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London can be prohibitively expensive. Don’t despair: with increasing numbers of the capital’s inhabitants dining out more regularly, London’s restaurateurs are waking up to the idea of serving good-value, good-quality food in a fun, casual environment. Dine well for under £35 with Square Meal’s pick of the best cheap-and-cheerful restaurants in London.
Yes, you have to ‘cue’, but this place is far from the pits. One of London's street-food pioneers that found a permanent site, it keeps prices low and quality high while maintaining its all-important buzz. Cocktails are also good value, and fun – try a pickleback (bourbon mixed with pickle juice – nicer than it sounds).
This light and airy deli does a great line in upper-crust sarnies, pastries and home-baked goodies, backed up by bountiful breakfasts (think smoked salmon and organic cream-cheese bagels, or granola with yoghurt), and lunch options such as homemade soups and pies. Look out, too, for signature dishes from other restaurants in the Caprice Holdings group, including The Ivy and Scott’s.
This Szechuan street-food specialist serves dishes that range in heat from warm and woozy to blow-your-head-off hot. Service is swift and the prices are reasonable – what’s more, the quality is a cut above other similarly pitched Chinese restaurants in the area.
Better than your average Brick Lane curry house, Tayyabs serves fiery, authentic and stonkingly good-value Pakistani food to its loyal following. What’s more, the BYO policy keeps the bill pleasingly low and the atmosphere is buzzing. Try the popular mixed grill, or the baby-chicken curry.
This upmarket but egalitarian chippie has become the toast of Hammersmith since it opened in 2011. It’s easy to see why: the daily changing menu offers twice-cooked chips and chunky onion rings, plus homemade mushy peas, and all fish is from sustainable sources and cooked to order. With a second branch in Ealing, customers can’t get enough.
A canteen-style operation, Vapiano serves Italian favourites, from antipasti and salads to pizzas and mix-and-match pastas (all made on site) – try the linguine aglio e olio or penne with king prawns, pesto and spinach. Self-service and shared tables add to the laid-back vibe.
The original gaff in now-trendy Brixton Market was there long before the boom of independent eateries touched down. It’s still one of the best and most consistent options, serving organic sourdough pizzas with tempting toppings at breakneck speed – just watching the indomitable head honcho keeping the show on the road is pure entertainment. If Brixton’s draughty market is too bohemian for you, try the chain’s sister sites in Chiswick, Clapham and Westfield Stratford.
Another of the pop-up-gone-permanent brigade, Meatliquor has won fans left, right and centre with its ‘juicy, meaty’ burgers, which some of our readers rate as 'hands down the best in town'. No bookings are taken and the decor and drinks are perhaps more suited to a night-time visit, but this is one cheap eat that does things in style.
This traditional specialist in udon noodles is worth a visit and welcomes plenty of fans at peak times. The dining room is stark and functional, with bare wooden tables and whitewashed walls, but the food is anything but bland – try the atsu-atsu noodle soup with a tangy seaweed salad or plate of crisp tempura. It’s all wallet-friendly stuff – and palate friendly to boot.
Yalla Yalla’s Beirut street food was hailed as the best thing since sliced pitta when the Soho restaurant opened in 2009. Typical dishes such as baba gannoush, tabbouleh and moussaka are always popular, but far more interesting are the likes of sawda djej (sautéed chicken livers with garlic and pomegranate molasses) or makalé samak (deep-fried seafood and aubergine with yoghurt dip).
OK, so it busts the £30 barrier, but for lobster and Champagne in Mayfair, a bill below £45 is not to be sniffed at. The brains behind Goodman steakhouse somehow manage to keep prices accessible at this celebrated mini-chain. Prepare to queue, but expect to have a good time once you bag a table.
Square Meal’s food price estimates are based on a single two-course meal (including a mid-priced starter and mid-priced main course), plus coffee, service and half a bottle of house wine, if served.