I didn’t plan on publishing this on Valentine’s Day, I promise. I have lived and worked in London for almost 20 years now, and one thing I have learnt is: eating out doesn’t have to be expensive.
Sure, you might have to forget the tablecloths and white gloved service, but I’ve never been a fan of that kind of thing anyway. What I can promise through my recommendations are a great, buzzy atmosphere, tasty food and a reasonable bill. It’s where I’d suggest going when friends are visiting and I want to impress them but not feel stuffy.
I’d also add that most of these (especially the ones with bar seating) are ones you could easily visit and eat on your own – I have enjoyed many solo meals at most of these places over the years.
Side note: I don’t really drink with food so my affordability ratings are based on food only!
1. Mildreds, Soho
45 Lexington St, Carnaby, London W1F 9AN (mildreds.co.uk)
It doesn’t really matter if you’re vegetarian or not; everything I’ve eaten in Mildred’s is delicious. Set in a townhouse down a narrow street in buzzing Soho (there are other locations now but I haven’t tried them), you feel as though you’re eating round a friend’s house. It’s not cheap cheap, but you can easily order a main and share a side, because the portions are decent. The downside? For small groups it’s mainly walk-ins, so get there early!
2. Kulu Kulu
76 Brewer St, London W1F 9TX (kulukulu.co.uk)
The no frills feeling of this conveyor belt sushi joint is what makes it so special. The help yourself (free) green tea, the communal wasabi pots and traditional wooden decor make this the most realistic sushi place we have ever been to outside of Japan. What I love about conveyor belt sushi is that you can have an almost uninterrupted chat with your friend, tucking in to eat straight away and keeping tabs on your spending with the colour-coded plates. I’d recommend ordering the prawn tempura and avocado handrolls from the staff (as then it’ll come warm), and I wouldn’t recommend taking an over excited four-year-old who loved it but didn’t quite understand the colour-coding system or our budget!
3. Seven Dials Market
35 Earlham St, London WC2H 9LD (sevendialsmarket.com)
Can’t decide on what you fancy eating? This place has everything, and you can even order different cuisines and eat at the same table. It’s far more casual; most places offer street food (such as Shuk, Tel Aviv Streetfood), but there are a few more ‘micro restaurant’ type venues such as Bong Bong’s (a Filipino kitchen) or Pick & Cheese (a conveyor belt cheese restaurant). It’s also a great shout for a ‘tourist’ day if you’re on the theatre trail or have been shopping at Seven Dials or Covent Garden – especially with the family – there’s something for everyone.
50 Frith St, London W1D 4SQ (koya.co.uk)
Another Japanese favourite, this is more of a purist ramen and noodle bar. There’s something about noodles that feels relaxed. I love that it’s just one delicious bowl rather than lots of small dishes (which can really add up). I have only visited the Soho branch, but there are a few different locations now which are worth checking out. I am a fan of the Zaru Udon (which I discovered in Japan – cold udon noodles with cold sauce to dip) which also happens to be one of the cheapest items on the menu.
65 Shepherd’s Bush Grn, London W12 8QE (chetsrestaurant.co.uk)
Heading a *little* further afield, to Shepherd’s Bush, I ate here a few weeks ago and was so impressed with the food. It’s part of the newly opened Hoxton Shepherd’s Bush and it felt like eating out in Silverlake LA with its Thai Americana menu which doesn’t hold back on the spice. I had the Fried Chicken Khao Soi (£17) and I was too full for dessert.
26-28 Grand Parade, Green Lanes, Harringay Ladder, London N4 1LG (gokyuzurestaurant.co.uk)
I couldn’t not mention one of the (many) incredible Turkish restaurants near me. If you are in North London, Gökyüzü is fantastic (the Green Lanes one is my local) and there are lots of sharing platters which help with budget – although there is a LOT of meat on offer. Top tip: humous, pitta and tzatziki are free so no need to order extra.
Unit 114 Lower, Stable St, London N1C 4DR (hidencurry.com)
This tiny place in Coal Drops Yard Kings Cross (with a recently opened branch in Camden) is about as authentic as it gets when it comes to Japanese curry (sorry, do you notice a theme with my choices?!). It’s more of a lunch place as you have to eat outside (and generally from a cardboard container) but it only serves a few types of curry (chicken, beef or vegetable) and I love them for it. Be warned, the meat in the curry does not come in a katsu breadcrumb – still delicious but wouldn’t want you to be disappointed.
32 Exmouth Market, London EC1R 4QE (morito.co.uk)
I once went to Moro (next door) for a work leaving do and it was incredible. Morito is its more affordable little sister, offering tapas and mezze in a much more relaxed setting – all to be shared with ease. It has been a while since I’ve been to the Exmouth Market branch but they now have a Hackney branch which I have no doubt is just as popular.