This post is born out of my frustration on repeatedly reading reviews and posts on so called cheap eats that the great city of London has to offer that really are not cheap at all. Time Out if you’re reading this, a £20 per head meal cannot be classified as cheap by any stretch of the imagination. Oh and don’t get me started on the current hype around so called ‘street food’ – put simply, if the coriander garnish on your plate is more filling than the actual food itself and the watermelon and acia berry freshly pressed juice with sprinklings of chia seeds served in a quaint mason jar has a price tag that would make your eyes water, then get out immediately for you have been conned.
Photo Credit: www.thecollegeprepster.com
This is not a ‘street food’ establishment unless of course the street is a gated tree lined road in Belgravia. I see the appeal of these establishments – essentially catering for those who would never be caught dead sampling actual street food on their travels but would nonetheless like to dabble in the ‘adapted’ versions of such food in much more aesthetically pleasing surroundings.
However, if this is not you, please read on as I share with you my top 10 favourite cheap eats in London which include some much loved real street food. This is by no means an exhaustive lists – just my personal go to places when I fancy something cheap and cheerful.
London, arguably one of the best cities in the world has a lot to offer the culinary enthusiasts of the world
1. Zeit & Zatar: Lebanese
Zeit & Zatar is a traditional Lebanese bakery offering all types of mana’eesh (Lebanese pizzaesque concoctions).
This has been a beloved spot of mine for years since it first opened. From days as a poor student trying to make a fiver stretch as far as possible to weekend brunches and quick stops before hen weekend castle getaways this has been my go to. I’ve sampled most Lebanese bakery eateries in West London and this is by far my favorite due to the combination of perfect thickness of the bread (I don’t like it too thick), the za’tar ratio, the type of Halloumi used and the excellent service. Don’t expect a flashy restaurant – this is a small family owned bakery with a few tables inside and outside.
What to Order
My favourite weekend orders here are the sojouk manakeesh (Lebanese spicy sausage and cheese ‘pizza’ – I normally hate sausages but sojouk is exempt – taste it to understand why), mint tea and finished up with a Nutella and pistachio sweet ‘pizza’.
Price: My usual order detailed above for £7 – bargain!
Address: 354 Uxbridge Road, Shepherds Bush, London, W12 7LL
2. Moroccan Fish Stall: Moroccan (duh)
Born and bred in West London Portobello Market has been a fixture for over 20 years. From religious weekend visits in the 90’s to purchase the cheapest fruit and unique antiques to the current hipster Mecca it is today Portobello is the much loved market of the West. Walk beyond the now ridiculously expensive street stalls (£5 for a potato twisty, really?!) and venture into the Moroccan land of Goldborne road for a taste of the Portobello vibe of yesteryear. Here you will find busy stalls grilling all types of fish and eagerly waiting customers tying to secure their order before the sea bass or sword fish runs out. On a typical day customers are made up of Moroccan women, Rastafarian men, Algerians from the nearby mosque, Notting Hill yuppies and genuine foodies – both regulars and first timers.
What to order
The menu is simple and written clearly on the large black board – fish, chips, rice, salad and bread for £5. Extras of Calamari cost more. Fish on offer ranges from sea bass, swordfish, tuna steak to whatever else the fish monger has in that day. Marinated fish in olive oil, spices and peppers are laid out on the huge grill pan and make shift chairs and tables surround the ‘kitchen action’. I think you’ll agree that at £5 for all that is a steal – and the fish portion is generous too.
Price: £5 for standard plate of fish, rice, salad, chips and bread.
Address: Market Stall, Goldborne Road, London, W11 2E
3. Kati Roll: Indian
Kati Roll is an Indian street food offering originating from Kolkata. Traditionally these were kebab rolls wrapped in paratha bread and laced with sauces and as with all good food, these have been adapted over the years to include the full offerings available at the Kati Roll Company in Soho. I first tried the Kati Roll Company when I lived in New York and was told glowing stories from my colleague and it did not disappoint. The London branch is not as cool as the one in Greenwich Village, NYC and the taste slightly inferior but it is still one of my quick go to cheap places when in central London. The restaurant is no nonsense – orders are made and paid for at the till and customers pick up their food when their number is called by the indifferent staff. The restaurant is filled with little make shift tables and chairs and the orange walls plastered with vintage Bollywood posters.
What to Order
There is enough on offer here to cater to most tastes – from channa (chick pea) rolls, to spiced mashed potato (my personal favourite) and chicken and beef offerings to for meat lovers. You can choose between roti and paratha for your bread (still not sure I understand the difference). The Kati Roll’s special green chutney is the proverbial cherry on top.
Price: 2 of the same rolls ranging between £5 to £9.50
Address: 24 Poland Street, London, W1F 8QL
4. Spicy Basil: Thai
A firm favourite of residents from West and North London- Spicy Basil is a gem in the rough (but now more gentrified) Kilburn. Extremely popular with locales this place is always busy with takeaway orders and the hustle and bustle can be felt as soon as you walk in – close knit tables, frantic kitchen staff and a manic waiter manning the phone wrestling with orders. This is again not a fancy restaurant – but the menu is exhaustive, cheap and the food is good. Recently expanded to include a roomy downstairs dining floor the queues for a table seem to have subsided.
What to Order
Whatever Thai dish takes your fancy – they have a wide selection! From warming yom tom soup, to Pad Thai which I’m told is really good (not a fan personally- peanut flavoured food is unnecessary). Though they have a selection of starters on offer I usually only go for the vegetarian spring rolls as the other options are not worth writing home about. A safe yet well executed option is always the Thai Green Curry here. Prawn spicy and garlic noodles are also a favourite of mine.
Price: Mains £5-£7
Address: 165 Kilburn High Road, London NW6 7HY
5. Kamil Bakery: Lebanese
Back to the Lebanese bakery variety of food (I really can’t get enough) for this rugged, no nonsense, self service style bakery in the middle of an industrial estate in North Acton. What this place lacks in glamour it makes up for in value for money and glorious comfort food. The usual Lebanese ‘pizzas’ and wraps are offered here as well as a selection of starters from the ‘deli’ section (term used liberally here). The large bread tunnel oven with open flames is visible for all to see behind the counter– rolled out ‘pizza’ bases with toppings from cheese, ground meat and za’tar sit on a long wooden plank and are inserted into the oven. A few minutes later and beautiful mana’eesh emerge ready to devour.
What to order
The usual fare is available here in addition to falafel, chicken and shawarma wraps. They even have a shawarma pizza if you are that way inclined. My typical order here consists of ground lamb and green chilli ‘pizza’ and a mixed cheese and za’tar ‘pizza’. Also – tea here is free and unlimited; you just have to make it yourself.
Price: Most offerings between £1.50 – £3
Address: 7 Standard Road, London NW10 6EX
6. Gokyuzu: Turkish
Green Lanes in Turkish North London is a heaven for Turkish food lovers. Restaurants a plenty, grocery shops offering Turkish cooking staples, bakeries making fresh Gozleme and pide and a rustic kanafe café to boot – a trip here is well worth the duration of the journey it takes me all the way from West London. Gokyuzu is just one of the many Turkish restaurants here and by far the most popular – queues on most evenings and especially Friday’s stretch outside on to the street. I have sampled around 4 restaurants on Green Lanes (there are many) and this is my firm favourite. A huge, rustically decorated restaurant Gokyuzu is great for large groups – the vibe here is always loud and busy.
What to Order
Once you are seated you are treated with free fresh Turkish bread (yum), tatziki, a red chilli starter and a ridiculously delicious salad as colourful as it is divine. Yes, all for free. This is what a great start looks like in my book, you just have to make sure you don’t get too full. The platters here are the real specialty – you will probably see most people working away at these at their tables. These are huge platters for 2-3 people (more like 5) and include bulgur, rice, grilled chicken cubes, chicken wings, adana kebabs, meat tikka, ribs and shawarma (you can convince them to substitute something if you’re not a fan). This platter is more than enough for 3 people and can stretch quite comfortable to even 4-5. I always take out of towners here as it never fails to leave an impression.
Price: The full platter costs £30 and is advertised for 2-3 people but can feed 4-5
Address: 26-27 Grand Parade, Green Lanes, London N4 1LG
7. Mr Falafel: Palestinian
Shepherds Bush market is not what it used to be, but it has one redeeming feature which alone makes it worthy of much praise – for of course it houses the amazing Mr Falafel. Mr Falafel started off life as a humble stall in the market which quickly became popular with both local residents, market sellers and the BBC media types based down the road at White City.
In my student days working at a call centre in Acton the thought of Mr Falafel for lunch would fill me with the strength to carry on whilst being subjected to the usual abuse that comes with the job. Getting a 15 minute bus to Mr Falafel and back and queuing amongst the BBC staff for a further 20 minutes on my 1 hr break seemed entirely reasonable.
Photo Credit: www.london.lecool.com
What to Order
Mr Falafel has now upgraded to a fully standing covered ‘shop’ of sorts in the market with a door and tables and chairs to sit at (no more messy eating on the bus necessary). Quite simply this is my favourite falafel sandwich in London – freshly made falafel, fried aubergine and potatoes, gherkins and pickles and chilli sauce with an actual kick – the perfect components for a holy eating experience. The falafel menu is extensive – additions range from halloumi, avocado, broad beans, fried cauliflower, spicy potatoes and of course my beloved fried aubergines.
Price: Offerings range between £3.50 – £6.30
Address: Units T4-T5, New Shepherds Bush Market, Uxbridge Road, Shepherds Bush, London, W12 8LH
8. Al-Enam: Iraqi
Another West London Middle Eastern establishment on the list – what can I say, Arab establishments in West London know how to offer up a bargain. Plus as an Iraqi myself I could not leave the Iraqi restaurant Al-Enam off the list otherwise you wouldn’t know about the best shawarma sandwich this side of Damascus. Like Kamil bakery, Al-Enam is also located in the industrial surrounds of North Acton however offers up more of an actual restaurant for a sit down meal. This family run restaurant offers up delicious barbequed food, pastries, starters and sandwiches and also has a traditional Iraqi breakfast menu on offer (with a side of cholesterol)
What to Order:
The lahmajeen here is really good and superior in my opinion to those on offer at the Lebanese bakeries for two simple reasons – firstly the meat is well done, whereas most Lebanese establishments favour the meat to be less cooked. Secondly, the meat is flavoured with one of the best ingredients in the world – pomegranate molasses. I do not think there is any food that cannot be enhanced by this amazing flavour (other than perhaps pomegranates themselves).
The barbequed food here is also great however when I visit Al-Enam I have only one thing on my mind – the lamb shawarma sandwich.
Photo credit: Al Enam Catering
A good lamb shawarma sandwich in London is nearly impossible to find (don’t even get me started on the poor and overrated attempts in Edgware Road), hence my joy at discovering Al-Enam. Conventional Middle Eastern shawarmas are not loaded with sauces and condiments as they are outside of the Middle East because the meat is so good it does not need to be propped up by anything else. This is the case here, tender, flavoursome and delicious lamb in freshly baked Iraqi ‘samoon’ bread. Simple yet utterly blissful.
Photo credit: Al Enam Catering
Price: Shawarma sandwiches £3
Address: Acton Business Centre, School Road, London NE10 6TD www.alenam.co.uk
9. Wok to Walk: Pan Asian
Wok to Walk is a pan Asian franchise establishment across Europe, USA and even in North Africa with a very straightforward 3 step menu. Choose your base (noodles, rice, veg options), add your ingredients (proteins, veg etc.) then choose your sauce. I first discovered this place in Glasgow and fell in love with it – a large canteen style place with long wooden tables and benches and with food made in front of you and served up within 5 minutes – what’s not to love? There are four outlets in London around central London, open till late and with minimal seating options this is a grab and go kind of place.
What to order
I usually go for a noodle base with prawns, mushrooms and veg options in the Hot Asia or Curry Coconut Bangkok sauce – both the spiciest options on the menu. I love places like this where the whole concept is around customising the food to each individual taste – this place caters for veggies and meat lovers alike with spicy, mild, sweet and nutty sauce options there’s bound to be something for everyone.
Price: Depending on your options but usually less than £6
Address: Multiple locations, check www.woktowalk.com for addresses
10. Café Caribbean: Jamaican
Café Caribbean is a permanent food stall in Spitalfields market offering hearty Jamaican food. This is a more recent discovery of mine after working near Spitalfields and, observing the queues and large portions, decided to try this place out. This is a great place for lunch time munching and the portions are big enough to share between two on days you want to avoid food coma when heading back to the office after lunch. The food is so hearty and genuinely homemade it’s like a warm hug on the insides on a cold winter day.
Photo credit: www.oldspitalfieldsmarket.com
What to order
As it serves Halal chicken I usually go for the Jerk chicken which comes with rice and beans, salad and as much sauce as you can handle; and be warned, the hot sauce will set your tongue on fire (and this is coming from someone who loves spicy food and always goes for the spiciest option on the menu). The rice is so homey and the salad so rugged that it really hits the hearty homemade food spot in an area that’s over loaded with the Pret A Mangers, Eats and Pods of the City world.
Photo credit: www.foursquare.com
Price: A generous plate of jerk chicken, rice and salad that could stretch to two for around £6
Address: Cafe Caribbean, Pavilion Building, Old Spitalfields Market, London E1 6EW
Whilst non-Londoners love to tell tales wide eyed about how ridiculously expensive this city is, when it comes to food if you know where to look you can get amazing food for a bargain. This list is born out of my never ending food searches in and around London from firm favourites of mine as a student on a tight budget to new gems discovered when venturing further afield (Harringey, need I say more?)
West London features heavily here reflecting my food expeditions around the part of London I am most familiar with (there are genuinely good cheap food options here too which helps) – any recommendations of your must try cheap eats anywhere in London are most welcome and will be happily sampled!
N.B – For Halal foodies please note all of the above establishments apart from Wok to Walk are advertised as Halal. Cafe Caribbean provides only Halal Chicken. Please confirm before visiting in case of any changes since this post has been published.