Broke in the city – a guide to being moneyless and fabulous.

Being broke is not fun, I’m currently on a strict budget after moving in to my new place (rent, deposit & bleach… Yeah, I get through a lot of bleach) and being the social butterfly and dirty shopoholic I am it’s all got a bit on top until I next get paid. That’s a month away. A WHOLE MONTH AWAY! Pretty much my whole pay packet bar a few stray pennies went straight back out on the above so I’ve limited to myself to just £100 a week until I’m flossing again next pay day. Now £100 sounds quite a bit but when you think of travel costs, lunch and 2-3 nights out a week it’s going to be pretty tight! Luckily, most of my friends are in the same boat and those who aren’t won’t mind saving a few quid whilst I tighten the purse strings and only let us eat in BYOB restaurants and list my entire life on eBay.

I’ve always been a bit tight (that’s what he said) and most of my shoes were purchased in sales and I refuse to pay more than £1 when I go food shopping, ask my mum, when I lived with her and she picked up something that cost more than £1 I made her put it back. Pound shops are my idea of heaven and I would rather slurp a can of 50p ‘perry‘ than pay £7 for a glass of wine in the theatre/cinema. One of my biggest outgoings seems to be bloody food, oh how I wish I was one of those skinny bitches who could forget to eat lunch or saunter home and be so engrossed in who Spencer is nobbing on MIC I blissfully down a cup a soup as dinner and be fully satisfied. Uh huh honey.

being broke

Fortunately, I know a few tricks of the trade when it comes to being on a budget AND having a social life in one of the most expensive cities in the world and I’ve rounded up a few of my favourite websites that help me stay on track.

lastminute.com – I buy ALL my theatre tickets from here! I’m on the mailing list too so I get first pick of special offers and even bigger discounts. I adore the theatre, it’s one of my biggest indulgences and something that gives me incredible enjoyment. I’ve seen a lot of productions this year, inc. Charlie And The Chocolate Factory, Let The Right One In, Fatal Attraction, Coppelia, Romeo & Juliet, War Horse, 1984, Lion King and Wicked. The tickets that I purchased myself were all ‘cheap seat’ offers that I got for as little as £10. I don’t mind the cheap seats, the view isn’t as great but then you’re saving around £50-80 off the price of sitting in the stalls and if you’re feeling cheeky, you can ask the ticket staff if there’s any chance of an upgrade… If you don’t ask, you don’t get. Don’t be shy about bringing in your own drinks/snacks too, everyone does it and no one gives a shit. Check the theatre layout too to see where you’ll be sitting, if the theatre is small cheap seats aren’t bad at all but for bigger productions they might suck a bit. I wish I had bought more expensive seats for Lion King as we were about 200ft up in the air and had an annoying little posh kid talking the whole way through it but c’est la vie! The theatre and meal deals are pretty awesome too, for Lion King we paid £50 each and got a 2 course meal (with a drink!) at Planet Hollywood and tickets to the show.

Wahanda.com – I haven’t paid full price for a hair cut/massage/manicure/pedicure/brazilian blow dry/spa break in a good few years now and I’ve found some real gems through Wahanda. I suffer from an ongoing back problem and stumbled upon Will at Hairdressing Station a few weeks ago and for just £18 a session (even less now as I purchased 4 in bulk!) he really gets to work on the knots in my back and leaves me walking out of there a new woman. As broke as I am, I will never look broke and I can’t let my beauty regime slide. I always have my nails polished to perfection, my hair is always healthy and shiny and I feel like beauty treatments are an inexpensive way to make you feel amazing when everything else is going to shit. My recent spa break was another Wahanda find and I’ve also found their customer service (esp. the Twitter team) to be really efficient and quick to respond to any problems. They take a lot of care in choosing who they represent and out of all the treatments I’ve booked through them I’ve always had excellent service and quality.

Groupon.co.uk – If I have dinner plans with a friend I’ll always have a quick scan on Groupon to see if there’s any offers in the area we’re looking to head out to and I’m always finding new and exciting offers from full 3 course meals, to cocktails and cooking classes. I’ve been to some amazing restaurants with a Groupon voucher I otherwise wouldn’t have been able to afford to visit and I’ve booked a few beauty treatments with them too. It’s worth signing up for their mailing list as some of the offers have a limit and it’s good to get in there first! I’ve never felt like a voucher customer with them when I’ve been to a restaurant and I’m really keen to check out the gym pass deals and getaways they’re offering.

Wowcher.co.uk – Similar to Groupon in terms of the variety of deals but Wowcher work on more of a first come first serve basis and when the deal is gone, it’s gone. The business works on a basis that the discount offered can only happen if enough people sign up and the length of time you have to sign up to a deal can vary between days or just a few hours. Every day they feature things you would never think of doing which makes it really exciting if you have a free weekend coming up, from zorbing and indoor sky diving to go kart racing and wine tasting. I’ve booked a few activities through Wowcher including a 6 cocktails for £10 offer at Green Carnation which was AMAZING value for money seeing as most of the cocktails are £9 each! Again they offer beauty treatment, spa breaks, hotels etc. but their main pull is the fun activities.

Timeout.com – I absolutely love living in London and every time I find myself in the buzzing city centre there’s always something going on, most of the time for free. Timeout is really good for being on top of all the events, galleries, exhibitions and festivals that are going on that cost nowt. You’ll be surprised at just how many free gigs there are too, mostly from shitty hipster bands you’ve never heard of but still… A free gig is a free gig! The food festivals (mainly in Summer) are well worth checking out if you’re really cheap as a lot of the stalls offer free samples of the vegan horse crap they’re peddling so you can fill up for free saving yourself even more pennies for Red Stripe. One of my favourite ways to spend a lazy day in London is by visiting a gallery or museum (these are mostly free to enter but certain exhibitions charge a small entry fee) and having lunch along the river, which you can either pack yourself OR see what’s around the area and grab a Groupon/Wowcher code for somewhere.

Agirlcalledjack.com – Jack Monroe is bad ass, she’s a thrifty lesbian who can cook and knows how to make her pennies stretch. I find her blog so inspiring, not just for cooking but her whole attitude is awesome, even though she’s now somewhat of a celebrity she’s still pretty tight and understand what it’s really like to live in poverty as she was a struggling single parent who could barely afford to feed herself and heat her home. The recipes are brilliant and really good for those who can’t afford fancy ingredients, Jack truly is a breath of fresh air in the world of food bloggers and ‘celebrity’ chefs. I also adore the fact she’s an experimental cook, much like myself and throws together whatever she has in the house to make something awesome, cheap and flavourful.

Also, supermarket own brand stuff is just as good as the more expensive counterparts and you can steal staples like olive oil etc. off your housemates (they’ll never know) but if you have a concious Jack has made this awesome video on cheap substitutes for fancy ingredients.

I love watching this kind of crap too, a bit extreme but hilarious!

 

Something a bit different… Dinner at Bonnington Cafe.

Going out for dinner is one of my most favourite ways to catch up with friends or have a ‘date night’ with my partner, I love cooking and I get a lot of my inspiration from meals I’ve had in restaurants mixed with my own imagination and a dash of my main man Jamie Oliver. I love trying to new things and have quite an open palate when it comes to new cuisine but having recently looked a bit deeper into nutrition I wanted to branch more into non-meat dishes as too much red meat really isn’t good for you. By coincidence, BBC ran a really interesting documentary ‘Should I Eat Meat? – The Big Health Dilemma’ which gave an insight into what meat does inside our bodies and the damage it can cause when eaten in excess. There’s also a short write up here if you don’t have access to the BBC iPlayer.

I was a keen vegetarian for almost 2 years so I’m no stranger to just how tasty and fulfilling a non-meat diet can be, my reasons back then were purely ethical (the meat industry is hideous – but that’s a another story entirely) but I fell ‘off the wagon’ when I became heavily involved in kick boxing and needed more protein which was easily sourced from meat. Anyway, whilst searching online for somewhere new (and cheap!) to eat I came across the Bonnington Cafe, a BYOB vegetarian restaurant conveniently located a 2 minute walk from Vauxhall station.

I LOVE the concept of a different cook every night, to me this means having someone who loves and is passionate about food and is doing so for the love of it as looking at the prices I can’t imagine it being much of a money spinner. A good veggie/vegan cook knows how to make the blandest food in the world (tofu – urgh! It’s like little lumps of what you imagine chlamydia to look like) not only edible but delicious. Booking a table is a simple process, there’s a spreadsheet on the website of what cook is on each night and you simply send the cook a text on your chosen night with your name and the time you would like to chow down.

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Our cook on the night was Marie, who was a friendly middle aged woman who had that familiar warmth to her, like a favourite school dinner lady who gave you extra chips. My name was scrawled on a piece of paper (spelt incorrectly but meh) and we were seated with little fuss. I love unlicensed restaurants as I find alcohol really bumps up the bill, being able to bring a £5.25 bottle of Sainsbury’s Cava made the tight bastard in me very happy indeed! The restaurant itself is nestled in a little residential square, away from the usual Vauxhall riff raff from the outside it looks like you could be in a little village somewhere in the country and the interior is just as offbeat and welcoming.

Each cook will freshly prepare 2 starters and 2 main courses, with vegan options all at a very reasonable fixed price – starters £3, mains £7 and desserts are £3. Unfortunately, here is where the excitement ended as I found all 3 courses to be bland, unexciting and really not restaurant quality (although Bonnington Cafe is not trying to be anything special I was expecting decent food). On the day we visited the menu consisted of a choice of hummus and carrots or carrot, parsnip and orange soup, vegetarian tagine or vegetable curry and for dessert there was a chocolate cake or apple pie. Quite a simple selection, but cooked right could be packed full of flavour with the added bonus of being all home cooked, healthy and meat free.

We both went for the carrot, parsnip and orange soup to start which was bland and watery, we found it hard to detect the orange and as we dismissed it as being OK for £3 I thought to myself I could make something much more creative and flavourful at home on the same budget. If I’m really going to nit pick the portion sizes were really quite small, those with a larger appetite wouldn’t be satisfied with the serving size but as it wasn’t that great we were cool with the amount we had. With little flavour and served with a shop bought slither of French stick the soup was a bit of a let down and didn’t give us high hopes for our main course.

Again, we both went for the tagine (I had something spicy for lunch and my partner isn’t keen on any kind of heat) which was presented well but again lacked flavour and it was hard to distinguish just exactly what the vegetables were that made up the stew. Served with grated carrot, cous cous, salad and some runner beans the tinned tomatoes used for the base of the stew hit you in the face as soon as the dish was laid on the table and unfortunately overpowered the whole plate. It basically tasting like we were eating tinned tomatoes with lumpy bits in it or a cheap vegetarian ready meal that had all the flavour nuked out of it. Not good. To their credit, everything did taste fresh BUT there was just no flavour. It needed something to give it a good kick and at least distract from the tinned tomatoes, if I had made this at home I would have threw in lots of garlic and paprika and maybe boiled the cous cous in a ginger broth? Jamie Oliver has a great recipe for a vegetable tagine here, which I’m keen to try. Overall it was very disappointing and we both left quite a bit on our plates despite being moderately hungry.

Wanting to down my cava (and get a kebab on the way home) I wasn’t keen to order dessert but my partner loves apple pie and was interested in seeing if the desserts would be any better than previous offerings but once again flavour and passion were desperately lacking, I should have asked but it tasted like it was sugar free. The limp mass of fruit and pastry disguised as an apple pie was probably the most displeasing thing we ate as it just wasn’t the sweet treat we were expecting, it even looked sad, which made us sad.

I’m sorry Bonnington Cafe, I wanted to love you. I wanted to Instagram the fuck out of my delicious, healthy meals that would come out of your kitchen. I wanted to be inspired to do more meat free cooking. I wanted to bring my friends here for a cheap night out and become a frequent customer but unfortunately it just wasn’t to be. Even though there is a different cook every night, I don’t think I shall be returning due to my disappointing experience. Shame.