Interior of Tayyabs Restaurant, London

Budget Olympics 2012: Where to Find London Pubs & Grub on the Cheap

If you’re lucky enough to have scored Olympics tickets and found a hotel in London that’s not twenty miles away from the stadium and doesn’t cost an arm and a leg, well done! But your mission isn’t completed yet; the Olympics will still push up the price of everything in the city.

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First rule of capital preservation: don’t eat in the stadium! Instead, take a trip to nearby Hackney or Whitechapel to find a wide range of authentic food at budget prices.

Where to Find Budget Grub

For instance, Tayyabs off Whitechapel High Street is well known for its grilled meat and other delicious sub-continental offerings. It’s a noisy, busy place with nothing refined or pretentious about it, and you’ll probably have to queue for a table. But it does offer robust food in big portions, and at a bargain price. If it’s really busy, you could try the Lahore Kebab House on Commercial Road, just round the corner.

Interior of Tayyabs Restaurant, London
Tayyabs Restaurant, London

Brick Lane is best known for its ‘Banglatown’ restaurants. Head up to the north end of the lane and visit one of the two bagel shops, either the Beigel Bake, or 155 Brick Lane – this was a Jewish area long before the Sylhetis moved in. You’ll face another binary decision when you get inside (there’s often a queue) – lox and cream cheese (lox is smoked salmon if you don’t speak Yiddish), or hot salt beef? Both are delectable.

Alternatively, head for the junction of Old Street and Kingsland Road (Kingsland Road railway station), for a selection of Vietnamese restaurants. Further up Kingsland Road on the way to Stoke Newington you’ll find Turkish restaurants and kebab shops.

Does the word ‘kebab’ mean grease and unidentifiable meat, as far as you’re concerned? Try the Best Kebab Shop (one of those rare cases where a boastful name is in fact broadly accurate) to find out how kebabs are meant to be — fresh, tasty and served with love and yogurt. Or find the Mangal Ocakbasi in Arcola street, which serves Turkish mixed grills; or the Sariyer Balik which specialises in Turkish fish dishes.

A slightly different option is the Towpath Cafe, on the Regent’s Canal towpath near the Kingsland Road bridge. This is a delightful place to hang out, really relaxed and fun. The food is Italian and Mediterranean-influenced — you can get a steak sandwich with caramelised onions for instance, or cumin lamb with chickpeas. Or just a coffee or hot chocolate.

Mini-Pub Crawl that Won’t Break the Bank

I have a horrible feeling that you’re not going to get a good pint at the Olympics, given that Heineken (not one of my personal favourites) is the official beer sponsor. You’re not allowed to take your own either. So I would head off to a decent real ale pub instead. The problem is that Stratford, alas, doesn’t have that many good ones — so you’ll need to take your Oyster card in hand and head off a tube stop or two.

Interior of The Camel Pub, London
The Camel Pub, London

Take the tube to Bethnal Green and The Camel, a gastropub where you can spend less than £10 on your grub. The choice is pie, pie, or pie — but as well as steak and kidney there are more exotic options such as Thai green curry pie, or Greek feta pie, all with mash and gravy. Oh, and apple pie too. Did I mention the pies?

Mason & Taylor further along Bethnal Green Road is a good second stop if you fancy a mini-pub crawl. It has a wide selection of craft beers, including American and Belgian ales as well as beers from British microbrewers.

Or make your way to Southwark (a bit further, but it’s all on the Jubilee line) where the Market Porter is one of my favourite pubs — a huge selection of real ales. You can easily make yourself a mini pub crawl here, visiting the Wheatsheaf, or the Rake with a selection of less easy to find beers on pump, as well as numerous micro-brewery bottled ales, and then heading to the George in Borough High Street to see the last of London’s great galleried coaching inns (and drink more real ale).

Oh yes. Hotels. If you haven’t booked yet, don’t give yourself transport headaches and stay in the West End — which is expensive anyway — but try a hotel in the City, or in Docklands. You’ll be much closer to the action — and probably pay less too. If you hurry you might get a room in one of the new Tune Hotels (including one handily located for Olympics visitors near Liverpool Street) opening this year — they’re currently about the cheapest hotels in London that are still decent and clean.

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