Thanks to the gentrification of humble takeaway fare in London, there are kebab restaurants run by ex-Le Gavroche chefs and chippies that do fizz with your fish. But is gourmet junk food actually better than the cheap and cheerful originals? There’s only one way to find out…
Fish and chips
Cheap: Haddock and chips, The Fryer’s Delight, Holborn. £7.95
This old-school chippy has been on the scene since 1968, so it’s had plenty of time to hone its craft: crispy batter, light and flaky fish, crunchy chips with fluffy insides – and not too much guilt-inducing grease on the plate afterwards. An oldie and a goodie.
Posh: Haddock and chips, Vintage Salt, Islington. £12
As with The Fryer’s Delight, you get perfectly executed fish and chips here, but it comes with a heftier price tag. What you’re really paying for is the experience. This place is nice: brasserie feel, stonkingly good cocktail list (pickle-juice martini, anyone?) and proper fabric napkins. Now that is posh.
VERDICT: It’s a draw. The fish and chips aren’t an awful lot nicer at the posh place, but it gets bonus points for the trimmings.
Cheap: Spicy ‘M’ wings, Morley’s, Camberwell. £2.30 for eight wings
As every connoisseur of post-pub munchies knows, it isn’t Red Bull that gives you wings, it’s five pints of strong IPA followed by a stagger through the delicious meaty aroma of your local chicken shop. The batter at Morley’s sings with spice, the wings are deliciously greasy, and they cost less than a Happy Meal. What’s not to like?
Posh: Bird, Camden. £6 for six wings
Coming in at more than three times the price compared to Morley’s, the crisp-fried free-range wings from this hipster-friendly mini chain are thrice as delicious, right? Erm, nope. Thinner, slightly chewier batter. Bit less oily. Slightly stronger flavour to the meat. Saying we prefer Morley’s is a bold statement, but whatever… it’s true, so we’re saying it. We’re not chickens.
VERDICT: The cheap version wins. Full marks to Bird for ethically sourcing its chicken. Beyond that, it’s a case of trying to fix something that wasn’t broke in the first place.
Cheap: Scotch egg, Sainsbury’s. £1 for two
It says everything you need to know about London that it proves easier to track down a posh scotch egg than a ‘normal’ one. We’d hoped to source one from a butcher. But no, it’s either upmarket or supermarket. So we score a couple from Sainsbury’s: pallid, super-hardboiled eggs; thin, overseasoned sausage meat; a coating of breadcrumbs that tastes like sawdust. We like them. Honestly. Two will fill you up for a quid, and what they lack in quality they make up for with diverting weirdness.
Posh Scotchtails, Borough Market. £4.50 for one
This is basically a different genre of foodstuff. You get a beautifully warm, runny egg cradled in gently seasoned, moist sausage meat and a crunchy breadcrumb shell, freshly deep-fried in front of me, served on a bed of rocket (plus sweet potato fries if you want to pay £2.40 extra). It’s almost infinitely superior but, per egg, it does cost nine times more.
VERDICT: Posh wins. But then, it would be ludicrous to say the cheapo version even aspires to compete with it. You can’t berate a minicab for not being a limo.
Cheap: Small chicken shish and chips, The Best Kebab, Walworth Road. £7.30
If you think that kebabs are just drunk food, you’re ordering The Wrong Thing (as we like to call the doner kebab). For not much more than a fiver, this place does a smoky, charcoal-grilled shish packed with creamy garlic sauce, peppy chilli sauce and shedloads of salad. So cheap, so delicious and, actually, pretty healthy.
Posh: Corn-fed chicken shish and fondue fries, Le Bab, Soho. £16.50
Plus points: a houmous made from squash, crunchy chicken crackling, intriguing pink-tinged florets of pickled cauliflower. And it’s certainly tasty. Although the portion is a tad tiddly for the price. But when it comes to the double-cooked chips with a winey cheese sauce – we’d take those over kebab shop fare any day.
VERDICT: It’s another draw. There’s just no denying the value of a well-cooked kebab shop shish. But those gastro chips are something else.
Cheap: Hot dog, street seller outside Farringdon station. £3
We love hot dogs as much as the next person. Which is why we instantly regretted paying for the produce of one of the connective-tissue pimps that you’ll always find loitering in central London of a night. It’s a long bun filled with a glistening column of meaty mulch whose only flavour is burnt onions. Not nice. Not even that cheap.
Posh: Dog ’n’ Bun from Top Dog, Soho. £6.50
Running a trendy eatery and not having a brioche bun on the menu is the restaurateur equivalent of turning up to work with your skirt tucked into your knickers. So you can probably guess what buns are used here. Top Dog’s little sausages are unsatisfyingly small, but its nicely charred hot dog comes topped with a tangy slick of dill pickle and sweet caramelised onion. Most importantly of all, it doesn’t taste like it’s full of shredded piggy arseholes. Which is always nice.
VERDICT: Posh wins. No contest, really.
Hungry but skint? Check out the 100 best cheap eats in London.