Cheap eats in London

With SquareMeal’s guide to the best cheap restaurants in London, you can enjoy a great meal without breaking the bank. Don’t get bargain basement bites confused with inferior quality: as far as this list is concerned, every restaurant featu

Updated on 05 November 2018

Cheap eats in London

Eating out can prove to be an expensive hobby, but with SquareMeal’s guide to the best cheap and cheerful restaurants in London, you can enjoy a great meal without breaking the bank. Every one of the restaurants featured in SquareMeal’s list of London’s best cheap eats has been tried and tested by food critics and our own customers so check out the reviews and book a table online with SquareMeal today.


Meze Mangal

Meze Mangal

£30 - £49
Turkish

245 Lewisham Way, London, SE4 1XF

Ignore the weather and the unpromising Lewisham Way location and readers say "you could actually be in Turkey" at this classic grill restaurant. Meze Mangal is certainly the district’s best Turkish eatery. Its exterior may be scruffy and the wood-panelled dining room rather dated, but the prominent charcoal ocakbasi is where the action takes place. Start with meze (taramasalata, hoummos), salads and hot bread before exploring the fruits of the grill. A constant rotation of skewered delicacies sizzles away, absorbing the charcoal scent. Kebabs of cubed and minced lamb or chicken are popular – best accompanied by Turkish wines or beer – although offal and fish dishes have admirers too. Meat-free options include vegetarian moussaka and various pide (Turkish pizza). 

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Chick

Chick 'n' Sours Haggerston

£30 - £49
International

390 Kingsland Road, London, E8 4AA

Flying the flag for the single ingredient trend, Chick ‘n’ Sours is street foodie Carl Clarke’s first permanent offering and serves up spicy fried chicken to hungry Haggerston hipsters. The friendly staff are quick to seat diners around small wooden tables, which jostle together for space and contribute to a lively atmosphere, much like the sharing plates which swiftly make their way out of the kitchen. To start, the sticky disco wings were messy and felt gloriously indulgent, while the chicken tenders are a lighter goujon-style offering and come with a choice of dips, including sriracha with sour cream. The charred white sprouting broccoli with seaweed mayo, grated egg and green beans was cooling and cut through the hotness of the enormous chicken thighs (smeared in chilli jam and sprinkled with crispy shallots, Thai basil, mint and spring onion), while crunchy yam bean slaw with miso mayo was similarly complementary. The soft-serve Weetabix crunch ice cream worked surprisingly well thanks to the contrast between the crispy flakes and creamy coldness; a welcome refreshment after the spiciness of the previous courses. Wash down with a frothy, lime-y sour: we particularly recommend the sweet but herby basil ‘n’ strawberries concoction, but there are some locally brewed beers and wine if cocktails aren’t your thing. Bold flavours and even bolder portion sizes mean you won’t want to go every week, but this combined with the jolly atmosphere make it a great place to pop in for a quick bite on a weeknight if you live locally, or to line your stomach with a group of friends before heading out in east London. We’re sure the hefty brunch bun (fried thigh, avocado, hot sauce, bacon, fried egg and homemade kewpie) will be just what the doctor ordered in the morning, too.

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BaoziInn-Newport Ct

BaoziInn-Newport Ct

Under £30
Chinese

25 Newport Court, London, WC2H 7JS

A hot little number, the Baozi Inn mini-chain was among the first to break the Cantonese stranglehold on Chinatown. These folksy looking trio of restaurants, related to the more upmarket Bar Shu, major in the flavours of regional China, especially the fiery cooking of Sichuan – though each branch has its own specialities. There’s no doubt you’ll get ‘proper’ Chinese food whichever you choose, witness the likes of cold ‘golden coin’ ox tripe, served as a starter at the Little Newport Street outlet (a tiny little townhouse formerly called Baiwei). If you’d prefer a less uncompromising introduction to the cuisine here, head for the mao cai hot-pot broths, into which you can drop up to 16 different ingredients to boil. The Romilly Street operation is where to order jiaozi (wontons), grills and ‘flaming skewers’, while Newport Court has more of a northern Chinese accent; don’t miss the house special baozi filled buns either, which are fluffy, soft and delectable.

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Suvlaki

Suvlaki

£30 - £49
Greek

21 Bateman Street, London, W1D 3AL

What’s in a name? Well, quite a lot at this address: formerly Greek skewer restaurant 21 Bateman Street. The owners decided to close that establishment and transform the decor, yet leave the menu largely intact and reopen as Suvlaki. The tiny interior couldn’t look more different; it’s now a striking combination of dark-blue walls, concrete Athenian-style pillars, suspended bare light bulbs and ugly graffiti. Extra covers have also been squeezed in – claustrophobics beware. Fortunately, the great food hasn’t changed. Soft pork souvlaki wraps are the highlight, stuffed with charcoal-grilled flesh and drizzled with tangy tzatziki. Baked feta comes foil-wrapped to retain its deliciously piquant juices; oregano-sprinkled chips make a perfectly crisp accompaniment; and the ‘exuberance’ sharing menu is great value, especially for Soho. With pitta bread, wild-boar sausage, wines and beers all imported from Greece, Suvlaki is big on air miles, atmosphere and flavour, but exceedingly small on elbow room.

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Cay Tre Old Street

Cay Tre Old Street

£30 - £49
Vietnamese

301 Old Street, London, EC1V 9LA

Over the years, this Vietnamese eatery has established itself as an old faithful for the office workers, club kids and night owls of Shoreditch. It’s seen a few cosmetic changes (the current look features smooth white tables and monochromatic bamboo wall art), but it remains a modest enterprise that puts value to the fore. We’ve eaten our way around the menu and reckon that seafood is the top shout, be it a crispy Devon crab and glass noodle wrap, braised catfish clay pot or grilled monkfish with galangal, turmeric and dill cooked tableside. Meat eaters also have plenty to chew on, from spicy lamb neck curry or stewed pork belly with caramelised coconut juice and a hard-boiled egg to a ‘wokked’ pho loaded with braised beef shin, mustard greens and shimeji mushrooms. Yes, it’s busy (and noisy), but turnaround is steady, even with a brisk takeaway trade.

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Homeslice Covent Garden

Homeslice Covent Garden

Under £30
Pizza

13 Neal's Yard, London, WC2H 9DP

Originally a pop-up, Homeslice has found a permanent home for its wood-fired pizza oven among the craft stores, rainbow cafés and natural apothecaries of Neal’s Yard. Weekend shoppers and tourists join a young local crowd in the buzzy whitewashed dining room with its plain wooden tables and vintage industrial vibe. There's only one thing on the menu – although a changing roll call of artisan toppings sets Homeslice apart from your average high-street pizzeria. Creative combinations include moist pork belly with zesty chimichurri and smoked onions or white anchovy with chard, Doddington cheese and a spritz of orange zest. All come with perfectly crisp bases and delicious doughy crusts; order by the slice or get stuck into the magnificent 20-inch version, washed down with crisp Saint lager, Prosecco or house wines delivered in measurable magnums (simply pay for what you drink). Takeaway slices, too.

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Flour & Grape

Flour & Grape

£30 - £49
Italian

214 Bermondsey Street, London, SE1 3TQ

Way down at the bottom end of Bermondsey Street, Flour & Grape seems precision-tuned to divert some of the queues from Padella up the road in London Bridge with its short, pasta-focused menu. It’s an appealing idea housed in an appealing set-up of a darkly-lit, brick-lined space that feels halfway between bar and dining room – appropriately enough for an outfit where equal emphasis is given to wine. A user-friendly all-Italian list is mostly available by the glass and carafe, with drinking across all price points and suggested matches for every dish on the menu. To eat, the idea is to follow two or three starters to share with pasta made in-house and a couple of scoops of gelato. Aside from a terrific plate of fazzoletti intermingled with a silky sauce of spinach, mascarpone and nutmeg, everything else we tried (gigli with sausage ragu, pappardelle with beef short-rib ragu, pork shoulder tortellini) was under-seasoned, while a similarly bland pork tonnato was not an improvement on the classic veal version. There was, however, no faulting the quality of the pasta itself – buy it to take away from the counter at the front.

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Tokyo Diner

Tokyo Diner

Under £30
Sushi
Japanese

2 Newport Place, London, WC2H 7JJ

Spread over three floors in Chinatown, this friendly, inclusive and reliable café runs until midnight, 365 days a year, and is intended as a home from home for its Japanese customers and anyone who appreciates good everyday food. Come here for donburi rice bowls, katsu curry, bento boxes, noodle soup and sushi at excellent prices. Seared salmon tataki is dusted with roasted sesame seeds and served with daikon, carrot, radish and ponzu dressing, while tofu katsu ju (a new vegan dish) arrives on a box of rice, which will be replenished on request if you’re hungry enough – a nice thought that applies to all set lunches and other rice-based dishes. Service is considerate, the decor is attractively low-tech (slate floors, wooden tables, ‘noren’ curtains, paper lanterns), and the atmosphere gently quirky.

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Hoppers Soho

Hoppers Soho

£30 - £49
Indian

49 Frith Street, London, W1D 4SG

Sometimes, very good things come in very small packages. This no-reservations South Indian eatery from the Sethi siblings (of Trishna and Gymkhana fame) goes from strength to strength, with the implementation of an app in 2016 eliminating one of very few negative points: the need to queue outside on Lexington Street. The average wait at dinner is still over an hour, but the pay-off is astoundingly good-value Sri Lankan and Tamil cuisine “full of delicate flavours and fragrances”. Pick an eponymous hopper (a bowl-shaped rice pancake) with a gooey egg embedded in its base or a sticky, crunchy dosa cone, then match your choice with a “perfectly balanced” kari (curry). Options range from lamb, black pork or fish to red pumpkin and gourd with cashew, irresistibly supported by fiery, must-order Bengali prawns or crisp and deeply meaty mutton rolls. Hoppers is perpetually packed, but “friendly, discreet staff” won’t rush you, so sit back and sip an exotic Margarita (pepped up with pickled lime and coconut salt) to compensate for the absence of a dessert menu.

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The Vurger Co

The Vurger Co

Under £30
Vegetarian
Vegan
Burgers

Unit 9, Avant Garde, Richmix Square, London, E1 6LD

Following a successful run of pop ups across the capital, this plant-based burger joint now has a permanent home in Shoreditch. It’s an intimate if sparse space, with walnut chairs and grey walls, while the menu is equally as concise, consisting solely of burgers, shakes and sides. Unlike other meat-free joints, Vurger Co swaps out quorn or seitan for patties made up entirely of veg. Take the Auburger, which is sandwiched between a fluffy brioche bun and combines a tightly-packed aubergine, chickpea and caramelised red onion patty with hints of fiery Tabasco and a slightly bitter cumin mayo dressing.

There’s the option to enjoy your meal sans bun as a ‘burger bowl’, while sides include crisp, lightly-salted fries and a velvety mac ‘n’ cheese. Drinks wise, a caramel and banana shake swaps out cow’s milk for the almond variety, along with a soy bean base which results in a sweet and satisfyingly slurp-able treat, while there are beers and wine for proper grownups. Slick counter service and reasonable prices are further pluses, and it’s nice to see Vurger Co back up its credentials with compostable packaging, including paper straws.

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101 Thai Kitchen

101 Thai Kitchen

Under £30
Thai

352 King Street, London, W6 0RX

The garish-pink exterior hints that 101 does things a little differently. Its kitchen focuses on the Isaan cooking of north-eastern Thailand, a cuisine generally spicier than in neighbouring regions. Diners keen on Thai staples will be pleased to find pad thai and green and red curries all present and correct. However, it pays to try the more unusual likes of tum sua (a salad of noodles, salted crab, salted fish and pickled cabbage), or tom kruang nai wua (spicy ox tripe soup). The sous chef hails from southern Thailand, so that region’s fish dishes are also represented, including the intriguing option of sea bass hotpot containing curry sauce, bamboo shoots and cauliflower. A lunch deal offers a meal-in-one plate plus a soft drink for a bargain £6.

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Chimichurris

Chimichurris

£30 - £49
Argentinian

132 Southwark Bridge Road, London, SE1 0DG

This restaurant comes from two former Borough Market buddies: Frederic Fugazza previously ran street-food stall Porteña, while Nicolas Modad used to be head chef at Brindisa. A traditional Argentinian parrilla, the focus here is on charcoal-grilled meat – glorious steaks, Ibérico pork and juicy chorizo sausages – with grilled vegetables, house-made pastas and fish dishes, such as the signature grilled octopus with polenta, in support. We kicked off with classic empanadas generously stuffed with spicy beef, alongside gooey grilled provoleta cheese. Meaty mains included a silky sirloin with chimichurri sauce and crisp fries, followed by indulgent dulce de leche crêpes to finish. The short drinks list sticks to native beers – Quilmes or Buenos Ayres – while wines are from Argentina and Uruguay (the Reto Malbec makes a fine match with steak). Although the menu occasionally gets lost in translation here, cooking feels authentic and it’s great value. 

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Pizza Pilgrims Soho

Pizza Pilgrims Soho

£30 - £49
Pizza
Italian

11 Dean Street, London, W1D 3RP

"One of London's best pizzas!" trumpets one ardent fan, and we're inclined to agree with his verdict. Occupying a prime corner spot, Pizza Pilgrims started out as brothers Thom and James Elliot in a van on a pilgrimage across Italy to find a pizza worth worshipping. The pair clearly succeeded in their mission because their covetable and crisp Neapolitan sourdough pizzas belie the capabilities of a cramped open kitchen. "Excellent authentic ingredients" go into toppings such as portobello mushroom and truffle or margherita and n'duja, with back-up from sides of smoky tomatoes with buffalo mozzarella or piquant marinated artichoke hearts with prosciutto. Lemon sorbet or gelato from nearby Gelupo are spot on for dessert, while the drinks range from Italian and British craft beers to cocktails in tumblers, plus the specially created lemon Pococello. "Brilliant value for money" too.

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Patty & Bun Soho

Patty & Bun Soho

Under £30
North American
Burgers

18 Old Compton Street, London, W1D 4TN

Burger entrepreneur Joe Grossmann’s fourth permanent site follows in the footsteps of the Marylebone, Liverpool Street and London Fields outposts: a trendy, bare-bones kind of place with funky undercurrents. The difference here is that it spans 1,500 square feet spread over the basement and ground floor. Grossman explains: “The next opening for Patty & Bun was something we had to consider very carefully and we were provided with this great option. Now, we look forward to bringing the ultimate comfort food and a truly memorable burger experience to the West End.” A modest line-up of edible goodies includes an affordable selection of handmade, British-bred patties in brioche buns, with comedy names ranging from Smokey Robinson, Ari Gold and the Hot Chic chicken burger to Jose Jose (laced with chilli). A few garnishes, chips with rosemary salt and some weekly specials complete the picture, and it’s worth looking out for collaborations with other outfits such as Pitt Cue Co. All the details are spot-on, and none of the toppings are superfluous, however complicated they might seem. The booze list is short and sharp: cult beers, wines by the carafe, rum punch, a few funky cocktails etc. Expect queues for sit-downs and takeaways, but it’s “well worth the wait”. 

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Lahpet

Lahpet

Under £30
Burmese

58 Bethnal Green Road, London, E1 8JW

Lahpet started life as a residency at Maltby Street Market and has now found its first bricks-and-mortar site on a prime spot just past Boxpark. A neutral colour palette of copper finishes and faux foliage looks the Shoreditch part, but what really sets this place apart is its contemporary take on Burmese cuisine, best described as a mix of Chinese, Laotian, Indian and Thai influences.

Starting snacks including a supremely buttery and flaky yellow pea paratha, and miniature dumplings in which a translucent skin conceals a Balachaung filling alive with ginger and fiery chilli. Elsewhere, the vibrant Lahpet salad (made with tea leaves) is crunchy with peanuts, and pillowy-soft roast aubergine comes stuffed with a heady mix of dried shrimp and oyster mushrooms, best enjoyed with a side of sticky coconut rice. Desserts include banana and caramelised peanut ice cream, crowned with a shard of dark chocolate and rolled in poppy seeds, while classic cocktails are remixed with floral flavours in the likes of a Lemongrass Mimosa. Keenly priced and with a buzzy atmosphere, Lahpet is an intriguing addition to London’s Asian restaurant scene.           

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Berber & Q Shawarma Bar

Berber & Q Shawarma Bar

£30 - £49
North African
Middle Eastern

46 Exmouth Market, London, EC1R 4QE

Kebabs are no longer the preserve of drunken revellers. Restaurants such as Black Axe Mangal and Le Bab have raised the bar and now Haggerston’s Berber & Q has joined the party, with this small, very cool space. Amid low lighting and a hip-hop soundtrack, we kicked off with a selection of cold mezze: mesabaha (think deconstructed hummus) was a beautifully creamy dip for toasted chollah, a yeast-leavened egg bread. The mains took the flavours up a notch via a lamb shawarma rice bowl with harissa, salad and quail’s egg, drenched in juices from the spit. The pulled-apart lamb was juicy and full of spice, although our highlight was the ice cream pitta sandwich; tahini soft-serve, caramelised banana and drizzles of toffee sauce. The cinnamon-coated pitta is almost churro-like, its crunchy texture deftly balanced by the melting soft serve and chewy banana. To wash it all down, there’s a short, strong selection of cocktails using the likes of dates and pomegranate as core ingredients, while non-alcoholic, botanical sips include rosemary lemonade. Service was generally good (we waited a while to order) and prices are very reasonable considering the standard of food. Hit up the takeaway hatch is you prefer Berber and sofa.

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Made of Dough

Made of Dough

Under £30
Pizza

182 Bellenden Road, London, SE15 4BW

Wood-fire sourdough pizza is certainly having its moment. And it’s a particularly memorable one at the permanent home of Brixton pop-up/street food joint Made of Dough, on Peckham’s foodie hub, Bellenden Road. Toppings cover the classics (margherita with San Marzano tomato, fior di latte mozzarella and fresh basil) and more unusual options such as a subtly smoky white pizza of chargrilled artichoke, mozzarella, rosemary and lemon. Sides are excellent, too, including a carpaccio di zucchini with red chilli that’s a perfect summer freshener. To drink, choose from a finely honed cocktail list, fizz, wine (mainly from Spain and Italy) or local craft ales. The decor is clean and pared back and the music is worth making a detour for. Fret not over the lack of a dessert-menu proper: order one of their knock-out gelato shakes – Motherf**king peanut butter and vanilla, with or without a shot of Kahlua (obvs always with), say – and satisfaction is guaranteed.

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Zia Lucia Holloway

Zia Lucia Holloway

Under £30
Pizza
Italian

157 Holloway Road, London, N7 8LX

‘How do you solve a problem like pizzeria?’ – or more aptly, the lack thereof in Holloway? By opening one, of course, and serving charcoal-dough bases so delicious the hungry hordes flock there. Zia Lucia is a respectable little outfit, with a rustic-inspired interior, an authentic wood-fired oven and even a little counter for a Spritzer and a dollop of burrata. But the star draw, aside from the warm service, is the pizzas themselves. Try the Arianna (mozzarella, fresh sausage, Taleggio, pecorino and truffle honey) for something different, and match your topping to your lifestyle: health-conscious diners are catered for with both wholemeal and gluten-free bases. The charcoal variety has a subtle hint of smoke, without any bitterness. Drinks are cheap (£5.50 for a Spritzer) and generously portioned, as are starters and salads (the roasted butternut squash with sun-dried tomatoes, artichokes and capers is best). A new neighbourhood gem is born.

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Padella

Padella

£30 - £49
Italian

6 Southwark Street, London, SE1 1TQ

Sometimes all you want in London is a concise, straightforward menu, superb food and good value. The team behind much-loved Highbury Italian Trullo have well and truly cracked it here. Split over two floors, this cramped, no-reservations pasta bar features a marble-topped counter overlooking the kitchen (watch the pasta being hand-rolled on site) and a black and gold, low-lit basement dining room and bar. We were treated to a classic 80s soundtrack and a full restaurant, creating an effortlessly congenial vibe. Antipasti include unembellished plates of beef fillet carpaccio and burrata, leaving a list of six pasta dishes to steal the show. We ordered a second plate of the unassuming pici cacio e pepe: fat, al dente spaghetti with butter, Parmesan and black pepper, astonishingly delicious and tangy, only £6. Pappardelle with Dexter beef shin ragu was similarly bursting with flavour, the beef cooked with due respect. Almond and rhubarb tart was a crunchy, sublime steal at £4. Some portions could be larger (although none of the dishes are more than £10) and there are just three cocktails and four wine choices – don’t miss the peachy, smooth Sussex Bacchus – being succinct is Padella’s core characteristic. In a city of endless choices, Padella is a supreme antidote.

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Bao Soho

Bao Soho

Under £30
Taiwanese
Chinese

53 Lexington Street, London, W1F 9AS

Despite the opening of Bao Fitzrovia in 2016, the diminutive original still entertains lengthy (some say “interminable”) queues, such is the power of those Taiwanese steamed buns. With just 30 elbow-to-elbow pine seats, this minimalist, no-bookings outfit definitely rewards patience and an adventurous spirit. It’s worth the time spent in line to access Bao’s short, tick-box menu of calorific, sticky-and-sweet treats. Xiao chi (snacks) include deep-fried nuggets of pig’s trotter and fried chicken slathered in hot sauce – “strictly not for sharing”, warns one fan. That said, bao buns remain the “stars of the show”: try the classic version with moist shreds of braised pork, coriander and peanuts or the confit pork option, which adds crispy shallots and hot sauce. The balance of pillowy dough and intense flavours is just right, thoroughly addictive and a snip at a fiver or less. Service is rather solemn but highly efficient (a necessity given the demand), and we recommend ordering a glass of peanut milk to wash it all down.

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Thunderbird Fried Chicken

Thunderbird Fried Chicken

Under £30
North American

10 Market Row, London, SW9 8LB

Following an early life on London’s pop-up scene at the likes of Dinerama and Giant Robot, this fried chicken joint has now found a permanent home in Brixton Market.  

Split over two floors and with room for around 40 diners, Thunderbird offers both eat-in and takeaway options, boasting electric blue interiors and gold thunderbolts on the walls. Expect dishes such as the Thunderbun and Chipuffalo Wings, served with sauces including buffalo, chipotle and a blue cheese dip.

Further options include the habanero wings which are slathered in roasted red pepper cream, habanero chilli peppers, tamarind and coriander, while a selection of meat-free burgers is available for veggie diners. Wash down your meal with an American-style milkshake, or a can of Brixton beer.

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Delhi Grill

Delhi Grill

Under £30
Indian

21 Chapel Market, London, N1 9EZ

‘Dhabas are Indian street canteens with no frills or formalities. Customers visit for the food’, explains the beautifully designed menu at Delhi Grill. This being Islington, the appearance of the place has actually been carefully thought out, and the dining room looks resplendent in its artfully distressed glory, walls plastered with copies of the Hindustan Times. The well-priced food doesn’t disappoint either: the menu is kept short so everything can be done properly, with freshly ground spices, extensive marinating and slow cooking. Starters of tandoor-cooked lamb chops and sheikh kebabs come in at £2.95 each, while chicken karahi is £7.95 and tarka dhal £3.95. Drink Bangla, Kingfisher or Cobra beer, masala chai, or wine from the succinct, inexpensive list. Friendly service adds to the appeal.

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Koya City

Koya City

Under £30
Japanese

10-12 Bloomberg Arcade, London, EC4N 8AR

This sequel to acclaimed udon bar Koya has landed in the slick Bloomberg Arcade three years after the much-missed original closed in Soho. The relaxed space is a lesson in Japanese minimalism, with bright lights, wooden interiors and a pulsing soundtrack that wouldn’t be out of place in a high-end boutique. A blackboard of daily specials will suit the clientele of regular diners that is bound to build up, but there’s also lots of interest on the impressive à la carte, from small plates of melt-in-the-mouth cider-spiked pork belly and must-try puffy-battered prawn heads to the star turn of udon noodle broths. Cold udon with a hot broth is the way to go; we’d recommend tender duck in a spicy broth, perfectly paired with thick, silky udon. To drink, there is wine and beer alongside an extensive selection of saké. All-day opening, counter seating and no reservations make Koya City a great shout for a quick, affordable bite and solo dining.    

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Roti Chai - Street Kitchen

Roti Chai - Street Kitchen

£30 - £49
Cafes
Fusion

Lower Ground Floor, 3 Portman Mews South, London, W1H 6AY

It's not easy to capture the exuberance of India in a mews behind Selfridges, but owner Rohit Chugh has a good go in his two-tiered Roti Chai. Head for the ground-floor Street Kitchen for good-value snacks and hubbub: you can expect industrial canteen interiors, close-packed tables, high decibels and trendy takes on the classics, from bhel-pooris and 'railway' curry to buns filled with spiced Elwy Valley lamb. It's "fun and innovative", but there's also some real authenticity on show. Evenings see the moodily lit downstairs Dining Room come into its own and the kitchen ups the ante, delivering spirited chilli garlic prawns, more of that Welsh lamb cooked in the tandoor, Parsee-style chicken dhansak or South Indian fish kari. Service is game, but the frenetic pace of it all can cause problems. Note: price etc above refer to the Dining Room.

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Abu Zaad - Uxbridge Road

Abu Zaad - Uxbridge Road

Under £30
Syrian

29 Uxbridge Road, London, W12 8LH

Like a vision of old Damascus – perhaps seen through the eyes of Steven Spielberg – the OTT decor at this Syrian restaurant is part of its charm. Cheesy vistas compete with elaborate hanging lamps, carved wood & patterned mosaics, though the unfussy furniture tempers the look somewhat. It’s the low-priced food, however, that tempts the Shepherd’s Bush masses. The menu consists of a few standard dishes (grilled haloumi, falafel, moussaka) alongside a host of more intriguing options. Try, for instance, fatayer bi lahme (pastry filled with lamb), or the ful medames (broad beans with garlic & lemon). There’s also an extensive choice of kebabs from the barbecue grill, plus an array of stews. Customers too tired to cope with the frenetic decor might wish to make use of the takeaway service.

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Randy

Randy's Wing Bar Hackney Wick

£30 - £49
North American

Here East, Canalside, London, E15 2GW

This canalside Here East resident does what it says on the tin in lip-smacking style. Co-founders Richard Thacker and Andy Watts (aka Randy) took the pop-up/pub residency route to this permanent spot, becoming the first-ever international competitor at America’s Buffalo Wing Festival along the way. The proof is in the poultry, available in a range of flavours, including Hanoi (beer-battered with fish sauce) and Bombay (baked and grilled with Indian spices). The fried Gangnam wings are hard to beat, with sesame seeds clinging to a sweet, sticky Korean sauce. Buffalo wings slathered with blue cheese are equally tasty. Counteract the tang with a beer from a list that includes London’s Beavertown on draught and bottled Hawaiian lager. The menu also stretches to burgers, with either chicken patties or, curiously, an onion bhaji option. The sole dessert choice is a sumptuous chocolate brownie topped with dulce du leche ice cream, while a range of cocktails suit the up-tempo, down-lit vibe. Two servings of wings and a few sides is enough for two, making this a good value option.

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Voodoo Ray

Voodoo Ray's Camden

Under £30
Pizza

Camden Market, Unit 91-92, North Yard, Chalk Farm Road , London, NW1 8AH

Slices of pizza cut from a giant, 22-inch pie do the business at this New York-style outfit, a mini-chain in the making from the people behind Dalston Superstore. The pizzas are all displayed behind a glass counter in the narrow room, whose colourful square tiles arranged in geometric patterns make you feel like you’ve stepped into an 80s arcade game. Toppings, however, are bang up to date, and there are more than a dozen combinations – from rosemary-salted leeks with broccoli, Stilton, Pecorino, chipotle sauce and fior di latte to ‘white’ (tomato-free) pizzas topped with crisped chicken skin, confit garlic and squash, plus site-specific specials. To drink, choose from various bottled craft beers or pick a signature frozen Margarita fresh from the Slushie machine. At the Dalston branch, you can also head down to the basement bar for a full menu of gloriously retro cocktails.  

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Hankies

Hankies

£30 - £49
Indian

61 Berkeley Street, London, W1H 7PP

Glitzy light fittings and gold cutlery may suggest fine-dining, but the casual Indian menu at this Montcalm restaurant is very accessible. We’d recommend ordering five or six of the ‘small bites’ between two and then one large dish each. Good shouts include battered cod revitalised with a sour mango dip, a dense sweet potato ‘bomb’ packed with chickpeas and a lightly spiced chilli jam, and smoky chicken tikka with a cooling mint sauce – and be sure to order the signature roomali roti, a soft, warm flatbread folded like a handkerchief (hence the restaurant’s name) which is perfect for mopping up any sauces. The larger offerings are more pedestrian (butter chicken in a creamy tomato sauce, slow-braised goat with keema, etc), while to drink, there are cocktails and non-alcoholic lassis. Hankies doesn’t quite manage to shake off the constraints of its corporate hotel setting, but with friendly staff and every dish under £10, it’s worth a punt for cheap and casual Indian.

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Fat Baby

Fat Baby

Japanese

Arches 14 & 15, Bohemia Place, Mare Street, London, E8 1DU

Fat Baby is part of Hackney’s Night Tales, which proclaims itself as ‘East London’s largest covered terrace’ and combines a beer garden, nightclub and cocktail bar. With its gravel on the floor and potted plants lining the walls, Fat Baby might look like a beach bar, but it’s a proper, albeit casual, restaurant complete with table service (though note it’s only open during the latter half of the week).

The too cool for school menu features a concise selection of Japanese small plates. Start with puffy rice crackers dipped in a savoury nori dressing, before moving on to springy gyoza, stuffed with intensely meaty pork belly and a hint of mustard, or perhaps cubes of sticky and sweet fried tofu drizzled with golden sesame oil.

More substantial options include an of-the-moment pork katsu sandwich, and succulent strips of beef onglet tataki, unfortunately loaded with a touch too much wasabi. Thick-set white miso ice cream is the only dessert option, while Japanese beers and cocktails are on-hand from the bar.

Cheap, buzzy and Insta-ready, Fat Baby is perfectly placed to feed Hackney’s cool kids.

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Mamie

Mamie's

Under £30
French

19 Catherine Street, London, WC2B 5JS

This quaint, French-inspired pancake house and ‘cidrothèque’ is spread over three floors and decked out like a sitting room, with an open kitchen permeating the smell of warm pancakes. Perma-smiling staff try to help with the slightly confusing DIY ordering tablets (make sure your order processes), while the menu is a simple choice between meat- and cheese-packed buckwheat galletes or sweet crêpes, alongside tapas, salads and desserts. We began with buckwheat samosas stuffed with cheese and fluffy potatoes – a moreish take on the original. The Forest Complète gallete is delicate and thin, yet smothered in smoky ham and creamy cheese, while the rolled La Chateaubriand arrives stuffed with rich, meaty sausage and a punchy mustard dressing. Greasy melted cheese can be washed down with French cider from the strong list, strangely served in tea cups. Tablet ordering and an occasional lack of ambience aside, Mamie’s is great for mountains of cheese, unusual ciders and crêpe classics.

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Princi

Princi

£30 - £49
Cafes
Italian

135 Wardour Street, London, W1F 0UT

“Perfect if you don’t fancy a packed Soho bar or full-on restaurant”, Princi is a seriously popular all-day pit-stop noted for its “fabulous Milanese decor” and “gorgeous Italian light bites”. Set up by serial restaurateur Alan Yau, the light-filled café does a roaring trade in chic breakfasts, all-too-tempting cakes, savoury pastries and colourful salads, with fresh juices, proper coffee, Italian wines and cocktails to wash it all down. It’s terribly chic, although it can seem like a “touristy madhouse” at peak times – even if the place is well managed by staff dressed in spotless white uniforms. Berths at the high communal tables and street-facing counters are at a premium, and there’s also plenty of action in the adjoining restaurant, where table service and a menu of excellent wood-fired pizzas beckon. There are queues for takeaways, too.

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Daddy Bao

Daddy Bao

Under £30
Taiwanese

113 Mitcham Road, London, SW17 9PE

Tooting’s foodie credentials have been on the up for a while now, and this Taiwanese joint is a great addition to the area. From the team behind Peckham’s Mr Bao, it’s named in honour of owner Frank Yeung’s father, a veteran restaurateur who grew up in Hong Kong. The stars of the show here are the pillowy bao buns – ridiculously good value at under a fiver each – which come stuffed with delicious fillings. Stand-outs on our visit included the slow-braised pork belly pepped up with house pickles, peanuts and coriander, and the spicy ginger-braised tofu with crispy onions and the house kimchi.

Other small sharing plates worth a punt include fried chicken with smoky miso mayo, fragrant pork dumplings and sesame aubergine dressed up with peanut sauce, pomegranates and spring onion. There are no puds, but drinks include a fiendishly good Barrel-Aged Plum Wine Negroni made with chocolate bitters, as well as wines and canned Taiwan Lager. Like its Peckham sibling, the weekend offering includes bottomless brunch: try bao Benedict or Taiwanese spring onion pancakes with kimchi, cheddar and a fried egg, washed down with a Bloody Mary laced with wasabi salt. Friendly service and a lively vibe score more plus points. Watch out Tooting, the Daddy of all bao restaurants has arrived.

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Meza Tooting Bec

Meza Tooting Bec

Under £30
Lebanese

34 Trinity Road, London, SW17 7RE

The mellifluous smells of garlic and spices greet pedestrians outside this simple, perennially popular Lebanese canteen, which laughs in the face of fancy design. Yes, there is a characterful souk-like space at the back, accessed through the restaurant’s pantry, but the real action is out front where a frenzied, open kitchen plays host to half a dozen cramped wooden tables. It’s a fun, relaxed playground for those who love their falafel, hummus, tabbouleh and moutabal (grilled aubergine, tahini and lemon juice). We’d recommend the first-rate chicken livers, sautéed prawns and minced lamb kibbeh, too. To follow, stick with one of the high-protein grills or kebabs (lamb or chicken) and you won’t go far wrong. Wash it all down with a pick from the short but decent selection of gutsy Lebanese wines – if you fancy something stronger than mint tea.

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Baby Bao

Baby Bao

Chinese

66 Haymarket, London, SW1Y 4RF

This bun fight found success as a street-food operation in Brighton and has now settled in to this intimate site in St James’s. It’s a refreshingly casual spot for the area, with a stylish monochrome colour scheme, staff in Baby Bao t-shirts and a concise menu which majors in size XL bao buns bringing something new to this corner of SW1.  

The bao mainly impress: luscious roasted pork belly sandwiched between a pillowy bun is a hit, as is the Korean barbecue option, filled with plump, juicy prawns. However, our cod tempura bao was overpowered by an overzealous dollop of wasabi-spiked tartar sauce.

Decadent sides are more consistent and perfect for sticky-fingered fun: chicken wings are delightfully messy, slathered in Korean chilli sauce and brimming with spice, while thick-cut chips come loaded with shredded duck and pineapple chunks.

Desserts are just as belt-busting, with so-wrong-they-are-right options including sugar-dusted deep-fried Oreos served with white chocolate sauce. Finish up with a craft beer from the impressive list of London brews.

Despite occasionally absent-minded service, Baby Bao is buzzy, fairly priced and plenty of fun – a good shout for diners looking to pig out.

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Okan

Okan

Under £30
Japanese

Unit 39 Brixton Village Market, London, SW9 8PS

What was a tiny industrial unit on Brixton Market has been transformed into Okan – a charming little Japanese canteen with concrete floors and basic wooden furnishings, plus a few wooden toys, paper lanterns and prints to brighten up the mood. There’s a cooking area behind the counter (it’s hardly a kitchen), and the menu is street food with the emphasis on yaki soba noodles and ‘as you like it’ okonomiyaki – savoury pancakes comprising a batter/shredded cabbage base, various toppings (from pork and kimchi to cheese and sweetcorn) and a dollop of sesame-spiked Japanese mayo. Okan now has a licence for beer and saké (if you want something stronger than organic green tea or apple juice), but note that it’s cash only and doesn’t take bookings.

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Mien Tay - Kingsland Road

Mien Tay - Kingsland Road

Under £30
Vietnamese

122 Kingsland Road, London, E2 8DP

Since opening in 2008, this original branch of Mien Tay (with a younger sibling in Battersea) has moved a notch upmarket and expanded into premises next door, yet it still draws crowds of diners on Kingsland Road’s Pho Mile with its first-rate south-western Vietnamese food. The interior design of white walls and kitsch Vietnamese artwork may not inspire, but it’s what comes on the plate that counts. Must-tries include the peppy starter of salt, pepper and garlic squid, and the flavour-packed honey and spices char-grilled chicken. Adventurous diners will have a field day, leaping from the brace of frog’s leg dishes to the likes of stewed Mekong catfish, or stir-fried goat with galangal. Prices, though still inexpensive, are no longer ridiculously cheap, and the former BYOB policy has given way to a wine list chosen by Willie Lebus of Bibendum. Try some Chilean Valdivieso Maipo Merlot with that goat.

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Patty & Bun James Street

Patty & Bun James Street

Under £30
North American

54 James Street, London, W1U 1HE

Burger entrepreneur Joe Grossmann’s first permanent site is a trendy, bare-bones kind of place with funky undercurrents, speedy staff and a modest line-up of edible goodies that has readers all agog. The menu offers an affordable selection of handmade, British-bred patties in brioche buns, with comedy names ranging from Smokey Robinson, Ari Gold and Foghorn Leghorn chicken to Jose Jose (laced with chilli). A few garnishes, chips with rosemary salt and some weekly specials complete the picture, and it’s worth looking out for collaborations with other outfits such as Pitt Cue Co. All the details are spot-on, and none of the toppings are superfluous – however complicated they might seem. The booze list is short and sharp: cult beers, wines by the carafe, rum punch, a few funky cocktails etc. Expect queues for sit-downs and takeaways, but it’s “well worth the wait”.

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Mr Bao

Mr Bao

Under £30
Taiwanese

293 Rye Lane, London, SE15 4UA

The second venture from the Peckham-based couple behind Miss Tapas, Mr Bao heads east to find inspiration for its small plates, Taiwanese-style. This light, calm, convivial space has pastel-coloured maps of Taiwan, framed Taiwanese stamps, and contemporary prints dotting its patchily whitewashed walls. A beautiful blue-and-white tiled counter separates the dining room from the open kitchen. Our favourite of the fluffy steamed buns is the ‘bao diddley’, with tender pulled chicken, a slick of subtle but insistent wasabi mayo and a dollop of kimchi; other must-try dishes include the Taiwanese sausage (a spiced pork sausage made by local butcher’s Flock & Herd to the chef’s secret recipe) and the rich, sticky dessert bao – fried, drenched in chocolate, and topped with a toasted marshmallow. An inventive brunch menu incorporating ‘bao benedict’ and saké-based cocktails is a brilliant hangover salve for locals (mainly hip singles) – as is the wonderfully warm service.

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Chuck Burger Spitalfields

Chuck Burger Spitalfields

Under £30
North American
Burgers

4 Commercial Street, London, E1 7PT

Down the road from its relative Hotbox, this graffiti-clad, stripped-back affair delivers a full stomach for a fair price. Following Chuck Burger Hatch End and regular street food stints, Chuck has actually made a name for itself via its chicken wings, available with lip-smacking buffalo sauce and a blue cheese dip or a less jarring, sweeter Korean coating. Burgers are impressively good value, arriving in sturdy, toasted sesame buns with innovative fillings such as deep-fried noodles or pickled beetroot. We recommend the whopping, dripping buffalo chicken option (you’ll need a large mouth), but don’t miss some of the best and juiciest deep-fried mac ‘n’ cheese balls we’ve encountered in London. A range of milkshakes (with boozy extras) or predictably calorific sundaes will finish you off, while pork fat-infused bourbon helps those meat sweats seep in to cocktail hour. Being stuck at the uninspiring base of Commercial Street means Chuck Burger isn’t a destination, but it plies its junk food wares well. 

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Master Wei

Master Wei

Under £30
Chinese

13 Cosmo Place, London, WC1N 3AP

This Chinese restaurant, exceptionally well located for the students of UCL and SOAS, is the third site from the team behind the much-loved Xi’an Impression in Highbury, following the launch of Xi’an Biang Biang Noodles in Spitalfields in 2018.

As with its siblings, Master Wei specialises in dishes from Xi’an City in Shan Xi province in central China, and the restaurant serves many of the popular dishes seen at Xi’an Impression, alongside more traditional offerings. Master Wei also benefits from an alcohol license, so you can expect London-brewed beers.  

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Ahi Poké Fitzrovia

Ahi Poké Fitzrovia

Under £30
International

3 Percy Street, London, W1T 1DE

All the foodie buzz words you could hope for can be attached to this diminutive offering in Percy Street. Serving Hawaiian poké, it’s sustainable, nutritional and raw, with compostable packaging for takeaways and driftwood furniture for eating in. It’s healthy, it’s fun, full of vibrant flavours, and pretty affordable too. Choose a base (quinoa, red kale or sushi rice) and a protein to top it with. Ahi tuna is the obvious choice, but there’s sea bream and salmon as well as marinated mushrooms. Finish it off with sauce and toppings, the savoury version of an ice cream sundae. Imported American soft drinks and soft-serve ice cream complete the picture. 

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Green Papaya

Green Papaya

Under £30
Vietnamese

191 Mare Street, London, E8 3QE

While Kingsland Road's Vietnamese canteens are packing them in, this family-run restaurant a mile or so east is very much the smart diner's choice. Green Papaya hasn't changed much since opening in 2000, and the interior wouldn't win any design awards, but the combination of cracking food and gratifyingly low prices continues to attract in-the-know locals, enthusiastic visitors and patrons from the revamped Hackney Empire up the road. While bowls of steaming pho have become synonymous with the country's cuisine, the iconic noodle soup is merely a bit player here, with stir-fries and slow-braised dishes taking centre stage. Summer rolls, banh-xeo pancakes and spicy salads are exemplary, but also check out ‘new dishes' such as smoked tofu with asparagus or stewed beef shin with carrot and rice wine. To drink, order an ice-cold Vietnamese beer.

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Song Que

Song Que

Under £30
Vietnamese

134 Kingsland Road, London, E2 8DY

Song Que is one of the busiest Vietnamese canteens in the ’Ditch. Families & fashionistas overlook the dated decor & harsh lighting, concentrating instead on the house special pho packed with beef in various permutations – rare-sliced steak & well-done flank, or flank & tendon, for example. The menu is long (amounting to more than 170 dishes), yet low on thrills that can’t be found elsewhere on Kingsland Road. Give a wide berth to the dull-seeming Chinese dishes in favour of more vibrant green papaya salad, shredded pork & herbs in rice-paper wrappers, beef in betel leaf, or the noodle soups. As for the tipple of choice, a chilled Halida or Hue beer beats the flasks of Mateus Rosé any day. What Song Que lacks in finesse, it at least compensates for with the bill. A filling bowlful of pho will only set you back £7.70.

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Señor Ceviche Fitzrovia

Señor Ceviche Fitzrovia

£30 - £49
Peruvian

18 Charlotte Street, London, W1T 2LZ

We love the Soho original of Señor Ceviche – an addictive maelstrom of colour, flavour and sound – and so welcomed the news that a second branch of this highly accessible Peruvian joint was to open in Fitzrovia. And we’re happy to report that the follow-up is just as much fun. The buzzy three-level space (vacated by Ollie Dabbous’s Barnyard) is decked out with foliage and emerald-green tables. Chatty, knowledgeable staff are on-hand to talk you through a menu of sharing plates (we’d recommend three or four each). Dishes are served as soon as they’re ready, which meant we were simultaneously tucking into crisp pork belly glazed with sticky-sweet soy sauce, and a dish of mushroom and sweet-potato gyoza dipped in earthy parsley aïoli. Ceviches, however, take the starring role, blasting the senses with sharp colours and flavours. In the El Clasico, fresh-tasting sea bass is pepped up with a sprinkling of coriander and a strip of plantain, while the Señor Ceviche version throws in octopus with crispy baby squid and a tangy tiger’s milk. We also recommend trying the Charlotte Street special of tender grilled lamb rump, served with purple sweet potato. The purple corn cake dessert was a winner too: accompanied by warm caramel sauce, lucuma ice cream and a smattering of toffee popcorn. A largely gluten-free menu and killer pisco cocktails add to this Señor’s wide-ranging appeal.

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Rasa Sayang

Rasa Sayang

Under £30
Malaysian
Singaporean

5 Macclesfield Street, London, W1D 6AY

Staffed by friendly expats, this nondescript yet spruce Singaporean/Malaysian gaff must be one of the top ‘cheap eats’ in the West End. It looks, sounds and tastes pretty authentic, and has become a hub for overseas students and tourists after a taste of home. If you’re new to this cuisine, a single visit barely lets you scratch the menu: try a wholesome staple such as nasi goreng or chicken nasi lemak, char kuay teow (a rich noodle dish with soy sauce) or spicy beef rendang. Apart from Singapore chilli crab, there’s precious little over £8, and the appetisers are particularly good value (soon kuey dumplings stuffed with chicken, prawn and turnip are recommended). Skip wine in favour of beer, teh tarik (strong tea made with condensed milk) or Milo malted chocolate.

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Pizza Union King

Pizza Union King's Cross

Under £30
Pizza

246-250 Pentonville Road, London, N1 9JY

Queue, pay, take a buzzer and grab a stool: the concept isn’t new, but Pizza Union’s food is of a quality that defies its low-price, no-frills delivery. As with the Spitalfields original, this newcomer makes you question how some other fast-food outfits can charge so much for so little. The 12-inch pizzas have a thin, crisp base and piles of topping; from 15 options we chose a delicious, filling Tropicali with cotto ham and pineapple (£5.50), accompanied by a fresh, hearty Pizzeria salad. The warm dough-ring desserts alone are worth the visit, filled with Nutella, mascarpone or salted caramel which ooze out as you bite. To drink, help yourself to wines, Italian beer, Prosecco, juices or coffees. A pop-led soundtrack and communal bench-style tables clad in colourful tiles add to the vibrant buzz. If this outlet indicates the state of the Union, expect more branches to appear – and deservedly so. 

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My Neighbours the Dumplings

My Neighbours the Dumplings

Under £30
Chinese
Dim Sum

165 Lower Clapton Road, London, E5 8EQ

Settling down in its first permanent spot, My Neighbours The Dumplings specialises in – you guessed it – dumplings. Focusing on handmade quality dishes, this former Hackney pop up has a small but simple menu of dumplings, salads and home-cooked specials. Everything on the menu is for sharing, so make sure to come with mates. Traditional steamed dumplings include classic pork and prawn, lamb and coriander and aubergine and sesame, but if you’re feeling all dumpling-ed out, a cucumber chilli or green papaya salad will leave you raring to go for round two. Home-cooked specials include a crispy turnip cake (savoury dim sum made with Chinese sausage, shrimp and shiitake mushroom) and fresh whole steamed fish. Wash it all down with mountains of Tengu sake and Man Chan Chinese teas.

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Tombo, Poké & Matcha Bar

Tombo, Poké & Matcha Bar

Under £30
Japanese
Cafes

28 D’Arblay Street, London, W1F 8EW

Situated in the heart of Soho, Tombo Poké & Matcha Bar offers a light, daytime alternative to the burger joints and heaving steakhouses nearby. Following the success of the Tombo Café in South Ken, owner Louis’ latest opening is a decidedly more casual affair, with a till ordering system and a focus on cold dishes inspired by traditional Hawaiian poké. Matcha fans can also find a selection of drinks and desserts boasting such an intense green colour that it’s possible to believe even the vanilla infused ice-cream sundae is healthy. The menu is simple and prices are low – you can build your own poké bowl with all the trimmings for less the £10. If you’re craving carbs, red meat or mood lighting, this definitely isn’t your best bet, but for a healthy, day-time pit-stop, it ticks all the boxes.

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Jidori Dalston

Jidori Dalston

£30 - £49
Japanese

89 Kingsland High Street, London, E8 2PB

The latest venture from Aussie chef Brett Redman, Jidori is a Japanese yakitori (grilled skewers) joint. Juicy Goosnargh chicken – thighs with spring onion; wings with shiso and grilled lemon; hearts and bacon – forms the meat of the fairly priced menu, though there’s a couple of vegetarian choices. The aubergine doused in miso butter is memorable, as is tsukune (tender minced chicken skewers with egg-yolk dip). An additional short selection of small plates occasionally veers into fusion street-food territory, including runny Scotch egg in katsu curry sauce, and koji-fried chicken perfectly seasoned with nori salt and lemon juice. The brief yet brilliant cocktail menu also uses Japanese flavours to great effect, with beer and saké providing back-up. Filled with local trendies, Jidori’s interior is a bright functional box of a room with chefs preparing food in full view – comfortable, no, but ideal for a bite before heading to the Rio Cinema.

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Lahore Kebab House

Lahore Kebab House

£30 - £49
Indian

2-10 Umberston Street, London, E1 1PY

“Gigantic restaurant, huge grills, fantastic curries, great value, always busy” – one reader’s snapshot of this legendary East End kebab house. Don’t expect much in the way of decor (Spartan is the word that comes to mind), but you can always amuse yourself by watching IPL cricket matches and Bollywood movies on the giant screens or marvelling at the chefs beavering away in the open-to-view kitchen. “Amazing” Punjabi-style tandooris are the headline act (don’t miss the emphatically spiced lamb chops), but the long menu also features everything from samosas and masala fish to velvety dhals and ghee-rich curries served in plain karahi bowls (methi ghost, chicken korma, lamb jalfrezi etc). Also check out the daily specials: murgh channa, meat pilau, chicken haleem with cracked wheat. Low prices, fast service and a BYOB policy seal the deal. Expect queues out the door (especially at weekends), but it’s worth the wait.

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Mangal 1

Mangal 1

£30 - £49
Turkish

10 Arcola Street, London, E8 2DJ

As smoke fills a side road off busy Stoke Newington High Street, large buckets of charcoal are carried in to feed the roaring monster inside this Turkish ocakbasi restaurant. You're face to face with the ocak grill as soon as you enter, and tables are packed tightly into the small room, but sit here rather than in the calmer extension next door, because the thrill of the grill is what it's all about. A chilled cabinet is stocked with kebabs, chops, chicken wings and quails – just order a plate of juicy mixed meats and a pile of spanking-fresh salad, plus some creamy cacik (yoghurt with cucumber and garlic) and tuck in. You can buy Turkish beer and red wine, but almost everyone brings their own – making dinner here even more of a bargain.

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Bành Bành Peckham

Bành Bành Peckham

£30 - £49
Vietnamese

46 Peckham Rye, London, SE15 4JR

Peckham Rye’s unstoppable rise to foodie prominence continues with the addition of this stylish Vietnamese canteen. Bánh Bánh’s Tardis-like dining room is a mix of bare bricks and exposed bulbs up front, with a wood-and-marble counter, sculpted stools, and potted plants; further back is a more make-do-and-mend affair, with petrol-blue or plywood-covered walls. The A4 menu offers ‘smallish’, ‘biggish’ and ‘classic’ dishes – so order starters and mains, or share everything as a family-style feast. A delicately dressed, fresh-flavoured bun noodle salad topped with pork sausages and tofu-stuffed spring rolls demonstrates the subtlety of Vietnamese cuisine; ditto the house ‘pancakes’ (prawn-topped Asian-style tortillas, for wrapping in perilla, mint and lettuce leaves). The best dish was the punchiest: juicy, lemongrass-marinated beef patties cooked in crinkly betel leaves. To drink, eager staff will serve you ice-cold coconut water, eastern-tinged cocktails, or something from the short beer list, which twins Peckham with, er, Saigon.

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Black Axe Mangal

Black Axe Mangal

Under £30
International

156 Canonbury Road, London, N1 2UP

When you take a hipster who’s spent 10 years working at St John Bread & Wine, a pop-up restaurant, a Copenhagen nightclub and a swish version of Turkish kebabbery, the result is bound to be pretty cool. Lee Tiernan and his wife Kate have created their own selection of ‘kebabs, beers and other tasty junk’. Forget pitta: instead you’ll find imaginative plates such as salty smoked cod roe and crisps, followed by plump mussels with deliciously fatty bacon and zingy chilli. A plate of meaty kids’ offal is a delight, gloriously balanced by a side of hispi cabbage. We greedily followed this with Chinese-spiced Adana of lambs' tongues (a revelation), which arrived with lashings of sauce that we dutifully mopped up with homemade flatbread. Drinks are equally good (including a cocktail list from Ryan ‘Mr Lyan’ Chetiyawardana): a Lagerita does the trick, counterbalancing the spice, but giving an extra Tequila kick. 

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Baiwei

Baiwei

Under £30
Chinese

8 Little Newport Street, London, WC2H 7JJ

Following on from big hitters Bar Shu, Ba Shan and the Baozi Inn, “scruffy, but cool-looking” Baiwei completes a gang of four Szechuan firecrackers in Soho Chinatown. The name means ‘a hundred flavours’, and the kitchen deals in authentic home-style dishes from the south-western province and neighbouring areas, with chilli warnings and plenty of anatomical curiosities on the pictorial menu. Choose from a lengthy assortment of ‘cold’ and ‘hot’ specialities ranging from aubergines with preserved egg or plates of pig’s ear, tongue and tripe dressed with astringent black vinegar to chilli-flecked lamb with roasted rice, bowls of dan-dan noodles or beef and coriander won tons in broth. It’s a tiny space with Spartan decor – save for some hand-painted Maoist propaganda posters proclaiming ‘the big leap forward’. Service can be “grouchy”, but it warms up slowly.

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Pastaio

Pastaio

Under £30
Italian

19 Ganton Street, London, W1F 9BN

Pastaio is the newest site from restaurateur Stevie Parle, who already oversees the likes of Rotorino and Palatino. Here at Pastaio, the name of the game is to serve plates of handmade pasta at pocket-friendly prices. Tightly packed tables lend themselves to creating buzz, while we have a sneaking suspicion that the vibrant pops of colour and marble-topped tables were chosen with Instagram in mind. Other millennial-bait includes great lemon-dashed Prosecco slushies and a moreish fried ’nduja, mozzarella and honey sandwich which is satisfyingly ‘dirty’, if not the instant classic we’d hoped for. Where  Pastaio really shines is in its eight pastas. Soft shells of malloredus are served with crispy shards of pork and a thick sausage sauce, while supremely velvety agnoli is folded over a gamey filling of pheasant, rabbit and pork. Desserts stick to the Italian classics, with the likes of tiramisu and a selection of gelato, but we were impressed by a flaky cannoli, dotted with jewels of pistachio and completed by a fluffy orange and saffron filling. It may not live up to the giddy heights of the much-lauded Padella, but for affordable, fun comfort food in the heart of Soho, we reckon Pastaio is worth every penne.

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Masala Zone Soho

Masala Zone Soho

£30 - £49
Indian
Under £30

9 Marshall Street, London, W1F 7ER

It wasn’t so long ago that ‘going for a curry’ meant throat-wrenching vindaloos, warm lager and lurid flock wallpaper. Masala Zone makes such provincial clichés seem like ancient history. This sparky, London-only group of Indian ‘brasseries’ is known for its smart service, ethnic soundtrack and folk art-bedecked interiors – the Rajasthani puppets at the Covent Garden branch are a must-see. As the cheap-but-chic member of the Chutney Mary, Veeraswamy and Amaya stable, bowls of bog-standard chicken tikka masala are beneath its dignity. No, Masala Zone is all about fresh, balanced meals inspired by Indian home cooking, market stalls and palace chefs. Kick off with street-food nibbles such as samosas, papdi chaat or jumbo prawns from the grill, ahead of a textbook thali featuring your choice of curry and daily changing accompaniments.

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Flat Iron Beak Street

Flat Iron Beak Street

£30 - £49
Steak

17 Beak Street, London, W1F 9RW

As the price of steak and chips in London nudges inexorably closer to three figures, it’s reassuring to find a credible joint that cheerfully does the business for a tenner. This one-time Shoreditch pop-up turned Soho hit has quite literally made its name with the ‘flat iron’ steak (a ‘secondary’ cut taken from the featherblade). The menu may be minimal, but that doesn’t make choosing any easier: horseradish or béarnaise sauce; creamed spinach or blue cheese salad; craft beer or spicy house red? The special burger is also a must if it’s advertised. Otherwise, the eponymous steaks are tender, flavoursome and seasoned with a wallop, though it seems churlish to quibble at these prices. Cramped communal seating and no reservations are a drag, but the downstairs cocktail bar more than makes amends.

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Yalla Yalla - Green

Yalla Yalla - Green's Court

£30 - £49
Lebanese

1 Green's Court, London, W1F 0HA

A welcome find down a jazzy old passageway between Berwick Street and Brewer Street, natty-looking Yalla Yalla serves ‘Beirut street food’ from a counter laden with baked goods. As well as falafel, shawarma and spicy potato or sausage wraps, there are savoury manaee’sh pastries with spinach or wild thyme and sumac, plus cherry or fig tarts. Bag a rustic wooden table and share some ‘highly affordable’ mezze, and ‘amazing, fresh and tasty’ mains such as charcoal-grilled minced lamb skewers (aka kafta meshoué) or marinated king prawns. Wines from the Bekaa Valley, including Château Kefraya, come in at around £5 a glass; otherwise, fruit juices (pomegranate, carrot, apple/mint/ginger) are available for refreshment. Be sure to book ahead or be prepared to wait, since it’s tiny and very popular.

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Tayyabs

Tayyabs

Under £30
Indian
Halal

83-89 Fieldgate Street, London, E1 1JU

Standing in line at venerable Tayyabs, it’s impossible not to wonder if it’s all worth it. But, once the queuing is over (factor in an hour), you’ll soon forget the hassle as the sound, smell and (finally) the taste of those sizzling hot tandoori lamb chops assails you. Since this “manic” family-run canteen started life on its east London backstreet in 1972, it’s been gussied-up just a little (the new bronze chairs and latticed screens actually look pretty smart), but it remains one of London’s favourite low-budget eateries, as popular with families and students as it is with rowdy City parties and mates on the town. Of course, you must have the lamp chops, but don’t overlook the biryani specials, “amazing” pumpkin curry and the better-than-it-sounds ‘dry meat’. Tayyabs is BYO, so choose something spice-friendly to go with your nosh. “Quick service” is exactly what’s required too.

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Gallipoli

Gallipoli

Under £30
Turkish
£50 - £79

102 Upper Street, N1 1QN

Its 15 years of service make Gallipoli an old timer on Upper Street, where competition is fierce. The Aladdin’s Cave decor and easy-going atmosphere are both reasons to return, but it’s the menu that most encourages repeat visits. Turkish and Lebanese cuisines combine in flavour-packed plates of spankingly fresh food. Main course-sized dishes are available (mostly grilled meats on pitta with yoghurt and the restaurant’s ‘special sauce’), but the best tip is to order a tableful of the inexpensive and delicious mezze – spicy Turkish sausage, börek (pastries stuffed with minced beef and pine kernels, or potato and leek), imam bayildi (melt-in-the-mouth stuffed aubergine) and creamy hoummos with baskets of fresh Turkish bread. To drink, there’s a gluggable house red at £11.95, a Châteauneuf-du-Pape for only £24.95, or Turkish Efes Pilsen.

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Istanbul Restaurant

Istanbul Restaurant

Under £30
Turkish

9 Stoke Newington Road, London, N16 8BH

If you’re looking for a decent meal at 3am (and many are, so close to Dalston’s late-night dens of iniquity), head for this capacious Turkish restaurant that’s open until 5am. Don’t limit yourself to dining in the wee small hours though – the food’s good, staff provide a warm welcome at any time, and a spruce-up has done away with the room’s previous 1990s-timewarp feel. The house speciality is iskembe (tripe soup), but there are plenty of alternatives to offal. Try the fresh hot and cold mezze, or the kebabs and grills (from simple lamb shish through to fillet steak). Fish and traditional dishes such as kuzu firin (joint of lamb in rich tomato and vegetable sauce) all come at impressively low prices too. Sip Efes Pilsen or raki, or choose from a decent selection of wines.

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Ugly Dumpling

Ugly Dumpling

Under £30
Chinese

1 Newburgh Street, London, W1F 7RB

This tiny, two-floor site is now home to a dumpling den, after a busy recent history in which it’s played host to Pitt Cue Co and Rockadolla hotdogs. Not the place to come if you want to discuss something secret (diners practically sit on each other’s laps), Ugly Dumpling is a buzzy space with simple interiors. The concise menu is split between ‘street food classics’ and ‘new favourites’; the dumplings come in portions of three pieces or you can opt to try all five varieties on each menu for £6, as we did. From the classics, we loved the fragrantly sweet duck dumpling and the sticky-glazed pork option, while stand-outs from the newer selection include an earthy mushroom and truffle combo. Don’t skip the fun sides either, which see crispy tempura aubergine drizzled in sweet honey dressing and topped with peanuts for extra crunch. Dumplings even appear for dessert; we preferred the sweet-as-can-be matcha tea and white chocolate take, while the blueberry variety came smothered in crème fraiche that was a little too thick. Chatty staff and run-of-the-mill cocktails complete the casual picture.  

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Ichibuns

Ichibuns

Under £30
Japanese

22 Wardour Street, London, W1D 6QH

Punnily named Ichibuns (ichiban refers to the number one in Japanese) is kitted out in rock-and-roll Tokyo-inspired decor, with house plants, hanging lights and multi-coloured scatter cushions spread over its three floors. The playful aesthetic extends to the menu, which kicks off with inventive snack offerings such as crispy panko-fried chicken wings served with a neon-yellow smoked sauce, or crunchy spring rolls stuffed with slow-cooked wagyu beef, spring onion and Romano pepper. The stars of the show, though, are the gut-busting Asian-style burgers. We loved the Ichiban, which featured the classic offering of beef patty, melted cheese, gherkin, red onion, tomato and smoky barbecue sauce. More adventurous options include the Hokkaido – two beef patties topped with shiitake mushrooms, earthy white truffle oil and a punchy blue cheese fondue – while thin and crispy French fries are the obvious side order. For pud, we opted for the green tea profiterole, a giant green choux bun encasing a scoop of vanilla ice cream, with sticky chocolate sauce to drizzle over the top. Don’t fancy dessert? Try one of the tooth-achingly sweet shakes instead, including the Sakura Cherry Blossom (milk and cherry ice cream with marinated cherries, pink and white marshmallows and cherry sauce). Fast, fun and reasonably priced for its location, Ichibuns is earmarked for a rollout, so all of London should be itching for these burgers soon.     

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Silk Road Camberwell

Silk Road Camberwell

Under £30
Chinese

49 Camberwell Church Street, London, SE5 8TR

Cheap and cheerful, with lots of communal tables for sharing and socialising, this Chinese canteen’s geographical and gastronomic marker is Xinjiang –  the vast north-west frontier province, once traversed by the ancient Silk Road trade route linking China and the Middle East. The food here is highly distinctive, with lots of Muslim, Mongol and central Asian influences allied to exotic spices and a liking for chilli – witness the unceremoniously titled ‘big plate chicken’, tripe and kidney shish kebabs or boiled lamb on the bone (‘use of hands recommended’, says the menu). Intriguing flavours and textures abound, from appetisers of cabbage with vinegar or ‘extra hot’ Chinese leaves to stir-fried pork with curly black fungus or hand-pulled noodles with assorted embellishments. The menu also extends to a decent selection of dumplings (pork and celery, lamb and onion, egg, leek and shrimp, for example), plus various tangy salads and nourishing broths. To drink, we’d suggest Chinese herb tea or a couple of bottles of Tsing Tao beer. Note: cash only. 

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Cantina Del 74

Cantina Del 74

Under £30
Mexican

Helgi’s, 177 Mare Street, London, E8 3RH

After opening a Clapton site in early 2017, this no-frills taqueria now has a second restaurant in London Fields. The brainchild of Boho Mexica founder Enrique Vivas and Jorge Felizardo (who helped to launch Taberna do Mercado), this 70s-inspired restaurant and bar is all about being authentically Mexican. As well as signatures including the fish taco and the cochinita pibil, the menu is mostly new. Expect the likes of beef brisket served with tortilla chips, a Mexican shrimp cocktail, and chicken thigh-stuffed tacos with a cucumber salsa. Cantina Del 74 is housed inside Scandi-inspired cocktail bar Helgi’s, so the drinks are mostly taken care of, but there are frozen margaritas on hand for those looking to have a true fiesta.

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Gökyüzü Finsbury Park

Gökyüzü Finsbury Park

£30 - £49
Turkish

26-27 Grand Parade, Green Lanes , London, N4 1LG

Veysel Yavuz and his family came to the UK in 1990 from Turkey’s farming community, settled in north London and bought a shop in Green Lanes, which eventually became the first branch of Gökyüzü. Rustic stone arches, tiles, ethnic pottery and artefacts set the tone in the dining room, while the food is true to the home country – albeit with influences from across the Mediterranean. “Awesome sharing platters” have been singled out, but the menu offers plenty for those who want to keep things to themselves: daily stews such as lamb with aubergines are a stomach-filling proposition, but there are also mezze plates, pide (Turkish pizzas), charcoal grills and specials ranging from yoghurtli adana (skewered minced lamb chopped on bread with tomato sauce, yoghurt and butter) to char-grilled sea bream or fried vegetables wrapped in lavash bread with cheese. Drink Turkish wine, raki or beer.

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