Dining on a Budget in London

January 17, 2013 by

Eating & Restaurants, Local Recommendations, Travel Tips

Fresh bread on sale at London’s Borough Market. Photo courtesy of EEPaul via Flickr.

With its myriad of international cuisine and cutting edge restaurants, London is rapidly gaining a reputation as a gourmet hotspot, but food, as with everything in the city, often comes with a hefty price tag. Thankfully those on a budget can still survive a trip to the capital, and to help you along the way, here are a few ideas for dining on a budget in London.

1. Explore the markets

London’s markets are not only good for shopping, they also harbor a range of street food stalls offering cheap eats – search around before making your choice to ensure you’re getting the best deal. Better yet, head to London’s premier food markets, like Borough Market or the Spitalfields’ Fine Food Market and you’ll often be able to fill up on tasters alone.

2. Make the most of the portion sizes

English food might not have the best reputation but local dishes are often both dirt cheap and extremely filling. Follow workers to the local greasy spoon (cheap breakfast cafés) for a full English breakfast and you’ll be full through until dinner, or hit the nearest fish and chips joint where for the price of an entrée you’ll score an enormous slab of battered cod and a generous portion of chips. Alternatively, head to the pub for some well-priced eats – a typical Sunday roast is served in such quantities that you’ll be set for the day.

3. Hit the supermarkets

The cheapest place to pick up a picnic lunch in central London is at the supermarket and you might be surprised to find the range and quality on offer. Tesco Express, Sainsbury’s Local and Marks & Spencer’s Simply food are all smaller version of the major supermarkets, found everywhere from the high street to train platforms. An impressive range of pre-prepared takeaway foods are on offer, including sushi, salad boxes, smoothies, wraps, sandwiches and baked goods, rarely topping the £5 mark.

4. Tuck into some Asian food

If you’re keen to eat out but can’t afford to splurge, many of the best deals can be found at the city’s Asian restaurants. Dozens of Malaysian noodle houses and all-you-can-eat Chinese buffets line the streets of Chinatown and the renowned Indian restaurants on Brick Lane can get quite competitive with prices, often throwing in freebies like starters or wine, and offering discounts for groups. Look out for the Wagamamas chain too, one of the cheapest places to get a tasty and well-sized meal, with over 15 branches in London.

5. Look out for special offers

The Brits love a bargain and the special offers are not just confined to the supermarket shelves. Set-price meal deals, lunchtime specials at pubs, 2 for 1 deals, all you can eat buffets and happy hour meal discounts are all common place at London’s chain restaurants, bars and takeaways, so keep your eyes peeled. Weatherspoons is one pub chain that often runs special offers or themed nights, and many coffee houses now offer loyalty stamp cards that will earn you a free drink or meal.

Combine sightseeing, learning and eating with these London Food Tours

6. Eat where the locals eat

Locals always know the tastiest places to find a bargain, like Brasil by Kilo on Oxford Street, serving a varied buffet with plates charged at 99p per kilo or the Daddy Donkey burrito trailer in Holborn, serving up hearty burritos from around £5. The Mr. Falafel stall in Shepherd’s bush market is also a winner, serving delicious falafel wraps with all the trimmings starting at a mere £3, or for something a little more ‘English’, head to the Square Pie Company at Spitalfields market for cheap and plentiful fare.

- Zoe Smith

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