Dining on a budget
There is no doubt that you can eat as well, or better, in London than anywhere else in the world – when money is no object. But what happens when you are on a budget, trying to get as much value as you possibly can? Are you relegated to a regime of fish and chip shops, pizza parlours, noodle bars and fry ups, or is there life beyond the £60 prix fixe menu?
In fact, you can eat very well for very little in London, when you know where to look. Here are 12 places to start you off. Unless otherwise stated, prices are for dinner for two including house wine and service.
Le Petit Max
14 Chatfield Road, Battersea Reach, London SW11. Tel: 020 7223 0999
Max Renzland, last seen at the Marco Pierre White-owned Chez Max in Knightsbridge, has re-emerged in a riverside development in Battersea with his trademark French bourgeois cooking in sympathetic bistro surrounds. A dish of pork and duck rillettes is a shreddy, creamy delight, coq au vin is full-on authentic, and the boudin noir (black pudding) is gooey and gorgeous. Amazingly, the great-value menu du jour - 3 courses for £16.50 -- is available not just at lunch and early evening, but the whole night as well. Around £55 for two people.
2 Denman Street, London W1. Tel: 020 7439 1330
There is no shortage of good value Indian restaurants in London, but Chowki is a cut above the rest. Communal tables, squishy red leatherette stools and specially made plates that fit snugly into one another like jigsaw pieces give the place the place designer chic, while a menu that features a different region of India every month means regulars never get bored with the very good cooking. Around £45 for two.
6 Whitton Road, Twickenham, Middlesex. Tel: 020 8607 9849.
Chef John McClement has created a little bit of France in south-west London. Although a relative newcomer, Ma Cuisine has wasted no time gathering up accolades, including a Bib Gourmand (for “good food at moderate prices”) in the Michelin Guide, and runner-up in the Evening Standard newspaper’s London Tonight Award for good value. Expect classics including French onion soup, cassoulet and crepes suzettes at prices that make you nostalgic for the good old days. Around £50 for two.
22 Store Street, London WC1. Tel: 020 7299 7900
Alan Yau’s two ground-breaking Thai eateries (the other is at 106 Wardour Street in Soho) serve up fashionable food in equally fashionable designer surroundings. Nahm’s David Thompson originally set up the kitchen and menu, and the food is a far cry from ‘High Street’ Thai. The Pad Thai noodles are a destination in themselves, while the Masaman duck curry and Thai calamari are favourites. Seating is communal and you can’t book, but some things are worth waiting for. Around £45 for two
9 Marshall Street, London W1. Tel: 020 7287 9966
Run by the same people who own Chutney Mary and Veeraswami, this smart and stylish split-level Indian diner in the beating heart of Soho is the Indian answer to Wagamama and Busaba Eathai. The menu is flexible, fast and affordable, from the streetside dumplings and yoghurt lassi to the lunchtime burgers and sandwiches. Try the chicken or vegetarian thalis (trays) which give you a little bit of everything. Around £40 for two
55 Stoke Newington Church Street, London N16. Tel: 020 7249 0344
This is TV chef Jamie Oliver’s favourite Indian vegetarian restaurant, and he is not alone, judging by the way this vividly pink establishment is perpetually busy, day or night. The drawcard is the exemplary Keralan cooking, so full of spice and flavour and character that even carnivores are happy to overlook the fact that there is no meat to be had. At £15.50, it’s hard to go past the set Keralan feast, a generous selection of dishes from the main menu, rounded out by a delicious array of chutneys, pickles, pappadams and the like. Around £50 for two
Gourmet Burger Kitchen
44 Northcote Road, London SW11. Tel: 020 7228 3309
Set up by a couple of enterprising New Zealanders with a little start-up help from The Providores’ Peter Gordon, GBK serves up what many critics regard as London’s finest burger. The bun is sour dough, the chips are crisp and golden and the beef is top-notch, grass-reared Aberdeen Angas. There are several variations on the burger theme on offer, and the feeling in this buzzy Battersea Café is light, bright and breezy. There are branches elsewhere in the capital: in West Hampstead, Putney and Fulham Broadway. Around £40 for two
10 Arcola Street, London E8. Tel: 020 7275 8981
No menu, no bookings, and you have to bring your own wine. You will also more than likely be asked to go and have a drink in the corner pub until a table comes free. But who cares, when the food (mainly simple Turkish grills, dips, hot breads and great salads) is this good? The grilled sweetbreads, are cooked while you watch, as are the spicy minced chicken kebabs. Those who spend more than £15 a head would have to be very, very hungry. Around £30 for two (not including wine).
134 Kingsland Road, London E2. Tel: 020 7613 3222
There is quite a cluster of Vietnamese restaurants along this stretch of Kingsland Road, but none have created quite the stir that Song Que managed when it opened in 2002. After a glowing review in Time Out Magazine, praising its 170-dish menu and bright, friendly manner, it was bombarded by locals and critics alike. While much of the menu is devoted to basic Chinese dishes, it’s the Vietnamese specialities that are really worth the visit, including around 20 variations of pho noodle soup, plump fresh rice paper rolls, and delicious banh xeo pancakes filled with chicken and beanshoots. Around £50 for two.
13 Queensway, London W2. Tel: 020 7221 2535
By night this is a very good, very swish Cantonese restaurant, with equally swish prices. By day however, it devotes itself to serving one London’s best dim sum lunches for pretty much the same as you would pay for dim sum in Chinatown. The cheung faan rice rolls with prawns are silky bliss, the siu mai prawn and pork dumplings are sweet and juicy, and the deep fried woo gok taro dumplings are a crisp crumbly delight. There are no bookings at lunch and, at weekends, you could wait up to an hour for a table. Around £45 for two.
19 Highbury Park, London N5. Tel: 020 7354 5697
In suitably ‘Ottomanned’ surroundings complete with exotic lamps, decorative tiles and flickering candles, Iznik turns out some of London’s finest and most authentic Turkish food. Here you can taste traditional home cooking, including courgette and fetta fritters, sayadiah of fish and rice and karniyyarik (aubergine stuffed with minced lamb), as well as a variety of creamy dips, crisp fresh salads and delicious desserts such as pears stuffed with pistachios and revani semolina cake. Around £50 for two.
12 Thurloe Street, London SW7. Tel: 020 7589 6117
For food that hits the spot, sticks to the ribs and offers great value, this delightfully old-fashioned restaurant is worth a visit. Come with an appetite, and prepare yourself for some honest Polish home cooking from chlodnik (cold beetroot and yoghurt soup) to the thickly accented schnitzel and the huge marinated pork knuckle. Around £40 for two.
For more information on London’s – and Britain’s – cuisine scene, see VisitBritain’s new website, www.visitbritain.com/taste. Features include the country’s regional specialities, afternoon tea, the great British breakfast, new food developments and a facility to search 1,200 restaurants in 30 cities.