Snacktime. Photo: Garry Knight
The food and drink prices at ExCeL are driven up by its function as an event venue. The best cheap eats nearby are in the supermarkets, which are helpful for things like picnic supplies (fruits, nuts, and baguettes) and freshly made sandwiches, salads, and pasta dishes. Portable, quick, and packaged in recyclable materials, supermarket meals are hard to beat for price and convenience anywhere in the city — especially southeast London.
Not all ready-made sandwiches are created equal. If you’re squeamish about food texture, stick to a vegetarian option, especially if you’re going for the super cheap stuff.
Between the big 4 supermarkets — M&S Simply Food, Sainsbury’s, Tesco, and Waitrose — there’s enough variety and variability to do this for days. Keep in mind that meals within a single brand are wonderfully consistent: if you’ve had one chicken fajita wrap from Sainsbury’s, you know what every other chicken fajita wrap from Sainsbury’s is going to taste like.
Despite the relatively remote location of the convention center, there’s a Tesco Express within walking distance, near the Crowne Plaza Hotel Docklands.
North Greenwich Arena
The North Greenwich Arena is similarly isolated, but also has a Tesco Express nearby in Peninsula Square, near Chiquito. As this is the only nearby supermarket, it’ll get packed out during the Games, so picking up a reliably cheap and edible meal may take some planning if you don’t want to miss your event.
When the supermarket is at queuing capacity, head directly to the arena. The food in and around ExCeL tends to be uniformly overpriced, but the North Greenwich Arena benefits from several modestly priced chain restaurants on site. Brands like Pizza Express, Nando’s, and Las Iguanas can provide a mid-budget meal in a pinch.
Finding cheap food in Greenwich near Greenwich Park is easy by comparison. In addition to the presence of chains like Costa Coffee, Starbucks, and Nando’s, there are a lot of pubs in the area.
Head to Vanbrugh Pub for £9 fish and chips. This (currently) quiet spot is nearest to the northeastern corner of Greenwich Park on Colomb Street. Or on weekends, Greenwich and Clocktower Markets have local food stalls and are on the way to the park when walking from Greenwich Tube station.
Avoid the Stratford Gate while searching for cheap eats near Olympic Park. Outside the massive Westfield Stratford City shopping complex, which will likely be a zoo come Olympics time, expect to pay a premium for your lunch. If you can bear the chaos, the shopping complex does house over 70 restaurants of varying price range and 2 full-size supermarkets (Waitrose and M&S Food Hall).
The Victoria Gate, however, opens into Hackney Wick, where you can hit either the Counter Café or the Container Café. Both independent joints serve cheap, tasty coffee (a rare commodity in many London boroughs), but I find the portions at the Counter to be the better value overall.
Other London venues
Earl’s Court, Hyde Park, the Horse Guards Parade, and The Mall in West London offer proximity to a greater variety of cheap independent restaurants, coffee houses, pubs, and takeaways than the more isolated venues in the southeastern corners of the city. A walk down the streets of Notting Hill, Bayswater, Knightsbridge, or Kensington will lead you to a fairly priced sandwich.
Try The Little French Restaurant near Earl’s Court. The menu hasn’t changed in over 6 years, but neither have their prices. Their prix-fixe 3-course menu is still £9.95, and a bargain for the area.
Closer to Hyde Park, find the Tombo Deli and Cafe in South Kensington. In addition to fresh, if bog-standard sushi combos, they also serve katsu bowls and bento box lunches to take away for less than £8 each.