BYOB restaurants are the best way to keep your eating out bills down without compromising on the food front, a godsend to cash-strapped foodies. From Georgian to Indian, British to Persian, London is bursting with great eateries doing their bit for the public purse, letting restaurant-goers bring their own booze. Here we’ve assembled our top picks, including a charming community centre, a proper British chippy, and even a bizarre restaurant-cum-hair salon — not as gross as it sounds, trust us.
Restaurant, British, $$$
Celebrated chef Mark Hix set up this — his first solo restaurant — back in 2008 with a menu that reflects the authentically British style he is so well known for, using seasonal produce from around the British Isles. The headline acts are Hix’s oysters and steak on the bone dishes, but the menu as a whole is pretty mouth-watering: Hedwick mutton chop curry with apple pakoras, and Lincolnshire pigeon, Sutton Farm bean and wood sorrel salad are among the more standout dishes on the current menu. While Hix Oyster and Chophouse does have a great selection of global wines, beers and ciders, every Monday they offer a BYOB day, with no corkage charge.
The new Islington branch of this Georgian restaurant may be fully licensed, but the Hackney original sticks firmly to its no-corkage, BYOB ways. The food of this ex-Soviet country is as overlooked as the nation itself unfortunately, but there has been a growing influx of Georgian places in London, brought in with an increasing tide of Russians — who, during a long history of occupying Georgia, have grown to love its cuisine. Straddling the border between Asia and Europe, Georgian food is a rich and textured melting pot of cultures: Turkish, Russian, Persian and Jewish. The food at Little Georgia is generally raved about by those who try it, sparking plenty of ongoing love affairs with Georgian cuisine in previously unfamiliar palates. The small, often-packed restaurant is rustic and characterful, filled with quirky details such as a vintage gramophone and historical black and white portraits, and boasting some highly in demand tables out on the pavement — be prepared to fight for them.
Cafe, British, Vegetarian, $$$
Dinner at The Bonnington Café in Vauxhall is somewhat of a blind date affair. A co-operatively run vegetarian and vegan restaurant inside a community-run centre, the style of food changes each day depending on which chef, out of a continually rotating team of local volunteers from all around the world, is in that day. The Bonnington has its roots as a communal kitchen back in the 1970s, when the area was overrun by poor quality squats, many of which didn’t have cooking facilities. With the BYOB policy, tight-knit local clientele, and ramshackle interior, eating at the Bonnington is more like popping to a friend’s candle-lit dinner party than eating out. The food is cheap, cheerful and homely, and could range from Japanese one night to French the next, or even Medieval-inspired. Impromptu readings or piano performances add to the bohemian vibe. Note, they don’t accept plastic, so bring cash.
Restaurant, British, $$$
Anyone who’s grown up elsewhere in England will agree that London is sorely lacking in proper chippies — on no account should you be serving fish and chips alongside Chinese and Indian, people. The Golden Hind, however, is a pearl in an ocean of sub-par batter and sad sack chips — having served the people of Marylebone for over 100 years, they’ve had plenty of time to hone their craft. The golden oldie is well known and well-loved for its generous portions, frayed-around-the-edges feel and traditional, no-fuss food (the fresh fish is caught up in Grimsby, a town that couldn’t get more no-fuss if it tried), with a vintage fryer thrown in to really drive that historic ‘local staple’ point home. The prices are very reasonable, and helped along by the BYOB policy.
Restaurant, Middle Eastern, $$$
There are many who have declared this Notting Hill restaurant to be the best Iranian restaurant in London. Given that West London is a bit of an Aladdin’s cave as pertains Middle Eastern eateries, Alounak has fought off some stiff competition in its own surrounding area, never mind the rest of the city. First established in 1998, the charming interior has been given a bit of a spruce not too long ago, and is filled with attractive nick nacks, stained glass and atmospheric lanterns. The traditional Persian dishes are generally raved about, but the freshly cooked flatbreads and kebabs tend to be the focal points.
Of all the unusual hybrid venues in London, Hurwundeki may well be the most peculiar — part Korean restaurant, part cafe, and part hair salon. Yes, really. The popular, East End venue is divided between two railway arches by Cambridge Heath Station, each section joined together by open archways, and is ran by Korean entrepreneur Ki-Chul Lee. At the height of his success, Lee ran a fashion label and two vintage boutiques as well as his salon, which Kate Moss was known to visit. After the recession, he was forced to close everything but his Bethnal Green coffee shop. The Hurwundeki of today reflects his gradual comeback, beginning the rebuilding of his empire with the opening of a high-class restaurant and salon in the expanded space next to his coffee shop. The restaurant is open for lunch and dinner, serving authentic, traditionally-prepared Korean food in Lee’s trademark shabby chic environment, glammed up with some attractive chandeliers.