If you’re taking a vacation or a business trip in London it’s easy to spend ridiculous amounts of money on keeping your ribs from sticking together. Either that, or live off Pret a Manger sandwiches for days – which isn’t really all that cheap and is a bit limiting in terms of cuisine. You could decide to investigate street food, particularly at lunchtime, to minimise your spend or one of the many inexpensive Indian or Chinese eateries – but there are other options available too for the savvy traveller in the know.
A few basic tips first.
- Breakfast at many good hotels can cost upwards of £20. You can save quite a bit by just heading to a coffee shop round the corner, or getting a fry-up at a local cafe – and if you have a good breakfast, you won’t be quite so hungry at lunchtime.
- If you want to make the most of your budget, remember not to go for little add-ons, particularly if you’re going for a prix fixe menu. An extra drink here, an extra dressing or side salad there, and your budget meal has suddenly swollen to the proportions of quite a big bill.
- Look for cafe style restaurants or buffets, and you’ll often get better value – though the atmosphere can be less inspiring, this may not matter for a quick pit-stop.
- If the weather’s nice, go to a deli to buy your lunch ingredients. Just make sure you have some wet wipes on you if you’re eating with your fingers!
Some of the chains can be great value. You can get a good burger at GBK in Spitalfields, South Kensington and several other London sites, and pay £6-8 for a sit down meal. At Chipotle in Baker Street or Charing Cross Road, two of you can get positively stuffed for ten pounds each, including a drink and some extras. In north London, the Hampstead Butcher & Providore can supply picnic basics – great if the sun’s out and you’re headed for Hampstead Heath. Tortilla, pies, flans, quiches, and tubs of salad are all available, as well as filled baguettes and incredibly puffed up sausage rolls.
Delis and bakeries can offer great value, too. In Kensington Church Street, Clarke’s shop sells slices of tart and quiche, sausage rolls, and other snacks and sandwiches – a cut above most pre-pack sandwich shops. Or on Brick Lane, head for one of the two Bagel shops – £3.50 will set you up with a hot salt beef bagel, though you can pay much less for a filled bagel with cream cheese, for instance.
Princi in Covent Garden can be difficult to navigate – it works as a canteen, so you choose what you want from the counter – but worth it for the grub. You can get a sandwich with real Parma ham for less than a fiver to eat in, or pizza and other full meals for less than a tenner. Real Italian food, without real London prices. Or if you happen to be in Covent Garden and Italian isn’t what you’re after, take a trip to the Harp for some of the best real ales and ciders locally, to wash down a sausage sandwich. (If you don’t want to drink at lunchtime, of course, you don’t have to, but the sausages are still available, and very good they are too.
The best cheap pizza though will demand a trip south of the river to Brixton market, where Franco Manca has a ‘back to basics’ approach – low prices, no fancy décor, and limited choice, with pizzas using whatever’s fresh in stock today. Franco Manca uses a sourdough base, and zingy tomato sauce, as well as an authentic Italian brick pizza oven.
For the budget-conscious foodie, Borough Market always has budget options ranging from chorizo sandwiches at Brindisi to roast beef sarnies from Roast (the restaurant has a takeaway stall outside), Malay curries, and caffs. My only problem is that whatever I save on my lunch, I manage to fritter away on cheese, chorizo or other delicacies to take away – perhaps less of a problem if you’re not a Londoner.
Head to Green Lanes in Haringey and you’ll find a set of Turkish restaurants where you can get lahmacun (pronounced la-ma-jun), a sort of Turkish pizza, kebabs, and superb kofte (meatballs). People tell me Antepliler is the best of the lot – it does superb baklava, that I do know.
A warning though; remember what zone you’re headed to and use your Oyster card if you’re going out of the centre of London. There’s no point saving a few quid on your meal just to spend it on the tube!
Andrea Kirkby is a travel writer based in the UK who enjoys exploring the world on a budget. When she visits London she likes to sleep in centrally-located, clean, and customer-focused budget hotels in Kings Cross, with good public transport links to get everywhere as quickly and cheaply as possible.