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Ethnically Cheap in (Relatively) Central London

Cheap, not sh*t!

Right. It’s not a myth to get an alright meal in a restaurant with a seat and in a heater-ed venue for around £12-15. There is always a time when I have to deal with my gastronomic overspending, and after years of nip-picking “cheap sh*t” out of “cheap eat”, I have come across a few little gems, full of character and serving up alright food at an insanely bargained price. Here are some of them…

Stick & Bowl

Stick & Bowl on Urbanspoon

Rating: 3/5

A small Chinese haunt for maids in Kensington, opposite Royal Garden Hotel where Min Jiang is situated. The more genteel Kensington residents also like it (I learned this from my very proper friend who live in the area), but they send the maids to fetch their takeaway. The eatery is a tiny hole and made of counters and high stools suitable for a no-more-than-half-an-hour meal. The food is usually very nicely prepared. Big portion, et al. My favourite is the crispy noodle with seafood gravy (below), which boasts a greaseless and well textured nest of egg noodle toppled with an assortment of springy prawns, tenderised squids, distinctly flavoured fish balls and crunchy veggies in sticky gravy. (Their aubergine and rice dish is also reliable). During my last visit, I also found the pan fried pork dumpling bearable. Gingery. The casing could do with more work. All in all, with a glass of tap water, comes to around £10.


Marie’s (Thai) Cafe

Marie's Thai Cafe on Urbanspoon

Rating: 3.5/5

By day Marie’s Cafe serves (dodgy-looking) English breakfast. By nightfall it turns into a very bustling Thai restaurant (of a predominantly white crowd). The cooking is far from bad and reminds me very much of a home-cooked Thai meal. Say, when your Thai friends (who can cook) invite you over for a home feast. This place captures that very well. Decent-sized portion. No dish costs more than £6.50. The flavours are almost there (see, “friends” aren’t professional chefs) and not uncompromisingly westernised. There is only one version of som tam (papaya salad) there and it comes sans papaya. Very much like a zingy, fiery Thai slaw. This is not unauthentic as in Thailand you always get cabbage as a side to your som tam anyway. Chicken Massaman featured perfectly cooked chicken breast slices. The curry was hot enough but lacked tamarind acidity. I DIY-ed my flavour by pouring a little of the som tam juice in. Not tamarind but it would do. Squid Prik Khing was alright. Finely scorched and tenderised squid was sauteed with hot, gingery sauce. It would be nicer without the bell peppers, as they made the dish a little too Chinese for my liking. These three dishes with a hearty bowl of steamed rice and a bottle of water came to £20. It could feed two.

Indian YMCA

Indian Ymca on Urbanspoon

Rating: 3/5

This vast cafeteria at Indian YMCA looks as if it never receives a refurbishment since India gained its independence. It also runs strict opening hours. The food – mostly curries – is pre-cooked and left on hot plates, so it’s best to go at the beginning of their service. Dirt cheap. A table-ful of lamb, goat, chicken, fish curries, two rice dishes, onion bhaji, two mango lassi and one bottle of water came to £11. I don’t have a fine knowledge in Indian dishes but I found the lamb and the goat well simmered in hot gingery curry with subtle tomato acidity. Moist meat. Both dishes oozed a perfume of clove and bay leaf. The fish curry was lighter in taste but the fish itself was too dry and too cooked. The onion bhaji (as we got there end of service) had already lost its crispy-ness. Mango lassi was vibrant and tasted as if they could be priced at £4-5 at any other Indian gaff. An okay meal for the price.

The addresses to note…

Stick & Bowl

31 High Street Kensington
W8 5NP

Tel. 020 7937 2778

Marie’s Cafe

90 Lower Marsh

Tel. 020 7928 1050

Indian YMCA

41 Fitzroy Square

Tel. 020 7387 0411


  1. I’ve been wanting to try the Indian YMCA for ages! Thanks for the push.

    Also, the char kway teow like noodles at Stick and Bowl are very good (I think they are dry fried hor fun on the menu…but can’t remember). And I quite like the “baked” chilli and salt chicken (it’s fried) on rice.

    • theskinnybib

      Hey Su-Lin,

      Apparently they also do breakfast at Indian YMCA. Dinner service is very brief and do go early so food isn’t left on the hot plate for too long.

      Yes to CKT but like you I can’t remember what it’s called on the menu. I must give the chicken a go next time. It is very close to one of the theatre archives I go to regularly!

      Hope all is well :)

      SB xx

  2. Patrick

    I’ve been going to Marie’s Cafe since the late 1980′s as my Dad used to work across the road. They still offer some Thai food at lunch but a far more limited menu. Cheap and cheerful and they have a cutting from the Evening Standard from about 1998 in there from an interview with Tracy Emin who called it her favourite restaurant in London.

    • theskinnybib

      Hi Patrick,

      Thank you so much for sharing insights and experience. I have been going there for a few years (not as far back as the 80s) but had no clue about Emin!


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