If you want to get a table at London’s hottest restaurants, 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. These are the London restaurants with the longest lines.
Black Axe Mangal
BAM is often called a kebab restaurant, but options are more varied in this 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.
How to beat the queues: leave your number and head to The Canonbury for a pint. It's the only way.
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 like a squishy bun from the day it opened. We’re all 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 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 original stall at Netil Market.
Bao, Soho, Fitzrovia and Netil Market. See website for locations.
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 area 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 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. Most Londoners can reel off the menu’s greatest hits without much trouble: dry meat, lamb chops, tinda masala. 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.
How to beat the queues: The food is always worth the wait, but if you can’t stand it, try Lahore Kebab House (although you may also find a queue there) or nearby Needo Grill instead.
Tayyabs, 83-89 Fieldgate Street, E1 1JU
Sri Lankan restaurant Hoppers specialises in 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 a hopper. The Sethi family, who are also behind Bao (and the excellent and entirely bookable Gymkhana) seem to have the magic touch when it comes to restaurants. Turn up at 9pm and there will probably still be a wait.
How to beat the queues: camp overnight?
Hoppers, 49 Frith Street, W1D 4SG
Oh, how Londonist has queued at Barrafina. You could turn up pretty much any time at the old Soho branch and be guaranteed a wait in line for your trouble. The small number of seats at the kitchen-facing bar meant you’d eat your dinner keenly aware that 30 peoples’ eyes were boring into your back willing you to finish either because you’re full, or you’ve dropped dead off your stool. No one cared either way. Everyone was thinking only of the sizzle of prawns on the plancha, the amber ooze of that tortilla. The restaurant has now relocated to the downstairs area of Quo Vadis, which underwent a major refurb ahead of its 90th birthday.
How to beat the queues: There are additional branches at and Adelaide Street and Drury Lane – the latter is usually quieter.
Barrafina, see website for locations
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: Get there very early. If you do have to queue though, this pedestrianised stretch of Covent Garden isn’t the worst place to do it.
The Barbary, 16 Neal’s Yard, WC2H 9DP