Everything in London is completely booked out. Okay, I realise we should have booked earlier but even then, I swear it’s all been fully-booked since March? We haven’t been able to enjoy the end of lockdown because it feels like we can’t go to a restaurant. Hopefully by May we’ll be able to find a reservation because more places will be open, but in the meantime is there anywhere decent that isn’t booked out? ANYWHERE?
I want to build you a time machine so you can go back to March, pause Netflix, and make some bookings. I want to cradle you to my metaphorical chest and whisper ‘there there I heard that Smokestak are accepting walk-ins hun’. I want to have the rarest of superpowers - the ability to march you into Barrafina and say ‘get her a table for four, she’s had a shit year and she needs a glass of blanco, stat’. Alas, I am powerless in the face of London’s army of Type-A planners that have even booked out ’Spoons. How dare they Anastasya. How dare they.
If it helps at all, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that a solid 50% of London is in the same boat as you. Is it the same 50% that think a Self-Assessment return is a meditation app and who regularly cancel on their hygienist to invest the cash in another sesh? Maybe. Probably. Whatever, because I too am a proud non-planner. It’s not our fault Anastasya, the pubs made us this way. From a tender age they taught us that we didn’t need bookings because there would always be a nice corner to lean in, an alright burger on the menu, and another round of Woo-Woo at our fingertips. Then stupid COVID-19 snatched all of our spontaneity, casual sardine-packed street drinking, and excellent same-day London restaurant bookings away. That cruel bastard.
Whilst I’m tempted to offer you up our list of excellent al fresco walk-in restaurants or this article on tips and tricks for getting top reservations in London, I sense that you just want a booking. There is an aura of desperation here that reminds me of the final four minutes of a night out at The Roxy, when Come On Eileen would start playing and feral teenagers would pair up with the nearest conscious Superdry-clad human. If I don’t give you the specific names of places you can book, right here, right now, I think this could all end in tragedy - namely you sat on a pop-up camping table in the middle of a McDonald’s drive-thru demanding someone bring you an Aperol Spritz. So instead, I’d like to introduce you to the mysterious blind spots of the booked-out London restaurant scene. Some of them are even smack bang in central.
First up is Lady of the Grapes. I will not shut up about this Covent Garden wine bar, especially after I’ve had a fourth glass of Sancerre here. One day, one of my many, many husbands will propose to me here, mark my words. Whether you want a little romance or a lot of camembert, it’s perfect. For some reason - maybe it’s our good karma? - they still have a lot of terrace bookings on offer, daytime and evening. Another great central option is Sussex, a British, ingredient-led restaurant with a terrace serving oysters on Frith Street. Not only do they have plenty of evening reservations available, it’s also home to a British sparkling Nutty Wild wine that quickly became my Lockdown Support Wine, which yes, is very much a thing.
Now, in the immortal words of my childhood summer church camp leader, ‘sometimes you need a bigger net’. People with the patience for fishing are wise, so let’s channel that with the suggestion of Oren. This Mediterranean restaurant is a ten-minute walk from Hackney Downs station, which, depending on where you’re based, will either be convenient or very inconvenient, but all of that is irrelevant in the face of some of London’s best tzatziki. My working theory is that as they’re relatively new and have only just added a couple of tables outside people haven’t clocked that they’re open, so move quick. Similarly Over Under, a top daytime coffee shop, has countless Friday evening bookings, possibly because people don’t know that it turns into a great little cocktail bar come 5pm at the weekend.
A couple of other notable spots with plenty of bookings are Mei Mei in Borough Market and beloved udon heaven, Koya City. Or if you just want someone to bring you a drink and a burger in the next three hours, Patty and Bun in White City have bookings left, right, and centre. Plus, sign up to our newsletter where we’ll be keeping all our readers up to date with last-minute bookings we come across. But, in all honesty, the Clever Bookers will have their perfect 7pm al fresco dinners, but you’ll have the best battle stories.
A couple nights ago I opted for a 9pm booking and spent several hours beforehand wandering Soho with a friend. And sure, no one ever told us that ‘living through history’ would involve drinking takeaway frozen margaritas in the middle of April outside a sex shop, but somehow it’s a moment I’ll remember for the novelty and silliness long beyond those carefully scheduled meals. Don’t panic, just see this as an opportunity to give somewhere new a go, safe in the knowledge that you’ll be reunited with your old favourites very soon. May the booking odds be ever in your favour.