Indulge in these quick bites with Olive’s insider guide to the best value restaurant chains in Great Britain.

Olive visited each restaurant anonymously and paid for all meals. We used two reviewers, Tim Hayward and Tony Naylor, as well as taking into account the Olive team’s experiences. The 10 chains were chosen because each have at least 30 branches across the UK and have the same menus in every outlet (apart from some specials).

Giraffe
‘Global food... world music’ reads the mission statement, which means you get French pop and Latin beats with Giraffe’s menu of pan-global dishes. Its colourful restaurants have interesting design quirks; the front of the Manchester Trafford Centre branch, for instance, is done out with shuttered windows and fading billboards to resemble a Mediterranean street. The food, however, would not pass muster in Marseille. A burger came with decent, skin-on chips but the meat was tasteless. Likewise, a ‘Thai’ duck stir fry had none of the vibrant ginger and lemongrass that you would associate with Thai food. It was all chilli and dry meat.

Bestsellers
Nachos, hot Thai duck stir fry, banana waffle split.

Provenance
Eggs are free-range, chicken and beef British.

Starter or pud
Pudding. A sharing portion of nachos was small for £6.25, lukewarm and came with so-so salsa and a guacamole dominated by lime and chilli. Giraffe’s desserts are made by a third party, but a steamed pear, ginger and butterscotch pudding, served with vanilla ice cream, was the meal’s highlight.

Drink
Giraffe’s drinks list is excellent. Try Brooklyn Lager, Chegworth Valley juices or the smoothies. For wine, choose SAAM Mountain Chenin Blanc, Western Cape, South Africa, 13.9%, £19.35.

Insider tip
Brunch is the best time to go – try the huevos rancheros breakfast, £7.75.

Details
40 branches. Starters from £2.95; mains from £8.25; desserts from £4.50. (giraffe.net) TN visited the Trafford Centre branch, Manchester

Quality: 5/10
Atmosphere: 7/10
Choice: 8/10

Provenance: 6/10
Value: 5/10

Total: 31/50

Wagamama
The Wagamama formula – affordable pan-Asian dishes, communal eating and zippy service – shows no sign of flagging. At night, the Manchester Printworks branch, a huge utilitarian basement canteen, is frenetic. Old favourites such as katsu curry and yaki udon stir fry may taste a little undemanding these days, but fringe dishes still excite. The laksa-like kare noodle soups or a recent pork soup special, £8.95, the latter loaded with peppery slices of Sichuan sausage and sweet ‘n’ sour pork dumplings, have plenty of interesting flavour.

Bestsellers
Gyoza dumplings, yaki udon, frozen yoghurts.

Provenance
Wagamama was unable to provide Olive with any information about its ingredients.

Starter or pud
Starter. Its (surprisingly pleasant tasting) probiotic frozen yoghurts are the big sellers among Wagamama’s Asian-influenced desserts, such as apple and yam crumble. However, the gyoza – filled dumplings with punchy dipping sauces (officially side dishes rather than starters) – are addictive.

Drink
Wagamama serves sake and Asian lagers, but its freshly blitzed juices, particularly its bright, zingy fruit ‘n’ veg raw juice (regular, £3.10), stand out. Best wine choice is Yealands Estate Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough, New Zealand, 12.5%, £18.45.

Insider tip
Wagamama’s iPhone app allows you to locate your nearest branch, browse the menu and order takeaway online.

Details 70 branches nationwide. Starters from £3.90; mains from £7.25; desserts from £1.65. (wagamama.com) TN visited the Printworks branch, Manchester)

Quality: 8/10
Atmosphere: 8/10
Choice: 7/10
Provenance: 0/10 (see above)
Value: 9/10

Total: 32/50

La Tasca
La Tasca restaurants pay almost kitsch homage to Andalucian tapas bars; they’re all tilework and flamenco music. Manchester’s Deansgate branch, however, has been given a makeover, so but for paella pans on walls, this could be any sleek, city centre venue. It’s a pity the food hasn’t kept pace with such changes. Cooked tapas (cold-in-the-middle croquettes; greasy calamari; burned padrón peppers) were terrible. A platter of olives, meats and cheese was slightly better, but the chorizo and salchichon were poor. Two drinks, the platter, bread, five tapas and one dessert cost £41.35 – nearly 50 quid with tip.

Bestsellers
Albóndigas a la jardinera, croquetas de pollo, calamares Andaluza.

Provenance
La Tasca imports over £1m of Spanish ingredients annually. It also uses UK suppliers, ‘and some, such as fish, from slightly further afield’.

Starter or pudStarter. The freshly baked breads with Catalan-style pulped tomato and olive oil dips are the only thing Olive recommends.

Drink
There are sangrias, a handful of sherries and Spanish beers on the menu. Of the latter, Olive’s pick is Estrella Damm, 330ml/£3.20. For sherry, try Manzanilla La Gitana, Sanlucar de Barrameda, Jerez, Spain, 100ml/£4.15.

Insider tip
The last Thursday of the month is fiesta night at La Tasca, with wine tasting and chef demos.

Details
64 branches nationwide. Starters from £1.95; tapas from £2.95; desserts from £2.95. (latasca.co.uk) TN visited the Deansgate branch, Manchester

Quality: 1/10
Atmosphere: 6/10

Choice: 6/10

Provenance: 2/10
Value: 2/10

Total: 17/50

Carluccio’s
Antonio is no longer a director of this chain of smart deli/cafés, but he is still involved in menu development – and it shows. With a good selection of healthy, simple dishes and a relaxed vibe, Carluccio’s is consistently popular with the yummy mummy crowd. The St John’s Wood branch is ankle-deep in kids during the day, so it’s perhaps unsurprising that the evening reveals occasional frayed edges - sporadic crayon damage, gaffer-tape repairs to the banquettes and frazzled staff with thousandyard stares. Carluccio’s has no central production facility, either cooking on-site or using trusted local suppliers.

Bestsellers
Antipasto massimo (large mixed antipasto for two with salami, foccacia, roast ham, homemade caponata and oven-roasted tomatoes), penne giardiniera (Pugliese penne with courgette, chilli and deep-fried spinach balls), and the ever popular gelati.

Provenance
All Carluccio’s food is certified GM-free, chickens are free-range and many ingredients are sourced from specialist producers in Italy, using traditional artisanal methods. Great for authenticity, less great for your carbon footprint.

Starter or pud
Desserts such as panna cotta, pasticcio de cioccolato (chocolate bread and butter pudding) and torta di limone (lemon tart), are made daily on-site and beat the starters hands down.

Drink
The Sicilian La Segreta Rosa, a full-bodied Merlot/Syrah blend, £5.25 for a small glass.

Insider tip
You can pick up some excellent Italian wines in the deli at retail price, then drink them in the restaurant for £5 corkage. This means prices of around 40% less compared to other restaurants.

Details
55 branches nationwide. Primi (starters) from £4.95; secondi (pasta and mains) from £7.50; desserts from £3.75. (carluccios.com) TH visited the St John’s Wood branch, London

Quality: 7/10
Atmosphere: 7/10
Choice: 8/10
Provenance: 9/10
Value: 5/10
Total: 36/50

Café Rouge
The interior of a Café Rouge is Belle Epoque France seen through Disney’s eyes. The menu encompasses many bistro and brasserie classics, and like many chains, it’s over-lit, which means you can see the details of your meal, but perhaps a few too many of your date.

Bestsellers
Confit de canard with French beans, creamy pommes Dauphinois and a bizarrely oriental sounding plum sauce is surprisingly good. Other bestsellers are the soupe à l’oignon and tarte Tatin.

Provenance
Café Rouge says it works with smaller producers in the UK and France ‘whenever possible’. The majority of cheeses are imported from France and mussels from Scotland.

Starter or pud
Between the casse-croûtes, hors d’oeuvres and plats rapides, there’s an enormous variety at the cheaper end before you get into the spécialités and grillades. Olive recommends lots of sharing. Desserts are substantial – think twice after a main.

Drink
Tannat-Merlot, a black, firm red, 175ml/£4.30.

Insider tip
The authentically Gallic prix fixe lunch menu is available all week from 12-5pm, one/two courses £6.50/£8.50.

Details
119 branches nationwide. Starters from £4.75; mains from £10.50; desserts from £3.95. (caferouge.co.uk) TH visited the Gatwick Terminal 3, Tottenham Court Road and Sevenoaks branches

Quality: 7/10
Atmosphere: 6/10
Choice: 9/10
Provenance: 2/10
Value: 6/10
Total: 30/50

YO! Sushi
In 1997, when YO! Sushi brought the idea of kaiten-zushi (conveyor belt sushi) eating to the UK, it was astonishingly novel. Over the years, the food has evolved into perhaps a more mainstream hybrid cuisine all of its own. Today’s YO! has surprisingly little raw fish on the belt; in its place are Japanese-inspired, tapas-sized dishes, with some exciting and outstanding flavour combinations. These days, you’ll find less selection on the belt, but many more dishes available to order.

Bestsellers
YO! roll (signature dish), spicy chicken ISO (inside-out), salmon nigiri, kaiso salad, chicken gyoza, chicken katsu and chicken teriyaki.

Provenance
YO! is hot on fish quality, following recommendations by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC ) to offer ingredients from sustainable, approved and certified wild fisheries. It also promises not to serve any species on the IUCN Red List.

Starter or pud
YO! doesn’t distinguish between starters and mains, but the fruit platters are the ideal foil to the hot and salty flavour combinations.

Drink
The flagship Market Place branch in London serves collagen drinks (which claim to be anti-aging). Or Asahi Super Dry beer, 500ml/£4.65.

Insider tip
Join the YO! Sushi Love Club online to get 1/3 off your first visit and on your birthday. (yosushi.com/love-club)

Details
58 branches nationwide. Dishes £1.70-£5 on colour-coded plates so you can keep track. (yosushi.com) TH visited the Poland Street branch, London

Quality: 8/10
Atmosphere: 9/10
Choice: 8/10
Provenance: 9/10
Value: 9/10
Total: 43/50

Strada
Strada’s formula of slick interiors and a menu featuring daily specials with an emphasis on fine Italian ingredients suggests ambition. Does it deliver? On Olive’s test visit, the quality was akin to luxury supermarket ready meals, which, when you’re paying up to £17.50 for a main, tastes expensive. A pizza rossa (Strada’s bestseller) had an exemplarily paper thin base, but the dough was lifeless and lacked char. Toppings, including southern Italian salami, were sadly overpowered by chilli. A plate of panzerotti porcini was thick and rubbery. Our advice? Stick to the pizzas.

Bestsellers
Bruschetta con peperonata, pizza rossa, fondente al cacao.

Provenance
Strada uses imported Italian cheeses, meats and some desserts – authentic, but it racks up food miles.

Starter or pud
Starters have the edge. A bruschetta con peperonata was fine, and decent ingredients mean the basics (caprese salad, meat platters) are reliable. However, a chocolate pudding was indistinct, and a lavender-heavy sauce spoiled an otherwise precise panna cotta.

Drink
The Tratturi Fiano Sicilia is a zesty white that would pair well with pasta or pizza; 175ml/£4.75.

Insider tip
Strada is progressively green in one way: it serves free, filtered tap water in reusable glass bottles.

Details
72 branches nationwide. Starters from £5.25; mains from £7.75; desserts from £3.95. (strada.co.uk) TN visited the Irwell Square branch, Spinningfields, Manchester

Quality: 6/10
Atmosphere: 7/10
Choice: 8/10
Provenance: 4/10
Value: 5/10
Total: 30/50

Gourmet Burger Kitchen
Call yourself ‘gourmet’ and you had better be good. Happily, GBK is. Made from 100% Aberdeen Angus beef and created with consultant chef, Peter Gordon (the famed fusion pioneer from London’s The Providores restaurant), GBK burgers are all cooked to order and are differentiated by various sauces, usually made on-site. The fundamentals here - fresh, toasted sesame seed buns; pink, flavoursome, chargrilled patties – are sound. GBK venues are relatively rugged, wood panelled, no-frills burger bars. The Trafford Centre site looks like a converted sawmill.

Bestsellers
Top five burgers: Cheese, Avocado Bacon, BBQ, Blue Cheese, Habanero (with hot, spicy sauce).

Provenance
Beef is British, chickens (‘reared in open-sided barns’) English. GBK also serves an intensely beefy buffalo burger from biodynamic farm, Laverstoke Park.

Starter or pud
GBK doesn’t do orthodox starters or desserts. Instead, it serves picky nibbles, such as halloumi bites and chicken kebabs, plus a selection of cheap, proprietary sweet things including Ben and Jerry’s, FA B lollies and Whittaker’s chocolate slabs. Olive says: save your money and have another burger.

Drink
GBK was founded by Kiwis, so you’ll find New Zealand drinks, such as Stein lager and soft drink, Lemon and Paeroa on the menu. Go for the first-rate Czech beer Budvar, 500ml/£5.15, or a milkshake, £3.75. For wine, order the Dashwood Pinot Noir, Marlborough, New Zealand, £19.55.

Insider tip
Stick to the smaller 6oz burger size and you can sample a couple of burgers. Get chips, too: frozen-fried rather than oven-cooked, they are crisp and fluffy.

Details
55 branches. Starters from £2.75; mains from £6.25; desserts from £1. (gbk.co.uk) TN visited the Trafford Centre branch, Manchester

Quality: 9/10
Atmosphere: 8/10

Choice: 6/10
Provenance: 6/10
Value: 8/10

Total: 37/50

Zizzi
Zizzi is a modern Italian chain with kitchens featuring stone base ovens – which means the pizzas are a safe bet in most branches. The menu also offers classics, such as salmon salsa verde, at a range of sizes and prices. Serving staff are friendly – they were certainly charming and efficient on Olive’s visit to the freshly opened branch near Covent Garden.

Bestsellers
The rustica pizza (Zizzi says the rustica is ‘bigger, thinner, crispier and loaded with even more toppings’) is extremely generously sized with a crackling thin base and a sure hand with the toppings. One will easily serve two people and any regular pizza on the menu can be made rustica style for a £1.95 surcharge.

Provenance
Eggs are free-range, steak is from south west England and some ingredients come from Italy – green credentials are sacrificed for authenticity.

Starter or pud
Starters are good, but O recommends saving space for the gelato and sorbetti, made for Zizzi from organic ingredients by Kitty Travers at the Calon Wen cooperative in Wales.

Drink
Try Settesoli Fiano, Sicily, Italy, £16.80 or Sartori Valpolicella, Veneto, Italy, £16.30.

Insider tip
Should you happen to be a celebrity, most Zizzis have ‘discreet snugs and nooks’ where you can ‘keep a low profile’. Guy Ritchie, Lewis Hamilton, Dizzee Rascal and Sven Goran Eriksson are all reported to have taken advantage of this.

Details
Over 100 branches nationwide. Starters from £4.75; mains from £6.75; desserts from £3.55. (zizzi.co.uk) TH visited the New Change branch, London

Quality: 8/10
Atmosphere: 8/10
Choice: 8/10
Provenance: 6/10
Value: 8/10

Total: 38/50

Nando’s
Nando’s has taken simple Portuguese/Mozambiquan peri-peri chicken and spread it over the UK. Orders are taken at the counter, but otherwise things operate like any other fast service restaurant. It’s a winning combination; informal, welcoming to families, with great tasting food in large, affordable portions. Meat is marinated for 24 hours, grilled on an open flame and served with piquant sauces. Nando’s huge list of celebrity fans includes JLS , Pixie Lott, Chris Moyles, Nicholas Holt, Pamela Anderson, Jay-Z and Beyoncé.

Bestsellers
The Nando’s system lets you choose the size of your chicken portion, degree of spicing and a selection of sides. A half chicken with medium sauce is the most popular order.

Provenance
The birds used are not organic or free-range – neither are they battery. They are ‘barn reared in well littered, well ventilated houses and have constant access to water and food free from antibiotic growth promoters’. Nando’s constantly reviews its policies but, at the moment, says: ‘Chicken welfare is extremely important to us but we do have to balance this with a price point that our customers are prepared to pay’.

Starter or pud
Starters are nibbles to kill time while waiting for your food. You may have trouble finding space for the desserts, which include the awe-inspiring choc-a-lot cake, £3.95. Save your cash for the salads and sides, including the outstanding corn on the cob.

Drink
A mango quencher, £2.75, should be placed next to your plate while eating the extra hot sauce. Or try a Portuguese Sagres beer, £3.15. For wine, choose Quinta de Aveleda Vinho Verde, £15.30, or Grand’Arte Shiraz, £15.75, both from Portugal.

Insider tip
A full platter includes a whole chicken plus two large, or four regular, sides, £17.90, and easily serves two.

Details
236 branches nationwide. Starters from £2.75; mains – half a chicken plus side, £9.10; desserts £3.95. (nandos.co.uk) TH visited the Upper Street and Camden branches, London

Quality: 7/10
Atmosphere: 7/10
Choice: 6/10
Provenance: 4/10
Value: 9/10
Total: 33/50

Other chains you can trust
Gusto great, regional Italian pizza and pasta chain, based mainly in Edinburgh and the north of England. (gustorestaurants.uk.com)
Canteen friendly all day restaurants serving solid British food at affordable prices. (London only; canteen.co.uk)
Bar Burrito Freshly prepared, great quality Mexican street food. (Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds; barburrito.co.uk)
Leon healthy fast food. Admirable ingredient sourcing policies too. (London and Bluewater Shopping Centre in Kent; leonrestaurants.co.uk)
Gaucho top quality Argentinean steak – pricey but worth it. (London, Leeds and Manchester; gauchorestaurants.co.uk)

The article 'High street dining on trial' was published in partnership with BBC Olive magazine.