Eat at the Indian YMCA Dining Hall
For a tasty and cheap 'eat as much as you like' Indian dinner, the Indian YMCA's dining hall has long been one of our favourites.
Fitzrovia, Central London
London's Indian YMCA student hostel is located on Fitzroy Square.
The Indian YMCA is a student hostel rather incongruously located on the corner of posh Fitzroy Square. The hostel prides itself on being 'a little bit of India in Britain' and the dining room serves good Indian home cooking, with the all-you-can-eat buffet dinner a bit of a bargain at £8 a head. If you're hungry after a day of sightseeing, and don't mind the frankly nondescript canteen decor, then it's well worth a visit.
Buy your dinner ticket at the reception booth, then go through the glass doors to the dining room.
The YMCA's entrance doesn't look particularly promising, which probably explains why so few people - even locals - know that you can eat here! But don't let that put you off. Simply buy a meal ticket at the receptionist's booth, then head to the dining room through the swing doors to the right.
The dining room is clean and spacious, with formica tables and old fashioned long net curtains at the windows. The only attempt at decoration is a couple of marquetry panels - one of a tiger and another of an elephant - and another large panel (a table top?), beautifully inlaid. They're very lost in the canteen atmosphere. The tables are mostly communal, but it rarely gets so busy that you have to sit next to anyone if you prefer not to.
The tasty £8 buffet dinner is a bit of a bargain.
Your fellow diners will mostly be the hostel's student residents, but you are likely to see at least a few other foreign (i.e. non-Indian) faces. We've never felt the slightest bit out of place, and although the students mostly keep to their own groups, they're friendly and polite if you start a conversation with them.
The dinner buffet is laid out very informally on tables by the kitchen at the end of the room - take a plate and a tray and serve yourself. You're not limited to a single plate of food, so try a little and come back to fill up your plate with what you like best. The white-coated kitchen staff are friendly, and always on hand to explain what's in the individual dishes. Don't forget to pick up your cutlery and a water glass from the counter.
Most nights there is a vegetarian and non-vegetarian option (N.B. if you are vegetarian it's worth confirming this before buying your ticket).
A great mix of white rice, lentil dhal, two vegetable curries and minced lamb curry, plus an orange for dessert. You can go back for seconds if you're still hungry...
You can generally expect rice, a lentil dhal, a vegetable curry and a meat (lamb or chicken) or fish curry. There are often pickles or chutneys too, perhaps with yoghurt raita
and, on especially good nights, nan
(delicious!). The curries are mild, but beware the pickles which can be seriously HOT!
Desserts are small and a bit frugal: usually a fruit salad, a small yoghurt or ice cream, sometimes simply a piece of fruit. But you may be lucky - as we were on a recent visit - and get a tasty pudding such as cardamom with cashew nuts and raisins.
, vegetable biryani
, yoghurt raita
, with cardamom pudding for dessert.
Coffee is included with the meal, and water jugs are on the tables - fill them up from the water fountain on the upper level, by the Coca Cola vending machine. There is a no alcohol policy.
When you have finished your meal, you are expected to clear your table and take your plate etc. to the trolley in the corner by the kitchen.
There's a basin for washing your hands on the upper level, and toilets are downstairs (go out past reception and down one flight. Gents are on your left, the entrance to the Ladies is around to the right under the stairs).
You'll often hear classical music or perhaps the sounds of a brass band coming from downstairs, as the YMCA's cavernous Mahatma Gandhi Hall is regularly used for rehearsals and performances. If you like the sound of what you hear, there's nothing to stop you settling down on one of the sofas on the lower landing (by the toilets) and listening for a while.
All in all, if you are in the area and like Indian food, if you're on a budget, or if you simply can't be bothered with menus and restaurants one night, the YMCA's dining hall is highly recommended.
If your kids will eat Indian food (mine love it, especially the rice and dhal) then the Indian YMCA is an extremely child-friendly option. In fact my younger son made his first - non-dining - visit here when he was just 3 days old! There's nothing for kids to break, they don't have to mind their manners especially, and any mess is quickly and easily cleared up from the plastic tables. The kitchen staff smile at children, while the students and other diners either play peek-a-boo with them, or - absorbed by their own conversations or thought - treat them with a friendly indifference. Perfect!
Essentials: Indian YMCA Dining Hall
The Indian YMCA was founded in 1920 and moved to its current premises in the early 1950s.
YMCA Indian Student Hostel,
41 Fitzroy Square, London, W1T 6AQ
Warren Street, Goodge Street or Great Portland Street
The dining room is open 7 days a week.
Dinner costs £8 and is served 7-8:30pm.
Lunch is served 12 noon - 2pm (12:30-1:30pm on weekends). It differs from dinner in that there is a short menu that is displayed above the kitchen counter, where you can just pick what you like. An average lunch costs about £8. You pay as you leave the kitchen area.
Breakfast is served 7:30 - 9:15am on weekdays, and 8 - 9:30am on weekends. We haven't had the opportunity to try it, but we've heard that it is good value at under £5 for tea, coffee, toast, cereals, yoghurt and fruit, and some Indian breakfast foods.
The Indian YMCA is also a basic but comfortable - and very well-located - place to stay. Everyone is accepted, not exclusively students or those of Indian nationality.