Cheap days out in London

Our selection of six belt-tightening itineraries to help you have fun on a budget

Let’s be honest – there are many ways to spend £40 on food in London and still eat very well. With a bit of imagination it’s possible to fill your belly in style and enjoy a gourmet day out.

Hit the food markets

© Jonathan Perugia

Food markets cut overheads (in more than one way – they’re not as much fun if it’s pissing it down) to make for cheaper tucker, and they’re a great way to meet passionate growers, farmers and cooks who sell their produce directly.

There’s a whole crop of these markets springing up across the city at the moment – Chatsworth Road in Clapton (coming very soon), Maltby Street in Southwark, but one of the best is Venn Street (1) in Clapham – it opens at 10am at the weekend (monthly at the moment, but plans are to go weekly early next year) and there are many good breakfast options to fill you up for a fiver – try an Argentinian empanada or an early-morning roast pork roll from Moen & Sons, one of the best purveyors of meat in London.

Grab a coffee

From there, it’s a short walk to Clapham Common Southside and The Good Bench coffee kiosk (2), where you can grab an organic, fairtrade pick-me-up latte or flat white for £2.

Culinary culture

© Imperial War Museum

A greater man than me (Jesus, in fact, someone known for making a little go a long way where food was concerned) pointed out that we do not live by bread alone, so don’t be afraid to break into the budget for a bit of culinary culture. The Ministry of Food exhibition (3) at the Imperial War Museum (till January 3 2011) is a superb addition to the sombre but thought-provoking permanent material.

It recalls in depth the era of British food rationing, 1941-1954, and browsing the grow-your-own propaganda, archive films and packages of powdered egg and Spam inevitably makes one feel that a bit of austerity (self-sufficiency, cutting waste, city allotments) might not be a bad thing today.

Indulgent afternoon tea

© Alys Tomlinson

Shove such puritan feelings to the edge of your conscience for a while and get set for afternoon tea. It’s a quintessential London experience, but in some of the swankier hotels it would blow our whole day’s budget. However, once a month in the Marylebone Hotel (4), students from the esteemed Le Cordon Bleu cookery school (to book, phone 7969 3900) serve their creations to a paying public. For £9.95 you’ll get the full haute cuisine experience – as many beautiful macaroons, macronades, eclairs, tartes, scones and gâteaux as you can eat while the attentive pâtissiers themselves proudly describe their work.

Delectable dinner

Rob Greig

Even a low-cost gourmet day in London needs a special meal to finish it off. You don’t need to download coupons or skip dessert to do this – many of the best restaurants around Soho and Theatreland have great pre-theatre offers. The biggest buzz at the moment surrounds Les Deux Salons (5), a recreation of the Parisian brasserie of popular imagination. Between 5pm and 6.30pm, Monday to Saturday, you can get three courses of simple yet expertly executed French classics for just £15.50. One of the best bargains in town at the moment.