By Nina Derham in London—
I’m certainly one to agree that eating out abroad is all about sampling the local cuisine and trying out quirky, independent restaurants. However, any visitor to London will also be struck by the number of well-established chain restaurants that buzz day and night throughout the city. While some serve up mediocre food at inflated prices, others offer great value and guaranteed tasty food at locations all over the city.
Here are my top five London restaurant chains well worth a try:
Carluccios is the perfect choice if you’re in the mood for some quality Italian cuisine. A household name in the UK, Antonio Carluccio is one of those likable celebrity chefs with whom you’d love to chat over an espresso and biscotti. After spending ten years developing his restaurant business, Carluccios are now open throughout the UK, with over 20 restaurants in the capital – my particular favorite being the lively terrace at the Brunswick Centre (Russell Square) – perfect for people watching on a warm evening!
The food is tasty, traditional fare and prices don’t tend to go over £10. For a light meal I’m especially fond of the Antipasto Supremo which costs £17.95 for sharing between two or three people. The platter is crammed with fresh, Italian delicacies from tuna stuffed peppers to buffalo mozzarella. For a heartier meal try the Menu Fisso with two delicious courses for £9.95.
A relatively new addition to London’s restaurant scene, Wahaca was opened by MasterChef winner, Thomasina Miers, in 2008. The aim is simple; to serve up tasty, affordable Mexican-inspired street food in colorful, fun surroundings. The brief certainly seems to be working as there are now six Wahaca’s in London including a mobile bus which is currently located in Canary Wharf, keeping London’s city slickers well-fed. Wahaca doesn’t accept bookings, however, so if you do have to wait for a table (which invariably happens on weekends) there is lots to keep you entertained, from a wonderful range of cocktails, to free table football (in the Soho branch).
The music is lively and in keeping with the Latin theme and the food is absolutely delicious. Opt for the Wahaca Selection sharing menu (£19.95 for two) to try a bit of everything. If you’d rather not share then the platos fuertes cost between £6-£10 and range from yummy burritos to grilled steak.
Wagamama was one of the first restaurants to bring truly healthy and fresh fast food to London and now has a presence all over Europe, as well as a couple of outlets in Boston, Egypt, Australia and the Middle East. Even though you can find a Wagamama in most city centers in the UK and there are over 25 branches in London alone, I never seem to tire of it!
This award-winning chain serves up tasty pan-Asian inspired food and the prices are great too – ranging between £7 and £12 for a main course. While not the best choice for an intimate meal (tables are shared so you will sit on a long bench with other diners), the speed with which the food comes out the kitchen makes it the perfect place for a pit-stop while sightseeing or shopping, or for a quick pre- or post-theater dinner. My personal favorite is the chicken ramen soup accompanied by the beautifully fresh apple, orange and passion fruit juice.
4. Masala Zone
So we’ve had Italian, Mexican and Pan-Asian, there would have to be room for a good value chain specializing in Britain’s favorite cuisine – Indian food. And Masala Zone seems to be doing just that. Opened in 2001, there are now seven branches dotted around central London. There are undoubtedly a huge number of authentic Indian restaurants in the capital, but if you’re not sure where to start then Masala Zone is a good choice.
The real drawcard is the Thali, a traditional platter of different tastes, including colorful curries, tasty veg, dal, raita and salad. This form of eating is based on the way families eat together in India and is said to offer a wholly balanced meal. Regular Thalis start at £8.70 and, if you’re really hungry, then a Grand Thali still won’t break the bank at £10.95.
5. Busaba Eathai
A trendy Thai chain that now has eight restaurants across London, Busaba serves up tasty Thai salad, soup, curry, wok and stir fry in a sophisticated setting. Square, dark wood tables dominate and diners in smaller groups will often find themselves sharing a table with other groups. However, the pretty candles and low lighting make for a more romantic setting than would ever be achievable at Wagamama.
Mains cost between £6 – £13 and the food is top-notch every time. In addition to the traditional favorites such as green curry and sticky rice, vegetarians will be thrilled to find a Pad Thai Jay on the menu, which is packed with fresh vegetables and tofu, while the more adventurous diner may wish to opt for the garlic pepper ostrich.