London's Best Spots For A 30-Minute MealWhere to go when both time and good food is of the essence.
Living in London, you get used to doing things quickly. Make-up is slapped on between tube stops. Emails with exclamation marks are sent on the bus. Entire meal deals are swallowed anaconda-like on the pavement. Time is always of the essence, even when you don’t know why you’re in a rush. But, more often than not, you do have half an hour. Just sit down, gather those frantic thoughts, and have a quick meal at one of these excellent and efficient restaurants.
Of all the overseas chains opening in London to much fanfare, Marugame Udon is the most welcome and best value of the lot. The Japanese udon chain’s Liverpool Street location offers handmade udon starting at around £3. Slide your tray around the cafeteria-style setup while telling the chefs what noodles and toppings you're after, go past the heat lamp glow of tempura, grab a drink, and pay up. By the time you eat you’ll probably have time to spare.
The Queen could walk into The Fryer’s Delight hankering after saveloy and chips, followed by Amal Clooney’s husband nagging for scampi, and you’d still get your portion of cod first if you were in line before. That’s just the kind of place this straightforward cash-only Holborn chippy is. The red formica booths are a bit of a London icon and the fish and chips have been satisfying all sorts for years.
Bao’s King’s Cross outpost is less about a confit pork-packed sit-down meal and more about picking up some delicious stuff wrapped up in equally delicious steamed dough. They’ve got a short menu of their signature bao, as well as a fun take on a pizza slice, and a certified genius steamed dough sausage roll. The salted egg custard sad face bao is our spirit snack.
Without Wong Kei and its slapped-on-your-table wonton noodle soups and roasted meats bathing in sweet, shining umami gravy, London would be a much poorer place. The Chinatown institution may often have the grace and decorum of a chilli oil-filled dump truck but that is part of its inimitable charm. If they had it their way, meals here would last 30 seconds rather than 30 minutes.
This old-school Italian spot is directly opposite Highbury and Islington station and is also conveniently home to a lasagne that’s guaranteed to send you straight to bed. It’s a small family-run, Italian, blackboard-of-specials kind of place which makes it perfect for getting cosy with some meatballs and a pint of on-tap Birra Moretti.
You don’t go to JB’s for frilly service or a fancy environment. You go for one thing and one thing only, and that is the food. The best jerk spot in Peckham is an in-and-out kind of place, but the quality of their jerk chicken and pork mean that you’ll be back time and time again. There are a few tables inside or, if the weather’s right, just pop a squat on the pavement outside and dig in.
Your heart's desires can be complicated but your stomach's are extremely simple, especially when you need food, fast. Beer + Burger in Dalston answers these base level needs in the most straightforward way possible. This spot is pretty much made for lone wolves wolfing down a double cheeseburger with fries and gravy, and a pint of pale ale for good measure. It's casual, it's comfortable, and it's what you want when time is of the essence.
This Chinese restaurant in Bloomsbury is one of London’s finest spots for hand-pulled noodles. It’s perfect for a crowd that loves a casual environment with first-class food and you’re guaranteed a chilli oil stain from slurping cold liangpi noodles. With a little terrace and plenty of room outside, Master Wei suits quick lunch and dinner fixes. Just remember that your eyes will be bigger than your stomach.
The Pakistani canteen in Whitechapel is a low-key, low-cost affair that’s as generous as it is snappy. Head straight to order before pulling up a chair—a portion of biryani is a must and make sure you don’t ignore the mint raita that will arrive on your table. If you’re really in a hurry, a chicken tikka naan to go is as quick as it is delicious.
At Tanakatsu, you can get a fine pork katsu curry in a slick, grown-up restaurant, any weeknight you fancy. If that’s not reason enough to head to the Japanese spot in Angel after a soul-crushing day in the office, then we don’t know what is. But, just in case, we’ll give you some more. There’s sushi, teriyaki, and excellent chicken karaage as well.
If you want to sit down and eat a pizza in south London without having to open a box, then Theo’s is the place to go. Although Camberwell is where they first started making their Neapolitan-style pizzas, their Elephant and Castle location is bigger and better for a quick and casual meal. All the pizzas are around £10 and, with a drink, you can happily leave here £20 lighter and a little bit heavier.
Ozone’s original Shoreditch location still stands up as the most reliable all-day haven when you need respite from Shoreditch. It's open from 7.30am and serves food until 3pm, and there are the usual takes on Turkish eggs, granola, and stuff on sourdough. But then you’ve also got QCH-inspired mince on focaccia with piccalilli and gouda—a light start to any day—as well kedgeree, and a reliably crunchy fried chicken burger.