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I'm moving from NYC to London for univ...

Oooook... I'm an 18 year old lifelong Brooklynite who has traveled to a pretty good spread of countries. I'll be attending UCL in September. I have my own NYC restaurant guide with over 100 restaurants (made for my friends.) Am I going to starve to death? I'll be cooking for myself at least 5 nights a week, but I'm worried.

Basically I need some affordable core restaurants to build my survival around, preferably VERY local South Asian places. I can order food in Bangla (I already do it here :) ) so I really really really want a Bengali place with a good layout of fish. I also need to know of some cheap markets where I can get fresh meat and fish. I'm going to be on a viciously tight budget and I'm willing to walk/bike long distances for low prices. I'm used to getting a great lunch for 6 to 8 dollars in Chinatown, Jamaica, Prospect Heights, Washington Heights, Jackson Heights (more like 4 dollars), etc. I'm going to starve...

My only previous stays in London included no good meals. I was only in London for about 72 hours total, though. I've been to Newcastle and Oxford for extended stays and the food in Newcastle is unspeakably horrible.

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  1. Well my young friend (sorry, it makes me feel Obi-wan-ish), let's be clear on the problem you face. It's not a lack of good dining options. I moved from NY to London in early May and would say there as much good food in London, and indeed in some segments even more (authentic Italian and Indian food to name two). Your problem is the budget. Eating at restaurants gets expensive in this town. You've correctly deduced Indian is a good option. So I've got two very basic places to suggest to you near(ish) UCL: (1) India Club at the Strand Continental Hotel (Second Floor, 143 Strand, London, WC2R 1JA). You walk up into a generic hotel and find a drab room where they serve ok Indian food. Imagine your aunt was Indian, could cook reasonably, but not outstandingly and you've got the picture. It's cheap. If you need a drink, you bring your own or bring it down from the bar upstairs. (2) Indian YMCA (41 Fitzroy Sq, even closer to UCL) has a canteen that has been serving impecunious students for at leat 50 years (my mother used to go there about 45 years ago). I suspect some other folks will write in about bargains in Brick Lane. You should search the site for that since several folks have recently asked about good places to eat and shop for stuff in Brick Lane (the Bangladeshi strip of London, in case you didn't know this). Finally, something to keep in mind is that British grocery stores (Waitrose, Sainsbury, Tesco, M & S) all have much better prepared food sections than their US counterparts. They also sell useful Indian materials like naans and some curry sauces you can use in cooking (not quite like my mother makes, but sometimes you have to be practical).

    Cheers,

    BB

    4 Replies
    1. re: bombaybeauty

      Much thanks, I'll look into both. I've been reading up on Brick Lane and I definitely want to scout it out. I also read another article on it which says it has been facing rent hikes and price hikes in recent years? Is this true and should I be worried? I'm going to be cooking South Asian, Italian and Eastern European food and it seems that I've gotten good supermarket recommendations for each. What would you say is the best reasonably priced Indian or Bengali spot in London no matter how far away it is? I already travel an hour and a half by subway when I want South Asian food here, so it won't be a big difference.

      1. re: JFores

        Notr enought time to read all the replies but JFores don't miss Indian Veg on Chapel Market N1 - it's an indian all-you -can-eat buffet for a ridiculously cheap price of £4 or something. Bit of a legend in the area. brick lane has got very touristy and will be more expensive (but still cheap). also try the Drummond St area near euston as they have a lot of cheap bhel poori houses round there. Dont worry re food in london - at least the veg here tastes of something, unlike the ones i experienced in nyc. And use local markets to get cheap fruit and veg bargains as they're overpriced in supermarkets.

        1. re: DietStartsTomorrow

          Yeah I shop all over the place for groceries. I'll definitely look into Drummond as I go to school right by Euston. Is it quite close to King's Cross and so forth? I don't actually know how far Drummond runs. I'll also look into Indian Veg. The veg things goes back and forth in NY. While I think the veg stuff I get is very good, it's always a side dish and I would never think of making a meal out of okrah and saag, Here, I guess it'll be a different story. I stick 99% to Bangladeshi food in NY so I have to branch out while I'm here. I've heard very good thing about all veg Gujarati places with an East African influence which I need to get to. I also want to get prepared food in South Hall. Brick Lane is worthless at this point (though the beauty that is Bangla World almost brought tears to my eyes. I've found better markets since then, but that place was literally the first thing to make me happy after arriving in London.) I've been cooking a lot of desi food myself so I've been reluctant to actually go eat it out, but when I get some cash (NOT THIS WEEK) and time together I need to travel more. Most of my trips have been very market specific (ei. Brixton every Sat., Sheps Bush, etc.) I still need to get up north. I've done a decent amount of the South, Tooting was iffy, I go to Battersea every Sat for rugby, etc. What other Indian reccs have you got? I was told of a Keralan place near Euston on this thread but there was no st name if I remember right. I need to reread it all.

          1. re: JFores

            The Keralan place would be Rasa Express, 327 Euston Road by Warren Street station. Can't miss it, it's bright pink. I haven't tried it yet but they do have masala dosa for £2 and change. I'm not sure how Keralan it is, as it seems to be all the South Indian standards. The lack of appam on the menu kind of defeats the purpose of a Keralan restaurant in my mind.

    2. "unspeakably horrible".

      Yes, it can be awful when coming to a new place. I've had some world-class vile food in your country (including your home city).

      I think it is indeed possible that you may actually starve to death in the UK. The food is so unspeakably bad here that most of us Brits are on the point of starvation.

      I take it that when you mention "Newcastle", you mean Newcastle-on-Tyne and not Newcastle-under-Lyme (which I would agree doesnt have much going for it in food terms). When you visted did you try Barn, Blackfriars Cafe Bar, Cafe 21, Fisherman's Lodge or Treacle Moon - all reputed to serve food that is slightly better than unspeakably horrible? Possibly not.

      2 Replies
      1. re: Brit on a Trip

        I was staying in Wallsend where I was force fed grease with a side of fish and chips for literally 3 meals a day, my friend's mother doesn't cook at all and I traveled more in the suburbs than in the center. The people I was staying with don't have a great deal of money, they live in council housing and the most expensive thing I saw them shell out on was a bottle of vodka. The name of the local liquor store was Boozebuster and had a Blockbuster themed logo. Tynemouth Fish and Chips was the only pleasant thing which entered my body during my stay. Aside from all of that, I love Northumbria and I did have a really really really good meal at a town near Alnwick.

        On the bright side, prices were more than halved the second I left Oxford for Newcastle. On the not so bright side, I didn't eat anything that wasn't fried or pre-packaged for the next week of my life excluding the aforementioned meal outside of Alnwick.

        1. re: JFores

          Yes - unfortunately you identify one of the big cultural differences in Brit society.

          There is a compatively small number of us with incomes that allow us to take an interest in restaurants and good food and to shop in supermarkets like Waitrose and Marks & Spencer. Then there's the many millions, presumably like your friend's parents, who are either unemployed or working for low wages and do not have that opportunity. Poverty is a terrible thing.

      2. Jfores --
        BB rightly points out that London and New York both offer great food – it’s the difference in cost that’s poses a problem.

        As an alternate to the big supermarkets I also suggest Lidl and Aldi -- European chains that offer products from the continent especially Germany and eastern Europe that are a cut above (in my opinion) especially the tortellini, sausages / wurst and some cheeses (plus cheap booze).

        There are several good Italian markets/delis in central London Gazzano’s in Clerkenwell on Farringdon Road and Camisa’s and Lina Stores in Soho. I especially like Gazzano’s – it reminds me of some my favorite places in Brooklyn and Queens

        For fish, I use Steve Hatt Fishmongers on Essex Road in Islington (Off Upper Street, not far from Angel).

        You probably already know about Borough Market and you can just about find anything you need there. There are several other street markets such as Broadway Market that caters to hipsters, offering a mixtures of food and merchanise and Ridley Road market in Dalston which has many Asian, Greek, Turkish and West Indian stalls. You'll find bargains here and on Kingsland Road in Dalston in general -- though you may have to look harder for quality.

        On the weekends -- there are smaller farmer's markets at Alexandra Palace in North London and another in Islington.

        Italian cafs are the equivalent to Greek diners. They may not all offer the highest quality food but they're good for basics -- breakfasts/fry-ups and sandwiches. Find one that you like and it should see you through your stay here

        And, if I may, no one here will be impressed that you’re from Brooklyn or that you can order in Bangla (given the number of South Asian people living in London it’s not that uncommon). Your superior ‘tude won’t win you any friends and unless you adjust it you may just find yourself cooking for one…and at 5-nights a week it could get pretty lonely.

        2 Replies
        1. re: qnseats

          I absolutely need Italian and Eastern European markets! Thank you! I've been seriously considering smuggling an entire prosciutto back from Italy when I visit my family there. Is this a realistic plan when I'm biking the entire way from Normandy? I have been to never Ridley Road Market but it sounds very interesting. Is the food there sold prepared in stalls a la ei. Jackson Heights in Queens or Red Hook?

          1. re: qnseats

            There are about 15 certified farmers' markets in London (see lfm.org.uk). Growing Communities organic in Stoke Newington is one, but Alexandra Palace is not. Prices are more reasonable for basic ingredients than commonly believed.

          2. sadly, you've got to think from now on that you'll be paying the same in pounds as you would in dollars - which effectively means you've halved your dollar stash. so you won't find any great lunches for 3 or 4 quid, but you will for 6 or 8 quid.

            you also can't expect to find anything resembling the amazing plethora of restaurants available to you in nyc - that is one of the seven wonders of the modern world. but eating in is a good option - fruit, vegetables, cream, meat etc even at your average grocer is so much better than anything in the stores at manhattan.

            bombay beautys tip for canteen food at india club and ymca is right on (but the ymca is about a 1000 times better). also - check out the grocers in drummond street (next to euston station), especially pathaks, cheapest grocer in town for fresh vegetables. they also have pre-packed microwaveable indian meals (made in india no less) which are dirt cheap and surprisingly good. the frozen parathas, chappatis etc are also very acceptable. and indian teas!

            another superb choice for you is green valley, a lebanese food hall on upper berkeley street (next to marble arch). the freshly made lebanese pizza is excellent, and the rotisserie chicken (3 quid) is an acceptable appetite quencher. the sweets, the ice cream, the olives etc are all outstanding.

            best of luck - and post here when you get desperate, we'll do our best to help out. where are you going to be staying?

            1 Reply
            1. re: howler

              I THINK I'll be housed somewhere on Euston Rd though I'm not 100% sure. Does the Lebanese food hall have the usual shawarma and so forth fair as well? Is the rotisserie chicken a whole chicken? I'll look into Green Valley.

            2. As someone just pointed out one dollar equals one pound, I just came back from London and a pub lunch for two (fish and chips, steak and ale pie and two drinks each) was regularly about 30 pounds ($60). You're best bet is going to Marks and Spencer's or Waitrose and getting food to go, their prepackaged stuff is fantastic.

              6 Replies
              1. re: bronwen

                YIKES. £15 a head?

                Presumably either a central London location or touristy pubs?

                In my part (and most parts) of the UK, it'd be £10. Tops.

                I'm always horrified when I hear stories like this - visitors to the UK must think the whole country is the same.

                1. re: Brit on a Trip

                  Sorry, no, £30 for two is pretty normal for all London. It's the drinks that do it. Four drinks can easily be about half of that, esp if you're talking about spirits with mixer, while a good-sized glass of drinkable wine costs about a fiver in London now...

                  1. re: drinkslover

                    Ah, yes, I was forgetting the outrageous drinks prices "dahn sarf". We'd be a nation of tee-totallers (or bankrupts) if applied across the country.

                    My £10 was a local pub price for, say, the fish & chips and a pint.

                    John

                    1. re: Brit on a Trip

                      Well, I had a very nice meal of fish and chips and a pint of London Pride at the Duke in Chiswick earlier this year, and I wrote down the prices so I know it cost me exactly £10.45 — £7.75 for the food and £2.70 for the beer. The food quality was very good, too. I do notice pub food prices, and while I'd say £2.70 is on the low side for a pint (though only by about 15–20p), I would bet that there are plenty of London pubs where you can get fish and chips for around £7.

                      Ah, and here is photographic proof, taken just over a month ago, of a sub-£7 fish and chips menu item in a pub in Soho: http://flickr.com/photos/kake_pugh/85...

                      And that's a Sam Smith's pub too, so the beer will be cheap as well.

                      Yes, if you choose to drink things that are more expensive than beer, then the cost will go up. I'm just saying that a £10 fish and chips and beer meal is quite possible in London, even in the centre.

                2. re: bronwen

                  When i checked about a week ago 1 pound = $2.05 US

                  1. re: bronwen

                    Can you provide details/specifics of these pubs? Which neighbourhoods for example? Sure London is expensive (and absurdly expensive in some cases e.g black cabs) but I for one haven't experienced $1=£1 spending equivalence on the eating front and I've been comparing closely these last 2.5 years when I've spent plenty of time in both London and NYC. What London definitely lacks, I'll readily agree, is the range of cheap eats that NYC has in abundance, what I wouldn't give for one of Chinatown's banh mi places over here for example.

                    If me and my girlfriend went to, let's say Walkers in TriBeCa, a bar serving food in my hood, I wouldn't expect to pay much less than $60 between us for 2 mains and 4 drinks total. You have to remember that the 28% extra (tax and tip) compared to London's 12.5 service charge provides one obvious correction.