5 Unique London Eateries for Every Budget
When eating out in London – and particularly if you’re there on a flying visit, or doing the tourist thing – it can be tempting to stick with what you know. Hunting down quirky coffee spots can be time-consuming, and taking a chance on an unusual restaurant doesn’t always pay off. The abundance of chain restaurants and coffee shops also means that dragging your weary limbs into a nearby Nero or Nandos sometimes seems like the easiest option. Cost isn’t a small factor either: eating out in London can rack up a fearsome bill, and playing it safe with dining options can seem sensible. Happily however, there is a humongous range of eateries to be found that are out of the ordinary, easily accessible and able to cater to most budgets – whether penny-pinching or on a blow-out.
Jen Cafe, Chinatown
This is, without a doubt, one of my all-time favourite dinner spots in London. It is 100% unpretentious, cheap and cheerful, thoroughly authentic and dishes up delicious Chinese food from its tiny kitchen. It has a varied menu, but the real stars here are the Beijing dumplings. Either served soft, succulent and steamed, or fried with fat still fizzing on the crispy shell, they are lip-smackingly good dunked in the various bowls of Chinese sauces, oils and vinegars scattered across the tables. Most days you’ll also spot the lady sat in the window, making up row after row of fresh dumplings – no frozen nonsense around here.
Service is reliably fast, efficient and unassuming; dishes will be plonked down in front of you with little introduction or interaction, but the food will be hot, fresh and tasty. You will also be expected to share tables or perch on the odd stool, but for me this just adds to the feel of the place, and also makes it a great option if you’re travelling alone and want to eat somewhere that feels a bit more communal. Don’t forget to round off your meal with a bubble tea; I highly recommend the taro.
4-8 Newport Pl, London WC2H 7JP
Broadway Market, London Fields
I’ve written about Broadway Market elsewhere, and it’s worth mentioning again here as a superb option for a tasty treat – big or small. Rather than sitting inside the four walls of a coffee shop or cafe, why not take in the various dining options piled high on the stalls whilst strolling down one of London’s oldest market streets?
Particularly lovely on a sunny day, the market stretches the length of the street from London Fields down to the Regent’s Canal every Saturday, and there are plenty of delightful restaurants, cafes and pubs along the way if the weather turns. As with any market, you can essentially spend as much or as little as you wish, and the produce on offer is excellent value for money.
Prices: see above – £1-10+!
Broadway Market, London E8 4QJ
Look mum no hands!, Shoreditch
Alongside a sister site in Whitechapel, Look mum no hands! on Old Street serves up exquisite Square Mile coffee and fabulous plates of food in intriguing surroundings: the Shoreditch HQ is also a fully-fledged cycle shop and operational workshop, complete with resident mechanics. Expect to see the Tour de France and other cycling events on the cafe’s screens, and if you’re into your cycling, you’ll enjoy rifling through the shop’s selection of kit, parts and general vélo paraphernalia.
The cafe’s offerings for breakfast, lunch and dinner are substantial yet healthy – perfect cycling fuel, and enough to perk up any weary tourist or traveller. The bircher and banana bread french toast breakfast options are particularly delicious, whilst fresh daily salads, homemade burgers and pasta dishes are sturdy PM options. Chapeau!
49 Old Street, London EC1V 9HX
Wellcome Cafe (Wellcome Collection), Bloomsbury
In recent years, the immediate surroundings of Euston Station have seen a bit of a revamp, but it’s likely that you’ll still be met with the usual chain restaurants. If you find yourself at a loose end in this area, it’s therefore well worth crossing busy Euston Road to duck inside the Wellcome Collection‘s building and paying a visit to their cheerful cafe. Just inside the entrance, the cafe serves seasonal salads, quiches, pies, sandwiches and hot snacks, as well as a tempting array of cakes and sweet treats. Prices for this area of London are reasonable, particularly so given that your plate will probably be groaning with the pile of tasty savouries and salads they tend to dole out for lunch options.
The rest of the Collection, with its permanent and temporary displays, is fascinating and another great way of spending time before catching a train. Ostensibly a medical museum, based on Sir Henry Wellcome’s original collection, its exhibits also branch out into aspects of science and nature with a hoard of medical texts and archival materials stored under the same roof too. A note of warning however: if you’re at all squeamish, you may want to think carefully about the order in which you eat and/or visit the medical displays…
Hot drinks and cakes: £2-4
183 Euston Road, London NW1 2BE
Mezzah Lounge (Harrods), Knightsbridge
Locals will no doubt roll their eyes at the inclusion of a Harrods restaurant when there are so many other smaller and more well-hidden gems to be found, but Harrods is nothing if not unique and (in my humble opinion) always worth a visit. It’s also very well connected in terms of transport, and relatively quick and easy to squeeze into a weekend trip. The Mezzah Lounge on the fourth floor takes on Middle Eastern cuisine, and as to be expected, the surroundings are suitably opulent. Stay traditional with a mint tea, or branch out and try the Sahlab – a hot, creamy drink made from powdered Orchid tubers (yikes). The mezzes and mains include all the usual suspects (hummus, tagines et al) as well as many more exotic options that are well worth trying – I particularly liked the Lamb Sambousek. If you really want to push the boat out, go for the seafood (but remember to save space for the baklava).
Drinks: £4 up to £80 (for the Harrods Brut Rosé Champagne!)
87-135 Brompton Rd, London SW1X 7XL
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