There is no wonder why broke Londoners love cream teas: for a moderate price, your cup of tea comes with dainty scones topped with lashings of strawberry jam and sweet clotted cream. For someone who keeps a tight hold on the purse strings, this means a dish as fulfilling as a proper meal, often served in a posh place.
Tate modern’s 6th floor restaurant is a fine place for such a treat. Two warm sultana scones with jam and cream cost less than £5, while the rude staff is compensated by the gorgeous view on the Thames, the millennium bridge and Saint Paul’s standing on the opposite bank. In wintertime, one can enjoy a remarkable nighttime panorama, with city lights glowing in the dark.
Tube station: Southwark
On Southbank, a few minutes away from London Bridge station, Borough market is one of London’s oldest food markets – dating back, according to various sources, to the 18th century, the 13th century and even the Roman times. It is also one of the largest and a must for the foodies. Its 70 stalls and stands offer everything that a gourmet can dream off – vegetables and fruits of any kind, fish, meats, cheeses, breads, coffees, wine, cakes and patisseries, in colourful collections. Many also display products coming from abroad, the adventurous market-goers having for instance the possibility to taste kangaroo or ostrich burgers at the Australian stand (though they both taste surprisingly like beef).
Borough Market is open on Thursday, Friday and Saturday, although I wouldn’t recommend coming on a Saturday – since it has featured in Bridget Jone’s Diary and Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, it is also one of the busiest markets of London.
Don’t forget to come hungry to take advantage of the free samples, be prepared to queue in the most famous stalls, and when you have finally chosen your meal, take it to Southwark Cathedral’s backyard – the market is located just behind it and it’s a pleasant place to enjoy one’s lunch.
Nearest Station : London Bridget
In the heart of the West End, 5 minutes away from Covent Garden, Neal’s Yard is a tiny hidden square that looks more Californian than British.
It is accessible via a small tunnel from Soho’s Monmouth Street. Though it is not always easy to find it at first – I was myself taken there by a friend – it is a rewarding discovery. Away from the noise of the city’s traffic, it’s a friendly place with multi-coloured houses and small plants. It hosts two cafés (belonging, it seems, to the same company) that serves what seems to be Brasilian organic food (maybe a little too organic to my taste) and fresh fruit juices and welcomes a mostly English clientele.
Nearest Tube station: Covent Garden, Tottenham Court Road
Even in a neighbourhood as oversupplied with restaurants and snacks as Soho’s Wardour Street, Princi is a place that stands out.
Created by restaurateur Alan Yau, who’s already launched Busaba and the more upscale Yauatcha and Hakkasan, among others, Princi is a mix of architectural minimalism – the communal seating might not reach unanimous support – and great Italian food. The range of options is large, from pastries, deserts, slices of pizzas or more substantial dishes. Try the canoncinis, a small pastry filled with cream that costs less than a pound: it’s worth the trip. Princi can get a little hectic, and I wouldn’t recommend going there as a group, but it’s perfect for a savory snack.
Nearest tube : Leicester Square or Tottenham Court Road
Dainty and trendy, cupcakes have quickly become a must for teatime. A combination of a fluffy sponge cake topped with buttercream or glacé icing, they also have the advantage of remaining a reasonably cheap treat – and can easily be found in London.
In the heart of Covent Garden – facing Ben’s Cookies’ shop – Ella’s Bakehouse is a popular option. The cupcakes are as cute and delicate as the pink decor of the shop. But I found the thick buttercream frosting tasteless and a little too heavy.
Ella's Bakehouse shop in Covent Garden
In comparison, the Hummingbird bakery’s cupcakes – even the chocolate ones – were surprisingly light and tasty. Home of the American-style cupcakes, the three Hummingbird Bakery stores in London – located in South Kensington, Notting Hill and Soho – offer classic cupcakes that are always a treat.
The Hummingbird Bakery shop in Wardour Street
The Hummingbird Bakery
Located in the “curry district” between Aldgate East and Whitechapel, just behind London’s Mosq, Tayyabs definitely fits in the cheap eats category: the last time I went there, we were a party of 13 and the bill amounted to 121 pounds (not including the service…)!
The portions weren’t as huge as is usually the case in Indian restaurants, and we managed to finish our plates, still we weren’t hungry when we left the place. Oh, and they don’t serve alcohol at Tayyabs, but you can bring your own. It was really tasty, though a little too spicy and overseasoned for me… but I was seated next to an Indian girl who told me it tasted “like home”. I guess this should have you convinced!!
89 Fieldgate Street
London E1 1JU
Nearest Tube Stations: Aldgate East – Whitechapel