London has great restaurants and if you’re staying in a smart hotel, your concierge usually will be able to get you a good table. How about less glamorous venues, where your only reservations will be about whether to enter?
For those wanting to escape the Olympics or food hype, here are 10 inexpensive joints. In each case, the food is hot, the service warm and the ambience cool. Expect to pay 20 pounds ($31) or less per person for food at most places.
Asian: Sedap is a family-run Malaysian restaurant where mom and pop cook and the daughters serve their authentic dishes such as Penang Char kway teow (stir-fried rice noodles with prawn, bean sprouts, Chinese sausage, egg, fish cake, soy sauce, chives and chili paste). It’s a destination for fans of Nyonya (Chinese-Malaysian cuisine). The set lunch starts at 7.80 pounds. http://www.sedap.co.uk/ or +44-20-7490-0200.
Barbecue: Pitt Cue is a tiny restaurant and doesn’t take reservations, so it’s best to avoid peak times or to be prepared for a long wait. There are daily specials as well as about five main courses, which come in an enamel tray with a chunk of bread on the side. The food is worth the wait. In a city where barbecue is not the best, Pitt Cue is on another level. http://www.pittcue.co.uk/welcome.html (No phone line.)
Brasserie: Zedel is the baby sister of the Wolseley, where it can be almost as hard to find a table as an unclogged road during the Olympics. Zedel looks grand and yet the prices are low. The fixed-price menu is 8.75 pounds for two courses and wine starts at 3 pounds a glass. Even if you’re not on a budget, this is an attractive destination. http://www.brasseriezedel.com/ or +44-20-7734-4888.
Burgers: Burger & Lobster is brought to you by the owners of Goodman restaurants, known for their top-quality steak and great service. Here, the formula is extremely simple. There’s no menu, you just order a burger or lobster, with the option of a lobster roll. They come with fries and a side salad. The price? 20 pounds. That’s low for lobster and high for the burger, but it’s good. The cuts are chuck, onglet and sirloin cap. http://burgerandlobster.com/ or 44-20-7409-1699.
Fish and Chips: Poppies is a little posh and modern for this sort of cuisine, even if Pat “Pop” Newland has been frying for more than half a century. Starters may include whitebait and calamari. A range of sustainably sourced fish -- including halibut -- is served. You can just opt for a traditional cod and chips with mushy peas, followed by ice cream. The service is friendly, the place has a great retro feel and there’s even a basic wine list. http://www.poppiesfishandchips.co.uk/ or +44-20-7247-0892.
Indian: Roti Chai is the venue I most often visit when not reviewing fancy restaurants. The menu focuses on Indian street food such as tarka dhal (yellow lentils), dhokla (Gujarati steamed chickpea cake) and samosas. There are also curries, including the Manchurian, with Chinese influences. My favorite is hakka chili paneer, a spicy specialty from Kolkota. (There’s a dining room in the basement for more formal meals.) http://www.rotichai.com/index.html or +44-20-7408-0101.
Japanese Ramen: Tonkotsu is a new ramen bar in the heart of Soho. The menu is short because this place is all about the noodles in a rich and meaty stock. (You also can get dumplings and salads.) Tonkotsu is often crowded and it’s worth squeezing in and trying the great ramen. It’s owned by the same people as Tsuru sushi. http://www.tonkotsu.co.uk/ or +44-20-7437-0071.
Lebanese: Yalla Yalla serves Lebanese street food such as hummus, falafel and kibbe nayye (lamb tartar with spiced cracked wheat, spring onions, fresh mint and basil.) There are also Lebanese wines to sample. The options for Middle Eastern food aren’t as numerous as you might expect. Yalla Yalla quickly became a hit and has expanded beyond the original tiny outlet in Soho. http://www.yalla-yalla.co.uk/ or +44-20-7287-7663.
Tapas: Morito is a small tapas-and-mezze bar on Exmouth Market, a street that’s developing a reputation as a dining destination. Morito is the baby of the owners of Moro restaurant, and the food is particularly good. Apart from the usual small plates, dishes may include sweetbreads with piquillo, gem lettuce and crispy garlic or mackerel with fennel and capers. The wine list isn’t huge, yet there are interesting choices. http://www.morito.co.uk/ or 44-20-7278-7007.
Wine Bar: 28-50 serves more than 30 wines by the glass along with bistro-style French dishes. It’s the wine workshop and kitchen of Texture restaurant owners Xavier Rousset and Aggi Sverrisson, who formerly worked for Raymond Blanc at Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons. They’re passionate about food and wine and service, too. The prices are low and the standards are high. http://www.2850.co.uk/ or +44-20-7725-1330.
(Richard Vines is the chief food critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. He is U.K. and Ireland chairman of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants awards. Opinions expressed are his own.)
Muse highlights include Mark Beech on music, John Mariani on wine and James Russell on architecture.