Once upon a time restaurants with a no-bookings policy would have certainly divided opinion among Londoners: with some hating the long queues and lack of guaranteed seating, while others embraced the spontaneity and absence of exclusivity. Now, with a pandemic under our belt and a lot of making up to do in the dining out department, some of us may need no booking restaurants more than ever.
It’s all well and good being organised and getting a date in the diary weeks ahead of when you want to eat out, but what of us who enjoy last minute plans? Perhaps there’s a reason to celebrate (even if that’s just getting through Monday), or it could just be that cooking your own tea tonight is too much to take. Whatever the reason, restaurants without reservations are the way to go.
Before Coronavirus there was definitely a lean towards more and more walk-in only restaurants, but post-pandemic lots of restaurants see prior bookings in the calendar as easier and safer to manage. So where traditionally lots of our favourite names might have had a no reservations policy, increasingly places that were previously impossible to book seem now to be allowing you to get your name down early. Don’t despair though if you’ve tried a clutch of trendy spots only to be told they’re full, there is a whole cohort of eateries in London which have set aside a handful of tables – or their whole restaurants – for walk in diners only.
This means that whatever your reason for wanting a last-minute bite to eat, you should be covered. From cheap eats in fast-paced restaurants to fine dining plates in elegant surrounds, our list of restaurants with walk-in policies in London should have you sorted. Simply stroll up and take a seat.
What: Although its award-winning Sunday lunch is booked up months in advance, you can’t reserve after 6pm on any day at Blacklock (unless you’re in a group of six or more). On the menu there’s beef, lamb and pork chops, next to sides of ash-roasted sweet potato or charred cauliflower and sprouts, while the classic cocktails are cheap and cheerful.
Where: Soho, The City, Shoreditch
What: Three times as big as its sisters on Beak Street and Denmark Street, the Soho site is a monster of a steakhouse and room for 180 diners. The eponymous Flat Iron steaks are tender, flavoursome and priced at just £12 each. Sides include dripping chips and creamed spinach.
Where: Covent Garden, Marylebone, Soho, Tottenham Court Road, King's Cross, Shoreditch, London Bridge, Spitalfields
What: This unstoppable burger chain delivers meaty goodness via patties made from British native breed cows in Gloucestershire, served on glazed buns with skin-on chips and rosemary salt. Low prices increase the appeal and they even have an app you can download, allowing you to check on your progress in the virtual queue.
Where: With 45 locations, there’s probably one next door to your house by now
What: Hoppers brings a pioneering approach to an under-appreciated cuisine, producing accomplished Sri Lankan food at bargain prices. We love the black pork kari (pork-belly curry) and robustly spiced battered mutton rolls, while those moreish hopper bowls justify this place’s unbelievable popularity. You might have to wait 90 minutes at peak times: but trust us when we say it's worth it.
Where: Soho, Marylebone, King's Cross
What: From MasterChef winner Tim Anderson, this homage to the nanban tradition of Euro-influenced Japanese cuisine offers a one-page menu, full of crowd-pleasing curries and burgers, alongside ramen and gyoza. Wash everything at Nanban down with some craft beers or a shot of saké.
What: This ode to modern Jerusalem in Soho is a true showstopper. When possible, we recommend sitting at the counter at The Palomar for the best experience, which is the part of the restaurant that can’t be booked. It's great to watch the chefs as they chat their way between the Josper oven and prep counters, preparing the likes of mackerel fricassee and capers, or beef tartare with burnt aubergine cream and crispy artichoke.
What: With two 15 sites (and more on the horizon!), this pizzeria is here to stay. Grab a seat for a classic margherita, something more adventurous such as spicy n’duja sausage, and Nutella and salted ricotta rings to finish. At the Covent Garden location, you can even enjoy a game of table footie while you wait.
Where: Covent Garden, Exmouth Market and Soho
What: Paying homage to the Irani cafes of Bombay, Dishoom deals in sharing plates and bowls of deftly spiced curries and smoky grilled meats and seafood. Pre-pandemic it was impossible to book a Dishoom for dinner for fewer than six people, and despite the team now taking reservations for all sizes of tables, the mini restaurant chain still holds a good handful of tables for walk-ins only. Little cups of chai are brought round for guests waiting for a table.
Where: King’s Cross, Shoreditch, Covent Garden, Kensington, Carnaby
What: Perhaps the original no bookings restaurant, Barrafina knows a thing or two about creating hype by way of a lengthy queue outside its restaurants. We’d suggest getting there before 6pm if you want to snag a table quickly and you’ll be well rewarded by way of a menu stuffed with traditional tapas dishes with a modern spin. Think a classic tortilla, chicken with romesco sauce or pan con tomate.
Where: King’s Cross, Dean Street, Drury Lane, Adelaide Street
What: If you’re dining with friends and are feeling hungry then there are huge 20” pizzas on offer here that serve 2-3 people each, the perfect thing for those all-important Instagram snaps. Toppings can be split 50/50 so that there don’t have to be topping-based-tiffs, and if you’re feeling less ambitious there are also options to order by the slice. Haven’t had time to make a reservation? No problem. Simply stroll up to any of the Homeslice restaurants to grab a seat without a booking.
Where: Shoreditch, The City, White City, Marylebone, Neal’s Yard
What: If you manage to bag one of the no booking tables at this Soho restaurant you’ll get a front-row seat for some seriously good central London people watching. When it comes to the menu you can expect a spread of Sri Lankan small plates from Kolamba that balance sweet, sour, salty and spicy flavour profiles.
Where: Carnaby Street
What: If you’ve forgotten to make a booking or fancy a last-minute meal out, you could do worse than head to the heart of the west end, into Chinatown. You see, most of the restaurants in Chinatown keep tables for walk ins and operate no bookings policies, so it’s the perfect place to wander around until you find a menu that takes your fancy. Our favourite spot is Four Seasons, which is famous for its roast meats and its dim sum menu that is served at the weekends.
What: Just because you’re after a no bookings restaurant in London it doesn’t mean you should have to settle for subpar grub. Treat yourself and your tablemates to a seat at Bao, the restaurant that made steamed bunds trendy. With fillings spanning fried chicken and shortrib to cheese and curry, there’s something for everyone here. Alongside the bao there is also a small selection of sharing plates like a bowl of rice topped with wonderfully savoury, thinly sliced steak and a confit egg yolk.
Where: Borough, Soho, Fitzrovia, King’s Cross, Netil Market
What: Serving up hearty Irish food, Daffodil Mulligan does both a mean brunch and a menu of satisfying, comfort food classics with a twist. With a handful of tables kept for walk-ins at most times of the day you’re in with a good chance of securing a seat here at the last minute. Dishes include meat and seafood cooked in a wood oven and regularly changing blackboard specials which might throw up combinations like rabbit croquettes with carrot ketchup, or native lobster with homemade Cavan kimchi.
Where: Old Street
What: Give the food and wine at your meal equal emphasis by grabbing a bite at cosy winebar Passione Vino. If you’re in luck owner Luca Dusi will be on hand to guide your wine choices and offer up the perfect food choices to pair with your bottle. With a great atmosphere and carefully selected plates this is a sweet spot to impress a date with (even when you’ve forgotten to book a table!).
What: Serving up fresh, seasonal Italian dishes, Café Murano is the brainchild of inimitable female chef Angela Hartnett. As well as crowd-pleasing plates of pasta there is also a selection of ‘secondi’ on the menu that include things like chicken Milanese or venison with faro, mushrooms, sofrito and chestnuts. All of Harnett’s restaurants accept walk-ins where possible, so it's worth checking if you're in the area.
Where: Bermondsey, St James’s, Covent Garden
What: Homemade pasta combined with fresh sauces have helped seal Padella as a favourite in many a Londoner’s heart. Started by a Jamie Oliver alumni, Padella’s menu flexes with the seasons, but one dish that has stood the test of time whatever the month is the signature cacio e pepe. This dish brings together slightly chewy pici pasta with a rich, salty pecorino cheese, butter and pepper sauce. A sublime lesson in less is more.
Where: London Bridge, Shoreditch
Le Relais De Venise L'Entrecote
What: With a strict no bookings policy, Le Relais De Venise L'Entrecote is an institution that spans several continents across the world. Born in Paris, this small chain of restaurants specialises in steak and chips. The cut of the day changes, but the price doesn’t, and you’ll also get a salad and French bread to start, plus the signature rich, herby steak sauce and unlimited chips.
Where: The City, Marylebone, Chinatown
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