Maybe you just paid rent. Maybe you’re between jobs and enjoying endless reruns of Animaniacs. Or maybe you just came back from a holiday in Ibiza with a nightclub-shaped hole in your bank account. Truth is, we all find ourselves needing to cut back occasionally.
However, cutting back doesn’t mean that you have to deprive yourself of eating out and seeing your friends. London’s an expensive city, but there are plenty of inexpensive restaurants with excellent food. Here are our favourite places to get a good sit-down meal for less than £10.
There are times when you need a healthy phone battery - like when you’re lost in the upside down. But you’ll need it more at Padella, a popular Italian restaurant in London Bridge. A queue here is inevitable, but it isn’t only because Padella’s pastas are excellent - it’s also because they’re so damn affordable. At around £5 a plate, you can have a great meal on the cheap. The cacio e pepe is the famous one, but we like the beef shin pappardelle the best. Getting there early is always a good call to avoid the worst of the wait.
Xi’an Impression is one of our favourite restaurants at any price, and it just happens to be a bonus that it’s inexpensive. Go there with a few friends and share several dishes if you can. You should have the hand-pulled noodles and chicken in ginger sauce in your order, along with at least one of their beef buns. Xi’an is absolutely worth the trip to Highbury.
Morty & Bob’s is pure Hackney: it’s in a converted loft, you need to walk up a ‘secret’ flight of stairs to find it, and it’s packed with 22-year olds wearing Slayer t-shirts at the weekend. But by god, do they make a good cheese toastie here. Rock up just before midday for maximum people-watching pleasure. It’s seven quid well spent.
Burro e Salvia is a little pasta shop in Shoreditch that does superb handmade pasta that’s around the £10 mark, and it’s great when you want a low-cost, low-key dinner. The filled pastas are ridiculously good, and you can also get them to take away. There’s an East Dulwich location as well, in the event that you find yourself broke and hungry in that part of town.
If you’re the perpetually broke one in your friend group, you’ll be glad to know that bringing your friends to Roti King won’t feel like a cheap move. By that, we mean it IS cheap, but the quality of the Malaysian food here is so high that your mates won’t care. Their best dish is, not surprisingly, the flaky roti canai that comes with a bowl of rich curry sauce (get the meat version), and they also do all the Malaysian staples like char kway teow, nasi goreng, and a proper laksa for £7. A plate of sambal fried rice costs the same as a large latte.
Finding a cheap lunch in Chinatown might sound easier than thrashing your nephew at Mario Kart, but with so much choice, it’s pretty easy to wind up having a mediocre meal. One of the best cheap lunches is the king prawn won ton soup at Hung’s. It’s a lot of bang for your buck, but be aware that you have to ask for it since it isn’t on the main menu. You can also confidently order any of their stir-fried noodle or rice dishes and expect good things, as the quality of food is very reliable. Hit it for a solo feed, or a casual meal with friends.
The fruits of your biannual flat tidy have turned up a few pounds in coppers, lint, and funfair tokens - get in. Take your haul to Mr Falafel for one of the best cheap eats in the city, where a standard falafel loaded with crispy chickpeas and hummus is less than a fiver. For seven pounds, you can get a deluxe falafel wrap with crispy potatoes and cauliflower - the Kahuna burger of the falafel world. If you managed to scrounge that much money from just cleaning your flat, you might also want to think about adjusting your frequency to something other than just whenever mushrooms start growing in the shower.
One of the best pizzerias in London also happens to be one of the cheapest. At Da Michele in Stoke Newington, there are only two pizzas on the menu (a margherita and a marinara), and you can eat one with a drink for around £8. The queue is a fact of life at a restaurant this hyped, but if you’re not desperate for a sit-down meal, you can also get your order to take away. Eat it at the pub across the road while it’s still hot.
Monty’s Deli is a retro deli in Hoxton that serves one of the best sandwiches in London: a killer reuben with heaps of sauerkraut and salt beef. Most of the menu comes in between £7-9, but our move is to grab the standard reuben and a Coke and call it an even £10. Bring a couple of friends so you can snag a booth.
You’ve promised to meet your poshest friend for dinner, but there’s a nagging voice at the back of your mind that tells you Nando’s just isn’t going to cut it. Take them to Brasserie Zedel, where they’ll get all the old-school French brasserie food they can eat, while you can stick to the prix-fixe steak hache and gateau, all for £9.75. The service is excellent, they’ll bring you all the bread you can eat, and the fancy room makes it feel like you should be paying far more than that ten pound note you’ve just handed over. If you walk away calmly, they won’t suspect anything.
There are lots of decent Korean restaurants in central London, but there’s only one Seoul Bakery. They do a few inexpensive Korean dishes here, like bibimbap or kimchi fried rice (with authentic plastic cheese) that are good, but you want to come here primarily for the atmosphere. It feels like a cross between a student cafe, and a K-Pop memorabilia store. It’s cash only, communal seating, and 100% awesome.
Your East London lifestyle has been a right hoot, but after months of negronis, avocado toast, and raves in converted brothels, your bank account’s looking a bit worse for wear. You can’t quite bring yourself to give it up though, which is why trendy wine bar Sager & Wilde’s pasta is an excellent choice. You can get a bowl of their hand-made pasta with a glass of wine for a tenner between 5-7pm every night. Also maybe drink some water. You probably need it.
You recently dogsat for a mate, and his six-month old corgi, Gwyneth Paltrow, proceeded to use your new sofa as a toilet. Your friend still hasn’t paid you back for the cleaning bill, and you’re in need of some comfort to ease the pain. Machiya in Piccadilly does homestyle Japanese food, which means comforting plates of pork tonkatsu, beef curry, and a matcha cake that’ll take the edge off. It’s all casual without feeling divey, and while there’s the odd pricey item on the menu, the best dishes are easily the tonkatsu and curry, which are both £7. No dogs admitted.
Princi is where you go in Soho when you want something easy, versatile, and economical. This Italian bakery is legendary for its pastries and coffee, but there’s also a full blown Italian restaurant inside, where you can just as easily sit with an aperitivo and a slice of pizza, as you can enjoy a three course meal. Most of the pastas and risottos are £8-9 (and actually good), and if you’re super broke, you can just loiter with a coffee and pastry.
There’s a £5 lunch menu at Soho Indian restaurant DUM Biryani that’ll get you an enormous plate of veg or meat biryani, as well as mini poppadoms, pickles, and dips. The food’s very good, and the laid-back atmosphere matches the fun decor. Hit it for a casual weekend lunch.
The easiest dumpling fix in Chinatown is at Jen Cafe, where a plate of seven Beijing-style dumplings with minced pork is only £5 a pop. The restaurant’s very basic but the dumplings are nicely made and filled generously - hit it when you need a quick snack. Just don’t forget the chilli oil.