For a long time, the UK had a reputation as a culinary desert, with British food decried as bland and over-boiled. Today, nothing could be further from the truth, as modern British food has been given a makeover and a wealth of emerging chefs are creating exciting dishes that span a wide wealth of cuisines. London is at the centre of this hotpot of cooking creativity, and there are plenty of options for those looking to eat good food in the capital – even on a budget. Here are the best cheap London restaurants for when you want to eat well for less.
At Hackney’s Green Papaya, two cuisines meet: Vietnamese and Xianese. You can get the classics usually seen in Vietnamese restaurants, like crispy squid, pho and bun, as well as oily, spicy Xianese noodles with chicken, tofu, minced pork and more. It’s deliciously filling, and most of the mains cost less than £10. Green Papaya has two branches, but the hipster-filled original restaurant on Mare Street is still the best. It gets busy, but group bookings can be made in advance.
Eternally satisfying comfort food, fish and chips is still well worth getting when you’re in London. At the three Sutton and Sons restaurants in North and East London, there’s plenty to choose from. Start with calamari rings, moules marinière or even oysters – half a dozen for £8.95 – before moving onto the mains. A traditional cod and chips will set you back £10.50 and a fish burger less than a tenner, and the fun sides include pickled quail eggs, mushy peas and curry sauce. The fish is responsibly sourced and service is friendly at these laid-back restaurants.
Meza has some of the best Lebanese food in London, and a large selection of it (all its meza plates) costs less than a fiver. That means that you can order to your heart’s (and stomach’s) content: mix fresh, cold meza like fattoush, tabbouleh and basturma with tasty hot choices including batata harra, falafel and soujouk. The foul moukala here – broad beans laced with garlic and fresh coriander – is one of the best things you can eat in the city. The wine list is a thing of joy, too, with a number of well-sourced Lebanese wines starting at just £16.50 for a bottle of house wine.
Chinatown is home to many of the most well-priced restaurants in London, and Leong’s Legend is a great choice here. The menu is almost ridiculously extensive and has regional Chinese food as well as Taiwanese options, but it’s the dim sum you should focus on – they’re very good, as well as being great value for money. The xiao long bao soup dumplings are a must-try. Make sure to order plenty of dishes to share to get the full food experience, or go for the bottomless dumpling offer if you want to eat as much different dim sum as possible.
Located by Euston Station, Roti King isn’t in a picturesque part of town, but people will travel for its food. While the basement restaurant is basic, the food isn’t – a selection of delicious Malaysian dishes, all at less than £10. The roti canai, a Malaysian flatbread, is the standout here, and you can have it both savoury and sweet, but Roti King also serves nasi goreng and other local specialities, and a selection of noodle dishes.
Spicy Armenian lamb sausages, roasted sea bass, marinated chicken taouk and lots of mezes, as well as crunchy pink Lebanese pickles and tasty baba ganoush – the thought of Yalla Yalla’s food will make your mouth water once you’ve tried it. The smaller branch, close to Piccadilly Circus, also does a great wrap platter deal for lunchtime. We recommend the laham bil ajine, oven-baked flatbread topped with spiced minced lamb, but there is something for everyone here. It’s one of the rare central London places where you can have a great meal and – just about – get change back from a twenty.
Brasserie Zédel is the obvious choice for those times when you want a well-priced meal, but also want to go somewhere that has a bit of flair. This classic French brasserie certainly looks the part, with its luxurious Art Deco interior, all marble pillars and gilded ceilings, and friendly staff. The menu, too, is what you would expect from a Parisian restaurant and features a selection of choucroutes as well as onion soup, haunch of venison and a Breton fish stew. But the prices will surprise you: you can get the fixed-price two courses (a shredded carrot salad and chopped steak) for £10.95 here, and the dish of the day is £16.95.