Is there anywhere in London that makes a Taste London card worthwhile?

by timchester

It was 9pm on a Saturday night and we were in Off Broadway on Broadway (market) when the hunger struck. I’d never been to this particular hipster dive before but it was appealing to us in a big way. Between marvelling at the fish tank cisterns and playing endless rounds of some brilliantly 80s “conversation-starting” game called Scruples, and while necking neverending raspberry margaritas and Rekorderlig strawberry and lime ciders, we’d neglected to eat.

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With every half decent restaurant nearby stuffed to the rafters, and payday still just out of reach, we needed somewhere half empty and cheap. Our friend pulled out her trusty Taste London card, revealing her membership to that rising cult of foodie thrift that – coupled with a pretty exhaustive iPhone app – will get you a meal nearby for peanuts.

In case you aren’t aware, the card gets you 50% off your food bill at 1,000 restaurants around London for the annual price of £70 (and they discount this to half price so often you’d be a mug to pay that much). There’s enough restaurants signed up that you’re never more than a short walk to the nearest.

The only problem is, there’s nowhere that great signed up to the scheme.

Or at least, that’s my experience. Every time she whips out the card we end up somewhere that’s just…OK. We get the kind of food and service that’s astonishing for the price you pay, but would be risible at full whack. Everywhere we’ve been has obviously had a reason it needs to be part of the club – it doesn’t offer enough to attract customers the usual way. And its very convenience (not to much money saving capabilities) means we use it far too much, which is detrimental to discovering exciting new places.

So, our last two experiences on the Taste London ticket (comment below if you’ve found a good one):

The Old Ship, Hackney

Perhaps the archetypal Taste London venue, this place is a tangle of good intentions, misplaced priorities and half-baked ideas. Full of promises it can’t follow up on it’s not exactly a kitchen nightmare but definitely a bit of a broken dream. The grammatically runaway mission statement on its owners Urban Inns’ website says it all as it falls over itself to lure you in: “The Old Ship offers a friendly contemporary interior that our guests can relax and enjoy a drink in our bar area or enjoy some fantastic British cuisine designed by our team of talented chefs as well as stay in 1 of 10 beautifully appointed rooms”.

So while the fish is fresh from Brixham and the beef straight outta Aberdeenshire, the good ingredients fall at the last hurdle (the kitchen) and end up like this (skid marks chef’s own):

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Venison was tender but chilly; the pork belly needed a Samurai sword to cleft open. The Travelodgesque toilets reeked of piss and we had to show ourselves to a table before being told the kitchen was shut (and bartering for food). That said, we left full and only a tenner lighter. If it tickles your fancy you’ll find it next to a BBQ X-Press, behind two tramps on blankets and up a dark alleyway that feels like the entrance to Space Mountain. No wonder it needs to join the TL club.

The Royal India, Stoke Newington

One of the better members, this probably only joined up because it has the Rasa empire on its doorstep. Tough competition indeed. However, it still succumbs to a load of schoolboy errors that, if corrected, could promise promotion out of the Taste London league. Dreams of makeovers float through your head as you first arrive (rip down the Christmas lights, sell the cheap furniture with bourgeious pretentions, teach origami to whoever scrunches the paper napkins into a mess, delete the stereo’s Indian Videogame Dance playlist) but the food is highly commendable.

We went mental on the menu knowing it would come to a laughable total and pretty much everything wowed. Naans had a moreish fluffy crunch while the Sabzee Haleem’s lentils were herby and welcoming, tandoori chicken was succulent and fried onions bursted with flavour. Potatoes in the Aloo Chat fell apart valiantly and came smothered in fresh coriander and wilted spinach. We gorged and gorged and left a big tip because a) we felt like we were robbing them and b) they were playing playing Luniz.

Cheap at half the price. So, London eaters, where can you find a decent Taste London restaurant?


Royal India on Urbanspoon

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{ 26 comments… read them below or add one }

Emily Tawney June 3, 2010 at 9:10 am

I have yet to go anywhere decent with a Taste London card either…I’m thinking perhaps it is reserved for those who have drunk so much they have rendered themselves incapable of finding a good place to eat – it’s either that or a dodgy kebab?

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Roger July 27, 2010 at 12:09 pm

Broadly agree with you and the main frustration for me is that it never works anywhere on the weekend but there are a few exceptions to the rule.
At the top end, Fredericks on Camden Passage and Tentazione in SE1 are both excellent restaurants.

If you like the burgers at Byron those at Dollar Grill and Martinis on Exmouth Market are also pretty good and effectively 2 for 1 on TL.

Finally Emni, modern Indian place on Upper Street. Not as good as Zafferani on Cross St but accepts taste london on Fridays and Saturdays and much better than its location suggests.

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timchester July 27, 2010 at 12:41 pm

That’s excellent thanks Roger. I will definitely be checking those places out. Thanks very much for the tips

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chandlers_fraud August 12, 2010 at 6:30 pm

If you’re in Off Broadway again when hunger strikes, there are a couple of nearby options that I’ve found to be pretty good… Firstly, I’d say La Vie en Rose is worth a whirl (south end of Broadway Market, next to the canal). The staff are really friendly, and the steak was succulent – I do tend to trust the French with a bit of beef. The second is The Waterhouse – ten minutes’ walk up the canal next to Kingsland Road. As you probably know, it’s the sister restaurant to Acorn House, and prides itself on being a fully sustainable restaurant. I think they’re struggling for customers due to the location… I’ve had amazing brunches there, sitting outside on the canalside terrace. Evening meals are also pretty good too…

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timchester August 16, 2010 at 9:09 am

Thanks for those – the Waterhouse in particular sounds interesting. Will give it a go next time I’m over there. Thanks

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Lulu August 16, 2010 at 4:54 pm

Well … my SW14-living mum had the free trial Taste London card and was over the moon to see her new local favourite restaurant “Don’t Tell Fred” was signed up to it. Suffice to say she took up TL’s half-price annual offer after her free month had expired and got her money back on the first trip back to the place. “Don’t Tell Fred” might not be your type of restaurant TC (in fact, I know it won’t be) but for a certain SW14 resident of a certain age and her local friends (as well as her occasionally visiting daughter) a Taste London card has indeed proved very worthwhile… And certainly, in my opinion, the range of food and the wonderfully polite and friendly service of the staff at “Don’t Tell Fred” are definitely above the standard that the other restaurants in the immediate locality have to offer. So, if you ever find yourself stuck in SW14 and you have your card …

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timchester August 16, 2010 at 5:31 pm

Thanks Lulu. I like the sound of that place!

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Pop Noodle August 17, 2010 at 10:27 am

Woaaaah!

Hell yeah there are many great places to use a Taste London card!

Having used one with my GF for the past year and a half, the best place we have found is the award winning Yum Yum in Stoke Newington (world famous Thai restraunt, also seen on The F Word) SIDE NOTE- try the Monk’s Toast, it’s spiffing. Their Pad Thai is also amazing!

Navaja Joe is Covent Garden is a pretty nifty Mexican place in Covent Garden worth checking out.

Champagne Charlies ( a Davy’s branch) in Charing Cross serves modern British food- I myself highly recommend the lamb steak with pea puree and mint sauce. Most tender lamb I’ve ever tasted (they use the same butcher as the Queen don’t you know!)

If you’re out and about, simply pop into any Pizza Express for a cheap and quick pizza – I find their new additions to the menu really very tasty.

If you’re up for a night out, my favourite bar for good beer in London is the Bavarian Beerhouse ( the one in Old Street/City Road). They also do Taste London for food, which, although in all honesty is not “top notch”, is still rather good to eat with your litre of beer and the unique atmosphere in the place. Kase-Spaetzle, Lebekaese and Wurstschen are all pretty tasty, if not a bit stodgy.

The next place we will try is probably The Real Greek. Although it’s a chain, we’ve never been there so would like to know if it’s any good.

Can any of you food lovers let us know what it’s like and if it’s worth it- even half price?

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timchester August 17, 2010 at 10:35 am

Thanks for those. Real Greek is def worth a try at half price if you’re on the South Bank. I didn’t realise Yum Yum’s was part of Taste London – we go there a lot

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Pop Noodle August 17, 2010 at 10:42 am

Ahh yeah. I now see your post about it ( should have checked around the site before commenting on the article I guess!)

Did you try the Monks Toast? It’s Yum-Yum…

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Josh September 8, 2010 at 9:56 am

Bincho is a great quick lunch, and about tuppence ha’penny with a Taste card. Iznik on Highbury Fields is great. Emni on Upper Street is good if you fancy a curry.

I’m quite a Taste fan actually!

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timchester September 8, 2010 at 1:43 pm

Cheers Josh – will look into them…

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andy February 3, 2011 at 8:18 pm

hi there, to revive an old post.. is there anywhere in north london good for steak with a TL card? Help would be much appreciated!

Thanks

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timchester February 3, 2011 at 8:22 pm

Umm…. pass!

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andy February 3, 2011 at 8:48 pm

I see a gap in the market here… no decent ‘reasonably’ priced steak houses in North London at all!

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Olivia June 21, 2011 at 12:17 pm

Went to this place in Hammersmith the other day on TC and we both agreed it was the best Indian we’d had.. definitely worth a try. We spent £20 altogether!

http://www.shilparestaurant.co.uk/

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Alexis July 27, 2011 at 11:15 am

Hi there, again, i know this is an old post …..

but… HaoZhan in China town is just fantastic. Far beyond all those monster tourist spots along the main drag in China town. Excellent softshell crab and all manner of modern oriental dishes. Check out the reviews on a search engine of your choice. The only issue with this is its for a max of 2 people.

im looking for somewhere good for 4 people if anyone knows…

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timchester July 28, 2011 at 9:56 am

Hey thanks for that. I’ve been walking round there a lot recently wondering which are the best places to try out. And Taste does give you a chance to experiment without spending too much.

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Sarah Brealey August 7, 2011 at 7:31 pm

A Tastecard took us to Namaaste Kitchen in Camden – only to find that we got the same 50pc off deal that we could have had booking online without a Tastecard. On the plus side it encouraged us to go there and it was well worth the visit. You can read the full details here –
http://scoffinthecity.blogspot.com/2011/08/spicy-delights-at-namaaste-kitchen-in.html

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Jonathan Ball August 14, 2013 at 5:20 pm

look for some of the more upmarket restaurants and most will not dissapoint. Havent been to many so far but top of my list has to be Tuttins in covent garden. Fantastic restaurant, normally a bit too expensive for me but fantastic value with the magic card. Had oysters, scallops and lamb cutlets for the main course. Food was all amazing and service very good and friendly too. Highly recommended.

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