If you want to get a table at London’s hottest restaurants, there's a good chance you're going to have to stand in line first. Many are now ‘no reservations’ — a system with both pros and cons, one of the most obvious downsides being the queues. Unless you’re able to beat the masses by turning up at 5pm or you don’t mind waiting until 9pm for your dinner, there’s going to be a wait involved, yet for some of these fine eats that's a price worth paying. These are some of our favourite London restaurants with the longest lines, plus our tips for beating the queue.
Black Axe Mangal, Canonbury
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Black Axe Mangal (affectionately known as BAM) is often called a kebab restaurant, but options are more varied in this teeny tiny restaurant where the music is loud and the flavours massive to match. Flatbreads come topped with offal, chicken wings dusted with mouth-numbing Sichuan peppercorns, and lots is fermented or pickled. It's thrilling, but be prepared to wait if you want to pop by for dinner on a Friday or Saturday night, as they won't take a reservation on these evenings, unless you're a party of eight or more.
How to beat the queues: Leave your number and head to The Canonbury for a pint. Or go on a weekday instead, when you can make a reservation.
Black Axe Mangal, 156 Canonbury Road, N1 2UP
The queues have never been anything less than street-length at Bao’s Soho restaurant, which has been stuffed full like a squishy bun from the day it opened. Many Londoners are familiar with the dinky steamed sandwiches by now, but you’re missing out if you’ve neglected the wider menu. Beef rump cap comes sliced with plenty of fat wobbling alongside, a neat slice of blood cake is topped with sticky cured egg yolk and trotter nuggets are a lesson in lip-coating indulgence. You’ll need a side of house pickles, put it that way.
How to beat the queues: They do take bookings for downstairs at the Fitzrovia branch now, but if all you want is those buns, try the grab 'n' go option from the window hatch at their Borough Market hideout.
Bao has restaurants in Soho, Fitzrovia and Borough Market. See website for locations.
Padella, London Bridge
Located on a street corner near London Bridge, many a Londoner will have seen Padella's famous queue and wondered 1. what the heck is it for and 2. is it worth the wait? The answer to the first question is simple, says Londonist's Ruth Hargreaves – it's a smart Italian bistro. The answer to the second entirely depends on the size of the queue, as well as how much you value a plate of the most delicious Cacio e Pepe you've ever had the fortune to shove in your mouth. Padella specialises in small plates of pillow-soft pastas (get there early enough and you'll see the chefs make it from scratch before your eyes) for surprisingly reasonable prices. The menu is short, the ingredients are seasonal, the flavours are immense and the queue is lengthy.
How to beat the queues: Download the Walkin app and join the queue virtually rather than lining up in person — you'll get a notification when your table's ready. How civilised.
Padella, 6 Southwark Street, SE1 1TQ. Second branch on Phipp Street, Shoreditch, as of February 2020.
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Northern Thai restaurant Kiln made it onto our list of London’s most authentic restaurants and we simply can’t recommend it enough. This is one of the most fascinating kitchens in London with its clay pots, mysterious funk-laden curries and serious attention to detail. The problem is, everyone knows it and the place is never less than heaving. The good news is that there’s a bookable dining room for parties of four or more, but the real action is upstairs at the counter, where it’s walk-ins only. Sit and marvel at the kitchen where everything is cooked in pots over wood burners – there’s not even a gas connection.
How to beat the queues: Leave your number, grab a drink nearby (it's Soho, you're spoilt for choice) and they’ll text you when there’s room. It’s worth it.
Kiln, 58 Brewer Street, W1F 9TL
People were queuing at Tayyabs before queuing to get into restaurants was even a thing. This absurdly popular Punjabi restaurant started out with just eight tables but seems to constantly expand. Devoted fans can reel off the menu’s greatest hits without much trouble: dry meat, lamb chops, tinda masala. It's BYOB too, bonus. The problem, of course, has always been beating the queue. Even at supposed ‘quiet’ times, there’s generally a line of hungry people weaving around the restaurant with a bottle or two in hand.
How to beat the queues: The food is always worth the wait, but if you can’t stand it, try Lahore Kebab House round the corner or nearby Needoo Grill instead.
Tayyabs, 83-89 Fieldgate Street, E1 1JU
Bone Daddies, various
After nearly 10 years in the biz, Bone Daddies has experienced a ramen-splosion. Once a tiny Soho hideout and now an achingly trendy multi-restaurant venture, it seems Londoners can't get enough of those deeply savoury bowls of broth-smothered noodles. Technically a fast food, ramen is quick to make and when it's this good, even quicker to slurp down. The fat-marbled pork belly topping is an oldie but a goodie, while the spicy chicken mince with runny-yolked egg packs enough chilli to stave off the fiercest cold. Just don't expect to snuggle in for a quiet evening here – they like their rock 'n' roll music loud says Londonist writer Ruth Hargreaves.
How to beat the queues: The wait at Bone Daddies usually isn't too bad - around 20 minutes at busy times - but the team behind it owns other popular Japanese restaurants in London. Flesh and Buns and Shack-Fuyu both accept reservations.
Bone Daddies has restaurants in Soho, Victoria, Old Street, High Street Kensington and Bermondsey. See website for locations.
Sri Lankan restaurant Hoppers specialises in (and is named after) one of the country’s most popular foods: bowl-shaped fermented rice and coconut milk pancakes. The egg hopper may be one of the most Instagrammed London restaurant dishes ever, but do not miss out on the curries. The dosa is wonderful, an intensely satisfying mesh of carbohydrate with which to swipe through richly spiced sauces. Sadly, you can be sure you’re not the only one thinking about getting your hands on one. The Sethi family, who are also behind Bao above (and the excellent and entirely bookable Gymkhana), seem to have the magic touch when it comes to restaurants. Turn up to the original Soho joint at 9pm and there will probably still be a wait.
How to beat the queues: Camp overnight? Pop to Bar Italia for a macchiato? Or head to their newer, larger restaurants in St Christopher's Place and King's Cross, where you can book your little heart out.
Hoppers has restaurants in Soho, King's Cross and St Christpher's Place. See website for locations.
Oh, how Londonist has queued at Barrafina. You can turn up pretty much any time at the original Dean Street branch and be guaranteed a wait in line for your trouble. Three further restaurants have simply spread the word rather than reduced the queue. But there is light at the end of the tunnel, because the exquisite Spanish tapas is precisely the balm you need after a wait in line. They even have a dedicated 'queue menu' to give you a whiff of what's to come. Succulent octopus, blue cheese-stuffed courgette flower and the amber ooze of tortilla are the reward for your patience – you won't even care that you have 30 peoples’ eyes were boring into your back willing you to finish.
How to beat the queues: There are additional branches at Adelaide Street, Drury Lane and Coal Drops Yard – the latter is usually quieter.
Barrafina has restaurants in Soho, Covent Garden and King's Cross. See website for locations.
The Barbary, Covent Garden
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This sister restaurant to the equally popular Palomar serves dishes influenced by the Barbary Coast region of Africa, and it’s all stunning. Meat comes smoky and charred, singing with flavours imparted from lengthy time in zippy marinades. Breads come blistered, flashed through a tandoor and the desserts… well, dessert has to be the knafeh, a hot, sweet pastry filled with cheese, which is a lot less weird than it sounds, but no less thrilling.
How to beat the queues: If you're prepared to eat early (noon for lunch, 5pm for dinner) you can bag yourself a seat at the kitchen counter ahead of time. Otherwise it's walk in only, but this pedestrianised stretch of Covent Garden isn’t the worst place to hang around.
The Barbary, 16 Neal’s Yard, WC2H 9DP
El Pastor, London Bridge
The reservation-shunning brothers behind beloved Barrafina (see above) have struck gold again, this time with Mexican food. El Pastor deals in punchy tacos, quesadillas and tostadas packed with all manner of eye-rollingly scrumptious fillings. It's a bit of a DIY jobbie. Choose your homemade salsa (they range from 'mild' to the habanero-studded 'wild' – not a gimmick, it really will blow your socks off warns Londonist's Ruth Hargreaves), pick from fillings like 24-hour marinated pork shoulder with caramelised pineapple or soft shell crab with chipotle mayo, and expect things to get gloriously messy.
How to beat the queues: Sister restaurant, Casa Pastor in King's Cross, has a heated outdoor terrace where you can book.
El Pastor, 7A Stoney Street, SE1 9AA