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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
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
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.