In July, the UK government finally had some good news.
To help boost the hospitality sector that had been badly impacted by coronavirus closures, the government decided to encourage residents to visit local restaurants by paying for up to £10 of their meal – Eat Out to Help Out.
During lockdown, I mostly resisted the allure of online shopping for things I didn’t need (new cutlery set and picnic hamper aside) because I value experiences more than things – and I knew if I saved all of that money instead, once places started opening again I’d be able to spend it on travel and food. To hear that that food would now be 50% off was a dream come true.
Needless to say, I participated in the scheme every Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday in August (except the first day, but I made up for that by using it twice on another day). It was so exciting to once again have something to look forward to, to make a table reservation and be able to actually write something in the calendar! I used the month not only as an opportunity to try new restaurants on my London to-do list, but also to indulge at some of my favourite places and to spend some quality time with friends after seeing them mostly digitally for months.
Things started off simply enough: lunch with co-workers at The Good Life Eatery. Lunch with co-workers at Itsu. Lunch with co-workers at Acai Berry. A friend’s birthday dinner planned for Nando’s that instead took place at Comptoir Libanais.
In the second week I started branching out to more independent restaurants. On a swelteringly hot 36°C Tuesday, I booked myself a table at the popular Putney Pies to see what all the fuss was about.
Admittedly, eating a pie and chips on a hot day was not the best combination. The restaurant also had a limited menu for the scheme which meant I didn’t have much selection to choose from. The pie was good, but not sure it lived up to the hype. This was one meal I was glad I didn’t have to pay full price for.
In the third week, a few of my friends were travelling, so I stuck to places in my neighbourhood. Monday started off poorly when I headed to a pub down the road – it was the only place all month I went to that hadn’t been due to a recommendation. It was just the kind of place I would walk past and think, “Huh, I should go there sometime.” I no longer feel that way. The pub was nice enough, but the chicken I had was dry, the salad it came with depressing, and the fries it nested on were cold. Thank goodness it cost me less than £7.
But the next day, ooh, I knew things were looking up. I was heading to one of my favourite restaurants (so far) in London, Home SW15. I was introduced to the place by a friend who invited me to one of their Mac & Cheese Mondays at the beginning of the year. Not only is the mac & cheese phenomenal, but the atmosphere is so cosy (just like home, one might say) and the staff are jovial and always game for a laugh. In June they had weekly pop-ups on the terrace that I couldn’t keep away from, serving some of their specialties and delicious drinks.
I got lucky as Craig, one of the owners, was my waiter for the night. I contemplated the mac & cheese for a while, but on another warm summer day I opted instead for a burger.
But first, Craig buttered me up with some amazing croquettes on the house.
Not too long later my beautiful shrimp burger and truffle chips arrived.
I devoured my meal and sat reading my book for a while, humming and hawing about dessert. Eventually one of the other waiters convinced me to give the chocolate and hazelnut mousse with almond crumb a go. It was too delicious for photos, soz.
The week continued positively. On Wednesday it was the Champions League, so I went to my usual football-watching pub and had a camembert with sourdough while Bayern stomped Lyon 3-0.
The next Monday, I took the morning off work and decided to have brunch. One of my flatmates had raved about brunch at Megan’s last year, and it had been on my to-do list ever since. I had also become somewhat of a Megan’s addict during lockdown, getting takeaway coffees and salted Nutella cookies on my morning walks.
There are a few locations dotted around the city, and each one I’ve been to is beautifully decorated.
This was the first day after a weekend where I had undertaken a lot of cycling and walking, so I was ravenous. I gobbled up my Mediterranean take on an English breakfast…
…and followed it up with a slice of pumpkin loaf. Guys. This pumpkin loaf is seriously amazing.
I left feeling full and happy. Later in the day I had a smoothie from Acai Berry as an afternoon pick-me-up.
I also discovered that Monday that the restaurant I had planned to visit on Tuesday, a favourite of our office’s, was not actually participating in the scheme. I had to act fast to come up with an alternative that wasn’t too far from home.
I decided to head to Haché Burgers; they became one of my London to-dos after they topped a list of best banoffee pies in the city, plus the burgers didn’t look too bad either.
The pie was delicious, though I do wish I had more pies to compare it to so I could compile my own ranking. (Note to bakers of London: please make more banoffee pie.)
I did also leave with serious plate envy.
On Wednesday a couple friends and I went for a posh experience and had Mexican food at Mezcalito in Chelsea. I had recently heard from a Mexican living in London that this was some of the best Mexican food in the city – and boy was he right.
First we started things off with a round of smoky tequilas.
Then we feasted on burritos, tacos, and quesadillas, with a huge helping of guacamole.
Finally, the Late Summer Bank Holiday arrived on August 31, and with it the end of the Eat Out to Help Out scheme. Completely by chance* (*or lack of seating for dinner throughout the entire month) my friends and I saved the best meal for last.
To end the month we had lunch at Dishoom, a popular chain of Indian restaurants in the city. What really convinced us we needed to go, other than their great reputation, was the fact that they were taking Eat Out to Help Out to the next level – no £10 limits here, oh no. Dishoom was offering 50% off everything except alcohol.
And so we feasted.
Dishoom serves, quite frankly, the best Indian food I’ve had outside of India. I was so happy with everything, and so pleased to share the experience with my friends, as we were able to try so much.
Even though I was bursting at the seams with spicy chicken, daal, and paneer, I knew I needed a masala chai to cap things off. I let the waiter talk me into the chocolate pudding, too.
What a splendid month it was – just what I needed after the doom and gloom we’ve been in for most of this year. Thanks for feeding me, everyone!