They say money can’t buy you happiness, but it certainly helps when it comes to dating. In an ideal world we would all love to take our Valentine’s date to Clos Maggiore, go for after-drinks at Oblix in the Shard, before taking a limousine to our private plane, and jetting off to Paris. Sigh. Reality is however, a little bit more limiting. You can still have a romantic (and tasty) time without having to reach too far into your pockets though, as these cheap restaurant date ideas prove.
All Star Lanes, Bayswater, Brick Lane, Holborn, Shepherd’s Bush and Stratford
Why: Bowling is the perfect idea for one of your first dates. Firstly, because it gives you something to do other than talk, and secondly, because it lets you see just how competitive your date is. At All Star Lanes, you can also take advantage of the restaurant and bar serving American classics such as barbecue-glazed baby back ribs, and nacho cheeseburgers. The drink, dine and bowl package is definitely good value for money too!
Where: 6 Porchester Gardens, W2 4DB; 95 Brick Lane, E1 6QL; Victoria House, Bloomsbury Place, WC1B 4DA; Westfield London Shopping Centre, Ariel Way, W12 7FU; Second floor, Westfield Stratford City, E20 1ET
How much: Drink, dine and bowl package, £30
Balans Soho Society, various locations
Why: Balans Soho Society is a flexible and safe choice for a date. The cosmopolitan vibe and please-all menu are ideal for cash-strapped romantics. Turn up for a dinner date and try buttermilk chicken Caesar sliders, or the Cornish crab linguine. Out on a late one with your date? Fear not, as the ‘Infamous Balans Burger’ is available on the night time menu. If it’s the morning after your date (lucky you), you can enjoy the likes of steak and two eggs any way from the brunch menu.
Where: Various locations
How much: Small plates from £6
Bancone, Covent Garden
Why: There’s nothing more romantic than Italian food (except maybe French) so, you will do well to go to this pasta specialist. We recommend sharing three plates of antipasti, such as the fried polenta, Portobello mushroom and lardo, before having one pasta dish each. For example, the silk handkerchiefs, walnut butter and confit egg yolk – stick to this and you’ll be able to keep your bill to around £40 between the two of you.
Where: 39 William IV Street, WC2N 4DD
How much: Pasta from £8.50
Berber & Q, Hackney and Clerkenwell
Why: Mixing smoky barbecue flavours with North African and Middle Eastern cuisines, Berber & Q has continued to impress with its explosive flavours. The grill house in Hackney offers dishes such as cheeseburger kofta and burnt baba ganoush. Meanwhile, the Clerkenwell shawarma bar serves (you guessed it) shawarma dishes such as cauliflower and lamb. Share a little chuckle with your date over cocktail names such as the ‘Dirty Sultan’, an ice-breaker if we ever saw one.
Where: Arch 338, Acton Mews, E8 4EA; 46 Exmouth Market, EC1R 4QE
How much: Mezze from £5.50
Why: Another Middle Eastern bargain for budget conscious daters, this Iranian restaurant is a snug little eatery to get to know your date in. Start off by sharing a few small plates, which include the likes of feta, radish, nuts and fresh herbs, or grilled calves liver with onion salad and lavash bread. Next up, grab a posh kebab such as the minced goat shoulder, onions and black pepper, or the poussin marinated in chilli, garlic, sumac and red pepper paste.
Where: 27 Romilly Street, W1D 5AL
How much: Kebabs from £10
Blacklock City, Shoreditch and Soho
Why: Ok first things first, we only recommend going to Blacklock if you’re far enough into your relationship that you don’t mind seeing each other covered in grease and meat juices. You see, Blacklock can be described as dark, moody and meaty (don’t bring a vegetarian/vegan date here) and it also makes for a cheap and heavenly combination. The ‘All in’ to share is a great deal for a cheap date, as it includes the pre-chop bites, all of the day’s skinny chops piled on coal flatbread and a side each – you can’t go wrong.
Where: 13 Philpot Lane, EC3M 8AA; 28-30 Rivington Street, EC2A 3DZ; The Basement, 24 Great Windmill Street, W1D 7LG
How much: ‘All in’, £20 per person
Brasserie Zédel, Soho
Why: Typically French food, especially in London, is not particularly cheap. However, Brasserie Zédel defies expectations on price, despite its location in Piccadilly Circus. Throw in the fact that this restaurant is both glitzy and gloriously art-deco, it’s a great value spot for frugal couples. The prix-fixe three-course meal for £13.75 includes shredded carrots with a Dijon dressing, steak haché and a chocolate tart. If you’re willing to push the boat out a little more with the ‘formule’ menu, you get options and a glass of wine included.
Where: 20 Sherwood Street, W1F 7ED
How much: Prix-fixe menu, £13.75; Formule menu, £19.75
Casa do Frango, Borough
Why: Gorgeous rustic vibes, hanging greenery and a giant skylight will set the mood at this Portuguese joint, where flame-licked chicken glazed with spicy piri piri sauce is the focus. But don’t worry, while its prices are akin to Nando’s, Casa Do Frango is in a different league. Small plates take the form of dishes such as grilled chorizo, and octopus rice, while mains see chicken cuts with your choice of sauce and sides.
Where: 32 Southwark Street, SE1 1TU
How much: Chicken from £9.50
Dishoom, Carnaby,Covent Garden, Kensington, King’s Cross and Shoreditch
Why: With plenty of sites across London, you and your date won’t have to travel too far to make it to a Dishoom. This restaurant (much like Balans Soho Society) gives a cheap restaurant date option for other times of day. Open until midnight for food such as gunpowder potatoes and kemma pau, or for breakfast were you can have the now famous bacon naan, to help recoup from the night’s exertions.
Where: 22 Kingly Street, W1B 5QB; 12 Upper St Martins Lane, WC2H 9FB, 4 Derry Street, W8 5SE; 5 Stable Street, N1C 4AB; 7 Boundary Street, E2 7JE
How much: Dishes start from £2.90
Fat Baby, Hackney
Why: Fat Baby is part of the nightclub Night Tales, which makes an obvious choice for your after-dinner entertainment. Despite looking like a casual beach bar, Fat Baby is a proper restaurant. The menu is succinct; a handful of snacks, sides and options from the grill. These include Korean fried chicken, tenderstem broccoli, and sweet soy quail kushiyaki. A sole option for pudding is the sweet white miso ice cream. The menu may be small but the prices are more than reasonable.
Where: Arches 14 & 15, Bohemia Place, Mare Street, E8 1DU
How much: Dishes start from £2
Why: Hankies is the perfect place to enjoy the surroundings of a fine-dining experience on a date without having to pay through the nose for it. Glitzy light fittings and gold cutlery may seem fancy but this restaurants casual Indian menu will keep the date on budget. A selection of small bites includes crispy duck with masala cashew nuts, spicy chicken and spring onion ravioli, and lentil dumplings. Highlights from the bigger plates includes the peshwari tikka, and butter chicken.
Where: 61 Berkeley Street, W1H 7PP
How much: Small bites start from £4
Hoppers, Soho and St Christopher’s Place
Why: The original Hoppers in Soho is a very popular and small restaurant serving Sri Lankan cuisine. Unfortunately, the Soho restaurant takes no reservations so, to make sure you don’t have a disappointing date it may be best to book ahead at the St Christopher’s Place branch. Cheap but tasty dishes include the muttons rolls, egg hopper and lamb kothu roti. So, there is no concern that you’ll be leaving hungry with empty pockets and an irate date.
Where: 49 Frith Street, W1D 4SG; 77 Wigmore Street, W1U 1QE
How much: Prices start from £5
Why: Not far away from Shoreditch Boxpark (also a good idea for a cheap and casual first date) is Lahpet. It’s a great choice for a cheap lunch date, with its 30 minute lunch menu which includes a choice of side, salad, and a main – a bowl of catfish and lemongrass chowder, coconut noodles with chicken, or shan noodles. Head for a dinner date and you’ll still be able to keep your meal low-cost, with dishes like pork and mustard green curry, and stuffed aubergine.
Where: 58 Bethnal Green Road, E1 6EW
How much: 30 minute lunch menu, £12.50
Le Petit Citron, Shepherd’s Bush
Why: Nothing sounds more romantic than sitting in a little French bistro in Paris with a view of Seine and the Notre Dame. If Paris is out of reach for your budget though, you should check out this authentic Provençal-style restaurant in Shepherd’s bush. French posters, soft lighting and chequered paper tablecloths make this an intimate environment for a date. Dishes such as confit belly pork with Dijon mustard and pain perdu au chocolat are heart-warming, and won’t hurt your wallet either.
Where: 98-100 Shepherd’s Bush Road, W6 7PD
How much: Three-course set menu, £18.95
Mr Bao, Peckham
Why: If you’re keeping it ‘chill’ on your date, it may be worth avoiding your traditional three-courses, and choosing somewhere where you can just pick away at lots of little dishes. In that case, Mr Bao is a great shout, with lots of fun and sticky sweet dishes. Our favourites are the Taiwanese sausage, and the ‘bao diddley’ chicken of tender pulled chicken, wasabi and kimchi. The rich and fried dessert bao with chocolate and toasted marshmallow is not to be missed either. Thankfully, these small plates come with an equally small price tag.
Where: 293 Rye Lane, SE15 4UA
How much: Dishes start from £2
Why: Oldroyd is located on the chain-heavy Upper Street, which means you can both impress your date by taking them to a good restaurant, yet also save money on this reasonably-priced modern European. Check out the lightly cured cod cheeks, blood orange, agretti and sea purslane, or the spinach and ricotta malfatti, delicia squash, chestnut and parmesan. You better book ahead for this one though, as bagging a table might be hard work.
Where: 344 Upper Street, N1 0PD
How much: Dishes from £6.50
Why: Ever wanted to recreate that scene from The Lady and The Tramp with the spaghetti? Well, Soho’s Pastaio might just be the place to do it. Chef Stevie Parle’s handmade pasta restaurant aims to serve it at pocket-friendly prices too. Pasta dishes to try include slow-cooked sausage sauce, or red prawns, chilli and tomato, and let’s not forget the infamous Bolognese ragu. Just watch out you don’t spill it all down your glad rags.
Where: 19 Ganton Street, W1F 9BN
How much: Pasta dishes from £6.50