Tips for Cheap Eating in London
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.
One of the best things about London is the opportunity to eat food from around the world. In fact, very few cities in the world can offer such a huge variety of cuisines. Try Vietnamese, Korean, Malaysian, Turkish, Indian, Chinese or Middle Eastern food. A three-course meal can easily cost under £10 per person.
Eat from a supermarket
Supermarkets offer special deals where you can pick up a sandwich, some fruit and a 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 where you’re staying, it’s very easy to pick up cheap ready-meals – M&S is the king of the ready-made meal.
Have an all day breakfast
If you stay in a hotel that includes a traditional cooked English breakfast in the morning, you can probably manage to last until the evening with just a light lunch. If you’re not, it’s pretty easy to find a cafe that serves it all day for £3–£5.
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.
Eat in a market
Most markets in London have food stalls which are a good budget option for lunch. Some of the best choices are at Borough Market on Thursday–Saturday.
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. If you like a glass of wine with your meal, try a restaurant where you can bring your own (BYO) drink.
Grab a Cornish Pasty
An alternative to a lunchtime sandwich is the traditional Cornish Pasty. Several companies have opened branches in London over the past 5 years. Try the West Cornwall Pasty Co.
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, curries on Thursdays and cheap roasts on Sunday afternoon are a bargain. Between 2–5pm Monday–Friday, they serve fish & chips or ham, eggs & chips for £3.10 including a cup of tea or coffee.
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.
Check the menu before going into a restaurant
By law, all restaurants must display their menu outside. Check for minimum charges and whether they add a service charge to your bill. If they do, it will probably be around 10–15%. This is the ‘tip’ so there’s no need to pay anything extra. We don’t have the same sort of tipping culture compared to North America. UK residents tip about 10% in a restaurant.
Check out the chains
For the odd meal chain restaurants are good value, especially if you have some kind of discount voucher. Chains marked with an asterisk are highly recommended and, in our opinion, deserve repeat visits.
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- Pizza and pasta chains: Prezzo, Zizzi, Pizza Express, Strada, Ask Italian
- Burgers: Gourmet Burger Kitchen, Byron*
- European food: Leon*
- Asian food: Wagamama*, Banana Tree*, Busaba Eathai*
- Family-friendly international food: Giraffe
- Spanish tapas: La Tasca
- French food: Côte Restaurants*, Café Rouge
- Portuguese-style chicken: Nandos
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.
Keep an eye out for discount vouchers
Take a look at websites listing the latest discounts and 2 for 1 offers:
Last updated: 12 October 2013