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How to skip the queues and bag yourself a table at London's best no-booking restaurants

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Taking a leaf out of Manhattan's book, more and more no-booking restaurants have been springing up all over London, from Meatliquor and Spuntino to Barrafina and Homeslice. 

But we're often hungry, oh-so hungry, and don't want to wait in a queue for aeons - so how do we plan our meal out to avoid the waiting time, skipping smugly straight towards a table instead?

We've rounded up the best of London's restaurants with a no booking policy and interrogated the managers, PRs and waiting staff to find out how to guarantee yourself a table, without spending most of your evening in a queue. 

Barrafina

Delicious tapas bars Barrafina – one in Soho, one in Covent Garden - offer contemporary and traditional Spanish food in the heart of London, alongside tempting wines, sherries and cervezas. How to get a table? Choose your timing carefully. For the best chance to get a seat at lunch, turn up at midday, when both restaurants open, or at 2.30pm, so you can catch the last order before the restaurants shut at 3pm.

What they say: "Avoid the lunch rush hour between 1pm – 2.30pm. For the best chance of nabbing a table at dinner, prepare yourself: your choices are turning up at 5pm or 9pm, when you’re most likely to grab a seat without having to wait.

Going with just one other person is also a good tactic, as two-person tables become available most often. Mondays and Tuesdays are the quietest days, so if you’re craving tapas, your best bet is to go out early in the week."

Dream menu item: The milk fed lamb sounds exquisite, and would go down a treat washed down with a delicious Spanish wine.

Address: 54 Frith Street, London W1D 4SL or 10 Adelaide Street, London WC2N 4HZ

Meatliquor

Walk past any of the many Meatliquor establishments, whether in Covent Garden, Brixton or Hoxton, and you’re sure to see a queue of hungry-looking diners winding around the block in an impatient throng. Meatliquor prides itself on being extra-strict with walk-ins, saying that they are under strict instructions that “even if the Queen wants a reservation, she can’t have one”. However, there are still some things you can do to avoid queueing longer than you have to. 

What they say: "Arrive with your whole party or we won’t seat you – and if your friends arrive late, they’ll have to join the back of the queue. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays are the busiest nights, so if you can bear it, a midweek burger may save you lots of waiting time. It’s worth checking out the opening times of the particular Meatliquor establishment you’ll be visiting, too, as arriving early will almost always guarantee you a quick table.

Arriving late – very late, close to the kitchen's closing time – will also almost always guarantee you’ll be able to sit down and enjoy a late night snack straight away. But don't forget to call in advance and check with the restaurant you're going to, as times vary between different Meatliquor establishments."

Dream menu item: The dirty chicken cheeseburger is no doubt pretty bad for us, but unfortunately that doesn’t make it any less delicious.

Address: 74 Welbeck Street, London W1G 0BA, among plenty of others

Pitt Cue Co

This trendy, intimate basement diner serves US-style no-nonsense meat to satiate all stomachs. But with only thirty seats available, it can be a long wait for a table. The best tactics you can use are to turn up with your whole party, as they are strict on not giving away any tables unless all your friends are there – and not to be bad-tempered if you do have to wait.

What they say: "It’s about the experience, rather than a quick fix. You should be prepared to make a night out of it rather than just grabbing a quick dinner, and being really nice to the staff helps, too. It can also pay to arrive at opening times – 5.30pm apart from Sundays – and just before the kitchen closes at 10.30pm, so you can sneak your way in just before last orders are taken."

Dream menu item: The beef ribs are messy, sticky and, of course, utterly delicious.

Address: 1 Newburgh St, Soho, London W1F 7RB

Hill Szrok

Unusual Hill & Szrok doubles as a master butcher and a cookshop, cooking what it sells and vice versa. Specialising in free range and organic meats from English farms, you can be sure of the quality of the meat you’re consuming, and there’s a great selection of wines to accompany your meal. It may be one to miss if you’re a vegetarian, but for all the meat lovers, how on earth do you skip the queue and tuck into a juicy steak? With only thirty seats, Hill & Szrok is in high demand, so planning ahead is essential.

What they say: "The restaurant opens at 7pm, so arriving at 6.45pm is a smart move – you’ll be the first to be seated and won’t risk missing out on some top-notch charcuterie. Otherwise, arriving extra-late at 9.30 is also a good tactic. The restaurant also has a quick turnaround, so if you do have to queue, it’s not the end of the world – you’ll be dining on England’s finest meat in no time."

Dream menu item: A thick, juicy steak. You really can’t go wrong.  

Address: 60 Broadway Market, London E8 4QJ

Burger & Lobster

Burger & Lobster has become famous for its straightforward attitude to dining – you pick burger or lobster, chips or salad and your drink, and you pay £20 for the privilege – a pretty affordable option when you think of how expensive lobster is elsewhere in the capital. Like most other restaurants that don’t take reservations, choosing your day and time wisely is key to getting a table at Burger & Lobster – but a little birdie told us that the folks over there are just like us – they love being flirted with over Twitter. You heard it here first.

What they say: “How to get a table at Burger & Lobster? Chat us up on Twitter. No promises but we do like to reward extra special shows of brand dedication or even a bit of crafty lobster wit. Alternatively, just make sure you become friends with our team. If they like you then you don’t need no Nando’s Black Card!” 

Dream menu item: Burger… or lobster. With chips. Less is more when it comes to this place, and they know how to do each of their eponymous dishes perfectly. 

Address: Several around the UK. 

Beer & Buns

Once been a wildly popular pop-up, Beer & Buns, a fabulous new opening close to Shoreditch High Street, is still relatively new - so even if you casually stroll in, you may still be lucky enough to get a table at peak times. 

What they say: "Open Monday to Friday from 5pm to late, Thursdays and Fridays are understandably the busiest times - but the best time to go is on Mondays and Tuesdays. Not only because you'll have more of a chance of walking to the front of the queue, but also because that's when you can enjoy free pinball and foosball (Mondays) and two for one on all food (Tuesdays). Get there before 8pm to avoid lengthy queues - and when you're there, enjoy sampling the UK's largest selection of Japanese craft beer to go perfectly with your food."

Dream menu item: The aubergine Katsu with avocado salsa & miso sauce is dreamy even for non-veggies.

Address: 'Upstairs @ K10', 3 Appold Street, London EC2A 2AF

Homeslice

Homeslice is arguably one of London's best pizza places, with everything from the simplest of Margheritas to the more complicated toppings (pulled BBQ brisket with pickles springs to mind) tasting heavenly. But unfortunately, everyone else knows it too - so how do you make sure you jump to the front of the queue?

What they say: "Research the seating policy before you arrive and plan your night around it. Even though we operate a first-in, first-served policy, that doesn’t mean waiting in a queue in the rain. We also advise planning for inevitable queues, and making them a part of your meal out. If we’re full, we take waiting guests’ numbers and call them once their table is ready.

In-the-know diners will factor this into their evening, using the time to enjoy a few drinks in Seven Dials while they wait. We also recommend arriving just before the restaurant opens, or during quieter times like between 3pm - 5.30pm. There’s also no harm in calling ahead to get advice from the Homeslice team directly - if they tell you it's completely rammed, you may want to wait an hour or two before trying again."

Dream menu item: Pizza with chorizo, corn and coriander. It hits the spot in every way. 

Address: 13 Neal's Yard, London WC2H 9DP

Flat Iron

With two Soho joints and some mouthwatering options to eat, it’s no surprise Flat Iron is becoming increasingly popular as a lunch and dinner haunt. In the words of a Flat Iron source, “there are definitely ways to avoid a long wait”.

What they say: "With the exception of Fridays, going at lunchtime is a great idea, as there is rarely a queue during the day. There is never a queue at either restaurant from 2pm to 5.30pm on weekdays, and even on Sundays the queues are usually quite short. Both restaurants offer midnight last orders most of the time, so after 10.30pm is also a great time to go, leaving you plenty of time to pore over the menu."

Dream menu item: A medium-rare rib eye steak with some delightful chips on the side

Address: 17 Beak St, Soho, W1F 9RW or 9 Denmark St, Soho, WC2H 8LS

Spuntino

Spuntino is, quite simply, 27 stools and a popcorn machine, a quirky, grungy diner that you’ll love. There’s no skipping the queues or calling ahead to try to book, as they don’t even have a telephone, and are strict about their first-come, first-served rule. Spuntino is all counter seating around one big bar, so it’s hard to sneak your way in unnoticed without annoying other customers – but you can still increase your chances of getting a stool quicker by choosing your moment well.

What they say: "Thursdays and Fridays between 6-9pm are the restaurant’s peak times, and when you’ll have to wait longest for a table. However, our favourite tip is to actually go during the peak times, as the restaurant has a lovely waiting area where you can enjoy a drink and people-watch while you’re waiting for a stool to become available."

Whether you’re on a Tinder date, birthday outing or after-work dinner, we thoroughly recommend purposely choosing the busy times and enjoying the experience - but if you really hate queues, go at 12pm sharp for a more laidback, atmospheric lunch, and a better chance of getting a stool. If you're after dinner, 6.30pm is normally early enough to beat the queues.

Dream menu item: Any of the salads – they’ll fill you up and are also cool and innovative.

Address: 61 Rupert Street, London W1D 7PW

Koya Bar

Koya Bar’s fuss-free, café-style Japanese restaurant is our favourite place to slurp up udon noodles and tuck into Japanese-style fish and chips.

What they say: "Head on over before 7pm or after 9pm to be in with a good chance of nabbing a table, but if you don't want to take the risk of waiting, there is rarely a queue at breakfast time – and if you see what’s on offer for the first meal of the day, from fried egg with shiitake to kedgeree (porridge with smoked haddock, poached egg and curry), the typically British meals with a Japanese twist are hard to resist." 

Dream menu item: The Yakizakana, grilled fish with rice, pickles and miso soup, sounds like a great way to start the day.

Address: 50 Frith Street, London W1D 4SQ

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