The idea of eating out by yourself in London is a daunting prospect for some – what if you get lonely? What if everyone thinks you’ve been stood up? And will the restaurant even be able to accommodate you? In recent years though, solo dining has been on the rise.
Instead of seeing going out to eat on your own as something that’s sad, look at it as a great way of learning to enjoy your own company, without having to worry about trying to look attractive while tucking in, or listening to your mate drone on about their relationship dramz.
If you’re already an advocate of solo dining, it would seem you’re not alone – new research by OpenTable has revealed that solo reservations in the UK increased more than 160% from 2014 to 2018. Now with more restaurants accommodating diners flying solo (think counter seating and special menus), it seems the solo dining revolution is well and truly underfoot – long may it prosper.
Looking for the best restaurants for solo dining in London? Check out our pick of the bunch below.
Sabor: The Counter, Soho
Why: Tapas restaurants are among those that are most suited to solo dining, thanks to simple menus of delicious small plates. At Sabor, don’t head upstairs to the Asador and instead nab a seat at the L-shaped counter which surrounds the open kitchen and turns out Spanish-accented small plates that go beyond typical tapas dishes. Highlights from our visit include the piquillo croquetas with Manchego cheese while the bombas de chocolas (a trio of indulgent doughnuts topped with chocolate and coffee sauces) are not to be missed.
Where: 35 Heddon Street, W1B 4BS
Bao Borough and Soho
Why: All three of Bao’s London locations (Borough, Soho) lend themselves well to solo dining, thanks to the menu of Taiwanese small plates (and of course, the signature steamed buns) which can easily be tailored to how many people you need to feed. At the Fitzrovia location though, you’ll find bar seating which is ideal for those dining solo, alongside a menu of ‘Xiao Chi’ (small eats) which you can enjoy all to yourself – think a beef cheek and tendon nugget or a pork belly rice bowl.
Where: 13 Stoney Street, SE1 9AD; 31 Windmill Street, W1T 2JN; 53 Lexington Street,W1F 9AS
Benihana, Chelsea and Piccadilly
Why: Known across the world for the tableside theatrics of its chefs, a trip to Benihana (which boasts locations in Chelsea and Piccadilly) won’t just get you dinner, but a whole experience. Solo diners can pull up a stool at the counter in front of the open kitchen to watch the chefs at work, as they prepare the likes of shrimp tempura, pan-fried beef gyoza dumplings, and decadent riffs on classic sushi such as a lobster roll and a deep-fried ‘Las Vegas roll’ filled with salmon, avocado and cream cheese.
Where: 77 King's Road, SW3 4NX; 37 Sackville Street,W1S 3EH
Riding House Café, Fitzrovia
Why: All-day café and restaurant Riding House Café is split into two distinct areas, comprising of a buzzy bar with counter seats and a more low-key lounge area with booths for slightly more formal dining. The bar is the obvious place for solo dining and is also great for a spot of remote working, with the prospect of tackling your inbox surely made less daunting by comforting dishes such as mac ‘n’ cheese and a kedgeree served with mango chutney.
Where: 43-51 Great Titchfield Street, W1W 7PQ
Why: Restaurants with dining counters are a great place to go if you’re dining out sans-company. In Peckham, South African-inspired Kudu boasts six velvet stools at its counter, which offer a view into the open kitchen. You can have a chat with head chef Patrick Williams while tucking into dishes such as parmesan churros with a brown crab mayonnaise and confit duck with girolles, celeriac and spring greens.
Where: 119 Queens Road, SE15 2EZ
Why: Found in the Bloomberg Arcade, the City outpost of famed Udon noodle specialist Koya offers a slice of tranquillity amidst the hustle and bustle of the Square Mile. The dining room is a laid-back mix of wood-panelled walls and hanging pendant lights, and there is a long dining counter where solo eaters can perch. Start with small plates such as crispy fried prawn heads, before moving on to hot or cold Udon noodles.
Where: 10-12 Bloomberg Arcade, EC4N 8AR
Why: One thing that many Londoners lament is the prominence of no-booking restaurants where you have to queue to snag a table. Padella, an exceptional and deceptively simple pasta joint from the team behind Highbury’s Trullo, lead the charge for these types of restaurants when it opened in 2016. It’s still just as popular today, serving up the likes of gnocchi with nutmeg butter and pappardelle with fennel sausage and peppercorn ragu. Dining here alone will mean you most likely snag a table quicker than most. Try to bag a spot at the counter where you can watch the chefs at work.
Where: 6 Southwark Street, SE1 1TQ
Lina Stores, Soho
Why: If you’ve had a bad day at work, but the kind of day where you can’t even face explaining it to someone, why not reward yourself with a comforting bowl of pasta and a glass of wine. Legendary delicatessen Lina Stores now has its own pasta restaurant just down the road – it’s a cosy spot with space to dine at the counter. Dishes to tuck into include ricotta and herb gnudi with sage and brown butter, with an almond and cherry tart to enjoy for dessert.
Where: 51 Greek Street, W1D 4EH
The Cheese Bar, Camden
Why: Sometimes cheese is romantic, like when you and bae are gazing into each other’s eyes over a pot of fondue. Other times not so much, like when you’ve just polished off a Stinking Bishop. At The Cheese Bar, avoid any potential romance-killers by going solo and falling in love with yourself instead. Boasting counter-style seating, cheesy treats to try here include mozzarella sticks dipped in marinara sauce, a five-cheese mac ‘n’ cheese, and a variety of grilled cheese sarnies.
Where: Unit 93/94 Camden Stables, NW1 8AH
Why: Chef Stevie Parle is the brain behind casual Soho restaurant Pastaio, which turns out a range of fresh, hand-made pasta dishes at very reasonable prices. The restaurant’s casual and quick nature lends itself to solo dining too – before the main event, you can enjoy a fried mozzarella, 'nduja and honey sandwich or watermelon with feta, before tucking into your plate of pasta. Our top pick? The malloreddus with slow-cooked sausage.
Where: 19 Ganton Street, W1F 9BN
Why: If you love to eat spicy food, but you don’t want to sweat all over your dining companions, we’d suggest ditching your pals and heading to Kiln solo. The restaurant is known for serving up smoking hot Thai barbecue dishes and comes equipped with counter-style seats at the bar. The glass noodles with Tamworth belly and brown crab is the most popular dish to try, and it will cost you less than a tenner too.
Where: 58 Brewer Street, W1F 9TL
Kitchen Table at Bubbledogs, Fitzrovia
Why: Heading to an elaborate chef’s table experience without anyone else in tow is perhaps best left so seasoned solo diners. If you’re brave enough though, a chef’s table is a great way to indulge in a second-to-none dining experience without any distractions. The Michelin-starred Kitchen Table is a good place to start, where you and 19 other guests will enjoy a daily-changing modern European menu devised by chef James Knappet.
Where: 70 Charlotte Street, W1T 4QG
Barrafina Adelaide Street, Coal Drops Yard, Dean Street and Drury Lane
Why: With four branches across the capital (Adelaide Street, Coal Drops Yard, Dean Street and Drury Lane), getting a seat at no-booking Barrafina isn’t as difficult as it used to be, but even as a solo diner you’ll probably still need to queue. Once you’ve made it through the doors, you can sit at one of the stools and tuck into the likes of ham croquetas and a prawn and piquillo pepper tortilla – good job you’ve come solo, as this stuff is too good to share.
Where: 10 Adelaide Street, WC2N 4HZ; Stable Street, N1C 4AB; 26-29 Dean Street, W1D 3LL; 43 Drury Lane, WC2B 5AJ
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