How many nights have you left that late cinema screening, or stumbled out of a bar at closing time and wondered where you might get food — only to be left with the local kebab shop as the sole option? (Though we love those too.)
Hold fire: things are changing in London, thanks in part to the upcoming all-night tube service, which will see parts of the network open 24 hours on the weekend. While this isn’t for another year, we’re likely to see a boom in late-opening venues over the next 12 months.
Even better news, there are already many places around town where you can stay out into the early hours and get tasty grub. Here are some good options, categorised by area, but there's no way we can be comprehensive, so please add your own favourites in the comments.
As one might suspect, central London has the greatest selection.
Diners: Balans Cafe takes top honours here, proudly staying open 24/7, serving drinks and food, including the 'New York' hot dog and their very own 10 ounce burger in a cosy space on Old Compton Street. Cafe Boheme is the runner-up: also based on Old Compton Street, this Soho institution serves French staples such as a croque-monsieur and steak frites until 2.30am every day except Sundays. Next door to Cafe Boheme is Soho Kitchen and Bar, a new addition to the street that serves American goodies like Philly cheesesteak and grilled cheese fingers until 2am Thursday to Saturday, and midnight all other days.
Down the way on Rupert St (aka Sex Alley) is Spuntino, a darkly lit, sparse interior that serves sliders, deep-fried soft-shelled crab and other gourmet American stuff until 1am Thursday to Saturday, midnight Monday to Wednesday and Sunday 11pm. Heading across Oxford St into Fitzrovia, Tinseltown on Great Portland Street offers a traditional diner menu among classic Hollywood paraphernalia until 1.30am Friday and Saturday, midnight on Sunday and 1am Monday to Thursday.
Nearby, All Star Lanes Holborn is open, not only for bowling but for its American-style diner as well, on Friday and Saturday 2am, Sunday 11pm, Monday-Wednesday 11.30pm and Thurday midnight. And finally, some might insist this is leaving the best for last, Chelsea favourite Vingt Quatre 'VQ' has now opened its 24 hours diner (and bar) in Bloomsbury. Everything from omelettes, salads and grilled salmon — this caf has it all.
Chinatown: Ahhhh yes, nothing quite like a greasy Chinese take-away. But thanks to Chinatown's long-running, mostly reputable restaurant selection, many late-night options are both delicious and maybe even (a little bit) healthy, too. HK Diner is probably the most well-known of these, staying open until 4am, and boasting Hong Kong-style duck and rice dishes as its specialty. The Royal Dragon on Gerrard Street brings in the crowds with its 3am closing time and offerings of dim sum, cocktails and, yes, karaoke. Hungs on Wardour Street lures people in with its roast meats Cantonese style, also until 3am.
Mexican: While London doesn't have late-night burrito trucks...yet...Soho does have hip Mexican hang-out La Bodegra Negra. The sophisticated lounge located below a bright neon lit sign reading 'sex shop' on Moor Street, rocks it out with thump'n music and high-end dishes like octopus and chorizo skewers and pork belly mezcal until 1am Monday through Saturday and midnight Sunday. On the grungier side, sneak into El Camion on Brewer Street where you can get munchies like tacos, burritos and margaritas until 2am Wednesday through Saturday.
If none of these make your stomach growl, check out Maroush's Soho branch on Vere Street, which serves Lebanese delights in much the same vein as its more noted Edgware Road branches until 5am Thursday to Saturday and 2am Sunday to Wednesday.
A slew of alternative after-hour eating spots cater to the revellers in these parts.
Hotels: At last, Shoreditch's burgeoning hotel scene is making a name for itself. The newly opened Ace Hotel, America's trendy, yet affordable chain, is one example, making waves on Shoreditch High Street with its delectable Hoi Polloi. Open until 1am Thursday through Saturday and 12am Sunday to Wednesday, this bistrotheque offers a supper menu from 11pm consisting of sandwiches such as mushrooms and duck egg on toast, cold plates like liver and leeks and hot plates including skirt and dripping chips. Also recently opened, The South Place Hotel near Moorgate plays home to a ground floor bar inclusive of a DJ and a grill. Open until 2am, look out for their wacky snacks like 'Piggy in the Middle' consisting of crackling, mustard and sage-glazed chipotles, BBQ pulled pork, Melton Mowbray pork pies and red cabbage slaw.
Mouth watering yet? If not, how about Duck and Waffle. While not technically in a hotel, it is, however, located on the 40th floor of The Heron Tower, with views to match. The 24 hour restaurant is nothing less than classy — if you're a city worker on a deadline or your average 'Joe' looking for a bite as the sun comes up, check out its late night menu including carlingford rock oysters and spicy ox cheek doughnuts (complemented with apricot jam). We once found it full at 5am on a Sunday, so prebook.
Pizza: Next up, Italian. Though London's still slow to pick on the pay-as-you-go slice that is so easily found in New York and parts of Italy, it does have VooDoo Ray's on Dalston's Kingsland Road — a pizza-by-the-slice bar and club, open until 3am on Friday and Saturday, 1am on Thursday and midnight all other days. Thank you to owner Dan Beaumont (also owner of late night hotspot Dalston Superstore) — you've done us proud.
Some might not realise Shoreditch favourite Pizza East is open for dinner until 1am Friday and Saturday, midnight Thursday and 11pm all other nights. You know about the wait, you know about the service, yet it can't be argued the pizzas are easily scoffable and the atmosphere is buzzing with 'Shoreditch-cool'.
Diners: Polo Bar and Cafe is something of a gem, situated across the street from Liverpool Street Station, the 24/7 spot is perfect for those rushing to work in the early hours as well as those trudging home well into the night. The comfy cafe confidently dishes up British cuisine (as in bacon butties and cottage pie and chips). All Star Lanes' Brick Lane branch keeps its kitchen doors open until 1am Friday and Saturday and midnight Sunday to Thursday, while milkshake bar The Love Shake off Shoreditch High Street makes wi-fi and jumbo hot dogs available until 2.30am every night (two Saturdays a month extended opening hours till 4.30am — check with bar for dates).
In EC1, Tinseltown's first location near Farringdon is open until 5am Monday-Thursday, 4am Friday and Saturday, and 3am Sunday. And if you're out really late (maybe at nearby club Fabric), walk down the street to The Fox and Anchor, whose doors open at 7am Monday-Saturday, serving breakfast and pints to Smithfield's market traders.
Eclectic eateries: Korean pop-up Jubo (meaning 'canteen') leads the list of internationals, with crispy fried chicken and steamed buns available until the queues, or the people, run out Friday and Saturday. The tip: head into Rivington Street's Bedroom Bar.
Jewish beigels are a long-time staple on Brick Lane, and most Shoreditch regulars know Beigel Bake not only offers the best beigels around, but that it's 24/7 as well. Like Beigel Bake, Mangal Ocakbasi on Arcola Street is a blogger's favourite. Open until 1am Friday and Saturday and midnight all other nights, this Turkish grill in Dalston is renowned for its simple, chargrilled selection of meats. Seasoned regulars will know the restaurant's initially narrow space has now expanded, meaning shorter queues and, somehow, better service.
As one might suspect, there are fewer options the further afield you head outside the party zones. In the north, kebabs can't be neglected thanks to Harringay's Turkish community making up the mouthwatering restaurants lining Green Lanes. Two to note are Hala, a no-frills establishment open until 2am every day, which specialises in Iskender kebabs, meats covered with yogurt and hot tomato sauce, and gozleme, a traditional Turkish pastry with cheese, potato and spinach. The second is Yayla, a kitsch restaurant whose homemade lahmacun, or Turkish pizza, hits the spot after a big night. Camden's Marathon Kebabs must also get a mention as the 3am closing time on Friday and Saturday brings not only a long queue, but often live music and dancing, too.
Hampstead's branch of Tinseltown keeps its doors open until 3am Friday and Saturday and 2am Sunday-Thursday.
Maroush gets first mention, as its foothold on the late night market in the south and the west is something many restaurateurs dream of. Beginning with its empire on Edgware Road, which has a host of other reputable Lebanese spots (in particular, Sannin and Al Arez), Maroush boasts four bustling locations — 21 Edgware Road that complements its expansive Lebanese menu with belly dancing and live music until 2am (warning: £4 cover charge), and 68 Edgware Road, which is more of a laid-back option offering similar entertainment until 1am. Its sister Ranoush Juice is also a formidable go-to: in addition to Lebanese favourites like shawarma, it 'refreshingly' offers freshly squeezed fruit juice until 3am, albeit Beirut Express is the 'fast food' version, providing a self-service tapas style set-up at 112-114 Edgware until 2am.
The group is also dominant in the southwest, particularly the Knightsbridge location on Beauchamp Place, whose three floors act as both a nightclub and a restaurant until 5am, 7 days a week. And while Ranoush Juice also maintains locations on High Street Kensington, 3am Monday to Saturday, 2am Sunday, and King's Road, 1am, 7 days a week, Kebab Kid shouldn't be overlooked as one of Chelsea's famed late-night kebab stops. Some claim it is the finest kebab shop in all of London, with the lamb shawarma making history. Regardless of where you partied the night away, locals swear it's worth a trip to see for yourself, open until 'late' at 90 King's Road.
Around the corner on Fulham Road is the original Vingt Quatre, the bustling diner that never closes (its 24-hour breakfast is pure magic for the drunken belly). Balans, too, has joined the franchising off-shoots, making Earl's Court its first extension, though unlike the original, 1am is the latest closing time Friday and Saturday and a mere 12am Sunday to Thursday.
Moving further west, Tinseltown once again makes its mark, this time in Bayswater, staying open until 1.30am Monday-Saturday and 12.30am Sunday. Curry Nights, though only open until midnight, must be mentioned as there are not many late-night joints in the Kensal Green/Ladbroke Grove area, and the mix of dishes from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh are some of the more flavoursome around town. Good news, it delivers as well.
The largely residential areas of south London have fewer options. Indeed, a local council is considering banning sale of alcohol after midnight in a bid to curb noise.
Starting with Brixton, where DJ bars, nightclubs and concert venues rank among the best in London, if not Europe, we found one decent option, and it closes at midnight on Friday and Saturday. Not to take credibility away from the sushi stalwart, Fujiyama on Vining Street; it truly has fine Japanese food, and is worth a visit at any hour. But really, even famed Dogstar DJ Bar finishes its pizza dish-outs at 11pm on Friday. Brixton Market — we're counting on you to expand your closing times past 11.30pm.
Clapham is very much the same. While some claim it's London's more fun and festive bar-hopping locale, we came up with only one option — Spice Fusion Curry House, a family-run restaurant on Wandsworth Road that focuses on a healthy tandoori menu including cholesterol free and oven0baked dishes, open until 'late' depending on business.
Several other worthy mentions include Bagel King on Walworth Road, a 24-hour joint whose jerk chicken bagel is raved about on food blogs aplenty. Camberwell Green's Golden Grill, while hit and miss in terms of food quality, is still worth mentioning due to the shortage of after hours choices in the area. Open until 5am, the outlet serves typical Turkish fare including a decent chicken sandwich. Finally, inside Elephant and Castle's lively shopping centre is the Polish hole in the wall Mamuska. Don't let its surroundings put you off — the authentic bar mleczny is both affordable and goes down like a treat. Get there before midnight and you'll taste some seriously scrumptious peirogi (dumplings) and zakaski (platters filled with an assortment of Polish meats).
If all else fails, wherever you are in London, head to a nearby Travelodge and grab a sandwich from its cafe. You don't have to be a resident to get a bite, at any hour...
This article is part of our Best of London Food and Drink series. Visit the page for more recommendations of where to enjoy the capital's top food and drink, categorised by cuisine, food type and more.