10 Best Cheap Eats (South of the River)
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Welcome to the hedonistic badlands south of the River Thames, an untamed bohemia of lawlessness and revelry. They say if you make it as far as Catford, you can still see dragons in the mountains and elves roaming the woodlands at night. They also say that many a bargain meal can be got in these parts, which piqued our curiosity greatly. After some extensive research, these were our faves.
This canteen-style restaurant in Camberwell specialises in the cuisine of Xinjiang, a province in the north-west of China whose flavours reflect the melting pot of cultures created by the silk road trading route.
Think dumplings, noodles and broths, but made with cumin, lamb and other flavours you’d typically associate with the Middle East. It’s quick, busy, but *mostly* delicious. It's also damn cheap: 10 delicious lamb and onion dumplings will set you back a meagre £4, and mains aren't much more. You should try challenging yourself to something new - you never know, you could be a massive fan of ox tripe shish (full disclosure: we weren’t).
Special cooked lamb with hand-pulled noodles: £6.50
This charming cafe is the brick-and-mortar embodiment of ‘community spirit’. Originally set up in the 80s to serve the growing squatting community in the area, it is now run by a rotating collective of chefs at prices that keep it accessible to all members of the local clientele. And it's BYOB, which is just fantastic.
Offerings are vegan and vegetarian but the carousel-like nature of the kitchen means you’re never 100% sure of what you’re gonna get; but you can be pretty confident that it’ll be delicious. Don't wait on this one - there have been rumours rumbling about closure due to high rents and property types sticking their beaks in.
All Mains: £8 Starters: £3
We’re not sure if it’s the top quality Pakistani food or the unrelentingly bright strip lighting, but this joint is a glistening gem in Tooting Broadway’s surprisingly shiny crown. Curries are spiced to perfection and meats are all kinds of tender. Unsurprisingly it’s pretty popular here, so expect to wait a little for a table, but once you’re sat down service is quick and the food is certainly worth the wait. It's a favourite of Sadiq Khan apparently, so there's that.
Chicken Karahi: £7.50
This is a weird one for sure: part Middle Eastern food store, part Iranian vegetarian café, and all headed up by the charmingly eccentric Sally Butcher. It's truly one of a kind.
The café (called Snackistan) is a tight cluster of cramped tables (9 and a half to quote Sally) and fills up pretty quick come lunchtime, in no small part because of the excellent mezze deal which will bag you all kinds of levantine treats for just 4 quid (or £7.50 for two). The line-up changes regularly and can go 'off-piste' but think hummus, baba ganoush, giant couscous and flat breads, all herby and hella flavoursome.
Mezze plater with warm bread: £4
An ex-greasy spoon, this cutesy vegetarian cafe is a good indicator of how much this neck of South London has changed. Chickpea stews and spring risottos are what to expect on their regularly changing menu, however, true to their roots, they still do a banging fry up piled high with meat-free delights. It’s something of a gold standard for veggie breakfasts and people flock accordingly.
It’s also BYOB, perfect if you’re looking for a sauce that isn’t brown with your breakfast (no, not ketchup, you animal).
Veggie Breakfast: £8
At first glance, Yada’s falls somewhere between ‘ramshackle’ and ‘raggedy’, but spend an evening here feasting on Kurdish delights and you might upgrade it in your mind's eye to ‘eclectic’ or maybe even ‘charming’.
Salads, shawarmas and mezze are all fantastic, portions are large, and prices small. This is what a Cheap Eat is all about. If you get mezze be sure to ask for some rice patty kubbas loaded with lamb, nuts and spices.
Mixed shawarma with salad and rice: £8
Come get you some gluten and meat free galettes from this humble Cameroonian crêperie. The vibe in here is just the right side of kitsch, with multicoloured, mismatched interiors providing the backdrop to your meal.
We’d recommend the jerk goat galette that comes piled with shredded butternut squash, jerk goat's cheese, mushrooms, and spinach.
Jerk goat galette: £6.25
The people of Brixton are a bit spoilt for choice between Village Market and Pop Brixton, but this BYOB spot sticks out not only for its ridiculously agreeable pricing, but for its authentic dishes that are packed with enough flavour to kill a small mammal (whose remains would probably be delicious, too).
It can get a bit hectic with the sheer amount of people they try to serve in such a small space, but go with it and you will be rewarded with some of the tastiest Thai food this side of town. Just be warned, they'll want their table back within an hour and won't tolerate your protests. Most mains are £9.50, but if you wanna push the boat out, get the Gai Yang (half grilled chicken with sticky rice) for £13.90.
Panang Gai with rice: £9.50
You might be thinking the whole sourdough-pizza/wood-fired-oven thing has been done to death, but you'd be wrong, so don't think that: the stuff is, and always will be, fantastic.
500 degrees is slowly and methodically chipping away at Franco Manca's authoritarian stranglehold on South London one delicious, cheap Neapolitan-style pizza at a time. They source many of their ingredients straight from the Boot, and judging by the regular stream of Italian punters, they're doing it like many a nonna might have. Pizzas start at £4.95 and even the most extravagant keep it under a tenner.
Capricciosa (For di latte, crushed tomatoes, ham, mushrooms, olives and artichokes): £9.45
Another BYOB Brixton number for hungry budgeters, Fish, Wings & Tings is a bustling, vibrant spot for Trini food that'll have your mouth watering from the smells and, soon after, your eyes watering from the spice on those wings. Food here is hearty, flavoursome, and - you guessed it - cheap. It gets pretty busy, especially on weekends, and the service can border on bossy when it does, but put on your Big Girl Pants and take it like Beyoncé.
Oxtail stew with rice & peas, coleslaw and chutney: £10