House, Restaurant & Bar, National Theatre, Southbank, London SE1

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House is the name of the most upmarket restaurant in the National Theatre complex. It is open from 5pm to 11pm daily, and it does lunch on the afternoons when there is a matinee performance. The décor is modern and understated. The linen is crisp and white. The cutlery, china and glassware are high quality. The sound level is low, so conversation is clear. They give warning announcements when shows are about to start. All in all, the perfect place to meet for pre or post theatre dinner.

They offer a set menu as well as an a la carte. The set menu is good value but the choice can be limited, the only vegetarian option was asparagus for both starter and main course on the day we were there. The a la carte menu is relatively short too, but this is often a good thing, it keeps the quality of the food high. The goat’s cheese brulee starter was delicious, although it was not not particularly brulee. The trout was good too, the presentation of both was excellent.

The steak main course was good, rump cap is not the greatest cut but it was cooked nicely. The plaice was fine too. The nicest of the three mains was the smoked pork belly – the meat was succulent and full of flavour, it went very well with the cabbage, which had a hint of sweetness and a good crispiness.  Once again, care had gone into the presentation, they all looked very appetising as they arrived to the table.

We ordered desert too. Like the other courses, they looked fantastic, tasted good and the portion size was modest. The wine list has a good range but quite expensive for what they are. Service was impeccable, efficient and unobtrusive.

It is usually relatively easy to get a table except on opening nights or press nights. It was less than half full on the evening we were there, but this was after the show. It would be safest to book if you wish to eat just before curtain up.  Everything about House is good; the food, the service, the ambience, but the cynic in me says that they are aware that people will pay a premium for the convenience and this is reflected in their prices.

Campania Gastronomia, Ezra Street, London E2.

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The setting is idyllic. Even for hip and trendy Hoxton, this place has style. Ezra street is a small cobbled lane off Columbia Road. The restaurant itself is set in a Victorian terrace, it appears to have been converted from a shop or a terraced house. You will need to have your wits about you when looking for it, as the shop says S. Jones over the door and the name, Campania, is just written on the window.

The interior is decorated in washed plain wood, the crockery is old fashioned but pretty. It is mismatched, like the tables and chairs. It has a 1940s or 50s feel inside. The yard of the house has been covered over and holds a large benched table that seats about ten, this would be a good place to bring a big group. There are also seats outside on the street.

We found the service to be very good, our waitress explained the menu beautifully. The menu is short, but everything does feel home made. Our shared platter to start was lovely, it contained something for everyone. The pasta was made on the premises and it was nice, the risotto was good too. This being in the more fashionable part of town, the prices are at the top end of the price spectrum, without being excessive. The house rose wine, was not cheap, but it was delicious.

It was very busy, Luckily we had booked, as it is quite small, maybe 36 covers, and they appeared to be turning people away all evening. If you are planning to go for lunch or brunch, after visiting the flower market, on a Sunday, you will certainly need to reserve your table. The passageway down the side of the restaurant is pretty, with an old fashioned wooden sash window and a Victorian looking street lamp in a narrow, brick lined, cobbled street. It is very photogenic. If you are going out with visitors to London, this would be a charming, quirky place to take them.

We enjoyed our evening and would definitely return.

The Devonshire, Balham High Road, Balham, London

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There are very many pubs in Balham and the competition is fierce. The Devonshire has many things going for it. It is huge, so it is very good if there is a big group of you who wish to meet up. It has a large back garden with cabanas which are nice in summer when it does barbeques. It is an old Victorian looking pub that hasn’t been messed around with much, so it still has a quaint old English pub type vibe going on, despite its size, this makes it a good place to bring visitors to the UK, for a typically British, Pub Sunday Roast.
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We have eaten here a number of times, both for Sunday lunch and in the evening when it also does food,  and it has always been pretty good, not cheap but reliable. We met with a group of friends, 10 of us, for Sunday lunch. The food was okay but the service was dreadful. Our waitress told us that we should use her for table service rather than go to the bar for our drinks. We promptly ordered and then watched them sit on the bar for 15 minutes until we went and got them ourselves. The place was busy but it wasn’t packed. I saw others complaining about the service too. The problem with ours was that it was slow and very offhand.
The food was slow to arrive, and there was another 15 minutes between the first person being served and the last. This did not ruin our meal as we did not stand on ceremony and everybody ate when their food arrived. The root vegetable pie was very nice, if very cheesy. The sausage and mash was pretty good, but the roast beef was not as good as we would have expected. The wine list is ok and both the house white and the house rose were enjoyed by the group.
As we waited to order our last round of drinks and get the bill, our waitress was nowhere to be found. I asked the manager to find her, but she was unable to and eventually brought the bill herself. As I paid, our waitress appeared. the manager just looked at me and rolled her eyes.
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This is a worrying state of affairs for a large pub in an area where there is a surfeit of good eating opportunities.  Although the Devonshire is a pub which has a number of good points, I suspect we shall be trying a different one next time.

Hawksmoor, Deansgate, Manchester

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I like the Hawksmoor ethos. They eschew ostentation. They keep it simple. They do it well. Hawksmoor Manchester stick to this blueprint. The décor is wood panelling, wooden floors, leather banquettes, and solid tables nicely spaced. The have proper napkins, good plain crockery, and the cutlery is steel and sturdy.

The menu is relatively short but you can be sure that everything on there is  prepared to a high standard. On the night we went, the potted beef with Yorkshire pudding was an excellent starter. The Caesar salad had romaine lettuce, anchovies, parmesan, croutons, and plain but perfect Caesar dressing. The fillet was high quality, soft and tender; even though it was rare, and the rib-eye had just the right amount of fat to bring out the flavour of the meat. This is all as you would expect from the Hawksmoor brand. The chips were full cut and well cooked. The mac and cheese, which we ordered as a side, was indulgent.

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The wine by the glass was excellent, the Malbec robust and rich, and the Pinot Grigio Rose was dry and pale, possibly the nicest I have had. The service was impeccable, just as it always is at a Hawksmoor restaurant, never too close but always at hand when you want something.

If I  have a misgiving about Hawksmoor Manchester, it is the bar. The area here veers toward the austere. It feels a bit more like a church vestibule than a comfortable place to chat and wait for friends. They have good wines and all sorts of premium spirits, but their beer list is short, and it has little recognisable on it.

The restaurant is not cheap, but you get what you pay for. Everything is of the highest quality, and if you want somewhere that you can rely on to deliver a fine dinner, in pleasant surroundings, with polished service; then Hawksmoor Manchester should be one of the first places that you consider.

Brasserie Zedel, Piccadilly Circus, London.

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Here is a restaurant and bar complex with the Wow! factor. This really is a hidden gem. Its address is Piccadilly Circus because it is underneath it, but to find Brasserie Zedel, you need to stand on the corner between Regent Street and Shaftsbury Avenue and look up the narrower street between them. Its entrance is actually in Glasshouse street, you will see a few tables and chairs outside, under a red awning.  Enter the unassuming looking café with and descend the circular staircase and you will arrive at a subterranean vestibule that looks like the set of a 1950s French film.
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This alone is surprising, it has a number of  doors and passages off it. One for coats, one for toilettes, one with a dinner suited man inviting you to the Bar Americaine, a post WWII, French/American style cocktail bar. One of the doors leads to Brasserie Zedel, a huge opulent ornate dining room, replicating a high end Parisian restaurant from some more glamourous era.
The room is very big and it is decorated in pink marble, polished chrome and mirrors, which makes it seems even larger when you first enter. It is busy and noisy and you feel like you have stepped into some hidden world. It is hard to believe that you are beneath Piccadilly Circus.
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The menu is French, and in French but our waiter offered to translate, if we needed. The food is good, without being as spectacular as the surroundings. The prices are reasonable for central London and there appears to be some good value fixe price offers available. Despite its size, it is worth booking or there is a good chance that you will eat sitting at the bar, this is perfectly comfortable place to eat, but if you come here, you will want to get the full experience.
It has a nice wine and cocktail list, many good wines by the glass and wine by the bottle seemed good value for the quality. The service is good, although there are so many staff that you will be served by many different people on the one visit.
Our experience here has been good, and it is very handily situated if you are looking for somewhere to eat, either before or after the theatre.
The real reason to go here, however, is for the amazement of your party when you bring them into such an astonishing venue, so centrally located, in the heart of London.
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Brasserie Blanc, Trinity Square, London

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The view from this member of Raymond Blanc’s brasseries is spectacular, from your table you overlook the crenellations of the Tower of London, with Tower Bridge in the background.
We ate from the Fixe Price menu and found the fare a little more average. The beetroot salad was nice and the soup good, but only lukewarm, we considered asking for it to be reheated, but in the end did not.
The mains were ok. My steak was good but small, the Beef Lyonnais were a little less tender than amazing and the cod was reportedly delicious after we had sent it back to be reheated.
The apple crumble was the highlight of the meal. the apple retained its consistency beautifully and the crumble was perfectly crisp and short. The chocolate pudding was also nice but once again had to be sent for reheating, as it was cold in the centre.
The waitress was excellent; very helpful and quite attentive, she brought us small glasses of the rose wines to try when we enquired about their flavours. The wine list looked very good, by the way, and not outrageously priced for central London.
Overall, this restaurant is decent, but go primarily for the view and you will not be disappointed.