Talisa Dean 24/08/23
Cheap Eats | The Penny Pincher’s Guide To (Still) Eating Well In London
According to several recent studies conducted by some of the world’s most esteemed economists, London is actually not the cheapest city on earth.
You may need a moment to process that, it’s a shocker, we know.
But as it happens, London is one of the most plentiful & inexhaustibly varied cities on earth, and thus anyone who looks closely will find an abundance of excellent value food that’s not only not bad, but is frequently amazingly good.
So we took the trouble of tracking down the city’s finest cheap dishes, all of which fall around the £10 mark, or are extremely close to it, and all of which are, pound-for-pound, some of the best in the city. From fresh pasta, to Caribbean feasts, to regional Chinese specialities, here are the best cheap eats in London…
Le Bab | Old Street, Spitalfields, Brixton
A series of upmarket kebab shops around London, serving up gourmet kebabs stuffed full of fresh, seasonal produce. Their Brixton or Old Street branches are slightly less upmarket in style, paying homage to the more traditional kebab shop – open till late, and mostly with standing room only. But the upside of this is that at these two eateries, and at their Spitalfields market stall, Le Bab’s pork shawarma, fried chicken shish and legendary paneer kebabs are all a tenner or less, whilst their vegan sabich sandwich (also shy of ten pounds) comes with the promise of planting a tree, so you can nourish your body and your soul.
What to get? Chargrilled lamb adana with cassava chips | £9.95
Address: Le Bab Old Street: 231 Old St, EC1V 9HE | Le Bab Brixton: 408 Coldharbour Ln, London SW9 8LF
Padella | London Bridge, Shoreditch
Padella and its sequel Padella Shoreditch do arguably the best pasta in London, and yet are also the cheapest. Their tagliarini with dried chili, garlic & pangrattato is a mere £9, with a number of other favourites (like the pici cacio & pepe, pictured above) just a whisker over the £10 mark.
What to get? The tagliarini because you’re here to save money, but if there’s a bit of spare change under the couch get the pici cacio & pepe, no question (it’s £12).
Address: Borough: 6 Southwark Street, South London, SE1 1TQ | Shoreditch: 1 Phipp Street, London, EC2A 4PS | Shoreditch does limited bookings and Borough is straight-up just walk-ins.
Baban’s Naan | Finsbury Park
Anyone that’s been broke and lived around the Arsenal area before knows all about this Kurdish takeaway shop and its famed naans. They’re up there with tastiest cheap eats London has to offer and you can get three of them, classic-style, for £1. Big, freshly-baked, chewy naans heated up to perfect levels of warmth before your now very large eyes in a tandoor oven. We could stop it right there and live happily ever after, but if you’ve got the luxury of a £5 budget it’s definitely worth digging deeper into your pockets for the falafel wrap (£3.50) or, dun dun, even deeper for the Kurdish Kebab (£4.50) that’s fitted with mince.
What to get? Three Pakistani Naans | £1
Details: 51a Blackstock Rd, Finsbury Park, London N4 2JJ
Xi’an Impression | Highbury
An unassuming little spot in Highbury known for dishing up some of the finest, fieriest, Chinese food in London. Specifically, Xi’an street food, including big bowls of thick, chewy, hand-pulled noodles doused in chilli oil, topped with everything from pak choi to pork. The bonus? It’s also a BYOB restaurant (with pretty low corkage).
What to get? Hand-pulled noodles | £10.80
Address: 117 Benwell Road, London, N7 7BW | No bookings
Netil Market | London Fields
Despite the name, Netil Market actually manages to take the sting out of your lunch order in two ways: 1) the sheer, vast variety of goods on offer, which seem to cover half of the world map, and 2) the not-so-vast prices. See more great street food markets in London
What to get? Bar Flounder’s Sri Lankan fish curry on Wednesdays | £8
Address: 11-25 Westgate Street, Dalston, E8 3RL | Find more info here
Fish, Wings & Tings | Brixton
One of the most affordable restaurants in Brixton, Fish, Wings & Tings is the work of Trinidadian-born Brian Danclair, who labels his ambitious culinary style ‘Nouvelle Caribbean cuisine’. What does that mean? Well, it’s essentially a mix of Caribbean flavours and ingredients, all put together using high-end French techniques. And then sold for not-high-end prices.
What to get? The signature cod fish fritters with ginger & lime aioli which are, in his words, like “getting a high five from Jesus” | £8.50
Address: Granville Arcade, Brixton Village, Coldharbour Lane, Brixton, SW9 8PR | Book here
Del 74 | Dalston
One of the best Mexican restaurants in London, Del 74 is exactly the buzzing, vibrant, energetic taco joint that you envision when you think about a great night out, where the food is plentiful, delicious, and cheap, and the bartender will do shots with you.
What to get? A pair of pork ribeye tacos | £6
Address: 129 Kingsland High Street, Dalston, East London, E8 2PB | Book here
Mr Bao | Peckham
Mr Bao is one of those places that’s perpetually busy, from opening to closing. Because that’s just what happens when you’re serving South Londoners cheap eats like their filling, delicious bao buns for less than a fiver a pop…
What to get? Pork belly bao | £4.70
Address: 293 Rye Lane, Peckham, SE15 4UA | Book here
Ugly Dumpling | Fitzrovia & Carnaby
Say hello to the Ugly sisters: Ugly Dumpling in Carnaby, and Ugly Dumpling Fitzrovia. Trust us, they have a great personality. The food is inventive, reasonably priced, and perfect if you happen to be in Central London looking for lunch or a light supper. And yes, the cheeseburger dumpling actually does taste like cheeseburger.
What to get? Any trio of dumplings that takes your fancy | £5.75
Address: 30 Rathbone Place, Fitzrovia, W1T 1JG | Book here
Andu Cafe | Dalston
With just two dishes on the menu, this no-frills Ethiopian cafe in Dalston makes it quite literally impossible to spend more than £12 on food. And it’s going to expand your culinary horizons somewhat too, served up in the traditional Ethiopian style, in the centre of an Injera flatbread.
What to get? The traditional sampler | £12
Address: 528 Kingsland Road, Dalston, E8 4AH | No bookings
Made Of Dough | Peckham
You don’t have to be made of dough to eat at this lauded Peckham pizzeria. Because their pizzas – which undergo a 60-hour fermentation process and were crowned champions at the London Pizza Festival – are half price every Monday.
What to get? The Artichoke | £10.50
Address: 182 Bellenden Road, Peckham, SE15 4BW | Book here
Kerb Seven Dials | Covent Garden
Kerb’s first permanent indoor food market is inside a former banana warehouse in Covent Garden. Peel back the cavernous dining area, and you’ll find 11 of the city’s finest street food traders, from El Pollote’s Latino fried chicken buns (£10), to Oshpaz’s Uzbek dumplings, to the moreish delights of Curry On Naan Stop.
What to get? Curry On’s Chicken 65 | £7.50
Address: Seven Dials Market, Covent Garden, WC2H 9QW | For more info, visit their website here
Marugame Udon | Multiple locations across London
Japan’s home-grown take on fast food is unctuous, warming ramen – and the country’s 800-strong udon chain, Marugame, has now opened several ramen restaurants in London, too. Noodles are made each morning in-house, dunked into steaming bowls of broth or tossed onto the grill, and topped with onsen egg, vegetable korokke or slices of pork in a kind of build-your-own bowl system that’s a bit like a school canteen. And they’re truly the cheapest of London’s cheap eats – they start at £3.45 a pop.
What to get? Curry rice is a comfort food classic | £6.95
Details: For more details, head here.
Pizza Pilgrims | Across London
Pizza Pilgrims have gone from strength to strength over the years, while refusing to bulk up their prices in a commensurate fashion. Which probably helps to explain why they’re still so popular. In terms of cheap eats, they easily do some of the best value Neapolitan-style sourdough pizzas in London right now (all available gluten-free), and the restaurants are quite fun too. Case in point: Pizza Pilgrims Carnaby has a nutella ring takeaway hatch…
What to get? The Fiorentina with spinach, egg and crispy onions | £10.95
Details: See restaurant details & book here
Club Mexicana | Spitalfields & Carnaby
You might have noticed Club Mexicana’s luminous pink signage while strolling around Kerb Seven Dials – but honestly, you’re going to want to visit this Cali-Mexican joint’s standalone branches, Club Mexicana Taqeria (in Kingly Court) and Club Mexicana Spitalfields. Why? Because of Taco Tuesdays, of course, where you can snarf down as many tacos as you can humanly stomach for £17.50. While that may not scream cheap eats – by definition at least – it’s easily got to be some of the best value for money. And on top of that, it’s all completely vegan, too.
What to get? All of them. Twice. | £17.50
Address: Kingly Court, London W1B 5PW | Commercial St, London E1 6LT | Book here
Kin + Deum | Bermondsey
Kin + Deum is a family-run Thai restaurant in Bermondsey, and it sticks to the very best of street food traditions by making things a) delicious, and b) cheap. Oh, and c) served in an elegant space, and therefore not like street food at all. Nothing on the lunch menu costs much more than a tenner (you’re looking at £12 max, for things like the Royal Pad Thai and Massaman curry) and the dinner menu isn’t a lot more either.
What to get? Their signature, Bangkok’s Gra Pow | £12.80
Address: 2 Crucifix Lane, Bermondsey, SE1 3JW | Book here
Old Spitalfields Market | Spitalfields
The name Old Spitalfields Market doesn’t truly sell quite how ancient this place is (it first opened in 1638), but then neither does the market itself. With its gorgeous steel & glass roof, well-organised layout, and globe-spanning street food, it feels remarkably modern. And it’s absolutely loaded with cheap eats, including Chinese from Dumpling Shack, traditional Ethiopian food from Merkmao, and a generous portafoglio (Neapolitan folded pizza) for a mere fiver at the Sud Italia truck.
What to get? The portafoglio – hand-held and enormously filling | £5
Address: 16 Horner Square, Spitalfields, East London, E1 6EW | See more info here
Borough Market | London Bridge
There are worse places to find yourself when you’re hungry than Borough Market. It’s the oldest food market in London, an absolute foodie mecca that’s been around for over 1000 years now. It’s not a bad place to find yourself when you’re running low in the cash department either, with stalls like Juma Kitchen (Iraqi street food), Tacos Padre and The Black Pig (toasted ciabatta sandwiches) parading their fine goods for under a tenner.
What to get? The honey truffle parmesan sandwich at The Black Pig | £10
Address: 8 Southwark Street, SE1 1TL | Find out more here
Singburi | Leytonstone
With its tiny, faded sign, Singburi is almost impossible to chance upon unless you know about it, but somehow many, many people seem to have chanced upon it, because it’s immensely popular. And for good reason, too. Drinks are BYOB, it’s all cash only, and besides being classified as ‘cheap eats in London’, the food is generally just sensational.
What to get? Stir-fried clams | £8.75
Address: 593 High Road Leytonstone, Leytonstone, E11 4PA | Call 020 8281 4801 for bookings (they don’t have a website, but you can find more info on their Instagram).
Beigel Bake | Brick Lane
The smoked salmon bagels at this Brick Lane institution are so good that you probably wouldn’t mind paying £10 for them. They’re less than a fiver though, so there’s no need to do that… And yes the lines can be long, but when money’s tight and dirt cheap bagels are beckoning you from the window, you just have to roll with these things (it’s part of the experience). Another aspect that makes Beigel Bake even more appealing is the fact that it’s one of the few London restaurants open 24 hours. Especially when it’s 5am, you’ve just come out of a club and you don’t really fancy eating McDonald’s again…
What to get? Salt beef beigel | £7.81
Address: 159 Brick Lane, E1 6SB
Silk Road | Currently closed, but reopening next door soon
All paths lead to the Silk Road, a Chinese restaurant woven into the fabric of Southeast London’s budget dining scene. The menu spotlights Xinjiang, a vast region in China’s Northwest, through a smattering of well-spiced dishes like chicken gizzards seasoned with cumin, lamb shish roasted over charcoal and stir-fried, hand-pulled noodles. All of these, by the way, cost no more than about £7. It’s a real treasure of a place…
What to get? Besides what’s mentioned above, the big plate chicken (it’s exactly what it sounds like) can easily be shared between two | £15, but £7.50 for two (maths…)
Address: 49 Camberwell Church St, SE5 8TR | Book here
Hungry for more? Here are the best sandwiches in London…
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