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London’s best no-booking restaurants for last minute Valentine’s Day plans

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Megan Murray
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If you didn’t make Valentine’s Day plans but still fancy great food – don’t panic. These buzzy turn-up-and-eat restaurants will seat the spontaneous so you can eat well without booking in advance. 

We’re busy. Like, really really busy. And that means we can barely think about that meeting we have to get to in an hour’s time, let alone pre-book that new cult restaurant for three weeks’ time. 

Luckily, London’s been taking a leaf out of New York’s book and we’ve been seeing more and more no-booking restaurants springing up.

Here are the best of the bunch, for your Valentine’s Day plans and beyond…

  • Barrafina

    Barrafina is a hugely popular (and delicious) group of Spanish tapas restaurants – with four locations so far across London, two in Soho, one in Covent Garden and another in Coal Drops Yard in King’s Cross.

    Widely considered the last word on Spanish cuisine in the capital, Barrafina offers contemporary and traditional and tasty Spanish tapas in the heart of London, alongside tempting wines, sherries and cervezas.

    Dream menu item: The milk fed lamb is truly exquisite, and goes down a treat with a delicious cold glass of cava.

  • 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. That’s because Meatliquor prides itself on its strict instructions that “even if the Queen wants a reservation, she can’t have one”.

    Dream menu item: The dirty chicken cheeseburger is supremely delicious.

  • Dishoom

    Breakfast, brunch, lunch or dinner, Dishoom is where to head. Their website states that most of the tables in their restaurants are kept unreserved so they can accommodate anyone who visits, which sounds like an invite for Indian food whenever we fancy it.

    Dream menu item: The Dishoom naan rolls, stuffed with streaky bacon, is the weekend hangover cure we all need.

  • Hill & Szrok

    Unusually 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, you’ll love the daily menu that changes depending on what local produce they can get their hands on.

    Dream menu item: We’d recommend the pork chop. 

  • Homeslice

    Homeslice is arguably one of London’s best pizza places, with everything from the simplest of margheritas to the more complicated toppings (BBQ brisket with pickles and even a vegan mushroom pizza sold by the slice) tasting heavenly. 

    They don’t take any bookings at their Neal’s Yard restaurant, and say they only take a “limited number of bookings in our Fitzrovia, Shoreditch, City and White City restaurants, ensuring there is always plenty of space for walk-ins”.

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

  • Flat Iron

    With nine joints in London that don’t take reservations, including London Bridge, Shoreditch and Covent Garden, and one venue in North Kensington that takes bookings, you can rock up to Flat Iron for mouthwatering food on demand. Specialising in steak and a few sides, they’ve really got their menu nailed.

    Dream menu item: A medium-rare rib eye steak (obviously) with some creamed spinach and chips on the side.

  • El Pastor

    These Mexican restaurants are walk-in only, meaning it’s taco time all the time. Serving authentic food wrapped in tortillas made in-house using heritage Mexican corn.

    Dream menu item: Chorizo, potato and salsa verde fresca tacos please.

  • Koya Bar

    Koya Bar’s fuss-free, café-style Japanese restaurant is our favourite place to slurp up udon and tuck into Japanese-style fish and chips. No bookings are taken at their Soho branch, so head down for your last minute noodle fix.

    Dream menu item: The Kinoko, a mushroom udon with walnut miso.

  • BAO

    Somewhat of a London cult now, BAO serves a selection of, you guessed it, bao (those glorious, airy, filled dumplings). Each of their five restaurants also has unique menus, taking inspiration from different elements of Asian culture. Hearty, fun, and, with no booking allowed, the easiest answer for your cravings.

    Dream menu item: We couldn’t recommend anything other than the classic bao. 

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Megan Murray

Megan Murray is a digital journalist for stylist.co.uk, who enjoys writing about London happenings, beautiful places, delicious morsels and generally spreading sparkle wherever she can.

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