Eating well in Europe -- England, France, and Italy edition
May 20, 2013 11:33 AM   Subscribe

It's happening!! Mr. Concolora and I are flying out to London tomorrow to start our three week tenth wedding anniversary European extravanganza and I'm about to pop with excitement. We're going to be in London, Paris, Dijon, Verona, Vicenza, Venice, and Rome and we'd love some recommendations on where to eat. Snowflakes inside!

We have two 'event' dinners planned, one in London and one in Paris. For those we're looking to spend somewhere in the thirty Euro per person range.

For everything else, we'd like to stay reasonably inexpensive while staying away from American style fast food. We love street food, we are incredibly adventurous eaters (offal is totally cool with us), and we actively want to eat local food. We have a small amount of French and Italian in our travelling party, and we're confident that we can pull off ordering , etc in restaurants where little or no English is spoken.

Help us eat well in Europe, AskMeFi!
posted by Concolora to Food & Drink (23 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I don't think 30 € pp will easily buy you a good meal in either Paris or London. You may need to budget for a bit more than that.
posted by Too-Ticky at 11:43 AM on May 20, 2013

Tamarind in London remains the best meal in a restaurant I've ever had. Note that the vegetarian dishes cost like half of what the meat dishes do, so it covers quite a price range.
posted by hoyland at 11:44 AM on May 20, 2013

We were in Paris a couple weeks ago, and my husband was really jazzed about The Best Falafel In Paris. There's some debate about which establishment is actually The Best, but any of these spots in the Marais would be good for a relatively inexpensive meal. Crêpes are another delicious, fairly cheap option.

La Fourmi Ailée has two locations, and the food is tasty but not pricey. (Also, the quiche is gigantic--like, it easily takes up most of a plate. Whether you take this as a cautionary note or as a gleeful endorsement is up to you!)

In London, you can eat pretty well, and not very expensively, while strolling through one of the markets--like Borough Market or Camden Market.

As Too-Tricky says, you might need to budget more for your swanky meals in both Paris and London. I think we ended up spending about that much per person (in both cities) for dinners in no-discernible-frills restaurants.
posted by 2or3things at 12:24 PM on May 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

Please take in a visit to a decent curry house in london. Here are some recommendations from a reliable source.
posted by BenPens at 12:26 PM on May 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

As a general rule I would look out for markets - they are a guaranteed way of finding interesting food that would be hard to discover in the USA - and there are normally high quality, good value places to eat nearby. For example Borough Market in London or the Marché central in Dijon.
posted by rongorongo at 12:28 PM on May 20, 2013

Romakimmy (sp?) is probably the best resource on Roman dining, but on my last trip there, I loved Trattoria degli Amici (Piazza di Sant'Egidio, 6); Fiammetta (Piazza Fiammetta, 10); and Giggetto (Via del Portico D'Ottavia, 21).

Degli Amici was really nice in particular. We chose it as a final splurge, and it ended up not being terribly expensive at all.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 12:28 PM on May 20, 2013

€30 is about £25. That won't buy much in London or Paris for a special dinner.

But I can recommend a lovely and very old-school Paris restaurant, Le Procope. I had a wonderful meal there last summer. It wasn't cheap, but it was value for money. It was old-style, tradtional French food, beautifully done, with more than a nod to Escoffier.
posted by essexjan at 12:40 PM on May 20, 2013 [3 favorites]

It does seem like a tight budget, but not at all impossible. You may have to move away from the tourist areas, and more towards places where ordinary workers or students go out.
Others have covered London and France. In most of Veneto, the market areas are good for quality eateries, except for Venice, where you'd like to go either to the university area around pza sta Margerita, or to the Arsenale/Giardini area. Giudecca has some reasonable places as well.
In Rome, it's complicated. You need to stay clear of everything touristic. In all of Italy, there is a concept called "Tavola Calda", which is a lunch offer for working people. This is almost always excellent value. But in Rome, it is difficult to discern what is a tourist trap and what is a local dive. Look for the Tavola Calda sign, avoid pictures of food, but don't be scared of "menu touristico" if everything else looks local. We all need a job, etc... Move out of the city center, and everything gets more realistic right away.
I agree completely with the recommendations of Admiral Haddock, and could come up with more, similar, but they are more costly than your budget.
Last time I was in Rome, I rented an apartment rather than stayed in a hotel. It was amazing, because the markets in Rome are amazing, and i find it fun to cook with all the interesting produce.
Everywhere in Italy, you can go into a local grocery store, and have them make you a sandwich. Often, its a lot better than buying a sandwich at a take-away, and far cheaper. And obviously, there are the pizzerias, wonderful, cheap eateries, both for sitting down and take-away.
posted by mumimor at 1:20 PM on May 20, 2013

I agree that your budget for London and Paris is a bit tight, but if you're willing to go over that by a bit, I love Wild Honey in London. Their entrees are about £24-27 per person, but if you share an appetizer and dessert you could get away with an average of £35-ish pp. Totally worth it, and they have wild game and other interesting things.
posted by bedhead at 1:37 PM on May 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Maybe I'm asking the wrong question for the event meals. :). Here in the US we're used to happily dropping something like $50 pp (before wine, of course) for a nice dinner out. That covers places like The Spice Market in NYC or Les Halles in DC or places of that calibre. That's the type of restaurant we're looking to find in London or Paris. Does that just map straight over to Euros or Pounds? 50 will get us what we're looking for?

As for the Italy suggestions so far, wonderful! Keep them coming!
posted by Concolora at 2:05 PM on May 20, 2013

Here's a site that offers special deals on dining out in London.

The London Times also had a special Lunch for £10 thing, so be on the lookout for that. I got Bangers and Mash at Harvey Nichols. (kind of fun!)

I'd make your big, fancy meals lunch and then do a baugette or something like that for dinner.

We stayed in London and it included a huge, English breakfast buffet every morning, so we ate an enormous breakfast, a nice lunch at around 2 PM, then if we got peckish in the evening, we'd grab a sandwich at Pret A Manger, or something like that.

As for France, again, go for lunch as your splurge meal, and do street eats for dinner.

I'll caution you that when abroad, your brain breaks and you mistake £ and € for $ and that will blow your budget. Ask me about the $100 meal at a bistro that started off as a couple of burgers and a salad.

Eating out in Europe is just expensive, it's not like in the US. Any place where you sit down and order off of a menu is going to be more expensive than you would normally expect. Your best bets for cheap eats are going to be hole in the wall ethnic places, Fish and Chips in the UK (and it's delish, so don't pale from it) and the like. Bistros in Paris, even no big deal Bistros are going to be the price of your splurge meals. Frankly, I don't think they're worth it.

In France you can get a rotissarie chicken from a butcher, some cheese and a baugette. That would make a nice supper. Think outside the box on that one. You can get lovely baugette sandwiches on the street or in bakeries.

I will say we had some really decent Chinese food at a joint near the Victoria and Albert for £5.

Hang loose and you'll come out okay.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 2:22 PM on May 20, 2013

In Paris for a cheap meal in fantastic surroundings I like Chartier. For a similar bustling evening try Tayyabs in London. You might have to queue for Tayyabs. So make sure you bring some beer to drink while you do. Everyone else will be doing the same. For Modern British at a reasonable price you could try Great Queen Street.

Enjoy your anniversary.
posted by aychedee at 2:27 PM on May 20, 2013

$50 translates to almost €39 or £32 - so a little more than you mentioned. Certainly enough to get a pretty good meal if you look around.

In the UK I would try the experience of going to Marks and Spencer's to pick up lunch along with a gazillion other London office workers. Ever since the 4th Earl of Sandwich called for a culinary treat that would not distract him from playing cribbage the British have had an interest in convenience food. It is as remarkable as French and Italian cuisine in its own way, I think.
posted by rongorongo at 2:50 PM on May 20, 2013

This is for Paris -

I like this simple creperie, it's 142 Crêperie Contemporaine, in the 15th arrondisement. The salted butter dessert crepe is wonderful. It's very reasonable and a good place to get away from tourists.

I'm also very fond of Le Cafe du Commerce, it's an old school brasserie that's quite lovely. They have a few expensive dishes but there are lots of reasonable items and they offer daily specials.

If you want to splurge on a meal, do it for lunch, it's much less expensive than dinner. Splurge on lunch and have a classic picnic dinner of cheese, baguette, wine and grapes.
posted by shoesietart at 6:28 PM on May 20, 2013 [2 favorites]

I highly recommend "Chez Leon" in Dijon. The value and deliciousness of the food greatly surpasses the price (which was very reasonable.)

A word of caution in regards to eating in France. The Fench are very used to, and adore their 3 course meals. Because of this, it can be difficult to find something outside of that, other than kebab or fast food. Eating is done at meal times, and not in between. I found it very difficult to eat cheaply in France when I did not have access to a kitchen. Because of this need to eat in a real restaurant (if you don't want fast food and don't have a kitchen), I would budget about 15 euros per person for lunches and 20 for dinners.

Bon appetit!
posted by raccoon409 at 10:27 PM on May 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

In the UK I would try the experience of going to Marks and Spencer's to pick up lunch along with a gazillion other London office workers

Strongly seconding this. Yes, you'll see sandwich places like Pret a Manger and Eat but the Marks & Spencers Food is much more delicious, better quality, greater variety and cheaper! More than just sandwiches, of course. Also stuff like fruit, cold roast chicken, scotch eggs, salmon, salads, fresh squeezed fruit juices, cookies, potato chips, nuts, wine, etc. etc.

For your special dinner in London, £32 per person without wine is fine. The aforementioned Wild Honey is a good recommendation. Also Hix and St. Johns.

Everyday cheap eating in Paris is about crepes, falafel and picking up ingredients at a grocery store or street market. There are a few sit-down exceptions such as the crazily busy Chartier or bistros like Bistrot Beaubourg where for about 6 euros you get the plate of the day.
posted by vacapinta at 1:38 AM on May 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

As a rough, general tip, the best way to predict prices in London is to think about what something would cost in the US, then replace the $ with a £. So, a meal that would cost $50 per person in America would cost about £50 per person in London (even though £50 actually equals about $75.) This method might cause you to over-estimate costs a little bit, but not much, and it will prepare you for the sticker shock you will face here. London is just a more expensive city than most places in the US.

That said, you can get some really fantastic meals for £25 per person -- more easily at lunch then at dinner, though. A lot of really good restaurants have fixed-price lunch deals. But some of them also have "pre-theatre" dinners -- IE, if you can eat dinner early, you can get a good deal. Here is one list of London's most affordable Michelin-starred restaurants. As you'll see, there are certainly some options there in your price range. I had the fixed-price lunch at L’Autre Pied, and it was wonderful.

For cheaper dining, I agree that Marks & Spencer has excellent sandwiches, but I would argue that Pret A Manger is equally good, as is Eat. I would just go into whichever one happens to be most convenient when you're hungry.

If you want a fast, hot, inexpensive meal, I recommend Eat's savory pies. These have the added advantage of being a traditional English dish. (Or, at least, a modern convenience food take on a traditional dish.) Along those lines, keep an eye out for branches of the West Cornwall Pasty Company. (Yes, that's "pasty." Pasties are traditional miner's food-- the miners would hold them by their thick edges, eat the pasty, and then discard the edges, which by then would be covered with coal dust.)

Also, of course, fish and chips are often a good option.

Some options for inexpensive sit-down places: any of the many branches of Wagamama or Busaba Eat Thai. If you're in the Leicester Square area, try Tokyo Diner.

If you have an iphone, I highly recommend getting the TripAdvisor app, which lets you download the entire database for a city while you're online, and then access it when you are offline. It's great for looking up nearby restaurants when you don't have a data connection.

For London, I highly recommend Time Out London's app. I think they have one that works without a data connection, and one that gives you more up-to-date info but requires data.
posted by yankeefog at 2:19 AM on May 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

Oh, and I meant to highlight one other restaurant on that list of inexpensive Michelin-starred places: St. John. The chef is known for his take on offal and other meats. He will definitely reward an adventurous eater who wants an interesting take on traditional British foods.

I haven't been there, but I have been to his cheaper, more casual St John Bread And Wine and it is very good.
posted by yankeefog at 2:23 AM on May 21, 2013

Beware... link-a-palooza follows!

London mid-range recommendations:

Chilli Cool: Nose to tail eating, Sichuan style, reasonable prices. Review. Website.

Tonkotsu Ramen: Just... really good ramen. Don't forget to try the chicken karaage. Review. Website.

Cheese toastie/raclette, Kappacasein, Borough Market.


I also suggest that for your "blow-out" London meal, you consider going for high tea at the Ritz, the Dorchester, or Claridge's. Harrods is also really good, as is Fortnum & Mason. Here's a good run down of afternoon teas, and there's even a website dedicated to it! (You can tell I like my afternoon tea, can't you!)
posted by Ziggy500 at 3:28 AM on May 21, 2013

We really like eating at Taro - it's a Japanese place with branches in Soho and one near St Paul's. There's also a lot of trendy pop-up places in London right now - MEATliquor (behind Oxford St Debenhams) is the big one, be prepared to queue if you go any time after five as it's popular.

The Little Bay chain is cheap but lovely - you could do that for £30 easily. There's also Duck and Waffle in Heron Tower, which is 40 floors above the city - I was taken there by a client and was surprised how cheap it was, but portions are nouvelle cuisine sized - I think it's more about the view than the food.

I took my mum for afternoon tea at the Wolseley, near Piccadilly. I think it was about £24 each (the Ritz, iirc, was about £50 each and my mother would have killed me once she looked at the menu) and it was a lovely treat.

In Paris, we really liked a place called Les Refuge des Fondues near Abbesses metro- a fondue restaurant with graffitied walls and wine served in baby bottles. Not swanky at all, but kitsch and fun. However, it was filled with English-speaking tourists, possibly because they did the same Google searches as we did. My favourite way of eating in Paris is to pick things up at local bakeries while out and about
posted by mippy at 3:47 AM on May 21, 2013

Strongly seconding the 'big breakfast; set lunch or pre-theater deal for event eating; snack at night' model for London.
Standard's list;
Infographic style!

You definitely want to go to St John's Bread and Wine before 1 to try interesting little British dishes.

I assume if you're foodies you'll be visiting the Borough Market. Top tip: There's a German baker in the section under the arches opposite Southwark cathedral. Purchase piece of carrot cake. Carry this cake into the roofed section and find the apple cider place. Purchase 1/2 pint of dry cider. Consume cake and cider. Perish of pleasure.
posted by Erasmouse at 4:28 AM on May 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

We stayed in Venice for 3 nights. After discovering it be accident, we ate dinner twice at Trattoria Nono Risorto, which is frequented by locals and tourists alike. Get there just before opening to be seated outside in the garden beneath the twinkle lights. We ate only the pizza, the beef carpaccio, and the whole bronzini. A carafe of house prosecco to drink The food is very good, the atmosphere just as good. I have photos of the lovely garden on my living room wall.
posted by ImproviseOrDie at 7:17 AM on May 21, 2013

Venice favourites were Enoteca Ai Artisti for good local seafood, pasta, wine and service (it is just near Campo San Barnaba) and you should book for the evening; GROM gelato in Campo San Barnaba - more expensive than almost everywhere else, but bigger serves and just amazingly good; Pizza Al Volo in Campo Santa Margherita for large slices of delicious pizzas to eat while you people watch in the evening.
posted by AnnaRat at 11:38 PM on May 24, 2013

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