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[London] If your boss gave you a little thank-you present of £350 to take your wife out for dinner where would you go?

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We see going out for dinner as our main form of entertainment, so have eaten out extensively across London at all levels. I think if we stay relatively controlled on the wine we can keep most places within budget, with a few obvious exceptions.

I guess I am just wondering if anyone has had any really good experiences recently. Perhaps something a little bit different or that is a bit of a risk - you know, the kind of thing you might hesitate on if spending your own money...!

Look forward to hearing any suggestions. Thanks.

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  1. If the chef is the same one as a few years ago, I'd head for Blakes Hotel in South Ken. I think it was the best dinner I've had since living here. The room is intimate and lovely, service was superb, and the food was delicious. It also was VERY expensive and luckily I was a guest of a friend. No one ever mentions it here, but I hope it still has the same quality as I experienced. Sadly, chefs move around a lot.

    That said, I'd also consider a short ride from London and perhaps eating at Raymond Blanc's restaurant Aux Quat' Saisons.

    1. On the basis that I regard much of "down south" as London, I'd be booking the tasting menu at the Fat Duck and be prepared to chuck in some of my own money to top up.

      As it is, with travel, overnight stay and no boss to give me money, I'm not going to see any change from six hundred quid. I suspect it'll be worth every penny.

      1. What about Apsleys, it is new and getting interesting reviews, i.e. Matthew Norman hated it which is often a good sign. But the food cognoscenti seem to like it with some saying it is the best Italian in London, the chef (Heinz Beck) has three stars at his other restaurant in Rome. A risk worth taking?

        3 Replies
        1. re: PhilD

          "Matthew Norman hated it which is often a good sign"

          Indeed. He hated the Modern in Manchester. Burn him, burn him.

          1. re: Harters

            ...and he loved Mat Folas's (Masterchef winner) Wild Garlic in Dorset, which was surreal.

          2. re: PhilD

            Though a routine reader of Chowhound, I rarely post but I did in December to recommend The Eastside Inn, in St John Street. Amidst a lot of good and happy food experiences in the year, it stood out as sublime. OK, it is a risk and so ticks that box because when I went once before it was merely good and expensive. Write off a large chunk of time, book the restaurant not the bistro, throw yourselves at the mercy of the chef and sommelier (give him a tight budget!) and you should just about manage it for 350. I just hope you will enjoy the same outstanding, fun and utterly delicious meal.

          3. i went to marcus wareing at the berkeley on xmas eve and had a fabulous meal (very elegant/refined) so that would be high on my list.

            having done it once, i'd avoid spending my own money on returning to helene darroze or petersham nurseries but would happily return to both if someone else was paying.

            having said all of that, i do love locanda locatelli and would probbaly head their for a blow-out meal. their wine list is fabulous and i'd enjoy moving up a notch on it.

            out of london i'd also be heading to fat duck or le manoir. 3 chimneys would be my long distance choice.

            6 Replies
            1. re: abby d

              Whereas we had a less than stellar experience at Locatelli. We had waited for many months before the opportunity to get a table co-incided with the opportunity to come down south. Mrs H was most disappointed. I would seriously question its star.

              1. re: Harters

                I'm beginning to wonder if people can rate decent food any more than they can rate art. It's just too individual a thing, and unless one knows the party doing the judging and perhaps have eaten with them at the same time, their opinion may be valueless. Perhaps that's why the Zagat guides are so popular as it goes by percentages. ??

                Bad, bad food is much easier to talk about!

                1. re: zuriga1

                  it is definitely subjective - my boyfriend and i often score the same meal very differently.

                  there are several places i have been based on recommendations on here which raved and i have been very underwhelmed. it's just the gamble you take.

                  service and atmosphere plus, as you say zuriga, terrible food, is easier for people to judge more consistently.

                  apologies for the spelling/grammar mistakes in my post above

                  1. re: abby d

                    It's also worth noting that restaurants aren't 100% consistent. The exact same dish maybe cooked slightly differently from day to day, depending on the cook at the particular station etc.

                  2. re: zuriga1

                    You may be right and, of course, it is a very subjective thing.

                    It becomes easier to take an overall view when there's an external influence to judge against. So, in this example, I have eaten at a number of Michelin 1 star places - it is then relatively easy for me to compare the Locatelli experience against the others, and say if it was better, same or worse. It would be a nonsense to compare it against my local Italian places - even the good one.

                    It's also why I'm a big fan of the Good Food Guide as a help to deciding where to eat. There's a scoring system which, although imperfect, offers a generally consistent guide. When visiting an unfamiliar area, it's always my first point of reference. I then usually seek to validate that by looking at review sites - such as london-eating or Toptable. A final validation may come by looking at boards such as egullet and chowhound - but even here I'm looking for contributions from particular individuals who, for me, have a record of liking the same sort of food and experience as I do.

                    I know nothing about art but I like Mondrian :-)

                    1. re: Harters

                      I think that may be the key, John. Having a scoring system certainly helps when making a choice. That's why a lot of NYorkers use Zagat's. When it comes to Michelin starred, I think it's still a bit difficult to judge an Italian restaurant one star compared to the same rating for a different cuisine, but it certainly is something of a reference guide.

                      Heck, you could paint as well as Mondrian. Are you snowed in?

              2. Thanks a lot for all the suggestions guys.

                Unfortunately I've already eaten at many of these places and we were really trying for something new for this meal. With the exception of Le Manoir (the most disappointing restaurant experience of my life), I totally agree with the recommendations though - have had some great meals at those restaurants!

                One I haven't eaten at that could be worth a punt is Apsleys actually. Has anyone actually eaten there, or are we just going off the reviews, which I agree have certainly been "interesting"....

                And these out of town suggestions have me thinking about Gidleigh Park again. I know it's a long way, but has anyone eaten there lately?

                3 Replies
                1. re: Lazo

                  Re: Apsleys; no I haven't tried it but was basing my recommendation on Felix Hirsch's and Andy Hayler's blogs (as well as a few others) as I find both write accurately about the top end.

                  Re: Gidleigh Park, again I have not been, but I ate Michael Caines' food at The Bath Priory last year (after he took over as Exec from Chris Horridge) and it was really very good. If we had had more time in the UK Gidleigh Park would have been a must try meal based on the standards Michael achieved so quickly at the Priory.

                  1. re: Lazo

                    My stay at Gidleigh Park was before Michael Caines was a 'name,' so I can't speak to the quality these days, but I'm sure it's excellent. The hotel is beautiful and well worth the drive from anywhere. I get a mailing from them and noticed that they have a very reasonable lunch special that lasts through February. I knew the previous owners, the Hendersons, and they worked hard to make Gidleigh into a special place.

                    1. re: Lazo

                      Have you tried Percy's? Tina Bricknell-Webb is a very good chef, they grow / raise much of their own produce and importantly it adds up to really flavourful food. It's not haute, more California cuisine style food. They're about an hour short of Gidleigh Park. from London. They have rooms and the breakfasts are up to the standard of the dinners. The website is www.percys.co.uk

                      No doubt you've been to the Square and Robuchon?

                    2. When was the peak of this last black truffle season? If still not too far off, looking for a place that cooks with black truffles and with a good selection of burgundies on their winelist. Even though I've not eaten at La Trompette, I've always been impressed by the low markups on their wine list (e.g. their Trimbach Clos St Hune is a bargain), so that may be a possible place to start sniffing around.

                      10 Replies
                      1. re: limster

                        Limster, I always understood the best of the truffles are available early in the year Jan/Feb. But given the cold weather my guess is that it will disrupt the season, either because it is tricky to dig them up, or maybe the cold will impact the quality.

                        1. re: PhilD

                          It depends on the type of truffle (Alba whites generally peak earlier in ~Oct/Nov, Perigord blacks usually ~a couple of months later) but of course weather matters a lot, not just at harvest time, but also during the summer when they start growing.

                          1. re: limster

                            You asked about black which is the answer I gave.

                            I suspect the quality of truffles in individual restaurants may be more to do with a restaurants ability to access great quality and buy it rather than the overall quality in the market (and I would guess La Trompette is savvy enough). But as you say the best quality (peak aroma) is going to be influenced by lots of environmental factors during the 6 or 7 months the fruit forms and develops.

                            One of my best experiences was a boiled egg made with fresh eggs that had been kept in a sealed glass jar with fresh truffles; the aroma had permeated the eggs, it was subtle but great.

                            1. re: PhilD

                              Ah now I understand!

                              I wasn't asking about the general season (which is described in several threads on the general topics board), but specifically whether it had peaked this season, as it varies from year to year. I used to get real time information from a restaurant that I frequented and would order the truffle supplement when a particularly good batch came in.

                              The one black truffle dish that I found particularly memorable was a black truffle fondue, but it would be hard to dissociate it from the La Tache that the dish was made to support.

                              1. re: limster

                                I think you answer your own question with "I used to get real time information from a restaurant that I frequented and would order the truffle supplement when a particularly good batch came in".

                                The biggest factor in getting the best truffles is going to be how the individual sources them. If they attended one of the markets and got lucky they could have superb truffles, or if they have a supplier who attends every market and they use a high volume they may variation across the season. However, I suspect most UK restaurants buy from a wholesale importer and getting the best is by luck. My guess is the vert best will go to top French restaurants via direct supply chains.

                                So it won't be a question of when is peak season, but rather who has the most direct supply chain and uses the volume to get the best quality (given demand outstrips supply).

                                1. re: PhilD

                                  I think we'll have to disagree about the relative importance of these factors. Perhaps you've spent more time trying truffles from different sources, whereas I've spent more time trying (or getting free smells of) truffles across a season at places that rely on a very small number of sources, where invariably, the begining and end of the season usually didn't yield truffles as good as those from the middle.

                                  To get back on topic, any real time data out there that hounds would like to share?

                                  1. re: limster

                                    Limster, if you have such good relationships with restaurants that let you smell/taste their truffles across the season then aren't you in the best position to supply the information you requested?

                                    In my experience and comments from many others many of London's restaurants have variable quality truffle supplies. If you have a number of restaurants with such a reliable supplies please share the details.

                                    1. re: PhilD

                                      Because the restaurant isn't in the UK; I wouldn't ask for information that I already know. Re: reliability -- to reiterate, it wasn't the the quality of the truffles I've had were always equally good, but that they varied with the point in the season, as I described earlier.

                                      1. re: limster

                                        Isn't the quality of a truffle all about the flavour/aroma? What else is there? OK if they are full of worm holes or disfigured that will be poor quality, but the bottom line on quality is flavour/aroma i.e. a poor quality truffle has little flavour/aroma. So as the season progresses the quality will change.

                                        My assertion is that only a very few restaurant in London buy throughout the season, many will buy only once or twice, or through wholesalers rather than weekly trips to the markets in France. Thus your success in sampling the best truffles of the season will probably have more to do with how a restaurant sources their truffles than the point in time they peak in any given season.

                                        1. re: PhilD

                                          Yep, that's what I meant when I said quality.

                                          Remember that truffles need to ripen/mature in the ground to maximize the flavour/aroma. And like anything else, once harvested, it's perishable and probably not as good after several days.

                                          This implies that success in sampling the best truffles of the season will probably have more to do with when the truffles were sourced. Going to a restaurant with impeccable sourcing isn't going to guarantee the best of the season if one is too early or late.

                      2. Speaking as a bird...does she know about this yet? If not, I'd surprise her, and use the amount of money to go and spend the night somewhere lovely so you don't have the post meal dashing home scenario, plus the actual meal itself will be cheaper-ish out of London, and it sounds like you've done a lot of the treatworthy places here anyway. Then you can have a lovely walk somewhere the next day, as I am reading between the lines that the 'thank you' may have been for a job well done which probably involved time not spent with wifey...I'm not best placed to write about ex-London possibilities, but the Sportsmans in Seasalter is definitely on my list, so what about staying in one of the decent Whistable B&Bs, going there for Friday dinner, bracing walk on Saturday morning and then one of the many lovely seafood places in town for lunch before heading back. Think your budget would pretty much cover the whole thing - she wrote optimistically.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: helen b

                          If you are going to go down the out of London route, I would also suggest Sat Bains - they have rooms as well so you could stay after a fabulous meal.

                        2. Thanks for the further input everyone.

                          I am very keen to get down to Gidleigh Park, but the logistics are going to be a challenge. I'm also following this truffle discussion with some interest but haven't had much luck finding a truffle menu anywhere about...

                          Thanks also for the female input Helen, your analysis is scarily correct...... I have actually kept things to myself so far with a surprise in mind. We've eaten at the sportsman before so that one is probably out but there's a couple of other ideas forming in my head....