One of the best things about living in London is the fantastic choice of theatre, from thought-provoking drama, to uplifting musicals and cutting-edge new works by up-and-coming writers. Live theatre is one of my greatest pleasures; little excites me more than watching a great play, and in London that often means performed by some of our finest actors. I go to the theatre often and usually I meet the friend I’m joining for a meal beforehand. I always prefer to eat early rather than late; even in my younger days I was never keen to eat late, but many pre-theatre menus are also available as post-theatre menus too.
Although I’ve given this post the title ‘pre-theatre menus’, I’m often on the lookout for a good place to eat pre-gallery talk, or pre-cinema. Another passion of mine is art and I go to quite a few talks and lectures at London art galleries. I’ve therefore included my favourite place near Tate Modern. And, it has to be confessed, I often take advantage of good pre-theatre offers just to meet up with a friend early evening and eat a reasonably priced meal.
What I’m looking for in a pre-theatre menu is good food at a good price. If it really is pre-theatre or pre-event, then the likelihood is that you’re going to want to eat in about an hour; not in a rush but no lingering over the meal. And if you’re not going to linger over the meal, then you don’t generally want to pay a lot. I always like to eat well though, so a miserable sandwich in a chain café doesn’t fit the bill for me. It also makes more of the evening to eat a nice meal first, have time to catch up with a friend you may not have seen for a little while, and then go to the theatre.
So, here are my top pre-theatre restaurants at the moment. I’m listing them according to location rather than in any order of preference.
Well, I have to start with the restaurant that’s known as ‘theatreland’s canteen’! For over 40 years, Joe Allen has been a favourite haunt of actors, writers and producers – and my friend Annie and me! Though we’re not famous; just devotees, and I should emphasise that our loyalty only spans about 20 years not 40!
Recently transferred to Burleigh Street, just off The Strand, it offers one of the best pre-theatre menus going and is ideally located for not only the many theatres along The Strand and into The Aldwych, but also The Royal Opera House. I’ve eaten there before going to the National Theatre too, which is only a short walk across Waterloo Bridge from the restaurant. For more about Joe Allen, click here.
SHAFTESBURY AVENUE, Soho
Brasserie Zédel is hidden in a little complex of walkways just behind Piccadilly Circus, and off Shaftesbury Avenue. The food is great, the prices very reasonable and you can enjoy a lovely sense of being in an old Parisian brasserie while you eat. So many of the big London theatres are in Shaftesbury Avenue it’s a great location for pre-theatre, and it’s also close to The Haymarket, another theatre area. For more about Brasserie Zédel, click here.
Mele e Pere
Mele e Pere was a fairly recent find in Brewer Street in London’s Soho, just off Shaftesbury Avenue. I’d read enthusiastic reviews for some time before I went and am really glad I finally got there. It serves great Italian food and there’s a nice, lively atmosphere without it being too noisy. I went before a talk at the National Portrait Gallery (only about 8 minutes walk away) but of course it’s handy for all the nearby theatres, and the Curzon Soho cinema. For more about Mele e Pere, click here.
Yes, I know it’s a chain and chains aren’t usually amongst my list of favourite places, but my visit to this new branch of Côte right by the Royal Festival Hall only last month was a huge success. This was actually a post-art gallery dinner, but it’s wonderfully located for the National Theatre, the British Film Institute, the Royal Festival Hall and the Hayward Gallery – where I’d just been. We got in in time for the pre-theatre menu which is available until 7pm. It’s one of the best value early evening menus I know. Again, like Zédel above, you can enjoy being temporarily transported to Paris, should you feel sufficiently fanciful. Chains are inevitably slightly variable and I have been to a couple of Côtes I didn’t like much, but this one on the South Bank and my local Richmond one are great. There are a lot of restaurants on the South Bank but few inspiring ones, so I’m never quite certain where to go. But I’ll definitely be making Côte a regular haunt when I’m in the area. For more, click here.
This is a fantastic location for Tate Modern and also The Globe Theatre. I’ve eaten at Capricci a couple of times early evening before talks at the gallery. There are places to eat inside Tate, though not always open in the evening to coincide with talks and lectures midweek. And while I used to love the Tate Modern Restaurant, my last visit was very disappointing so I haven’t wanted to go back. Capricci is set in a development right by the gallery and there are lots of chain restaurants and cafés, but Capricci offers something more exciting and individual. Their Italian food is great and there’s a deli where you can opt to sit at a counter and have a snack if you don’t want the full restaurant experience. There is no set menu but you can eat fairly cheaply and quickly and each time I’ve ordered pasta dishes as a main course, which both times were delicious. For more about Capricci, click here.
Of course London is full of restaurants offering pre-theatre menus and I’ve only sampled a very few, but I hope this list of my favourites, and in different parts of central London, will be helpful and offer you some inspiration next time you’re looking for a great and reasonably priced early evening meal.
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