Hungry for culture but hungrier for food? Now the People's museums are waging war on the taxpayer, a full meal at Paper Tiger costs less than seeing the Great Bed of Ware at the V&A, as Serena Mackesy found out


Three words that rarely go together: "South Kensington" and "cheap". Now that paying is compulsory at the V&A, there is virtually nowhere to have a sit-down in the area that costs less than a fiver, unless you want to poison yourself on deathburgers or expose yourself to the Eastern bloc gloom of the wonderful Daquise cafe. Except that, between the tube and the museums, conveniently next door to the wonderful modern Islamic architecture of the Ismaili centre (and popular with the religion's adherents when things are going on there) is Paper Tiger, a Chinese restaurant where you can eat - believe it or not - as much as you like for pounds 4.50, lunch (12-2.30pm) and dinner (6-11.30pm). One can run up pounds 4.50 in Pret a Manger without trying.

Stoop to get in through the tiny door here, and you will emerge in a cellar where headroom is redolent of the good old days when servants had rickets. An interesting mixture of builders, students, Aussie backpackers and very old ladies queue at a buffet table where, over the hotplates, a sign proclaims "Please eat as much as you want. Do not waste food" and sit at plastic-clothed tables stuffing themselves.

How these people make a profit is anybody's guess: they provide 10 choices: soup, three starters, main courses, veg, noodles and rice. True, the food here bears roughly the same resemblance to Ken Hom's as the Stockpot's bears to Marco Pierre White's, but the salt-baked chilli chicken wings are excellent and the soup the sort of thing that provides instant comfort when you're tucked up in bed with 'flu. The general effect is of one of the Beijing food outlets recommended by the Rough Guide.

The added bonus is the most hilarious ladies' loo in London. Built in the old coal chute, the ceiling can't be more than five-feet high; to get to any of the facilities you have to drop to your knees or have recourse to the bottle marked "drink me" in your handbag. Still, the world's smallest loo seems apt in a restaurant down the road from the world's biggest bed.

Paper Tiger, 10-12 Exhibition Rd, London SW7 (0171-584 3737)