London’s best no-booking restaurants for last-minute plans this summer

Looking for impromptu plans this weekend? These buzzy turn-up-and-eat restaurants will seat the spontaneous, so you can eat well without booking in advance. 

The pandemic has totally changed the way we dine – from the introduction of QR codes for entry, menus and ordering to the rise of luxury takeaways and home-cook restaurant deals that have lingered on from the days of Eat Out To Help Out (remember that?). But one of the things I’ve noticed since the pandemic restrictions were removed is that booking in advance has become a requirement for most restaurants.

Gone are the days – if they ever existed – of a spontaneous Friday night dinner out. Booking even a week in advance is about as adventurous as it gets when it comes to impromptu dining plans, particularly if you’re hoping to visit any one of London’s buzziest restaurants.

But even if it doesn’t feel like it, London has been taking a leaf out of New York’s book in recent years with more and more no-booking restaurants springing up.

Here are the best restaurants in the capital you can simply roll up to without a booking this summer (though there might still be a little bit of queuing at some places).

  • Barrafina

    Barrafina is a hugely popular (and delicious) group of Spanish tapas restaurants, with four locations so far across London: two in Soho, one in Covent Garden and another at Coal Drops Yard in King’s Cross.

    Widely considered the last word on Spanish cuisine in the capital, Barrafina offers contemporary, traditional and tasty Spanish tapas in the heart of London, alongside tempting wines, sherries and cervezas. Its Dean Street location is walk-in only, while its other locations welcome both walk-ins and bookings.

    Dream menu item: The milk-fed lamb is truly exquisite and goes down a treat with a delicious cold glass of cava.

    Check it out

  • Dishoom

    Breakfast, brunch, lunch or dinner, Dishoom is where to head. Its website states that most of the tables in their restaurants are kept unreserved so they can accommodate anyone who visits, which sounds like an invite for Indian food whenever we fancy it (if you’re willing to wait in what is generally a fast-moving queue). 

    Dream menu item: The Dishoom naan rolls, stuffed with streaky bacon, are the weekend hangover cure we all need.

    Check it out

  • Homeslice

    Homeslice is arguably one of London’s best pizza places, with everything from the simplest of margaritas to more complicated toppings (there’s BBQ brisket with pickles and even a vegan mushroom pizza sold by the slice) tasting heavenly. 

    There are no advance bookings at the Neal’s Yard restaurant and only take a “limited number of bookings” in the Fitzrovia, Shoreditch, City and White City restaurants, ensuring there is always plenty of space for walk-ins.

    Dream menu item: Pizza with chorizo, corn and coriander. It hits the spot in every way. 

    Check it out

  • Flat Iron

    While Flat Iron now takes bookings in its restaurants, they still welcome walk-ins, so you can rock up for mouthwatering food on demand. Specialising in steak and a few sides, it really has got its menu down to pared-back perfection.

    Dream menu item: A medium-rare rib eye steak (obviously) with some creamed spinach and chips on the side.

    Check it out

  • El Pastor

    These Mexican restaurants have a limited number of bookable tables, but for the most part they’re walk-in only, meaning it’s taco time all the time. Authentic food is served wrapped in tortillas made in-house using heritage Mexican corn.

    Dream menu item: Chorizo, potato and salsa verde fresca tacos, please.

    Check it out

  • Koya Bar

    Koya Bar’s fuss-free, café-style Japanese restaurant is our favourite place to slurp up udon and tuck into Japanese-style fish and chips. No bookings are taken at its Soho branch, so head down for a last-minute noodle fix.

    Dream menu item: The kinoko, a mushroom udon with walnut miso.

    Check it out

  • Four Hundred Rabbits

    Fan of sourdough pizza? Well, that’s no surprise – it’s become one of London’s most popular niche cuisines. Fortunately, Four Hundred Rabbits has five locations across London, each of them serving up delicious sourdough pizza with plenty of room for walk-ins.

    Dream menu item: The feta pizza with courgette, toasted pine nuts and salsa verde sounds like a summer dream.

    Check it out

  • Padella

    If you’re even slightly into pasta, you’ve probably heard of Padella. Serving fresh, hand-rolled pasta, it’s a must-visit and well worth waiting in the queue you’ll probably have to stand in at its Borough location, where there are no bookings whatsoever. 

    Dream menu item: Fettucine with Cobble Lane-cured nduja, mascarpone and lemon.

    Check it out

  • Bababoom London

    Looking for something a little more low-key? Bababoom, based in Battersea, specialises in delicious kebabs and Middle Eastern cuisine. FYI, at the weekend before 7pm they offer something called a ‘power hour’, where you can get unlimited frozen margaritas for £15. The best part: you don’t even need to walk to the kebab shop afterwards for any drunken cravings.

    Dream menu item: Crispy halloumi kebab with harissa sauce, minted yoghurt and crispy onions – my mouth is watering.

    Check it out

  • Kanada-Ya

    Craving ramen? Kanada-Ya has four locations across London, all of which are walk-in only. With pared-back dining and delicious food developed in Japan, what’s not to love?

    Dream menu item: Tonkotsu X, aka pork and corn fed chicken bone broth, chashu pork belly, spring onion, wood ear fungus and yuzu-shoyu.

    Check it out

  • Hoppers

    Taking its inspiration from Sri Lankan street food, Hoppers is a favourite among London foodies. Its signature dish is, of course, The Hopper, aka a fried egg in a bowl-shaped pancake – you’ll be surprised by just how delicious it is. With all of the outdoor seating reserved for walk-ins (and some indoor seating too), Hoppers is a great choice for easy summer dining.

    Dream menu item: it has to be the Egg Hopper and don’t forget to pair it with a range of chutneys and sambols.

    Check it out

  • Blacklock

    Blacklock is the ideal last-minute plan for the meat-lovers out there, serving the highest quality meats with a number of tables always saved for walk-ins.

    Dream menu item: The Blacklock Burger – a double cheeseburger Blacklocked with onions caramelised in a healthy glug of vermouth. A failsafe choice if I’ve ever heard of one.

    Check it out

Images: Instagram

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