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?