Some diners might turn their noses up at chain restaurants – it’s all going to be mass-produced, low quality meals, right? Well, there’s no doubt that some chains in London are like that…but the city also has many very good chain restaurants too and there’s no denying that many offer very good value for money when it comes to eating out. We take a look at some of the best chain restaurants in London here:
Serving a selection of Belgian food, this chain is perhaps best know for its mussels and chips (as well as its enormous selection of beers!). The Covent Garden branch is probably the best one to go to, due to its central location and its interesting cavern-like dining area. They usually offer special deals for set menus during lunchtime (12pm – 3pm, Monday to Friday – check website for specific details); their “Beat the Clock” offer is also great value, where you pay according to the time that you arrived – e.g. pay £6.10 if you arrived at 6.10pm. The times that this offer is valid vary from restaurant to restaurant – in the Convent Garden one it runs from 5pm to 6.30pm. An example set menu is a large plate of mussels, plate of chips and a beer – very filling!
With eight locations in London, one of their oldest is on Wardour Street in Soho – great if you’re out in the West End. With cosy square tables that comfortably fit large groups, or see you sitting close to other diners (don’t worry, it’s very pleasant!), Busaba Ethai offer up some scrumptious and very filling Thai dishes at very good prices. As you may expect, there’s plenty of rice, noodle, curry and stir-fry options, but salads, grilled meat and other selections possible. Try one of their great teas of juices as an accompaniment.
Not for vegetarians! For your meat needs, head down to this place for all manner of steaks, burgers, spare ribs and similar. The brave can even order combos of some of the aforementioned dishes. Whatever you order, make sure you go there on an empty stomach for you’ll find yourself properly stuffed by the end of your meal.
Giraffe is a perfect place to go if you and your dining companions can’t quite make up your minds on what sort of cuisine you want, as these serve all manner of things! The “world” cuisine menu offers various European, Asian, Mexican and American dishes that are all good value. These are also great places to come for brunch, or just a relaxing coffee and a sweet treat. The restaurants are also always fun, lively places but great for kids too (there’s a special kids menu). Look out for the special deals that Giraffe offer, including for breakfast and lunch, or “Burger Tuesdays” (which should be pretty self-explanatory!).
Gourmet Burger Kitchen
Relatively new in concept, Gourmet Burger Kitchen serve up a variety of tasty burger options in comfortable, low-key type restaurants. After picking something from the menu, you then go up to the counter and order it and pay. (Although the meal is brought to your table!) Burger choices include classic, Jamaican, Cajun and (my favourite) Mexican.
Really good chain of Indian restaurants, there are plenty of delicious items on their menu. However, one particular dish stands out of its really good value – the Thali. (You can also opt for the larger Grand Thali.) For this you get a choice of one of their curries from the regular menu plus rice, together with two vegetable options, lentil dal, papadum and chutney. (The Grand version adds a canape, yoghurt, salad and a chapati.) Very friendly service too, and their restaurants are nicely decorated.
A long-running London tradition (the chain has been in business since 1965), these restaurants serve good pizzas, pastas and salads at very reasonable prices – their margherita is great value! The ones in Knightsbridge (called Pizza on the Park) and Dean Street in Soho are also live jazz venues.
The Real Greek
If most of the places on this list seem a bit of the “usual”, cuisine-wise, why not try something a little different? Certainly, the first time I visited The Real Greek, I was pleasantly surprised to find a chain of Greek restaurants! The selection of hot and cold meze dishes here mean you can easily get a selection of lots of different small plates to share – perfect for sampling lots of different items – although you can also go for one of the set options if you’re having trouble deciding. The souvlaki (Greek-style wraps) are also delicious, and you can also get a selection of these to share amongst two or four of you. The Bankside venue (near The Globe Theatre and the Tate Modern) has a lovely riverside location with outside seating.
A long-running (the first restaurant opened in 1955) chain of family-run restaurants, Spaghetti House offers very good value, delicious Italian meals. There’s an emphasis on pasta – of course – but numerous other non-noodle starters and mains are available. The venues have a very friendly and relaxed atmosphere, which mean they’re ideal those in the mood for Italian food of any age!
This super-styled canteen-style chain of restaurants serve Asian food, mainly ramen, noodle and rice dishes. Good value (e.g. the ramen dishes are very filling and not that expensive) and very efficient service means that there is a high turnover of customers, so even if you find yourself queuing, you will not have to wait for long.
Another conveyor-belt sushi place with colour-coded plates of various prices, the food is of pretty good standard. Hip and trendy, you sit on high stools at counters where taps allow you to pour your own water, whilst pushing a button draws the attention of the wait staff (and also makes amusing noises). There’s also sometimes a drinks “robot” (i.e. a small thing carrying drinks circling the restaurant).
The popularity of coffee houses has really taken off in the UK in the last decade or so, and you’ll see them everywhere in London. Whatever area you are in, you’ll not be far from a Starbucks, Cafe Nero or Coffee Republic, probably three of the most prolific chains. Of course, that doesn’t mean they’re good value! Prices can be notoriously high – after all, it’s just a cup of coffee!
A well-known sandwich chain in London is Pret a Manger, which has numerous chains all over London. Again, their sandwiches are a little on the expensive side (about £2 for the cheapest, most simplest one) but they are quite generously filled and are freshly-made on the premises every day. They also sell sushi, snacks (crisps, popcorn) juice, wraps, pastries, yoghurts and coffee.
One chain I’ve got into recently is Crussh, who do sandwiches, smoothies, sushi, breakfasts, salads and assorted snacks. The best for me is their soups, which are really healthy and very filling. Try one of them, with a hunk of bread.
All restaurants charge VAT (20%) on top of the cost of your items if you eat in, so for a cheaper option get your food to take out – if you can! – and enjoy it in a nice park!