Maybe you and your mates have just scored an unexpected pub quiz victory. Or maybe you forgot it was so-and-so’s birthday and you were meant to be organising dinner. Maybe you’re just coming back from work late and you need some carb-laden TLC alone. Whatever it is, there’s always a time when you need a restaurant for a last minute dinner.
Here are 16 of the best restaurants for the most common last minute dinner situations: big groups, small groups, on a date, or on your own.
IN A BIG GROUP (6 or more)
Trying to go for a decent unplanned dinner en masse in Shoreditch is a bold move. Even at the best of times groups of people in this area have got a 50-inch-plasma-on-Black-Friday feel about them. Which is why Ozone is so good to know about. It’s a popular all-day café and restaurant that has some (relatively) unknown enormous tables downstairs. So while upstairs may be busy, call ahead and try down, and you’ll likely soon be eating yakitori chicken or wild garlic risotto. It’s also great for vegetarians.
If your night has got to the point where your group has suddenly morphed into an extremely unthreatening but hangry version of The Warriors, then Chang’s is where you should be heading. This Chinese spot in Bloomsbury has loads of space (including a serious round table situation downstairs) as well as a load of excellent food ideal for sharing. Noodles are the must-order here, but the BBQ lamb skewers and dry fried squid are also great sharers for a big group.
Radici is spacious, casual, and it’s close to lots of pubs and bars along Upper Street. Basically, it’s the ideal back pocket restaurant when everybody realises that they’re ravvo and crisps won’t do. The food isn’t fancy-dan. You’re not going to be slowly and sadly eating a single raviolo, asking if anyone’s got any crisps leftover. No, you’ll have spicy meatballs, cacio e pepe, and a perfectly wobbly panna cotta.
Fish Central is an old school fish restaurant in Clerkenwell that will feed your group solidly. It’s the kind of place that will push three tables together no questions asked, regardless of whether you want to listen to an elderly all-inclusive style DJ play Rebel Rebel on a keyboard, or not. The three course set fish supper makes it a very reasonable option, and as long as nobody in your group has a problem with fish and chips, and an ice cream sundae for dessert, then everybody will leave happy.
in a small group (4 or 5)
There are lots of dinner options around Shoreditch, but most of the good ones get really busy. That’s where Pachamama East comes in. It’s a super-casual Peruvian place off Great Eastern Street that’s made for small groups who want cocktails, ceviche, or stir-fried sirloin. The menu has a tonne of choice for a range of dietary requirements which, when combined with the reasonable prices, make it a great option.
Gökyüzü is one of the OG great group dinner restaurants in London. Which is why people flock to Green Lanes at all hours for shish, beyti, or a bowl of manti. They expanded the space not too long ago, and you’d think that’d make it a little less lively, but this legendary Turkish is (and always will be) a destination. That said you can usually get a table, even if you have to wait a little at peak hours, but the fact Gökyüzü is open till 2am can work to your advantage.
Want a restaurant that feels like an escape from London? One where conversation can be heard with ease, and not WhatsApped to each other? If so, then Yen’s your place. A bowl of soba is all anybody needs at this serene Japanese restaurant on The Strand, but the sometimes pricey menu means that coming in a group and splitting some tempura and sashimi is very much recommended.
The South Bank is always busy. Full of people running, shouting, standing, and staring. Sort of like an airport, only you’re not leaving it to go anywhere nicer. This is why Spiritland is such a good place to know about. It’s a big, low-lit restaurant and bar in the basement of the Royal Festival Hall that serves a bit of anything and everything, from Asian-inspired salads, to meat and fish off the grill, all to a soundtrack of live DJs.
ON A DATE
Miraculously you’ve both finished work on time and fancy treating yourselves to a nice and casual midweek meal. Go to Quality Wines. This Clerkenwell shop and wine bar is perfect for a relaxed couple of glasses, with some focaccia, burrata, meatballs, and crab on the side. The small space and limited seats means it can fill up fast, which is why you want to be here early, but there’s plenty of counter and leaning space as well.
Every day we thank the dough gods. Not just for the invention of pizza, but for making sure that Sodo in Clapton is just far enough away from the mix not to be mobbed every single night. Because if you live near the Upper Clapton Road, this is the easiest last minute date spot in the area. The sourdough pizzas are crispy and delicious, the salads well dressed, and the candlelit atmosphere exactly what you want.
Dinner in a ticket office sounds like it could be the demise of your relationship, but at the Coal Rooms it will mean quite the opposite. Based in Peckham station’s former ticket hall, this all-day restaurant and café is an excellent spot to know about. The space is trendy but lowkey, while the food is inventive and very flavourful. Think brisket with blackcurrant ketchup. Or a whole coal-roasted miso cauliflower. Because nothing says romance like sharing some ‘Fatboy’ hashbrown potatoes covered in cheese, beef mayo, and crispy onions, right?
Last minute date night moves are often stressful ones. Ones that can lead to arguments and/or a semi-regrettable amount of Pizza Express dough balls. That’s why restaurants like Llerena exist. Instead of settling for a safe chain, you should sit up at the counter of this Islington tapas bar and gorge on ham, cheese, and wine. It’s a really relaxed and comforting environment, and one that will remind you that, sometimes, last minute plans are the best ones.
on your own
It’s Monday. 7pm. Energy levels are low. There’s no food at home. You lost the will and ability to think coherently some time ago. You’re fairly certain a pigeon just shouted lasagne at you. Good idea winged friend. Stop by Trevi opposite Highbury and Islington station for a quick trough of lasagne, and enough cheesy carbs to guarantee a well deserved nine hour sleep. It’s the kind of Italian that favours fullness over finesse. But, alongside a little booth looking out on the rest of the room, that’s all you need.
Going for dinner alone can be a little anxiety-inducing unless you’re used to doing it regularly so it’s important to know you’re not going somewhere judgy or uncomfortable. Master Wei is neither of those things. It’s a Chinese restaurant in Bloomsbury that serves Xi’anese specialties like hand-pulled noodles, and cumin-packed Chinese burgers. Best of all is that one bowl of the hand-pulled biang biang noodles is perfect for one person. Easy.
Counters are the lone wolf’s friend. Especially if you’re interested in wolfing down some Iranian kebabs around Soho, because that’s where Berenjak’s counter is. The ten person bar is a thoroughly enjoyable spot to eat some freshly made flatbread, dips, and some of the mesmerising rotating shawarma in front of you. We probably wouldn’t recommend you eat all of that though, because saving room for the baklava ice cream sandwich is essential. Particularly as you don’t have to share it with anyone.