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The BFI London Film Festival (12-27 October) has pitched up for 2011 with a packed schedule, and will be showing films at various locations across the city, including Southbank, Leicester Square, central London, South Kensington and Brixton. If you’re looking to make a day or night of your trip to the flicks, Square Meal has suggestions for where to eat before or after the film – and why.
Comprising a central bar, laid-back chill-out area and a light, airy dining room, this casual eatery, run by consummate professionals Benugo, becomes a hive of activity during the festival, gearing its food towards film buffs hankering after a quick bite: try the slow-braised squid and haricot beans, served with springy focaccia, followed by tiramisu.
Booking is essential at this atmospheric restaurant, which is always packed at peak pre- and post-theatre times. There’s a good reason for its popularity, though: the fresh, seasonal food on offer includes pork terrine with cornichons and parsley salad, or salt-baked sea bass to share. If you can’t get a table, small plates are available in the downstairs bar.
For no-nonsense British dishes with ‘a slightly cheffy twist’, head to the Royal Festival Hall branch of this well-executed chain. With its relaxed and accommodating vibe, Canteen welcomes all-day diners, and the ‘fast menu’ is ideal for grabbing a quick bite before a screening.
This trendy Indian diner’s speedy service, sharing ethos and proximity to Leicester Square means that you’ll be fed and out the door before you know it. Just remember to make the queue in time to beat the no bookings policy.
This theatreland stalwart is used to getting pre-theatre diners out the door quickly and serves comme il faut renditions of classic comfort food in starry surroundings. Go for the dressed crab, pan-fried skate wing with capers, Dover sole or lobster thermidor, or weekly specials such salt-baked sea bass with fennel hearts.
At dinner half the tables at this pint-sized Venetian eatery are given over to bookings, and the rest are kept free for walk-in evening guests. Whether you’re looking to eat before or after your movie, you should be able to squeeze in for cicheti such as duck-and-porcini meatballs, pizzete and a carafe of Italian wine.
If you’re looking for a lunchtime pitstop before or after a film, Mayfair’s top restaurants are a good place to start: many of the best-value set menus can be found at the most chi-chi of establishments. Corrigan’s is a case in point, offering three courses for £27 – and it’s just a stone’s throw from the Curzon cinema.
Still one of the best restaurants in London, Le Gavroche’s set menu has an almost cult following, offering three fabulously rich and determinedly old-fashioned courses plus wine for £48.90. Be warned, however, that reservations are essential – and a few hours in a comfortable cinema chair might see you having a post-prandial snooze rather than a cultural outing.
This Italian newcomer plays to the crowds with its pre-theatre-friendly approach to dining: small sharing plates come to the table as and when they’re ready, including dishes such as stuffed artichokes and peppers, pizzettine, or traditional beef carpaccio.
Jameson whisky, sponsor of the BFI London Film Festival, is hosting a pop-up 1920s’-style speakeasy bar with a cinematic theme during the event. The bar will be located on Greek Street; guests who make it to the secret location and whisper the password into a phone can expect cult cocktails, mixology masterclasses and film-inspired quizzes. To get in on the action, visit www.jamesoncultfilmclub.com.
Casual Spanish dining is the name of the game at this handsome tapas restaurant. From plates of charcuterie and cheese to tortilla española, all the classics are here and executed in style. It’s just a quick stroll round the corner from the Institut Français and the alfresco terrace is a boon on mild days.
For all-day dining with a Scandinavian bent head to Madsen. At lunchtime, the emphasis is on fast-paced ‘smushi’ – a smaller version of traditional Danish smørrebrød (open sandwiches) with all manner of toppings; later on in the day, an accessible set menu mixes traditional dishes such as frikadeller (meatballs) with more avant-garde options.
A stone’s throw from the Albert Hall, Racine is a dab hand at pre-theatre menus, and its prix fixe (£15.50 for two course; £17.75 for three; until 8pm) plays to its strengths of earthy Gallic cuisine, from rabbit-and-duck confit to filet au poivre.
This once-dingy destination is enjoying a bit of a moment thanks to an influx of arty new boutiques, cafes and restaurants, and, consequently, the venue’s slow-but-sure gentrification. All the restaurants are worth a visit, but standout options include hot Thai eatery Khao Sarn, burger joint Honest Burgers, and the modern-and-minimal Cornercopia. Don’t be fooled by the venue: reserve a table to be sure of a seat.
This upmarket mini-chain does a decent line in burgers and chips, all washed down with cracking cocktails. After your film, kick back in a faux-vintage chair and enjoy music from live DJs that ranges from indie to soul-funk.
Brixton’s cinema is a bit of a hipster destination in itself, offering burgers and beers with the best of them in a buzzing environment. Try for a table seat out in Windrush Square, or cosy up in the bar area while you dissect your film.