Dining out in London does not have to be expensive.  Also, in some parts of the world an out-dated view of British food still seems to hold sway.  True, a lot of people there eat really badly and all their shopping's done in horrible soul-less supermarkets, but you can have a holiday in London and eat really great food every night without breaking the bank.

It has been said that rice and curry is the English national cuisine.  People from various other countries have found the Indian food in London far better than anything they have had at home - so this could be a good place to start...

  • Do not just go into any Indian restaurant and expect a decent meal - some of them are not very nice.  Unfortunately you really cannot guess from the decor or prices whether you have found a good place or a bad one, although if it's busy at dinner time (around 19h00-21h00) that is likely to be a good sign. Sadly there are places that probably opened with good intentions but have ended up serving mainly the "traditional" post-binge-drink chicken tikka masala.
  • For authentic Keralan (south Indian) food at reasonable prices go to a Rasa restaurant.  Do not be put off by the fact that there a several of these restaurants: it's certainly not what you would call a "chain", each restaurant has a slightly different menu, and the owner is very much involved in each establishment.  They are all pleasantly decorated and easy to spot by their bright pink exteriors!  The prices are a bit higher in the central London branches so if you are on a tight budget you should head for the original branch in Stoke Newington, north London.  (It is a good place for an afternoon out anyway, with trendy independent shops and the characterful Abney Park Cemetery; just try not to fall over all the buggies.)  This one is a vegetarian place, but there is another Rasa just over the road which serves meat and fish if that is your thing.  Try the appams - you cannot get them in many places and here they are superb.  The staff will be happy to suggest what to eat with them.  And they do not serve chicken tikka masala so they do not get the binge-drinkers.
  • This article started with the statement that you can eat out without breaking the bank, but if you are feeling wealthy, you cannot beat the Cinnamon Club in Westminster.  Housed in a beautiful old building (It used to be a library), this very classy restaurant serves a kind of delicious Europeanised Indian (or is it the other way round?) cuisine.  It has a large and spacious split-level dining room and at least two bars - one quite sedate and a more "clubby" one downstairs.  But you have been warned: it is very pricey.  They do have set-menu deals at lunchtime and early evenings, so if you go then and do not drink too much you might be able to afford it!

When you have had your fill of Indian food, try Turkish.  In London you can get great Turkish food, and it is rarely expensive.

  • The area around Dalston (where north London becomes east London) is heaving with really cheap Turkish restaurants and cafés but, it's not the nicest area.  Having said that, some people find Dalston "really exciting" so if a bit of authentic London hustle and bustle and grime is what you're looking for, Dalston's your place.  It's in London's poorest borough ( Hackney) and is packed with African grocers, Halal butchers, and cheap shoe shops.  There's a big street market too, selling everything from yams and fresh coconuts to nylon knickers and lace curtains.  It's also the area to head for if you want Vietnamese food.  Trafalgar Square and Buckingham Palace really have nothing to do with London as a Londoner knows it - Dalston's a more authentic experience.  It's also worth visiting for the small independent cinema (The Rio) which is far cheaper than the West End and shows a good mix of films.  But don't go round there showing off your new digital camera by yourself at night.
  • If that sounds a bit too authentic, try any one of the three Gallipoli restaurants (020 7359 0630) on Upper Street, Islington.  Again, not what you would call a chain at all.  Gallipoli Bazaar is the newest and a favourite - it's really atmospheric, even in the day, and everything in the restaurant is for sale (not including the waiters, although they can sometimes seem quite keen for you to take them home)!  Upper Street's nice, too - a mix of the usual boring high-street stores and plenty of independent boutiques (if you're on a budget you'll be window shopping rather than anything else), a couple of cinemas, a zillion restaurants and bars, and in back streets on the east side loads of antiques shops (and a market at weekends).  The main one of these back streets ( Camden Passage) also houses a lovely new clothing shop called Equa which sells only "ethical" fashion.
  • Staying in Upper Street, try Ottolenghi (020 7288 1454).  It's Turkish/Middle-Eastern-inspired rather than traditional Turkish food, and they have amazing cakes (you can go in just for these, or buy them to take away).  It's a tapas sort of place, so it can be a light and very cheap meal, or a bigger and more expensive one depending on how many dishes you choose.
  • Head just a little further north to Highbury Barn for another traditional Turkish restaurant: Iznik (020 7704 8099).  A bit more expensive than Galipolli but still reasonable.  Have fresh pomegranate juice if it's in season.  Football fans: you're just near Arsenal's old stadium, so go and have a look; you can get a good view of the massive new one on the way there as well.

Back in the Upper Street area, at Islington Green, there's a real gem: the Afghan Kitchen (020 7359 8019).  There do not seem to be any other Afghani restaurants in the area at the moment, but try this one, since it's said the Afghani way of preparing rice is the best in the world.  The rice is pretty good here, and so is everything else.  The restaurant is really tiny (you will need to book), and the menu's also small - it does not change, and the regulars would not want it to.  The pumpkin is fantastic, the dhaal delicious and there is a bean dish called "Sarah's" which is also delicious.  Warm flat seeded bread is a perfect accompaniment to it all, and you can end your meal with mint tea and a simple baklava.  It's a very stylish-looking place but it's not expensive.