Cheap Eats

January 13, 2017

DINNER IN LONDON FOR UNDER £20

Here’s our pick of ten restaurants that won’t break the bank, outstretch your overdraft or mean the rent doesn’t get paid.

You’ll be able to get a meal (starter and main, or a decent number of small plates) along with some booze for £20 — or sometimes well under — at all of the below. Our selection is spread across town and includes a variety of cuisines.

Banh Mi Bay, Holborn
The banh mi Vietnamese baguette is the centre-point of this all-day café-restaurant, but there’s also pho, summer rolls and chargrilled meats on offer. The food here bursts with fresh herbs and spices, and the noodles are all handmade on-site daily. Pho and most other main courses cost between £7 and £8.

Bonnington Café, Vauxhall
Originally a squat, this restaurant in picturesque Bonnington Square (a couple of minutes from less picturesque Vauxhall station) is now a uniquely run co-operative. In the region of 20 different cooks head-up the kitchen here, taking residency for the day and preparing their own menus. You need to contact said chef directly to book and make enquiries about the menu (their details are on the website), but you’re rewarded for your efforts with mains for £8 and starters and desserts for £3. Plus it’s BYO with no corkage (50p per person for glass hire). With so many rotating cooks, it can be a little hit and miss but that’s all part of the gamble.

Brasserie Zedel, Soho
Prix Fixe menus are available every day at this grand Parisian bistro close to Piccadilly Circus. At £9.75 for two courses or £12.75 for three, an evening here need set you back only marginally more than a portion of fish and chips (or a supermarket ready meal) but features superb service, a bustling atmosphere and French food that’s up there with the city’s best. Keep drinks to a minimum if budgets are really tight, or make the most of the cheap food to make a budget night of it.

KaoSarn, Brixton and Battersea
The original of this two-branched Thai restaurant gained popularity at Brixton Village for its hefty flavours, intricate spicing, low prices and BYO licence. It now follows the same formula for its second opening in Battersea, not far from Clapham Junction station. All the classics are present, and correct, and we find the standard of meat and fish to be notably higher than at many a shabby Thai. The atmosphere at both restaurants is informal and bustling, though the Battersea branch is a touch smarter.

The Vincent Rooms, Westminster
From carefully created classic dishes with a modern twist, to attentive service, this plush restaurant feels far too classy for the price. The catch? Well, it’s run by Westminster Kingsway College and staffed by their cheffing and hospitality students. If that puts anyone off, then all the more space for the rest of us; the students are overseen by pros at all times and our experience (as well as that of other reviewers) is that it’s a pretty slick operation. The menu is constantly changing but expect the likes of pan-fried sea bream with crab risotto and samphire, or pork belly roasted in dark ale. Mains are in the region of £9-£12, starters and desserts £4-£6. The restaurant closes for college holidays, so check timings before you travel.

November 16, 2016

NOODLE SOUP | OLYMPIC CAFE | UP TO £5.90

Waterloo Station might not be the first place you'd think to look for a good quality, no frills, classic Chinese café - many would head straight to Chinatown for that. But tucked away on Lower Marsh Street, a short walk from the Westminster Bridge exit of the station, you'll find just that at Olympic Cafe.

With a menu that's mercifully concise compared to so many other Chinese establishments (only two pages here), this all day cafe covers soups, sides, noodle dishes, and rice dishes.

Every meal is £6 or less, so feel free to select whatever you fancy. But you'll find it hard to go wrong with the noodle soup section, especially on a brisk day. Simple and comforting broth, a load of thin egg noodles, lots of veg, your meat of choice, and a side of chilli sauce to ladle on to your heart's content.

The roast duck was great (£5.80), but I never can eat fat that isn't crispy. Next time, I'll be going for what my friend had, the crackling pork noodle soup (£5.80). Or the porky won ton noodle soup (£5). With a large glass of warm and sweet ginger and honey tea, our meal came to a meagre £6.80 each, and we were stuffed. You could even order a side or dessert and still stay under our magic £8 mark, such as some prawn crackers (£1.40), their slightly spicy sweet and sour pickled cabbage (£1.80), or ice cream (£2).

A great spot, with warm and friendly service too. I'll be swinging by whenever I'm in transit at Waterloo.

September 19, 2016

Bonnington Café, Vauxhall

Originally a squat, this restaurant in picturesque Bonnington Square — just a couple of minutes away from less picturesque Vauxhall station — is now a restaurant co-operative. In the region of 20 different cooks take it in turns to head-up the kitchen, taking residency for the day and preparing their own menus. You need to contact said chef directly to book or to make enquiries about the menu (their details are on the website), but you’re rewarded for your efforts with mains for £6-£8 and starters and desserts for half that. Plus it’s BYO with no corkage. With so many rotating cooks it does have a tendency to be a little hit and miss — but that’s all part of the gamble.
Bonnington Café, 11 Vauxhall Grove, SW8 1TD

August 7, 2016

A mangal and Raki bar in Marylebone

Yes, Marylebone is getting its very own Turkish tavern. This grill restaurant and bar will be serving cold meze, hot starters, grilled dishes, and clay oven baked dishes and sides; there will even be a coal pit for roasting lamb.

Lovely vegetable dishes such as golden beetroot served with garlic and dill will make an appearance too, as will manti, which are like little Turkish dumplings served with yoghurt sauce and chilli oil. We love them. They’ll also serve what is arguably the best Turkish dessert of all time – kunefe – a syrup-soaked pastry dish with a molten cheese centre.

 

There will be Turkish wines on the list, something we’re seeing much more of in recent years, and drinks man Matt Whiley has been commissioned to draw up a cocktail of Raki-based refreshments.

Yosma, 50 Baker Street, W1U 7B. Open: End of August.