London can be very expensive. Some of the restaurants and even smaller places will have hefty price tags on their food. This means that eating out and socializing with friends can be pretty tough when you’re on a budget. Tough, but not impossible.
When living in London, you’ll probably have to keep up with its bustling lifestyle. Always rushing, always having things to do. That means not having enough time to get home for a home cooked meal, and having to eat out. For actors who are notoriously famous for never having money, budget eating has always been an important factor.
Thankfully, many current Londoners have already sniffed out the best places to eat out in London on a budget, and have also come up with advice for those just moving to London. If you follow a few simple tricks listed below, not only can you get into some of the coolest and tastiest places in town, but you can also get massive discounts and sometimes even freebies.
So How does One Eat Out in London on a Budget?
It’s possible to eat out in London on a budget without breaking a bank, and having some of the most innovative and tastiest food. All you need to do is follow some of the tips from Londoners who have already find the best ways to save money when living in this expensive city, and found places with best cheap eats in London.
Up and coming areas
It’s really tempting to hang around the most central parts of London but to find the cheapest and often most cutting-edge food in London, you need to go a bit left of centre and head out into the outer zones.
Up and coming areas are great places to explore for quality food at more affordable prices and get to know parts of London you wouldn’t necessarily know about. Croydon for instance is experiencing regeneration with bag of government funds being plugged into the area and this has also meant better restaurants.
Head to Hackney Wick for a canal-side brunch at Counter Café and you can have a pie with side salad for just £6! It’s a great area to explore and you can get an eye full of the Olympic stadium. It’s a winner but won’t stay this cheap for long.
To binge out on-trend opt for Clutch in Haggerston, the home of guilt free food, where you’ll get enormous portions of Southern fried chicken inspired mains. It’s a super retro style joint with plenty of booze to choose. It’s great for a cheap night out with friends. Mains start at £10 but like I said, you will be stuffed.
Get ye to a greasy spoon pretty much anywhere outside Zone one and it’s likely you will get full English breakfast or a spin-off for less than five quid. Mario’s Café in Kentish Town has been popular for over 50 years serving up plenty of choices for just under £5. And the Sunrise Café in Elmers End offers at least twenty versions of the English Brekkie.
Sometimes, the tastiest and cheapest ways to eat out in London are when you decide to go with the always winning choice of Asian cuisine. From India to Japan, there are loads of places offering cheap eats in London that are as authentic as they are tasty.
The Japan Centre on Piccadilly has been a favourite of mine for sushi and sashimi for years. While you’re there, check out the flagship Waterstone’s store, it’s massive and beautiful, and it’s a good way to lose yourself for a few hours simply browsing.
Tonkotsu East in Soho is a great noodle bar set underneath the railway arches. You can get a belly filling bowl of ramen here for just a tenner.
Delhi Grill on Chapel Market is like a canteen crossed between a Bollywood boy’s bedroom where the walls are covered in posters of Bolly-starlets and movies. There’s loads of vegetarian food on offer as well as meat dishes. The lunchtime deal will set you back £6/£7 (reg/lrg) for curry, dhal and rice. A true bargain!
Jubo in Shoreditch is my absolute favourite because it’s one of the best Korean places out there and it’s so cheap it almost hurts. I am in love with the steamed pork buns and of course you can’t go to a Korean BBQ place without getting their “KFC” (just make sure not to call it that). Most dishes here are around £5-7.
Engage in social media
Lots of cool places with cheap eats in London offer freebies and discounts when you follow them on Twitter or like them on Facebook or even the more traditional signing up to the newsletters.
Whereas newsletters can clog up your inbox, social media allows you to have a bit more control, although you do have to actively check the establishment’s pages regularly for their offers.
For example, Kua ‘Aina, a really fabulous Hawaiian diner specialising in burgers, often offers up a free breakfast at both of their Goodge Street and Carnaby Street branches.
The Carpenters’ Inn throws you a freebie drink once in a while, which is massively needed with the average price of pint in central London often coming in at over a fiver. Signing up to their newsletter also gives you access to other exclusive offers like money off their food menu.
Going a little further afield to Beckenham, the Mai Ping Thai restaurant does an excellent Sunday banquet for £17 per head.
Check out the chains
There are some pros and cons about chain restaurants.
The major cons are that they can usurp local traders and their menus can be generic (even bland!) However, many chains are getting savvy to some of these issues and try to provide fresh food as well as support the community. The pro for chains is that when you’re on a budget, you can always find a good deal for at least one of them.
The main contenders for this kind of offers are Pizza houses like Pizza Express, Prezzo, ASK and Preto. Sometimes, there is even 40% off mains and they always have a set menu. Friday nights and Saturdays are often excluded but that still leaves many other lunch and dinner opportunities.
And it’s not just the pizza places either! Have a look for deals at Café Rouge, a French-style bistro and Loch Fyne, a classic fish restaurant. Some of London’s amazing dishes are served at very affordable prices in here.
5 Secrets on London’s Cheap Eats from Londoners
As a bonus, I’ve asked around my fellow Londoners for tips on cheap eats in London and how can people trying to stay on a budget eat for cheap in this experinsive city. Here are five best pieces of advice I picked out from our conversations.
I’ve said it once and then I’ve said it again and now I’ll say it one more time til I’m blue in the face: TimeOut is your bible.
One of their regular features is on eating out on a budget in London. They’ve also got the backdated articles on eating out on a budget online. Here’s a great list from TimeOut for which you can thank me in the comments.
There are loads of discount deal subscription sites on the web. TimeOut (yes, I did it again!) got one which is pretty good. On top of that, there’s also Groupon, Wowcher, and more.
But for me, TopTable is one of the best places to search. You can do your bookings and reservations online but also they send you along what’s new, what’s going on and weekly offers for some amazing restaurants in London.
3. Go to Preto… but only if you’re a carnivore!
And only if you’re starving. For £20 you can be fed for the entire day on as much meat and salad as you want.
It’s fun to try to new cuts at Preto that you wouldn’t have had before and if you want to spend a long evening socialising. To avoid waste, we only go when we are super hungry and we are sure to take anything we tried and didn’t like back home for the dog.
4. Don’t get boozy and greedy
The difference in the price of your bill can be up to half if you choose to just drink tap water or have one small glass of wine. Share a starter and share the dessert and your bill slips down again.
For instance, we recently ate at BoDrake Soho, a new (and very expensive) Korean fusion restaurant. It was our anniversary so we splashed out, but usually we would have skipped the cocktails and the wine, shared a starter and pud.
If you do it this way, you can almost half the bill to around £55 for two including service. That’s pretty good for central London, where you get to try some innovative food and a new venue.
5. Menu Rapide
I recommend to ALWAYS check out the express menu and the menu rapide. These are mostly available at lunch time but are also around early or late evening.
Cote, a French-style bistro that’s growing nationwide, for example, has a great set menu and affordable wine. I’ve been to this place several times and enjoy the time spent as well as the food eaten – great selection and amazing quality.
Café Boheme has daily specials and you can order wine in a 500ml carafe – cheaper and great for sharing. If you’re on a budget, this is one of the places in the area that you should check out first.