Where: Joe Allen, Exeter Street, Covent Garden
With who: The Daddy and Mr Pipes
How much: You're going to top £40 a head for 2 courses and drinks, though 'that' burger and chips is sub £15 all in...
Come here if: you can't get into The Ivy but want to hang out with the theatrical crowd.
There are a number of places I've been reticent to talk about. Not necessarily places with food hipster cred that I don't think you're cool enough for, but places I associate some form of insider ownership over, no matter how misguided or loose the connection. One such place is Covent Garden's Joe Allen. Still ludicrously popular with the staff of theatreland, it was such a go to at one point that I knew, and was known to, most of the front of house team by name. The popularity of that crowd comes with from the late performer-friendly hours, the proximity to the theatres of Covent Garden and the now famous 'secret' burger, allegedly designed to allow hard-up actors to eat with their wealthier friends post show.
Descend down the dark staircase into the basement space, bare brick walls covered in West End folio posters from shows currently on and those that are 30 year old. It's comfortable, clubby and always busy. Grab a drink at the long bar and listen to Jimmy the pianist hit a range of showtune standards on late week nights.
The menu is a dogs dinner of vague Americana and 70's oddities. It's hardly a thing of beauty, but guests can chose from a mash-up ranging from Caesar Salad, Chilli Con Carne and cornbread through to 70's relics such as chicken with orange sauce. The best advice I can give you is not to follow suit. The portions might be large, it's an American restaurant after all, but what I've sampled over the years has struggled to raise the bar beyond the pedestrian at best, and can be sub-TGI Fridays at it's worst.
Go for the burger. And only the burger. It's not on the menu, but don't feel bashful, everyone knows about it these days. It's a thick charred bombe of a patty served medium rare as standard housed within the soft sweet cathedral of a brioche bun. Good crispy bacon and melted (cheddar) cheese are a worthy accompaniment, as are the spears of gherkin served on the side. Add skin on fries, occasionally over salted but generally as good as these things can be, and serve with a side of salacious gossip, preferably about who's doing who in the current show you're working on.