It is oft remarked that we Brits love to queue, and when it comes to dining out in London sometimes that’s a necessity. According to recent research queues are governed by the rule of six – customers will only join a queue with less than six people and are only willing to wait six minutes. Restaurant-goers, however, will happily join lines with more than six other customers and seem willing to wait for up to an hour (or more) for a table. Why? Is it the egalitarian ethos – everyone has a chance to dine at these places, not just those in the know. Or is it just that people are happy to wait for good food? Whatever the reason, we’ve rounded up London’s top 10 no-booking restaurants our reporters feel are worth the wait…
“Pillowy-soft” and “very more-ish” Taiwanese steamed buns – “sublime pockets of taste” filled with “fabulously spiced meats” – justify the ever-present queues for this Soho phenomenon. “They like you in and out quickly”, and “the tiny premises and jam-packed tables don’t encourage lingering”. (A second Fitzrovia branch – which takes bookings for downstairs only – opened in mid-2016 in the premises that were Boopshis.) Or if you want to queue old school you can go to where it all started. Bao’s food stall at Hackney’s Netil Market.
“It’s a theatrical experience to watch your food being prepared with such artistic delicacy and loving care” at the Hart Bros’ “rightly celebrated”bars, whose “utterly brilliant” tapas is “better even than in Barcelona”. Despite “a queue visible from the space station” (at W1 especially), the food is “totally worth the wait every time” and the “terrific and very kind” staff add to the “wonderfully dynamic” atmosphere. “Exceptionally, the spin-offs are as good as the original” (each is “subtly different”), but in autumn 2016, change is afoot, as the original Frith Street branch moves site into the redeveloped ground floor of nearby Quo Vadis (see also). Top Menu Tip – “everything is bloomin’ marvellous and fresh, but anything out of the sea most especially so”.
“Arrive early: the queue can be a killer”, but this “simple, easy and unfussy” new Italian near Borough Market (from the team behind Trullo) is “one of the few places worth enduring them” – “amazing, freshly made pasta, and so wonderfully cheap” is the highlight of the “short menu”.
“Reminds me of my childhood in South East Asia!”One of the biggest hits of late 2015, the Sethi family’s Sri Lankan, street food yearling has stormed into Soho with the “incredible” and “punchy flavours” of its “curries, plus crisp dosas and hoppers (rice pancakes) for dipping”. “Annoyingly this is another restaurant that doesn’t take bookings”, but most reporters are “happy to wait”. Top Menu Tip – “the bone marrow Varuval is meaty and deep, mopped up perfectly with a roti”.
“Buzzy, bordering on frenetic” – these “wonderful replicas of Mumbai’s Parsi cafés” have exceptional energy levels for a fast-expanding chain, and offer “deeply satisfying, colonially-inspired, street-food style dishes” (including “terrifically interesting breakfasts”), plus “excellent cocktails”. The catch? – the limited-bookings policy leads to “massive”queues “out of all proportion to reality”. Top Menu Tip – “the black dhal is a must”.
“If you want simple steak, well-delivered at a bargain price, you can’t go wrong” with these “consistent and effective” West End haunts (where “the unfashionable flat iron cut is elevated to first rank, and identified farms and rearing practices give credibility to the final product”). “Despite fairly basic surroundings, they feel somehow pleasant” even if “the queues are less great”(“they take your mobile number and text you when your table’s ready”).
“Takes over where Koya (RIP) left off”, this “cramped” but “cool” Soho Japanese is “famous for udon noodles, but their small plates and donburi rice dishes are even better”. “The purity of the stocks and sauces is fantastic”, so it’s “well worth the queue” (you can’t book).
From the team behind smash-hit, The Palomar, this venture opened last summer and celebrates the tastes of the Barbary Coast, from North Africa to Jerusalem. The tiny, 24-cover venue in Neal’s Yard doesn’t take bookings, unfortunately: we suggest you start queuing now.
“Boy, it gets crowded” in this “friendly but chaotic”Euston basement caff (“there’s no real chance of avoiding queueing or being cheek-by-jowl at a shared table”). Why? – “the best freshly made rotis outside of Malaysia” (plus “very tasty” noodle dishes) at bargain prices.
“Simple, perfect burgers… simply the best!” – the survey’s top slot, certainly amongst the bigger burger brands, goes to this “cool” chain, whose “to-die-for, salty rosemary fries” help inspire addiction; expect “huge lines”, but “their app allowing you to queue virtually is genius”. Top Tip – the original Brixton branch remains a destination in itself.