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Mar 6, 2011 02:34 PM

Cost of London dining

I'm taking a group of university students to London and trying to work on a food budget. I'm planning to find a hotel with breakfasts, leaving me lunches and dinners for each day. Though I wouldn't say that I'm looking to feed them as cheaply as possible, I'm looking to do near that.

So, imagining a quick lunch--sit down probably, but not necessarily--and an inexpensive, but not fast food dinner each day. Places like Mooli, Hummus Brothers, Wagamama, etc would fit the bill nicely. Kebab places and the like would certainly do for some lunches. (We're not limited to ethnic places, though part of the purpose of this trip is to show students the diversity of the UK, so there's an added bonus.) We'll be spending most of our time in the city centre for museums and theatre, so it's unlikely we'd be headed beyond zone 2 or have much time for that.

How much would you budget for lunch and dinner per person per day? An administrator suggested $30, but that seemed a bit low to me.

I'd be happy for all responses and for any suggestions you have for places to take them. I was in London last year for a bit and will be back for a few days this summer, but it's been a very long time since I've been able to spend any real time there, and things are different when you're imagining 10 students and a budget.

Thanks in advance.

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  1. What age are your students please? I ask because if there's no alcohol involved then you should be OK on your $30, although even sodas etc. can up the bill quite a bit. I think it's a legal requirement that anywhere you sit down for a meal must provide tap water free of charge, and I personally reckon that London tap tastes just fine.

    Most London pubs will feed you a solid single course for £10/$16 max. although pubs might be a bit grumpy just serving you tap water.

    Are you able to be a bit more area specific? I doubt if you want to spend the time and money getting from,say, the Tower of London to Bayswater just to have a value lunch. Also, where are you staying, to help with evening recs.

    My rec: If you are in The City, then between St Paul's & the Tower is The Bell pub, in Bush Lane, off Cannon Street. About four or five decent choices at lunchtime (e.g. home made burgers, roast chicken, sausage & mash) for about £8. The good bit though is Mon, Tue. & Wed it's 2 for ,1 which makes it cheaper than the nearby McDondald's.

    1. it might be worth factoring in using some of the 2-for-1 vouchers whch are floating around - this site will always have current vouchers:

      they are obviously chains so won't be amazing but it might ease budgetary pressures and if your students will want a pizza/pasta hit it is definitely worth it. from the list that is current i'd use strada, pizza express, prezzo and maybe yo sushi (i haven't been for many years so can't really judge).

      would the new yalla yalla (lebanese) be able to cope with a group that size? i've not been but like the original and know it is bigger. tas (turkish) is also good - it's got several branches and can easily handle groups.

      dishoom might also be worth a look as a central indian option which is quite fun.

      1. Hotel breakfasts are rarely a good bargain. We always skip them (cheaper room bill) and opt for coffee and a croissant at a local bakery or coffeehouse. But with a large group of youngsters I can see how a large buffet-style hotel breakfast can fill up the kids and keep them going for some time.

        One of the best ways to eat cheaply in London while still having a tasty meal is to have lunches at the Pret a Manger chain (or their EAT rival). These sandwich shops are dotted all over London and offer very good packaged sandwiches for a few pounds. Pret also offers small sushi and salad options.

        Cornish Pastie Company is a chain specialising in high quality cornish pasties with myriad of fillings to chose from.

        Dinners can be pizza. Pizza Express is dotted about London.

        There are fabulous Indian restaurants all over London. Most of them offer a cheap lunchtime buffet for between 7-15 pounds per person depending on where you go. Dinners can be reasonable if you want to be adventuresome and take your group to an Indian or Pakistani chophouse on Brick Lane. Order for the group rather than for individuals and share, as you might with a chinese meal.

        Royal China in Queensway/Bayswater offers superb dim sum for very reasonable prices.

        And, of course, there's always McDonalds.

        1. For Lunch, Marks & Spencers is a good option as well. Their sandwiches are fresh and they usually offer things like fruit, sushi, snacks as well as fresh squeezed juices. I doubt it would exceed £10 a person. If the weather is not too bad, there is usually some nearby green space where the group can sit and eat.

          Depending on the sight/museum this group can probably offer more specific recommendations. If you are at the South Kensington museums for example (Science, Nat Hist, V&A) I've always found the V&A cafeteria to be tasty, a beautiful location and not expensive.

          5 Replies
          1. re: r.vacapinta

            i second that, the V&A cafeteria is one of the best museum spots in London for both the exceptionally high quality of their lunch and value as well as your choice of three historic and gorgeous rooms to eat in.

            1. re: Samuelinthekitchen

              Personally, while I love the V&A café and definitely recommend it for tea and cake - and also rate the quality of the food - it's NOT cheap for what you get. A sandwich is about £5.

              1. re: chochotte

                au contraire, A hot meal and a cup of tea for under £10 in Central London is not bad value at all, considering how good their food is, I certainly on't regard the prices as steep by any means

                1. re: Samuelinthekitchen

                  Is the cafe in the V&A you're speaking of the same as the outdoor dining area? I was at the V&A for a quick visit last June, and I remember sitting outside in the courtyard enjoying the sun. i didn't get something to eat, but I saw tables and people eating. I remember it being an absolutely lovely place to sit in a sunny day.

                  1. re: nc213

                    darling isn't it? They've got a little food cart out there don't they? I am thinking of the three tea rooms inside.

          2. Thanks for all of the responses so far. My students are university age, so 19-22. While they will be of drinking age in the UK, we won't be paying for their alcohol, so they'll be limited to water and soft drinks on our budget. They can purchase their own drinks if they want. (The same goes for me--it's university policy.)

            We don't have all of our activities locked in yet, but I know we will be visiting the Museum of London-Docklands, the National Portrait Gallery, and The British Museum. We'll be doing a couple of walking tours as well, though I'm not sure which/where. (We'll almost certainly do the Roman London tour and a tour with Black HIstory Walks of London. We may do the East End as well.) We plan to see a few plays, mainly off-WE and Fringe, so we could end up anywhere on those evenings and afternoons. I do hope to get them in to see something at the National Theatre if the programming cooperates.

            I agree with the hotel breakfasts for myself, but with students I believe it's the best option. The growing boys can eat as much as they want, and having the breakfast room downstairs gives us an easy place to gather and set out for the day. I have no idea yet as to where we'll be staying.

            I thought of Pret and Eat right after I posted. They would be perfect for lunches. We may be heading to Brick Lane as a class since we'll probably be reading Monica Ali's novel of the same name as a part of the course. (The trip is in conjunction with a literature course on black British and postcolonial authors writing about the space of Britain. We'll be looking at different narratives of national identity all semester; then we travel to London, Liverpool, and Manchester.)

            I'm thankful for any additional suggestions and numbers. It seems that 10 pounds is the consensus for lunch, which is what I thought, but I imagine dinner will be more (?), which makes me think we're closer to $35 or $40 per day?