Restaurants with a no-bookings policy certainly divide opinion among Londoners: some hate the long queues and lack of guaranteed seating, while others embrace the spontaneity and absence of exclusivity. Whichever side you’re on, here’s our handy compromise – walk-ins-only London restaurants which will take down your number, so you don’t have to stand around outside while you wait.
Words: Eamonn Crowe
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 barbecued courgettes with Stilton, while the classic cocktails are cheap and cheerful.
Where: The Basement, 24 Great Windmill Street, W1D 7LG
Flat Iron Henrietta Street, Covent Garden
What: Three times as big as its sisters on Beak Street and Denmark Street, this monster of a steakhouse has room for 180 diners. The eponymous steaks are tender, flavoursome and priced at just £10 each – score.
Where: 17-18 Henrietta Street, WC2E 8QH
Honest Burgers, Bank, Camden, Clapham, Covent Garden, Liverpool Street, Notting Hill, Oxford Circus, Peckham, Soho, Tooting and loads more (they’re basically taking over)
What: This unstoppable burger chain delivers meaty goodness via 35-day-aged beef patties, served on glazed-brioche buns with triple-cooked, 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: 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: blame us for naming it our best new London restaurant in spring 2016.
Where: 49 Frith Street, W1D 4SG
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 it all down with some craft beers or a shot of saké.
Where: 426 Coldharbour Lane, SW9 8LF
The Palomar, Soho
What: This ode to modern Jerusalem in Soho is a true showstopper. We recommend sitting at the counter 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.
Where: 34 Rupert Street, W1D 6DN
Pizza Pilgrims, various Central London locations
What: With two sites in Soho (Dean Street and Kingly Street), one in Covent Garden and one in Exmouth Market, 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
As you may have gathered, no reservations and counter dining go hand-in-hand in London at the moment, so check out our list of the best London restaurants for counter dining here. Alternatively, keep on top of the capital’s restaurant scene by taking a peek at London’s hottest new openings (which – surprise, surprise – is jammed with no-reservations, counter-dining restaurants).
This article was modified 14 February 2017