General tips for choosing a restaurant in London

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Citywide, London, United Kingdom

General tips for choosing a restaurant in London Reviews

sarahelaine sarahela…
648 reviews
General tips for choosing a restaurant Jan 17, 2011
Although most people look for recommendations for specific restaurants, this isn't always the most helpful thing when you are looking for a restaurant in London.  I always find myself in a different part of London, or the restaurant I am looking for is closed that day, or something else happens to stop me going to the one that the helpful reviewer said would be best.Instead, I though I would write a review on how to go about choosing one yourself.

  The food

- All British restaurants should clearly display a menu, with prices, outside the front door.  Look at it first and don't feel any obligation to go in until you've decided the prices are reasonable and you like the sound of the food.

-Beware of the Cool.  I'm not saying that all Cool restaurants pay more attention to their Concept than their Kitchen, but I always wince at staff who have haircuts that look like they cost more than my wardrobe, pretentious sounding dishes on the menu ("a medley of viande anglais nestling on a bed of wilted baby leaves...") and insides that look like they should be in an interior design magazine.  Even if the price is right, they are too often not good enoughto justify how uncomfortable the staff make you feel.

- Don't be tied to "authentic" British food.  Brits eat curry, Chinese food or sushi, more often than not.  Of course, British curry is totally different from most Asian curry, so it's probably as close to authentic British food as anything else.

 - Choose a restaurant that you actually want to eat the food in.  If there is anything more depressing than the "European" food in a curry house, it is the "curry" in a Wetherspoons pub. 

- Be realistic.  If you want to eat for £5 you can do worse than a Wetherspoons, and I have eaten in places like that happily many, many times.  But it will not be fine cuisine. 

The Wisdom of Crowds:

 - Unless it is 5pm on a rainy Tuesday in February, don't pick the empty restaurant.  There is reason it is empty. Every time I have eaten in an empty restaurant, after 7pm, it has been horrible (some good restaurants can be empty early in the evening - see "the bill").

 - Try to get your ear in for local accents.  It's not fool proof, but as a rule, locals have more time to research and are more likely to go to a restaurant twice.  A restaurant that is packed full of people with suitcases might not be good, it might just be close to the station.

Location, Location

 - Restaurants on main roads or near tourist attractions can get away with higher prices or worse quality.  Not all of them take advantage, but as a rule, it is always a good idea to go for a little walk down some backstreets before you pick your restaurant.  For example, the Italian restaurants on Southampton Row are nearly all dire, but there are some great Italian restaurants three minutes away on the backstreets.  And if one of those little restaurants down a side street is busy, it's because people have made the effort to go there.

 - Don't eat in the hotel restaurant (cooking in the hostel is different - it's not £25 for two courses!).  It is almost never good value.  Anyway, you came to explore, right?

The Bill

 - Unless you are eating steak or lobster, eating in  London should not be all that expensive compared to the rest of Western Europe.  It's perfectly possible to eat two courses and a glass of wine for well under £20, usually closer to £15.

 - Be flexible about the time of day.  Some places do special deals at lunchtime (and then you can have a sandwich or something for dinner", or if you eat early in the evening (my favourite Korean is 10% off if you start eating before 5.30pm).  If you see a restaurant on the first night of your stay that is full up at 7pm, and it has a cheap offer at some random time of day the next day, it's worth going back the next day.

 - if there are two of you, look for voucher sites like vouchercloud and moneysavingexpert (google both).  There are often two for one vouchers available.  Although these are usually for chain restaurants rather than quirky local places, there is nothing wrong with a 2 for 1 voucher for Pizza Express if you are tired and don't want to spend an hour looking for somewhere to eat well. 

Timing

 - This isn't a personal experience tip, but a lot of restaurant critics I've read say that if you are eating out for a treat, don't pick Mondays because even cheap places have their best staff on over the weekend and their less good staff on on a Monday or Tuesday.  So if you are in town and planning to mostly eat in hostels, and planning a treat, have it later in the week. 

And finally...

NOT the Angus Steak House/ Aberdeen Steak House/ any combination of those names.  Just don't do it. 
3 / 3 TravBuddies found this review helpful/trustworthy
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sarahelaine says:
Thank you!
Posted on: Sep 02, 2014
pammy_robertson says:
loved this, cheers. if you're in the uk and looking for restaurant tips and deals check out www.5pm.com you can browse by city then area, then type of food and time of day. you can also check the menu online and normally a set price for 2 or 3 courses sometimes including drinks. i use it all the time in the uk.
Posted on: Sep 02, 2014
dahling says:
fantastic advice - however, I think you can copy it for almost any other city as well !!! Thanks for writing it down..
Posted on: Aug 31, 2011
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