The best grub at the best prices

If you want a pizza in Islington, you’re spoilt for choice.  Pizza Mia (Chapel Market) serves up an incredibly authentic slice of Italian deliciousness for just £3, while at Regina Margherita (Upper Street) it’s hard to believe you’re not in Naples. My favourite is La Porchetta (Rosebery Avenue), where you can get an unimaginably huge pizza for as little as £6.50.

But for a real bargain, don’t be afraid to try the big chains. Upper Street has decent branches of Ask, Pizza Express and (the king of the pack) Strada, all of which reguarly offer discounts at myvouchhercodes.com. I’d never go to any of them unless they were running a good deal, but two pizzas for £12 is not to be sniffed at.

As a committed carnivore, I’m not generally a fan of vegetarian restaurants.  But much as I love meat, I love an all-you-can-eat buffet more.  Especially if it’s all you can eat for £3.95. THREE NINETY FIVE. So I gave the Indian Veg House, Chapel Market a go.

The good news: the food’s alright.  Decent curry, all your standard onion bhajis, samosas etc and a varied if slightly uninspiring salad bar.  The bad news is: ‘payback’ comes in the form of a hearty helping of holier-than-thou vegetarian preaching.

But for a slightly more exciting lunch for the same price as a Pret sandwich, it’s well worth it.

Ever get worried when something is a bit too cheap? Ie are they just opening up some Tesco Value ready meals back there and sticking them in the microwave? 

That was my feeling as I was waiting for my food at Little Bay, Farringdon Road.  The prices are ridiculous; all starters £1.98, mains £4.48 and desserts £1.98.  They’ve even got my faves, moules marinieres, on the starters menu, but I wimped out because of the Cheap Food Fear over dodgy shellfish.

I needn’t have worried.  The food was great; pretty standard continental recipes but generous portions and flavoursome.  I was particuarly impressed with my chicken stuffed with cheese and spinach, which came with spicy potatoes and lovely tender broccolli on the side (£4.48! omg).

The place itself is cute if a bit tacky- we’re talking giant gilt statues of greek gods.  But for a date on a budget or a cheap supper with friends (washed down by plenty of equally cheap wine), it’s got to be hard to rival this place for value for money.

Banana Tree Canteen

Photo: Ewan Munro

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Well, the food arrived very quickly….a little too quickly when you consider how full the restaurant was and the length of the menu.But I was starving so I wasn’t going to complain, and surveying the sheer vastness of my bowl of laksa soup I considered it to have been £6 well spent. The food was pretty tasty too- although I have to say it was not as delicious as the version that my housemate makes. My boyfriend doesn’t really eat Asian food (I know) so he was blown away with his Pad Thai but I reckon that, like the laksa, it was a passable if not outstanding dish. The restaurant itself feels like a tired wagamamas, but the service was friendly and prompt. For the prices they charge here its hard to be disappointed- don’t go with huge expectations and you’ll come away satisfied.

Exmouth Market

Where can you get delicious, freshly cooked food for under a fiver, without having to wait? Exmouth Market of course.  This corner of Islington is renowned for serving up some of the best street food in London, and it’s a well-deserved reputation.

Situated along a pedestrianised street in Clerkenwell, Exmouth Market is ideal for a tastier lunch-break. The thriving market kicks off at about midday, and continues through the afternoon. There’s food from all over the globe, the lovely Spa Fields Park to sit in and boutique-y shops to browse when you have finished. What more could you ask for?

The best days to visit are Fridays (11am-6pm) and Saturdays (9am to 4pm), when produce merchants descend to join the regular food-to-go stalls.

See Time Out’s excellent feature for a run-down of the food on offer.  I recommend Ghanian curry from the award-winning Spinach and Agushi, who serve up two generous portions of curry with rice for just £5. Yum.

Think you know somewhere better? Drop us a comment or tweet @cheapfoodis

Le Mercury, Upper Street

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This blog wants to find the best place for cheap food in Islington, and the subject of this first post is going to take some beating.

Le Mercury, 140a Upper Street, certainly does cheap. All starters are £3.95, all mains £7.95 and all desserts £2.95. For that price, I’d have been happy with a smallish portion of edible if not spectacular food.

But this is real, rustic French cooking and the food was fresh, delicious and generously portioned. I had breaded tiger prawns with chilli sauce and rocket salad, followed by perfectly pink duck in Gran Marnier sauce with pureed potato. He had warm goats cheese on red pepper and artichoke salad, drizzled with pesto, followed by two enormous fillets of sea bass on minty crushed potatoes. We squeezed in creme brulee and chocolate truffle cake for dessert. Neither of us could fault any of it.

The restaurant itself is charming if a bit old fashioned. The staff were prompt and polite, and although the food arrived very quickly they still brought us some baguette to eat while we waited. The atmosphere is shamelessly romantic; candle lit tables tucked into cosy corners make it an ideal place to come if you want to treat a loved one to a taste of France without splashing out on a Eurostar ticket.

Plenty of tables are crammed into the three-storey Victorian building, but the place was buzzing even at 6pm on a Monday night, so be sure to book in advance.

Great food, great service and great place: I’ll definitely be going back.

Have you been to Le Mercury? What did you think of it?