Of course, the other more commonplace 'deal' is the set lunch, which on the face of it represents extraordinary good value at some of the UK's leading restaurants. The Square for example, where you pay £105 per person for the tasting menu, and £80 for the alc, offers a set lunch at just £35. Even we go to places like The Square so seldom that when we do go, we want the 'full experience' and so have never to date opted for a set lunch menu, but are we missing out on a trick? Fab food at a fab price?
Accordingly, we decided to go bargain hunting to see what you could get by way of deals and value in London over a week of eating. These deals were available in the particular week I chose to do this and not all will be available forever.
When I first Googled 'London Restaurant Deals', the three sponsored links at the top of the page were Lastminute.com, TopTable.co.uk and LivingSocial.com, the first two at least 'obvious' choices but I decided to buy an offer from all three to see how the experience varied. I did find however that many of the offers overlapped; furthermore, what was shown as an offer or deal on a number of promotion sites was in fact the set menu available direct from the restaurant.
Also, with so many deals out there, I have not necessarily achieved the best deals or the cheapest deals, rather, I have chosen seven offers as a selection of what's available to see how the food is and how I am treated as a budget customer. And this post is about getting value, almost something for nothing, and not about the cheapest available eats. We have not for example included in the article places like Patty & Bun or Chicken Shop that have an everyday menu where you can always eat well for a tenner.
I generally allowed myself a glass of house wine to go with the meal but otherwise opted for tap water and no frills.
My chosen deals were as follows:
- Social Eating House: set lunch, £21, booked direct
- The Square: set lunch, £35, booked direct
- Marco Pierre White Steak House (Kings Road): half price main, booked through TopTable
- New Street Grill: 3 course Sunday lunch with all you can drink champagne £30, booked with lastminute.com
- STK London: 3 course 'steak flight' menu, £49, booked with livingsocial.com
- L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon: set lunch, £35, booked direct
- Wheeler's of St James: set lunch £22.50, walk in
Individual posts are done on each of these and can be read by clicking through the highlighted name in the paragraphs below.
I probably should have done a Groupon deal but couldn't bring myself to do so. An advertised offer at Reform Social & Grill for lobster, chips, wine at £14, booked through SquareMeal was due to be a part of this series but after visiting there, I felt I had been mis-sold, and it became a stand alone blog post in which I could more fully discuss the issue (read that post here).
Overall, I was very pleasantly surprised about how good these deals were. The deals largely offered savings of 30-50% while on the set lunch deals, the standard of cooking generally remained consistent with significantly more expensive options. If you can resist the extras (no G&T to start, only tap water, no coffee), you can eat some amazing food without busting the bank.
Top marks: we awarded a full 10/10 to The Square and Social Eating House for their set lunch menus. The question for The Square was always, would we get a two star experience for £35, and the answer is yes. Just brilliant. At Social Eating House, £21 for their three course set lunch is one of the best value meals I've ever eaten. For the quality of the meal they offered, I would have happily paid twice the price.
Great marks: not quite a perfect 10 but great marks to New Street Grill, Marco Pierre White's Kings Road Steakhouse & Grill and L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon. As much as you can drink champagne was an amazing offer over Sunday lunch for New Street Grill. 50% off mains at Marco's steakhouse was an out and out £14 saving per person with the top end main ordered and the set lunch at L'Atlier was another budget two star experience with some special moments.
Not so good: Reform Social & Grill missed the point in our opinion with their offer. At STK London, this was never going to be a big saving deal (was hard to say how much, if any, I did save), and overall, the place just didn't do it for me. Wheeler's of St James's scored less well in this comparison because it didn't seem much of a deal, simply a cheaper menu option, in other words, I felt I got what I paid for; elsewhere, I felt I had got more.
Bottom line - there are some great value meals to be had out there and you really can enjoy some of London's best food for much less than you might expect. On the set lunches I tried, the food was almost entirely in keeping with the restaurant's more expensive offerings, and nowhere on service was I made to feel a second class citizen. On deals, such as New Street Grill and Marco's Steakhouse, I got exactly what I thought and hoped I was getting resulting in a meaningful monetary saving.