When visiting London, we almost always eat late: after and preferably right near the theater. Here are three places we went during our March trip.
One night we took the bus up to Islington's Almeida Theatre and saw one of the final performances of an admirable and fascinating production of Federico García Lorca's "The House of Bernarda Alba." Afterward, we strolled 12 minutes north and had an entirely pleasing meal at Trullo, which takes reservations up to 10:30 p.m. but which was welcoming customers at least a few minutes later than that. Small, comfortably decorated and with warm and knowledgeable service, it offers good value and a short, fairly simple Italian menu (despite its name, not focusing on the food of Puglia, which is where trulli are to be found).
Look at their website for a recent menu; dishes change all the time. For starters, we had spinach-ricotta gnudi (dumplings) vigorously but not excessively flavored with nutmeg and a bruschetta topped with creamy and flavorful almost-pureed salt cod, just-wilted spinach and soft-cooked egg. The bruschetta was a particular favorite: my first impression was that it was just too simple, but the flavors were forthright and the seasoning perfect, so the dish was hard to relinquish when it was time for Jackie and me to swap. Jackie then had juicy sliced hanger steak with beans and a salsa rossa centered on diced peppers; the beans were monochromatically garlicky, but otherwise the dish pleased. I had pasta: perfectly cooked, resilient pappardelle with shredded stewed beef shin. As with Jackie's beans, I'd have preferred the beef to have a little more zip, either from chilies or from an acidic ingredient, but this did taste entirely Italian.
Everything tasted entirely Italian, in fact. We had a good time and look forward to another visit next time we're at The Almeida.
After "The Ladykillers" (yes, a re-make of the movie and a successful one at that) at the Gielgud Theatre on Shaftesbury Avenue, a four- or five-minute walk took us to Yotam Ottolenghi's NOPI (which sounds like some kind of exotic dumpling but stands for North Of PIccadilly). They take reservations until 10:15 p.m.; not all that late, but most West End shows finish by 10 o'clock, and the restaurant really is right near many of the theaters.
Mr. Ottolenghi is Israeli, and some of the chefs who work with him here are North African or Australian: the flavors go beyond Mediterranean and hit China and South Asia -- sometimes in ways it is hard to pinpoint. Were the zucchini and manouri cheese fritters Indian? No. But if you'd eaten them in a modern Indian restaurant you mightn't have raised an eyebrow. Was the five-spice tofu Chinese? Not with that concentrated spiced tomato puree it wasn't. And where on earth did that savory cheesecake (like a pudding) come from? It's all just interesting cooking served in small portions from which you can put together a nice, fairly light late-night supper.
Those modest (though not inexpensive) servings mean you can save room for dessert, which you simply must do: Guava compote with streusel and cardamom yogurt was terrific, and so was a chocolate-caramel-peanut do-it-yourself sundae. Was everything perfect? No again: thin slices of tongue had been crisped on one side and became almost leathery, which undermined the silky texture that is tongue's greatness; some sauce and garnish flavors were too intense, overwhelming the main ingredient. But we had a lovely evening in a handsome, informal, friendly restaurant.
One of our favorite tiny, far-from-West-End theaters is The Gate, above a pub in Notting Hill. There are a couple of nice restaurants just to the south on Kensington Church Street (two pioneers of modern British cooking, in fact: Clarke's and Kensington Place). This time, after a performance of The Summer House (funny and exciting) we went to Hereford Road. The restaurant isn't open especially late (last reservations are at 10 p.m., but they say they won't mind if you warn them that you're going to be there at, say, 10:15); it is, however, only a seven-minute walk from The Gate, where most shows are finished well before then anyway.
What you get in this buzzy neighborhood restaurant is very seasonal, essentially simple cooking from a chef whose previous job was as head chef at St. John Bread and Wine. Among its nine first courses and 10 mains, a mid-March menu included grilled sardines, potted crab, pot roasted rabbit, two venison dishes and sea bass. (There's a new one every day, posted online.) Prices are reasonable for London, and portions are perhaps excessively generous: either of our appetizers would have been adequate as a late-night main course, so unless you're very hungry you may want to split or skip a starter or order two first courses for your supper. Combinations respond to the market basket and are imaginative but not startling: my beautifully cooked first-course roast quail was served with a warm radish-arugula salad, and a skate wing (also perfectly cooked) came with a raw salad of cucumber and sea dulse (a kind of seaweed). In both cases the main ingredient outshone the accompaniment.
Dessert -- a tart-sweet buttermilk pudding with rhubarb -- might have been the star of the evening had the show not been stolen by a black-clad, platinum-maned customer who looked like a long-retired second-tier rock idol and who got, literally, falling-down drunk. Well, it's Notting Hill, and this is, after all, a neighborhood restaurant.
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Trullo. 300 St. Paul's Road, Islington, London N1 2LH; +44 (0) 207 226 2733; http://www.trullorestaurant.com. Open for lunch every day; dinner Monday to Saturday. Our dinner for two, including one of the more costly white wines on the list, cost $135. With a more modest wine, it would have cost just north of $100.
NOPI. 21-22 Warwick Street, Soho, London W1B 5NE; +44 207 494 9584; http://www.nopi-restaurant.com/. Open Monday to Saturday, breakfast, lunch and dinner (including pre-theater meals). Our dinner for two cost about $165 including service, with five small savory dishes and two desserts and a really nice bottle of Austrian white wine.
Hereford Road. 3 Hereford Road, Notting Hill, London W2 4AB; +44 (0) 207 727 1144; http://www.herefordroad.org. Open every day, lunch and dinner. Three appetizers, one main course, one dessert and half a liter of good wine cost $105 including service.