Dinner before or after a show is all part of the London theatre experience. Whether you’re dining in the West End for the Royal Opera House or headed to Victoria for Hamilton (the hottest ticket in town), a speedy pre- or post-theatre fixed-price menu lets you eat at some of the best restaurants, at a fraction of the cost. Here are our top tables.
What? When Gregory Marchand brought his winning neo-bistrot formula Frenchie across the channel to Henrietta Street two years ago, the London food scene sat up and took notice. It’s nearly impossible to bag a table for dinner at the Parisian counterpart but you’ll have much better luck at this roomy London outpost. Brushed-brass fixtures, a muted pastel colour palette and rich brown tweed fabrics give it a decidedly British, Art Deco feel.
Best for Couples, who can eat at the non-reserved bar lit by frosted table lamps.
Menu A France-meets-Britain culture clash, by way of the Mediterranean and Asia, too – think dainty plates of oysters with apple and yuzu, foie gras with beetroot and horseradish, and creamy banoffee pie with a banana sorbet centre.
Price Two courses for £27, three courses for £30. 17.30-18.00 and 22.00-22.15 Monday-Sunday.
Closest theatres Any of those in Covent Garden, but the Royal Opera House and Adelphi are closest.
Address 16 Henrietta St, WC2E 8QH
What? Launched in 2011, Yotam Ottolenghi’s West End hit plants his vibrant, Middle Eastern-influenced culinary approach – hello courgette and manouri fritters served with heady cardamom yoghurt – in an upscale, gold-dipped setting. Its sharing plates are by no means the cheapest (those moreish truffle polenta chips with parmesan will set you back £6.20) but it’s a classy, unique option in a stretch of Soho that’s thick with unremarkable chains. Bonus: the glitzy mirrored toilets may be London’s most photographed.
Best for A special occasion pre-theatre meal with your flexitarian better half.
Menu There’s a definite “Ottolenghi’s Greatest Hits” feel to the main lunch and dinner menu, which is reflected in a pre-theatre deal that serves up a selection of shareable plates. Roasted aubergines with saffron yoghurt, walnuts and pomegranates is a masterpiece of complementary textures and deep, smoky flavour. And blackened rainbow trout – served with watercress and a vivid green dollop of citrussy yuzu kosho paste – is another highlight worth fighting over.
Price £25.50 per person, daily.
Closest theatres It’s a seven-minute walk to The Apollo Theatre, Gielgud Theatre and Queen’s Theatre.
Address 21-22 Warwick Street, W1B 5NE
What? In 2013, 24-year-old chef Handling finished in second place on MasterChef: The Professionals. As is often the case with runners-up, his success has been unparalleled: his first restaurant The Frog opened in rough-and-ready Old Truman Brewery in East London to rave reviews. His second, The Frog by Adam Handling, is a more polished, refined affair in the middle of Covent Garden, perfect for theatreland, and those who don’t want to eat in an East London car park. The pre-theatre menu is a snip at £30 for two courses – a great introduction to the restaurant whose five-course tasting menus start at an eye-watering £65.
Best for Show-stopping pre-theatre business lunches.
Menu Door-stopper-sized wedges of sourdough mop up whipped chicken-fat butter with crispy skin to start. Order the gooey-in-the-middle gnocchi, which comes with delicate disks of goats’ curd and a medley of mushrooms.
Price Two courses for £30, three courses for £35. 12.00-14.30; 17.30-18.30; 10.00-10.30, daily.
Closest theatres The Savoy Theatre is just across the road, less than a one-minute walk away, but you’re well placed for all in Covent Garden.
Address 34-35 Southampton St, WC2E 7HF
What? Joe Allen first opened in London in 1977 as a sister restaurant to the original in New York. Dimly lit and atmospheric, it’s known for being the unofficial “staff canteen” of the West End; where agents, actors, critics and those looking for a glimpse of the latest Tony-winner come to eat and enjoy the convivial surroundings. The wooden floors and brick walls adorned with theatre memorabilia add to the insider backstage vibe. Arguably the best American-style restaurant in London, Joe Allen couldn’t be a more fun place to start a theatre visit.
Best for Friends before a show, although the children’s menu and attentive staff (out-of-work actors and dancers) mean all are welcome.
Menu Comfort food done to the highest standard. The not-so-secret, secret burger is juicy in the middle with gooey cheese, a soft brioche bun and crisp lettuce and tomato – after 30 years it’s still one of the best around. Joe Allen holds the trophy for being one of the first restaurants in London to do a proper Caesar salad. And on our visit, Joe’s salmon fishcake, poached egg and sautéed baby spinach, with decadent tarragon and mustard sauce, was cooked to perfection, while my son was talking about the Junior Knickerbocker Brownie for days afterwards. But you don’t just come for the food, Joe Allen is all about the atmosphere and history.
Price Two courses for £15.95, three courses for £18.95. 12.00-19.00pm, daily.
Closest theatres Lyceum Theatre, showing The Lion King. Plus the Vaudeville and Theatre Royal on Drury Lane.
Address 2 Burleigh St, WC2E 7PX
What? There was a time when it was near impossible to get a good meal around Victoria, but the area’s dining scene has been transformed in recent years and Aster, a vast 10,000 square foot venue stretching over two floors, is leading the charge. Combining the look and feel of a smart Parisian brasserie (think marble bar and brass fittings) with touchpoints of mid-century Scandi minimalism, it’s a luxurious yet surprisingly cosy space that’s so hygge you might even struggle to get to your show.
Best for A very special occasion. With Hamilton showing around the corner at the Victoria Palace Theatre, you can enjoy a top-notch meal followed by the best show in town.
Menu Finnish chef Helena Puolakka describes her style of cooking at Aster as French meets Nordic, and while such fusion can often lead to a muddle of unsympathetic ingredients, Puolakka’s approach is far more subtle – and successful – with both cuisines existing separately on the menu. So a starter of Aster cured salmon, pickled cucumber and sweet mustard dressing might be followed by chicken ballotine with celeriac purée.
Price Two courses for £20, three courses for £24, both including a glass of champagne. 21.30-22.45, daily.
Closest theatres Victoria Palace Theatre, Apollo Victoria
Address 150 Victoria St, Westminster, SW1E 5LB
What? Nestled in a former art gallery a short stroll from both The Ritz and Fortnum & Mason, this West End haven is the second of Michelin-starred chef Angela Hartnett’s more relaxed Italian restaurants. Don’t expect candles in bottles of chianti and comically huge pepper grinders though. Cafe Murano’s sleek, Russell Sage-designed interior – think dark wood, inviting oxblood banquettes and a low-lit marble-topped bar – only serves to amplify a menu characterised by hearty updated classics.
Best for Famished families looking to escape the hubbub of Piccadilly’s tourist traffic.
Menu Hartnett excels at warming, belly-filling dishes that go beyond the trattoria staples. So humble chickpeas are elevated by the intense umami hit of an anchovy salad, hake stew with potato and oregano packs complex layered flavour and zelten – a traditional, spiced Italian cake – comes laced with an amarena cherry cream that may induce some decidedly undignified plate-licking. Make room for the impeccably crispy mushroom arancini too.
Price Two courses for £19; Three courses for £23. Plus they’re open until 11pm for post-theatre feasting.
Closest theatres Both the Prince of Wales Theatre and Her Majesty’s Theatre are a mere 10 minutes away. Trafalgar Studios isn’t too much further, either.
Address 33 St James’s St, SW1A 1HD