Cheapskate eating

I love places to eat that not only serve fabulous grub but where you struggle to spend a tenner and leave with a full belly and a smile on your face. Sound too good to be true? Living in London makes it relatively easy to find such gems, as the city is truly blessed with a kaleidoscopic array of cuisines and prices to suit every wallet. And what with the recession making us all much more money-conscious, anywhere that is cheap and serving exemplary snackage is definitely on my radar.

Here are two recent finds:

Franco Manca, Brixton, South London

Good God – this is the best pizza I’ve eaten in this country. And I don’t say that lightly – I’m really fussy when it comes to pizza. Franco Manca doesn’t make the process of getting fed easy, but never mind that you have to queue with the tenacity of a bull to get a table here and can’t make reservations (get real: this down-to-earth café is in the atmospheric and bustling Brixton Market Arcade, where baskets of live African land snails are shoved next to piles of yams and tins of shoe polish), or that you often eat cheek-by-jowl with total strangers in cramped conditions, and that the majority of clientele appears to be Guardian-reading middle class people like me (why do I find this embarrassing?) – anyway, none of this matters since the sourdough pizzas are just TO DIE. Just the right balance of chewy and crisp dough with lovely smokiness from the wood fire, and impressive toppings from a simple, no-nonsense menu. You can only choose from about four different types of pizza and one daily special. Wine comes in cheap tumblers. The coffee will blow your head off. There is rustic lemonade that looks suspiciously like cider. The restaurant manager does an impressive line in barking orders over everybody’s heads like a military sergeant. In the picture above, my friend E is holding her pizza up as though she’s been given a fantastic gift! I’m going to queue up there again tomorrow…

Address: Franco Manca, 4 Market Row, Electric Lane, Brixton, London SW9 8LD.

Benito’s Hat, Fitzrovia, Central London.

For years it was virtually impossible to get decent Mexican food in this country. I was bored by crap nachos smothered in greasy cheese, refried beans out of a tin, no decent chilli in sight. But lo – all of a sudden London is now blessed with a sprinkling of places all versed in the proper ways of Mexican spicing, where the food will be laced with fresh herbs, zingy chilli and smoky black beans. And it’s a great cheap way to fill up! We discovered Benito’s Hat last weekend after having read good reviews about their freshly-made burritos. My husband opted for the steak burrito – a soft flour tortilla stuffed with strips of smoky beef, lime-infused rice, guacamole, chillies and coriander, and boy was it massive. Rougly the size of a doorstop. I chose the chicken tacos (see below) and they were delicious. Soft corn mini tortillas filled with spicy smoky chicken, grated cheese, guacamole and salad – garnished with a handful of salty tortilla chips. Everything tasted fresh and zingy. We both ate heartily for the princely sum of £9.50. Arriba!

Address: Benito’s Hat, 56 Goodge St, London, W1T 4NB. Tel: 020 76373732

And where else could I recommend? Well. I return again and again to the Vietnamese restaurant mile on Kingsland Road in Shoreditch. You will eat like a king at Loong Kee, Viet Grill and Cay Tre (three personal faves) and rarely break the £20 mark. Most of them are BYO, which keeps the cost down, and the food is always sensational. I might have to do a proper posting on the Viet Mile soon…

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