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

Pick up a great mid-day meal for less with our guide to the city's best lunchtime bargains

Annie Armitage

Still wasting your lunch hour noshing on disappointing supermarket sandwiches? You deserve better! Treat yourself to some of these brilliant lunch bargains selected from our guide to London's best cheap eats.

RECOMMENDED: The 100 best cheap eats in London

Cheap lunches in central London

Café TPT

This long-time Chinatown stalwart had a refurb early in 2015, but you’d hardly know it. The place is still unassuming, still tiny (and with a tinier kitchen), and still packed at lunchtimes. Its substantial dishes can fill you up easily. An ideal smaller meal for two would be a sizzling hotpot of silken tofu stuffed with minced prawns in a gingery sauce (£10.50), plus a major-league bargain of roast duck on rice (£6.50). Add a plainly cooked vegetable (£7-£8.50) and you have a complete meal. If you’re dining alone, order the prawn dumpling noodle soup: five tasty dumplings in a concentrated broth. A steal at £6.50.

Meal for two with drinks and service: around £28

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Chinatown

City Càphê

This popular pit-stop adds a bit of colour to the City’s restaurant extremes of workaday chains or fancy-pants affairs – which is why you’ll generally encounter a (fast-moving) queue at lunchtime. Inside the bright, modern, but cramped interior, choose from a clear, concise menu of lightly spiced noodle soups (bun hue or pho), Vietnamese baguettes (banh mi), vermicelli salads, jasmine rice dishes and delicate summer rolls. Banh mi is the most popular choice (they’re easy to take back to the office if you can’t find a seat); try the ‘classic pork’ option, a baguette filled with succulent pork, earthy liver pâté, fiery chilli, crunchy veg and fresh coriander.

Meal for two with drinks and service: around £20

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Mansion House

Daddy Donkey

Generally, there’s not much to distinguish one London burrito dispensary from another. But we’ve learned to love those filling and flavoursome wraps of meat, beans and seasonings, and are often willing to queue at length for a taste of our favourite. And few queues are longer than those that form every lunchtime outside Daddy Donkey – formerly a stall in Leather Lane market and now a corner shop with a high counter and a few bar stools. Wait your turn and order burritos, tacos or tostadas with a choice of fillings and accessories including sauces from mild to very hot.

Meal for two with drinks and service: around £25

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Farringdon

Exmouth Market

No doubt keen to measure up to the remarkable standard of the restaurants flanking it, Exmouth Market’s food market has gone from strength to strength since it was reintroduced to the charming pedestrianised stretch in 2006. Judging by queues, the most popular stall is Ghanaian specialist Spinach & Agushi, which serves jollof rice with two meaty stews and freshly fried plantains for £5. But there are plenty of other gems among the regularly changing traders. Vendors might include Mac & Cheese, Meat Head BBQ, La Cochinita (Spanish dishes), and Freebird burritos, among others. Some local restaurants also get in on the act: Paesan doing pastas on our most recent visit.

Takeaway lunch dishes: around £5-£8 per head

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Clerkenwell

Herman ze German

This is London’s number-one purveyor of German sausages, manufactured for the firm in the Black Forest. The group opened a third outlet in Charlotte Street in 2014, but the Soho branch remains our favourite for dining in. The location is unbeatable, and despite being a fast-food joint, this is a place where you’re happy to hang out. The dogs are a delight, whether bratwurst, bockwurst, or chilli beef. Some side dishes vary in quality but the sauerkraut is simple and consistent: combined with a sausage, it makes a complete meal (after adding mustard, natch). Your wurst comes in a high-quality bread roll, but can be served with just a salad.

Meal for two with drinks and service: around £25

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Soho

Hummus Bros

The humble chickpea purée gets a serious uplift from the three branches of Hummus Bros. This original outlet on Wardour Street retains its simple decoration even after a refurb, with big tables designed for communal eating. The menu is simple: houmous in bowls or wraps, with assorted toppings and a few side dishes. We like the bowls (choice of small or medium serving), and our favourite topping is chunky slow-cooked beef. Side dishes are major strengths, especially smoky-fragrant barbecued aubergine and tabouleh salad served in a massive portion. Speedy service is perfect for lunch, but the outlets are also open at dinner, with prices a couple of quid higher.

Meal for two with drinks and service: around £20

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Soho

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

Koshari Street

Koshari Street serves little else but koshari, a filling Egyptian street snack of lentils, pasta and rice topped with tomato sauce, fried onions and doqqa (dukkah: an Egyptian spice blend). Furnishings are basic – the bar stools are at a shallow counter facing the wall – but you’ll come away full and well nourished. The dish is very filling, and also extremely tasty thanks to the sauce (available in mild, hot or very hot versions), the spices, and the skilfully fried onions. A small pot costs just £3. There’s also a soup and some salads, for those wanting to avoid the starch. We’re ready to walk down this street any time.

Meal for two with drinks and service: around £17

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Covent Garden

Maoz Vegetarian

The formula here is simple and satisfying. You take a tray and the brisk, friendly staff put on it a pitta bread crammed with crunchy falafels – fried, expertly, a few feet from where they’re served. Then you shuffle along to the irresistible salad bar buffet, and fill the pitta further with excellent garnishes: salads, pickles, olives and the like. Many people get takeaways, but there are a few tables where you can perch and watch Soho street life. And if you’re feeling virtuous by virtue of eating this healthy vegetarian meal, the excellent chips may be the indulgent reward you’re looking for.

Meal for two with drinks and service: around £19

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Soho

Malletti

Most people use Malletti as a takeaway, and so do we: it is deservedly popular with local office workers and casual strollers-around-Soho. But if you can bag a high stool, it becomes a pleasant place to sit and enjoy the bustle. The large selection of pizzas – served, Italian-style, in rectangular slices – caters well to both omnivores and vegetarians. There’s also focaccia with assorted toppings, and a pasta and risotto of the day. Some people will warm to the sign on the wall saying that customers talking on their mobile phone will be ignored.

Meal for two with drinks and service: around £12

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Soho
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Cheap lunches in north London

Arancini Factory

Venue says: G'day! The Arancini Brothers have been shortlisted in the 2016 Love London Awards.

Kentish Town never knew how much it loved arancini – Sicilian-style deep-fried risotto balls – until this affable caff opened in 2012. Now the place is a firm favourite locally. The arancini are served in several forms: plain (‘naked’), with salad, in wraps, or accompanied by a stew (we like the all-veg version). There are other options too, such as poached eggs, egg wraps and bagels for breakfast, and toasted sandwiches. Try the ‘full breakfast bagel’: ham, onion jam, roast tomato, fried egg and cheese. Note: the small garden eating area at the back is a haven of quiet in good weather.

Meal for two with drinks and service: around £16

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Camden Town

Franks Canteen

Franks is open during the daytime only, but what it lacks in opening hours it makes up in quality. The kitchen produces great breakfasts, brunches and lunches, with dishes starting at around £5 for sandwiches and most of the weekly changing mains costing less than £10. All egg dishes are excellent; the kedgeree in particular is a natural-born killer and quiches will make you newly aware of the virtues of this café cliché. Just to add icing to the cake, it’s a lovely place to look at: clean, crisp, and light-filled when the sun’s out.

Meal for two with drinks and service: around £28

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Highbury

Hook Camden Town

Hook is one of a growing catch of London chippies that are not really ‘chippies’ at all. It’s a serious fish restaurant that just happens to major in fish and chips. The fish is either lightly battered (the results nearly 100 percent grease-less) or coated in panko (Japanese breadcrumbs). And with the coatings are often seasoned, you’ll barely feel the need for condiments – but the sauces are all first-rate. As are the side dishes, which bear little relation to typical chip-shop offerings. Hook has already hooked the full spectrum of Camden’s citizenry, and with quality like this, it’s easy to see why.

Meal for two with drinks and service: around £35

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Camden 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

Mario's Café

Set in one of Kentish Town’s prettiest streets, Mario’s has been an incredibly popular and community-minded daytime spot for decades. The emphasis on community means that prices are lower than much of the competition; a full breakfast for under a fiver is not so easy to find as Kentish Town moves upmarket. And the quality of the cooking is a cut above. Yes, you’ll find standard caff stuff – eggs, grills, sandwiches, jacket potatoes – but what sets this place apart is the Italian cooking, by Mario’s mum. It’s genuine casalinga (home-style) cuisine in a modest setting at modest prices. Small wonder that the caff is almost always packed.

Meal for two with drinks and service: around £18

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Kentish Town

Cheap lunches in east London

Counter Café

A delightfully thrown-together-looking daytime joint behind artists’ studios, the Counter deals in brunches, salads and pies. Excellent herby lamb pie comes with well-dressed colourful salad leaves, while an all-day dish of perfectly poached eggs is topped by smoked salmon on potato cakes (ours were slightly under-powered). Own-made tomato relish is left on each table, and the flat white coffee is terrific. There’s good music in the ground-floor room right on the canal, and peace and quiet, plus a view of trees and the Olympic stadium, from squidgy sofas and large tables upstairs. A useful pit-stop when exploring this fascinating, evolving area.

Meal for two with drinks and service: around £25

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Hackney Wick

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

E Pellicci

Opened in 1900, and still run by the same family, Pellicci’s is a Bethnal Green landmark. Chrome-rimmed Vitrolite panels line the outside, and the wood-panelled interior is filled with Formica tables and art deco touches. All-day breakfast fry-ups are first rate – note the ‘quality’ sausage, and the option for extras such as black pudding and ‘homemade bubble’. The fish and chips, daily grills, Italian pasta specials and desserts (from bread pudding to Portuguese pasteis de nata) aren’t bad either. But it’s the vibrant welcome and lively banter that make this daytime-only place so special (NB: unlicensed; no corkage charge).

Meal for two with drinks and service: around £20

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Bethnal Green

Hornbeam Café

Adverts on the wall for yoga and tai chi classes indicate where this daytime café’s heart lies. The welcome is friendly and the daily changing menu is short, wholesome and satisfying: a soup, a tabouleh dish and a salad, say, with ample cakes and fresh bread. The Hornbeam is now running as a partnership with local food business Norman Loves. It continues to serve vegetarian and vegan food with much of the veg locally grown by Waltham Forest-based workers co-operative Organiclea. Exciting? No, but we can’t help liking the place.

Meal for two with drinks and service: around £20

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Walthamstow

Cheap lunches in south London

Brockley Market

This small but perfectly formed food market in Lewisham College car park is a locals’ favourite that has attracted wider attention thanks to its winning mix of fresh produce, artisan cheeses and breads, proper coffee and good-quality ice cream – plus greatest hits from a regular mob of street food bigwigs. Hedonists can queue for Spit & Roast’s deep-fried buttermilk chicken baps, Mother Flipper’s juicy burgers or Van Dough’s delectable wood-fired pizzas, while the more virtuous (or those in possession of an industrial-sized hangover) can opt for a rejuvenating smoothie or one of Mike & Ollie’s lovingly prepared veg-packed wraps.

Takeaway meal per head: around £4.50-£7.50.

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St John's

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

Fields

It may resemble a concrete box, but this is Clapham Common’s best café by a jogger’s mile – created by those behind Balham’s über-trendy M1lk. Fields’ modestly furnished room belies a menu of great invention. Slow-braised oxtail arrives on sourdough toast with pickled shiitake mushrooms and basil leaves; burnt plum comes with Cornish cream, wet walnut and muscat grapes. Light bites include a yeasty, peat-smoked lardy cake, cooked in a tiny Bundt tin, or big Anzac biscuits. To drink, great coffee is made with either Workshop espresso or Koppi filter – plus there’s Kernel Table beer and even ‘natural’ wines by the glass. The large outdoor decked area adds child-friendly appeal.

Meal for two with drinks and service: around £30

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Clapham

Meza

A tiny Lebanese licensed restaurant in Tooting, Meza has a kitchen smaller than a Beirut takeaway stall, yet manages to turn out a sizeable menu of meze and grilled dishes freshly made to order. Standards are impressively high: from the perfectly crisp-shelled falafels to the aubergine dips seared with the whiff of the charcoal grill. Kaftah khash-khash (a skewer of minced lamb in a hot tomato sauce) is a popular main course. Service is congenial too – in fact, the only catch is Meza’s popularity. You’ll usually have to book far in advance.

Meal for two with drinks and service: around £35

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Tooting Bec

Snackistan at Persepolis

This corner shop with attitude is a treasure trove of Middle Eastern delights, selling everything from nuts and spices to freshly made houmous and huge, burnished flatbreads. The owners have squeezed a café into one corner, offering dishes that showcase the passion that fuelled their various cookbooks (among them Snackistan). There are cheap, bountiful meze platters, delectable specials announced at whim, plus Turkish pastries and sweets served with not-your-average hot drinks, such as the creamy, chocolate-topped date-and-cardamom latte. For a proper Peckham pick-me-up, the house banana split (just £3.50) is a thing of beauty, crammed with saffron ice cream and topped with yoghurt, rose petals, pistachio slivers and dates.

Meal for two with drinks and service: around £18

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Peckham

Cheap lunches in west London

101 Thai Kitchen

It may resemble a scruffy canteen – with ageing padded metal chairs within its two-tone pink dining room – but 101 produces genuine Esarn cooking hailing from the northeast of Thailand. You’ll find multiple versions of green papaya salad on the extensive menu, accompanied by anything from salted duck egg to sausage. There’s also a collection of southern Thai dishes such as sour prawn curry, or turmeric-marinated sea bass. Try the Esarn classic of shredded bamboo shoots with the fermented fish sauce favoured in the region: it is characteristically pungent (in taste and aroma). The no-nonsense approach here also extends to the bustling yet congenial staff.

Meal for two with drinks and service: around £35

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Ravenscourt Park

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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North Kensington

Snaps & Rye

This ravishingly beautiful Danish restaurant concentrates on smørrebrød – open-face sandwiches. Though they’re simple in concept, British chef Tania Steytler raises them to great heights through superb ingredients, masterly cooking skills and painstaking attention to detail. Frikadeller (meatballs) come with blue cheese croquette, red cabbage, roast apple purée and a crisped slice of heavenly own-made rye bread: exquisite. Flash-fried smoked eel with potato salad, watercress salad, a creamy mustard dressing and a slice of ‘crisped ham’ is even better. Liquorice ice cream makes a lovely finale. Portions are not meagre, but neither are they huge; three sandwiches between two would be plenty, while still not breaking the bank.

Meal for two with drinks and service: around £30

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North Kensington

Comments

3 comments
Goose m
Goose m

Hawker House is on until and including 3rd/4th April, that's when I will be travelling to London for both nights. See you there, for amazing Kerb Streetfood and much more. Loved the last one.

Goose m
Goose m

Brockley Market, Well deserved ,winner of best market in London superb collection of superb street food (many are Kerb vendors), not to mention the amazing produce. Tongue n Cheek are my recommendation. Very good coffee as well.

mac rutherford
mac rutherford

Brindisa's buns are brilliant at Borough Market, spicy & succulent, lots of choices too!