By Justin Bergman in London–
Fear not, Cheapos, London is not going to drain your wallet when it comes to food. Sure, you can easily blow $200-300 on dinner at one of Gordon Ramsay’s famous restaurants, but you might be bitterly disappointed by the experience—the star chef’s London venues were just trashed by the Harden’s London Restaurants guide as being “dreary” and “outrageously overpriced”.
Instead, save your sterling for drinks at the pub and eat at one of these five stellar restaurants for under £10 a pop:
2-4 Boundary St., 020 7729-1051
You wouldn’t normally associate Terence Conran, the London designer and developer, with inexpensive. The rooms at his just-opened East London loft hotel, The Boundary, for example, start at around $250 per night. The drinks at the rooftop bar are almost as pricey.
But the restaurant on the ground floor of the hotel, the Albion, is the exception: Almost all of the dishes on the menu come in at under £10. And the food is amazing—the restaurant serves very lovely and refined takes on classic British dishes like Welsh rabbit, fish pie and kedgeree. (Remarkably, traditional British food is making a comeback on menus all over the city at the moment.) This being a Conran restaurant, the design is impeccable, too, right down to the hand-knit cozies for the teapots on the tables.
2. Little Georgia
87 Goldsmiths Row, 020-7739-8154.
I stumbled upon this little gem one day on a jog through a quiet residential neighborhood in Hackney (East London). It’s a little hard to get to, but well worth the effort. When you walk in, you feel like you’re entering a warm Tbilisi kitchen, circa 1940—there are black and white family photos and an old map of Georgia on the walls and a number of Soviet-era phones on the shelves.
Skip the more expensive main courses and focus instead on the appetizers—you can share a meze of six different starters for £12 total. The best bets are the lobiani (bread stuffed with spicy beans and pork), khachapuri (cheese-filled bread) and pkhali (a minced beetroot and walnut salad). My other tip: Bring your own wine (there’s no corkage fee).
3. Song Que
134 Kingsland Rd., 020 7613-3222.
Unbeknownst to most tourists, London has its own Little Hanoi—a stretch of Vietnamese restaurants on Kingsland Road in Shoreditch. The best of the lot is undoubtedly Song Que, a massive restaurant short on style (the décor is bare bones to say the least) but incredibly popular for its delicious beef and seafood pho and summer rolls.
You’ll see all types here—local Vietnamese residents, club kids gearing up for a night out in Shoreditch, and always a handful of tourists who read about the restaurant in their Time Out London guide. This isn’t a place to linger—the staff will rush you out the door as soon as you’re done—but the prices can’t be beat. Expect to spend £10 a person, with drinks.
4. Gladstone Arms
64 Lant St., 020 7407-3962
I’m not going to lie—I trust my Time Out guide. And it says that this may be the “coolest little pub in Southeast London.” I have to agree, not just because of the living-room-like set-up (comfy couches, lots of plants and board games)—it’s also got really tasty English pies made by Pieminister, a Bristol-based company that uses free-range meat and lots of yummy seasonal ingredients. Among the more interesting options are the Matador Pie (beef steak, chorizo, olives, tomato, sherry and butter beans) and the Mr. Porky Pie (west country pork, smoked bacon, apples, leeks, cider and sage). With a pint of Black Sheep bitter beer, your bill will total just over £10.
5. Brick Lane
120-122 Brick Lane, 020 7247-0397
Last but not least is the old standby, Brick Lane, a road stretching through the East End, famous for its Bangali restaurants. Yes, it’s touristy and yes, you’ll have to fight off the touts trying to push you into their restaurants, but it’s an experience worth having in London and the food couldn’t be cheaper.
There are a ton of places on the strip, so choose carefully—cruise the strip and check out the menus first. And if you loiter outside a place long enough, the tout will offer you a free bottle of wine with dinner. One of my favorite places is Preem & Prithi, which serves an excellent balti lamb vindaloo.