Maybe it’s Libra season or maybe it’s just life, but making decisions is difficult. When deciding anything – from what to wear to what to watch – we are often spoilt for choice and consumed by the potential outcome of each. What to order at a restaurant, however, is probably the most taxing decision of all. Even if the week prior is spent analysing the menu, you can guarantee that the waiter’s expectant presence will have you fumbling your words and doubting not only what you had intended to order but everything you have ever done – there is none of this with a set menu.
As opposed to diving into the wilderness of à la carte and hoping for the best, a set menu bids you to be content with your lot. Yes, there’s still a possibility that you won’t like your meal at all – but at least you can’t blame yourself for it.
With all restaurants now closing at 10pm, set menus also buy back the time lost to vacillating in their absence. Here are some of the best in London:
A wine bar in – you guessed it – Peckham, Peckham cellars introduced their set menu in response to the government’s curfew restrictions. While the food on offer will change every two weeks, you can expect to find gems such as burrata with pickled shallots and toasted almonds alongside confit fennel and chilli tagliatelle – and a free cocktail on arrival if you book the 5.45pm sitting.
£28pp for three courses
125 QUEENS ROAD, SE15 2ND
Giving traditional European food a new lease of life is the pride of Perilla, an informal neighbourhood restaurant located in Newington Green. Eat there on a Sunday and a set menu is – joyfully – your only option. While the seaweed sourdough and brown butter might provide (delicious) flashbacks to your culinary pursuits during the first instalment of lockdown, everything tastes a lot like liberation – we much prefer it to a roast.
£35pp for two courses
£40pp for three pairing
1-3 GREEN LANES, N16 9BS
Inspired by the founders' favourite eateries across Berlin, Copenhagen, Stockholm, Paris and Barcelona, Levan serves inventive food with a European ethos and further cements Peckham as a destination for discerning gluttony. Their set menu is – excitingly – subject to change, but at the moment it features mouthfuls of delight in the form of caramelised onion brioche, chestnut agnolotti with truffle and fig leaf panna cotta – and that's just a very brief synopsis.
£39pp for five courses
12-16 BLENHEIM GROVE, SE15 4QL
If you ever manage to stop being dumbfounded at the glory of its interiors and the richness of its history (it opened in 1917), the set menu at The Ivy is a delicious accompaniment to its unrivalled atmosphere. We veer towards three courses (obviously) and favour the Argyll smoked salmon to start, cauliflower masala for main and sticky toffee pudding to finish.
£24.50pp for two courses
£28.50 for three courses
1-5 WEST STREET, WC2H 9NQ
Levan's big brother based in Brixton, Salon is similarly led by the seasons – and just as delectable. They describe their set menu as being "like a tasting menu, but without the fuss and pomp." In terms of food, this looks something like San Marzano tomatoes with lovage, Devon crab with celeriac, Delica pumpkin with rainbow chard and Wigmore cheesecake with apple.
£39pp for five courses
18 MARKET ROW, SW9 8LD
Set within the Whitechapel Gallery, Townsend sees Head Chef Joe Fox – formerly of Petersham Nurseries and HIX – showcase the best of British produce in the most creative of ways. Their set menu changes weekly, but you can anticipate things as good as onion seed flatbread with spicy pork ragu, smoked tomatoes with goat's curd, beef mince with black truffle – and lovely tiramisu.
£25pp for four courses
£18pp for drinks pairing
WHITECHAPEL GALLERY, 77-82 WHITECHAPEL HIGH STREET, E1 7QX