THINGS I LIKE, TRAVEL

5 Gourmet Meals in London That Won’t Break the Bank

Let’s be honest: England isn’t known for its fabulous food. Once you’ve choked down the mandatory meal of fish and chips (you have to at least try it!), you’re ready for food that isn’t…fried cod. But London is definitely on the pricier side, so finding delicious food that you can happily afford can be somewhat challenging.

Challenging–but, I’m happy to announce, not impossible. Since we were visiting for several weeks, we were on a mission to find ways we could eat out–and eat well–without dreading the arrival of the check. And here’s a free tip for you: a “discretionary service charge” (typically 12.5% of your total) is often included on the bill, so what you see is what you pay. This charge is basically an automatic tip. You don’t have to pay it, but you’ll have to ask to have the charge removed, and if you do, the manager may ask what was wrong with the service.

We found these restaurants, spread all across central London, to be both tasty and reasonably priced:

Flat Iron Flat Iron serves one thing and one thing only: steak! And they do a mighty fine job of it. You can order various sides and cocktails to accompany your steak, including dripping-cooked chips (fries) and one sole dessert option that is heavenly. Waiters will seat you with a mug of popcorn to nosh on while you await the arrival of one of the most tender and flavorful steaks of your life–which you’ll slice using a fancy little meat cleaver! We visited the Denmark Street location in SoHo; it was small and featured interesting industrial design.

Phat Phuc Noodle Bar A great lunch spot, this little Vietnamese stand is hidden in a recessed garden plaza in the heart of Chelsea. A huge bowl of chicken fried rice or pho ga will only set you back £7.50, and you can probably make two meals of it due to the large portion size. With fresh ingredients cooked to order, you can’t go wrong! (Please go back and have a giggle at the name if you haven’t already.)

Pizza Express I love this chain for its extensive menu of fresh Italian-inspired meals at various price points. They’re famous for their fresh-baked dough ball appetizer (it didn’t do much for us, but try it if you love the taste of their bread). My favorite item is the lighter, healthier “pizza ring”–pizza on the outside, salad in the middle. They also offer a rotating selection of seasonal items, including the Eton Mess Cheesecake. Eat at the West End location near Palace Theatre after scoring last-minute tickets to see Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.

Pret A Manger Think of this like a Starbucks…but better. Pret A Manger isn’t a table-service restaurant, but there are kitchens at (or near) each location where the food is made fresh daily–and whatever food is left at the end of the day is given to charity, not re-sold the next day. They have hot, cold, and non-perishable items packaged to go, but you can also take a seat inside to meet or work or linger, just like a normal coffee shop. The coffee is organic, the food is super fresh and carefully sourced, and the vibe is elegant but playful. I love it. And fortunately, they are on every corner in London!

Dishoom The amount of time you’ll have to wait to get in is a testament to how fantastic this Bombay-inspired Indian restaurant is. One look at the menu and you can see how thoroughly they’ve thought through every detail, from the food descriptions to the arrangement of the tables to the authentic decor. The food is outstanding–try the chicken ruby with an order of the black house daal and some naan. We’ve only visited the Covent Garden location; the first time, we went at a normal dinner time and waited 2 hours to get in (but they brought us hot drinks while we stood in line!), but the second time, we went half an hour before closing time and were sent straight to a table.

There you have it–my favorite affordable places to eat in London! Have you tried any (or all) of these spots? Do you have other recommendations for my next trip? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!

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