Manteca - Anton Rodriguez
Rupert Hohwieler 10/02/23
The Best Walk-In Restaurants and Bars In London | No Booking, No Problem
Getting into London’s best restaurants and bars can be hard.
Especially if you don’t own a mobile phone, have access to a computer or if you live in a cabin out in the woods somewhere.
It puts you at a complete disadvantage to the rest of the playing field. Some might even go as far as saying it’s unfair. Fortunately, there’s a really kind group of restaurants and bars in London that take walk-ins, generously leaving a portion of their venue free for those who didn’t totally forget that it’s their turn to organise date night, with some places taking it one step further and not accepting bookings at all. Take that, folks who have their life in order.
On this list, you’ll find a variety of establishments that welcome spontaneity and walk-ins with open arms; from luxury cocktail bars to high-end restaurants to cosy wine bars and counter-side dining where you have front row seats to the cooking itself. One final thing: you still probably want to arrive early…
So maybe plan ahead.
Jump to: Walk-in bars
Koya Soho | Soho
During peak lunch/dinner it takes about 30-40 minutes to come face-to-face with the world-class udon found at Koya Soho, a 25-seater Japanese restaurant where you’re lined up on a wooden counter facing the noodle chefs who prepare your bowl right before your very eyes. That’s about 13-and-a-half hours less than the flight to Japan – possibly more factoring in delays, taxis from the airport and all the other logistical dilemmas – so when you think about it like that, it’s really not that long of a wait is it…
Address: 50 Frith Street, Soho, W1D 4SQ | Opening hours: 10am-10pm, daily
La Pesa | Shoreditch
If this new pocket-sized, candle-lit restaurant and Italian wine bar (which hosts a constant stream of brief and memorable guest chef residencies) did take bookings, it would be booked out for months – so luckily it doesn’t, and to guarantee a seat for dinner all you have to do is find an excuse to get off work early…
Address: 73 Rivington St, EC2A 3AY | Opening hours: 12-11pm, Tues-Sat
José | London Bridge
José is every inch the authentic Spanish tapas bar, from the high stools huddled around old wine barrels outside, to the blackboard scrawled with the day’s best dishes (clams with fino sherry, charred padrón peppers, and the like). And that extends right down to their no bookings policy, encouraging the kind of spontaneity that’s usually reserved for your holiday self.
Address: 104 Bermondsey Street, London SE1 3UB | Opening hours: Daily, 12-10.30pm
Manteca | Shoreditch
One of the best restaurants in East London, Manteca is known for using the nose-to-tail approach in Italian cooking (spicy pig tail ragu campanelle and fried ciccioli with apple mostarda made with lean pig off-cuts being among a few of its inspired full body dishes); its brown crab cacio e pepe; the in-house salumeria and, because all those three things, for being insanely popular. They nicely keep the kitchen and bar counters free for walk-ins to give those of us who don’t book dinner two months in advance a fighting chance…
Address: 49-51 Curtain Road, EC2A 3PT | Opening hours: 12-3pm & 5.30-10.45pm, daily
Kiln | Soho
At Kiln – a Thai restaurant in Soho inspired by the stalls that line the highways up North around the areas that border Laos and Yunnan – the best seats in the house can’t be booked, which makes them that bit more precious. They’re the sleek, steel countertop seats found around the open-kitchen upstairs, where you can witness your cumin-spiced cull yaw skewers (meat from a ewe) and laap sausages being charred above a statement charcoal grill. And as you do that, it’s not a bad idea to have one of their cocktails (often made with the same herbs and spices used in the kitchen) with you for the show, like a green peppercorn & basil mojito.
Address: 58 Brewer Street, W1F 9TL | Opening hours: 12-3pm & 5-11pm, Mon-Thurs; 12-11pm, Fri-Sat; 12-pm, Sun
Dishoom | Across London
If you feel as though Londoners are inherently impatient (just see the reactions whenever public transport is delayed by a few minutes…), you’d be surprised at how many have tolerated the near 45-minute queues for Dishoom. That’s just the power black daals and glamourous Bombay café-style surroundings seem to have on people here. While surviving the wait and sipping a free cup of chai tea is something of a London rite of passage, if you can’t be arsed dealing with it all there’s always the option of disrupting your meal schedule and arriving at 5 or 9pm…
Info on Dishoom Covent Garden, Dishoom Shoreditch, Dishoom King’s Cross, Dishoom Carnaby, Dishoom Kensington, Dishoom Canary Wharf
Lulu’s | Herne Hill
During the day, this off-shoot to Llewelyn’s – located literally next door – is a casual deli & shop designed to help you along with your goals of owning the city’s most enviable pantry (plus grabbing a mortadella sandwich along the way). Once it gets dark, however, it shifts into cosy neighbourhood restaurant mode where Danish chef Lasse Petersen serves up niche small plates (like Parisian gnocchi with wild mushrooms and pickled Jerusalem artichokes on toast) that go down even better when partnered by a wine from Slovenia or Georgia. Getting there early is essential…
Address: 291 Railton Road, SE24 0JP | Opening hours: 8am-11pm, Wed-Fri; 9am-11pm, Sat
Flour & Grape | Bermondsey
A seat at Flour & Grape is one of the most sought-after spots for pasta in London and they only accept walk-ins, so unless you found a four-leaf clover on your way in, you might have to wait for a little bit before taking yours. It’s no biggie really, just give your name and see it out at their downstairs bar – 214 Bermondsey – where you can nurse a G&T alongside a couple of starters. Do keep it at a couple of starters, though… to ensure maximum enjoyment of the pork shoulder and sage tortellini that awaits.
Address: 214 Bermondsey St, SE1 3TQ | Opening hours: Daily
Sabor | Mayfair
You gotta work for it (queue for what feels like an eternity, possibly sit on the side of Heddon Street with a good book for couple of hours to be first in, camp overnight if you really want a guarantee…), but a seat at Sabor’s sweeping ground floor dining bar is worth whatever sacrifices you have to make. That’s because, once finally seated, you’ll have a front-row look-in to the inner workings of one of the best Michelin star restaurants in London, where plate after plate of five-star tapas emerges from an open-kitchen – from stuffed piquillo peppers with braised oxtail to monkfish tempura to manchego cheese croquettes – all supplemented, of course, by ‘responsible’ amounts of sherry and Basque sparkling wine.
Address: 5-37 Heddon Street, W1B 4BR | Opening hours: 12-2.30pm & 5.30-10.30pm, Tues-Sat
Le Relais de Venise L’Entrecote | Marylebone
Le Relais de Venise L’Entrecôte is known for one dish, and no, it’s not the side salad… Although the side-salad is perfectly-fine (topped with walnuts, drizzled in mustard vinaigrette), the steak-frites is the clear star of the menu (and the only other thing on the menu, apart from the consolation prize of cheese for the vegetarians). It’s an entirely walk-in restaurant too, so if you want your shot at the steak, hand cut chips and secret sauce (or the side-salad), expect to stand in line.
Address: 120 Marylebone Lane, W1U 2QG | Opening hours: 12-2.30pm & 6-10.45pm, Mon-Thurs; 12-3pm & 6-11pm, Fri; 12-3.30pm & 6.30-11pm, Sat-Sun (closes 10.30pm on Sun)
Barrafina Dean St | Soho
If you time it well, a seat may magically appear at the eye-catching marble counter of Barrafina’s Dean Street branch (the only one of their four restaurants to remain walk-in only). If this does happen, then good for you, we’re not jealous at all (honestly…), and you’ll be able to tuck into absolutely demolish a mix of a modern and traditional Mallorcan and Catalan-inspired tapas dishes like gambas rojas (garlic prawns), txistorra (the classic tortilla topped with slices of Basque paprika sausages), Iberico pork with confit potatoes and Galician almond cakes; all of which, in the eyes of many, have made Barrafina one of the best Spanish restaurants in London.
Address: 26-27 Dean St, London W1D 3LL | Opening hours: 12-3pm & 5-11pm, daily (closes 10pm on Sun)
Padella | Shoreditch, London Bridge
See that very lengthy line of lovely people in front of you, patiently waiting to get into that Italian restaurant where they’re making fresh pasta from the window? Find a way to divert attention, enlist the services of a friend to feign injury and cry for help from across the street, do what you have to, whatever it takes – all’s fair in love and war – especially when some of London’s best cheap eats are involved. Padella’s pasta dishes (like a tagliarini with dried chilli, garlic & pangrattato) start at a tenner, and the bonus with this pair of walk-in restaurants is that you can queue virtually – meaning you can enjoy an aperitivo at Swift Borough or Found while you wait.
Address: 6 Southwark Street, SE1 1TQ and 1 Phipp Street, Hackney, EC2A 4PS | Opening hours Borough: 11.30am-3.45pm & 5-10pm, daily (until 9pm on Sun) | Opening hours Shoreditch: 12-3.45pm & 5-10pm, Mon-Thurs; 12-1pm, Fri-Sa; 12-3.45pm, Sun
Brat x Climpsons Arch | Hackney
Brat take bookings at their restaurant in London Fields – where the reservers get priority in the festoon-lit, covered courtyard – but they don’t forget about their spontaneous, more fun and not at all disorganised diners either. They keep the bar area free for you guys, and look after you with seasonal excellence cooked over wood-fired ovens like whole crab with hay butter, whole turbot or smoked rainbow trout. A savvy wine list and cocktails that have too been licked by flames will no doubt play a part in the evening as well, as will a burnt Basque Cheesecake…
Address: 374 Helmsley Place Hackney E8 3SB | Opening hours: 6-10pm, Weds-Fri; 12-9pm, Sat-Sun
40 Maltby Street | Bermondsey
You’ve left date night to the last minute again, haven’t you? You… last minute merchant. Don’t despair though, it’s not the end of the world – you can always rely on this buzzing wine bar and seasonally-driven small plates restaurant hidden under the arches of Maltby Street to come in and save the day (handily, it’s also one of the most romantic restaurants in London). They operate on a no reservations policy here, so you just have to come extra early and act assured. Allll part of the plan…
Address: 40 Maltby Street, SE1 3PA | Opening hours: 12-5pm & 5.30-10.30pm, Weds-Sat; 12-3pm & 5.30pm-10pm, Sat
The Barbary | Covent Garden
The Barbary’s status as a top tier Covent Garden restaurant is undeniable. You sit perched around a zinc horseshoe-shaped bar while chefs casually hand you over impeccably-charred dishes inspired by Africa’s Barbary Coast (think lamb kebabs sprinkled with pistachio crumb, black salmon dukkah and their famed flatbreads that can mopped up with various dips, sauces and juices). Of course with great popularity come great waiting times and if you’re not prepared to stick it out, it’s not like dinner’s ruined: You’re in Neal’s Yard, after all, and there’s always next door at, err, The Barbary Next Door…
Address: 16 Neal’s Yard, WC2H 9DP | Opening hours: 5-11pm, Mon-Weds; 12-3pm & 5-11pm, Thurs-Fri; 12-11pm, Sat; 12-10pm, Sun
Lina Stores | Soho
The transition from old school deli and food shop to full-blown modern Italian restaurant empire was a slow-burn for the folks behind Lina Stores – just the 75 years… but the wait was worth it, as they’re now recognised for turning out some of the finest handmade pasta in London – from the pumpkin ravioli with Piemonte hazelnuts to a 30-egg yolk tagliolini with black truffles – all of which you can enjoy perched up on one of their 12 bright, peppermint-shaded stools that face an open kitchen. These being reserved for people with, um, no reservations…
Address: 51 Greek St, London W1D 4EH | Opening hours: 12-2.30pm & 5-11pm, Mon-Thurs; 12-11pm, Fri-Sun
Beaufort Bar & American Bar at the Savoy | The Strand
The Savoy’s two cocktail dens are the ultimate 1920s-esque old-world glamour bars. For people staying at the hotel, reservations are accepted (probably fair considering they’ve dropped a month’s rent on a room). For the rest of us, it’s possible just to rock up and sip on classics like the White Lady at the American Bar (the oldest cocktail bar in London, open since 1904, and where many classic drinks were originally invented), before moving on to champagne in the black and gold Art Deco surrounds of The Beaufort. After that? Live a verrry modest lifestyle for the next week…
Details: The Savoy Hotel, 100 Strand, WC2R 0EZ | Opening hours: American Bar: 4pm-12am, Mon-Weds; 12pm-12am, Thurs-Sat; 12-10pm, Sun | Opening hours Beaufort Bar: 5pm-1am, Thurs-Sat
Tayēr + Elementary | Shoreditch
This industrially designed bar’s favourite number seems to be two: it’s split into two parts (Elementary, the more day-friendly casual space where the drinks are pre-mixed and available on tap, and Tayēr, the brooding, late-night one where you get the elaborate mixology and mind-blowing cocktails), it’s run by two very highly-rated bartenders, Monica Berg (of Oslo’s Himkok fame) and Alex Kratena (of Artesian fame, another one of London’s best London cocktail bars) and it was recently voted number two on the UK’s 50 Best Bars list. Their signature is the one-sip martini – basically, a shot of dirty martini. You should probably order two…
Address: 152 Old St, London EC1V 9BW | Opening hours: 3pm-12am, Tues-Weds; 3pm-1am, Thurs-Sat
Connaught Bar | Mayfair
The Connaught Bar – widely perceived as one the best bars in the whole world, let alone little old London – is as swanky as it gets, with marble floors, soaring ceilings and waiters who wear white gloves. You can opt for the bespoke martini trolley that’s rolled straight to your leather armchair or have at the many of the other signature cocktails that are barrel-aged behind the bar. We get that it’s not everyone’s idea of a spur of the moment drink, but when you need to celebrate something like, say, finishing work, there are worse places to find yourself in…
Address: The Connaught Hotel, Carlos Place, Mayfair, W1K 2AL | Opening hours: 4pm-1am, Mon-Sat
Red Room | Mayfair
Finishing up at the Connaught Bar? Don’t call it a night just yet, continue on past the hotel’s Champagne room (and possibly stop there for a glass, to continue the impromptu luxury drinking crawl) and you’ll see a curtain that marks the entrance to the Red Room, an incredibly plush wine bar. It’s home to 30,000 vintages – some of which include the most sought after bottles in the world, like a 1994 Petrus merlot – and you should definitely try one or two. Not a wine fan? The cocktails are secretly brilliant here too. The bill can be tomorrow’s problem.
Address: The Connaught, 16 Carlos Pl, London W1K 2AL | Opening hours: 4pm-1am, Tues-Thurs; 3pm-1am, Fri-Sat; 4.30pm-12am, Sun
Lost Property Office | Waterloo
Don’t worry, we’re not trying to reunite you with your long-lost bag…. who knows where that thing is. Hopefully more exciting – Lost Property Office is one of London’s best hidden bars, concealed behind a black door in Brewdog Waterloo (entry tip: you’ll only be let in by picking up a retro phone) where bartender/cocktail scientist Rich Woods is mixing up ingenious creations like a Chocolate Orange Negroni and a Pina Co-Lager. They don’t take bookings, you really do have to find that phone…
Address: Brewdog Waterloo, The Sidings, Waterloo Station, London SE1 7BH | Opening hours: 5pm-12am, Sun-Thurs; 5pm-1am, Fri-Sat
Bar Americain at Brasserie Zedel | Soho
Paris in the 1930s to America in the 1930s and then back to… Soho in the 2020s. That’s the kind of worldly, time-travelling escapade that constitutes a night at the Brasserie Zédel complex. Bar Américain, the basement bar, is the America in the 1930s leg of the trip; a gloriously varnished bronze and gold art-deco tribute to the prohibition era where you can sip on veteran cocktails like corpse revivers, aviations and old fashioneds. It’s one of the better date ideas in Soho, and being walk-ins only, particularly good if you have left it to the last minute again a phobia of bookings.
Address: 20 Sherwood Street, W1F 7ED | Opening hours: 5pm-12am, Mon-Thurs; 4pm-12am, Fri; 3pm-12am, Sat; 4-11pm, Sun
Punch Room | Fitzrovia
A sophisticated, velvet-boothed cocktail den hidden within the grandiose surroundings of the London EDITION hotel, Punch Room is not as violent as it sounds – though what’s in there may knock you for six. The current menu is inspired by light, and is split into translucent, transparent and opaque sections… with twists like edible paint and colour-changing concoctions.
Address: The London EDITION, 10 Berner’s Street, W1T 3NP | Opening hours: Wednesday – Sunday from 5.30pm
Mama Funki | Camberwell
Mama Funki, somewhat confusingly, is actually the younger sister of Peckham bar Funkidory. And just like its sibling, it’s a stylishly retro cocktail den with fantastic signature drinks, a neat range of natural wines, and great music. But unlike its sibling, there’s no need to book ahead.
Address: 29-33 Camberwell Church St, London SE5 8TR | Opening hours: Tuesday-Saturday, 6pm-12am (1am Fri & Sat)
Hector’s | Dalston
Good idea: Buy a bottle from natural wine bar Hector’s to take home. Great idea: Turn up when the place morphs into a walk-in wine bar, try multiple bottles of natural wine (they have over 300 varieties), chat about them in depth with owners Jimmy Stephenson (founder of Hill & Szrok) and Anna Shaffer (who, no joke, is also a well-known actress with roles on The Witcher and Harry Potter), who are absolute pros, and nibble away at European-inspired small plates like pigs head terrine while you’re at it. And then buy a bottle of natural wine from Hector’s to take home…
Address: 49a Ardleigh Rd, N1 4HS | Restaurant Opening hours: 5-10.30pm, Weds-Fri; 2-10.30pm, Sat; 2-7pm, Sun
Boundary Rooftop | Shoreditch
It’s one of the best rooftop bars in London, with near 360-degree views, firepits, greenery and a walk-ins only policy for drinkers. That makes it a pretty popular destination around these parts, but with a bit of will power, persistence and a nice boss who might let you leave early on a Friday evening to enjoy your weekend, it’s very doable.
Address: 2-4 Boundary St, E2 7DD | Opening hours: 12-11pm, daily
Bar Daskal | London Bridge
Bar Daskal, one of the best new bars of 2022, is the drink-focussed next door neighbour of Barrafina Borough Yards and Parrilan Borough Yards. It’s where you can either A) wait for a table to open up at one those two aforementioned restaurants with glass of sherry, or B) stay and spend the evening drinking far too much sherry, Spanish wine and cocktails (the Agua de Valencia, mixed with cadiz sparking, gin and blood orange, to start you off), while dealing with dinner via tapas and cold snacks that come from Barrafina’s kitchen. Both are good options.
Address: 16 Park St, London SE1 9AB | Opening hours: 3pm-12am, Tues-Thurs; 12pm-12am, Fri-Sat | More of the best bars in London Bridge
Newcomer Wines | Dalston
If you’re after a bottle of Austrian vintage in East London then Newcomer Wines is the one. It may be the only one, but still, it’s an excellent venue to drink what often takes a backseat to beer when it comes to Austrian booze here. The by-the-glass selection changes each day, with the pours (many being dry whites) starting from just £6.50. That mate of yours living in Dalston, who’s suddenly an expert on Austrian wine? Now you know.
Address: 5 Dalston Ln, London E8 3DF | Opening hours: 3-8pm, Tues-Wed; Thurs-Sat, 3-11pm
Noble Rot | Bloomsbury
Dark wood, flickering candles, a roaring fireplace, tons of wine – Noble Rot’s Bloomsbury branch couldn’t be a more romantic restaurant if it tried. If you’re not feeling hungry though, or romantic for that matter, you can always just mooch around the front bar area – for walk-ins only – and simply drink wine. That’s encouraged too… And the team have amassed a seriously commendable collection that ranges from the world-renowned to the completely unknown, that you must explore. It’s the noble thing to do.
Address: 51 Lamb’s Conduit St, London WC1N 3NB | Opening hours: 12-11pm, Mon-Sat | If you are actually really hungry, Noble Rot’s dining room can be booked here.
Cave à Vin | Covent Garden
Justin De Souza
While The 10 Cases takes on formal bistro responsibility, Cave à Vin next door is the less formal wine bar and, in being less formal, it doesn’t take bookings. You just need to pay a £12 corkage. Over the years it’s built a solid case for being one of the best wine bars in London; mainly due to the fact that, as the name sort of suggests, they only order in ten cases at a time to ensure constant excitement over the selection. Once a bottle is gone, it’s gone (apparently, they’ve never ever listed the same wine twice), and a new lineup comes in to take over. And finally, Cave à Vin means wine cellar in French. In case you were wondering…
Address: 16 Endell St, London WC2H 9BB | Opening hours: Mon-Sat, 12pm-12am
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