London is a city known for its history, architecture, and fashion - not necessarily for its food. Before living in London for five months, I had all sorts of stereotypes in my head based on what people had told me about the local cuisine. I had no faith that beans, toast, and tea were going to satisfy my foodie taste test. In hindsight, my tip is to not listen to what people say about how awful the food may or may not be. As far as I’m concerned, London is a food-lover’s dream. An overall global center where cultures and tastes intersect, the city is home to dishes from all over the world. You can get Indian curry, Spanish paella, and even Scottish haggis, all within a short walk of each other.
The challenge is finding these foods for cheap. London can be incredibly expensive, especially if you aren’t used to the pound conversion rate. There are plenty of delectable, fancy restaurants out there, but there are just as many gems where you can find delicious (and wallet-friendly) food on a budget. Read on for my top picks and tricks to get the best bang for your stomach - and your wallet.
Explore London’s markets
London is filled to the brim with year-round markets, where you can find everything from pop-up cards to jewelry to, of course, food. Toting local food vendors serving international dishes, expand your palate by trying something new. Want a little taste of France in London? Try a canelé (a French dessert with a baked caramelized crust and custard inside) from Babelle’s at Old Spitalfields Market. Weather got you shivering? Try the pan fried soup dumplings from Dumpling Shack also at Old Spitalfields. Feeling classic with a twist? Try the Posh Spice mac and cheese with spicy chorizo from The Mac Factory at Camden Market. Even better, with most things under £10, you can go with your friends and try a little bit of everybody’s.
Pret, whenever you can
Pret a Manger is everywhere in London, and can be a lifesaver if you’re in a pinch with time, or money. Pret is to London what Starbucks is to Seattle; originally started in the 80s by two local college students who were sick of processed food, Pret has since exploded and can be found serving fresh, healthy food on every corner of every borough. You can get a sandwich, coffee, and great service for about £5. Make it your daily lunch order. Or, if you’re like me, go several times a day for breakfast, lunch, and everything in between.
Take advantage of special deals and events
There are plenty of foodie events going on in London - you just need to know where to look. Check out Time Out London to stay updated on the what’s-what and the what’s-going-on in the city every week. A notable deal that happens every Saturday and Sunday afternoon is Ballie Ballerson’s Bottomless Brunch, where you can get endless prosecco and pizza for £20. A little steeper than some of the other options on this list, but I can guarantee you’ll leave with a happy stomach and happy head. Did I mention this is at a ball pit bar?
It’s okay to splurge a little (sometimes)
Treat yourself. Even if you’re on a budget, you can make room for those special occasions when you’re feeling a little fancy. Make reservations at one of London’s iconic skyscraper restaurants like Duck & Waffle (get the namesake dish, the duck will melt in your mouth), or grab a drink at The Shard. Neither of these are ridiculously pricey, so order as much or as little as your heart desires. Get the quintessential British experience by getting your friends together for afternoon tea at the British Museum, or, if you’re feeling particularly upscale, try Sketch for its plush pink gallery room and tea-infused champagne.
Other places to try:
- The Smoking Goat in Shoreditch - GET THE LARDO FRIED RICE. I REPEAT, GET THE LARDO FRIED RICE. It’s only £3.8 and will set your mouth and your heart on fire. I’m not exaggerating when I say I went eight times over the course of four months.
- Beigel Shop at Brick Lane - Here, you can get a lox bagel for £2 at any hour of any day. This iconic staple of Brick Lane is open 24 hours - and has been there for over a century.
- Chick’n’sours - For when you’re craving fried chicken, and a drink, head to Chick’n’sours for yummy cocktails, mega portions, and Asian-fusion dipping sauces.