Grab a spectacular cheap-bite in London
16:54 06 September 2012
With London’s deserved reputation as a city of high living costs, it’s no coincidence that food prices – as far as eating out is concerned – have been fairly expensive.
Not that options for a place to nosh are pitifully limited: around tourist hotspots the likes of Leicester Square and South Kensington dwell numerous restaurants - curiously, many of them Italian - yet they commit the culinary crimes of serving up uninspiring food and charging extortionate prices disproportionate to the quality of their offerings. There exist also fast-food chains and big-brand cafes which, yet again, drive palates repeatedly to boredom.
Not that London is in the dire state of gastronomic desolation. There are plenty of quirky spots out there whipping up dishes with flair and finess, all whilst consistently maintaining the prices to that deemed affordable.
For your benefit, visitors and locals alike, I've compiled a list of restaurants and eateries worth your while checking out. After all, a few of them are frequented by us travel bloggers looking for a cheap bite.
Yalla Yalla (1 Greens Court)
A personal favourite of mine, this unlikely contender eludes the hype of London's Soho by extracting itself from the iconic Brewer Street and finding refuge under the shades of alleyway Greens Court. What it offers is Lebanese street food: crispy falafels, pungent soujock, glorious hummus laden with succulent shawarma - these seemingly common items exit the kitchen having received the dainty treatment amidst a cafe ambience. Little wonder that this restaurant is always brimming with returning patrons.
Strategic munching: Mezze - small portions of food - are meant for sharing, so grab a friend or two to assist with the eating process and split the bill. A mezze dish per person to kick things off should suffice given their reasonable sizes, and for the peckish you can always order more. With an abundance of pita bread there'd be plenty to go round for the sauce-mopping and stomach-filling. Everything in the mezze menu comes under 5.
Busaba (various locations, flagship store on 106 Wardour Street)
I may not have sung praises for restaurant chains, yet even delectable establishments yearn for expansion; Busaba is no exception. This Thai joint, whose headquarters are based on the Soho-defining Wardour Street, has now opened branches across London - much to the delight of it loyal regular customers. The dim-lit eatery-style decor blends well with the long stools and communal tables, complimented by the standard Thai curries, fried rice and noodles, glammed up and performing palatal wonders.
Strategic munching: Single price tags appear unsuspicious and economical, yet your multiple orders soon add up and manifest in the form of a sizeable bill. Best enter the scene for straight-to-the-point main course dishes such as the Pad Thai and of fried rices. Alternatively, eat your way around the starters menu - ordering several of the likes of satay chicken and calamari will make it legitimately a meal.
Oriental Canteen (2A Exhibition Road)
Having gone to university there, I may testify to South Kensington's claim to the most expensive postcode in London. Before you consult eye-watering menu prices and wedge open your coffers - chances are you're there for the museums - there's Oriental Canteen to resort to. Spartan, down to earth, this Chinese eatery is run by humourless disciplinarians diligently taking orders and getting food out; yet the food is terrific, service prompt, bill reasonable and popularity high among university students.
Strategic munching: Pretty much everything comes under a fiver and portions are generous - ideal for a swift yet gratifying nosh. If the sizeable mains don't fill you up then toss in a few starters - pot-sticker dumplings, wonton soup, spring rolls - for an extra pound or two. Ordering from the roasts' department, which conjures duck, barbecued pork and pork with crispy crackling, gets my recommendation.
Chilango (Various locations, main store on 142 Fleet Street)
What is it about Chilango? The stark, technicolour interior design paired with the waft of spices caressing your olfactory? Or is it the elongated benches, elevated stools, rendering its patrons huddled together and embracing the community spirit? Whichever way it wouldn't be completed without what is dubbed as the best Mexican food in town - from the minute their lives begin in the production line till you put them in your mouth, Chilango's burritos never escape their fate of being guiltlessly devoured.
Strategic munching: Get up to the counter. Simples. Your burritos - and the likes of tacos and totopos - are yours to customise like any burrito bar, and most fillings like beans, rice and salsa are included in the price of your choice of the main ingredient. Chow it down, let your taste buds play host to a palatal sensation fest, then admire the seemingly never-depleting wrap. Bonus points for Mexican beers to wash it all down.
Bincho (16 Old Comption Road)
Nestled along Soho's Old Compton Street are a disorientating collection of restaurants and pubs all yearning for food explorers' attention; among some of the lacklustre spoils prevails Bincho.This joint specialise in yakitori,Japanese-style skewers seared above a charcoal-fuelled flame and drizzled generously with Bincho's secret-recipe barbeque sauces. Devouring unusual cuts like ox tongue and chicken giblets is the Japanese norm precisely executed here, and watch the grill's fireworks is a spectacle in itself.
Strategic munching: the minimum order of two portions per type of skewers implies that you best bring a buddy or two along - that way they can share the burden of repetition and allow you to sample the full glory of Bincho's illustrious menu. The cunning plan is to dispatch a variety of yakitori to the skewers and accompany them with a bowl of rice, which should easily satisfy both your appetite and palate.