Bistro 1

Tel: +44 (0)871 426 3595
Address: 33 Southampton Street, WC2E 7HE
Cuisine Type: Mediterranean
nearest tube station Covent Garden

One of my biggest complaints about eating out in London is just how expensive it can be. That’s not to say the expense isn’t justified, nor that meals in pricey restaurants don’t offer value for money.

But it takes no effort at all to spend £50 a head and even then, there’s no guarantee that your meal will be anything more than average. I often see tourists peering incredulously at the menus posted outside eateries in Soho, balking at the prices that probably surpass those charged by the top restaurants in their home countries, then settling for the grim £5 eat-all-you-can pizza or Chinese joints down the road; I simultaneously feel for them and envy the fact that back at home, they probably eat out far more frequently and affordably than I ever could.

Well, there are a few exceptions and Bistro 1 in Covent Garden is one of them. In fact, I can’t believe it has taken me so long to discover but judging from the queues outside the restaurant, others have been far savvier. I was glad to have booked in advance – with waiting times of up to half an hour for a table, many without reservations resigned themselves to a long wait or alternative venues. This is definitely a cheap and cheerful establishment, and makes neither apologies for that fact or pretensions to the contrary. Wooden tables and chairs are crammed in to maximise covers and paper napkins are the closest you’ll get to table linen.

But, at £8.90 for two courses or £9.90 for three, who’s complaining? Especially when the portions are so generous and the cooking isn’t bad at all. I started with a smoked duck salad, slices of well flavoured duck breast arranged over a pile of fresh leaves. OK, so the leaves were of the supermarket bagged salad variety and the drizzle of berry coulis totally unnecessary, but hardly worth quibbling over. My companion’s plate of crispy bacon and sautéed potatoes looked filling if nothing else. Other starters include smoked salmon and avocado salad, a selection of meze or prawn cocktail (when did you last see that on the menu, eh?), with huge portions a common theme.

My main course, a roast fillet of sea bream topped with smoked salmon and accessorised with a mound of creamy mashed potato and saffron cream sauce, was tasty and perfect for the cold evening of our visit. My friend’s moussaka also went down well. Otherwise, choose from the likes of char-grilled salmon with creamed spinach and saffron cream, Cumberland sausages with mashed potato and onion gravy, chicken escallop with red wine sauce or fillet of lamb with rice and salad.

Even though desserts would only have been an extra £1, we were too full to tackle the likes of tiramisu, banoffee pie or apple tart tatin, finishing instead with coffees. Despite the fact that customers continued to arrive and wait throughout our meal, we weren’t rushed or encouraged to leave with our bill unsubtly left on the table.

The total bill, with three drinks each and service, was under £30, and as long as you don’t expect refined cooking or polished service, you’d be hard pressed to find more competitive pricing or better value in central London.