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Jul 30, 2008 12:15 PM

Frugal Foodie Destinations in London

hi there,
I'll be visiting from Toronto August 9-12, and want to make the most of my visit. I'm on a budget of sorts, but food and wine are pretty much my only passions on this trip, so I don't want to miss anything. We'll be staying in Russell Square, and have "penciled in" some meals at Original Tagines, Cantina Vinopolis, and Soho Spice. I'm looking forward to exploring Portobello Rd, Berwick St Market and Covent Garden, as well as the food halls at Harrod's and Harvey Nichols.

I am looking for some quick/affordable lunches around Portobello RD, near the Tate Modern/Globe, somewhere in Covent Garden, somewhere in Soho or Berwick Market, as well as some ideas for where to get a nice picnic meal (or supplies) near Trafalgar Sq or St. James. Any or all cuisines, emphasis on healthy and vegetarian, or fish.

I am trying to orchestrate a pub crawl of sorts from Covent Garden back to our hotel in Bloomsbury, so any great pubs or bars on that route (we don't mind wandering a bit) would be great.

I am also wondering if there is anything I am missing that any foodie visiting London MUST do - anything from stores to restos, the whole deal - I want to experience everything I can for as little cash as possible!

Thanks in advance, and if you're ever in Toronto, I have advice in kind!

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  1. We organized a pub crawl last August that included the area you are asking about -- and we nearly always stay in Bloomsbury when we are in London, so know the area fairly well. If you are starting around Covent Garden, I'd include the Lamb and Flag (on Rose) and the Dog and Duck (in Soho, but not far, on Frith St.). Heading back towards Bloomsbury you might check in at the Princess Louise (not so much for the beer, but for the Victorian decor) and the Museum Tavern, across from the British Museum. If you can afford the time to go further afield -- or perhaps on another day since you are in Bloomsbury -- you should also definitely hit The Lamb on Lamb's Conduit (in addition to good beer and outstanding atmosphere, also has quite good traditional pub food -- we had one of our best lunches there last August). All these are interesting and historic pubs, and the Dog and Duck is also truly superlative for the beers (plus its a tiny jewel box of a place with lovely tiles). My DH is a serious beer geek and brewer, so we end up spending a lot of time in pubs when in the UK!

    Also, you don't mention Borough Market, but it goes without saying that if you are in London on a Friday or Saturday you should definitely go. It can also serve as your affordable lunch near the Globe Theatre -- and you'll find lots of posts on this site as to the sorts of things you might find there. My favorite: the grilled scallops. For veg, the guys with all the Arabic salads might suit -- they certainly looked good and the one sample I tried was delicious. Lots of veg and lentils. We usually like to go early on Saturday and make it a walking brunch.

    11 Replies
    1. re: Joan Kureczka

      affordable lunch near the Tate Modern/Globe

      Cubana ( Lower Marsh near Waterloo ) -- the food is really fresh. It's an evening joint, but it's still pleasant in the day.

      And I like the grilled sardines at Tas, which has a branch on The Cut.

      Livebait is alson on The Cut, but I wouldn't expect to find a bargain there.

      Have you thought about a foodie stroll through Marylebone? The neighborhood is filled with artisinal food shops and the Marylebone Tup is a pub that lets you bring your own food. They also have a highly regarded Sunday farmer's market

      1. re: summerUWS2008

        Tas is a reasonably priced Turkish chain, that also has a place in Bloomsbury. Food is pretty good, especially the mezze and they offer a lot of prix fix menus. So it is not a bad choice for a good budget meal.

        Last time we were in London we also went to the Livebait on the Cut, which was reasonably good. While most dishes were not what I'd characterize as a bargain, the mixed appetizer plate which had four or five offerings -- all delicious -- that was a good value.

        Right across the street is the Anchor & Hope, one of London's best gastropubs. I'm still dreaming of the cold almond soup starter I had in May.

        1. re: Joan Kureczka


          Anchor & Hope was full up the one time I tried to get in (which may be how I ended up eating at Tas) but I had a memorable cold almond soup in Andalucia at the restaurant of the parador in the Alhambra. I dreamed about it for years until I found a recipe -- and it couldn't be simpler. Take your pick:


      2. re: Joan Kureczka

        we arrive at 10am on saturday, so i was planning to do portobello that day. would you say borough is better than portobello? or should i try to do both?

        thanks so much for the pub recs! the Museum Tavern is on our list and I'll add the others!

        1. re: LemonLauren

          Borough is definitely better than portobello for food, yes. Portobello is (imho) more for clothes/antiques etc. For food, it's pretty similar to any London street market (ie fruit and veg). Borough is THE foodie destination - be prepared for huge crowds though on a Sat morning in August.

          1. re: greedygirl

            Portobello is only on Saturdays so that is the best day to go to it. You can go to Borough as well if you want. On Portabello road there are some great street food stalls, as well as Hummingbird bakery that sells delicious American style cup cakes and cakes. As a local, I would recommend heading to one of the cafes on the side streets off Portabello for brunch and it will give you a break from the crowds at the market. Try 202 at 202 Westbourne Grove or Raoul's at 105 Talbot road - see more detail on my blog

            1. re: Gourmet Chick

              I also have found homemade foods from vendors at the Portobello market, but i have to say it is extraordinarily unpleasant to have to battle the crowds there.

              One of the reasons I posted about Marylebone is that it is my understanding that this is where many serious chefs and foodies now go, having despaired of the mob scenes at Borough market. I've not been to the Sunday market, and I don't know if the food shops are open on Sundays (but glancing at their websites should answer that). But I have strolled about the foodshops (as well as the great local bookstore, Daunt's), and it is a very nice experience indeed, with many, many temptations.

              1. re: summerUWS2008

                I used to be a regular at Borough back in the day (it was once a month!) but I haven't been for months. Far too crowded and full of tourists. I now do most of my shopping locally.

                I agree that Marylebone is a nice area - I have fond memories of the year I spent working there.

                  1. re: greedygirl

                    so many markets so little time! thanks for your suggestions! it's great to go further afield when possible!

                1. re: Gourmet Chick

                  Someone's just consolidated a Borough Market listing of all stalls with a web presence; this should entice you down:

          2. It's worth bearing in mind that there's a food night market in Covent Garden in August - on Thursdays and Fridays I think.

            I haven't been, but The Giaconda Dining Rooms in Covent Garden got a good write-up in yesterday's Evening Standard.

            A favourite of mine on Berwick St is Bar du Marché, I've been going for years for the steak-frites, the atmosphere and the laconic owner, Patrick. I also like a bar just off Charing Cross Road called Le Beaujolais - great fun.

            Near the British Museum is Charlotte St - lots of restaurants there, and I think that the South Indian restaurant Rasa Samudra has a tiny takeaway option round the back which is supposed to be a bargain.

            1 Reply
            1. re: greedygirl

              my guide books mention rasa Samudra, but I never know if i should trust them. good to know, thanks.

            2. Near Covent Garden Tube is a small restaurant and take out place called Food For Thought. It's vegetarian and always highly spoken about - on Neal St - easy on your wallet which will help in London. There are lots of good places in Soho. If you just want a sandwich or salad, the Patisserie Valerie chain has a location there amongst other places.

              I don't know if you have Whole Food Markets in Toronto, but you might enjoy looking at the one in London... it's got a huge salad bar and lots of goodies on sale, but it's not inexpensive.

              1 Reply
              1. re: zuriga1

                I do know a thing or two about Whole Foods as we have two here in colonial Toronto, including the price tag. But it's so good!

              2. I liked Canela in Covent Garden for Portuguese food.
                Haven't been in over a year though. You can check out recent customer reviews for most London restaurants at

                1 Reply
                1. re: medgirl

                  I also liked Canela, but that was even longer than a year ago.

                2. does anyone know if original tagines or soho spice are closed on sunday or any other nights? thanks :)

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: LemonLauren

                    It looks as if Original Tagines is closed on Sundays - open all other nights.
                    Soho Spice is open Sundays from 12 to 22:30.