Bring Your Own

Save big bucks by taking your own drinky-poos when dining out.

Are you fed up of the ludicrous cost of wine in restaurants? Of course you are, how can Campo Viejo Rioja be £7 in Tesco’s and an inferior bottle cost over £20 when eating out? This nifty profit-maker means that few restaurants advertise that you can take your own wine, but it seems that in some cases if you ask nicely enough they’ll allow you to, albeit for a corkage fee and occasionally a minimum spend, or it might have to be a wine that is expressly not on their wine list. Obviously those who are happy for you to bring your own bottle are in the minority, as some restaurants carefully select their wines to match their food, although it’s mostly to do with losing out on extra £££. Numerous Middle Eastern and Indian restaurants allow you to take your own if they don’t have a licence to sell alcohol, and it’s always worth making a quick phone call to check in advance. To give you a start, below are some fine eateries that we know for sure have BYO service.

Meat lovers
London’s favourite steakhouse, Hawksmoor, allows you to take your own wine on a Monday night. This East London eatery has garnered praise from London’s top food critics for the quality of its meat (which comes from Longhorn cattle traditionally reared and dry-aged for at least 35 days, by the way), turning it into a foodie mecca. Expect to pay at least £50 a head, and there is a £5 corkage fee.

Argentinian steakhouse El Gaucho lets you take your own bottle to their Chelsea branch, which is ideal if you’re not a fan of New World wines, as their selection is largely from Argentina. As is their beef, which is imported, grilled and served with their secret recipe sauce. Feast on 14 ounces of steak with two fried eggs on top and fries if you’re hungry; you can also fill up on traditional dishes like chargrilled black pudding and homemade pasties.
Blah Blah Blah in West London has an eclectic menu with things like aubergine schnitzel and mushroom wellington, with plenty of vegan options available too. They’ve been running for almost 20 years so they’re clearly doing something right, and BBC employees flock here of an evening due to its Shepherds Bush location. Corkage is a highly reasonable £1.45 per person.

There are a fair few Indian restaurants that don’t have a licence to sell alcohol but allow you to consume it on the premises; veggie South Indian Diwana Bhel Poori House, near Euston station, has the added advantage of being ridiculously cheap. The best value meals are the thalis, which include rice, curry, daal, a chapati and a sweet dish, all for under a tenner. The low prices mean this little eatery is bustling of an evening, plus you can wander over the road to the Indian sweet shops after dinner.

Modern European (in other words, slightly pretentious) Kitchen W8 allows you to bring your own bottle every night of the week, however there is a whopping £15 corkage charge unless you turn up on a Sunday evening, when it’s free. Given that their own (excellent) wine selection starts at £18 for a Semillon and rises to an extravagant £600 for a 1996 Bordeaux, this is still a bargain, even if you do cough up for corkage. The menu contains plenty of fancy meat and fish dishes like veal with caramelised cauliflower and ravioli of tiger prawns and slow cooked octopus.
Quick bites
The amusingly named Bloody French offers classic Gallic favourites at very cheerful prices. A set 3 course dinner menu is £23 and you can choose dishes like Provençale mussels, parmentier of duck confit and slow cooked lamb shank among many others. Take your own wine from Sunday to Tuesday and don’t pay for corkage (although you might want to go on a Wednesday night, when you get a free bottle with your meal). Most of the tables are communal, so perhaps don’t bring your date here.

Fine dining
If you thought taking your own bottle was reserved for cheap eateries, think again. Thanks to the BYO Wine Club, diners wishing to take their own wine to the city’s high end locales can do so. All you need to do is present your membership card at participating restaurants, which include Arbutus, The Harwood Arms, Hix and Bentley’s Grill Room. Corkage fees vary between nothing and £10, so check with the venue before you go. It does however, cost £99 to join the club, so first tally up how much you’re likely to save.

There is luxurious, yet affordable food at Le Café Anglais, where you may take your own wine on Monday night and not pay for corkage. The critics love this elegant restaurant and the chef’s credentials include working at Le Gavroche. On the vast menu you’ll find oysters, rabbit rillettes, and veal kidneys.


Author: Leila Hawkins