Café Monico Review: Classic Dining in London’s West End

Café Monico can be found between two theatres on Shaftesbury Avenue, and amongst all of the bells and whistles of London’s West End it looks quite unassuming from the outside.

Head inside, though, and you’ll be in for something quite special.

My partner and I were thrilled to be invited to Café Monico for a London Date Spots review, and so on an unseasonably cold and grey summer day we headed there after work.

First Impressions And Atmosphere

The first thing you’ll notice inside is the timeless decor: clean white tablecloths, dark wood panelling, big silver champagne buckets.

Not surprising, as this is a European brasserie with a bit of history behind it: the original Café Monico was opened in 1877 and they’ve obviously made an effort to preserve the vintage ambiance and charm.

Classic decor and seating at Café Monico
Classic and clean decor at Café Monico

The tables have enough space between them to allow you and your date your own little ‘island’ of conversation, but with enough going on around you that you don’t feel self-conscious. This is a balance I always look for in a good date spot!

If you want the best table at Café Monico, try to get a spot upstairs on the gallery. From up here, you’re looking down on the central bar, which is lit up by a huge chandelier. Here you can watch as the staff mix, shake and pour cocktails (more on these later!) and it gives the whole place a warm, lively buzz.

Central bar at Cafe Monico
The lively central bar

We were there on a Wednesday, but if you go here on Tuesdays, you’ll also be able to catch live music from singer Abbey Mordue as you dine.

Menu And Service

We were greeted by a friendly server who got us seated immediately in the gallery and gave us menus.

There’s a good range of traditional European dishes from the All Day Menu and Prix-Fixe Menu (i.e. set menu), but there are also some specials, including the Brunch and Sunday Roast menus. For a weekend brunch date, you could go for a full English, eggs five different ways, or – if you like something sweet for breakfast – there are options like waffles or granola with coconut yoghurt.

We decided to stick to the set menu (this is great value for money at £21 for three courses or £17 for two). Everything I had was vegetarian, but they have plenty of grilled meats, fish and a few steak options too.

Burrata with green olive tapenade

One of the starters – a burrata with green olive tapenade – sounded intriguingly fancy to me, but I have to admit that I didn’t really know what either of those things were. So, when our first plates arrived, I assumed that the dish in front of me was a poached egg and was surprised when it turned out to be a cake of incredibly fresh-tasting cheese!

Since then, I’ve Googled burrata and learned that it’s an Italian food made from mozzarella with a creamy centre. Along with the chilled tapenade, it’s nice and refreshing. It may have been cold and drizzling outside on this occasion, but this would be a great starter for a hot day.

Pea and asparagus risotto at Cafe Monico
Creamy pea and asparagus risotto

The second dish was a pea and asparagus risotto, which comes topped with shavings of hard, flavourful cheese. If you like your risottos on the firmer, more al dente side, you’ll like this one.

I’m not very familiar with how to judge steaks, but my partner had the 5oz rump steak and enjoyed it a lot.

For dessert, I had a pineapple upside down cake with ginger sorbet. This was lovely, but the real star was the light, creamy crème brûlée that my partner had, and which I couldn’t resist stealing a couple of spoonfuls of 😋. Highly recommended!

Throughout, the staff did check in with us to see how we were liking things, but we were otherwise left alone to chat and enjoy the food, which is another plus to Café Monico as a date spot.

Drinks Selection

The drinks menu is pretty versatile, with some classic cocktails and modern spins on traditional drinks (e.g. the Monico Martini with mandarin bitters and floral Benedictine, or the Penicillin, with ginger syrup, honey and whiskey). These are all £9.50 – quite normal for central London.

If gin and tonics are your thing, they have no less than 5 different options, with interesting twists like thyme, apple and black pepper or red chillies and coriander.

There are also non-alcoholic options made with Seedlip (a non-alcoholic spirit), so if you’re driving home after your date you can still have a cocktail together.

Wines range from £24 and £115. If it’s a big occasion you can splash out on a decadent sparkling Ruinart Rosé (the most expensive bottle), but if you’re looking after the cash you’ll still have at least ten different options under £30 (including the very nice Merlot that we had).

Vegan/Vegetarian Options

Vegans will have limited choices, as there are just a few exclusively plant-based options on offer.

However, there are vegetarian options on every menu, so those avoiding just meat and fish won’t struggle at all.

Bottom Line

Café Monico has a timeless romantic ambiance, friendly, easy-going staff and an excellent drinks selection. Although there aren’t many vegan options, there’s plenty of choice otherwise, and the set menu makes it possible to have something quite special at great value for money.

Next time you go for dinner and a show, definitely consider going here!