We are a nation of queuers but that doesn’t stop us getting reluctant when hunger strikes and there are ten (or more) people in our way. We’ve rounded up 12 of the best no-reservations restaurants so that at least you know if you’re going to stand in line, it’s worth every second…
What: 2016's Hottest Opening
Why: One of 2016’s standout openings, Kiln brings a whole new appreciation to the use of clay pots. With a focus on the wood burning kiln oven and grill designed by founder Ben Chapman (of Smoking Goat), dishes include monkfish cheek dry red curry and Tamworth belly and brown crab meat clay pot baked glass noodles with a huge focus on the producers – lamb is fattened up especially for the restaurant and the menu changes daily depending on the catches from Cornish day boats. Seats at the counter (best seats in the house) are for walk-ins only but they’ll take your number so you can go to a nearby bar until you get the call up, or reserve a table for 4 or more in the dining room.
Where: 58 Brewer Street, Soho, W1F 9TL
What: Intimate Counter Dining
Why: Visit Neal’s Yard in the evening and not only will there be a queue at Homeslice, but also at The Barbary, so arrive hungry but not too hungry – you won’t be eating for a while. Counter dining here means every seat has views of chefs at work, preparing dishes using ancient cooking techniques, exotic ingredients, and seasonal produce to just 24-covers. Yes you will have to queue and it’s probably not even worth trying past 7pm unless you’re feeling really lucky (visit at midday or 5pm when they open for the shortest wait) but it’s worth every second and just to make things a little better, you won’t be surprised with service charge at the end – it’s included in the price of the dishes.
Where: 16 Neal's Yard, Covent Garden, WC2H 9DP
What: Traditional Bombay Dining
Why: Walk down Upper St Martins Lane, Boundary Street, Kingly Street or Stable Street pretty much any night of the week and you’ll see a snake of people winding towards the entrance of Dishoom. Inspired by the Bombay Cafes of old, those bacon naans have become one of the must-have dishes in London and for good reason. Visit in the evening and a queue is guaranteed but you can book a table if you visit for breakfast or lunch. Evening reservations are only taken for groups of 6 or more so be savvy, pick your time, pick your friends and see for yourself what all the fuss is about.
What: London's Best Pasta
Why: Picture Padella and you’re probably thinking of their worm-like pici cacio e pape. You may also picture a queue outside the restaurant because when pasta is this good and dishes are as little as a fiver there’s really no excuse not to visit. There is a downstairs area so they’ll seat you as soon as possible and once you’re sat in the civilised surroundings, comforted by a plate of the yellow stuff you’ll forget all about standing in the cold. Although it may be worth asking if you can sit downstairs – it’s rarely totally full. Oh, and make the queue really worthwhile and be sure to order pudding. The tarts are divine.
Where: 6 Southwark Street, Borough Market, SE1 1TQ
What: Unfussy interiors and amazing noodles
Why: When Koya Bar opened next door to Koya on Frith Street everyone thought the queuing solution was solved: twice the restaurants, half the queue. This didn’t quite happen, and when Koya closed a couple of years ago the wait destination just shifted next door. Open 8.30am till late (9.30am at the weekend), brave the queue for some of London’s best udon noodle dishes, small plates and simple surroundings. Don’t expect your wait to be rewarded with comfy seats and a leisurely meal though – here it’s all about the food.
Where: 50 Frith Street, Soho, W1D 4SQ
Barrafina Dean Street
Leicester Square (0.2 miles)
What: Michelin-starred Tapas
Why: With the informality of tapas it’s not surprising that most taperias don’t take bookings. Michelin-starred Barrafina Soho (now on Dean Street) was the first to make queuing mandatory and as a result are as familiar with a line of hungry diners as it is with simple, refined, traditional Spanish cooking. Bear in mind their maximum group size is four so save this one for your closest friends and visit when doors open (midday and 5pm Monday-Saturday) for minimal wait times. Be sure to order the deep-fried stuffed courgette flowers.
Where: 26-27 Dean Street, London W1D 3LL
What: Indian Small Plates
Why: The fact that people queue to sit at communal tables in a shipping container in Brixton shows just how good the food at Kricket is. A permanent bricks and mortar site in Soho was the natural next step so it’s no surprise that where the food is, the queues follow. Bookings are only taken for groups of 4-14 in the semi-private downstairs space but they do take your number and give you a call when your table’s ready so make the most of the bars nearby while you wait. The menu at Soho is slightly bigger than in Brixton but we are staying loyal to the bhel puri and the Keralan fried chicken with curry leaf mayo (pictured).
Where: 12 Denman Street, Soho, W1D 7HH
Balls and Company
What: Simple, Honest Meatballs
Why: The lack of reservations isn’t what separates Balls & Company from its Soho neighbours, the food is what does. Meatballs are given the love and attention they deserve, proving that simple is often best and that the best things come in fours. Especially when this means flavours like short rib and sofrito; pork, ricotta and sage; and quinoa, beetroot and feta. Pick your balls, pick your sauce and throw in a few sides and you have a simple feast worth the wait. The wait is made a whole lot better when it means you can sit in the basement bar, Company Below for a glass of wine or an imaginative cocktail as your table is prepared. Evening reservations taken for parties of 8 or more and any size at lunch.
Where: 58 Greek Street, Soho, W1D 3DY
What: Sri Lankan Roadside Dining
Why: When Hoppers opened back in 2015 no one quite anticipated how popular it would be but the fact it’s on the old site of Koya should’ve hinted the queues would follow. Much like the rest of Soho they don’t take bookings so you’ll have to queue like the rest of us unless you order for collection and eat back at your desk. Once you’re sat in the warm you’ll be comforted with such delights at goat roti, hot butter devilled shrimps and traditional egg hoppers. And it won’t break the bank.
Where: 49 Frith Street, Soho, W1D 4SG
What: An Instagram Favourite
Why: Think queue and you probably think Bao. With people swarming to the tiny Soho spot from about midday, it’s not long before you find yourself across the road, standing behind a bus stop sign. Our tip? Visit Wednesday at midday or Friday when they reopen at 5.30pm and try your best to nab a window seat so you can gaze out at the queue you’ve endured. Your prize? Pillowy clouds stuffed with slow cooked pork belly and fresh spring onions. Or you could cheat and skip the queue altogether; the new Fitzrovia site takes bookings to sit downstairs.
Where: 53 Lexington Street, Soho, W1F 9AS
What: Punchy Thai Cooking
Why: Over in Shoreditch, chef Andy Oliver is cooking up a Thai storm. Som Saa is no secret though, and since a successful crowdfunding campaign launched it from pop-up to permanent, there was a loyal fan following even before the door first opened. These days, Som Saa operates on a primarily walk-in basis, but takes lunch bookings and some for larger groups. Open for dinner every day except Sunday, the waiting list starts at 5pm, an hour before the restaurant actually opens so get down early, whack your name on the list and take a seat at the bar for a Muay Thai Kick…
Where: 43A Commercial Street, Shoreditch, E1 6BD
What: Clerkenwell's New Taqueria
Why: From humble beginnings in a car park in Hackney to a permanent restaurant in Clerkenwell, it’s fitting with the street-food-turned-restaurant way of doing things that Breddos Tacos has had a loyal following since the start, in 2011. You have to queue for a table much in the same way you have to wait for your food at the roadside taquerias it’s inspired by but you’ll be rewarded with vibrant flavours, colours and a laid-back atmosphere. Open for lunch and dinner daily, as well as all-day on Sunday (till 6pm) your best bet is visiting near opening, so midday or 5pm Monday to Saturday or try your luck on a lazy Sunday, when everyone’s eating patterns seem to be all over the place.
Where: 82 Goswell Road, Clerkenwell, EC1V 7DB
LIKE THIS? READ MORE: