Social eating: where to share a table of ‘small plates’

It’s nice to be sociable, and never more so that when food’s concerned – there’s something about ordering together and sharing everything that brings a table to life. And it isn’t a pleasure that’s confined to one food culture; there are versions of social eating from the Mediterranean, from Spanish, from the Middle East, from China… you get the picture. Here in the West End, we’ve got many of those styles covered just a short walk away. These are some of our favourites.

Barrafina for tapas

Don’t arrive at Barrafina hungry – or if you do, make sure it’s bang on midday, when the place opens. The fabulously authentic tapas bar – modelled on Cal Pep in Barcelona – has only 20 or so stools and takes no reservations. In other words, you can expect a queue, though there are drinks and nibbles available to tide you over. Once you reach the front, it’s a marvel of simple cooking and kitchen choreography, with chefs turning out vibrant pan con tomates, crispy-gooey tortillas and meat and fish specials (including plenty of offal, if your tastes go that way) from behind a small L-shaped bar. It isn’t relaxing, but it’s a real experience – and every bit worth the wait.

  • Address: 54 Frith Street, W1D 4SL
  • Walking time: 13 minutes

Sofra for meze

There’s a great sharing tradition in Middle Eastern food, and Sofra, just around the corner off Aldwych, serves a wide range, with a particular focus on Turkey. We love the lamb with aubergine puree – tender chunks of grilled meat on a soft, smoky puree, with natural yogurt and garlic to give it a tangy edge – but you’ll want to try 90% of the menu, so bring as many friends as you can, order generously and get stuck in. There’s also a good-value set menu that offers eight small meze plates plus a main for £14.95 (£11.95 before 6pm).

  • Address: 36 Tavistock Street, WC2E 7PB
  • Walking time: 4 minutes

Yauatcha for dim sum

It may not be cheap, but this Michelin-starred Soho spot puts a modern, brilliantly presented twist on the Cantonese tradition of bite-size delicacies. You’ll find crowd-pleasers like soft-shell crab and prawn toast alongside more niche – but very authentic – offerings like chicken feet in black bean sauce. The two dining rooms are chic, low-lit, and packed with young, chatty diners, so although this is top-end dining, it still has the energy and exuberance of the best social eating. And if you haven’t filled up on dim sum, there’s also an amazing patisserie counter whose exquisite creations could pass for sculpture (though then you wouldn’t get to eat them).

  • Address: 15-17 Broadwick Street, Soho, W1F 0D
    • Walking time: 17 minutes

    Terroirs for French-inspired plates

    This isn’t the first time we’ve mentioned Terroirs, so we’ll keep it brief – its menu of small plates, cheese and charcuterie borrows from France, Italy and Britain, and is perfect for sharing, particularly over a bottle from the unmatched wine list.

    • Address: 5 William IV Street, WC2N 4DW
    • Walking time: 4 minutes

    Great value set meals at Michelin-starred restaurants

    Joel Robuchon, chef patron of one of our choices below, describes London as ‘the culinary capital of Europe’. To judge from the liberal dusting of Michelin stars in the West End, he has a point. Whether you want formal fine dining, a buzzy modern bistro or innovative world food, you’ll find a wide range of world-class restaurants near to us in Soho and Covent Garden, and almost all of them offer prix fixe menus – in other words, opportunities to sample award-winning cuisine for a very reasonable price. Here are five fantastic options within walking distance of our door…

    Lunch menu at L’Atelier De Joel Robuchon

    Your first decision at Joel Robuchon is whether to sit upstairs or downstairs. While the first floor offers (fairly) traditional table service, diners on the ground floor sit at wooden counters surrounding island kitchens, watching and interacting with the chefs. And what the chefs put out is wonderfully opulent – lobster ravioli in a ginger broth, quail stuffed with foie gras. In the words of the Michelin guide itself, “Dishes may look elegant, but they pack a punch.” At £31 for two courses and £36 for three it’s the most expensive fixed-price menu on our list, but you won’t regret paying a little extra.

    • Address: 13-15 West Street, WC2H 9NE
    • Walking time: 10 minutes
    • Look out for:
      • Bedford Street and Southampton street, built on the site of Bedford House (demolished 1705) and the subsequent Bedford Estate
      • Garrick Street, named after actor David Garrick (1717 – 1779). The Garrick Club was founded in 1831 and still has premises here

    Set lunch and pre-theatre menu at Lima

    A Michelin-starred Peruvian restaurant in the West End? Yes, you heard right. If you’re new to the cuisine, Robert Ortiz’s menu will be full of surprises – look out for ‘tiger milk’, aka the fish-infused juice left over from a ceviche, and the bright yellow aji pepper, a staple of Peruvian cuisine. The tasting menu is series of fresh, eye-opening jewels, but comes in at £48 per person – more affordable is the set menu, at two courses for £20 and three courses for £23. Available at lunchtimes and evening guests who arrive between 5.30pm and 6pm.

    • Address: 21 Romilly Street, W1D 5AF
    • Walking time: 12 minutes
    • Look out for:
      • Bow Street, once home to the headquarters of the ‘Bow Street Runners’ – London’s first professional police force. It was a minor street until it was extended north onto Long Acre in 1793
      • Endell Street, built as a relief road in the 1840s as an influx of Irish workers led to overcrowding in the area. At no. 24 is the former British Lying-In Hospital, once the oldest maternity hospital in London, now a private members’ club

    Working Lunch / Weekender at Arbutus

    Opened in May 2006 and starred in January 2007, Arbutus is now a popular fixture in Soho. Head chef Anthony Demetre counts Marco Pierre White among his former teachers, and it shows in a menu of refined but gutsy bistro food. As it happens, Arbutus’s A La Carte is good value for Michelin-starred dining in the West End – mains rarely stray over £20 – but it offers a range of cheaper options: for a quick bite try the daily plat du jour with wine for £10, or go for the £19.95 three-course ‘Working Lunch’ and ‘Weekender’ menus offered during the day.

    • Address: 63-64 Frith St, London W1D 3JW
    • Walking time: 14 minutes
    • Look out for:
      • Bedford Street and Southampton street, built on the site of Bedford House (demolished 1705) and the subsequent Bedford Estate
      • Garrick Street, named after actor David Garrick (1717 – 1779). The Garrick Club was founded in 1831 and still has premises here

    Taste of Hakkasan

    Global brand Hakkasan is justly famous for its chic, knowledgable take on Cantonese food, but it’s also eye-wateringly expensive for the average diner – the signature sharing dish of Peking duck with caviar will set you back some £250. Thankfully, the original restaurant in Soho’s Hanway Place offers a two-course sample menu for a much friendlier £28. It starts with a plate of Hakkasan’s legendary dim sum, followed by a choice of five mains, including the gorgeous butterflied-and-roasted ‘pipa duck’. A vegetarian menu is available at the same price.

    • Address: 8 Hanway Place, W1T 1HD
    • Walking time: 17 minutes
      • Look out for:
      • Bow Street, once home to the headquarters of the ‘Bow Street Runners’ – London’s first professional police force. It was a minor street until it was extended north onto Long Acre in 1793
      • Endell Street, built as a relief road in the 1840s as an influx of Irish workers led to overcrowding in the area. At no. 24 is the former British Lying-In Hospital, once the oldest maternity hospital in London, now a private members’ club

    Prix Fixe lunch at Social Eating House

    This is our kind of Michelin-starred dining: funky, relaxed and utterly delicious. It’s part of the empire of Jason Atherton, who rose to fame as a lieutenant of superchef Gordon Ramsay in the noughties. Head chef Paul Hood crafts an inventive, British-inspired bistro menu – expect Cornish fish, Romney Marsh lamb and Scottish venison. The Prix Fixe offers limited choice – two starters, two mains, three puds – but at £19 for two courses and £23 for three, it’s cracking value for food of this standard. Available at lunchtime Monday to Saturday.

    • Address: 58 Poland Street, W1F 7NR
    • Walking time: 19 minutes
    • Look out for:
      • Bedford Street and Southampton street, built on the site of Bedford House (demolished 1705) and the subsequent Bedford Estate
      • Zimbabwe House, designed by key London Underground architect Charles Holden
      • Garrick Street, named after actor David Garrick (1717 – 1779). The Garrick Club was founded in 1831 and still has premises here
      • Leicester Square, created when the Earl of Leicester bought and built on the land in the 17th Century
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