My favourite cheap eats in London – part 1

At heart I am all about the cheap eat.  While I’d never say no to a meal at the Gavroche (set lunch = excellent value considering the quality of the food, plus it includes half a bottle of beautiful wine) – I am never happier than when I’m eating something delicious that costs a tenner or less.  Simple things done well – that is a t-shirt I’d wear, along with Team Aniston, and one with a picture of Alec Baldwin’s face on it.  I love Alec Baldwin so bad it hurts, but more of that in my second novel.
So, in no particular order here are three of my favourite bargain places / things to eat:
Fitou, 1-3 Dalgarno Gardens, W10 (near Wormwood Scrubs prison.  The glamour…)
This is probably my favourite restaurant in London.  It is totally cheap and cheerful, hard to spend more than about £15 a head even if you’re being a total pig (it’s BYO) – but most importantly the food is outstanding.  I once saw the Prime Minister here, but don’t hold that against the place if you’re not a fan.
Starters: – Fish Cakes, Papaya Salad – super super spicy, not for the faint hearted. 
Mains: – Gaeng Penang chicken – a really thick, hot red coconutty curry with lime leaves and fresh chillies, again super spicy and addictive. 
Pad See Ew – stir fried broad rice noodles with eggs and green vegetables in a thick soy sauce.  A perfect combination of soft, crunch, salt, almost sweet and above all tasty.
Coconut rice – sets off the spicy chicken curry perfectly.
St John* – Smithfields, Spitalfields, and other
Most people love St John because of the whole nose to tail eating thing.  They rave about the trotters, or whisper sweet nothings about chewing on a pig’s ear.  Well I’ll admit it.  I’m scared of offal.  I do like liver, but anything more adventurous and I fold. 
There are two reasons why I like St John so much, and neither of them have anything to do with soft tissue:
1.     The custard donut of the Gods.  They used to serve these at the Spitalfields branch during a brief window, only on a Sunday morning.  Now they serve them at their Bermondsey bakery, only on a Saturday morning.  When I first ate one of these donuts I became obsessed.  Thick, dense, Madagascan vanilla custard, injected into the crispest, lightest donut casing.  If I ever become really rich and move to the South of France, I will, like Elvis with his peanut butter, bacon and banana sandwiches at the Colorado Mine Company, fly myself back on my private jet to London just for a taste of one of these.

2.     Welsh Rarebit.  The opposite of adventurous I know.  But really really great Welsh Rarebit.  Goes back to A Simple Thing Done Well.  It helps that St John make some of the finest bread in London.  On top of their white sandwich loaf they put a combination of Neal’s Yard Montgomery cheddar, Guinness, Lea & Perrins, Coleman’s mustard and a touch of cayenne.  Savoury, salty, tangy, melting perfection.   
*St John’s main menu is not cheap at all, but either of the above two options, fortunately, are.

C&R café, Rupert Court, W1
This is the sort of place I’d walk straight past if I didn’t know not to.  It’s garishly lit, in a crappy alley in Soho, and shows no indication of its greatness – other than an occasional queue.  A word of warning  – do not let them seat you in the basement if you have a sensitive nose and don’t like the smell of toilets.
C&R’s strengths are soups and noodle dishes – every time I’ve strayed from these I’ve regretted it.  (Except for the roti canai side dish – a light, buttery Malaysian bread served with a searingly hot spicy dipping sauce – an essential starter, whatever you’re ordering for your main.)
The greatest dish on the menu is the Singapore Laksa – by far the best of its kind I’ve had in London.  A spicy coconut milk broth, with chunks of chicken, prawn, tofu, noodles and other floating wonders – it is a truly satisfying one-bowl soup meal.  Some folk struggle to finish the generous portion but not for want of trying. 
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