The 50 Best cheap eats
From Michelin-starred tasting menus for less than you’d expect to hearty pies and doorstop sandwiches for a fiver, Sophie Morris has top spots for breakfast, lunch and dinner
This week's panel:
Joanna Busk is the features editor of 'Fork magazine', forkmagazine.com;
Christine Hayes is the editor of 'Olive' magazine, bbcgoodfood.com/olive;
Samuel Muston writes the On the Menu column for 'The Independent';
James Ramsden is the author of 'Small Adventures in Cooking';
Emma Sturgess is a food journalist, award-winning restaurant critic and on the committee of the Guild of Food Writers.
"Ambitious, thoughtful food is the signature at this restaurant in Manchester, housed in a cottage in the northern suburb of Prestwich," says Emma. "Co-owners and chefs Mary-Ellen McTague and Laurence Tottingham, both ex-Fat Duck, draw inspiration from old cookery books in dishes like slow-cooked Herdwick hogget with cauliflower, smoked shallots and pearl barley. The bread is served with warm dripping, for dipping."
Where: 2 Church Lane, Prestwich, Manchester, M25 1AJ (0161 798 5841; aumbryrestaurant.co.uk)
How much: the five-course tasting menu is £25 on Tuesdays
2. Michael Caines at Abode
Two Michelin-starred Michael Caines' two diffusion restaurants occupy a grand old building in Manchester and a sleek new one overlooking Chester racecourse," says Emma. "For me, Manchester has the edge. Both serve mini 'grazing' dishes that make up the fantastic Amazing Graze lunch; it's a chance to investigate Cainesian dishes such as delicate roast hake with a cumin-scented squash puree or cinnamon pannacotta with mulled fruits. The menu is also available at the hotels in Exeter and Canterbury."
Where: 107 Piccadilly, Manchester, M1 2DB (abodehotels.co.uk)
How much: three-course Amazing Graze menu £13.50, four courses £18, five courses £22.50
3. Red Chilli
"Grown men cry, sweat and pay – though not much – for the pleasure in Red Chilli's subterranean dining room beneath Manchester's Chinatown," says Emma. "Szechuan dishes, with all the chilli that implies, are the most addictive element of the menu, and the spicy hot poached mutton and its fiery broth is plenty for two. Add French beans with minced pork and a side of spring onion bread and you've got a feast."
Where: 70-71 Portland Street, Manchester, M1 4CU. There are branches in Bacup, Leeds and York (redchillirestaurant.co.uk)
How much: hot poached mutton £9, spring onion bread £4
"The urban sport of brunch-fleecing has not made it to Almondbury near Huddersfield, where an impeccable eggs Benedict will set you back a mere £4," says Emma. "Former restaurateurs Stephen and Tracy Jackson, who sold The Weaver's Shed in Golcar to reclaim their lives, insist on using Yorkshire produce and home-grown fruit and veg for their elegant cafe. Great coffee and the papers come as standard, as do sightings of novelist Joanne Harris, who lives nearby."
Where: 91a Northgate, Almondbury, Huddersfield, HD5 8RX (t-and-cake.co.uk)
How much: mains from £6
"Catalan restaurant Lunya is a proud independent in the heart of Liverpool," says Emma. "It competes with the chains by offering everything from a deli counter to children's language lessons under one roof. Lunya makes it hard not to get excited about good Spanish food; look out for its stalls at local food festivals, where hot chorizo rolls sell out quickly," she adds. "And it's worth pre-ordering for Sunday lunch; tapas, followed by a suckling pig, Spanish puddings and coffee for just under £30 a head."
Where: 18-20 College Lane, Liverpool One, Liverpool, L1 3DS (0151 706 9770; lunya.co.uk)
How much: tapas from £1.85 to £7.95, Sunday lunch £29.95 per person.
"A mini-chain with branches around Manchester and in Leeds and Liverpool, Barburrito is a great stop for good fast food you can get stuck into," says Emma. "There are burrito bowls, nachos and tacos and usually a spicy soup, but burritos stuffed with slow-cooked pork or beef, chipotle sauce and spicy beans are the way to go. Since there's no way – even for an adult – to eat a burrito neatly, it's a stress-free option for children and they eat for £2.50."
Where: 62 The Headrow, Leeds, LS1 8EQ (barburrito.co.uk)
How much: burritos from £4.65
"It's possible to have a huge blowout at Manchester's more glamorous answer to the Polpo stable," says Emma. "But you can also get in and out for less than a tenner, and soak up some of the glam, upbeat atmosphere that has so entranced the city. Customers flock for crisp pizza topped with 'Nduja sausage and mini-dishes of pear and gorgonzola risotto and Barolo-braised beef. It's like the recession never happened."
Where: King Street West, Manchester, M3 2QG (0161 839 2233; sancarlocicchetti.co.uk)
How much: dishes from £2.60
8. Café Flo, Ripon
"Café Flo is how I imagine Café Rouge would like to be – a French brasserie with good food, a cosy atmosphere and an actual French owner," says James. "I'd be reluctant to say dinner was all that cheap – mains are around £15 mark – but a breakfast of eggs benedict for £5.25 and a lunch of a big bowl of moules mariniere for £10.95 certainly make Flo worth a visit."
Where: 25 Kirkgate, Ripon, HG4 1PB (01765 600322; flocafebrasserie.com)
How much: breakfast from £3.95
9. Little Organic Bakery
Katy Wheelwright won fans and plaudits with her ECO Catering Van, which she used to park by North Yorkshire's Bempton Cliffs RSPB reserve. In November 2011 she moved to a permanent site, the Little Organic Bakery, where she continues to churn out her much loved veggie food – scones, cakes and tarts both sweet and savoury, made with organic and local ingredients.
Where: 12 Wellington Road, Bridlington, North Yorkshire, YO15 2BG (07853 303049; atnumber12.co.uk)
How much: cakes 80p – £2.40, sausage roll £1.60, savoury tarts £2
10. The Italian Club
Christine is a fan of The Italian Club's "simple, rustic cooking". The deli-cum-restaurant is run by the Crolla family, whose forebears were among the numerous Italian immigrants who brought great Italian food to Scotland. The plan was to replicate this in Liverpool, and the hot daily specials, antipasti and varied paninis are doing a jolly good job of it.
Where: 85 Bold Street, Liverpool, L1 4HF (0151 708 5508; theitalianclubliverpool.co.uk)
How much: paninis from £4.50
"If you are in and around the Yorkshire area then take a peek at this cracking place in Ripon," says Samuel. "The modern European food is as unfussy as the atmosphere and the dishes are very reasonably priced."
Where: 83 North Street, Ripon, HG4 1DP (01765 607555; lockwoodsrestaurant.co.uk)
How much: starters from £5.95, mains from £7.95
12. The Smokehouse
Fish and chips are a cheap eat anytime, any place. The Smokehouse in Folkestone cranks up the swank and the sustainability factor with its wider-than-usual choice of fish species and quirky items such as mussel and cockle popcorn and salt and pepper squid. Owner Mark Sargeant was Gordon Ramsay's right-hand man before decamping to set up this relaxed coastal idyll.
Where: 1-3 Back Street, Folkestone, CT19 6NN (thesmokehousefolkestone.co.uk)
How much: cod or haddock with mushy peas and a drink, £7.50 Tues – Fri; chicken and chips, £6.50
13. The Wild Garlic
Former MasterChef winner Mat Follas has made such a success of his restaurant that he's opened an adjacent apartment where travelling foodies can rest their heads and enjoy a three-course dinner delivered to their door. The food is modern British, local and proper – venison, partridge, plaice, halibut and wonderfully light but naughty desserts. The à la carte is not cheap – mains from £17 – but the cooking and quality of ingredients are worth it.
Where: 4 The Square, Beaminster, Dorset, DT8 3AS (01308 861446; thewildgarlic.co.uk)
How much: apartment £125/£150 per night; room service three courses £50 for two.
14. Riverford Field Kitchen
Veg-box and farm-shop expert Riverford has a restaurant at its Devon farm. The grub is almost all from the farm, certainly local, and the "help yourself" format means you can eat for three. The 2012 menu kicks off with grilled goose skirt with purple sprouting broccoli and hollandaise, potato and porcini gratin, steamed marmalade pudding and blood orange tart.
Where: Buckfastleigh, Devon, TQ 11 0JU (01803 762074; riverford.co.uk/restaurant)
How much: two-course lunch £19.90; three-course supper £26.50, children half price
15. At the Chapel
"You can eat more expensively here, but it's worth coming to At the Chapel just for the pizza," says Joanna. "This converted chapel in Somerset has a custom-designed wood-fired oven knocking out pitch-perfect pizzas. Try the tallegio, rocket and thyme or a simple yet sublime anchovies, capers, olives and melted onions. The owner sent the chefs to Italy to learn how to cook pizza properly and it shows."
Where: High Street, Bruton, Somerset, BA10 0AE (atthechapel.co.uk)
How much: £8.50 for a buffalo mozzarella, tomato and basil pizza
"Jon and Tristan of Pieminister count me among their many fans," says Joanna. "Made by hand with all butter pastry, flavours include the fish Pietanic and the Heidi with goats cheese, sweet potato, spinach and roasted garlic. My favourite is the Matador: beef, butterbeans, chorizo and sherry. Eat as they come or order a mothership and it comes with mash, gravy, minty mushy peas and toppings of crispy shallots or grated cheese."
Where: Shops across the South including Bristol, Oxford and London (pieminister.co.uk)
How much: from £3.75 a pie
17. Tart Café and Foodstore
"This Bristol neighborhood café is a family business," says Joanna. "Head chef Andrew Griffin worked under local culinary legend Stephen Markwick for 15 years and it shows. There are different flavours of the eponymous little tarts each day – try a leek, thyme and gruyère or a smoked salmon and spinach – proper sandwiches, excellent breakfasts, champagne afternoon teas and quite brilliant cakes – don't miss the Boston cake, only on weekends."
Where: Tart, 16 The Promenade, Gloucester Rd, Bristol, BS7 8AE (01179 247628; lovelytart.com)
How much: tart of the day with a green salad £6.25
18. River Cottage Canteen Plymouth
"Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's new venture in Plymouth is a sure bet for its cracking location and great British seasonal food at affordable prices," says Joanna. "It's big and buzzy with a menu spanning soups, sandwiches, pizzas and daily specials. It's not hard to eat brilliantly here without breaking the bank. Do try the crab on toast."
Where: River Cottage Canteen & Deli, Royal William Yard, Plymouth, PL1 3QQ (rivercottage.net)
How much: from £3.75 for a rare-breed streaky-bacon bap
Scotland, Wales & Northern Ireland
19. Mimi's Bakehouse
If it's a hearty full Scottish breakfast you're after, a homemade stovie or an afternoon tea of sweet and savoury treats , Mimi's Bakehouse in Edinburgh will hit the spot. Mimi has won the Scottish Casual Dining Chef of the Year award and mixes classic recipes with quirky cakes such as chocolate and beetroot.
Where: 63 Shore, Edinburgh, EH6 6RA (0131 555 5908; mimisbakehouse.com)
How much: breakfast from £3.50
20. Rocket & Relish
Olive discovered this burger gem by way of Richard Johnson's Street Food Revolutions. Owner Chris Boyd began with a mobile converted Airstream van before opening in Belfast. The burgers are all made locally and it's BYO, no corkage.
Where: 479, Lisburn Rd, Belfast, BT9 7EZ (02890 665655; rocketandrelish.com)
How much: lunchtime burger and chips or drink, £4.95
Stravaigin has Glasgow's only Michelin star. It might be unusual to link one of these with a cheap eat, but there are bargains on this menu, which mixes Scottish dishes with Chinese, Vietnamese, Peruvian...
Where: 28 Gibson St, Kelvinbridge, Glasgow, G12 8NX (0141 244 4365; stravaigin.co.uk)
How much: two course lunch from £10 or £13.95 for dinner; a la carte £60-£70 for two
22. Vegetarian Food Studio
"Tucked away down a back street, this family-run restaurant has a canteen-style dining room and specialises in meat, egg and dairy-free dishes from Southern India and the Gujurati region," says Joanna. "The home-made pickles and chutneys and fresh breads are worth it alone. I love the paneer rolls with tamarind chutney."
Where: 109 Penarth Rd, Cardiff, CF11 6JT (029 2023 8222; vegetarianfoodstudio.co.uk)
How much: curry mains £4.55
23. University Café
Christine recommends Glasgow's University Café. "Well-loved, with hearty food and original art-deco panelling," she says. All the classic comforts are here: bacon and egg rolls, unbeatable chips and regulars rave about the ice cream and coffee.
Where: 87 Byres Road, Glasgow, G11 5HN (0141 339 5217)
How much: lunch mains, including lasagne, from £4.95
24. The Old Forge
This pub is the most remote in mainland Britain. If you're prepared to hike 18 miles over the Munros or brave a 45-minute ferry ride, the food – seafood platters, belly pork, steak and venison – and the music are real draws. For pud there is bread and butter pudding, Eton mess and crème brulee, and sourcing is as local as possible.
Where: Inverie, Knoydart, Mallaig, PH14 4PL
How much: starters from £4.25, mains from £8.95
25. Richard Booth's Bookshop Café
"Tucked away at the back of a book emporium, everything in this outstanding café is made on site," says Christine. Richard Booth's cavernous shop helped make Hay a literary destination. Ruminate splashing out on that first Edition over pheasant terrine or Welsh rarebit. Open from Wednesday to Sunday.
Where: 44 Lion St, Hay-on-Wye, Hereford, HR3 5AA (01496 820 322; boothbooks.co.uk)
How much: From £5
26. The Angel Inn
Chef Mark Peters has worked with Stephen Terry and Franco Taruschio and is turning out a new menu structured around local ingredients (cider-roasted pork belly, venison pie) with some on-trend accents.
Where: Grosmont, Monmouthshire, NP7 8EP (01981 240646; grosmont.org/group/ the-angel-inn)
How much: starters from £4; mains from £10.50
27. Mourne Seafood Bar
Mourne Seafood Bar is something of a Belfast institution because it manages to keep good quality seafood at base-rate prices – no small feat, and no wonder the Irish flock across the border to feast here. Hop on a stool at the oyster bar, which opened last summer, for a glass of wine and a small plate.
Where: 34-36 Bank Street, Belfast, BT1 1HL (02890 248 544; mourneseafood.com)
How much: small plates all £4
28. The Tailend Restaurant and Fish Bar
Tailend has a simple philosophy – the best seafood, cooked to order, for a great price. There are daily specials in the restaurant and fish, pies and burgers to takeaway. Branches in St Andrews and Edinburgh.
How much: haddock from £4.80; steak pie from £3.40
29. Eat Street
"It's impossible not to include this new arrival on the cheap eats scene," says Joanna. "Petra Barran's Eat Street collective has landed in Kings Cross and every week a rotating group of traders will be serving up probably the best cheap eats you'll find anywhere."
Where: Eat Street, The King's Boulevard, Kings Cross, London, N1C (eat.st/kings-cross)
How much: dishes from £4 to £10
Sushi joints are 10 a penny in the capital and while there are plenty of cheap options, the quality is often poor. "Atari-Ya has four shops and three sushi bars in London and is small authentic and friendly," says Christine.
Where: various locations
How much: set sushi lunch, £11.70
"Yianni Papoutsis has achieved almost a god-like status for his legendary burgers, and with good reason," says Joanna. "I can't resist these big, sloppy burgers made from 100 per cent, 28-day-aged chuck steak and piled high with pickles, onions and grilled cheese."
Where: MEATliquor, 74 Welbeck St, London, W1G 0BA (meatliquor.com)
How much: burger from £6, sides £3
32. Patio, Shepherd's Bush
"If you've ever wondered what it would be like to have dinner in a Polish person's home, then wonder no more," says James. "Patio is all red linen and grandfather clocks. An excellent menu – stuffed cabbage, potato pancake and sour cream, pierogi dumplings."
Where: 5 Goldhawk Road, London, W12 8QQ (0208 743 5194; patiolondon.com)
How much: £15.50 for 3 courses
"It's all about well-sourced Gallic(ish) sharing dishes and keenly priced, well-kept wines at this east London joint," says Samuel. Brawn opened to great fanfare in 2009 offering trotters, scratchings, beef marrow as well as snails, oysters and mussels.
Where: 49 Columbia Rd, Bethnal Green, E2 7RG (0207 729 5692; brawn.co.uk)
How much: plates range from £3 to £14; Sunday lunch £25
34. Tayyabs, Whitechapel
"Hardly London's best kept secret, Tayyabs is nevertheless essential eating for anyone who still thinks Brick Lane is where the best curries are at," says James.
Where: 83-89 Fieldgate Street, London, E1 1JU (0207 247 6400; tayyabs.co.uk)
How much: £10 per head
35. Corner Room
"The Corner Room is the little brother of Nuno Mendes' Michelin-starred restaurant Viajante," says Samuel. "They are both in the modish Town Hall Hotel and share the same chefs." Sophisticated European food, but no bookings, sadly.
Where: Town Hall Hotel, 8 Patriot Square, London, E2 9NF (cornerroom.co.uk)
How much: mains £10- £15
36. Eat My Pies
"Great British grub with a strong stress on pastry," says Christine. "Proper pies such as chicken and ham are served alongside Scotch eggs, Yorkshire pudding baps, quiches, sweet tarts and puddings."
Where: White Cross Street Market on Thursdays and Fridays; Broadway Market on Saturdays (eatmypies.co.uk)
How much: Scotch eggs, pies and tarts all £3, pasties from £4
37. The Haberdashery Café
"This independent café is a proper little gem," says Joanna. "Owners Greg and Massimo serve up international café food (think halloumi and sweet potatoes) made with quality ingredients."
Where: 22 Middle Lane, Crouch End, N8 8PL (0208 342 8098; the-haberdashery.com)
How much: seasonal soup of the day £4.95; all dishes under £10
38. Dosa n Chutny
Recommended by Christine for its dosa "crêpes" for less than a fiver, Dosa n Chutny brings South India and Sri Lanka's fragrant flavours to the streets of Tooting for very few of your hard-earned pennies.
Where: 68 Tooting High St, SW17 0RN (02 8 767 9200; dosanchutny.co.uk)
How much: dosas from £1.95; set lunch £4.50/£5.50
39. Books for Cooks, Notting Hill
"For £7 you get a three-course lunch, usually based on one of the books in the shop," says James. "Coffee and wine are extra, and you can spend the money you've saved supporting a proper independent bookshop."
Where: 4 Blenheim Crescent, London, W11 1NN (0207 221 1992; booksforcooks.com)
How much: lunch £7
40. Allpress Espresso
"The kiwis know their coffee, but they could teach us a thing or two about sandwiches too," says Joanna. "Exquisite sourdough sandwiches tower behind the counter. Delicious."
Where: 58 Redchurch St, Shoreditch, E2 7DP (0207 749 1780; allpressespresso.com)
How much: from £4 for a cheese and chive sandwich
41. El Parador, Mornington Crescent
"El Parador never disappoints," says James. "The food – tapas, mostly – is always spot on, the service charming, the garden paradisiacal and the drink very good value.
Where: 245 Eversholt Street, NW1 1BA (0207 387 2789; elparadorlondon.com)
How much: average price per tapas £6
42. Albion at the Boundary
"Terence Conran's newest restaurant is a paean to the type of British cooking your granny used to make," says Samuel. "Think hearty steak and kidney pudding and rich rabbit stew."
Where: 2-4 Boundary Street, London, E2 7DD (0207 729 1051 albioncaff.co.uk)
How much: mains about £10
43. Franco Manca
Try the sourdough pizzas at Franco Manca: a wonderful combo of doughy and chewy but also thin and light for less than a tenner. There are three branches in Chiswick, Brixton and Westfield Stratford.
How much: from £4.50 for tomato, garlic and oregano
Russell Norman's Jewish (but not kosher) deli-cum-diner-cum-cocktail hangout is the latest addition to his growing clan of central London dens.
Where: 25 Catherine Street, London, WC2B 5JS (0207 240 2078; mishkins.co.uk)
How much: brunch from £5Midlands & East
45. The Asquith
"Glynn Purnell's second Birmingham restaurant is pretty stark, but the cooking is entirely loveable," says Emma. "With scrambled egg tart and bacon crumble and cucumber jelly, or a tender red wine-poached pear matched with super-sour iced cherry yoghurt, the set menu is, unusually, just as interesting as the a la carte."
Where: 11 Newhall Street, Birmingham, B1 3NY (0121 200 1588; www.theasquith.com)
How much: set menu £14.95
Bobby's is a vegetarian Indian restaurant opened in 1972 by a Ugandan Asian family, exiled by Idi Amin, who wanted to feed the area's Asian community. It serves authentic, affordable Gujarati and Indo-fusion cuisine.
Where: 154 - 156 Belgrave Road, Leicester, LE4 5AT (0116 266 0106; eatatbobbys.com)
How much: special thali £7.99
47. Butley Orford Oysterage
"Not far from the creek where the oysters are raised, this is basic but busy and on the market square," says Emma. "Alongside sardines, cod roe, trout and mackerel galore, the smoked fish and oyster plates are divine.
Where: Market Hill, Orford, Suffolk, IP12 2LH
How much: from £4.50 to £14
"An institution lovingly revived, Fitzbillies combines old-fashioned cake-shop treats with a menu with the pared-back sensibility of St John," says Emma. "Things on or with toast, including a delicate crab pâté with pickled cucumber, are a strong point. The house speciality, Chelsea buns soaked in a dark, sticky syrup, do the job of a full lunch for less than £2."
Where: 52 Trumpington Street, Cambridge, CB2 1RG (fitzbillies.com)
How much: Chelsea buns £1.80 to take out, £2.80 in the café
49. The Company Shed
High praise for this unprepossessing Essex shed. "It's BYO bread and wine, fish are from local boats and the oysters are from the family beds next door to the shack. Seafood with a view surely doesn't come cheaper," says Joanna.
Where: 129 Coast Road, Essex, CO5 8PA (01206 382700; the-company-shed.co.uk)
How much: oysters from 70p, £11.50 for a fish platter
50. Café Ikon
Spanish food is having its moment across the country. This café attached to Birmingham's Ikon Gallery does Spanish cuisine proud, with tapas, sandwiches, main dishes and a mention in The Good Food Guide. Still worth a visit even if you're not fussed about art.
Where: 1 Oozells Square, Brindleyplace, Birmingham, B1 2HS (ikon-gallery.co.uk)
How much: small plates from £2, large plates from £7.50
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