Eating out on a budget in London

by Michael.Macaroon

London is an expensive city but you can still eat out cheaply. For under £10 you can try a range of different cuisines, and you can even eat at a Michelin-starred restaurant for under £20

For most trips, the three biggest costs are flights, hotels and then restaurants. If you fly with a budget airline such as Ryanair or easyJet, you can reduce your travel costs to a minimum. Then nail down your accommodation with last-minute bargains or by booking well ahead (at the trendy Hoxton Hotel, for example, you can even get a room for £1 a night). Then, of course, there’s restaurants … and at London prices, if you don’t know where to look, meals can end up costing more than flights and hotels put together. So read this quick guide for some hot insider tips for good food at prices that won’t turn your stomach.

Going ethnic

In London, some of the best value food can be found at ethnic eateries. According to the city’s tourist board, 53 major country styles are represented among the city’s 6,000 licensed restaurants. Curries are, of course, are a big favourite in London. Try Tayyabs (83 Fieldgate Street) in the East End near the Whitechapel Gallery. This fantastic Pakistani restaurant won’t cost you more than £10 a head, including several kebabs, a main course and a drink. Note that it doesn’t sell alcohol – but you can bring your own beer or wine and they don’t charge corkage.
There are many other curry houses on nearby Brick Lane – known locally as the “Curry Mile” – and prices are also generally low, though quality can be variable. Further up Brick Lane at number 159, there is also the wonderful Beigel Bake, a remnant of the area’s once-strong Jewish community. Prices are absurdly cheap and quality excellent (two smoked salmon bagels, two cakes and a coffee will cost under £5). Continue further north, through trendy Hoxton and up Kingsland Road, and you will find numerous Vietnamese restaurants. The best, Song Que, is at number 134, next door to the Geffrye Museum of historic interiors.

Soho gems

Soho, at the heart of the West End, is another good hunting ground for cheap eats. Busaba Eathai, at 106–10 Wardour Street, serves fresh Thai cooking in a stylishly designed interior. Expect to pay £12 for a curry, rice and a drink. This place is fashionable, however, so you may need to queue if you haven’t booked in advance. 
If you are looking for gourmet food, further up Frith Street at number 63–4 there’s the Michelin-starred Arbutus. You will need to book ahead, but the three-course lunch menu at £15.50 (and £17.50 pre-theatre) offers exceptional value for money. And the wines are good value too – everything is available by the glass or carafe.

Great traditions

At the other end of the gastronomic spectrum, London is of course renowned for its fish-and-chip shops. In their own way, these can be excellent. Visit Rock and Sole Plaice at 47 Endell Street in Covent Garden, for example. This is London’s oldest fish-and-chip shop and one of the best. The master-fryer serves up the catch of the day, often including Dover sole and bass, and you can bring your own wine for a modest corkage charge. A filling meal should cost no more than £10 a head.
Another typically British institution is the pub. Many now sell food, from sandwiches, pies and sausage and mash at more traditional establishments, to fine cuisine at the new breed of gastropubs. At the bottom end of the scale, The Harp at 47 Chandos Place (just between Trafalgar Square and Covent Garden) serves good quality sausages in baps for £2.50 each. The selection of beers here is excellent and the historic interior wonderfully atmospheric. Going for something more elaborate, try The Seven Stars at 53a Carey Street, just behind the Royal Courts of Justice on the Strand. Charles Dickens used to drink here and included the pub in his Pickwick Papers. Today, the eccentric Australian proprietor, Roxy Beaujolais, serves updates of traditional (mostly British) dishes with real flair. Look out for the pub cat, Tom Paine, with the white ruff round his neck.

Chain gang

Finally, if you’re still stuck for somewhere to go, don’t ignore all of the city’s chain restaurants. Some, admittedly, are best avoided, but others – particularly the smaller chains – can be very good indeed. The stylish Turkish chain Tas has branches in handy locations – next door to the British Museum (22 Bloomsbury Street) and round the side of Tate Modern by the Globe Theatre (20–22 New Globe Walk) – and offers fresh dishes using excellent ingredients. Carluccio’s is another name worth considering. Although you might think it a boring choice, their lasagne (at £7.95) is as good as it gets. Branches of Carluccio's can be found all over London, but the ones on Garrick Street in Covent Garden, the upper level of St Pancras Station and at 1 Old Brompton Road in South Kensington (a short walk from the Natural History Museum and V&A) are particularly useful standbys.