‘There is no sincerer love than the love of food.’ – George Bernard Shaw.
One of my all-time favourite things to do is to eat. I can literally be eating one meal and be planning the next at the same time. Food is high on my list of priorities at all times. And where better to enjoy food than in London, a culturally diverse city with food from all over the world on offer everywhere you go.
But… Eating out in London can get expensive. I surely cannot be the only one who is guilty of spending way too much of my pay cheque on food in London?! It’s definitely good that I’ve been able to compromise on spending elsewhere otherwise I would be seriously, seriously broke. All. The. Time. So that I can eat out when I like without too much guilt, and still afford to pay my rent and bills, I’ve had to find places to eat that don’t break the bank. Over the past ten months, I think I’ve fairly successfully managed to compile a list of some good cheap eats in London, and it’s about time I shared them!
As well as food, I’ve thrown in some coffee recommendations and a couple of places where I like to go and drink when alcohol is more appealing than food – Friday nights for example. And the good news is, for those of us on a budget (i.e. pretty much everyone that lives in London!), all of these places I’m about to write about don’t charge much more than £15 for a meal. Most of them are way cheaper than that too.
This post definitely reflects the areas I know best in London. Obviously Kennington/Vauxhall, where I live, but also Borough, Southwark, Brixton, Clapham and Covent Garden. There are a couple of honorable mentions from further flung areas, but these parts of London I have come to know well, and therefore I feel more confident making recommendations.
If you’re not entirely sure what you fancy, head to Brixton to sample a variety of foods from around the world at Pop Brixton. Pop Brixton sells itself as a ‘temporary project that has turned disused land into a creative space… Come and discover South London’s most exciting start-ups…’. As well as food, you can find lots of social projects going on, alongside retail and design spaces. It’s definitely worth heading down there at any time of day or night to see what is going on and, of course, grab a bite to eat!
High on my list of recommendations for is Bell & Brisket, an amazing bagel place selling a range of salt-beef bagels, as well as vegetarian options. I tried one of the veggie ones and it was fantastic – packed with flavour and plenty of elements to keep it interesting, important in a veggie option! Check out The New Zealand Cellar too, selling wines from around NZ. For me, this was a must-visit, and I loved the fact that I could buy some of my favourite NZ wines there, where I’ve struggled to find them elsewhere. As well as these, there are a range of other options, from Ghanaian food to Caribbean, French to Italian and Japanese to Indian.
Prices range from £5-20 depending on what you order – my bagel was around £5-8.
Flat Iron Square
If you enjoy Pop Brixton, chances are you’ll enjoy Flat Iron Square too. This cool little hipster space underneath railway arches just off Southwark Street only opened in November 2016, but is hugely popular and it’s not hard to see why. The food is all great, without exception!
As well as multiple food options, from Turkish dumplings to Japanese ramen, there is also a bar here where drinks start at around £4. Be warned that the beer isn’t served in pints and the wine glasses are small, but if you fancy a tipple along side some food, it’s got a nice range of craft beers and they offer various cocktails and wines as well.
If you’re looking for one highlight when it comes to the food, I literally cannot recommend the sweet potato bravas from Edu strongly enough. As friends will attest, I go to Flat Iron Square on an almost weekly basis just to eat these amazing fries. They’re the best sweet potato fries I’ve ever eaten. Whilst you’re at it, Edu also sells pretty awesome bao buns (one veggie option, as well as pork and octopus) and I’ve been reliably informed that the burger is great too. Edu prices start at £4. I tend to get a bao bun and some of those fries and don’t usually spend more than £10-12 on dinner.
The pizza at Baz & Fred is also a great option (approx. £8), and I’ve been told by various people that the Pad Thai from Ekachai is also good and reasonably priced.
Be sure to check out Dinerama in near Shoreditch High Street if you enjoy Pop Brixton and Flat Iron Square. Again, there’s a bar, and lots of great food options, like the bao buns from Yum Bun. And of course, no blog about food is complete without a mention of Borough Market, where you can try samples of loads of great tasting things from local suppliers and buy meals ranging from Italian sandwiches to raclette to oysters.
These pizzas come supersized – £20 for 20 inches. They’re designed to be shared between 2-3 people, although I definitely think that you should always share one pizza just between two and if there’s a third person, find a fourth to come along and make it a party! At £10 per person if you share, this is a fantastic cheap eat and the toppings are really delicious. If you’re a veggie like me, I’d highly recommend you ask for the caramelised onion, olive and anchovy pizza, but take off the anchovies and add mushrooms instead. It’s amazing! The margherita is also good, and my meat-eating friends raved about their multiple porky pizzas. There is usually a specials option as well (venison last time we went) so be sure to check what it is before you order!
There are three Homeslice’s scattered around London – in Neal’s Yard at Covent Garden, in Fitzrovia and in Shoreditch. When you arrive you put your name on a list and there’s usually a bit of a wait, during which I’d recommend you go and find somewhere to have a drink! In Covent Garden, head to The Craft Beer Co. for a range of good beers and cider to sample whilst you wait for the call to say your table is ready.
Keen to try more pizza? Head to Shoreditch to try out Pizza Pilgrims, which is BYO (keeping down those costs) and you can order chocolate pizzas for dessert (trust me, it’s actually really good!). Alternatively, Mamma Dough is another great option, with locations in Brixton, Peckham and Honor Oak Park. Finally, for one last great and incredibly cheap pizza option, try Pizza Union – with prices starting at £3.50 for a 12 inch margherita, it’s hard to go wrong!
I am, however, loath to recommend Franco Manca to help satisfy those pizza cravings. I’ve never had a great experience in any of their locations – I’ve felt rushed and the atmosphere is not relaxing or conducive to good conversation. In my humble opinion, the pizzas aren’t that amazing either! Give it a go by all means, but there are definitely better options out there!
Located in a variety of spots around London, the burgers you get here are way better than average. Of course, I can speak only from a vegetarian perspective, but the mere fact that they’ve given us herbivores more than one option to choose from on the burger menu is something I love. You also choose whether you want a ciabatta or brioche bun, any additional toppings and what sides you want. Get the poutine fries if they’re on the menu!
Of course, there are literally hundreds of different burger joints to choose from these days. Gone are the days of McDonalds and Burger King being your only choice – you’ve got Shake Shack, Five Guys, GBK, Honest Burgers, Byron… The choice is endless. I recommend Hache because in my humble (and vegetarian) opinion, it’s a cut above the rest, and for barely any extra cost. If you get a basic burger and regular fries, it’s hardly going to set you back more than £10. And the meat eaters I’ve dined with here have all said that their choices have been excellent too, so rest assured if you do fancy some beef! Apparently that’s good too…
Like I say, there are loads of burger chains around the capital. You can barely move for them (those, and Prets…). Take your pick, although I have to say I prefer Shake Shack and Byron over the other choices. I’ve yet to come across any burger restaurant that is a stand-alone or part of only a very small group, but am open to suggestions if anyone knows of any! Veggie options must be included…
A tiny establishment located on Great Suffolk Street near Southwark Tube, this takeaway does amazing Thai food. Be warned – it is liable to be packed out with massive queues during the lunchtime rush from 12-2pm. But be warned also that it keeps short opening hours – only 11am-3pm Monday-Friday. If you want a Thai fix, then a Pad Thai or Pad See Ew from Coconut will go a long way to satisfying your cravings, and you get a generous portion for just £6.
I tend to go here for lunch at least once a week. As well as my usual (tofu Pad Thai), there are multiple other options cooked to order from the menu, or you can select from numerous pre-cooked dishes in the hot counter. I never stray from my regular, and I reckon that once you’ve found your usual, you won’t stray either!
This is definitely a lunch-only option, but it’s a great way to break away from the chains of the big names (Pret, M&S, Coco de Mama, Tossed…) and have some authentic, cooked on the spot food for such a reasonable price. If you’re in the area and don’t fancy another Pret sandwich (my friend D swears they’re all just spinach sandwiches in disguise!), then head to Coconut and pick up some Thai!
Portobello Garden Café
Straying off-piste with this one, this amazing Italian is located on, you guessed it, Portobello Road in Notting Hill. It’s tucked away down a little side passage so keep a close eye out for it, because you really don’t want to miss it!
This has to be some of the best Italian food I’ve ever eaten and for the excellence of it, it was very reasonably priced too. Three of us ate there (three mains and a bread basket) and the bill came to £40. My sister has told me that since we visited, she’s been back with friends and their meal came to roughly the same price, although this time they also ordered prosecco. Additionally, the owners threw in free shots of limoncello! Bargain!
When we ate there, I had the most gorgeous truffle pasta, stuffed with cheese, in an amazing tomato sauce. Mum had a pancetta grilled sandwich with mozzarella and E ate burrata cheese which tasted delicious as well. Everything was perfectly cooked and they were generous with their portions without overfilling you. I cannot recommend this café highly enough!
Whilst we’re on the subject of Italian food, if you’re looking for more delicious and well-priced pasta, I’d say that you couldn’t go far wrong with queuing for a table at Padella, just outside Borough Market. It’s one of my biggest annoyances that I’m yet to visit this restaurant. It’s always jam-packed when I walk past with a queue snaking down the pavement outside, and to be honest, although I long to eat there (their Instagram photos and videos always tease me!), a bigger part of me just can’t be bothered to wait. I have a Tuesday off work coming up soon, and think that this could be my time… Early lunch mid-week – probably best, right? I’ll keep you posted!
And if you fancy coffee…
In my opinion, the best coffee shop in London is Monmouth Coffee. There are two stores (one at Borough Market and the other in Bermondsey), and judging by the one at Borough Market, they’re always busy. It’s almost impossible for me to get a coffee here usually, since when I walk past at 9am on my way to work the queue is already around the corner and I just don’t have time to wait. But the mornings when I do manage to snag a Monmouth Coffee (if I’m early or, miraculously, if the queue isn’t too long)… Those are great mornings!
For good coffee further north, head to The Coffee Jar in Camden or Attendant Fitzrovia near Goodge Street tube. The former is a cute little coffee shop selling great flat whites and a range of homemade sandwiches, toasties and sweet treats, whilst the latter is a quirky coffee bar situated in a restored Victorian public convenience, where along with the coffee you can order breakfast or a light lunch.
If I’m out and about and can’t find a great independent coffee shop, then I usually look out for a Gail’s Bakery to pick up my caffeine fix. They’re usually pretty good and with shops across London, it’s not too difficult to find one nearby. As well as coffee, you should definitely try their pastries – the pain au chocolat has to be the flakiest, most buttery I’ve ever had!
And if you fancy a drink…
Drinking in London is never really a cheap pastime, so I won’t pretend it is. Unless you pick up a bottle of wine or some beer at the shop on your way home, you’re pretty much guaranteed that a glass of wine is going to cost approximately £6-10 and beer is £4-7. A double vodka and mixer usually comes to around £7-8. I’ve drunk wine in some really expensive places (I think £10 for a medium glass of wine is the most extortionate yet…) but you don’t need to spend loads of money to have a great night out.
One of my favourite bars is the quirky Tamesis Dock on Albert Embankment in Vauxhall. This bar is actually a boat floating on the Thames with great views towards Parliament, Big Ben and the London Eye. It’s great on a sunny day when you can sit up on deck and enjoy your drinks outdoors, and it’s also one of the only places near my house that stays open past midnight. It’s not hugely expensive either, given it’s great location – usually no more than a tenner for a couple of drinks.
All of the markets I’ve suggested in this post have bars – Pop Brixton, Flat Iron Square and Dinerama. I’ve also already mentioned The Craft Beer Co in Covent Garden, but they have numerous locations around London, including Brixton, and if you’re into craft brewing it’s definitely worth popping into one at some point.
The main point to make about drinking in London is this: every single neighbourhood and borough has it’s expensive bars and it’s cheaper places. That bar where the wine cost £10 a glass? Across the road, in a typical ‘local’ pub, I got a double vodka and mixer for about £6. Cheaper than many other places!
NB: For someone with such a love of food, I take surprisingly few images of the food I eat. Probably because I’m too busy eating it to be bothered to take photos! So apologies for the lack of enticing images in this post… Maybe I’ll post some in the future? If I can remember to take a picture before tucking in…