You and your friends have just got off from work on Friday night. It’s been a long, hard week, and you are all looking forward to spending time at a neat little restaurant not far from your office buildings. The food is to die for. The only problem is that this restaurant is “no-reservation only.” Yes, you heard correctly. You are unable to reserve seating at this particular place. What should you do to ensure that you still have a chance to taste the food of the gods?
No-reservation restaurants are commonplace in London. They are popular for eliminating the hassle caused by bookings and lost profits when groups don’t show up. The long line of patient patrons-to-be outside the doors also serve as a sort of human advert to all who pass by: “Our food is so good that people are willing to stand in line to wait for it!” This concept is quite foreign to many of our fast-food-minded neighbors on the other side of the pond. As the saying goes: “Good things come to those who wait.”
Despite their willingness, Londoners are not always too keen on spending a good chunk of their evening outside in the cold and the damp. If this sounds like you, there are several tips and tricks to beating the queues and getting inside fast.
The first step is to be upfront and honest. Don’t try to wheedle your way in by claiming relations to the chef or that you have friends waiting inside for you. These same old stories have been heard over and over again by restaurants all over London and won’t help you. The best thing you can do is to be nice, polite and honest.
Time your visit carefully. Don’t show up at the restaurant between 4 and 8 p.m. on the weekend and expect to get a seat straight away. You may need to compromise by having a drink at the bar or elsewhere while you wait for a table to become available. If you are willing to eat earlier or later than standard accepted times for meals, you are much more likely to get a table shortly after your arrival. Of course, if you expect to be standing outside for any length of time in London, be sure to bring a coat and an umbrella.
Now that you have the knowledge necessary to navigate the no-reservation restaurant world, let’s take a look at some of the best no-reservation restaurants at which you can satiate your hunger in London.
Have you ever eaten a pancake shaped like a bowl with an egg neatly baked into the center? If not, welcome to Hoppers, home of the hopper. Hoppers is owned by the Sethi siblings and is known for its Sri Lankan dishes. The building itself is small with wait times as long as four hours. However, Hoppers offers a virtual queue. If you give your number to the person on the door, you will receive a text message when your table is ready. If you want to make your wait take as little time as possible, consider arriving for an early lunch or an early or late dinner between Monday and Friday. Weekends are the busiest times. If you are really keen on tasting on of Hoppers’ signature Sri Lankan pancakes, consider going alone. Many times, there will be space for one person at the bar, even if all the tables are full.
Hoppers can be eaten with your hand by wrapping the entire thing up. They have been compared to burgers in eating style. The combination of slight sourness and variety of textures make the eating experience of this food like no other.
Londoners went crazy over the fluffy white Taiwanese buns served at this restaurant when it opened in April 2015. These buns are stuffed with everything from fried chicken to braised pork. At peak times, there are queues in abundance, but a restaurant insider said that carefully timed visits can result in your walking straight in. At 2.30 p.m. and about 9 p.m., there is virtually no queue at all. A larger BAO branch opened in May of 2015 with room to seat more guests.
Ducksoup’s busiest hours are from 7.15 p.m. and on. If you arrive at seven, you stand a fairly good chance of getting a seat. Even if you can’t get in immediately upon your arrival, the longest wait times are usually 10 to 15 minutes.
Dishoom is located in four different places: Carnaby Street, Covent Garden, King’s Cross and Shoreditch. Although all four locations are always busy, arriving between 5.30 and 6 p.m. will give you the best chance to avoid the queues. The King’s Cross location has a tendency to be quieter than the other three on weekday evenings. With the biggest bar of all of them, the King’s Cross Dishoom is a great place to have a drink while you wait for your table.
Located in three places in London, the Barrafina Spanish restaurants are well known for their tapas. Because all 20-30 guests are seated at the marble-topped bar, grabbing a place to sit can be difficult. Turning up before the restaurant opens at midday or at 5 in the evening will give you the best opportunity to get a seat. For a quieter location, you could also try the Drury Lane branch.
Polpo’s peak time is eight o’clock at night. This mini-chain of Venetian-style restaurants generally has plenty of room for those willing to eat an early dinner or a late supper. Polpo at Ape & Bird and Polpo Notting Hill are generally less busy than other locations. You can order a drink at the bar if you wish while you wait for a table to open up.
Burger & Lobster
Burger & Lobster in Mayfair enforces a strict no-reservations policy, but each of the other eight branches have slightly different booking rules. Some of these venues take reservations for groups of certain sizes. If you are averse to queuing, you might want to check this one out.