London - Lunch is tough for most London restaurants. While dining rooms are often packed for dinner, they are quieter during the day.
That means chefs have to offer deals to entice us. Why resist? Here are 10 lunches to savour:
The Clove Club
This informal restaurant in Shoreditch Town Hall, East London, is a destination for chefs from around the U.K. and overseas. It's so popular, you have to buy a ticket and pay in advance for dinner. Chef Isaac Hayes is at the forefront of modern British cooking, using a few great ingredients to create memorable dishes. No need to pay upfront for the bargain lunch. It's 35 pounds (about R600) for three courses and 65 pounds for five. 380 Old Street, The City, EC1V 9LT; thecloveclub.com.
Angela Hartnett is one of the U.K.'s best-loved chefs, known for her warm personality and unfussy Italian food. The new branch of Café Murano, in Covent Garden, looks great. Friendly service helps, but the seasonal food alone would probably keep you coming back. The set lunch may feature dishes such as risotto with peas and Berkswell cheese and apricot tart with mascarpone. It's 16.50 pounds for two courses, 21 pounds for three. 34-36 Tavistock Street, Covent Garden, WC2E 7PB; www.cafemurano.co.uk.
This is simply one of the finest lunches in London. Ollie Dabbous is gaining an international reputation for his creative gastronomy. The chef's restaurant in Fitzrovia has a stripped- down industrial look, so all your focus is on the plate. That's fine because his dishes easily withstand such scrutiny. Each is so well-balanced, the only wobble you are likely to get is from the table. The peas and mint is one of my favourite starters in London. Lunch is 35 pounds for four courses. 39 Whitfield Street, Fitzrovia, W1T 2SF; www.dabbous.co.uk.
Simon Rogan is among Britain's finest chefs. It's unlucky for Londoners that his flagship L'Enclume is more than three hours away by train. It's worth the trip, but you can sample his seasonal cooking a little closer to home at Claridge's. The set lunch is great value, with dishes such as guinea hen with salt- baked celeriac, buttered kale, and cider sauce. It's 30 pounds for three courses. 49 Brook Street, Claridge's, Mayfair, W1K 4HR; www.claridges.co.uk/mayfair- restaurants-bars/fera/.
I like Gymkhana so much, I once ate at this Mayfair restaurant four times in a week, including twice on the same day. The set lunch is my favourite in London. Indian food isn't for everyone, but few could fail to appreciate Gymkhana's fine ingredients, precise cooking, and faultless spicing. My favourite meal is to get together with friends and order all five starter and main options on the lunch menu. Gymkhana can get very busy. It pays to book early. Lunch is 25 pounds for two courses, 30 pounds for three. 42 Albemarle Street, Mayfair, London, W1S 4JH; www.gymkhanalondon.com.
This is one of my favourite Chinese restaurants in London for food, particularly the Sichuan dishes. Factor in the stunning views from Level 33 of the Shard and you are surely on to a winner. I often recommend Hutong, especially to people who tell me food isn't good at restaurants with a view. And yet I hesitate to include the set lunch here because I'd rather go and order dim sum. The lunch is 35 pounds. The Shard, London Bridge, SE1 9RY; www.hutong.co.uk.
This is a restaurant that for a few years might have been described as once-fashionable. No more. Following a refurbishment earlier this year, this Covent Garden institution is packed. It's buzzy, beautiful and fun. The bar in the center of the room is one of the best places to sit, so don't feel short-changed if you end up there. The menu is eclectic, accessible and inexpensive. The set lunch may include watermelon carpaccio with creamed feta; and sesame, Turkish delight, and pistachio coupe. It's 21.75 pounds for two courses and 26.25 pounds for three. 1-5 West Street, Covent Garden, WC2H 9NQ; www.the-ivy.co.uk.
Pierre Koffmann mentored countless chefs-including Marco Pierre White and Gordon Ramsay-at the three-Michelin-star La Tante Claire. These days he is cooking simpler food at his restaurant in the Berkeley, in Knightsbridge. But his focus on flavor is ever-present. He's in the kitchen on most weekdays, cooking the kind of food he learned to love as a child in southwest France. The set lunch includes dishes such as roasted rack and belly of pork with turnip gratin. It's 26 pounds for three courses. 1 Wilton Place, Berkeley Hotel, Knightsbridge, SW1X 7RL; www.the- berkeley.co.uk/knightsbridge-restaurants/koffmanns/.
The Ritz restaurant is among the finest in London and also one of the most beautiful. It's unfortunate that more people don't get the chance to try chef John Williams's superb French cooking. The prices are slightly less scary than you might think. There's a three-course menu for 49 pounds. It's the wine list that is unforgiving, along with the dress code. This is the only restaurant I know in London where men must wear a tie. But it is worth it if you can get a table on the terrace on a summer's day. 150 Piccadilly, Mayfair, W1J 9BR; www.theritzlondon.com.
This grand brasserie-from the owners of the ultra- fashionable Wolseley-is dramatic. It looks like something out of an impressionist painting, with its high ceilings, marble pillars, brass rails, and large mirrors and waiters scurrying across the room. The menu fits the bill, with all the usual brasserie favourites. But the real shock comes from the prices, which are low. The prix fixe menu is 9.75 pounds for two courses and 12.50 pounds for three; the Formule menu is 19.75 pounds for three courses, including a glass of wine, water and coffee. 20 Sherwood Street, Soho, W1F 7ED; www.brasseriezedel.com/brasserie-zedel.
After you run through the Top 10, here are 10 more to try:
Craft London: Chef Stevie Parle and his team make the butter and cure the meats in this new restaurant next to the O2 Centre. The set lunch is 28 pounds for three courses. Peninsula Square, Greenwich Peninsula, SE10 0SQ.
Galvin at Windows: You may come for the views from the 28th floor of the Hilton on Park Lane and come back for the cooking of Joo Won. It's 28 pounds for two courses, 33 pounds for three. 22 Park Lane, Mayfair, W1K 1BE.
Le Gavroche: The set lunch is magnificent and inexpensive: It includes wine and water as well as fine French cuisine. You may need to book as far as three months ahead; it is very popular. It costs 55 pounds. 43 Upper Brook Street, Mayfair, London, W1K 7QR.
Helene Darroze at the Connaught: This restaurant has been buzzing since Darroze was named the world's best female chef this year. Lunch in the beautiful and elegant dining room costs 30 pounds for two dishes, 38 pounds for three, and 45 pounds for four. 16 Carlos Place, Connaught Hotel, W1K 2AL.
Hibiscus: Claude Bosi is among the most creative chefs in the U.K. and the set lunch offers an introduction to his cooking. It's 49.50 pounds for three courses, including wine, coffee and petits fours. 29 Maddox Street, Mayfair, W1S 2PA.
The Ledbury: Brett Graham's West London restaurant is among the finest in the country. The lunch features dishes such as wild salmon with tomato, chardonnay, and shellfish butter. It's 50 pounds for four courses, including water. 127 Ledbury Road, Notting Hill, W11 2AQ.
Little Social: This baby brother of Jason Atherton's Pollen Street Social is a charming bistro where Canadian chef Cary Docherty cooks up accessible dishes. Lunch is 21 pounds for two courses and 25 pounds for three. 5 Pollen Street, Mayfair, W1S 1ND.
Quo Vadis: This restaurant in an historic Soho building (where Karl Marx once lived) is a favourite with Londoners. They are drawn by chef Jeremy Lee's British dishes. The all-day Theatre Set menu is 18.50 pounds for two courses, 21.50 pounds for three. 26-29 Dean Street, Soho, W1D 3LL.
Sketch: With its baroque and quirky look, this is a dramatic venue. The gourmet lunch in the Lecture Room is 35 pounds for two courses, 40 pounds for three; both include coffee and petits fours.9 Conduit Street, Mayfair, W1S 2XG.
Wiltons: This is one of London's oldest restaurants and feels like it. The menu is traditional: It's like dining in a gentlemen's club. The lunch menu offers a roast from the carving trolley. It's 30 pounds for two courses and 38 pounds for three. 55 Jermyn Street, Mayfair, SW1Y 6LX.
* Richard Vines is the chief food critic for Bloomberg.