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.


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
  2. Main courses £4.90-£8. Minimum (noon-3pm,...
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Scoop

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

Voluptuous folds of colourful gelato undulate across Scoop’s freezer cabinet like rows of love handles. If you can settle on just one, you’re possibly not human. Scoop has been wowing Londoners with first-rate gelato since its first slip of a shop opened in Covent Garden. Expansion has been slow and modest; now there’s also an appealing Soho parlour (with more tables) and another in South Ken. Flavours are classic Italian (biscotto, fiordilatte, malaga, pistachio), but made

  1. 40 Shorts Gardens, WC2H 9AB
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Wild Food Café

  • Rated as: 4/5
  • Price band: 1/4

Its airy first-floor location is just one of the draws of this little café overlooking Neal’s Yard. On a sunny day, light streams through the wall of windows on to big pine tables that happily accommodate large groups of friends who haven’t met yet. Food is prepared behind a horseshoe bar laden with huge bowls of fruit and bright vegetables. Service is genuinely friendly (open smiles, helpful suggestions) and the cooking is both creative and of a high quality. The short menu

  1. 1st floor, 14 Neal's Yard, WC2H 9DP
  2. Main courses £5.30-£14.50. Meal for two with...
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Bistro 1

  • Rated as: 3/5
  • Price band: 1/4
  • Offer

It’s hard to find fault with this colourful, unpretentious restaurant a short hop from Covent Garden market. Tourists drift in and out, but there’s a great deal of hand-shaking and joking between affable staff members and a clutch of obvious regulars. Not even the dated interior can detract from the charm, the tables crammed together and the apricot walls replete with bizarre framed caricatures. The food is decent: a starter of feta salad came with generous slices of crumbly

  1. 33 Southampton Street, WC2E 7HE
  2. Set lunch £6.90 2 courses, £7.90 3 courses....
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Naru

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

Naru puts more emphasis on cheffy presentation than most Korean restaurants, with zigzagged sauces and stacked ingredients. It’s not a matter of style over substance, though – this is a solid venue for quality Korean classics, with a few innovative touches. Conspicuously absent from the dining room, which is adorned with wood-framed Hangul calligraphy and paper lanterns, are any table-top barbecues. Instead, the meat and seafood are grilled in the kitchen, then brought

  1. 230 Shaftesbury Avenue, WC2H 8EG
  2. Main courses £8-£13. Set dinner...
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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
  2. Main courses £9-£25. Set lunch (Mon-Fri) £12-£22
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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
  2. Main courses £5.95-£14.95. Set meal...
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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
  2. Dishes £1.50-£3.60.
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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 main (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
  2. Meal for two: around £20.
More info

Longji

  • Rated as: 3/5
  • Price band: 1/4

If you’ve ever wondered what a fast food joint in Hong Kong looks like, this is it. Formerly called the Café de Hong Kong, this brightly-lit, functional space (all tiled floors and wood veneered booths), it’s spread over several floors, each with HK-pop piped overhead, and is deservedly popular with Chinese students – or, in fact, anyone with an eye for good value. Typical dishes such as soup with just-added instant noodles, or HK tea (black tea brewed with condensed milk)

  1. 47-49 Charing Cross Road, WC2H 0AN
  2. Main courses £5.50-£9.20
More info
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