For any self-respecting London foodie (who isn’t a trustafarian, Russian oligarch or a Chinese high roller), finding cheap, delicious eats in the capital ought to be part of their daily struggle against the ever-increasing cost of living. Cooking at home might help curb the credit card bill, you say, but with all that’s on offer in London, sometimes you just gotta cave in and get out there.
Coming up with our list of favourite cheap eats in London took some deliberating, and in order to put out the fiery debates we agreed on two rules. 1) The mains must come under £10 and 2) No chains (three outlets or more) are allowed. The latter rule put the kibosh on several solid choices, of which, our favourites are: Breakfast Club (contemporary comfort food, big love to When Halloumi Met Salad Wrap), Chilango (Mexican), Franco Manca (pizza), Honest (burgers), Leon (global cuisine), La Porchetta (pizza) and Yalla Yalla (Lebanese).
So here goes.
C&R CAFE (Chinatown)
Tucked away in an inconspicuous alley in Chinatown, C&R Café serves no-frills Malaysian fare. The menu is fairly extensive and while some items on it are delicious, others don’t merit reordering. Our perennial favourites are Nasi Lemak (a spicy rice-based chicken dish with delicious condiments), Char Kway Teow (flat noodles) and Roti Canai (layered flatbread that is dunked in fish curry sauce).
FOOD FOR THOUGHT (Covent Garden)
Food for Thought is a cosy vegetarian basement restaurant hidden a few feet away from Neal Street’s shopping frenzy. The food on the daily-changing menu is both hearty and affordable, and FfT can boast about being on the forefront of trendy communal dining after doing it for over 40 years. Take that, you calculatedly communal hipster joints! The restaurant only accepts cash and closes already at 8.30pm.
VIET PHO (Soho)
Nuzzled beside the Palace Theatre on Greek Street lies Viet Pho. The flavours are bang on, the prices righteous and the queue outside proof in the pudding. A perfect post-film/theatre, pre-drink spot to wrangle that hunger.
THE ADVISORY (Hackney)
Gourmet burger joints have spread across London like mushrooms in rain and Hackney doesn’t buck the trend. The Advisory offers a delicious range of bites (from Chorizo and Beetroot Cheeseburgers to Philly Cheese Steaks and Pulled Pork Sandwiches with Gorgonzola, Jalapenos & BBQ Sauce) in a casual but buzzy environment. It also had its 15 minutes of controversy but don’t let this stop you from plunging your fangs into their brioche.
MIEN TAY (Shoreditch)
Super-tasty Vietnamese on Kingsland Road’s famous Pho Mile. It is surrounded by a number of other “award-winning” restaurants but this one’s our favourite. The Summer Rolls make the sun come out.
VOODOO RAY’S (Dalston)
When hipsters decide to focus their energies on food, many time a good thing comes out. Although you might stand out for not having a beard or an asymmetrical haircut, this welcoming buzzy pizza joint in Dalston is well worth a gander, serving delicious and affordable grub by the slice. Grab some pizza after a flick at the nearby independent Rio Cinema and they’ll give you 20% off. It’s also open late, making it perfect for soaking up that post-drink wobble in your belly.
ACOUSTIC CAFE (Newington Green)
When you’re feeling easy like a Sunday morning, a brunch at Newington Green’s Acoustic Café makes life a Pharrell sing-a-long. Happy. They have a Mediterranean-influenced menu but serve everything from English breakfast to American pancakes.
SPICY BASIL (Kilburn)
A Kilburn institution. These guys make fresh delicious Thai fare right before your eyes and it don’t cost the world. With mains hovering above and below a fiver, you cannot go wrong with this place.
BONNINGTON CAFE (Vauxhall)
For those who consider the river an insurmountable barrier between civilization and the southern wilds, think again or you’ll miss out. Bonnington Café in Vauxhall is a fabulous operation – a vegan/vegetarian lunch & dinner restaurant with daily rotating chefs. Imagine a candle-lit convivial dinner by foodie enthusiasts who love healthy yet affordable fare. BYO and cash only. A reservation with the day’s chef is required.
ABU ZAAD (Shepherd’s Bush)
Shepherd’s Bush may have irrevocably changed after Westfield’s onslaught but if you venture beyond the bowels of this consumer behemoth down Uxbridge Road, you’ll discover several local restaurants worth an inspection. One of these is Abu Zaad, a Syrian restaurant serving authentic and delicious mezzes in cosy surroundings. No alcohol allowed.
SANTA MARIA PIZZERIA (Ealing)
Battling over the crown for the best pizzeria in London, Ealing’s Santa Maria Pizzeria puts up a good fight against the more heavily hyped chains of Franco Manca and Rosso Pomodoro. While you may not have much business out west (unless you’re shooting a picture at the nearby Ealing Studios), Santa Maria merits the time spent negotiating the Tube. Evening Standard called S.M. the number one pizzeria to try before you die – so ask yourself, can you really afford to die without trying?
N.B. The list, as well as our appetites, is ever evolving. Should you know of a must-eat-at-NOW restaurant that complies with the rules we set out, we urge you to let us know, pronto!