In Depth

The best pre-theatre restaurants in and around London’s West End

Choose one of these sublime eateries for a quick bite ahead of a show, or round off your evening with a late-night supper

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Skylon

The food on offer at theatres often amounts to little more than a few packets of crisps and some over-priced ice cream, which makes the Royal Festival Hall’s airy Skylon restaurant all the more delightful – an on-site eatery that would be well worth a visit even if you weren’t on your way to see a show here. 

If you have come for theatre though, there is plenty of drama on offer at Skylon, where the smartly served pre-theatre menu will set you up perfectly for your performance. The set menu opens with four options, including a feather-light chilled pea and mint soup with truffle mayonnaise and an unctuous carpaccio of North Atlantic halibut, sharpened up with petite capers and a dash of lemon.

Next comes the meat of the performance: sea bream on a fennel lemon salad or a crispy duck leg with hispi cabbage, both delicious. Vegetarians and vegans are also catered to, with celeriac risotto and a surprisingly rich dish of mushrooms on toast, served with a mousse that sits right at the midpoint between savoury and sweet. 

The encore of desserts includes a lemon meringue tart and a sorbet, but this reviewer and his dining partner both went for the most gluttonous option on offer: the sticky toffee pudding. An indulgent end to a perfectly pitched pre-performance meal. Two courses for £25 or three for £30 is genuinely a steal. And the menu is also available post-theatre if you want to enjoy your meal in a more leisurely way after your show is done.

Skylon Restaurant, Royal Festival Hall, SE1 8XX, skylon-restaurant.co.uk

 
Roka Aldwych

Home to The Royal Opera, The Royal Ballet and more than 20 theatres, Covent Garden has been a mecca for culture vultures for centuries. Roka Aldwych hasn’t been open for so long, but it has also become a go-to spot for people hungry for Japanese robatayaki and wickedly good cocktails (there’s a reason why the Fig Manhattan features so heavily in reviews: it’s delicious).

A theatrical open kitchen takes centre stage, but the ambiance is relaxed and informal, with a clean, sharp decor of pale wood and bamboo. There are two stars of the show – the seven-course pre-theatre tasting menus, which are available at all four Roka restaurants.

Despite the number, there is no need to worry about missing curtain up: all the starters are brought out together, followed by the mains, allowing a convivial mix-and-match style of eating.

With food this good, however, it was never going to stay on the table for long. My friend and I made short work of the black cod, crab and crayfish dumplings, the beautifully fresh sashimi on ice – the red tuna was a particular favourite – and the bite-sized salmon and avocado maki rolls converted this non-sushi lover. For our mains, my friend made short shrift of her black cod in yuzu miso, while I allowed myself to be guided by Grace Dent in the Evening Standard and opted for the Korean-spiced lamb cutlets. Ms Dent played a blinder: they were succulent and full of flavour, leaving me licking my fingers so I didn’t miss a single speck.

Desserts feature a scrummy mix of chocolate cakes and puddings, but the winner was a light and refreshing strawberry and jasmine ice cream with an oats crumble, washed down with another delightful fig Manhattan.  

The show had still to start, but we left feeling we had already seen the main act.

71 Aldwych, London WC2B 4HN. Roka Aldwych

Dalloway Terrace

For two streets with such famous names, Tottenham Court Road and Oxford Street can sometimes feel like a bit of a black hole for good eating and drinking options. But just a short distance from the intersection of the two lies Dalloway Terrace, the graceful restaurant in the beautiful Bloomsbury Hotel. 

True to its name, the restaurant has a lovely terrace out the front, perfect for whiling away summer evenings over drinks and a meal. But if you are in a rush, the restaurant also offers a pre-theatre menu, featuring rock-solid highlights from its full a la carte menu – all in a setting that feels as if you are nestled among the trees, and which changes with the seasons. 

Dorset crab on toast or the roasted organic baby beetroot both offer a nice light base camp for the more fulsome options that follow. Or for maximum indulgence, shoot for the pan-fried pork belly with apple jus. For mains, the fish and chips are as good as you could hope to find anywhere, and a generous portion to boot. The Bloomsbury Burger is also good (well, it would have to be given the hotel is willing to put its name to it).

To finish off, we had a bit of time to spare so went off piste with a gorgeously gooey chocolate moose, but if you are in a rush and can't wait for this piece of chocolate perfection there is a cheese selection or carrot cake on the pre-theatre menu to choose from. The perfect way to bring down the curtain on dinner before the curtain comes up on your show nearby.

16-22 Great Russell St, WC1B 3NN; dallowayterrace.com

 
The Ninth

If you are waiting for a show to start, chances are you won’t usually be thinking of Michelin-starred dining. But the Ninth’s prime location and speedy service mean you needn’t compromise on quality when heading to the theatre.

The only thing that may slow your visit down is choosing what to eat; the Ninth has one of those menus where everything sounds unmissable. 

A good place to start is the sea bass carpaccio, salsa verde and pickled kohlrabi – a fresh, tart combination with a consommé that matches rather than overpowering the fish. The ossobuco tortellini with hazelnut gremolata is equally good and not nearly as heavy as it sounds.

If you only have time for mains, both the roast quail with green beans and almond salad, and the chargrilled veal chop with tomatoes, olives and aubergine are excellent choices. But if possible, do stick around for dessert – the tarte tartin with rosemary ice-cream is a dish worth missing the first act for.

22 Charlotte St, W1T 2NB; theninthlondon.com

Jidori

Yakitori is a traditional Japanese dish of skewered meat – think an exquisite eastern version of kebabs. Often sold at sports matches in Japan they make an ideal snack, or indeed a perfect pre-theatre pit stop. And nowhere in the West End does them better than Jidori.

Start with a plate of head chef Shunta Matsubara’s home-made pickles – a recipe he stole from his grandmother – before adding aubergine and miso butter, chicken yakitori, and this reviewers favourite: chicken hearts and bacon. This sounds like an adventurous dish for those not used to the more exotic bits of bird, but it is an adventure worth taking.

A special mention for the Scotch eggs is also necessary. Served with a saucer of katsu curry, the egg is halved and served with its yolk perfectly runny. 

Make sure you stick around for dessert too. In her review in the Evening Standard, Fay Maschler declared Jidori’s ginger ice cream with miso caramel, sweet potato crisps and black sesame her Dessert of the Year. She is right too, it is immense – a perfect sugar-hit to take with you into your show.

15 Catherine St, WC2B 5JZ; jidori.co.uk

L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon

There's no need to trek across town to sample some of the capital's finest dining when L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon is directly on Theatreland's doorstep. Positioned on a side street off Shaftesbury Avenue, it offers a pre-theatre dining option that provides a (comparatively) affordable way to sample its critically acclaimed cuisine. Priced at £45, the three-course menu is a roll call of the finest in modern French cooking, from vibrant fish dishes to a decadent rum baba.

13-15 West Street, WC2 H9NE; joelrobuchon.co.uk

Toby Keane © Copyright 2012. All Rights Reserved

Hawksmoor Seven Dials

This Covent Garden outpost of the popular mini-chain is the ideal fuss-free dining spot before a trip down Drury Lane. Its express menu (priced at £25 for two courses and £28 for three) features all the favourites you'd expect from the steakhouse. Served from Monday to Saturday from 5-6.30pm and 10pm onwards, drop by before or after the show for a signature Hawksmoor Hamburger or a succulent steak, making sure to leave room for the unbeatable sticky toffee pudding.

11 Langley Street, WC2H 9JG; thehawksmoor.com

 

Wild Rice

New to Brewer Street, just a two-minute walk from Shaftesbury Avenue, is Thai eatery Wild Rice, from debutante restaurateurs Pan Serirak and Mike Asavarut.

Varnished wooden tables and chairs are neatly aligned under a wall of colourful shutters in the intimate dining area - but the centrepiece here is really the food.

While the curry pastes and spices come from Thailand for an authentic taste, the chefs are not afraid to borrow techniques and ingredients from other cuisines. Papaya has been swapped for avocado in a reinvention of the traditional Som Tam salad, and the delicious tofu nuggets with satay sauce have been created using Japanese cooking methods.

Other highlights include the vermicelli with juicy prawns, lamb massaman, and fried chicken. And, if you’re in a rush to get to your show, dishes can be brought out together for a Thai tapas feast.

Wash it all down with one of Wild Rice’s excellent cocktails. The Wild Child G&T mixes Bombay Sapphire and Fever Tree tonic with Thai red chilli - or, for a sweet treat, the Lychee Pop and Mango Tango contain burst-in-the-mouth fruit bubbles.

28 Brewer Street, W1F 0SR; wildricelondon.com

Brasserie Zedel

Don't let the opulent and imposing Art Deco dining hall fool you – this traditional brasserie offers some of the best value French fare in the city. Best of all, its prix fixe menus are available throughout its dinner service, fitting easily around the trickiest of evening plans. While it limits your choices, you can't go wrong with its three-course option for £12.95, featuring well executed takes on the classic dishes of carottes rapees, steak hache and gateau opera. If you're here for a post-theatre meal, you can carry on your celebrations further into the night at the onsite cabaret venue, the Crazy Coqs, or retire to the Bar Americain. 

20 Sherwood Street, Soho, W1F 7ED, brasseriezedel.com

Holborn Dining Room

Adjoining onto the grand Rosewood London is its more relaxed companion the Holborn Dining Room, specialising in seasonal and locally sourced British cuisine. Offering early and late supper specials, served from 3.30-6.30pm and 9.30-11.30pm respectively, tuck into creative and contemporary twists on nostalgic favourites, from succulent pot roast lamb to a playful jelly and ice cream with elderflower, strawberry and mascarpone. At £20 for two courses and £25 for three, you can justify picking up a delicious homemade pastry from the deli on the way out should you get peckish late on.

252 High Holborn, WC1V 7EN; holborndiningroom.com

Sushisamba Covent Garden

While Sushisamba is perhaps better known for its branch on the 38th floor of London Heron Tower, with its sweeping views of the city, it also has a Covent Garden branch perfect for a quick dinner before a show. It’s a huge restaurant which takes up the length of the first floor on the eastern side of covent garden market, but it is designed in such a way as to have so many nooks and crannies that each corner feels like its own little bistro. The interior is eclectic, but very fun, with plant-life on the ceiling, colourful prints and more different kinds of lighting fixtures than we could count.

The Japanese, Brazilian and Peruvian fusion restaurant serves up a pre-theatre menu between 3pm and 6pm from Monday to Friday. While the menu is limited to three options per course, there will usually be a vegetarian, meat and seafood option for each, with particularly memorable sushi and ceviche covered in extravagant garnishes. The seasonal menu changes regularly, but we tried the sea bass usuzuruki – a paper-thin sliced sashimi – with japenos, which had just the right amount of kick. The mushroom gyoza were crispy and moreish.  

The Samba Chirashi main was a generous helping of delicious seafood products, including delicate squid, shrimp, tuna and salmon, on a bed of sticky rice with black sesame seeds mixed in. The fusion element of the dish basically means more dressings, more flavours, and more extra bits and bobs (like the sweet potato crisps sprinkled on top). The vegetable and tofu Mocequa – a Brazilian coconut curry served with green chimichurri rice – contained a host of complex flavours.

For dessert, our mini chocolate banana cake by far surpassed expectations. Think a sort of fruitier, chocolatier sticky toffee pudding, served with decadent rum ice cream and a platane crisp. All the courses are quite substantial in size, and yet easy enough to get through swiftly before a show. And the £32 for three courses, or £28 for two, is very generous.

35 The Market, Covent Garden, London WC2E 8RF, sushisamba.com 

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