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College students' first time in London


My brother and I are going to be in London for three full days in March -- we're staying around the Finchley Road Tube station, across from the O2 Centre. One of us is a vegetarian, and we're on a budget.

Given our limited amount of time, what would you say are the "must eat" experiences in London?

I'm thinking we can't leave without:
1) Going to Borough Market
2) Purchasing a sandwich from M&S
3) Wagamama
4) Indian Food (not sure where, exactly, heard good things about Zaika)
5) Gastropub (?)

Am I leaving anything out? I'd appreciate your input or suggestions for restaurants! Thanks!

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  1. For cheap, tasty vegetarian food, there are a couple take out thai vegetarian places in Soho where you pay 3 pounds for the takeaway. It's set up like a buffet and you pick what you want to fill your container with.
    We went to a place call Salique's around Brick Lane for Indian food, which was good, although I hear there are much better places than on Brick Lane.
    Definitely go to Wagamama.
    You should check out Camden Market (neat food vendors in there too).
    I'm sure it's not very CHish, but I really enjoyed some of the food at Pret a Manger - especially the lattes and the deconstructed salads.
    You'll love M&S food hall.

    1. Since you'll be in North London, you might enjoy a good fish and chips meal at Two Brothers. It's near the Finchley Central Tube stop - just a block or so down the road.
      297-303 Regent's Park Rd, No reservations for dinner. The wraps at M&S or Pret A Manger are pretty good if you're stuck for a lunch.

      1. Zaika is really delicious, but it will blow your budget, for sure. It used to have a Michelin star, and the prices are in line with that. I'm sure some here will crucify me for saying so, but go to Brick Lane (curry) and have fun haggling for free drinks and 50% off your meal. Afterwards, head over to Vibe for some drinks. Hopefully it will be warmish and you can sit outside.

        Broadway Market is Hackney is nice on Saturdays as well. But a bit of a trek.

        1. zuriga, brick lane is really, really awful as you well know. if you are in that part of town, seekh kebabs and roti at new tayyabs is exceptional and as cheap as anything in brick lane.

          the indian ymca in fitzroy square serves perfectly adequate indian canteen food for next to nothing. the malaysian students hall off bayswater is another good choice, chicken shish taouk sandwiches from any of maroush, al dar etc on edgware road are about the best value for money i can think of. and at about fifteen quid a head, you can eat like an absolute champion at the iranian mohsen in warwick road.

          closer to home, try the czech house - very good value lunch.

          2 Replies
          1. re: howler

            howler, if you look back at my reply, I'm not the one who mentioned Brick Lane. I've yet to eat there and probably never will. :-)

          2. I actually don't think that Brick Lane places are half as bad as they are made out to be but at the same time they are a little bit uninspired and there are definitely better Indian food offerings to be had.

            Seeing as you are staying nr Finchley Road tube (a hood that I know particularly well from 15 years living there or thereabouts) you are perfectly located for Eriki (http://www.eriki.co.uk/) which would be my suggestion for an Indian meal. It's just up the road from O2 centre going towards Swiss Cottage and is what I would describe as cut-above, somewhat regionalised Indian food brought to the high street (they have recently opened a second branch in St Johns Wood). They also do very good vegetarian options. I really don't know why this place doesn't get more mention on this board (unless it has gone seriously downhill since June 2005 when I left London) - I've always eaten well there and even my parents with their diehard Punjabi palates like the food and that's saying something!

            Gastropub is a good idea as that is very London and very little in evidence in the US. Having said that every second pub seems to be gastro these days so standards are variable. 2 places I always enjoyed are The Salusbury in Queens Park (still NW London) and the House (Canonbury/Islington) both of which have lively scenes. In Hampstead, I have heard good things about the Magdala and also the recently refurbished Horseshoe on Heath Street. Bear in mind that gastropubs are not cheap options these days and you can expect to pay GBP 30-40 each with a moderate amount of vino.

            If you're happy to double up on Indian food, you could check out one of the South Indian veggie places on Willesden Lane, Geeta would get my vote and is cheap by any standards.

            M&S sandwiches and other prepared foods (I always get coronation chicken when I'm back in the UK and love to eat this with toasted bread and fresh Indian mangoes when they are in season!) are a good option and there is an M&S Simply Food opposite Eriki on Finchley Road. Not a jumbo selection so you may want to go to one of the flagships on Oxford Street.

            Others on this board seem jaded with Borough market and its over-commercialisation/excessive hype but I always enjoyed my visits there although I tried to go Friday lunchtimes or as early as possible on Saturday morning (before 10am) to avoid the hordes. I was more into the produce than the takeaway eating options but if you get there early on a Saturday morning, you can get yourself a very decent (and stomach settling if so required!!) sausage and/or bacon sarnie with your choice of ketchup or brown sauce.

            Personally I would skip Wagamama but it's not a bad budget option if that's the priority.

            2 Replies
            1. re: oonth

              oonth - i looked at the menu - very good, these are certainly genuwine naarth indians. i loved the use 'rotiyan' - only punjabis would do that.

              ok, i'm going to go check it out.

              1. re: howler

                howler, i'll be interested to see what you make of the place, our family has always been impressed and it helps that's it local for us. that said, when you've been brought up on Indian food at home (as you and me have), tastebuds become spoilt and more exacting where outside food of that ilk is concerned. truth is that when I'm back in London I mainly crave my mum's vegetarian and snacky cuisine but when she needs a break, Eriki is one of our go to places.

                my sense is that the owner is Punjabi. the head chef used to be a Goan chap (we knew him, my bro is in the restaurant trade) who did great Goan food but was also adept with food from other regions. the sous chef was Punjabi I believe. head chef has been replaced by this guy from Soho Spice/Red Fort, not sure where he is from, does the name Naresh Matta tell you anything? not sure what has become of the previous sous-chef, maybe he's still there. the menu seems to have stayed roughly the same (minus a duck in peppercorn sauce dish that we used to enjoy a lot) and we always used to favour the Goan and Delhi fish and meat curries and any of the veggie mains. the breads were always good too. i hope that standards have been maintained under the new head chef so will be interested to hear your verdict on a number of counts.

                another feature of this restaurant I like - they have made some effort with the decor and the tableware with some furniture and cutlery from the old country. just proves that not all Indian high street restaurants need be stuck in a timewarp, culinary and otherwise.


            2. Another great market food option is the rapidly growing food enclave at The Upmarket off Brick lane on a Sunday.

              There are a wide variety of stalls selling everything from okonomi to ethiopian stews to Galician empenada to homemade Jamaican patties. I particularly like the shingara from the stall that also makes excellent "railway station" chai

              I noticed that there was a new Mauritian place there last week but have not tried it

              A good way to pick up a few cheap snacks



              1 Reply
              1. re: Simon Majumdar

                I like the idea of suggesting alternative food markets to Borough. I hear good reports about this burgeoning scene in and around Brick Lane and I would also recommend the Saturday street market on Portobello Road where you can get some decent offerings from a Cool Chile Company stall and a German wurst stall to name but two. There are also some good food shops in the area notably R Garcia (and the associated tapas bar) and De La Fuente for calibre spanish produce both ready to eat and take home. Also a Malaysian place and a pitta place underneath the flyover. If you keep heading north, you hit Golborne Road where you will find a selection of Portuguese and Moroccan offerings. Easy to get to this area from O2 centre, you just hop on the No 31 bus. If you want fresh fruit and veg (and breads), some great discounts are to be had as the market starts winding down from 4pm onwards.

              2. Although the "original" gastropub, The Eagle (159 Farringdon Road) still has a great vibe with great food, and a great amount of noise and activity (an essential for any college student). I must admit that I felt a bit old (I'm approaching 40) but I'd go again.
                Beer and wine selection were also solid. Note: No one takes your order. Instead you place your food order at the bar giving them your table number/location and then a server brings out your food. And to add to the chaos the tables and chairs are a hodge-podge with no strict locations so navigating the floor for drinks, restroom, etc, can be difficult for both patron and server. But don't let that discourage you it's a lot of fun.
                For Indian I would suggest, particularly for brunch, Bombay Brasserie (140 Courtfield Road). I recall the first time that I went, once seated I noticed not one, not two, but three different styles of Indian pickle on the table: mango, tomato and mustard. I knew right then that this place would be very good (at least from an American's perspective). Enjoy

                1. For a good cheap lunch in the area, 5 to 6 GBP, you can't beat Arabesque 23 Winchester road right near the Hampstead theater (swiss cottage) - perfect for a vegetarian. I would second hitting up a pub in Hampstead and if it's nice out a walk around the heath for great views of London from parliament hill and possibly a dip in a pond.

                  1. A fun "traditional" English place is S&M Cafe (Suasage and Mash that is). I don't eat red meat so I always feel like I'm missing out on the old fashioned English meals that are very meaty. S&M has meals like an all day English breakfast and the namesake sausage and mash with vegetarian options. It's across the road from the Spitalfield's market too which is also a great place to pick up some snacks for for later in the day.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: GAT

                      In and around Spitalfields is a good shout. Post corporate vandalism, the market ain't what it used to be (there is a Square Pie concession inside but that ain't up to too much in my opinion) but Brushfield Street still has some worthwhile options, notably A.Gold which is a delightful old world deli selling lots of goodies made in and sourced from the UK. They have delicious mini pies and scotch eggs amongst other things.


                      Sad to say but renditions of lots of traditional British foods/dishes are best sampled from delis/home made rather than in restaurants/eateries.

                    2. Rasa on Church Street in Stoke Newington (the vegetarian branch - there is also a meat branch and a fish branch within moments of each other) is wonderful, though not terribly convenient for Finchley, I admit. Worth a trip though. Tayyabs in Whitechapel on Fieldgate Street is ex-treme-ly authentic and always packed with local families (though oddly enough, I saw The Strokes in there some years ago, though someone else had to tell me who they were). I haven't been for some time, however - perhaps one of the other British chowhounds can testify as to whether it remains as good as it used to be?
                      I think that if sandwiches from M&S are being touted as a typical British experience then there is something spectacularly wrong with the image of our cuisine. They might be better than most shop-bought sandwiches but frankly all of them are bland, generally a bit soggy and a sad approximation of a meal.
                      But that's just my opinion. The Garrison in London Bridge is a very nice gastropub. Wagamama is ok, but only if you've never actually eaten Japanese food. I think you probably need to visit a greasy spoon - calling all North London chowhounds for recommendations, I'm afraid I'm an East-dweller and thus can't help there. That really is a quintessentially Brit experience...

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: BritishNancy

                        People seem to be confusing Finchley with Finchley Road tube station - two very different places and a few miles apart. Stoke Newington Church Street is a good suggestion for college students both in terms of overall vibe and eating options. Not too hard to get to from Finchley Road - you walk to the Finchley Rd & Frognal overland station, jump on the Eastbound Silverlink train, get off at Dalston and walk north up Dalston High St/Stoke Newington Rd until you come to the left turn that is Stoke Newi Church St. If you're feeling ambitious, you divert to Aziziye Halal Restaurant, 117-119 Stoke Newington High Rd which is a Turkish place under and in a mosque - unique setting, tasty food at budget prices and gracious service.

                      2. Hi there,
                        I'm an American living in London and find this website:

                        a reliable source of sussing out places to eat in the city and suburbs. You can search by tube station, cuisine, budget, vegetarian, etc. It gives reviews from ordinary diners and also an average spend per head. Sometimes sample menus.
                        Borough Market is worth a visit but crowds can be horrendous. Spitalfields Market is good too, not as big and varied as Borough, but nice enough.
                        M&S sandwiches: why not? I have never understood their charm myself. My sister gets one for the plane back to Boston.
                        Wagamama's: you could give it a miss. Pretty pedestrian noodle bar with a sterile atmosphere. America probably has better Chinatowns but you could brave the brusque, bordering-on-rude service in London's Chinatown in Soho for a more authentic noodle experience. But find a good place, not the dodgy tourist traps. Again, the above website can guide you. There are some nice Thai places in London, but some awful ones as well. Mango Tree (thai) and Awana (malaysian) do 50% discount deals when booked through the above website (some great deals to be had through it) and both are swanky restaurants that are a real bargain with the deal.
                        Indian food? Brick Lane is a minefield of mostly crap curry experiences. I only went there once with friends who know the areas like the back of their hand and speak the local language. We went to a dingy, nameless canteen sort of place which served great food really cheap. But wouldn't know how to get there without my friends guiding me. There is a famous bagel bakery on Brick Lane, which apparently does amazing filled bagels at amazing prices. But I've heard Americans find the bagels texture a bit perplexing as they are made in some really traditional way. Back to Indian food: Tooting in South London is becoming a bit of a hotspot for vegetarian South Indian food at cheap prices. North London has several vegetarian Gujarati places. Please avoid Brick Lane and look in less hyped areas for the real deal. Avoid things on the menu called 'madras' and 'vindaloo', which just means 'loads of chilli powder' and 'truckloads of chilli powder'. There is a place in East Ham called Chennai Dosa which is apparently legendary for providing reasonably priced veg and non-veg Indian (mostly south indian) food, though the service can be hit and miss. It is listed on the london-eating website.
                        Guess you might want to add fish and chips to your list. London doesn't do the best, you'd have to head out to the coast, but it does have some really nice places that do great fish and chips. check out the reader's tips here:

                        It's for the whole of the UK but includes lots of London places as well.

                        1. It is a shame many of the items and places being promoted to visitors as not-to-be-missed London eating experiences but when it comes to truly traditional offerings like fish and chips, bangers 'n' mash, pies+pasties, sunday roast/yorkshire pud, english breakfast, old school puds, I'm never sure where in London to recommend in terms of high grade renditions. For my own part, I just source good stuff from the shops and cobble the dishes together at home but that option isn't available to most visitors.

                          So when asked to recommend a North London greasy spoon, it's a great suggestion for visitors but nowhere standout comes to mind even though I lived in North London for ages.

                          I liked the traditional puds served at Rivington Grill in Shoreditch but haven't been in a while -are these still up to scratch?

                          As above, I would recommend A Gold deli and also another more modern style deli called Melrose & Morgan on Gloucester Avenue in Primrose Hill which also sells mainly UK produced + sourced items.

                          1. Thanks for the suggestions! I wish I was able to stay a few more days. Another question comes to mind, however...

                            Where's a great place to get great sweets/desserts? I don't particularly care if it's a bakery with superb pastries or a restaurant with a dessert tasting (if that's even common in London). Chocolate is a plus.

                            2 Replies
                            1. re: smithclay

                              You are guaranteed delicious baked goods at farmers markets - if you're around over a weekend, you're not too far from the primrose hill farmers market which has alternating cake stalls but both are excellent. If you go there on a day decadent cakes are there, you HAVE to try the millionnaires shortbread, it simply melts in the mouth. Its on a saturday from 10am - 2pm, also an excellent place to try REALLY delicious authentic english sausages, it's worth going for those alone in fact, juicy and choc-ful of good quality pork and apples/leeks/whatever whets your appetite...

                              1. re: emico

                                PS - forgot to mention, Louis is a Hungarian patisserie on the finchley road, reliably delicious. Very close to where you're staying.

                            2. Emico there are two Louis, one is on Finchley Rd, the other is on Heath Street in Hampstead, unless they have upped their game considerably neither are good at all. Much better is Gail's on Hampstead High Street.

                              I'd also recommend heading north a bit. Take a look at Golders Green for some really good middle eastern food, especially Dizengoff and traditional Eastern European deli at Blooms.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: Silverbrow

                                I was thinking of the one on finchley Rd, which used to be brilliant when I was a little kid. Or maybe I was just a little kid who liked to eat anything sweet. Sorry for the bad rec!

                              2. The croissants at Pret-A-Manger are good!