FOR FOODIES: Top Tips for Budget Bites in Britain


Here’s the truth: The food is GREAT in Britain. Long gone are the days of bland cuisine and mushy peas.

On my last visit I enjoyed fresh, organic produce at local farmers’ markets, dined in cosy gastropubs and globally recognized restaurants and discovered a vibrant scene of fantastic street food. But with recent dollar-to-pound exchange rates it’s not a cheap place to eat.

The British summer brims and bursts with food festivals and markets that will whet any appetite.Are you or a friend headed to the British Isles for vacation? Discover how to eat well while stretching your dollars with these top tips for finding budget bites in Britain.

Pre-Theatre 

Matthew Macfadyen (Jeeves) and Stephen Mangan (Wooster) in Perfect Nonsense at the Duke of York's Theatre. Photo by Uli Weber.jpg

Matthew Macfadyen (Jeeves) and Stephen Mangan (Wooster) in Perfect Nonsense at the Duke of York’s Theatre. Photo by Uli Weber

Many city restaurants offer ‘pre-theatre’ menus, which are a great way to have a meal at a restaurant that would perhaps normally be too expensive. They are often short menus, with perhaps just two options for each course, and normally run from around 5 to 7 PM. If you are seated just before 7PM, you may need to give your table up within an hour or so, but this is a great way to try pricier eateries. 

Greasy Spoons 

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Traditional English breakfast in The Old House Bed & Breakfast at Gotten Manor, Chale, Isle of Wight, England.

‘Greasy spoon’ is the affectionate name for simple cafés where foods such as ciabatta and balsamic vinegar are alien concepts. Most towns and cities will have a ‘greasy spoon’; look out for electric lighting, plastic tables and signs for cheap ‘all-day breakfasts’. Although they may be basic, many serve up hearty English Breakfasts. And, of course, a cup of ‘splosh’ (tea) to wash it all down. 

Farmers Markets

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Stallholder holding a tray of rhubarb inside the Goods Shed, a farmer’s market and restaurant in Canterbury selling local produce including fresh fish, meat, cheese, bread, fruit and vegetables, Canterbury, Kent, England.

In recent years there has been an explosion in farmers markets; often in small towns and villages where farmers come once a month to sell their produce. Ironically, the produce is sometimes more expensive than in shops, but quality and freshness is unbeatable and if you’re staying in a vacation rental where you can cook at home or planning a picnic, these are great places to source locally-made cheeses, fresh meats and fish and a wonderful selection of fruit and vegetables. 

Soho on the Cheap 

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Berwick Street market, Soho, London, London, England.

Soho, right at the heart of London’s West End, is home to some of the capital’s most expensive eateries, but there are also bargains to be found. Stockpot, in the heart of Soho, has been serving up cheap, hearty food for 50 years, while Bistro 1 has branches in Soho and Covent Garden, with two-course dinners £11.90. For something more exotic, Bi Bim Bap serves up cheap and cheerful noodles and dumplings.

The Great British Picnic 

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Group of friends enjoying a picnic on the sand dunes above the bay, Constantine Bay, Cornwall, England.

Picnicking is a great British tradition, undertaken whether it’s brilliant sunshine or pouring with rain (when you sit in the car and eat it). Classic ingredients include pork pies, sausage rolls, sandwiches and fruit, but most towns and villages have delicatessens, where you can pick up fresh olives, humous, baguettes and cold meats. Many National Trust properties allow you to bring your own picnic and provide eating.

If you go:

Discover country highlights, things to do, travel tips, image galleries, and more about travel to Great Britain at VisitBritain.com

Learn how to eat with locals at global dinner clubs and finding the perfect cornish pasty at YourLifeIsATrip.com.

Read about A Fresh Take on British Tea at National Geographic Traveler. 

View my photos from aBritish Walking Tour with The Wayfarers

Photography courtesy VisitBritain Media Centre. 

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Ellen Barone has been creating words and images for travel and tourism since 1998. She co-founded and publishes the group travel blog YourLifeIsATrip.com and is currently at work on her first book "I Could Live Here".