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When Hanger Strikes - Food, Coffee & Groceries (Central London)

Updated: Sep 5, 2020

The decision to study in the UK brings with it the opportunity to make new friends, expand your academic knowledge, and your existing views of the world. However, uprooting your life to an entirely new environment also brings challenges. For example, English weather can be quite unpredictable (checking weather forecast and having an umbrella in the bag is very important). In this article, we’ll discuss some of the things we hope will help you to make the most of your time in the UK.

Meal times are never dull in London, and we always look forward to the next meal because the list of places to check out never ends. However, eating out and getting take-away can be costly. Cooking for yourself will greatly reduce your monthly expenses. Make sure you do not forget to check out where the microwaves and hot water dispenser are in your university, as this means you will be able to pack your own lunch and make your tea/coffee instead of eating out.

UK has strict rules around allergens in food, thus most places have common allergens mentioned and an extensive list covering ingredients in all ready and made to order food. UK is also very friendly for people with different dietary preferences, so don’t feel shy to ask for a vegan/vegetarian/halal/gluten free etc. menu.

It depends on where you are based to know whether there are food options nearby your university or work place. But here is our guide to some of our favourite spots around UCL (Torrington Place), where a number of our trainee committees are based at.

If you are craving a pizza and have some time to spare, head over to Franco Manca for a student meal that consists of pizza and drink for £6.95-7.95 (that’s quite cheap for Central London). Wing Wing is one of the best Korean fried chicken in London, with a student meal available on weekdays. Japanese Canteen have decent portions and good Japanese Katsu Curry (vegan option available) that provide the perfect quick meal on a cold day. Student discount is available after 2 p.m.

If you are pressed for time, you can pop by Planet Organic, Itsu, Pret, Yaya Sushi and Leon to grab some food to go. Planet Organic offers student discount (yay!); student hot food box usually costs £5.50. There is porridge (oatmeal) available for breakfast and soup and bread for lunch. Itsu and Leon offer 15% off for students.

For some falafel, hummus, and shawarma wraps you can head over to Hiba Street Food. Iccos offers simple, no fuss halal pizza (download the app for 50% discount on your first pizza). Seoul Bakery is a family own run bakery which offers some amazing Korean dishes. These places are generally busy during peak hours and may not be accessible (i.e., tight spaces, high chairs without support, multiple steps within stores, toilets are in the basement without step-free access).

A few of us enjoy having lunch at Coco Di Mama because it has ample space, affordable pasta, and generally quiet enough for us to catch up with another (or debrief from the lecture we had! 2). Home Slice, Pizza Pilgrims, Ahi Poke, Roti King, Bao, Caravan, Eat Tokyo, Ippudo, Old Chang Kee and Riding House Café, Kathi Roll Company are slightly further away from Torrington Place. Sometimes we will head there for mini birthday celebrations with friends from the course, or when we have a long lunch break. Most of these places are accessible and would accommodate your needs. Roti King is slightly further however, it is one of the most authentic Malaysian halal street food places that is student budget friendly.

On every Thursday, Bloomsbury Farmer’s Market is held right in the middle of the Birkbeck and SOAS courtyard. You will find some pies, moussaka, fresh fruits, crepes and other food. Closer to us at Torrington Place, there are some street food stores set up along Tottenham Court Road beside Goodge Street station. On average, the prices per meal range from £5 to £8.

Caffeine is a necessity for many of us (at least for the contributors of this article). We have noticed that our coffee consumption steadily increases as we go further along the training.

Aside from the chain coffee shops such as Pret, Café Nero, Costa, and Starbucks, we recommend that you try local cafes Tap coffee, Penny Drop, Attendant, Kaffeine and Workshop. These cafes are cosy, intimate, and we enjoyed interacting with the baristas. Harris and Hoole is slightly further however, it is air-conditioned - a life saver during the warm and stuffy summer months. Not to mention, they offer student discount too. Coffee costs £1.80 to £3.50 depending on what you order. Filter coffee is significantly cheaper.

You can also get your beans here and make your own cuppa:

Grocery shopping

Aldi, Iceland and Lidl are the leading affordable supermarkets; you can find the cheapest fresh produce here. We love shopping at Aldi as it offers affordable organic fresh produce. 

Asda and Morrisons have almost everything you need though they are not as common as Sainsbury’s  and Tesco if you stay in Zone 1-2 of Central London.

Poundland has hidden gems (like carnival masks and DIY stuff) and it is

good for buying supplies like toothpaste, soap, cleaning products, chocolate, candy etc. Sometimes we get our supplies here when we work with children in CAMHS services.

Fresh fruit and produce inWaitrose and Marks & Spencer’s are generally pricier. They do offer affordable delightful sweet treats such as biscuits, pastries, and cakes! These supermarkets offer a good range of spices; sometimes you may need to find specific items under the “World Food” section.

Supermarkets in the London Chinatown and little shops on Drummond street offer the cheapest Chinese and South-East Asian groceries within Zone 1-3 of London. If you are able to read Mandarin, try Hungry Panda app for asian groceries that deliver to your place.

Halal, vegan and gluten-free options are readily available in supermarkets and restaurants.

Want to battle food waste?

Try Odd Box to minimise food waste and give wonky vegetables a second chance. Oddbox rescues vegetables that are not “pretty” enough to be sold in supermarkets.

Too good to go is a fantastic app on your phone where you can rescue delicious food from restaurants, cafes and hotels that will otherwise go to waste. Once Praku had an intercontinental breakfast for £2.50!

First time cooking or running out of ideas what to cook?

You can get a £3 trial box that has 4 recipes kit from Simply Cook. All you need to do is get the necessary ingredients for the recipe and follow the instructions that will be sent along with the box.

Similarly, Hello Fresh has a similar concept. However, they provide the ingredients needed for the chosen recipe; thus, they cost more than Simply Cook.

We would also recommend finding out more information from your fellow course mates as they may have interesting information about local cafes, or food hunts to explore too.

*The article is originally produced as a section in the International Trainee Guide for University College London Dclinpsy international trainees 20/21.

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