The best set menus in the UK
Delegate decision making to the experts – say feed me, thrill me. Rather than poring over menus, opting for a great-value set menu or a blow-out tasting experience allows you to relax, confident that incredible food will follow
Discover the best set menus across the UK, then check out the best new restaurants in London to visit in 2023, best new UK restaurants and the UK's best fine dining restaurants.
Best set menus in the UK
Japanese omakase dining (where guests sit at a kitchen counter, watching highly trained chefs create tasting menu dishes in front of them), tends to the hushed and reverential. We love the looser vibe created by chefs Jurek Wasio and Yuichi Nakaya at Marylebone 11-seater, Mayha. The duo play their favourite music and offer chatty insight on dishes. Diners, says Jurek, should “feel like they’re visiting us at home”. Fine UK seasonal produce is blended with key imports (bamboo shoot, shiso buds, sansho pepper), across a menu of ornate sushi, sashimi and dishes such as wagyu beef cheek donburi, mackerel with fig and sesame, or sparkling pine ice cream. Lunch £100; dinner £220; mayhalondon.com
Crocadon, St Mellion, Cornwall
Chef Dan Cox (ex-L’Enclume, Fera) spent five years turning Crocadon Farm into a hub of sustainable self-sufficiency before, in February, launching its eponymous restaurant. Orchards, a microbrewery, rare-breed animals, flour from heritage grains, even tableware from its own ceramics studio, Crocadon produces (almost) everything on site. Tasting menus are central to this vision, says Dan: “We want to build an experience around what is best on the farm at that moment.” Right now, that may mean asparagus in butter and spring herbs or artichokes grilled in aged sheep fat, with elderflowers and dry-aged Romney lamb: “With an à la carte menu, there’d be wastage and harvesting our produce to sit in the fridge would go against everything we set out to achieve.” From £65pp; crocadon.farm
Hide and Fox, Saltwood, Kent
Chef Allister Barsby swears by the set format of his five- and eight-course tasting menus. These seasonally driven selections generate excitement at his coastal restaurant – “some guests ask not to see the menu to keep it a surprise” – and serving a tight repertoire of dishes enables his small kitchen to work at Michelin-starred level. This spring, Allister will be pairing Jersey Royals with smoked fish and barbecued meats, or using early European white asparagus with hollandaise and morels – detail rarely found on à la carte menus. From £75pp; hideandfox.co.uk
The Coach, Marlow
During the 2008 financial crash, Tom Kerridge had “what sounded like a ludicrous idea” of serving a £10 set lunch at his acclaimed Hand and Flowers. “In 2023, it feels like those times are here again. You can’t turn on the TV without grim news of the cost of living crisis,” says Tom who, at his Michelin-starred Coach pub, has asked chef Sarah Hayward to create a weekly, no-choice, two-course menu, for just £15. This crowd-pleaser focusses on uplifting classics: cream of mushroom soup, lamb shank shepherd’s pie, beef shin lasagne. Two courses, £15; thecoachmarlow.co.uk
When Swedish chef Alex Nietosvuori and Ally Thompson opened Hjem in 2019, they quickly opted for a longer tasting menu service. People travelling to this celebration of north-east talent want that novel, immersive experience. “With a tasting menu, guests give themselves up to try new things,” says Alex, who, this spring, might be making cherry blossom ice cream from nearby flowering trees, or pairing baked cod and greens with Hexhamshire Organics’ asparagus. Hjem’s Michelin-starred menu constantly changes, inspired by seasonal deliveries: “We’ve flexibility to change the menu with a couple of days’ notice.” £120pp; restauranthjem.co.uk
The Free Company, Edinburgh
The communal dinners at this Pentland Hills farm are a dive into seasonal food and regenerative farming. Served in a converted milking byre, the five-course set menu might range from slow-roasted jerusalem artichoke velouté to hogget from the farm’s Shetland sheep, with Tokyo turnips, radish and salsa verde. Interestingly, The Free Company operates a ‘pay what you think it’s worth’ system (typically, £50-60pp). “It’s a great starting point to discuss the true value of local, sustainably produced food,” says co-owner Charlie Buchanan-Smith. Around £60pp; the-free-company.com
Humble Chicken, London
It opened serving yakitori but, in January, Japanese chef Angelo Sato ambitiously reset Humble Chicken. His Soho counter-dining spot now serves a tasting menu that might include, for example, pig’s trotter, karashi and quail’s egg bao, or grilled wild sea bass with squid and Alexander stem tartare, pickled shiro kombu, shiitake dashi and yuzu. “From a chef ’s perspective, a tasting menu is the best way to express yourself,” says Angelo. “You have creative freedom and control the experience. It’s a big responsibility.” £115pp; humblechickenuk.com
Galvin La Chapelle, London
At the Galvin dynasty’s flagship La Chapelle, near Spitalfields, the menu du chef is always a good idea – classics done exceptionally well. Chef Arturo Granato’s Italian heritage is evident in dishes such as risotto with preserved lemon, 36-month parmesan and black truffle, and berries bellini. Three courses with half a bottle of wine, tea, coffee and petits-fours is £65, though few diners can resist Galvin’s cheese trolley (£14 extra); galvinrestaurants.com
If there’s a gang of you, go for a Bundo Combo. A spread of almost one of everything on the menu, it feeds six to eight people and delivers a wide choice of meat-free dishes, such as Bundo’s epic tarka dhal and new versions of the scrambled egg bhurji or pepper and tomato paneer kadai. This, says co-owner Mayur Patel, is: “Pick and mix, the way Indians eat at home. All the textures, flavours, colours – no set order.” £105; bundobust.com
Higher Ground, Manchester
From the team behind natural wine bar-diner, Flawd, Higher Ground is all about the charcoal oven, whole carcass butchery and a larger range of seasonal, heritage produce – a far bigger platform for chef Joe Otway’s talents. The five-course chef’s choice menu of sharing and individual dishes offers insight into Joe’s distinctive cooking. Expect dishes such as acorn-reared pork with mushroom porridge, fried sprats with nasturtium tartare and ash-cooked onions with whipped cow’s curds and yeast, many using produce from regenerative partner farm, Cinderwood. £45pp; highergroundmcr.co.uk
“Tasting menus allow creativity,” says Cycene executive chef, Theo Clench. Particularly in this intimate, 16-cover restaurant dedicated to showcasing rare, micro-seasonal and home-aged ingredients. “You can justify dedicating a course to one ingredient,” enthuses Theo. “A fisherman can call me suggesting freshly caught sea bass and I can use the whole fish that evening.” Spring may bring peas with lobster, pomelo and coral sauce, or Loire and then Wye Valley asparagus with caviar, brown butter sabayon and an egg yolk gently cooked in seaweed oil. £175pp; bluemountain.school
How set menus help restaurants
Many diners dislike the idea of a chef deciding what they will eat but there are huge plusses to going with the flow.
- Knowing in advance what diners will spend and how many they will serve allows restaurants to plan ahead precisely, and with financial certainty. It also means you can predict your bill.
- That encourages a less stressful work culture and, where ordering for tasting menus is fastidious and kitchen practices sound, it can minimise waste.
- Serving small numbers of guests the same dishes enables chefs to react to exceptional seasonal ingredients or use limited amounts of rare products, supporting artisan farmer-producers.
- Consistent technical excellence and the greatest creativity are found in restaurants that have honed a carefully refined range of techniques and dishes.
- Chefs know more about food than we do. If you want memorable food experiences, put yourself in their hands.
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