Save your pennies for London’s pricey attractions by getting under the city’s skin at some affordable local eateries. Find the best bang for your buck (or, indeed, pound) with the help of our guide to London’s best budget restaurants.
With relaxed mood lighting, Mediterranean-inspired green tiles and wooden decor, hip and cosy Bubala is perfect for a casual meal out. The menu is entirely vegetarian, inspired by Israeli and Middle Eastern flavours. Prices are super reasonable – you won’t pay more than £11 for anything, and the quality you get for your money is incredible. Check out the cocktails too – the salted grapefruit bellini is unmissable. Recommended by local insider Chiara Miele
Pizza by the slice is always a reliable cheap eat, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be done in style. Voodoo Ray’s slings massive NYC-inspired slices from their unit in Boxpark (as well as at their sites in Dalston, Camden and Peckham) and have really thought about their flavour combos, from the fennel-and-chilli sausage, kale and onion on the King Tubby; to the wild mushroom, roasted squash and taleggio that top a slice of Shrooms!; to the tomato, mozzarella, bacon dust and Japanese mayo on the Full Moon, which is only available after midnight. Best of all, no slice costs more than £4.
Tooting is best known for its budget-priced South Asian restaurants, particularly South Indian, Pakistani, and Sri Lankan. One of the most popular in Tooting is Apollo Banana Leaf, a South Indian and Sri Lankan fusion restaurant that operates a BYOB policy, perfect if you’re looking to save the pennies until payday. Its basic high-street exterior may not scream fine dining but the delicious food has won the hearts of locals.
There are many Vietnamese restaurants to choose from on Kingsland Road, but Sông Quê Café always seems packed. Though the menu features a range of meat, seafood, rice and noodle dishes, the pho is the real winner here. You can get a big bowl of the noodle soup topped with everything from rare steak and tripe to beef meatballs to spicy prawns, all for less than a tenner.
Authentic salt beef is at the heart of Tongue & Brisket and, as it’s a spin-off from B&K Salt Beef Bar established back in the 1950s, they do know what they’re doing when it comes to meat. They serve a short traditional deli menu with options such as a smoked salmon and cream cheese bagel, chopped liver, and ox tongue, but the salt beef is the must-order. At just £5.90 for the regular-size sandwich, you can happily add some extra meat and a pickle on the side and still have a cheap lunch in your hands.
Wraps are always a reliable option, but it can be quite hard to find variety once you’ve exhausted the delicious and ubiquitous everyday choices of chicken and falafel. That’s where The Kati Roll Company stands out. Popular in India, kati consists of a griddled paratha topped with a thin omelette, filled with chicken tikka, spicy potato patties, paneer or masala shrimp (to name a few), drizzled with chutney and rolled up into a perfectly tasty package. Coming in at around £5 per roll, the fact that they can also be eaten on the go makes them a perfect lunch.
Ethos is a self-service restaurant serving vegan food on marble tables. As you eat your sustainable, meat-free food, you find yourself in a state of harmony, a feeling created by the real birch trees reaching out onto the beautifully lit ceiling. The champagne served in saucers, together with the minimalistic blues and whites of the leather and marble interior, turn this self-service experience into a fancy dinner out or a casual lunch meeting (with all of that in mind, you can also take this buffet away with you in smart little boxes). The full-length windows, kind staff and affordable prices make Ethos extremely welcoming.
Café Helen is the go-to place for a shawarma. The Edgware Road eatery is a master of the Middle Eastern snack, which consists of thin strips of meat rolled into a flatbread with pickles, lettuce and tomato and then smeared with tahini sauce or creamy garlic mayo. The wraps are prepared to order in five minutes and can easily be devoured in three. Café Helen may not seem impressive from the outside, but you’ll never regret a meal here as it will keep you full for hours. The café opens at 4pm, which means it’s an ideal place to go for a late lunch.
In the mood for something a bit different? Koshari Street serves up the authentic Egyptian snack food koshari, and it’s as delicious as it is affordable. The filling, healthy dish consists of a base of rice, lentils and chickpeas, which is then topped with tomato sauce, caramelised onions and a spice mix known as doqqa. If this doesn’t quite tickle your fancy, the charming hole in the wall offers a range of additional tasty and traditional Egyptian foodstuffs, so you can enjoy a satisfying meal before heading out into the chaotic fun that is Leicester Square.
Located in Soho, pie shop Mother Mash makes eating delicious pies even easier with three simple steps. Firstly, customers can choose the type of mash they’d like — an incredible array ranging from classic milk-and-butter variety, to more adventurous variants such as sweet potato and bubble and squeak. To go with this, you can then select either free-range sausages or a hot pie — options include chicken, steak and even some choice vegetarian fillings. Finally, top the whole dish off with your choice of gravy. It is recommended to wash the meal down with a hearty pint of cider, of which there are several different types, and there are sweet pies and other decadent desserts available for those who are left wanting more. When it comes to fantastically tasty food that warms the soul, Mother Mash is top of the list.
The original home of pie and mash in London, M. Manze was established in 1902 and is somewhat of a legend in the city. It serves fresh pies baked on the day, which are made using good quality cuts of beef, alongside mashed potato and lashings of gravy or liquor (traditional parsley sauce), which is made using a special secret ingredient. There is also a vegetarian option available. True to Cockney tradition, there are stewed or jellied eels on offer if you’re feeling brave and want to taste a piece of London culture. It is a firm belief that the traditional fare at M. Manze proves the old saying true — “why fix something that isn’t broken”. So, if you’re in search of good old-fashioned, un-fussy food served in a charming setting, there’s really no better place.
If you need a late night slice, White Kitchen is the place to go as they are open well past midnight in the week and even later on weekends. They keep things fairly simple – the toppings are fairly standard and the crust is very thin and crispy – but you definitely get value for money with the majority of pizzas coming in at under £7.
As well as sites in Shoreditch and Portobello, Soho House’s Pizza East also a has branch in North London, more in Kentish Town than Camden. Like its sister sites, this Pizza East has the same industrial chic décor, the same ciabatta-style slow-rising dough and the same seasonal ingredients. It’s worth dropping by Wednesday to Friday for their 4 to 7 menu – from 4-7pm you can get a spicy sausage and broccoli or mushroom and gorgonzola pizza for just £7.
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This fast-food chain has come a long way since opening the doors of its Carnaby Street flagship store in 2004 – it now boasts 56 stores in the UK, has also opened outlets in Amsterdam, Oslo and Washington DC, and is setting its sights on the European and US markets. Leon was one of the first players in the emerging “good food on the high street” movement. It sells a wide variety of meal boxes, wraps, snacks and sides, sticking firmly to the ethos that it is “possible to serve food that both tastes good and does you good”. Multiple locations
Founded the year after Leon, Pod was inspired by the “fast, fresh food offerings emerging in other parts of the world like the speedy ‘made-to-order’ delis of Manhattan”. Today, Pod is one of the best spots to pick up a healthy breakfast when you’re in a hurry — they serve gluten-free porridge, toasted sandwiches and a range of scrambled eggs on toast dishes — while their wide selection of soups are the standout feature of the lunchtime menu. Multiple locations