A sit down dinner and a drink for 15 quid. That’s not too much to ask is it ? These days, even in a recession, there are a myriad of places in London that’ll give you that just that. Why 15 quid ? Well, if I log onto the website of Dominos Pizza, that’s the cost of an average medium pizza (before you factor in vouchers, offers, multi buys etc). If I exchange delivery for the cost of a drink then that seems – at least to me – a fair price.
Whether it be a figure that represents a special night out, or a midweek treat, it doesn’t matter; you want to extract the maximum taste for your bob. Here are 3 independent places – all easily accessible from Central London – where you can get exceptional food for under that amount per head. It’s not by any means an exhaustive collection, just a small initial hint list you might want to keep in mind (it’s certainly a sub-section of my go-to places, where I’ve eaten multiple times in the last year).
Franco Manca, Brixton Market, SW9
A few moments from Brixton Tube, you can be in pizza heaven. Yes, for those in the know it’s a really obvious choice and now extending to 3 branches in the city (including one in the newish food court at Stratford City Westfield centre) is on the very edge of what we could class as truly independent. But, trouble is, their sourdough pizzas are so good, they tend to be close to No.1 on my comfort food list.
Yes, in busy periods you will queue. Yes, you might get shouted at by the bloke organising the queue for not standing precisely on the right spot in the queue (and once you get seated you will probably be sharing a table with other diners). But you’ll spend that queuing period looking on jealously as your peers tuck into their dinners and choosing from the small, but more-than-acceptable menu. I’ll give you a hint, go straight to the chorizo option; it’s a perfect balance of salt and sweet,with those charred’n’dappled crusts just aching to be ripped apart. An even smaller (but well chosen) organic beer & wine list helps the simple choices on offer become an even easier. A Sam Smith’s lager (from experience) does the job, with change for a tip from your budget.
Tayyabs, Whitechapel, E1.
A few minutes walk from the bottom end of Brick Lane (and a similar distance from Whitechapel Tube/Overground stations) is the hugely popular Punjabi purveyor of lamb chop magic, Tayyabs. It’s been growing along Fieldgate Street in an attempt to try and cope with the almost-unbelievable crowds that flock there for almost 40 years, yet still unless you choose your visit carefully, you’ll be spending a good portion of your evening stood outside. Yet we all go back. And why ? Because whilst it serves up an excellent selection of Karahi et al, it’s all about the lamb chops. The recipe is secret, the smoke almost overpowering upon arrival straight off the grill, but the level of heat is just enough not to overpower the meat (but enough to draw just the beginning of a bead on the brow).
They come in 4s. Buy 2 lots (and a Karahi to share) and try to visit off-peak (had some success with weekend mid-afternoon walk-ups, leading straight to a table). Tayyabs itself is not licensed for alcohol, so bring along whatever you fancy and (unless you really push beyond vin industriale into proper wine territory) you’ll still be in budget.
Honest Burgers, Brixton Village, SW9.
Let’s get make this clear right from the off, even typing “village” in reference to Brixton (or any other urban area of London) make me a little nauseous. It’s not a village, it’s a collection of little shops in one of the previously neglected arcades off Atlantic Road, that Honest Burgers (along with Mama Lams, Elephant et al) have breathed culinary life back into. That description is probably a bit lengthy to get on a sign. Which is why they probably went for “village” in the end.
In any case, no list of my comfort foods would be complete without a burger and there are very few that beat that cooked up in Honest’s microscopically tiny digs. 4 tables indoors, maybe the same number out in the arcade and you can guess what happens during the busy periods. Still, roll up at just before 6pm for one of their evening services, and you’ll be seated and tucking in within a few minutes… and the menu is as simple as the place is Sylvanian in scale. The house burger (topped with smoked bacon, onion relish, pickled cucumber and controversially, mature Cheddar) or the house specials are usually a good place to start (the recent Beef & Black Pudding special was almost beyond description in quality). There are those that say Cheddar has no more a place near a burger than it does on a pizza, yet in the Honest it works well to counter the onion relish & pickles without losing the general smoky-meatiness of the bacon and patty.
Amongst the parade of burgers, the humble chip has got somewhat overlooked, but Honest make a really decent stab at making it almost as much of a star as the burgers. Maris Piper’s (always the go-to potato for chips IMHO), double cooked and dressed with Rosemary Salt, they are probably not significantly bettered anywhere right now. Add in a drink – they’ve recently become licensed – and you’re still struggling to get much past a tenner in cost.
Franco Manca, Unit 4, Market Row, Brixton, London, SW9 [website]
Tayyabs, 83-89 Fieldgate Street, Whitechapel, London E1 [website]
Honest Burgers, Unit 12, Brixton [cough] Village, London, SW9 [website]