Inflation is a pickpocket and each day those of us not in the energy business wake up to discover our wallets in disarray. The knock-on is everywhere: the £7 pints, the £9 glasses of acrid wine. When did dinner out get to £60-a-head at that OK place down the road?
That said, this list is a reminder costs needn’t climb so high. Here, 15 of the capital’s finest chefs share where they go for a decently-priced meal, all across the capital and with all sorts of cooking included, from Chinatown classics to serious sarnies. Some have long been celebrated; others are obscure. Tuck in.
Mitshel Ibrahim, Ombra
Since I moved to Stepney Green about a year ago, I’m at Lahore Kebab House about once or twice a month (2-10 Umberston St, E1 1PY, lahore-kebabhouse.com; mains around £10). I go for the lamb chop curry, sag paneer and the sag aloo — that’s my favourite spinach cooked to mush.
Pablo Urain Alfonso, Peckham Cellars
My favourite cheap eats spot is Three Uncles in Brixton (Unit 19 & 20, Brixton Village, SW9 8PR, threeuncles.co.uk; mains around £11). There’s a short menu of roasted meats and amazing dim sum. It’s unpretentious street food, perfectly executed. You can’t go wrong with the three meats and rice combo, with a couple of deep-fried wontons!
Max Coen, Dorian
Ask me what my favourite restaurant in London is, whether it’s for quality of produce, value, flavour and innovation, and Kiln (58 Brewer Street, W1F 9TL, kilnsoho.com; mains around £10) is always my number one — I never leave without being semi-mind-blown. I always have slow-grilled soy chicken, the clay pot noodles accompanied by a jungle curries. It’s such good value.
Karan Gokani, Hoppers
I’ve been going to Rasa Sayang (5 Macclesfield Street, W1D 6AY, rasasayangfood.com; mains around £13) ever since I was a student and it’s as good as ever. They do Nonya (Singaporean) and Malaysian food better than anyone else in Chinatown. When we had just the Soho Hoppers, I would visit about four times a week — my favourites are the Char Keow Teoh, an incredible, smoky stir-fried noodle dish, or Seafood Wat Tan Hor, of eggy, soupy, amazingly comforting noodles with seafood and pak choi. It’s so good I go on my own, but it’s great with friends too.
Richard Corrigan, The Corrigan Collection
Just around the corner from Bentley’s is a sandwich shop called Piggy’s (1 Air Street, W1J 0AB, piggyspiccadilly.co.uk; mains around £8,), which is a tiny, family-run delicatessen-style café. It’s fuss-free and no frills but I love a pre-lunch service panini, filled with cheddar and tomato, blisteringly hot from the sandwich press. There are few finer things in life than a well-cooked panini, truly! Do get there early, though — at prime lunchtime you’ll see a queue down the road.
John Skotidas, Pachamama
Beasy in Soho (58 Greek Street, W1D 3DY, beasybar.co.uk) is a favourite for both its perfect hot dogs and its love of Nineties hip hop, but I love the pure flavour and simplicity of the food at Bao (across London, baolondon.com; bao around £5-£6). It’s easy, tasty, simple, cheap. I usually go when that bar bun craving pops in my head, as it’s the first place that comes to mind, and I always leave happy.
Meriel Armitage, Club Mexicana
Saravana Bhavan (across town, saravanabhavanlondon.co.uk; all dishes under £10) serves incredible and super-authentic vegetarian Indian food. There are seven in London but no one has heard of them outside the Indian community. The menu is huge and spans different areas and cuisines: north, south, India-China borders, so eating there is a never-ending education in Indian food. The star of the show here is the dosas — all huge, all stuffed with punchy flavours and served with a never-ending supply of sambars and chutneys. I also love the south Indian thali — it’s £8.95 and a full meal, you don’t need anything else. I go with my wife almost every other Sunday.
Budgie Montoya, Sarap
I always say Singburi (593 High Road, E11 4PA, @singburi_e11; mains around £10) is my favourite Thai place in London and somewhere I’ll go back to again and again. Anything from the blackboard is guaranteed to be delicious and full of flavour. It’s not fancy at all, but the food and service are just perfect. The other cheap places I love are Papo’s Bagel (73-75 Shacklewell Lane, E8 2EB, paposbagels.com; bagels from £1.50) where I usually go on a Sunday morning, and the Bake Street Bakery (58 Evering Road, N16 7SR, @bakestreetldn; mains around £10) which does amazing fast food as well as just being an outstanding bakery and neighbourhood café.
Singburi is also the choice of Dom Fernando of Paradise
Josh Katz, Berber & Q
One of my favourite cheap restaurants is Tsiakkos & Charcoal (5 Marylands Road, W9 2DU, tsiakkos.co.uk; mains around £12) in Maida Vale. It’s Greek-Cypriot and incredibly unpretentious — you almost wouldn’t know it was a restaurant from the outside. It feels like you’re eating inside somebody’s home. The owner is very often there, usually cooking and serving at the same time; the food is much like the restaurant — simple, rustic and packed full of charm and character. The burnt pork is the signature dish, but the kleftiko is also delicious. We always order the grilled halloumi, hummus and potato salad to start and Greek salad to go with our mains. A true neighbourhood hidden gem.
Luke Farrell, Speedboat Bar and Plaza Khao Gaeng
It has to be the chef’s favourite budget-friendly restaurant — the new Kung Fu Noodle (64 Shaftesbury Avenue, W1F 6LU, 020 7287 4261; mains around £13) on Shaftesbury Avenue. A bowl of this colourful, chilli oil slicked noodle soup costs £12.80. I order the hand pulled beef noodle soup. I appreciate the skill it takes to learn to make these noodles. That in a bowl is a special thing. I go for the extra wide flat noodles ‘da kuan’ and extra sliced beef. It’s a pretty dish, bright with chilli oil, spring onions and coriander. When I’m almost finished the soup I add a little black vinegar, which helps with the rich oil and soaks into the noodles. I learnt that tip in China. I like to go around mid afternoon, there still might be a queue. I remember a video of a bus driver in Lanzhou; while waiting for the traffic lights to change he had already slurped down a whole bowl. He was on his way again, didn’t even turn off the engine!
Chantelle Nicholson, Apricity
For me, Hawker’s Kitchen (64 Caledonian Road, N1 9DP, hawkerskitchen.com; mains around £8) is my semi-local. There isn’t much to not like here — whether it is the buttery, flaky roti with rich and vibrant chenna masala or fish curry, or the comforting Punjabi samosa with a piquant tamarind sauce, or maybe the delicious masala dosa. And lest we forget the coconut chutney, and sambal. Heaven.
Johnnie Crow, Restaurant St Barts, Fenn, Nest
Mangal 1 (10 Arcola Street, E8 2DJ, mangal1.com; mains around £11) in Dalston would probably be my favourite place to go on the cheap. I normally share the mixed grill for two with my wife, but we also order plenty of veggie starters to share with the flatbread they do. The grilled lamb’s liver with lamb fat is also so good. I like to go with my wife, another couple or a group of six — it’s great for sharing everything, so bigger groups are good.
James Cochran, 12:51 and Valderrama’s
There’s no shadow of a doubt in my mind about my cheap eat spot! It has to be Morley’s Fried Chicken (across London, morleyschicken.com; meals from around £5). The reason I love this place is that it’s a working-class institution that was founded in 1985 (year I was born!), in southeast London and has now branched out — but it’s still four wings for £1! Another place I love is Baban Naans (51a Blackstock Road, N4 2JJ, 07771 112242; mains for about £3). They sell all types of naans. The one I go for is basic cheese and chillies, and it’s certified.
Lello Favuzzi, Macellaio
Given I’ve been working in the meat world lately, I’ve tried many different steak restaurants and I was particularly intrigued by Flat Iron’s menu and service (across town, flatironsteak.co.uk; mains £13). What amazed me the most is that there isn’t a dessert menu, but when you leave a waiter always pops up to offer the homemade ice cream churned à la minute, and you can leave with it. Obviously the Flat Iron steak with green salad is great, but if I want to be naughty, I might order the burger.
Chris Shaw, Townsend
My favourite place has to be Silk Road (49 Camberwell Church Street, SE5 8TR, silkroadlondon.has.restaurant; mains around £7) in Camberwell. It’s probably the best Chinese in London for this price-point. Must orders are the fish skewer, kelp, hot and sour potato and the home style aubergine and cabbage. I go whenever I am south London to be honest.
Tim Siadatan, Padella
I love Tacos Padre (Borough Market, SE1 9A, tacospadre.com; tacos about £4) Gat the back of Borough market. You can often catch me there grabbing a quick taco or two, or three. They also do packets of tacos and sauces to take home that you can turn into a proper meal for the family.
Marc Summers, Bubala
Has to be Xi’an Biang Biang Noodles (62 Commercial Street, E1 7AL, xianbiangbiangnoodles.com; mains about £8) near Spitalfields Market for me. Nothing beats one of their noodle soups on a cold day. If I’m feeling stressed, this is where you’ll find me at lunch. It makes everything better — except my t-shirt, which is usually covered in soup.
David Moore, Pied à Terre
Vietnamese spot Sông Quê Café (134 Kingsland Road, E2 8DY, songque.co.uk; mains around £9) on Kingsland Road is as cheap as it gets for a quality product. They use fresh ingredients and make everything on site. I recommend ordering the grilled beef wrapped in betel leaf and the whole crispy sea bream with fish sauce, glass noodles and black bean sauce. A great Sunday is a visit to Columbia Road Flower Market and the vintage shops, lunch at Sông Quê followed by a little culture in the Geffrye Museum.
Jack Croft and Will Murray, Fallow
For us, it’s Lahore Karahi (1 Tooting High Street, SW17 0SN, lahorekarahi.co.uk; mains around £5), a family-run Pakistani restaurant in Tooting Bec that is open 24 hours and really, really good. Our go to order is usually lamb chops, mushroom fried rice, tandoori roti and chicken karahi. Perfect post-shift!
Ben Tish, Cubitt House
The Allotment Kitchen (Stepney High Street, E1 3DG, allotmentkitchen.com; mains around £10) at Stepney City Farm is open for breakfast, lunch and afternoon tea. There’s a daily changing, super-seasonal menu focusing on British and Mediterranean flavours with much of the produce grown on the farm or using very local suppliers. I think it’s one of the best-value lunch spots in east London, with a beautiful terrace overlooking the farm (where you can buy produce to take home) and the guys that run it are also brilliant bakers. The crowning glory is the bacon brioche roll with chilli jam and Lincolnshire poacher butter.
Chris Galvin, Galvin Bar and Grill
I love to drop into Padella (Borough Market and Spitalfields, padella.co; mains around £11). Because it’s seasonal, I know there will be something to reflect the market; so at the moment it will be pumpkin ravioli and there is often a special card — so some wild mushrooms will get ordered for sure. I once had a ragu of grouse with girolles that I still think about.
Ayo Adeyemi, Akoko
Efes Restaurant in Tulse Hill (336 Norwood Road, SE27 9AF, 020 8761 8936; mains around £10) is my go to. I’ve only been back in the UK for a couple of months with my new executive chef role at Akoko but I quickly found this great Turkish kebab shop near where I live — and I’m obsessed. The lamb kofte is pure flavour town.
Chet Sharma, Bibi
Cafe Helen on Edgware Road (105A Edgware Road, W2 2HX, 020 7402 2072; mains around £7) keeps it simple and basically only serves shawarma. I’ve been going here since university and the silver lining to the Tube strikes last week was that I had to pop in on my way to Paddington. It’s open really late and I often order both the lamb and the chicken shawarma — it’s too hard to pick one.
Robin Gill, Bottle + Rye, Sorella, Bermondsey Larder and Darby’s
Beigel Bake (159 Brick Lane, E1 6SB, bricklanebeigel.co.uk; bagels around £5) makes all their beigels fresh out the back — the salt beef one is my favourite. It’s huge and utterly delicious. It’s open super late and it’s always full of characters. Randomly, last time I was in they had a stack of business cards by the counter for a psychiatrist which I thought was hilarious.
Beigel Bake is also the choice of David Taylor of Grace & Savour. He likewise prefers the salt beef.
Imad Alarnab, Imad’s Syrian Kitchen
For breakfast I love Damascene Bakery (264 Uxbridge Road, W12 7JA, 020 8743 209; mains around £5) a Syrian Bakery on Uxbridge Road. It serves amazing breakfast and the best, best Syrian pastries, which are way cheaper than any croissant and way more generous in size! It feels just like home. Their oven-baked pitta taste also amazing.