Show stoppers: The best pre-theatre menus in London

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Pre-theatre menus. Three words guaranteed to strike fear into the heart of many a discerning London foodie. Often dressed up as Prix Fixe or Chef’s Menus, theatregoers have long been left to choose between disappointingly subpar set menus or the Covent Garden branch of Pizza Express – neither of which is going to get your big night out in the West End off to a great start.

Well, no more. Never ones to let a smart business opportunity pass them by, London’s greatest theatre-adjacent restaurants have spotted a gap in the market and begun offering pre-theatre menus to rival any a la carte fare. The only downside? You’ll be having such a good time you might just miss the first act.

Norma, Fitzrovia

This upscale Sicilian restaurant located in a pretty three-storey townhouse on Charlotte Street delivers old-school Italian hospitality in spades and is guaranteed to put you in a good mood for the evening’s entertainment. Its pre-theatre menu, which is available Monday – Saturday, is a lesson in refined classics just like Nonna used to make. Think: focaccia and olives for snacking followed by chickpea panelle, rabbit ragu, and caponata all topped off with homemade gelato.

Price: £27 for two courses, £30 for three courses

Close to: Dominion Theatre, The Shaftesbury Theatre, London Palladium

Address: 8 Charlotte Street, W1T 2LS,

Penelope’s, Covent Garden

penelope's covent garden

Tucked away under one of Covent Garden’s newest hotels, Amano, Penelope’s draws on the cuisines of Spain and Israel to serve up delectable dishes with a side order of raucous fun. Offering seriously good cocktails and DJs every weekend, stop in before the show for dinner and return for a nightcap that may well extend into the wee hours after. The pre-theatre menu is bursting with Mediterranean-inflected comfort foods, such as stuffed Piquillo peppers, chicken shawarma and baklava cheesecake, so make sure you leave plenty of room.

Price: £25 for two courses, £28 for three courses

Close to: Theatre Royal Drury Lane, Aldwych Theatre, Novello Theatre, Royal Opera House

Address: 34-43 Russell Street, WC2B 5HA,

Sussex, Soho

sussex restaurant soho

This elegant Soho brasserie helmed by chef Oliver Gladwin put the emphasis on seasonal produce, game and ingredients that represent the best of Britain. Its pre-theatre menu is an interesting one, designed for two to share and based entirely around a centrepiece beef Wellington served with roast potatoes and seasonal greens. Accompanied by a pre-starter of mushroom marmite eclair, starters of cured Chalkstream trout or cured meats and pickles, plus a seasonal dessert, at £48 per person, it’s excellent value too.

Price: £48 per person

Close to: Prince Edward Theatre, Soho Theatre, Phoenix Theatre, Sondheim Theatre

Address: 63-64 Frith Street, W1D 3JW,

Pivot, Covent Garden

With a prime position overlooking Covent Garden piazza, there are few restaurants that boast such close proximity to Theatreland – and great food to boot. Chef Mark Greenaway is behind the pots and pans, cooking up wholesome classics guaranteed to satiate the appetites of diners aged 9 to 90. The pre-theatre here is one of the most extensive on this list, available as one-, two- or three-course options and with or without wine. There’s also plenty of choice at each course: having to decide whether you’ll have the chicken and hazelnut terrine or the broad bean and pea salad, the chicken with mushroom and tarragon cream sauce or the roast cod, truly is the definition of a champagne problem.

Price: £25 for one course, £32 for two courses, £38 for three courses

Close to: Vaudeville Theatre, Adelphi Theatre, Lyceum Theatre

Address: 3 Henrietta Street, WC2E 8LU,

St Martin’s House, Covent Garden

st martin's house restaurant

Tucked away at the top end of St Martin’s Lane, St Martin’s House promises to be a sanctuary of refinement and fine dining among the tourist traps of Covent Garden. Take a seat in the chicly decorated subterranean space and peruse pre-theatre menus full of crowd-pleasing favourites guaranteed to sustain you through even the longest West End epic. Start with a traditional French onion soup or Cornish crab before moving on to classics such as beer-battered fish and chip, Lancashire hot pot and lentil stew (remembering, of course, to leave room for a little creme brulee or sticky toffee pudding for dessert). And after dinner? Well, you’re just a hop, skip and jump (or overly stuffed stroll) from Covent Garden’s biggest theatres.

Price: £21 for two courses; £24 for three courses 

Close to: St Martin’s Theatre, Noel Coward Theatre, Wyndham’s Theatre, London Coliseum 

Address: 4a Upper St Martin’s Lane, WC2H 9NY,

Sushisamba, Covent Garden

sushisamba pre-theatre menu

You’d think it would be difficult to top the views at London’s original Sushisamba in the City’s Heron Tower, yet the panorama on offer at the Covent Garden outpost of the Japanese-Brazilian-Peruvian fusion restaurant comes close. Enjoying a rooftop spot that runs the entire east side of the Grade II-listed Market Building (the glass-domed structure in Covent Garden’s main courtyard), the Eric Parry-designed restaurant overlooks the market’s historic Piazza, the Royal Opera House and Theatre Royal Drury Lane. Nab a table during a dusky-pink sunset and you’re in for a real treat.

Inside, Sushisamba Covent Garden is even more impressive than its sister restaurant in the Square Mile. A riot of bright colours, overhanging foliage, velvet booths, striking lighting and statement black-and-white floor tiles make this one of London’s most dazzlingly-designed restaurants. The pre-theatre menu is served Monday to Friday from 12pm until 6pm. Favourites that make it over from the main menu include ribeye anticuchos, tuna ceviche, veggie samba rolls, poussin teriyaki and Robata-grilled miso-glazed salmon.

Price: £36 for three courses 

Close to: Apollo Theatre, Savoy Theatre, Adelphi Theatre, Lyceum Theatre 

Address: 35 The Market, WC2E,

Cafe Murano, Covent Garden

cafe murano restaurant

Tucked away on a quiet(ish) street just off the main Covent Garden square, this smart Italian eatery from lauded chef Angela Hartnett hits that sweet spot of sophisticated eating in central London that feels neither touristy nor extravagantly priced. This is particularly true of its extremely reasonable lunch and pre-theatre set menu, which will give you change from £30 for three courses of some of the most authentic Italian cuisine in the capital. Choose from delicacies including bruschetta with tomato and anchovy, fusilli alla norma, and a delightful dolce of poached peaches with ricotta cream and pistachios. Not on the set menu (but well worth making a return booking for) is Cafe Murano’s signature, and utterly decadent, gnocchi with girolles and summer truffle.

Price: £23 for two courses, £28 for three courses

Close to: Royal Opera House, Aldwych Theatre, Fortune Theatre, Theatre Royal Drury Lane

Address: 36 Tavistock Street, WC2E,

Nopi, Soho

nopi soho

Long praised for its innovative approach to restaurant dining – which popularised the use of communal tables and focuses on bold flavours and shared plates – it’s no surprise that Ottolenghi’s take on the pre-theatre menu at Nopi is a little unconventional. Instead of being priced by course, the menu offers a selection of small sharing plates with dishes made larger or smaller depending on the number of diners. Highlights include roasted aubergine with tahini yoghurt, sour cherry molasses and spiced pumpkin seeds, and baked cod with spiced red pepper and peanuts. This is also one of the few pre-theatre menus in London to come with a paired wine flight – which is well worth the extra expense.

Price: £35 per person, £51.80 including wine

Close to: Sondheim Theatre, Gielgud Theatre, Piccadilly Theatre, London Palladium

Address: 21-22 Warwick Street, W1B,

Frenchie, Covent Garden

frenchie covent garden

The London outpost of Greg Marchand’s Michelin-starred Parisian brasserie of the same name, Frenchie has long been a go-to for modern French fine dining in the heart of the West End. Its pre-theatre menu is only available at lunch and from 5.30-6pm, so you’ll need to plan in advance to secure a table, but it also offers exceptional value for cooking of this standard. Dictated by the seasons, current standout dishes include smoked mackerel rillette, gooseberry, pickled cucamelons and elderflower mayonnaise, crispy pork bellet with candy beetroot, sweet harissa and sorrel, and a decadent banoffee, nutmeg and caramelised pecan dessert.

Price: £29 for two courses, £34 for three courses

Close to: Apollo Theatre, Savoy Theatre, Adelphi Theatre, Lyceum Theatre

Address: 16 Henrietta Street, WC2E,

The Delaunay, Covent Garden

the delaunay covent garden

Taking its cues from the historic cafes of Europe, The Delaunay is a grand all-day restaurant from the Wolseley Hospitality Group. Located practically next door to a clutch of the West End’s most popular shows, The Delaunay has taken its pre-theatre offering one step further and teamed up with many theatres to offer discounted dinner-and-a-show packages. Current partnerships include Cabaret, Back to the Future and Tina: The Tina Turner Musical, while the food offering is of the time-honoured classics variety, featuring the likes of Severn & Wye smoked salmon, spatchcock chick with salsa verde, and dark chocolate mousse.

Price: Two courses for £29.75, three courses for £34.75

Close to: Royal Opera House, Aldwych Theatre, Fortune Theatre, Gillian Lynne Theatre

Address: 55 Aldwych, WC2B,

Bocca di Lupo, Soho

bocca di lupo restaurant

Founded by Jacob Kennedy and Victor Hugo in 2008, there are few more appetising places for dinner before Les Misérables (showing at the Sondheim Theatre just down the road) than Bocca di Lupo. This buzzy Italian restaurant, which focuses on authentic, hearty regional fare, offers a no-choice theatre menu until 6.30pm every weekday, treating guests to a starter, main and salad for an astonishing £15 (dessert and coffee can be added for an extra £5). The menu is seasonal but currently features rigatoni with ricotta, escarole with lemon dressing, piattoni bean with roast tomatoes and basil, and poached pear with granita.

Price: £15 (£5 supplement for dessert and coffee)

Close to: Lyric Theatre, Gielgud Theatre, Sondheim Theatre

Address: 12 Archer Street, W1D,

Hawksmoor, Soho and Covent Garden

hawksmoor air street london

Avert your eyes from the Piccadilly Circus branch of the Aberdeen Angus Steak House and instead set a course for the far better Hawksmoor steak chain, which has restaurants conveniently located for theatregoers on Air Street in Soho and Seven Dials in Covent Garden. The Express Menu, which is available from 12-3pm and 5-6.30pm from Monday to Saturday, is essentially a list of the restaurant’s greatest hits, including its potted beef and bacon with Yorkshire puddings to start, 35 day-aged rump steak for main, and sticky toffee sundae for dessert. Vegetarians are also well catered to thanks to the likes of summer vegetable salad with Scottish goats curd and heritage tomato salad with Ticklemore cheese.

Price: Two courses for £27, three courses for £31

Close to: Lyric Theatre, Apollo Theatre, St Martin’s Theatre, Donmar Warehouse

Address: 5a Air Street, W1J; 11 Langley Street, WC2H,

Read more: The best restaurants in Mayfair

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