Chain Spotting: Part 2 – Restaurants

As stated in our post about Pret and Eat, for better or worse, London has seen a growth of city-wide chains in recent years. Chain spotting labeled posts are our guide, whether you want to avoid chains, embrace them, or balance your consumption of local and chains (our usual approach). There is such high competition that often if an establishment has made it enough to become a chain, that means it’s usually doing something right. That said, these are chains – what’s great and awful about them is a dependable, mass-market appeal. We welcome hearing about your experiences…

Strada – Strada is decent Italian food, and if you hit them up for a lunch or pre-theatre dinner menu special, really good value. If you are American and love up on the Olive Garden, you NEED to go to Strada because you will love it and this will show you what a proper Italian restaurant chain should be like. If you think the Olive Garden is crap and you only eat Italian food in Italy or a super authentic local place, Strada is probably not the place for you. However, it’s a reliable and nice experience, nice atmosphere, themed without being Disney-esque.

Giraffe – this the place to go when one of you wants Chinese, one of you wants Indian, one Mediterranean, and one wants American/British: solution! Everyone will be happy at Giraffe. They bill themselves as world food, and they live up to it. It’s still a chain and the quality is of the mass-appeal dependable level – I’ve had some good dishes at Giraffe but also some just okay dishes. The menu does have great variety though and killer Morrocan-style mint tea that comes in a lovely fired clay teapot. Two recommendations for when to go Giraffe: Mondays – Thursdays from 5 – 7 pm. They have a great 2 course menu for around 8 pounds and all cocktails are 2-for-1. A recommends the fruity mojito, it might be called the Mexican Mojito she’s not sure but it’s amazing. Second time to go: for brunch or breakfast! Breakfast menu til noon every day, brunch menu til 4pm everyday. THEY HAVE PANCAKES. REAL PANCAKES. That is all I should need to say.

Pizza Express – Dependable, decent quality pizza. Some fun creations and menu items, salad and pasta items are limited but you’re really going for the pizza anyway. Much closer to Italian-style pizza than. say, pizza hut. Their pizzas make for a filling meal and are never too greasy. It can get very noisy in most of their restaurants, especially because they pack in as many tables AS POSSIBLE but it can be a very pleasant experience off-peak times.

Masala Zone – We love Masala Zone.  Yes, we are constantly told over and over again that this is commercialized and chain Indian food and not authentic but we can’t resist the Thalis.  There really isn’t anything wrong with eating Indian food at a chain—and don’t worry we do get the real stuff on occassion as well.  If you’re ever in Brick Lane or the East End then you definitely need the experience of bartering out the best deal from the endless line of Indian restaurants that will bombard you once you hit the street.  However, this blog is about chains so here we go.  At Masala Zone, the best option is the Thalis where you get your choice of curry–any of the chicken, lamb or veggie options and then in little cups around the big silver tray is selections of vegetables, lentils, and chutneys with rice.  It’s the perfect meal where you can get a taste of different types of Indian food.  Also, this place is a good start if you’ve never had Indian food and Brick Lane seems a bit too intimidating.

Wagamama – You really can’t be in London long without someone dragging you into a Wagamama in great excitement. In fact, this is the first restaurant C remembers being taken to when she studied abroad several years ago. To be honest, C still loves wagamama. It’s just…so yummy and interesting, and the long tables where you’re squished next to others make for a real ‘city’ feel. Don’t forget the free green tea! Another great one to take international visitors to – it’s memorable, in the good way. The menu is all Asian/Japanese inspired, and pretty much everything is very tasty, from the udon noodle dishes to the coconut soups. It’s a little bit more expensive than the rest of these, but a main dish can be had from 7 – 15 pounds, which given dinner prices is darn good. A good date/meet with friend spot. Full disclosure: A came down with food poisoning once after eating here and hasn’t been able to go back since, but she’s still really sad about that.

Yo Sushi – Converor Belt sushi at its best.  You get to sit around a long rectangular table with a constant revolving line of sushi options marked by price on colored plates.  The best part you can eat as much as you want and when you want and even eye people down if they dare so touch the sushi you’re waiting to come around.  However, the price can easily get out of hand if you don’t pay enough attention to the amount of plates you grab.  If you’re not sure what stuff is and you’re not daring enough to eat a surprise sushi roll there is a menu or you can ask the servers in the middle of the table.  I like to start with a plate of edamame, then move up through the california rolls and spicy tuna rolls to the fancier range of sushi.

Zizzi – Definitely cheesy with its themed decor and ‘I am a nice restaurant’ mock atmosphere – candles, crisp table linens, menus in fancy script with many categories – the food is still pretty good and good value for what you get. C’s parents loved this place when they came and C wasn’t at all unhappy to go several times with them! Mediterranean/Italian, the Antipasto Zizzi sharing platter and the Risotto Verde are highly recommended.

There are other chain restaurants that are common but that we haven’t been to or can’t think of right now – your thoughts?

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