Five - even two - years ago if someone had told me I’d be prepared to stand half an hour in the cold to get into a restaurant where I would be rammed up against a stranger for an hour and pay £30-odd pounds a head for the privilege I’d have laughed in their face. But in London discomfort is the new norm when it comes to restaurant-going.
Partly we have ourselves to blame. No-shows have driven restaurants, particularly small-start-ups with limited space who need to get customers in and out as quickly as possible, to trade on the basis of first come, first served. (In some restaurants no-shows, many of whom don’t even let the restaurant know they’re not coming, can be as high as 40%)
Two of the places I’ve been to in the last couple of days - Kricket and Santo Remedio which only opened this week and was already buzzing - don’t accept reservations. Others like Bao, Hoppers and Smoking Goat which have been open slightly longer, still have queues. Just listing the names underlines the reason - they’re the hip venues that everyone is talking about and seemingly wants to go to. But why would you choose them in preference to a table where you could spread your meal over a leisurely couple of hours?
The main reason of course is the food - the best of street food under a roof rather than in the (still more uncomfortable) open air. Many of these places were former street traders successful enough to bring their vibrant food to a permanent site. Others like the Sethi family’s Bao, Hoppers and Bubbledogs have built their restaurants to show off a particularly addictive kind of fast food (bao buns, Sri Lankan crisp rice pancake ‘bowls’ and hot dogs respectively). And if you eat it as the restaurant intends you to - a quick in and out for a dish or two - it’s cheap too.
The new no-reservation restaurants appeal to a different clientele. If you’re not liking it I’m guessing you’re over 40, maybe over 50 but for the under 30s? Not a problem. The new restaurant regulars dine out several times a week if not every night. Eating out is no longer for special occasions.
If you’re not deterred by queues a couple of tips: eat early or late and avoid peak times. Don’t go in a large group (in fact this new breed of restaurants is ideal for solo diners). And if you’re eating more than a couple of dishes order them two or three at a time then you won’t be rushed.
Located in hipster central, Hackney, this cool little restaurant and wine bar is great for wine lovers
Must declare an interest here as the group is co-owned by my son Will, Foxlow brings Hawksmoor-like service and steaks to London neighbourhoods such as Balham, Chiswick and Stokey (Stoke Newington)
More steak, this time 14 year old Galician beef - and other tasty Basque specialities, at the Marble Arch end of Oxford Street. Don’t miss the txacoli!
Just up the street on the other side of Edgware road, a creative take on Japanese food with a raw bar and robata grill. There’s also a branch in Chelsea and at Harvey Nichols.
Now just off Devonshire Square in the city where it’s morphed from a queuing only, elbow-to-elbow space to a proper grown-up restaurant. American barbecue.
Photo © Pink Badger at fotolia.com
It’s difficult. We sympathise. Despite being an entirely different shape and size we have an uncanny ability to turn up in the same outfit (usually black) and order the same dishes. We both wear glasses, swathe ourselves in scarves and fancy Daniel Craig.
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