How much do you spend on an average dinner at home? This is an interesting question because the general idea is that eating in is cheaper. For the most part I agree, it is cheaper, but that’s not always the case.

Panu and I worked out that on average we spend about £12-£14 per meal at home. Obviously this varies depending on what’s on the menu. Spaghetti bolognese, for example, can be whipped up for under £7 and this feeds the two of us plus an extra serve for the next day, when spaghetti is inexplicably better anyway. And then there are meals where we have good steak or fish and well, those cost a lot more than £14 for two.

With this in mind, and the curiosity of whether we could sustain eating out in Central London on the same budget, Panu and I embarked on our little project a couple of weeks ago and ate out every night.

The goal? To keep dinner for two under £14.

The only guidelines we gave ourselves were – dinner doesn’t include drinks because we normally drink water at home, and the meal has to be relatively healthy. So no McD’s. Which would have fed us three times over for £14.

So we started our little experiment and… failed miserably on night 1.

Dinner 1: Tokyo Diner, Newport Place, Chinatown

We failed. But I don’t blame me I totally blame Tokyo Diner! We’d been to Tokyo Diner numerous times before for delicious donburi’s for cheap. But we’d always gone for lunch. Ah. Well, at lunch time you can get a decent sized (and very tasty!) donburi for about £5-£6 and at dinner, this cost somehow becomes an astronomical £9, which totally blows our budget.

The udon is £6.90 but Tokyo Diner is not about udon. It’s about donburi and well, it failed, we failed and GAH.

Chicken katsu don £9.70
Udon £6.90
Total £16.90

Tokyo Diner on Urbanspoon

Dinner 2: Viet Noodle Bar, Greek Street, Soho

I’m always on the hunt for good Vietnamese in London and a certain Vietnamese person recommended I go to Viet Noodle Bar on Greek Street. Incidentally I haven’t blogged it, I totally need to go back and rip out my camera, but the new Cafe VN on Clerkenwell Road is fantabulous.

Anyway, Viet Noodle Bar. Located in the hustle and bustle of London’s Soho, this very simply furnished little cafe looks promising immediately. Strangely (or not strangely, whatever) Panu and I are both not really pho fans and opt for the bun (vermicelli noodle and salad) instead. I had the grilled pork bun and it was delicious! Panu’s stir fried beef with lemongrass topping was also yummy, and the portion sizes were more than decent.

Totalling £13.00 and well we drank tap water, we have a winner!

char-grilled pork with vermicelli £6.50
stir-fried beef with lemongrass and vermicelli £650
Total £13.00
Viet Noodle Bar on Urbanspoon

Dinner 3: Leon, Ludgate Circus

A black sheep! I never thought of Leon as “cheap food” until well, until I had it one day. Coerced to try their meatballs during my little meatball obsession, I immediately found a friend in Leon, or at least somewhere to fill my food hole for not very much dosh. Everything at Leon‘s is delicious. Like, seriously. They pack a decent flavour punch into all of their meals and I’ve not yet been disappointed. In fact I was just back there again on Wednesday night!

I had a slow cooked pork wrap and a side of fresh slaw for a round £5 and Panu, being healthy and all that, had a grilled chicken superfoods salad with edamame, haricot beans and quinoa.

Grand total £11.35. Winner.

slow cooked pork wrap £3.95
fresh slaw £1.05
grilled chicken superfoods salad £6.35
Total £11.35
Leon on Urbanspoon

Dinner 4: Hi Sushi, Frith Street, Soho

Hi Sushi in Soho has always been a favourite of mine. We normally go for the £16 all you can eat deal, but if you have a look at their menu, it’s actually very affordable and their sushi is surprisingly good quality. Six little sushi rolls ring up about £3 and really, you only need two or three serves of that.  We shared tuna sushi, salmon & avocado sushi, California rolls and asparagus tempura sushi rolls. The asparagus tempura was a new one for me and woah. Really tasty.

Granted I think this was probably the smallest meal we had all week and if you’re a big eater you may need twice as much but still, it ain’t pricey. Our dinner came to £12.50, a decent £1.50 under budget!

tuna sushi rolls £2.50
salmon & avocado sushi rolls £3.00
California rolls £3.50
asparagus tempura sushi rolls £3.50
Total £12.50
Hi Sushi on Urbanspoon

Dinner 5: Cha Cha Moon, Ganton Street (Carnaby Street)

Another black sheep. We live a stone’s throw from Carnaby Street and up until now I’d avoided Cha Cha Moon like the plague because of some bad reviews I’d heard or seen or imagined. But recently, I’ve noticed a number of rather positive tweets about Cha Cha Moon popping up and granted their menu is well within our budget, I thought we’d give it a go.

And I wasn’t disappointed. Serving sizes were very decent. Singapore noodles was mouthwatering and actually brilliant. Char kuay teow wasn’t bad either – it didn’t have the lovely burnt taste that makes it authentic but it wasn’t bad. And they use lup cheong which is more than I can say for some other restaurants around London.

Total £10.80. We’re actually moving towards the £10 mark two. This is scary. And ground breaking.

Singapore fried noodles £5.60
Char kuay teow £5.20
Total £10.80
Cha Cha Moon on Urbanspoon

Dinner 6: Nam, Dean Street, Soho – total £9.80

Probably the least appealing (but cheapest) meal we had was at Nam, a casual Vietnamese set-up located on Dean Street in Soho. We sometimes wander past Nam in the afternoon and pop in for a summer roll snack, and thought we’d give them a shot at this. Again we had the “bun” (vermicelli noodle salad) and even though OMG this meal came to less than £10 for two, it didn’t taste as good as Viet Noodle Bar, which is literally two minutes away.

lemongrass beef “bun” £4.90
sesame pork “bun” £4.90
Total £9.80

Dinner 7: um…..

Dinner 7. We thought about doing one more dinner. But I’m sure someone wise once said that the seventh day was for resting. Or for feasting. On the seventh night, we splurged £50 for the two of us on dinner at Goodman.

It was well worth it.

So that was our little experiment! Evidence indeed that you can eat out for cheap in London, and actually get some pretty decent food. Not so surprisingly, on the 8th night, I was disproportionately excited to eat at home, where I could get in my pj’s, curl up on the couch and enjoy my dinner to one or two or five episodes of Fringe.

Heck, I was even happy to wash up.

20 Thoughts on “dinner for two for under £14 in Central London? Yes, it does exist.

  1. I’m sure you could Nando’s for £14 between two. I’m not ashamed to say I love Nando’s and it’s prob my fave chain eatery. I may even do a post on them as I do love their new-ish wraps.

  2. Oooh such a clever idea for a story Catty! I would love to do the same for Sydney! 😀

  3. Mr Noodles: Nice one! I didn’t even think of Nando’s! I like them too 🙂 and that goes to show you can definitely get dinner for under £14 for two in London. Yum. Now I want Nandos.

    Lorraine: You should! So when I come back to Sydney I can hit up your blog for cheap places to eat haha 🙂

  4. Genius! This was an inspired project and I think it’s so cute that you do stuff like this – it’s mostly the part I imagine you must plan it going “ooh, what about we try and eat out *every* night for 2 weeks for the price we eat at home” ^^

  5. What a brilliant post! I like Viet too and have never tried Nam so I’ll keep that in mind for next time. What about the cheap places in Chinatown? A bowl of noodle soup for about a fiver each?

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  7. Love it, Catty! And I think you’re right. I think my dinners at home can be actually quite expensive.

  8. Wong Kei at 41-43 Wardour Street, London Chinatown. Chew Yim Chu Pa Fan (Salt pepper marinated pork chop rice) and Char Siew, Siew Yok Fan (Chinese BBQ and Chinese Roast Pork Rice) – £10.00 with freeflow of Chinese tea. Can it get any better?

    Mien Tay Battersea (another Branch at Shoreditch) Beef Pho with Rice Vermicelli and Fried Rice with Roast Duck £12.00 with tap water or BYO without corkage.

    There are many more places which you can go under £14 🙂

    Maybe you should try to go under a tenner for 2.

  9. Do you REALLY spend £12 – £14 on dinner at home? That sounds insane.

  10. Argh – I hit submit too soon! Anyway, I was also going to say Hung’s on Wardour St does a great king prawn dumpling noodle soup for around £5 – a couple of them and a shared plate of veg make a great dinner.

    Also, Masala Zone do good Thalis for around £10 when you have a curry craving.

  11. Sasa: Well Panu suggested this experiment and can you imagine my eyes widen as he suggested a week of eating out! Like he even needed to check with me!! 🙂

    Su-Lin: Try Viet Noodle Bar instead of Nam – much better and more authentic. We didn’t have any Chinese food but I’m now planning experiment number 2 and will add some Chinatown destinations to my list!

    Niamh: Yes I think you can eat cheap at home but if you eat very well, then the cost sky rockets too!

    Dangerous Variable: ALL of that for £10 / £12? Like ALL those dishes? Are you serious because I am SO there!

    Lizzie: Yep it definitly adds up – we eat a lot of fresh fish and meat at home so each meal easily goes over £14… occasionally we have stir fries and pasta etc which is cheaper and brings the average down. But yep. Insane. And thanks for the rec! Hung’s is a fave of yours I know and I’m yet to go but I promise I will 🙂

  12. you spend £14 for dinner AT HOME?!?!!? wow….

    some of my dinners are <£5 for 2. but chinese food is easier to go cheap.

    Special Zone HK 1997 has great gan chao niu hor ( dry fried beef kway teow)

    i second Hung's soi gao mee.

    there's a lanzhou handpulled noodle place opp leicester sq tube station that does cheap and cheerful too.

  13. Oh – good plan. I don’t think I eat for £14 at home, but that’s because we try to eat veggie at least half the time, and we’re surrounded by a sea of Turkish grocers and aubergines for 99p/kg…

    Loving the sound of Hi Sushi – i reckon i could give their all-you-can-eat deal a run for its money. I love the whole raw fish and rice thang.

    This looks like fun *rubs hands and reaches for calculator* – I want to give it a go now. Kingsland Rd here I come (not as central as you, but a plethora of options for under £14).

  14. Jenny on May 21, 2010 at 9:33 pm said:

    Oh this looked like fun. I think people assume eating out is expensive but if you looked around there’s lots of great places! That first vietnamese place looks delicious.

  15. vix: Yeh £14 🙁 we tend to eat quite well because P eats very healthy! So no ready meals for us and not so much Chinese either but lots of fresh fish and meat! And thanks for the additional suggestions 🙂

    Grubworm: Hi Sushi all you can eat is MAD! Do it do it! And you eat vegie so often? Don’t you miss meat?! I so need my protein 🙂

    Jenny: Yeah it was fun 🙂 But after the week all I wanted to do was eat at home!

  16. Staysi on May 25, 2010 at 4:56 pm said:

    You are not a fan of Pho? OH EM GEE! Maybe you should come taste mine hehe

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  18. I really think that an average of £14 for a homecooked meal is hugely expensive, having said that I spent £16 on steak for last night but that was a very occassiona treat. My grocery budget comesin at around £40 – £50 a week for 2. I think that we eat very well and certainly are not going without anything. Like Grubworm we eat veggie / vegan most of the time at home as it is far cheaper and I feel far healthier for it and it is far better for the environment. I also simply cannot afford to buy free range and organic animal products all the time, and I will not buy animal products that are not free range and organic.

    It should be possible for everyone to eat well and healthily on a budget, sadly not everyone has the knowledge to cook at home, or access to markets or food co-ops for plentiful supplies of cheap fruit and vegetables.

    • Yes I know it sounds like a lot and I foresee being able to spend less than £10 for two at home, however my bf is a bit of a health nut and has a pretty stringent menu which includes a certain amount of protein every night ie. fresh fish or meat and since he eats chicken all day, meat at dinner usually means steak. So you can see why our bill goes up. Our eating out week didn’t reflect properly because we didn’t have fish and steak, but it was just a fun project to do really, to see if at least I could eat out (because I have no diet to speak of!) for the same price 😀

      And yes, we also don’t live all too close to any fresh food markets 🙁

  19. You can eat a VN Special Pho for £7.95 and a Pork Bun for £6 making it a grand total of £13.95 at Cafe VN. Also if you take away both of those meals will come up to £11.95

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