The Best Walk-In Only Restaurants For When You Forgot To Make A Booking guide image


The Best Walk-In Only Restaurants For When You Forgot To Make A Booking

Because spontaneity (and disorganisation) is the spice of life.

There are people who make plans and there are people who plan to make plans. This guide is for the latter. So the next time you decide you’d like to go to an excellent restaurant for dinner, before realising several hundred sickeningly organised people have had the same idea, head to one of these spots instead. These aren’t restaurants that save a few seats for walk-ins. These are restaurants entirely made for those of us who lean a little more spontaneous.


Poor Boys

If this New Orleans-inspired restaurant in Kingston took reservations, it’d be fully booked every weekend. Instead, the queue for Poor Boys skirts around the side and goes all the way down to the river. When it gets to the 15-minute mark and you’re tempted to give up, just glance through the window at the person giving googly eyes to a buttermilk fried shrimp sub and they’ll give you all the motivation to wait it out. Excellent OTT comfort food, a lively dive bar atmosphere, and laid-back service make this restaurant a go-to.

Rita’s Chilli Chaat Corner is a canteen-like spot in Southall where casual drop-ins are the norm. Hungry shoppers arrive from the market, bags in hand, and yoghurty samosa chaat on their minds. The Indian street food does not disappoint. You’ll find refreshing, citrussy pani puri shots, as well as 22 variations of the namesake chaat—all of which are probably better than most you’ve had in London. Big groups and headphone-wearing, Twitter-scrolling solo diners are all welcome.

This Vietnamese restaurant on Clapton Road is a family affair. Mama Hai feels like that auntie who you’ve never seen without an apron on and always has delicious smells wafting from her kitchen. At this shoebox-sized room, perched on a stool happily anticipating phở, curry, or a spring roll, is where you’ll eat some of the most exciting Vietnamese food in London. Oh and Hai Cafe is walk in only—just like your auntie’s house.

Open Wednesday to Saturday with a changing menu that jumps from terrine to fritters to rhubarb jelly with Jersey cream, 40 Maltby is an any day, any night, any situation kind of establishment. The Bermondsey wine bar and small plates restaurant is a hidden away, strictly no-reservations hot spot. Given their excellent wine list, spending any amount of time waiting at the bar is a blessing rather than a curse.

Open since 1998, this Chinatown staple has been around longer than most people you follow on TikTok have been alive. And once you try the nasi lemak you’ll understand why it continues to be a top pick for the people who know about it. You’ll find all the traditional Malaysian dishes, but the go-to move here should be that nasi lemak. A casual spot, it's perfect for a low-key dinner with a group of friends in central. Just FYI your whole party has to arrive before you get a seat, so consider that before inviting that friend who’s always having “TFL troubles”.

Koya is a teeny tiny Japanese restaurant on Frith Street in Soho that serves exceptional hand-pulled udon, huge donburis, and London’s best steam facial courtesy of the curry atsu-atsu. Thanks to those chewy noodles, you’ll usually find a queue of people waiting outside with a look of katsu concentration on their faces. But Koya, we thank you for being open from 10am until 10pm daily so our last-minute udon cravings are always covered. 

A much-loved seasonal cafe on Regent’s Canal in east London, Towpath is one for early risers and early birds. On a glorious morning or evening, spaces tend to go fast here. But that isn’t just because it’s one of the most idyllic spots around. It’s because the food is so good too. Giant, sweet, and juicy marinda tomatoes on toast. The gooiest of cheese toasties. Patience or some vague night before planning is required but it’s very much worth it.

Padella is one of those restaurants that everyone and their cousin's dog bigs up. Except with Padella, it actually lives up to the hype. The London Bridge handmade pasta spot is a no-reservations, industrial-looking place. On the concise menu, there’s a handful of antipasti and a list of seasonally changing pastas. But there are some solid fixtures like the pici cacio e pepe that you won’t want to share—and at £12, there’s no need to. They’ve got a virtual wait line system going, and if you have the WalkUp app you don’t even have to be at the restaurant to get in the queue.

You’re not going to walk into Dim Sum & Duck. Not unless you’re getting there at 11:59am on a Tuesday morning. But even then, don’t be surprised if a few people have had the same idea. The Cantonese restaurant in King’s Cross is one of the best around… and lots of people know it. So when you’ve got a hankering for superb xiaolongbao and glistening ho fun noodles and don’t mind waiting around for (most likely) an hour, then you know where to head.

The morning is a particularly abysmal time to realise that you a) invited everyone to brunch and b) forgot that you invited everyone to brunch and are now wondering if a McMuffin is a socially acceptable offering. Friend, meet Juliet’s—home to London’s best eggs, expert coffee, and a pistachio cake that convinced us once and for all that yuzu is the ultimate icing flavour. During the weekend you’ll often find a short queue snaking out the door of this Tooting cafe but trust us, any wait is worth it for the signature homemade tonkatsu breakfast bap. 

The lack of solid reservations for the dinner you said you’d plan two weeks ago could be seen as chaotic, indecisive, or just proof that you’re a gemini through and through. Or it could be a spontaneous, smart move on your part because Roti King, an excellent Malaysian spot in Euston, is the perfect place to come with a couple of friends for some flaky roti and mutton curry. It’s all about perspective. Hit it for a tasty, no-frills meal, though be warned that the queue can be long at peak hours. And in case you were looking for one more reason to go, it’s BYOB.

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photo credit: Aleksandra Boruch

The Best Walk-In Only Restaurants For When You Forgot To Make A Booking guide image