London’s best pre-theatre restaurant is CÔTE St Martin’s Lane

As an audience member, it’s often a challenge in London finding a great restaurant near enough to your theatre to be able to enjoy a meal without too much stress about timings.

Perhaps you, like me, have previously had a skin-of your-teeth pre-theatre meal that arrived too late or too cold, leaving you frantically trying to get your bill paid and ending up running to the theatre, leaving you with indigestion that lasts through the first half of your show. Not a good start to your expensive evening of relaxation! Perhaps like you, I vowed never to have this happen to me again- and since 2012 it never has. Let me share with you my secret.

Having worked in the theatre business for 35 years, I have many people calling me and asking about good pre-theatre restaurants- and how to get into them. I have also organised many hundreds of meals on behalf of clients, individuals and theatre groups. Since their opening in 2011, CÔTE St Martin’s Lane has been the TheatreLand restaurant that I have recommended exclusively, and they have never let me – or my many guests – down.

Pre-theatre dining is a fine art in itself, and the highly-experienced CÔTE St Martin’s Lane team have it down to a tee. Being at the heart of Theatreland, just a few steps away from The Coliseum (currently with HAIRSPRAY), the Noel Coward (currently with 2.22), the Duke of Yorks (currently closed), Wyndham’s (shortly to reopen with LEOPOLDSTRADT), the Garrick (currently with BILLIONAIRE BOY) and the Cambridge (reopening September 16th with MATILDA).

Anyone going to any of these shows will find CÔTE within easy walking distance, and another bonus is that the restaurant is just two minutes from Leicester Square tube station.

CÔTE is a warm and welcoming French bistro with a monthly-changing menu of specials and fixed price menus which are renowned for their quality and excellent value. That’s before we talk about the buzzy atmosphere which adds to a great night out, and the warmth of the gold-leafed and mirrored walls, with an authentic French feel of attractively tiled floors and dark wood furniture which exudes simple sophistication. You can relax at CÔTE, knowing everything’s taken care of.

I well remember chatting to a couple of gentlemen who used to dine at a very fancy French restaurant before finding out that their favourite wine was at CÔTE for half the price they were paying previously. Lured by the wine, they grew to enjoy the service, attention to detail and quality of the food at CÔTE, and, like many others we have encountered, have since become regular visitors.

Some of the friendly, helpful and highly-efficient Cote St Martin’s Lane team in the restaurant’s intimate, quieter rear room

Regular customers are, along with word-of-mouth recommendations, the lifeblood of restaurants, and CÔTE is the recipient of much customer loyalty. When the restaurant recently reopened after a period of closure, the place was fully booked from opening until closing – mostly, I am told, by their regulars celebrating their return. Including me!

Theatregoers love its proximity to their theatres, and you can always rely on the staff being up to date with theatre information, as they take a keen interest in the theatres and the shows around them, keeping up to date with shows opening and closing, special events – whatever may affect their footfall. Every one of the team, from the management to floor team to kitchen team are exemplary at what they do.

There is another theatrical connection that CÔTE St Martin’s Lane enjoys. Apart from the huge number of theatregoers, a good number of creative theatre people including producers (both established and emerging) can be seen here, whether with guests pre-theatre or enjoying a leisurely lunch meeting to discuss new production and collaboration plans.

When you prefer to enjoy al fresco dining on a warm Summer evening, CÔTE has the perfect answer! (and it’s just two minutes from Leicester Square tube)
The theatrically decorated outside space (The road is currently pedestrianised)

Since they reopened , CÔTE has acquired outside dining space due to the lower part of St Martin’s Lane being pedestrianised, which makes the street very attractive for an al fresco meal rendezvous. This is thanks to the hard work of local businesses and placemakers like Placemaking London’s brilliant Daniel Johnson who have encouraged Westminster Council’s initiative which will be in place until at least next year, and hopefully will be made permanent after that.

If you are reassured by seeing safety and sensible health procedures, you’ll be glad to hear that CÔTE has thoughtfully managed safety procedures to put diners at our ease with hand sanitiser gel generously sited around the restaurant for your use.

So if you’re looking for a pre-theatre restaurant with the warmest welcome in London, the best service, scrupulously clean environment, and fabulous food at brilliant prices, you’ll want to book CÔTE St Martin’s Lane to guarantee your perfect pre-show meal.

Have a wonderful time!

CÔTE Brasserie, 50, St Martin’s Lane , London WC2N 4EA

To browse menus and make reservations, click here

Theatre FootNotes for March 2020 – a summary of other theatre events in my diary

STICKS AND STONES by Dameon Garnett, seen at The Tristan Bates Theatre on Sat 7 March (matinee)

Charting the conversations between a white school-dinner lady and the black school deputy head, STICKS AND STONES boils down to two extended dialogues. There was a lot in the show that was interesting; how social media is something we take far too casually, not thinking about implications or offence, as well as addressing deeply ingrained societal racism. The two actors do good work in bringing the script to life. I felt that there could have been more exposition to make the relationship more solid (before ripping it apart), and also the structure felt somewhat unfinished. Also the staging, in a weirdly lopsided traverse configuration, with a stage management person moving the set sitting in full sight for the duration of the play, felt not only ill-considered but also distracting. Nevertheless I was sorry to see the show’s run cut short by the blanket theatre closures later in the month.


IN BRIEF Compassionate exploration of mental health is challenging but ultimately uplifting

Be Kind. To yourself and others. That’s the core message in Philip Osment’s final play, CAN I HELP YOU? It’s an intriguing puzzle of a play which gradually pulls together a picture of two very different people who have mental health issues. Both have blamed themselves for things not in their power to control, causing them lifelong guilt and self-punishment.

Just as Francis, an off-duty policeman, is about to throw himself off of Beachy Head, he encounters Fifi wandering along with a large shopping bag and a cat box.

Fifi has battled cruelty all her life, from being the only black child at her school, to her own child’s stillbirth, and to her husband’s lack of love and care. Relying on God, voices in her head and her cat (Kat), she has somehow forged her own way through life. Still guilt-ridden, she envisions what her son (Michael)’s life would have been like, and she yearns for him. She thinks she sees him in the people she meets.

Francis is racked with guilt about a time when as a young boy he left his chronically depressed mother alone so that he could get away from her and go on holiday – leaving her to commit suicide undetected.

However, the interspersed flashback scenes demonstrate that rather than being their fault, these events were out of their control, and not as their memories had chosen to recall them.

The guilt of the son and the guilt of the mother are delicately contrasted here and provide an eventual part-catharsis for both Francis and Fifi as they work through their troubled pasts through talking with each other.

Covering mental health from a view of both race and gender, Osment’s script highlights the human costs of the failures of social care systems and their impacts upon innocent people who try to carry on whilst absorbing the overwhelming mental damage this causes.

The script treats the characters with warmth, compassion and understanding, providing a reflective mood for characters and audience alike. As one of them says, “we get so caught up with things that don’t matter you forget the bigger picture”. And here, away from the rest of their lives, it feels that they can get a precious “bigger picture” view of their situation.

A symbolic ending seems gently uplifting in Osment’s signature way; a fitting way to sign off a life’s work.

Technically, the flashback scenes were effectively achieved by changes in lighting and swift physical and vocal character shifts, done with aplomb by the two actors. I did feel that Gabriel Vick’s Francis was rather underplayed at the start of the play, although he gains dramatic “weight” as he gets into the role. Perhaps this might have been a direction issue, although the rest of the play comes across well. Susan Aderin’s Fifi is a magnetic performance, rolling with all the drama and swell of the stormy sea that surrounds her. She gives a powerful performance of pain, loss and hope.

Max Pappenheim’s ebbing and flowing seascape sound design nicely captures the feel of place and the power of nature, the stormy weather echoing the internal mental turbulence the characters feel.

Like other of Osment’s plays, I found that it was rather overstuffed with themes and ideas; the strand about immigration needed more time to enjoy its own space rather than being quickly raised and dropped. But the central themes are well-expressed and the 75-minute running time flew by.

CAN I HELP YOU? Ran at the Omnibus Theatre, Clapham until March 15th after which it was closed early owing to the public health emergency.


LIPSTICK runs at Southwark Playhouse until 28th March. Information and tickets here

IN BRIEF Two teenagers struggle to find themselves in well-written portrait of difference

A single tube of lipstick propels this interesting play about Tommy and Jordan, two teenage boys. Tommy likes lipstick. Jordan likes how Tommy looks in lipstick. Seeking stability away from his warring parents, Jordan finds a kind of refuge at Tommy’s house next door. They cultivate a connection based on outsidership, Tommy having been absent from school.

They do what teenagers do, experimenting to try and find out who they are and how they fit into the world. Searching for connection and trying to avoid rejection. But Jordan’s assumptions that he and Tommy are similar are shattered when the full extent of Tommy’s acute anxiety comes out. 

Their relationship is often gentle, sometimes harsh, occasionally funny – but it feels authentic.

That painful tension of transition between childhood and adulthood that causes so much anguish is well expressed in Lily Shahmoon’s play which treats its characters with understanding.

Directed by Ed White, the acting is finely-tuned; both are memorable performances. April Hughes as Tommy captures the rather drug- subdued straightforwardness (masking the reality) of Tommy, at one point making a truly startling transition into his alter-ego Tina. The final confrontation where Tommy’s reality hits Jordan is impassioned and moving. 

Helen Aluko as Jordan shows us the inconsistency of someone exploring their sexuality, at times lashing out at others for what they most recognise in themselves.

It was an intriguing idea to use female actors to portray the boys – it subtly changes the dynamic and somehow allows us to focus on the feelings rather than the sexuality of the situation.

LIPSTICK runs at Southwark Playhouse until 28th March. Information and tickets here


DRIP, DRIP, DRIP runs at The Pleasance Downstairs until March 21st. Information and tickets here

IN BRIEF NHS staff battle racism in an alarming, intriguing and vital play for our unstable times

“We don’t tolerate “Othering”” says Steven the NHS Manager to Doctor Rahmiya. But “othering” is everywhere in Pipeline Theatre’s DRIP DRIP DRIP, a complex look at the “cancer” of racism and the ways it impacts upon two victims of that prejudice.

David, a white nationalist ex-lecturer learns he has brain cancer. In hospital he encounters overstretched yet measured and professional oncologist Rahmiya and charmingly hopeful nursing assistant Daniel, a refugee from Eritrea who is haunted by separation from his younger brother.

Agitated, fussy and ill at ease with himself and others, David is socially isolated, with only his cat to care for; he presents a pathetic yet still dangerous figure. Even Rahmiya falls into the trap of allowing herself to feel sorry for him, even going out of her way to feed his cat. But when the true horror of his beliefs are exposed, their corrosive nature test those attempting to care for him.

“It’s not about you” David blusters to Rahmiya after his beliefs have been exposed, fully aware how repellent his ideas are and embarrassed at their outing. But as we have seen, people can be incited to hate groups far more easily than individuals.

The absurdity of a dying man prejudiced against those who are keeping our healthcare system afloat (and him alive) seems an apt metaphor for a country rabidly desperate to cut off its own nose to spite its face.

The play’s writing (by Jon Welch, who also directs) is intriguing, twisty and at times challenging. There is an admirable even-handedness in the writing in that it takes on a range of assumptions, each of which can be seen as shaded and not binary, highlighting the reality that everyone is human. The range of differences in play are intriguing – man/woman, young/old, British-born/ Refugee, Christian/ Muslim, and make for a complex context through which the characters navigate. It was only the very last scene which I felt was a little unnecessary after the excellent scene which preceded it and, to me, felt like a more natural ending.

The acting is first-rate throughout. Lydia Bakelmun plays Rahmiya with a restraint and humanity that highlights her caring nature whilst also subtly pointing up the way that life, work and once-removed childcare is wearing her down. Her composure contrasted with David’s rantings speaks volumes about integrity and humanity.

David Keller is very effective as elderly paranoid David, out of control, out of time and out of love. His performance made my skin crawl (in the intended way). Michael Workeye brings a youthful , hopeful yet haunted Daniel to life with great charm and brotherly care in an impressive stage debut.

The design (by Alan and Jude Mundin) is ingenious in its creative use of a number of  hospital-related components; there is also clever use of projections, all making the most of the limited stage area.

Towards the end of the play, David’s death may be seen as a symbolic triumph, however the play reminds us that there are plenty of people waiting in the wings to continue the bigotry; the kind of people on the bus who shout at Rahmiya’s children to “go home”. But as Rahmiya says, “how do you go home when you are already there?”

DRIP, DRIP, DRIP runs at The Pleasance Downstairs until March 21st. Information and tickets here

One gripe. On my visit there was no cast sheet or other information available – very disappointing to audiences but also, surely, to the cast and crew themselves. Credit where it’s due please!