Inexpensive dining in London – not an oxymoron
London has a reputation as an expensive city to live in and while that’s true to a certain extent, eating out in the capital doesn’t necessarily have to cost an arm and a leg. Rather than list specific bargain-priced eateries, I’ve decided to list some tips for discovering cheap eats instead. Teach a man to fish and all that.
Have I missed out on your favourite restaurant bargain hunting tip? Have I gotten something horribly wrong? Let me know in the comments or send me an email. Thanks to Li Yin Soh for writing in and inspiring this blog post.
1. Restaurants in some of London’s ethnic enclaves can be very cheap.
The most obvious is Chinatown, but the Pakistani/Bangladeshi-run Indian grills in Whitechapel and the kebab houses of Green Lanes are also good examples. The burgeoning Vietnamese community in and around Deptford may be one to watch. Some of the Whitechapel eateries are Bring Your Own Booze, which can lower costs even further if you’re a drinker (I’m not).
2. Set menus.
Many expensive London restaurants, typically serving French or Modern European cuisine, often have set menus that are a fraction of the price of their a la carte menus. Gauthier is a great example – their set lunch menu is a steal. Some restaurants only offer their set menus for lunch or at pre or post-theatre hours. The choice of dishes is also naturally limited, but this is still a great way of dining in otherwise unaffordable places.
3. Use Twitter to track down special offers and new openings.
A couple of good Twitter users to follow to keep track of such deals would be @Richardvines, Bloomberg’s food critic, and user-reviews website @londoneating among others. New restaurants often have ‘soft openings’ where they offer 25-50% off their usual prices for a few days or perhaps a week before their official opening so they can work out the kinks in their front of house operations and in the kitchen. If you’re willing to be a guinea pig, this is a great way of trying out the very latest restaurants.
4. Food trucks and stalls
If you’re willing to eat on the go, then there are some great food trucks and stalls in London’s markets and other public spaces serving up interesting grub. The scene isn’t as varied as New York’s, opening hours are often limited to lunch time, eating outdoors isn’t always pleasant in London and finding them can be a chore, but there are bargains to be had. Places to start would be Broadway market, Eat St at King’s Cross, the Whitecross Street market and the Berwick Street market.
5. Be wary of discount schemes.
There are some discount club schemes, such as the Taste card, which offer 50% off or 2 for 1 deals at a seemingly large number of restaurants in London, and in the country as a whole, in return for a one year membership fee. I don’t recommend using these schemes though. Coughing up an annual fee means you feel obligated to use the scheme even when you’re not always enthused about doing so. I have been especially unimpressed by the selection of restaurants taking part in the Taste card scheme in particular which seem to be mostly chains and identikit takeaway-level places serving up unadventurous swill to unsuspecting tourists and fishwives.
The special offers contained in the weekly email newsletter from online booking service TopTable should also be treated with caution – there are some genuine deals to be had, but there are some dubious-looking selections in there. I would rather eat out less often than grab an apparent ‘bargain’ which is nothing of the sort.