Thursday, 30 July 2009

How to cut your restaurant bill

One of the few upsides of the recession is that there seem to be an unprecedented number of good deals in restaurants at the moment - provided, of course, you can afford to eat out.

Arbutus, which is one of London's most appealing restaurants, for example has a fixed price pre-theatre dinner for £17.50 for 3 courses - basically the price of a main course in a mid-price restaurant. And the food is terrific. My daughter and I kicked off with porchetta with pecorino (finely sliced, carpaccio style, served with a few leaves and a delicious dressing). She had Welsh lamb breast, pressed into a neat rectangle and served with mash and summer vegetables - just like a posh Sunday roast and I had smoked eel and tarragon risotto as a main course.

I finished with a couple of generous slices of Tomme de Savoie (to their credit as most restaurants charge an arm and a leg for cheese these days) while she had a truly classy dessert of strawberry sorbet (above right) with sliced strawberries and meringue. I honestly don't know how they do it for the price but I suppose it means they can squeeze in an extra sitting. (The restaurant opens for dinner at 5pm) Their lunchtime deal, which my son Will told me about, is even keener at £15.50

There are other tactics. Having two starters or a starter and a pud instead of a main course is a well-established ruse but I've noticed that restaurants have latched on to that and the price of starters is creeping up. Or just go for a main course. Yesterday I met with a couple of friends at another London favourite Racine and just had the steak tartare and chips (both awesome). Not having a starter, dessert or coffee probably cut our bill in half.

If you're prepared to eat vegetarian that's almost always cheaper than eating meat or fish as well.

Is this fair to restaurants while they're struggling? I'd emphatically say yes. I'm sure most restaurants would prefer to see customers who spent slightly less than not see them at all.

Has the recession affected how often you eat out and do you have any other good tips for keeping the bill down?


Helen Yuet Ling Pang said...

If there's a restaurant I really want to try, I'll usually check to see whether they have set lunch or pre/post-theatre menus. For example, dinner at Launceston Place is too expensive, but I'm having the 3 course set lunch (£18) tomorrow, which I hear is very good value. And I'm a tap water girl!

Louise said...

One of our favourite restaurants is actually a BYOB Italian. There's a cheap off-license across the road so by buying our own drinks at a fraction of the cost, we can afford sides. It's called Ponte Di Legno and is in Moseley if you have any fellow "Brummie" readers.

Fiona Beckett said...

Seem to be a good few London restaurants doing lunch deals if you can get the time off - and yes, tap water saves a good few pounds Helen. As does BYOB Louise. Another good strategy is to have a drink of wine at home before you go out so you don't end up having to fork out for aperitifs.

James said...

2 sittings - now there's an idea.....

Spending less is definitely better than not spending at all!

Good cheese is actually quite exensive to buy these days. And then there are all the accompaniments. And the service.

Fiona Beckett said...

I know it is but this seems to me the way forward. Just one good cheese, simply served. (And with post-theatre dining too I suspect they fit in 3 sittings on some tables!)

Silicon Limey said...

Seconded on Arbutus, I always eat there when I'm in London. It's fantastic value and very good quality. You can also get good wine by the half bottle, rather than getting hammered on a per glass charge.