London's expensive. but it is possible to find tasty eats that don't break the bank. Here are 20 excellent, cheap restaurants in London where you can dine out on a £20 note.
What it means: You’ll be able to get a meal (starter and main, or a decent number of small plates) along with a drink for £20 — or sometimes under — at all of the below. Our selection is spread across town and includes a variety of cuisines (not just those that are traditionally cheaper, such as Indian or Chinese). We have personally tried all the restaurants and highly recommend them.
Bonnington Café, Vauxhall
Originally a squat, this restaurant in picturesque Bonnington Square — just a couple of minutes away from less picturesque Vauxhall station — is now a vegetarian and vegan restaurant co-operative. Around 20 different cooks take it in turns to head-up the kitchen, taking residency for the day and preparing their own menus from varying cuisines. There's even a chef waiting list for last minute availability in the kitchen.
You need to contact said chef directly to book or to make enquiries about the menu (their details are on the website), but you’re rewarded for your efforts with mains set at £9 and starters and desserts for £3.50-£4. Plus it’s bring-your-own-bottle (BYOB) with no corkage — just 50p per person for glass hire. With so many rotating cooks it does have a tendency to be a little hit and miss, but that’s all part of the gamble.
Bonnington Café, 11 Vauxhall Grove, SW8 1TD.
Boqueria, Brixton and Battersea
There are now two branches of this tapas chain — the original on Acre Lane near Brixton and a second branch on Queenstown Road in Battersea. Its small plates aren’t as small as in many restaurants, and prices range between £5-£7 for traditional and veggie servings, slightly more for meat and seafood. The list of wines and sherries is also well priced with a number of by-the-glass options.
While the selections of cured hams and cheese platters are tempting, steer towards gutsier offerings of traditional tortilla, Galician grilled octopus and oozy croquetas for a high-quality Hispanic feast at low prices.
Boqueria, 192 Acre Lane, SW2 5UL and 278 Queenstown Road, SW8 4LT.
Brasserie Zédel, Soho
This grand Parisian brasserie is a stone’s throw from Piccadilly Circus and has served as a reasonably-priced respite from the crowds for yonks. It's quite the feat, considering its location and impressive interior.
For the cheap eats you'll need to choose from their prix fixe menu, on offer all-day, every day. This means you can get two courses for £10.95 or three for £14.25 with slick service and bustling atmosphere included. It’s not just any old grub either, with steak frites and chocolate tart frequently present. Run by Corbin & King — the restaurateurs par excellence who founded The Ivy and are behind The Delaunay, The Wolseley and Fischer’s among others — it serves some of the city’s finest French food.
Brasserie Zédel, 20 Sherwood Street, W1F 7ED.
Fish In A Tie, Battersea
Just a tossed fishbone from Clapham Junction station, Fish In A Tie serves up loosely-Mediterranean dishes with less of a solely seafood focus than the name suggests. It’s old-school to the hilt with hanging chandeliers and outlandish decorations, but this all adds to the charm.
Prices are set across the menu, with starters for £5 and mains for £9. Think calamari or carpaccio to start, followed by fishcakes or pork loin for mains. Throw in a dessert and the entire three courses will come in at £17.95. Wine starts at £16.95 a bottle.
Fish In A Tie, 105 Falcon Road, SW11 2PF.
Pizza Pilgrims, various locations
These guys are positively pizza-obsessed, and this hugely popular chain began when they ventured out on a pizza pilgrimage (see what they did there?) in order to work out the best methods for making their now famous discs of dough.
They keep things as simple as pizza-pie and top their Neapolitan bases with the finest quality ingredients. The result? You can get your hands on a basic marinara for just £6 and a dessert 'pizza ring' of Nutella and salted ricotta is a mere £6.50. The cost creeps up from there, but the most expensive item on the menu is the double pepperoni and honey for £12. How much dough can YOU handle?
Pizza Pilgrims, various London locations.
There's a whole host of cheap and excellent quality Turkish restaurants around the Green Lanes area — see our pick of them here — but Gökyüzü is one of the best. As well as boasting richly flavoured, traditional food, it also has friendly service and a bustling atmosphere.
Meze plates start at £5.50 and charcoal-grilled kebabs at £10.50. This place is especially good value if you come in a group and fill the table with dishes to share — even the ‘small’ portions are pretty hefty. Either way, the restaurant will likely lay on superlative amounts of flatbread, salad and dips, meaning it’s nearly impossible not to leave with a barely touched wallet and a very full stomach. Either book in advance or be prepared to queue.
Gökyüzü, 26-28 Grand Parade, N4 1LG. Other restaurants are in Walthamstow, Finchley and Chingford.
The Heron, Paddington
Set in the basement of The Heron pub just off Edgware Road, this understated — and frankly tatty looking — restaurant is widely hailed as one of London’s most authentic Thai restaurants. While there’s plenty of room to argue about what authenticity actually means, we can say with confidence that the bold flavours here are mind-blowing.
Tuck into hot and sour soups, spicy sausages, duck tongues and som tam salads — but do be prepared for some serious spice, and don’t expect to see a green curry on the menu. Most main dishes are under a tenner and all are generously sized, so sharing is recommended.
The Heron, 1 Norfolk Crescent, W2 2DN.
Roti King, Euston
This no-nonsense, no-frills, basement Malaysian eatery turns out truly stunning roti in a part of London that's woefully underserved by good restaurants. A type of flatbread used to mop up any number of rich, satisfying curries, we bet you'll be hard pressed to find flakier roti in London.
Make sure you're ordering from the roti menu before you begin, and dunk it into a soothing mutton curry (our favourite), remembering to save a little to wipe the bowl clean. Two pieces alongside your choice of chicken, lamb or fish curry? £6.50. Which leaves plenty to splurge on a sweet coconut jam roti for dessert.
Roti King, 40 Doric Way, NW1 1LH.
Kanada-Ya, Covent Garden & Soho & Angel
Ramen joints are now a common sight across London, with more popping up by the day. But we're not complaining. As well being perfect winter-warmer fodder, the noodle soups also tend to make pretty cheap and filling dinners.
Kanada-Ya has been in the business for years and continues to whip up steaming hot bowls of Japanese broth that can't be beaten. We completely fell for Kanada-Ya when it first opened in Covent Garden and little has changed (apart from two new restaurants in Soho and Angel). Offering a fun, boisterous atmosphere and ramen from £10.50 right in the centre of town, there’s little not to love.
Kanada-Ya, 64 St Giles High Street, WC2H 8LE and 3 Panton Street, SW1Y 4DL and 35 Upper Street, N1 0PN.
Koya Bar, Soho & City
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A bowl of udon starts at £7.20 at this popular noodle bar, and they are hailed as some of London’s finest. The larger Koya may have closed its doors for good but these little offshoots remain, and they serve some wonderfully different and soothing bowls, including an always-fun daily special.
You can choose between hot or cold options and add numerous meaty, fishy or vegetable toppings for a little extra. A bottle or Kirin beer is around the five pound mark.
Koya Bar, 50 Frith Street, W1D 4SG and 10-12 Bloomberg Arcade, EC4N 8AR.
Mama Lan, Brixton and Clapham
What started as a little corner space in Brixton Village has now expanded to neighbouring Clapham. The vegan-friendly menu is largely the same across both restaurants, with noodle dishes, fluffy bao buns and meat or vegetable-filled Beijing dumplings among the highlights. All but one of the main dishes come in at under a tenner and most sides are £5-6.
Try the garlicky smacked cucumber for £3.95 too. Be aware that there are no reservations so be prepared to queue on busy nights.
Mama Lan, Unit 18, Brixton Village, Coldharbour Lane, SW9 8PR and 8 The Pavement, SW4 0HY.
Mamuśka, South Bank
Hearts broke when this favourite neighbourhood hangout upped sticks from the glamorous Elephant and Castle shopping centre. But Mamuśka! didn't go too far, and now resides on South Bank. It's all about Polish fare, and although a little of its rough and ready charm has been lost in the move, the canteen-style offerings still hit the spot for a decent price.
Grab a tray and get stuck into hearty portions of pork gulash, beef cheeks, veggie stews and, of course, pierogi. Don't expect anything too refined, but who cares when hearty portions cost between £3-£6 for starters and £10-£13 for mains. All are richly flavoured, well-cooked, traditional and enjoyable. Wash it all down with a dizzying selection of vodkas.
Mamuśka!, 9 Addington Street, SE1 7RY.
Lebanese meze is the order of the day at this intimate restaurant tucked away in a part of south London known mainly for curry houses.
From hummus to Merguez-style sausages, sauteed chicken livers to many a vibrant salad, dishes are made with love by an ex-West End chef but cost far less than you would pay in that part of town. There are plenty of mains too, but you'll find the best value if you go with friends and order plenty of meze to share. Nearly every small plater is less than a fiver, and mains sit around the £10-£13 mark.
Meza, 70 Mitcham Road, SW17 9NA.
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A training restaurant that’s run almost entirely by catering and hospitality students from New City College, the prices here are presumably kept low so that expectations match them. The result is generally intricate and carefully-executed starters of around a fiver and mains under a tenner at lunch. It's brilliantly bargainous.
Dishes tend towards modern British and French-influenced numbers, but the short menu changes regularly so check ahead if you’re fussy. Don’t be put off by the fact that service isn’t as accomplished as it could be — it’s run by people in training, after all. The restaurant is open for lunch and dinner (which is slightly more expensive) every day, with brunch on Sundays.
OKN1, 40 Hoxton Street, N1 6LR.
Ristorante Rossella, Gospel Oak
This family-run Italian nestled between Gospel Oak, Kentish Town and Tufnell Park tubes is a gem for north Londoners in the know. A slightly tatty frontage leads into a welcome thats' among the warmest in town, while a menu of classics shows off the kind of effortless-seeming, but clearly skilled cooking that Italian chefs excel at.
A Margherita pizza is £7; a Four Seasons is £10; pasta dishes rarely cross £9. A short, all-Italian wine list starts at £17 a bottle. Oh, and you’ll know you’re on to a good thing when you spot how many Italians are among the diners…
Ristorante Rossella, 103 Highgate Road, NW5 1TR.
Seven At Brixton, Brixton
Tapas and cocktails are at the heart of this trendy hangout in Brixton Market. Small plates of classics such as pan con tomate, calamari, chorizo skewers and charcuterie platters are Mediterranean in price as well as flavour, with many a dish coming in at the £4-£5 mark. The cost rises to £20 only for a large sharing platter featuring hams, cheeses and plenty more.
For even more bargain bites, swing by after 4pm on a Sunday when there's a hefty 50% of all tapas. Meanwhile, Tuesday-Friday between 5-8pm you'll find £6 cocktails. Which deserves a mojito or two, doesn't it?
Seven At Brixton, Unit 7 Market Row, SW9 8LB.
Silk Road, Camberwell
This off-the-beaten-track Chinese restaurant has built up quite a following for its traditional and cheap cuisine. Highlights include dumplings, which are juicy within, slightly crisp outside, packed with beef mince and cost £4.50 for around eight; lamb skewers which alternate meat with fat and are dusted in cumin; and ‘big plate chicken’ — a spicy chicken stew.
Cheap beers and wines are the cherry on top, resulting in a meal that’s ideal for group-sharing and unlikely to cost much more than £15 a head.
Silk Road, 49 Camberwell Church Street, SE5 8TR.
Tonkotsu, various locations
Tonkotsu may be a mini-chain now, but they've kept up the quality and really know their stuff. A bowl of their tonkotsu roast pork ramen is so filling and intense — given a deep savoury kick thanks to the lardo and sea salt base — we'd be very surprised if you're not satisfied afterwards. You'll certainly be satisfied with the £11.50 price tag.
Having said that, the pickled cucumber at £3.75 is rather lovely on the side, as is a selection of London and Japanese brewed beers, all around the £5 mark.
Tonkotsu, see website for locations.
Something of an institution, this north Indian restaurant and grill has been around since 1972 and its ultra-tender lamb chops are among the best you’ll find in London. Its dals, curries and naans-as-big-as-your-face also come highly rated.
Be warned that if you don’t book then you’d better be prepared to wait in line. And if you do book, you may still have to wait. Starters begin at £5 while many mains remain under £10. They’re big, too.
Tayyabs, 83-89 Fieldgate Street, E1 1JU.
The Vincent Rooms, Westminster
From carefully created classic dishes with a modern twist to attentive service, this plush restaurant feels far too classy for the price. The catch? Well, it’s run by Westminster Kingsway College and staffed by their cheffing and hospitality students. If that puts anyone off, then all the more space for the rest of us.
The students are overseen by pros at all times and our experience is that it’s a pretty slick operation. Training chefs who have done stints at the college in the past include Jamie Oliver and Ainsley Harriott, so you never know whose pumpkin tartlets, lamb rumps or chocolate bavarois you're eating. Two courses in the light-filled brasserie? £17.
The Vincent Rooms, Westminster Kingsway College, 76 Vincent Square, SW1P 2PD.
Where else would you recommend for wallet-friendly dining? Can you suggest any more restaurants where you can eat for under £20? Please let us know in the comments below.