Try some street food
London is a great place for street food. Most markets in London have food stalls and they’re probably the best choice for a reasonably priced, satisfying lunch. See our guide to street food in central London.
Eat food from around the world
London really is one of the best cities to try food from around the world. Vietnamese, Korean, Malaysian, Turkish, Indian, Chinese and Middle Eastern food are usually fairly cheap. A two-course meal can easily cost around £10 per person if you avoid alcohol.
Even if you’re not visiting the theatre, take advantage of the special deals offered by some restaurants aimed at theatre-goers. You have to eat early in the evening, usually between 5.30pm–7.30pm, so have a light lunch.
Eat from a supermarket
Supermarkets have special meal deals where you can buy a sandwich, some fruit and a soft drink for as little as £3. They also stock a huge range of ready-to-eat food and anything you need to make a your own roll or sandwich. If you have cooking facilities, it’s easy to pick up cheap ready-meals — M&S is the king of the ready-made meal.
Have an English breakfast
A traditional English cooked breakfast is very filling. If you stay in a hotel that includes it in the price, you’ll probably be able to last until evening with just a light lunch. If your hotel doesn’t offer, you probably won’t be far from a cafe. The standard price is around £4–£6 and you can have it at whatever time of the day you want.
Keep an eye out for soft launches
A soft launch is a chance for new restaurants to test their menu, kitchen and staff before opening the doors to the public. Luckily, they want real people to experiment on and often offer 50% off the price of a meal. hot-dinners.com is worth or look. Or try searching Twitter.
Check out the chains
Chain restaurants are good value, especially if you have some kind of discount voucher.
- Pizza and pasta chains: Prezzo, Zizzi, Pizza Express, Strada, Ask Italian
- Burgers: Gourmet Burger Kitchen, Byron*
- European food: Leon*
- Vietnamese food: Pho*
- Asian food: Wagamama*, Banana Tree*, Busaba Eathai*
- Family-friendly international food: Giraffe
- French food: Côte Restaurants*, Café Rouge
- Portuguese-style chicken: Nandos
Chains marked with an * are recommended.
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Look out for the Taste Card free trial
The Taste Card is a membership scheme giving 50% off or 2 for the price of 1 deals at thousands of restaurants in the UK. It costs £79.95 for a year but they regularly offer a free 30-day trial. Check their website and apply online. UK and Ireland addresses only.
Check out the deals websites
If you want to go a bit upmarket, take a look at some deals websites like Travelzoo. They regularly offer discounts on Michelin star restaurants.
Eat in a cafe
Most cafes, along with the many variations on the English breakfast, serve a daily special. This is usually a meat and two vegetable combination. A little healthier than a fried English breakfast.
Avoid overpriced drinks in a restaurant
If you’re on a serious budget, avoid drinking anything apart from tap water in a restaurant. Drinks are where they make the most profit and it’s not uncommon for even a soft drink to cost up to a third of the price of the main meal! Restaurants must, by law, provide tap water.
Eat in a pub
Pub food is a cheap option but some pubs are better than others, so choose carefully. Wetherspoon pubs are hard to beat on price, but don’t expect a gourmet meal. Their steaks on Tuesdays, chicken dishes on Wednesdays, curries on Thursdays and cheap roasts on Sundays are a bargain.
Ask for a ‘doggy bag’
If you order too much food, ask the restaurant to pack up your remaining food to takeaway. Don’t be shy. You paid for it.
Eat your main meal at lunchtime
Set lunches are often much cheaper than eating in the evening.
Read the menu before going into a restaurant
By law, all restaurants must display their menu outside. Check for minimum charges and whether they add what they call a ‘discretionary’ service charge to your bill. If they do, it will probably be around 10–12.5%. This is the ‘tip’ so there’s no need to pay anything extra. We don’t have the same tipping culture compared to North America. UK residents normally tip about 10% in a restaurant. By the way, if you pay by card, you can ask the waiter/waitress to remove the service charge from the bill and leave them a cash tip instead.
Last updated: 10 June 2015