Taking your family to the theatre in central London is a real treat, especially at Christmas time, so why not make a day of it, take in the Christmas lights and stay for lunch or dinner? Whether you choose to live it up and dine in style, or keep it tight and eat on the cheap, here is our pick of the best places to eat out as a family, categorised by show.
The Snowman at The Peacock Theatre
Holborn Dining Room
This all day brasserie, with its elegant, retro dining room and plush leather banquets, is the perfect setting for a festive family meal. The restaurant is spacious enough that you won’t feel hemmed in (or that you’re encroaching on others’ space) with all the paraphernalia that eating out with small children entails.
Serving modern British fare, the menu's pretty varied, from house-cured salmon to seasonal pies to pot roast lamb. The lunch menu even sports a fish finger sandwich (although at £11 it had better be the best). Those who believe in children being offered the same food as the rest of the family will enjoy the fact that the chefs at Holborn Dining Room will rustle up half portions of anything on their menu for children under 12. And, even better, children under 3 eat for free. Whatever you do, make sure you leave room for the spiced custard tart.
Holborn Dining Room, 252 High Holborn, London WC1V 7EN
Fernandez & Wells
If you’re looking for the perfect festive setting to grab an affordable bite to eat before or after the theatre, this is the place to go. With its enviable location at Somerset House, which is magical at this time of year, you can all feast on piping hot raclette with new potatoes and cornichons whilst watching the ice skaters in the courtyard outside.
If you’re in need of a pick me up, the coffee, made with single-origin beans roasted by Has Bean Coffee, is excellent.
Fernandez & Wells, Somerset House, Strand, London WC2R 1LA
The Nutcracker at the Royal Opera House
A stone’s throw from the Royal Opera House is Café Murano, another restaurant flying the flag for family dining and offering the same menu for all. With its carefully sourced, ingredient-led dishes, there is something for everyone. It has a rather more laid back bistro feel than the Michelin starred Murano, where Angela Hartnett has been impressing diners with her Northern Italian food for the past eight years, which makes for a more relaxed family meal.
The pasta is good, and the starter sized portions are perfect for little tummies. But if your children are at the stage where anything even vaguely unfamiliar is going to lead swiftly to meltdown, then relax. There is no joy in a stressful meal, and here they are sensitive to the whims of small children (and their parents who sometimes just want to order something that they know will definitely be eaten) and will happily whip up a simpler dish of pasta with tomato sauce.
Whatever you do, don’t bypass the cichetti – little morsels, packed with flavour. We’re loving the salt cod fritters, parmesan & lemon and the pumpkin, pecorino & thyme honey on the current menu.
Café Murano, 36 Tavistock Street, London WC2E 7PB
In collaboration with Lina Stores in Soho, there's a festive twist on the horizon at Pizza Pilgrims, with talk of mortadella and pistachios. The Neapolitan style pizzas – sourdough bases topped with fior de latte mozzarella and San Marzano tomatoes – are the product of a pilgrimage around Italy by brothers James and Thom. They’ve come a long way from their early days of selling pizzas out of the back of their converted Piaggio Ape van on Berwick Street market in Soho. Look out for the Christmas special — oven toasted panettone with nutella and ice cream.
Pizza Pilgrims, 23 Garrick Street, London WC2E 9BN
The Railway Children at King’s Cross Theatre
Once a bit of a food wasteland, King’s Cross is now a great place to eat out. Caravan was the first restaurant to open as part of the development in this area and is still as popular as ever. Housed in a vast Grade II listed Victorian grain store, it is busy, lively and a great place to take children without fear of them being too noisy. The menu boasts an eclectic collection of, often vegetable-focused, dishes which has become synonymous with this antipodean style of dining in London. The best way to enjoy the food here is to order a selection of small plates to share — like crispy artichoke hearts with borlotti bean hummus and smoked mackerel with pickled beetroot and candied walnuts. The jalapeño cornbread, which has featured on the menu since it opened in 2012, is worth trying too.
You won’t be able to miss the giant Christmas tree suspended in a seven metre cube of ice just outside in Granary Square – a great space for younger children to run off some energy and work up an appetite before sitting down to eat.
Caravan, 1 Granary Square, London N1C 4AA
Famous for its bacon naan roll, black house daal and bottomless glasses of steaming hot chai, Dishoom has become a bit of an institution on the London food scene. This King’s Cross location is the most recent addition to the Dishoom family. Styled on the old Irani cafés of Bombay, the welcome is warm and the service relaxed, but efficient.
The modern Indian menu is, as you’d expect, full of spicy dishes. But many are on the gentler end and great for children who aren’t yet accustomed to the full on kick of green chilli. There is also a ‘Chote Dishoom-Wallas Menu’ available – smaller portions with less spice, served with Bombay potatoes, slaw and a glass of fruit juice – which is good value at £7.50.
Get there before 11.45am if you’re hoping to try the signature bacon naan roll.
Dishoom, 5 Stable Street, London N1C 4AB
Peter Pan at The National Theatre
With stunning views across the Thames, Skylon is the place to go close to the National Theatre if you want to push the boat out. The lofty ceilings and full height windows that run along one side of the dining room are what you go for, especially at this time of year when the Christmas lights along the Southbank are twinkling.
The food is good, although not exceptional (the price tag has more to do with location), and the best deals are to be had with the set lunch and theatre menus, with the latter falling squarely into children’s teatime. There is a children’s menu (£8 for one course), with the ubiquitous fish fingers, sausages and pasta, which is worth ordering just for the chocolate & pecan brownie with chocolate crémeux, caramelised popcorn and salted caramel ice cream.
Skylon, Royal Festival Hall, Belvedere Road, London SE1 8XX
A short stroll from the National Theatre, Wahaca serve up some really tasty food. The space is fun – built out of eight recycled shipping containers – and the atmosphere bright and buzzy. If your children can handle some spice, bypass the kids’ menu and order a selection of small plates from across the menu to share. The plantain tacos and the crispy fried sweet potato with smoky caramelised mojo de ajo are top of our list. If you’re looking to keep the cost down, opt for a quesadilla with a side order of the sweet potato, which will fill you up for under a tenner. For smaller children, go for the ‘build your own tacos’ which should keep them busy long enough for you to enjoy a beer or two.
Wahaca, Queen Elizabeth Hall, Southbank Centre, London SE1 8XX