London: Cheap EatsApril 7, 2015
There’s no doubt that London is an expensive place for a holiday, and food prices are no exception (especially when you’re battling with a weak AUD). Having said that, there are plenty of great places to eat that don’t burn through your holiday fund. Here are a few of our favourites from London.
4 Meard St, Soho, London WIF 0EF
Honest Burgers was one of the first places we ate at while in London. We’d enjoyed a morning spent at the National Gallery, and were wandering around Soho for a feed. A couple of my friends who had been studying in London suggested Honest Burgers as one of the best burgers in the city. They have several locations around London, including a small shop in Soho.
After a short wait outside, we sat down in the politely cramped but cheery restaurant. The menu is no-frills, pure burger love – with variations on a classic beef burger, a chicken burger and a cauliflower fritter as the vegetarian option. All burgers came with rosemary salted chips, and the menu pre-warns that burgers are cooked to medium/pink, unless otherwise requested. It all sounded pretty perfect to me.
To drink, a couple of homemade lemonades went down a treat – cold and tart and refreshing, and served in the ever-so-cool jars with candy striped straws.
Not a moment too soon, our burgers arrived. I think it’s safe to say that we demolished them (Alex and I being known to demolish a burger every now and then). We both ordered the ‘Honest’, a beef burger with red onion relish, smoked bacon, mature cheddar, pickled cucumber and lettuce. They were really good. I mean, really, seriously fantastic. Nothing revolutionary, but then again the best burgers are always the classics.
The chips were a happy, salty tumble of oddly cut fingers with crisp edges and some slightly squidgy bits. Beef, chips and lemonade, what more could a girl want?
83-89 Fieldgate Street, Whitechapel, London E1 1JU
Alex and I had dinner at Tayyabs with a group of friends from my undergrad days spent in Bristol. It was really good to catch up, and I was so excited to see them all that I think the food took second fiddle (a rare thing for me). Nonetheless, tayyabs is an excellent and cheap restaurant in East London serving up Punjabi cuisine (a spicy and flavoursome mix of Indian and Pakistani food). We went for dinner mid-week, and even then there was a queue out the door, so I’d advise booking.
The go-to dish, really, are the lamb chops. Order them, order two serves if you must, and make sure you eat them fresh off the grill because they are fantastic while piping hot. Spicy and charred and juicy, they’re probably the best thing on the menu.
With a couple of vegetarians at the table, we ended up with quite a few vegetarian dishes. Fortunately, I’ve always thought that Indian/Pakistani food is excellent for verge dishes, because they never compromise on spices or flavour, and often some of my favourite Indian dishes are vegetarian The karahi tarka dahl was particularly good, with a tumeric-yellow colouring to it. The karahi bhindi, a braised curry with okra, cumin seeds and garlic was spicy and delicious. We also ordered another veggie dish but I can’t remember what it was. I’m thinking eggplant, based on the photo below, but I’m not 100% sure.
Along with the lamp chops, another meat dish we ordered was a dry beef curry, heavily spiced and incredibly hot. Then there was a chicken karahi, which is cooked using a traditional Pakistani method where ingredients are simmered for a long time in a very deep pot, with different layers of species added over time. It was more mild than the beef, but still pretty hot.
To mop up extra sauce and help with the heat of the food, some rice and the obligatory serve of naan. The peshwari naan we ordered was surprisingly sweet because of the addition of almond paste, cinnamon and sesame seeds. Overall, the food here was pretty hot, chilli-wise. I loved it, but I also found myself reaching for our BYO beers quite frequently. And hey, at least it’s an excellent way to get warm after being outside in the cold. Highly recommend Tayyabs for dinner, the food several notches above your average greasy Indian joint, and very reasonably prices.
56 Shoreditch High Street, Shoreditch, London E1 6JJ
The one thing I struggled to find in London was good pizza. I think we’re spoiled in Melbourne, with the likes of DOC, 400 Gradi and others putting out excellent authentic pizzas at good price points. Admittedly, I didn’t get around to Franco Manca in Fitzrovia, but I did pay a visit one night to Pizza East in Shoreditch.
Shoreditch is to London what Collingwood is to Melbourne – traditionally working class, increasingly gentrified, and populated by hipsters and other cool people. Pizza East is an enormous bunker-like space with dim lights, exposed ceilings and a large central bar.
I met H and C for dinner, and we settled in with a couple of glasses of house red and a pint before getting stuck into some pizzas. H enjoyed a pizza with fontina cheese and wild mushrooms. I’m always a fan of mushroom pizzas, and this one looked particularly good, glistening slightly and generously topped with a variety of mushrooms and thyme.
C, also a vegetarian, ordered a pizza with white and purple potatoes, puzzle (a type of cheese) and rosemary. A winning combination of carb on carb, this one got very good feedback from C, with the purple potatoes adding some colour to the plate.
I went with my perennial favourite, the San Danielle. It’s pretty hard to go wrong with a San Danielle frankly, as long as you’re using good ingredients. A sweet tomato base, milky burrata and a couple of sheets of salty prosciutto. Pretty great stuff.
Overall, I really enjoyed Pizza East – it’s cool, loud, and the pizzas are good. Not quite as good as the pizzas at DOC or 400 Gradi in Melbourne, though. I found myself wishing the dough was a bit tastier, and had more of a bubbly-burnt crust, but then I think we’re spoiled for choice over here. A solid option for pizza in London, and reasonable prices too, with most pizzas coming in around the 13 pound mark.
Fernandez & Wells
1-3 Denmark Street, Soho, London WC2H 8LP
A great place for coffee, lunch or a glass of wine at the end of a day is Fernandez and Wells. I won’t call it a chain, but the cafe brand has lots of shops around London – we visited the one near the British Museum – the sandwiches here were much better than the ones on offer at the museum cafe!
Walking in, we’re greeted by a long central bar loaded up with sandwiches, rolls and cafes. The space is modern and simple, with polished concrete and timber floors, benches along the floor-to-ceiling windows, and a neon sign of a boar over the coffee bar.
The lunch options are simple but delicious – perhaps a ciabatta with grilled chorizo and roasted peppers, or a bap with goats cheese, baby spinach and eggplant, or poached chicken with heirloom tomatoes and harissa. There’s also a small menu of salads and soups, but we were too taken with the bread offerings to look any further.
Alex went classic with a toasted baguette of ham, cheddar and pickles, an oldie but a goodie.
I had a meat fest of prosciutto, finocchiona, mortadella, parmesan and aioli in a ciabatta – salty meaty, and goddamn delicious.
Then, as a little treat, we shared a slice of lemon and olive oil cake. I know lemon/olive oil cake sounds dull, but olive oil is actually a wonderful substitute for butter in cakes because it gives them a more savoury, herbaceous taste. An Italian friend of the family often makes a similar cake when we’re over at her house for tea, and I’m on the hunt for a good recipe. Along with an earl grey tea, a slice of this was the perfect afternoon treat!
Fernandez & Wells is definitely one to keep in mind for coffee or lunch while in London – check out their other locations online. In the evenings, the cafes turn into wine bars, and are perfect for a glass of red and a little board of charcuterie.
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