you will need to give yourself some time.
The Thomas Cubitt, 44 Elizabeth Street, Victoria, London
020 7730 6060; thethomascubitt.co.uk
Alemeida Theatre. Sadlers Wells Theatre
Nothing to do with stained clothes and detergent, everything to do with homely Cantonese fare, this trinket-filled cavern of complex smells and ramshackle furniture is a delight for the senses. Sweet basil chicken popcorn, Ma la lobster tail on bing and the Ma La buns are must tries, but don’t stop there, whatever you do. Everything here but the slow-cooked dishes - clearly marked on the menu - are pre-theatre game.
Chinese Laundry, 107 Upper Street, Islington, London
020 7686 6847; chineselaundryroom.com
The eponymous chef needs no introduction: his round-the-world fusion of flavours, dreamt up with one foot always in Israel, is everywhere, and with good reason. This is life-affirming food.
At his flagship Islington restaurant, the sizeable salad counter and the service - which borders on hasty if you are not actually in haste - makes it a perfect pre-theatre spot. You will need to book, and pronto, because this is popular. But if the sultriness of roasted cauliflower, date puree, romanesco and ricotta, and the zing of green and yellow beans with pickled cucumber and mustard seeds can’t please you, then nothing else can.
Ottolenghi, 287 Upper Street, Islington, London
020 7288 1454; ottolenghi.co.uk
One can never rave too much about a French bistro that’s been serving no-frills French food for three decades, sans hoquet et avec une atmosphère romantique. Moreover, it’s vit: tres vit, if you need it to be, and excellent value with starters fixed at £4.45 and mains at £10.95 each.
Le Mercury, 140A Upper Street, Islington, London
020 7354 4088; lemercury.co.uk
The Gate See The Gate in Hammersmith
The Gate, 370 St John Street, Islington, London
020 7278 5483; thegaterestaurants.com
Southwark Theatre, Menier Chocolate Factory
Here you'll find the finest fresh pasta London has seen since the Roman times. Probably. This unbookable Borough Market gem is very busy at peak times, but if you’re at the Southwark Theatre that evening, seize the opportunity afterwards to walk in after the masses have been fed and feast on such wonders as, say, ravioli of Neal’s Yard goat's curd with marjoram butter or pappardelle with eight-hour Dexter beef shin ragu - or both in fact: portions are inexpensive, and small.
Padella, 6 Southwark Street, Borough Market, London
SE1 1TQ padella.co
Is it the ‘pure Mediterranean sea water’ that makes ‘O Ver’s pizzas taste better than most? Or is it the fact that their head chef is a teacher in The True Neapolitan Pizza Association and sources from small Italian suppliers? Jury’s out. One thing I can be certain of, however, is ‘O ver’s Neapolitanism, and the DOP ingredients, flavours and wood fire passion for food that comes with the territory. It’s open until 11, but if you want my advice it’s pizza pre-theatre, and drunk, giddily creamed sweet rum baba after the show.
O’ver, 44-46 Southwark Street, Southwark, London
020 7378 9933; overuk.com
Monica Linton has a lot to answer for: namely bringing the finest ingredients Spain has to offer to London, selling them at Borough Market, then - as if giving us salchichón de Vic and cured Villarejo Manchego wasn’t enough - cooking with these exotic treasures too.
The result, or one of them, is Tapas Brandisa London Bridge. You can’t book, but I’ve never had a problem, and the dizzying variety of cold plates, sharing boards and salads means you can pack a surprisingly large amount of tapa and tortilla into a very short space of time.
Tapas Brindisa, 18-20 Southwark Street, Southwark, London
020 7357 8880; tapasbrindisa.com
Royal Court Theatre
Another theatre, another Corbin and King round the corner. Yet Colbert, like Delauney, Brasserie Zedel and Fischers, has its own unique qualities. The food - classic, clean, Parisian - is immaculately presented, and the decor is jubilantly, gleamingly French. It might have a bad rep among newspaper reviewers but that’s down to location: if one will attend a restaurant in Sloane Square, one cannot be surprised to find it expensive (have you seen the rates round here?) and full of Sloanes.
Colbert, 50-52 Sloane Square, Chelsea, London
020 7730 2804; colbertchelsea.com
Royal Court Theatre Bar and Kitchen
There’s a lot to recommend this in-house Bar and Kitchen, not least its location within the depths of the decadent 19th century playhouse itself. Being the only independent restaurant in Sloane Square, the food is meticulously sourced - Neal’s Yard Diary, Brindisa and Gressingham play leading roles here - and they are simply and speedily prepared.
Royal Court Theatre Bar and Kitchen, Sloane Square, London
020 7565 5058; royalcourtheatre.com
Lyric Hammersmith, Hammersmith Apollo
La Petite Bretagne
A barricade of chain restaurants surround the Lyric Theatre Hammersmith, the breezy plaza sandwiched by Pret, Bill’s, Nando’s and other variants. Yet even if what you’re after is cheap and fast food, you’d be better served by La Petite Bretagne, the creperie on adjacent Beadon road. The founder is French; his flavours are testament to the fact, being reassuringly traditional.
La Petite Bretagne, 5-6 Beadon Road, Hammersmith, London
020 8127 5530; lapetitebretagne.co.uk
You’ll struggle to make the Lyric without a stitch, but the Apollo’s in stumbling distance, should this paragon of British vegetarianism tick your boxes. The two owners are of Indo-Iraqi-Jewish heritage, and their mouthwatering knowledge of ingredients ripples through the menu, bubbling up in dishes like couscous fritters, butternut rotolo and the ‘green dragon’ salad. Beware the mezze platter, which takes at least 15 minutes' prep. Everything else is fairly pronto.
The Gate, 51 Queen Caroline Street, Hammersmith, London
020 8748 6932; thegaterestaurants.com
Brackenbury Wine Rooms
Wine Bars - or, chiefly, wine - divides theatregoers into several camps: those who lament its dampening of their critical faculties, and those who welcome it. This wine room boasts the considerable merit of having not four, but 40 wines by the glass, and a list of (well sourced) bar snacks to reassure even the driest theatregoer that a glass of Villa Huesgen, Mosel 2015 will not mar the performance provided he pairs it, as advised, with a snack of char-grilled calamari and octopus, herb barley and harissa aïoli.
Brackenbury Wine Rooms, 111-115 Hammersmith Grove, Hammersmith, London
020 3696 8240; winerooms.london/brackenbury
There is only one place to eat in Hampstead Theatre, and that is Bradley’s, whose idea of pre-theatre food comprises red mullet Escabeche with fennel amd orange, and a fillet of plaice with purple broccoli and Jerusalem artichokes.
This is, officially, Michelin Bib Gourmand-level cooking: the founders and head chefs have won the award every year since 2009, and with good reason. Their meat and fish is British and seasonal, their approach sustainable, their presentation creative.
Bradley’s, 25 Winchester Road, Hampstead, London
020 7722 3457; bradleysnw3.co.uk
Another in-house restaurant I would happily dine at even if theatres and concerts were not mere metres away. Happily, you get the best of both worlds with award-winning productions and a menu crafted by Anthony Demetre, of Michelin-starredArbutus and Wild Honey.
Penny wise, turn up during aperitif hour, when the food is complimentary provided you’ve been to the bar first. Get value for money by turning up in time for a drink on the terrace before settling down to some seriously well sourced, fresh Italian food.
Osteria, The Barbican Centre Silk Street, Barbican, London
020 7588 3008; osterialondon.co.uk
The Jugged Hare
This gastropub is the sort of place in which you wish to hibernate during winter. You can’t, because you’ve a show to go to, but that won’t stop the combination of Norfolk quail, sweetbreads and hazelnuts from instilling comfort and joy deep inside your soul.
Choose carefully: some cuts of meat will take longer than others, and if there’s one thing that will mar your inner peace, it’s the prospect of dashing off before sampling on head chef’s Stephen Englefield’d jubilantly British approach to food.
The Jugged Hare, 49 Chiswell Street, Barbican, London
020 7614 0134; thejuggedhare.com
For the best seats in the house at London's top theatres, visit tickets.telegraph.co.uk or call 0844 871 2118
This article was written by Clare Finney from The Daily Telegraph and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.