The Best London Restaurants For An Affordable Date guide image

LDNGuide

The Best London Restaurants For An Affordable Date

Where to go when you want to have drinks and dinner, and get a bit of change from £50.

Date night tends to be expensive. Maybe it’s the rush of love (hormones). Maybe it’s being too smitten to do any pre-bill arithmetic and ordering a sixth cocktail. Or maybe, just maybe, you forgot your partner’s birthday/promotion/existence, and shelling out for a big dinner is your penance. Luckily, there are actually several places in London where you can have an affordable date night that doesn’t involve the words ‘peri peri chicken please’ or one of you pretending you really, genuinely, just didn’t fancy a starter. Or a drink. Or a main. Here’s where to eat for two for under 50 quid while still having a romantic evening. 


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103-105 New Oxford St, London
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Somehow you’ve managed to get yourself a date with an ‘accounts manager’. Do you admit that until very recently you thought an ISA was a type of craft beer? No. In fact, never admit that to anyone. Instead, suggest a date night at Arcade Food Hall. This huge glossy space on New Oxford Street is dramatically less chaotic than your average London food hall, complete with a long swish bar. From saucy little Nepalese momos to hefty sandwiches by Margot Henderson, there’s plenty of variety available so it’s a great shout if you’re just getting to know someone and don’t know whether smashburgers or sate maranggi are more their thing. 


Somewhere out there is a very kind deity who realised that the good, horny people of London deserved handmade pasta restaurants. And for that, we’re forever grateful. You’ll find Bancone on a quaint little street in Covent Garden and it’s one of those certified Nice Pasta Bars where you can very easily create the illusion that you’re spending a lot when you’re actually not. The signature silk handkerchief and confit egg yolk pasta is just over a tenner and the bottles of Italian wine start at the budget-friendly price of 27 quid. Those low prices and its central location mean this place is permanently popular, so just be sure to book ahead. 


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photo credit: Aleksandra Boruch

Wong Kei review image
8.5

Wong Kei

People often think that a romantic restaurant requires candles burning and moody corners, cocktails and suggestive panna cotta licking. That isn’t always the case. Sometimes you need objectionable strip lighting. You need staff who gleefully neg you. You need a Chinatown institution where you take those who don’t need wooing, but those who have emerged from the Curzon Soho and need a plate of gravy-smothered char siu pork on rice and a large dollop of crispy chilli oil, stat. Wong Kei isn’t romantic in the traditional sense, but it’s a restaurant that you often find yourself sharing with the ones you love most.


If London came with a starter pack, Brasserie Zédel would be in it with a tiny cartoon cupid next to it. This place is frankly a lifesaver when it comes to dating in London. Whether you’re after a first date spot that will impress, or an 100th date that will feel showy enough to justify the money you spent on a babysitter, Brasserie Zédel near Piccadilly Circus has got you covered. The best part is that despite the chandeliers, nightly swing band, and swish dining hall, this place can easily be done for 20 quid each. Get the steak. Get some wine. Have fun.


You know the video of a kitten yawning that you come across when hungover and get a little teary eyed? Titu is almost as cute as that kitten. Almost. This Japanese spot in Mayfair, yes Mayfair, is not only a top date option but is also surprisingly affordable. It specialises in gyoza, but not just any gyoza. We’re talking gyoza filled with miso kimchi lamb, foie gras, and wagyu beef. 


Name one thing on this planet more romantic than finding out your partner genuinely waited for you to watch the next episode of their favourite show? Go on, name one. OK actually, we will. Dinner and a bottle of wine at Lady Of The Grapes is better. This little wine bar in Covent Garden is all about candlelight, natural wines, and cheese. The snacks can be on the pricier side but if you go for the raclette and charcuterie, you can get a whole lot of food for your money, as well as plenty of great by the glass and carafe wine options. 


North

Someone needs to make a rom-com about Noci’s brown butter cacio e pepe and our stomachs. Arguably, this might be a tall order for a casting director but there is no denying that this handmade pasta is the kind of thing you’ll love eating with someone you love. There you go, we’ve got the film’s tagline sorted. At this buzzy little restaurant on Islington Green, from the same chef who brought us Bancone and Tavolino, you can take or leave the sharing plates. Everyone knows the pastas—all of which fall around the £14 mark—are the star of the show here. 


There’s a humming vibe to Seto on pretty much every night of the week. The neighbourhood Japanese restaurant in Camden is a happy place for solo diners, students, and hungry couples looking for the nourishment of an excellent bowl of ramen. The menu is pretty extensive and the crispy homemade gyoza should always be on your order to get you going, but it’s the chicken and pork broths that you come for. If you’re into mood lighting then this isn’t your place, but if you’re in the mood for things to get a little steamy, broth-wise, then Seto is a must.


Ah candlelight, friend to romance and accidental pregnancies everywhere. Little Georgia in Islington is a candlelit restaurant that serves a giant adjaruli khachapuri (a doughy, cheesy, eggy wonder bread) and plenty of other traditional Georgian mains on the menu that all fall around the £15 mark. There’s also chaca (a Georgian spirit made from grapes) by the glass. 


South

The Kurdish spot in Peckham is immensely popular for its BYOB policy and big juicy shawarmas, but it’s the ‘falafel beauty’ that has us coming back. Not only is Yada’s wholeheartedly delicious—soft lamb in fragrant pomegranate and walnut stews, piles of rice and stuffed vegetables, pistachio hummus, crispy chunks of chicken shawarma are favourites—but it’s also a place to be. Groups pitch up here for the night, dates cosy up by the wall, and everyone pops to the shop for another bottle.


Few booths in London demand snuggle action quite as intensely as the dark green velvet ones at the back of Trap Kitchen. A New Orleans-style restaurant in Balham, this place serves huge platters of XXL lobster tails, snow crab clusters, bang bang prawns, and some outrageous Oreo waffles. On top of all of this and slushie cocktails, the best thing about Trap Kitchen is that the menu is helpfully laid out into set-price platters so you won’t have to interrupt any flirtatious banter by cracking out your calculator. Please note, do not bring any vegetarians here. We repeat, do not bring any vegetarians here. 


Pizza is a great and affordable unifier and, for some people, so too are negronis that are under £10. Theo’s has both and they’re just two of the reasons we’ll always love this sourdough pizza spot with locations in Camberwell and Elephant and Castle. The former is our favourite, with its whitewashed walls and candlelit wooden booths on a Friday night, but both are eternally easy choices for a brilliant value and no-brainer date night.


An evening spent sharing Nandine’s beharat fries and kubba dumplings is a good evening indeed. The Kurdish restaurant on Camberwell Church Street isn’t just a good and affordable date restaurant—it’s just a great restaurant. The narrow space mixes tables big and small but is the perfect setup for anyone looking to share meltingly good aubergine platters or tender seven-spice chicken shish straight from the ocakbasi grill.

If you were to casually wander down Tooting High Street you’d have no idea that there are a bunch of buzzing street food spots and cocktail bars tucked inside this huge hidden indoor market. Enter through a simple alleyway that opens up into a maze of good times, loud music, cold pints, and couples tucked in corners on folding chairs. Whether you opt for a big charcuterie board at The Tapas Room or a bowl of burrata and truffle tortelloni from Mamma Mia, the prices here tend to be very agreeable no matter which stool you decide to make your home for the evening. Plus, it’s an excellent last-minute option for those of us who really genuinely thought that date night was happening next week. 


You’ve matched with someone who appears to be funny, successful, and has a mutual love of Peep Show memes. You need to go on a date with them quick, before the rest of London realises they exist. Time for a trip to Bar Tozino. This spot on Maltby Street is one of those great little places that feels like it was specifically designed for date night. The tapas dishes are perfectly sized for two. The wine comes with little explanations to make you look smart. And the lighting is low to make you look, you know… better. Go for a romantic stroll over Tower Bridge afterwards. We hear walking is still free. 


East

Andu in Dalston is a no-nonsense Ethiopian vegan cafe that’s BYOB. We say it’s no-nonsense because there’s only one thing to order here: their sampler platter. It’s made up of six dishes, from vegetables to stews, which are served with rice or sour injera bread. We recommend opting for the latter for maximum mopping. It’s a great and cost-efficient spot, and there’s a nice atmosphere of friends, family, and whoever else breaking bread in a comfortable space.


The original Padella in Borough Market is arguably one of the greatest affordable date options in London. Sadly, there is just one small snag—it’s walk-in only and you’re likely to spend the first hour of your date bickering over why you couldn’t just go somewhere that takes bookings and yes, actually now that you mention it, you did hate the gift they got you for your birthday. HOW MANY TIMES does ONE PERSON have to SAY that they don’t like Twin Peaks? We’ve all been there. Luckily, for lovers of pasta and devoted other halves everywhere, Padella in Shoreditch does take bookings. Get the pici cacio e pepe, get an eight quid spritz, and get very smug.


Umut is one of Dalston’s best ocakbasi restaurants. The smells coming off the grill consistently make our stomach do somersaults and the lamb ribs are Dalston’s finest. Once upon a time we’d wander in here and eat soup with elderly Turkish men which, admittedly, may not be the vibe you’re looking for on a date. Either way it’s a casual, cosy place for a meal. Don’t be put off by the laid-back service: it’s on you to get someone’s attention.


Koya’s location in London Fields feels like a no-brainer and it’s also a no-brainer for a low-key date night. It’s a tiny spot open until 10pm with tempura and curry udon bowls, kara-age, and a load more. Given its in-and-out space, this Koya isn't as comfortable as others but, especially in summer, its pavement seating makes for a straightforward and satisfying evening. 


West

Pappa Roma is arguably a restaurant that should not exist. Not because it’s terrible or because we have some very deep-rooted daddy issues, but because an affordable, charming restaurant, just a five-minute walk from South Kensington station, is too good to be true. But trust us, it’s real. It’s a classic Italian restaurant with that family-run feel and the pizzas here are huge, delicious, and start at around £10. Split the fiery Diavolo pepperoni-packed pizza, share the lasagne on the side, and get a bit flirty over a bottle of wine. A late-night order of cannoli won’t hurt either. 


Happily, there’s no need for a reservation at this airy Persian spot off Kensington High Street, which is ideal for an impromptu midweek date. Start by getting some freshly baked naan—that you’ll smell as soon as you walk in—and a mixed mezze starter. The chicken biryani is really great, as are the charred lamb chops, but the koobideh is some of the juiciest around, and the star dish. The hefty portions mean you almost always end up getting some to take away which is always a plus. 


Electric Diner in Notting Hill is next door to the Electric Cinema, and you’ll often find people deep in animated chats about whatever film they’ve just wandered out of. But, that’s not the only reason this American-style diner is a conversation hot spot. Electric Diner has the combination of a lovely yet lively atmosphere, very shareable bits and bobs (shoutout to the mac and cheese), and, Monday to Thursday evenings, you get 50% off if you’re going to (or have seen) a film next door that night.


It’s not easy to find a little candlelit spot in Shepherd’s Bush, but if that’s what you’re searching for, Bocconi’s will fit the bill. This is a proper little Italian joint with herbs hanging from the window, entirely dodgy upholstery, and some secretly excellent food. Is the music and some of the decor slightly questionable? Yes. It absolutely is. But that’s a price worth paying for this breed of homemade cooking. The menu changes regularly depending on what’s in season and focuses mostly on fresh fish and meat, but if you’re feeling indecisive, you can’t go wrong with their mushroom risotto.

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