One such place is Little Bay, part of a mini chain of wackily decorated, ridiculously cheap, vaguely French restaurants. The walls are dark red, decorated with white silhouettes of mythical themes. There is a giant gold head protruding from the wall, floor to ceiling. Mesh and baubles hang off metallic chandeliers. It fells romantic, decadent and unapologetically kitsch. And if you get there before 7pm you can get a huge bowl of mussels in creamy white wine loveliness (or any other starter) for £2.25, followed by juicy duck breast with red cabbage and a hexagonal leek-filled pastry for £6.45. After 7, the starters go up to a still-very-reasonable £3.25 and the mains to £8.45.
There's a decent wine list, Budvar on tap, friendly service from young foreign-sounding waiters and utterly more-ish chips cooked in goose fat (£2.25). Last week, they provided plentiful tap water and happily refilled our free bread basket (you have to mop up every bit of those mussel juices).
As you can probably tell by now, I love the place. According to google, it's owned by a Serb called Peter Ilic, who also runs the LMNT restaurants while his wife Grace runs my other romance-on-a-budget favourite, Le Mercury on Upper Street. In checking out the Little Bay website for this review I have discovered two more cool things: they have a branch in Belgrade and the one in Battersea has live opera six nights a week.
Little Bay, 171 Farringdon Rd, EC1R 3AL; Tel. 0207 3724699; Tube: Farringdon; http://www.littlebay.co.uk