Cheap eats in Covent Garden

Full of great restaurants, charming cafes and buzzing bistros, Covent Garden has plenty to offer those looking to eat out on a budget

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© Tricia de Courcy Ling

Finding somewhere decent to eat on a budget isn’t always easy in central London, but if you know where to look, there’s plenty to sink your teeth into in the Covent Garden area. From British to Japanese, Indian or vegetarian have a look at our top picks below. Do you agree with the choices? Use the comments box below or tweet your suggestions.


Abeno Too

  • Rated as: 4/5
  • Price band: 1/4
  • Critics choice

Getting your hands on Osaka’s most famous street food, okonomiyaki, has got much easier in London over the past couple of years. But for our money this stalwart (and sister restaurant Abeno by the British Museum) are still the best for the full experience. Pop your bags and coats in the cleverly designed chest seating, then watch as the staff diligently mix the thick pancake-like batter in front of you, before cooking it on table and counter-top grills. It’s then smothered

  1. 17-18 Great Newport Street, WC2H 7JE
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Bageriet

  • Rated as: 4/5

There’s a bunfight brewing in London. Just a few weeks ago I was raving about the kannelbullar (cinnamon buns) at Fabrique in Haggerston. Now, just like Scandi crime novels, there’s already another thriller in town – the Swedish bakery (‘bageriet’) in Covent Garden is also a contender for producing the capital’s best buns. Bageriet was opened by bakers Daniel Karlsson and Sven-Gunnar Appelgren at the beginning of May. And, judging by the succession of Swedes popping

  1. 24 Rose Street, WC2E 9EA
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Baozi Inn

  • Rated as: 3/5
  • Price band: 1/4

At Baozi Inn, kitsch Communist Revolution decor meets northern Chinese street food tidied up for London. True to Sichuanese form, red is present in most dishes – if not as a slick of potent chilli oil, then in lashings of sliced or whole chillies. Beware of the generously portioned spicy beef noodles: the soup is topped with a layer of tongue-numbing chilli oil. Dan dan noodles, cucumber salad and crescent dumplings are all good choices, especially when accompanied by fresh,

  1. 25 Newport Court, WC2H 7JS
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Battersea Pie

  • Rated as: 3/5
  • Price band: 1/4

With bargain prices and proper British food, this pie and mash house – signed simply ‘The Pie Shop’ – is something of an anomaly among the tourist traps of Covent Garden Market. It’s housed in one of the refurbished arches, keeping the traditional exterior and flagstone floor, but the fixtures and fittings are stylish and modern: bright white tiles, polished marble tables and a shiny aluminium counter. On a busy summer day, a firm pie crust seasoned with rosemary

  1. Lower ground floor, (28 The Market), WC2E 8RA
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Dishoom

  • Rated as: 4/5
  • Price band: 2/4
  • Critics choice

A swish Bombay brasserie in the style of the old post-colonial 'Irani cafés' of Bombay, Dishoom is filled with retro design features: whirring ceiling fans, low-level lighting and walls adorned with vintage Indian magazine advertising. The look is certainly distinctive, but the effect can be so slick when compared to the real thing that the venue can feel rather soulless and corporate. This doesn’t stop the design-conscious and Indophile thronging here through the day, from

  1. 12 Upper St Martin's Lane, WC2H 9FB
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Food for Thought

  • Rated as: 3/5
  • Price band: 1/4

This vegetarian stalwart has hardly changed in 40 years. Is that a good thing? Students, artists, tourists and faithful vegetarians head down the narrow stairs to the basement to be greeted by the same 1970s pine furniture, cramped seating and probably almost the same menu: a vegetable curry or similar, quiche, soup and salad. That’s precisely what keeps devotees returning: guaranteed cheap, hearty food in a convivial setting (you’ll almost certainly be sharing your space

  1. 31 Neal Street, WC2H 9PR
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Homeslice

  • Rated as: 3/5

It’s not how big it is: it’s what you do with it. Take this new joint in Neal’s Yard’s, which is serving pizzas that wouldn’t be out of place on ‘Man v. Food’. Served fresh from the wood-fired oven, most of these thin crusts are available by the slice (£4). Or, you can order a whole 20-incher (£20), which is enough to feed you and two of your pals. They’ll even let you have more than one choice of the topping selections if you ask nicely. A well-put-together

  1. 13 Neal's Yard, WC2H 9DP
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India Club

  • Rated as: 2/5
  • Price band: 1/4

This canteen-cum-social club with a 1970s interior evidently doesn’t feel it needs a makeover. At 8pm on a Thursday night it was packing in the punters – City gents, high-street workers and students. With no concessions to comfort or aesthetics, its winning formula is cheap Indian food, and has been for decades. The restaurant is unlicensed but the small downstairs bar enables you to cash-and-carry bottles of beer to your classroom-style table. Hot lamb madras was simple,

  1. Second floor, Strand Continental Hotel, 143 Strand, WC2R 1JA
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Jamaica Patty Co

  • Rated as: 3/5

Growing up in south London, I was never too far from a Jamaican patty. From corner shops to shabby jerk shacks, there was no shortage of places to pick up a filled parcel of dayglo yellow pastry. Even the local fish and chip shops sold them. Sadly, a lot of the pasties round my way were not up to proper Caribbean standards  – often limp, sweaty and mass-produced.  You won’t find a south London letdown at Covent Garden’s new patty stop. Instead, these patties are

  1. 26 New Row, WC2N 4LA
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Koshari Street

  • Rated as: 3/5
  • Price band: 1/4

London may have swooned for Ottolenghi and Yalla Yalla, but this homage to Egypt’s hole-in-the-wall koshari vendors, from food writer and champion of Levantine cooking Anissa Helou, is still a brave move. The small, pristine space with a stainless steel counter is slightly reminiscent of a school canteen: there are a handful seats along one wall. This is really a takeaway joint, with a menu only a shade more varied than it would be at a stall in Cairo or Alexandria. Warming,

  1. 56 St Martin's Lane, WC2N 4EA
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Kulu Kulu

  • Rated as: 3/5
  • Price band: 1/4

Handy for singles or couples, this long-established conveyor-belt sushi joint is keenly priced. Quality is good enough, though we found the thick fatty stripes in the raw salmon off-putting, the nasu (aubergine) miso oily, and the sushi rice too sticky. Still, the japanese potato salad is delicious doused with soy sauce (and easy to eat with chopsticks), the tempura is elegant and the fresh spinach rolls drum-tight under their cloak of sesame dressing. Serve yourself green tea

  1. 51-53 Shelton Street, WC2H 9HE
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Lanzhou Noodle Bar

  • Rated as: 3/5
  • Price band: 1/4

This Chinese noodle bar near Leicester Square tube is cheap, fast and open into the early hours. The main attraction is the hand-pulled noodles, which are made to order. There are two types: la mian (which are stretched repeatedly and end up looking like fat spaghetti), or the dao xiao mian (where the dough is formed into a long loaf, then strips of dough are quickly sliced off the loaf directly into boiling water). These are served in three variations: in a soup, dry, or fried.

  1. 33 Cranbourn Street, WC2H 7AD
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Masala Zone

  • Rated as: 3/5
  • Price band: 1/4

Sharing owners with some of London’s top Indian restaurants (including Chutney Mary, Veeraswamy and Amaya), the Masala Zone chain is aimed at the budget end of Indian dining. Fortunately, it doesn’t let the side down, delivering punchy flavours, strong spicing and snappy service. This busy branch – one of seven across London – is tucked behind the Royal Opera House and attracts tourist groups, solo lunchers and many others. Each outlet has the same plain furniture, but

  1. 48 Floral Street, WC2E 9DA
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Meat Market

  • Rated as: 3/5
  • Price band: 1/4

The second offshoot in Yianni Papoutsis’s ever-expanding empire, this rough and ready burger bar has been drawing fans to the tatty Jubilee Market since 2012. Meat Market is closer to Papoutsis’s street-food origins than its elaborately themed siblings Meat Liquor in Soho and Meat Mission in Hoxton. The menu is tacked up in wonky plastic lettering, orders are taken at the counter and tables are separated from the market below by plastic sheeting. The entrance is hidden up

  1. The Mezzanine, Tavistock Street, (Jubilee Market Hall), WC2E 8BE
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Sagar

  • Rated as: 3/5
  • Price band: 1/4

The Covent Garden branch of this mini-chain celebrates South Indian vegetarian specialities from the state of Karnataka. Furnishings are a restrained mix of blond wood, occasional southern Indian ornaments, and wipe-clean tables; chefs seem to prefer to let their cooking do the talking. Dosais (rice and lentil pancakes) are some of the best in town, and star on the menu. For dramatic value, order a masala paper dosai, shaped into a gigantic hollow cone (almost 30cm at its widest

  1. 31 Catherine Street, WC2B 5JS
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Timberyard Seven Dials

  • Rated as: 4/5

Branching out from its Shoreditch original, Timberyard’s second café brings its brand of wi-fi and caffeine to Theatreland, putting on a splendid show of strong brews, great bakes and light bites.The scene’s set with heavyweight industrial ducting, comfy armchairs and makeshift tables fashioned from stacked vintage suitcases. It’s a look that would be right at home out east, but it’s still a rarity in Covent Garden.Coffee is the main draw here, with the Has Bean company

  1. 7 Upper St Martin's Lane, WC2H 9DL
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