London’s Best Cheap Eats
Just Opened London’s ‘Best of’ series covers a combination of recently opened venues and established London favourites, to make sure you get the full lowdown on where to spend your time and hard-earned cash.
Words: Nancy Smallwood
London is home to a more than ample selection of quality yet affordable grub, so you can enjoy a night out without emptying your wallet. From pizza to South Indian curries, here’s our pick of the best cheap and cheerful restaurants in London…
The 6 mile stretch of Green Lanes that snakes its way through north London is absolutely heaving with great Turkish grills, so much so that the only problem is deciding which one to go for. Gökyüzü, however, wins out time and time again for its collection of stonking charcoal-grilled kebabs, lahmacuns and fresh mezze. Pides are loaded with spiced lamb fresh from their in-house pizza oven, while the chargrilled sharing platters are dangerously large, virtually guaranteeing the meat sweats.
A word of warning: portion sizes can be overwhelming, so if you go, go empty, and ideally in a large group. Remember – you’re playing the long game, which means you must fight off at all costs the temptation to fill up on their warm, pillowy soft bread and dips.
Gökyüzü, 26-27 Grand Parade, N4 1LG
It would be a sin not to mention the Camberwell institution that is Silk Road in the same breath as cheap eats. Not only will a meal there be comfortably on the safe side of your budget, with most dishes coming in at £4 to £7 but everything is very good, drawing even die-hard North Londoners south of the river.
There’s the smashed cucumber with Szechuan pepper oil and garlic, dressed in a sharp, sweet rice vinegar, and the joyously greasy cumin-spiced lamb kebabs. Or you could go for the home style aubergine, which arrives as soft, pulpy fingers, and of course, the glutinous hand-pulled noodles which go into the broth of their signature middle plate chicken.
Silk Road, 49 Camberwell Church Street, SE5 8TR
Korean bibimbap is a traditional rice dish, where all the crucial components – julienned veg, sticky rice, marinated protein – are placed into a piping hot stone bowl before you can have at it with your chopsticks. It’s also the name of a much loved little restaurant on Soho’s Greek Street, specialising in its eponymous dish.
There’s plenty to love, including its handy location, cute but basic decor and the big, inelegant bottles of sticky miso and rich gochujang sauce atop every table. Best of all though, are the ten varieties of bibimbap on offer, which come with various combinations of beef bulgogi, chilli chicken, spicy pork, and the all important raw egg (which cooks as you stir it through the rice), with prices starting from £7.50.
Plus, if you love kimchi, and we very much do, you can order small dishes of the pickled cabbage for £2, as well as seafood pancake for a very reasonable £5.90.
Bibimbap, 11 Greek Street, W1D 4DJ
Max’s Sandwich Shop
Neighbourhood sandwich joint Max’s, which bills itself with the motto ‘hot sandwiches and booze’, has had so much success drawing in north London locals over the past two years that it’s just branched out Dalston-wards for a residency in birthdays.
Their formula is simple: sandwiches, made from two wodges of homemade focaccia, stuffed with creative ingredients and wrapped in greaseproof paper. They’re best enjoyed with a craft beer, and if you’re smart, a big helping of their piquant roast potatoes. Kitchen roll (for wiping up) is non-negotiable and left on every table.
There’s the Korean Gangsta, which boasts two types of deep fried noodles and locally fermented kimchi, while the pleasingly named Et Tu Brute? Murdering the Caesar is a triumph of reimagined salad with confit guinea fowl and pickled grape salsa.
Max’s Sandwich Shop, 19 Crouch Hill, N4 4AP
Vegetarian South Indian joints are a surefire winner for cheap meals, but Stoke Newington’s salmon-pink Rasa takes the crown. They specialise in Keralan cuisine, so aside from the usual dosas and parathas (which are really very good indeed), there are also lesser seen regional dishes like their moru kachiyathu, a sweet and sour recipe with mango and green bananas, or the beetroot chira pachadi with spinach and coconut. If you can’t make your mind up, order the Keralan Feast for a bit of everything.
You’d do well to book in advance at Rasa, particularly if you’re in a group. But if you have to wait for a table, then Stoke Newington boozer The Rochester Castle is only a short walk away, where a pint still costs around £3.
Rasa, 55 Stoke Newington Church Street, N16 0AR
Pizza Pilgrims burst onto the London scene with their massive, chewy slabs of sourdough pizza from their little three-wheeler truck. Nowadays they’ve got outposts all over town, but their BYOB Shoreditch base is the one you’ll want to visit.
This is largely because they’ve rather cleverly joined forces with the next door offie who’ve imported a fridge full of Italian vino and beers, so you can bring your own in style without breaking the bank. While you’re there, make sure you pick up a Twix, Ritter Sport or whatever chocolate floats your boat so the team can encase it in pizza dough and deep fry it for you, turning it into a sweet dessert calzone.
Aside from the above, their pizzas are exceptionally good value for money, with most coming in at £10 or under. Choose from toppings like spicy ‘nduja, portobello and truffle, or the aubergine parmigiana.
Pizza Pilgrims, 136 Shoreditch High Street, E1 6JE
The waiters are in waistcoats, the decor is glass, brass and marble, and the menu is in French but at Piccadilly’s Brasserie Zedel, the prix fixe will only run you to a paltry £13. Unlike Corbin and King’s previous high-end projects (The Wolseley, The Delaunay), this grand, 220-seater art deco brasserie is offering luxury at a bewilderingly low price.
The menu is full of classic French staples, like steak frites and confit de canard, and comforting dishes like boeuf Bourguignon and bouillabaisse. The clear winner, however, is the tremendous Poulet Fermier Rôti et sa Garniture – a whole roast chicken designed to be shared, best followed by the similarly duo-sized tarte tatin.
Brasserie Zedel, 20 Sherwood Street, W1F 7ED
Padella doesn’t take bookings, and it’s just as well really because they’d be packed out for the next three months thanks to their small but perfectly formed pasta menu. It’s run by the team behind the consistently popular Highbury joint Trullo, who’ve also garnered rave reviews for their expertise in simple Italian cuisine.
Operating out of Borough Market, Padella’s pasta-heavy menu is a prime example of why it’s better to do one thing and do it really well. Everything is made in-house. Expect lucious ribbons of pappardelle with eight-hour beef shin ragu, fettuccine with datterini tomatoes and ravioli stuffed with goats curd sourced in Neal’s Yard.
The wine is definitely worth a mention as well, with glasses of fruity red Sangiovese on offer for £4. Well worth the wait (which may be considerable).
Padella, 6 Southwark Street, SE1 1TQ
Tonkotsu’s earned something of a name for itself in recent times thanks to their award-winning ramen: huge bowls of rich stock, swirled around mounds of ribbony noodles, topped with meat and bean sprouts. The secret, they say, lies in doing things slowly. The bone broth is left to bubble for 18 hours, while the slices of pork that adorn the soup have been gently simmered until meltingly soft.
You can’t go wrong with any of the ramens on offer, which range in price from £10 to £12.50, and you’d do well to order a helping of their now-legendary chicken karaage, which comes in the form of moist, soy-marinated chicken that’s been deep fried to crunchy perfection, an absolute steal at £6.
Tonkotsu, 382 Mare Street, E8 1HR
Bleecker Burger have set themselves apart from their competitors in the great fight to be London’s best burger. It’s due in no small part to their borderline pornographic beef patties. They arrive oozing grease, streaked with pink beneath a blackened crust, with a snippet of neon cheese peeking out from under sesame buns. The beef, which comes from dry-aging specialists The Butchery, is juicy, deeply flavoured and soft, and goes extra-well with their crunchy bacon.
What’s more, Bleecker have finally found themselves a permanent home opposite Victoria’s new behemoth food and drink complex Nova, which means no more checking Twitter to find out where their food truck will be next.
Bleecker, 205 Victoria Street, SW1E 5NE
As one of the capital’s top cheap food landmarks, it’s no surprise the queues for no-frills Malaysian restaurant Roti King happen early and often. Inside, hordes of diners pack out their small wooden benches, despite the rapid service, and it can feel a bit cramped. But if you want excellent roti, rendang, and goreng for precious little money, then this Euston basement is where you should be heading,
Their roti comes with fillings like lamb, chicken and fish, often sliced into squares ready for greedily dipping into small dishes of rich curry. If you can manage it, try to save some room for the roti tissue, which arrives cone shaped and sprinkled with sugar and ice-cream.
Roti King, 40 Doric Way, NW1 1LH
Clapton’s buzzy, neon-lit Del 74, headed up by Enrique Vivas and Jorge Felizardo (who’s worked Nuno Mendes), is a relative newcomer on the taco scene, but it’s already earned itself quite a following.
You’ll come for the food – steak quesadillas with dreamy strings of melty cheese, slow-cooked lamb barbacoa tacos full of tangy onion slaw and authentic cochinita pibil. You’ll stay for the drinks, though, like knockout margaritas, tequila and mezcal chilli shots, and refreshing Micheladas.
Head down on Tuesdays to take advantage of their Taco Tuesday deal, or be there early for Margarita and Taco happy hour from 5 – 6.30pm every day. In both cases, tacos are £2, beer is £3 and a tequila margarita is £5.
Del74, 87 Lower Clapton Road, E5 0RN