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The 100 best cheap eats in London: cheap dinners in London

Fill your belly without emptying your wallet with our pick of the city's top spots for an inexpensive evening meal

Ming Tang-Evans

London's not short on fantastic dinner options, but finding somewhere special for a budget evening out can be a challenge. Never fear – we’ve got some great dinnertime suggestions, straight from our guide to London's best cheap eats.

RECOMMENDED: The 100 best cheap eats in London

Baozi Inn

For chilli-hot Sichuan street food dishes, this communist-kitsch Chinatown café is the place to go – and the queues outside attest to it. Red (a sign of luck in China, and, fittingly, danger in the West) is present in many dishes, as a slick of chilli oil here, or lashings of sliced or whole chillies there. Most dishes have moderate heat levels, but some are genuinely tongue-numbing (beware of the generously portioned spicy beef noodles). Acceptably fiery delights include spicy dan dan noodles, deceptively hot cucumber salad and savoury crescent dumplings – opt for the ones floating in broth if more chilli oil is threatening to send you over the edge.

Meal for two with drinks and service: around £25

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Chinatown

Bibimbap

This bright and youthful Korean café offers ten confident versions of its namesake, plus plenty of supporting acts, and national beers and spirits. Classic bibimbaps include beef, chilli chicken, spicy pork or seafood, but vegetarians are well catered for too with tofu, mushroom, or brown rice, ginseng and ginkgo versions. All are served traditionally in a stone bowl – just add your own koch’ujang and doenjang sauces, mix it all up and away you go. Kimchi pancakes, fried dumplings and salads are also offered, but the results aren’t as consistent – best stick with the filling and flavour-laden main event.

Meal for two with drinks and service: around £28

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Soho

Canton

This plainly furnished Chinatown veteran seems be getting even more ragged around the edges. But don’t be misled by looks: Canton has become reliable once again for one-bowl dishes of rice-with-meat or noodles-with-meat. Rice comes in generous portions and is proudly served the traditional way (warm, with cold roast meat). Prices range from £5.80 to £7.30, making for an eminently wallet-friendly meal. But don’t overlook the list of hand-pulled and hand-sliced noodles, available with a range of toppings for £6.80-£8. Service is friendly and accommodating by Chinatown standards – we watched in admiration as staff tried to find something suitable for two elderly and rather demanding vegetarians.

Meal for two with drinks and service: around £20

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Chinatown

Ethos

Venue says: Come and try our brand new spring menu including aubergine meatballs, pumpkin fritters, farfarelle à la crème, Cuban salad and more!

A short walk from Oxford Circus, all-veggie Ethos is a self-serve buffet where you pay by weight (of the food, not yourself). At lunch £2.50 buys 100g of nourishment (£2.70 per 100g at dinner). The daily offerings might include dishes inspired by Japan, South-east Asia, Italy, Korea, India, Mexico and Lebanon, plus the kitchen’s own creations. Rather than worrying about whether Thai sweetcorn fritters go with Tuscan salad, you should surrender to a world tour – a mini-adventure in flavour, colour and texture. Though this is primarily a lunch spot, the drinks list includes three beers and a dozen wines. Keenly priced, vegetarian, great West End location – Ethos has it all.

Meal for two with drinks and service: around £35

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Soho

Four Seasons

There’s another branch of Four Seasons just around the corner, but we prefer this one for the slightly better service. Both have a long-established reputation for roast meats, on display in the window to whet your appetite. Poultry and pork are the stars: Cantonese roast duck is nicely crisp but still juicy, and not too fatty; char siu (Cantonese barbecued pork) had good sweet flavour. The house special Fujian fried rice makes a rich and tasty accompaniment. All these dishes cost under a tenner, and if you order your meat on plain rice the price comes down further still. The setting is slightly cramped and the service standard-issue Chinatown efficient.

Meal for two with drinks and service: around £35

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Chinatown

Indian YMCA

This Indian institution was set up as a home-from-home for sub-continental students newly arrived in the UK; 60 years on, you’re just as likely to find in-the-know Brits scarfing a cheap and tasty lunch here. The vibe is reminiscent of a school canteen: you queue at the counter, choose your dish from the pegboard menu, then sit down at communal wipe-clean tables to eat. The menu offers a mixture of freshly prepared North Indian-style curries, authentically spiced and served with comforting dal and mounds of colourful pilau rice, plus some South Indian delicacies – and bargain retro snacks such as tinned fruit for 75p.

Meal for two with drinks and service: around £15

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Fitzrovia

Ippudo

Ippudo’s first foray into Europe is in a polished modern space with international staff who keep things running smoothly – despite the often lengthy queues. But it’s worth a wait for the outstanding ramen: noodles in soup with various toppings. Try the pork loin, mushroom and thin noodles (made in-house) in the ‘Classic’ version, or for added oomph with spicy miso paste and black garlic oil (the ‘Akamaru Modern’). There are also two tasty vegetarian versions and loads of non-ramen choices. This is a no-bookings restaurant, and immensely popular, so put your name on the list and wait for a call, or arrive early – who knows, you might get lucky.

Meal for two with drinks and service: around £33

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Covent Garden

Jen Café

Dumpling devotees will love Jen. This simple, no-frills café occupies a prominent Chinatown corner site where the cooks sit in front of the windows hand-wrapping their wares. The cheapest dish is jiao zi, ‘Beijing dumplings’, costing a mere fiver: eight white sachets like overfilled ravioli, in either a pork or vegetarian version. Fry the same dumplings and they become guo tie, at £6. The won ton soup is yet another variation, and is worth the £6 for the intensely savoury stock. Jen serves plenty of other dishes, from buttered toast through to barbecued meats and noodle or rice dishes. But it’s the freshly made dumplings that keep us returning.

Meal for two with drinks and service: around £25

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Chinatown

Kanada-Ya

Venue says: Now open until 10.30pm on weekdays, 11pm on Saturdays and noon-8.30pm on Sundays.

This tonkotsu specialist (Japanese ramen noodles in soup) arrived in London in September 2014 and took the metropolis by storm. Small and brightly lit, it’s not for a leisurely meal. And the process has a serious downside: lengthy queuing. But there’s a reason for the queues, which always include plenty of Japanese and Chinese customers: this is exceptional ramen. The broth is one of the best in London. Thin wheat noodles are made on-site and cooked to your specification. Toppings are pork-heavy, and soft-boiled marinated eggs are a must-have accessory. If you want nothing more than excellent noodles in broth, Kanada-Ya is the place to come.

Meal for two with drinks and service: around £30

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Covent Garden

Koya

Top-notch, properly thick udon noodles are the draw here, all hand-made on the premises – or, more precisely, foot-made, since udon are traditionally kneaded underfoot. All three versions – atsu-atsu (hot), hiya-hiya (cold), or hiya-atsu (cold noodles in a hot dashi broth) – are equally yummy, although our favourites include the saba atsu-atsu, topped with pungent smoked mackerel and leafy vegetables. Plain walls and closely packed pale-wood sharing tables evoke a modern café and encourage table-turning – a must, since this original branch is usually full within minutes of opening. Arrive at 6pm sharp to guarantee a table, or try your luck at the second branch next door, which also does breakfast udon bowls.

Meal for two with drinks and service: around £35

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Soho
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19 Numara Bos Cirrik I

First-rate pide bread – featherlight and straight from the oven – marks out this perennially popular Turkish ocakbasi. Smoky grilled kebabs such as the adana (minced lamb) also draw the crowds, including many a Dalston hipster. The long list of mostly vegetarian meze dishes (from stewed green beans to Russian salad) can sometimes be put in the shade by the more robustly flavoured grilled food, and the restaurant’s interior also verges on the bland – but helpful staff, keen prices and nice touches such as izgara sogan (grilled onion with pomegranate juice) served with every meal, ensure that 19 remains a local institution.

Meal for two with drinks and service: around £38

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Dalston

Ariana II

A BYOB policy is just one of the lures enticing diners from across the capital into this unassuming Afghan venue. Prices are low, and the excellent cooking – an appealing menu of kebabs, tikkas and mild curries, plus distinctive Afghan specialities – links the Middle East with the Indian subcontinent. Congenial staff seat you in the simply furnished dining room (bare brick walls decorated with pictures of the homeland) and are happy to explain the more esoteric dishes: perhaps aushak (leek-filled dumplings topped with minced lamb and yoghurt) followed by kabuli palow (a biryani-like dish of lamb shank in pistachio-dotted rice). Note: there’s a minimum charge of £6.50 in the evenings.

Meal for two with drinks and service: around £33

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Outer London

Delhi Grill

Focusing on a concise list of home-style Punjabi dishes, this lively canteen-style joint brings budget priced street food to Chapel Market. Inside, corrugated iron and walls plastered with Bollywood posters and Indian newspapers produce a ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ aesthetic: an upbeat setting for sampling the likes of tilapia with coriander and coconut milk, or hearty slow-cooked rogan josh. Kick off with samosa chat, from a list that holds plenty for vegetarians, including chana, bhindi and tarka dal. Insistent bangla beats and unyielding seats make the venue more of a healthy, spicy pit-stop than somewhere to linger.

Meal for two with drinks and service: around £28

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Islington

Ealing Road (Wembley)

Ealing Road, which runs from Wembley Central to Alperton tube, has an outstanding cross-section of little cafés from the diaspora of the Indian subcontinent. Most people would regard the vegetarian Sakonis as first among equals, with its remarkably low-priced Indian-dominated menu and a small selection of Chinese dishes. But others of note include Asher’s Africana, specialists in vegetarian thalis and rotis; the dosai specialist Chennai Dosa, with low prices even by the standards of this inexpensive area; and Saravanaa Bhavan, with an extensive menu ranging widely throughout India and (on a smaller scale) into China. If you’ve not been before, start at Sakonis.

Meal for two with drinks and service: around £12-£25

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Wembley

Gökyüzü

Consistently the busiest restaurant in this most Turkish of locales, Gökyüzü retains its position as the go-to venue on Green Lanes for Turkish cuisine. Portions are generous, bordering on the reckless, for exceptional cooking. Start with the huge ‘small’ mixed meze served with bread from the wood-fired oven: highlights being a sprightly kısır loaded with mint and spring onion, a haydari rich with dill, and a fresh-tasting soslu patlıcan (grilled aubergine with tomato sauce). Continue with a kebab, or güveç (lamb and aubergine casserole) stewed to tender perfection in an earthenware pot. Occasionally rushed service, a large utilitarian interior and a limited wine list barely detract from the excellent food.

Meal for two with drinks and service: around £37

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Harringay

Hala

Everything looks great at this smart eat-in or takeaway joint. Waiting staff wear black waistcoats and yellow ties; grill chefs and the ladies sitting in the window hand-rolling gözleme (filled crêpes) add a dash of theatre; and plates such as the excellent mixed meze are assembled for maximum aesthetic impact. The grill is the main attraction, producing the likes of succulent lamb with puréed aubergine, or huge mixed kebab platters. Ordering from the latter, it’s possible to eat a full meal for under a tenner. There are a couple of grilled fish options too, along with manti (meat-filled dumplings), and some stewed dishes. Turkish breakfast dishes are served until 1pm.

Meal for two with drinks and service: around £35

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Harringay

Te Amo

Venue says: Now offering 10% off to all Time Out customers throughout this month. Please use code TIMEOUT when booking.

There are many decent kebab-shop-restaurants hereabouts, but Lebanese-run Te Amo is at the top of the league because of the exceptional care taken with the basics: ingredients, seasoning, cooking. Some of the long menu veers sharply away from the grilled meat and fish that’s the strong suit. Stay with the grill and you’ll get a good meal – though the mixed meze (£14 for two people) is just as good as the excellent kebabs. Wraps are the cheapest option (£5-£6 for a filling plateful); the freshly prepared and carefully seasoned salads are even better. Te Amo stays open very late on Saturdays, but with no alcohol licence it’s strictly for refuelling.

Meal for two with drinks and service: around £20

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Kentish Town

Le Rif

You don’t come to this caff for a souk-like atmosphere; nor do the sandwiches and jacket spuds on the lunchtime menu hold much appeal – it’s the outrageously cheap Moroccan dishes that attract clued-up Finsbury Parkers. Throughout the day the friendly owner can quickly conjure up starters such as lentil, chickpea and rice soup, or houmous with olives and flatbread, but we prefer heading straight for the excellent main courses: perfectly balanced fish tagine with spinach, olives, potato, aubergine and lemon; or couscous royale featuring tender, succulent chunks of chicken and lamb in a subtly spicy broth. Finish with pastries, and mint tea from a beautiful brass pot.

Meal for two with drinks and service: around £20

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Finsbury Park

Masa

Local Afghan families fill Masa’s long tables with chatter as enormous amounts of food are placed before them. A takeaway counter to one side and a burbling TV provide distractions, but fans come here for low prices and satisfying cooking: huge discs of soft, fragrant bread warm from the oven; delicate parcels of aushak dumplings with a spicy leek filling, topped with yoghurt and minced meat; mountains of fluffy pilau full of nuts and lamb; and warming, hearty stews of okra and lamb – perfect comfort food. Spices are delicate, culinary influences come from across the Middle East and Indian subcontinent, and diners on a budget will love the BYOB policy.

Meal for two with drinks and service: around £30

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London

Zeytoon

Freshly baked flatbread – crisp outside, pillow-soft inside – forms the basis of a meal at this Cricklewood stalwart. Eat it with Persian kebabs of lamb or chicken, or with Afghan specialities such as kalleh pacheh (lamb’s head and feet in broth), mantu (meat- and onion-stuffed dumplings with spicy sauce) and quroot (a sour cottage cheese made from sheep or goat’s milk). The menu divides pretty equally between kebabs and stews, and many dishes are available in vegetarian form. Murals depicting Persian myths are a prominent feature of the charming, kitsch, and very welcoming interior.

Meal for two with drinks and service: around £35.

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Cricklewood

Clutch

To paraphrase Henry Ford, you can have any dish as long as it’s chicken. Not that this hip outfit (opened 2014) serves ordinary fowl: every free-range piece comes slathered in one of six marinades. A ‘half bucket’ (thigh, drumstick and breast) arrives in a sticky slick of garlic and sweet soy. Each limb is firm and succulent (no bingo wings here). Portions are enormous; there are sides, such as double-cooked fries and salads, but you won’t need ’em. Such food goes brilliantly with alcohol – there’s drinking until 1am at weekends. Tricked out in monochrome, this is a highly stylised space, but loud retro tunes banish any hint of austerity.

Meal for two with drinks and service: around £38

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Haggerston

DF Mexico

This semi-permanent pop-up (which feels like a prototype chain) is a bad-ass version of Wahaca: and it’s fashionable in a very London way. Touchscreen pads take the order of the day, although real humans take your cash and deliver the booze – you collect everything else yourself. Annoying as this may be, as you teeter back to your table, it certainly helps keep prices low. And once you start eating, you’re unlikely to hold a grudge. DF Mexico combines carefree classics such as chunky guacamole, refried beans and colourful tacos with the current trend for gut-busting American dude food – so expect treats such as pulled pork burgers (aka ‘tortas’), or chilli steak with chipotle salsa.

Meal for two with drinks and service: around £35

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Spitalfields

Jubo

Venue says: Established in 2013. Jubo was conceptualised in 2012. The team spent six months developing recipes and perfecting Korean fried chicken. In August 2013, Jubo was launched as a full service restaurant in Shoreditch after securing residency at 68 Rivington Street. Jubo specialises in fast-casual Korean food. Drawing inspiration from the K-Towns of Manhattan and Wilshire Boulevard, Jubo provides the ultimate 'anju' experience (drinking with food) coupled with a compelling drinks menu featuring soju, signature cocktails and beer. We are a full service restaurant and take bookings for groups of six and above. Take out is also available.

It started life as a pop-up with a use-by date, but this Korean take on chicken as dude food (an alternative KFC) is still going strong, thanks to its high-quality renditions of the food we Brits seek out when we’ve had a few. Specialities come at all prices – some wallet-busting – but good-value options include strips of Korean-style fried chicken, nicely battered and coated in a finger-licking hot and sweet sauce. Also of note is the yaka mein, a bargainous beef noodle dish topped with cucumber, fried shallots and a boiled egg. Quick, friendly service, neon lighting, Korean beers and must-order sides (including piquant kimchi slaw) add to the cheap thrill.

Meal for two with drinks and service: around £25

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Old Street

Lahore Kebab House

Punjabi-style tandoori grilled meat and generous portions of ghee-laden curry at bargain prices draw crowds to this spartanly furnished spot – as does the BYO policy. Despite the capacious, two-storey interior, queues often snake out of the door at weekends. Piles of sweet onion bhajia and heavily spiced lamb chops might start a meal, before the choice velvety dals, boldly flavoured curries (many on the bone) and buttery naans. The house specials are worth ordering, especially the nihari (lamb shank) and the dry lamb curry. Everything is served in utilitarian karahi bowls with a minimal amount of fuss. (NB: unlicensed; no corkage charge).

Meal for two with drinks and service: around £25

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Whitechapel

Mangal Ocakbasi

Prices have tripled in the 20 or so years since meat was first grilled at this famous Turkish café. The place is a mite tatty, cash-only, and the starters aren’t worth bothering with (the likes of bog-standard taramà, houmous and patlıcan salata). Nevertheless, grills from the enormous mangal by the entrance are still sublime. Try the cop sis (rich, succulent grilled lamb) or tavuk beyti (a delicately garlicky, melty kebab of minced chicken). The service isn’t always the friendliest, and entertainment consists of watching the grill chefs juggling skewers and flipping meat – but the kebabs here still sing, and that’s all that really matters (NB: unlicensed; no corkage charge).

Meal for two with drinks and service: around £35

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Dalston

Mien Tay

It may look slightly down at heel, and the two-room interior is a little cramped, but Mien Tay is nevertheless a great place to get authentic, top-notch Vietnamese food. The low prices attract young, mainly non-Vietnamese diners for the likes of stir-fried green mussels with ginger and spring onion (a delight), or scallops with black bean sauce. Seafood hotpot (for a minimum of two diners) seems equally appealing. The chef here obviously has a way with seafood. As well as the usual two beers (Tiger and Saigon), Mien Tay has a concise but excellent wine list, chosen by Willie Lebus of Bibendum.

Meal for two with drinks and service: around £30

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Haggerston

Miss Chu

This little hole in the wall stretches back to a long corridor and kitchen. Here, classic Vietnamese street and café food is produced both for a busy takeaway and delivery business and for eat-in customers who are packed on to tiny tables below an array of artful hanging lamps. Specials are chalked on a blackboard; orders are taken at the kitchen counter. Among the many options on the menu, we rate the filling pho (beef noodle soup) and the banh mi (filled baguettes). The fair pricing gets a big thumbs-up too.

Meal for two with drinks and service: around £25

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Song Que

The undoubted star of the Kingsland Road Vietnamese scene, Song Que is constantly packed with happy customers, including Vietnamese locals. It’s big, light, airy and vibrant, recently redecorated, and serves good food that’s highly authentic – and great value. The pho noodle soups are excellent and come in 24 versions (from ‘rare sliced steak, well-done flank and tripe’ to hot and spicy tofu), all priced at £8.40. Starters are also worth trying: chargrilled quail, perhaps, or a traditional crispy pancake filled with prawns and chicken. Entering its thirteenth year of trading, this family-run business still has a buzz about it.

Meal for two with drinks and service: around £30

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Haggerston

Tonkotsu East

An offshoot of the Soho noodle bar, this larger Haggerston operation opened in 2013 occupying a cavern-like space under railway arches. Like the bare-brick decor, the menu is minimal, matching four types of impeccable ramen with a handful of side dishes to produce big bowls of comfort food. A dish of dipping ramen (tsukemen) comes with thick-cut noodles topped with rolled pork slices, half a soft-boiled egg and a bowl of thick, deep pork-bone broth. The balance of sweet and savoury in a vegetarian mushroom and miso ramen was less successful, but it’s the noodles – made in full view at the back of the premises – that deserve acclaim.

Meal for two with drinks and service: around £36.

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Haggerston

Apollo Banana Leaf

Disco lights twinkle round the door, cheap wall art depicts idyllic mountain scenes, but it’s the cooking that attracts devotees of fiery food to this modest Tooting restaurant. The prices are divertingly low (especially when you factor in the BYO policy), and spice levels are at authentic Jaffna levels: so prepare to face the heat. Street food snacks (‘short eats’) include croquette-like mutton rolls with clove-spiked meat fillings. Follow them with typically Sri Lankan string-hopper dishes (featuring rounds of steamed vermicelli noodles), or rich, warmly spiced crab masala – claws and all. Worth getting messy for (NB: unlicensed; no corkage charge).

Meal for two with drinks and service: around £20

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Tooting

Beyrouths

You may fear you’re walking through a building site when entering Beyrouths – with its bright lights, rough-hewn woods and huge metal scaffolding poles (a deliberate design element) – but this branch of the Lebanese mini-chain is a surprisingly polished operation. The food of Beirut is the kitchen’s forte. Friendly, efficient staff dish out a roll-call of crowd-pleasers: from well-made houmous (garnished with virgin olive oil and fresh pomegranate seeds) to juicy pieces of grilled lamb and deliciously smoky baba ganoush. Vegetarian stews, such as okra served with vermicelli rice and garlic yoghurt, are also worth a punt – especially given the decent portion sizes.

Meal for two with drinks and service: around £35

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Balham

Brixton Market

What began as an initiative to regenerate Granville Arcade has been more successful than many locals could have imagined when a clutch of hopeful entrepreneurs started trading in its dingy aisles – among them Cornercopia, Kaosarn and Federation Coffee. Since then, the phenomenon has snowballed, with dozens of food businesses springing up among the vintage bric-a-brac stores and die-hard market stalls. Some of them (Honest Burgers, Mama Lan) have since made the leap to bricks-and-mortar premises in central London and beyond; others (French & Grace) have bagged publishing deals. Roam the market’s dusty avenues and graze at will – from Japanese-style pancakes at steam-filled Okan, to spiced lamb and halloumi wraps at French & Grace.

Takeaway meal per head: around £4-£8

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Brixton

Café East

Tucked in a corner of the Surrey Quays Shopping Centre car park, Café East rewards intrepid diners who manage to find it. Inside, the sparsely furnished room has big square tables packed with happily guzzling South-east Asian customers. The menu is an edited-down list, each dish portrayed in an adjoining colour picture. Try the herby summer rolls to start, perhaps followed by one of the beautifully flavoured pho noodle soups: the choice ranges from traditional beef to king prawns in a chicken broth. Prices are low, making this an ideal place for groups to enjoy a veritable Vietnamese banquet (NB: unlicensed; no alcohol allowed).

Meal for two with drinks and service: around £25

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Surrey Quays

Chicken Shop

Tooting marked another step on its way to becoming the new Shoreditch with the opening of Chicken Shop, the area’s first really stylish bar and grill. No prizes for guessing what’s on the menu – apart from sides and puddings such as deep-filled apple pie and the like, there’s nothing but free-range chicken from the spit – but the kitchen does a simple thing very well indeed. Its pedigree (this is a Soho House operation) doubtless helps. No bookings: arrive off-peak if you don’t want to wait at the tiny bar.

Meal for two with drinks and service: around £40

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Tooting

Dosa n Chutny

Classic South Indian breakfast and snack dishes are beautifully rendered at this basically furnished Tooting café. Rarely have we seen such a perfect dosai: crisp on the outside, moist and rice-fragrant on the inside, served with rich sweet sambar (spicy lentil dip). Most of these meals cost under £3, so even bargain-hunters can order with abandon. The non-veg options are okay – mutton and chicken tandooris and curries mostly, though you will find some Sri Lankan kothu (bread biryani) dishes hovering around the £5 mark – but meat-free food is the star.

Meal for two with drinks and service: around £18

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Tooting

Mama Lan

A family affair inspired by the Beijing stall run by owner Ning Ma’s grandparents, this engaging Chinese café serves hearty northern-Chinese street food in the ramshackle environs of Brixton Village Market. Dumplings are the USP here; brown-bottomed beef and pork pot-stickers fly out of the kitchen and into the crowded dining room at an impressive rate, but veggie versions filled with wood-ear mushroom, spinach and vermicelli are also worth a try (at a fiver for five, it would be rude not to). Other crowd-pleasers include spicy chicken wings in a hot and smoky sauce and the smacked cucumber, a chilli-garlic taste bomb.

Meal for two with drinks and service: around £20

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Brixton

Meze Mangal

Refurbished in 2013, and moving a notch upmarket in the process, Meze Mangal remains south-east London’s top Turkish restaurant, and the match of many on north London’s Green Lanes. The decor now features parquet flooring, spotlights and long tables, but it’s the charcoal grill that still takes centre stage. From here come the likes of bıldırcın (grilled quail) and patlıcan kebab (aubergine with minced lamb). Nevertheless, it’s on the list of freshly baked pide breads where you’ll find the best value; toppings range from spinach, onions and cheese to Turkish sausages with cheese, egg and tomatoes. A decent choice of meze dishes and Turkish wines boosts the appeal.

Meal for two with drinks and service: around £40

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South East London

Mongolian Grill

Two meals – hotpot and Korean barbecue – are the speciality at this backstreet restaurant in Clapham’s Old Town. There’s an enormous help-yourself buffet of fish, meat and vegetables: all raw. Food hygiene is scrupulously maintained, with the steel containers frequently replenished by fresh items, and individual tongs used. Diners take their chosen ingredients to their table for grilling (the Korean route) or boiling in stock. We recommend a half-and-half hotpot: one side with a subtle broth (for fish and veg) the other with spicy stock (for the likes of pork belly). Cheery service adds to the fun.

Meal for two with drinks and service: around £30

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Clapham

Silk Road

Dishes from the north-west Chinese province of Xinjiang are reason enough to embark down Camberwell’s congenial little Silk Road: a cheerful if functional spot. You’ll find Central Asian-style dumplings and kebabs on the short menu, and a few Sichuan dishes, but best is the noodle and stew section. ‘Medium chicken’ is a wonderfully rich star anise-and-chilli-flavoured broth bobbing with chicken on the bone, plus potatoes. When you near the end, your waiter will bring superb handmade noodles to add to the broth. Salads of kelp or cucumber are a refreshing nod to any health initiatives you may have embarked upon.

Meal for two with drinks and service: around £30

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Camberwell

Abu Zaad

A sometimes boisterous collection of families, couples and teenagers heads for this vast Syrian restaurant in search of fuss-free dining. The food, brought by zippy waiters, matches the relaxed, café-style setting: it’s cheap and portions are huge. A sharing meze of cold starters – including parsley-packed tabouleh and lashings of thick houmous – is a filling meal in itself, while a main course of tomato rice maklouba (topped and filled with chunks of lamb and slivers of fried aubergine) is enough for two. Kebabs are served with rice, bread and salad. Ease down the carbs with a glass of salty yoghurt ayran or a freshly squeezed juice (NB Unlicensed; no alcohol allowed).

Meal for two with drinks and service: around £32

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Shepherd's Bush

Galicia

Galicia has changed little in its many years in north Notting Hill. Locals clearly like stopped clocks, because they pile in at weekends to order not just tapas but an astonishingly cheap set lunch: three courses for £11.50. In the dining room at the back, you can people-watch while tucking into unashamedly old-fashioned tapas. Batter-fried bacalao (salt cod) and a textbook pulpo a la gallega (boiled octopus with extra virgin olive oil, coarse salt and paprika) are particular high points. With tapas starting from £3.75, and nothing over £9, this is just great value – especially for a place that provides a living connection with London’s past.

Meal for two with drinks and service: around £34

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Westbourne Park

Gold Mine

Top marks go to the Cantonese roast meats here – Gold Mine is famed for them, attracting students, locals and even visitors from Hong Kong. Flavours are big, and dishes can be oily: don’t miss the duck or the char siu (barbecued pork). Thick-cut pieces of deep-fried squid arrive with a whopping amount of garlic and chilli, and equally hearty is the ‘house special beancurd’: pei pa tofu served with shiitake and baby pak choi in a dark soy sauce. Less attention is paid to the decor, with its red and white colour scheme and cheery gold-framed pictures of vintage Chinese scenes, but diners don’t care: they’re here for a roasting.

Meal for two with drinks and service: around £38.

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Bayswater

Heron

A dark, cramped basement beneath a shabby boozer might not seem an auspicious setting, but crowds of Thai diners provide the clue to the Heron’s success – here you’ll discover some of London’s most authentic Thai food. The kitchen specialises in northeastern cooking, offering multifarious spicy salads, sour curries and stir-fries. From the ample list, the sour sausages (sai krok esarn), served in bite-sized bobbles, produce plenty of garlicky tang, while a searingly hot and sour salad of stir-fried minced pork and crisp-fried rice ball pieces has the perfect balance of sweet, salty and sour notes. Things get lively after 9pm as the dining room doubles as a karaoke lounge.

Meal for two with drinks and service: around £40

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Edgware Road

Mosob

The immensely friendly staff at this compact Harrow Road restaurant are happy to explain all aspects of Eritrean culture. But the main event is the cooking, especially the gloriously diverse vegetarian choices; these include beautifully spiced lentils (timtimo), pounded and stewed chickpeas (shiro) and spinach (hamli). Meat eaters also fare well, thanks to the Mosob special (marinated lamb chops with spinach and lentils) and the muscular combination of hamli mis siga (tender stewed beef with spinach and garlic). Everything is served on spongy, yeasty injera, which is also used to scoop up the food. To end, don’t miss the coffee ceremony, which incorporates a side helping of warm popcorn.

Meal for two with drinks and service: around £38

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Westbourne Park

New Asian Tandoori Centre

Once a basic canteen, this Southall stalwart now boasts two highly presentable dining rooms next to its takeaway counter. Know the strengths of Punjabi cuisine and you’re likely to receive food of rare excellence: served by smart, black-clad staff. Choose a tandoori dish to start. Tandoori fish is succulent and tender beneath its tangy seared surface. Likewise, order thick, savoury Punjabi curries as a main course – the moreish dal, or chicken methi full of flavoursome thigh meat and abundant fenugreek leaves – and accompany them with one of an outstanding array of breads (the tissue-thin roomali roti and the onion kulcha are recommended). Many diners are from the local Sikh community.

Meal for two with drinks and service: around £28

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London

Ngon

Meaning ‘delicious’ in Vietnamese, Ngon lives up to its name. This friendly daytime venue has two dining sections: a front area with functional low tables and rattan stools, and a hidden, regular tabled seating space at the back. Vietnamese staples such as banh mi, noodle soups and rice dishes account for most of the low-cost menu. Lotus root salad introduces the country’s cuisine well – mixed herbs and lotus root strips topped with tender slices of pork and prawns. Next, try the house special rice set with fragrant grilled pork and delicately flavoured crab and pork egg terrine. Drink bubble tea, interesting brews such as artichoke tea, or Vietnamese drip coffee. (NB: unlicensed; no alcohol allowed.)

Meal for two with drinks and service: around £25

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Chiswick

Shilpa

Ignore the unprepossessing decor of this South Indian neighbourhood restaurant – Shilpa is all about the food. The Keralan cooking mixes the likes of explosive chilli heat, nutty mustard seeds, fragrant curry leaves and toasty peppercorns in dishes ranging from aromatic steamed sea bass (theatrically unwrapped from its banana leaf at the table) to first-class curries such as chemmeen mulakittathu, a prawn and tomato masala sharpened with a kick of tamarind. Meat dishes also find favour – try the Keralan speciality of erachi mappas, tender bites of lamb in a coconut-rich sauce. Lunch is the time to visit, when wallet-friendly set menus come in at under a tenner.

Meal for two with drinks and service: around £40

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Hammersmith

Sufi

Venue says: Enjoy a variety of home-cooking stews, grills, dips and traditional hearty dishes such as lamb shanks with dill rice.

A fantastic option for low-priced Persian food, Sufi has maintained top form since opening in 2007. Rugs and instruments hanging from its walls try to inject excitement into the decor, but the cooking needs no such help. Walnuts and garlic give spice and texture to the aubergine dip of kashk-e bademjam, though it’s kashk (whey) that makes it so moreish. Taftoon flatbread, from the clay oven by the window, is the ideal accompaniment. To follow, chelo koobideh (minced lamb kebab) is spot-on. Even better is khoresht-e fesenjan, glorious chicken stew in a sauce of ground walnuts and pomegranate molasses. Doogh (yoghurt drink) makes a perfect foil to this rich food.

Meal for two with drinks and service: around £30

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West London

Comments

2 comments
Jess
Jess

What about SPUD? Or Street Kitchen?

Jo
Jo

There're places is London where you can have a dinner with a glad of wine for 2 for less than £20 (wetherspoon) The food in they serve is always lovely!