Dining out is an experience which is extremely enjoyable when shared with another person, but sometimes, on occasion, I quite like to sit in a restaurant alone with nothing but a book or a podcast for company, and enjoy a meal that won’t be interrupted by conversation, a faff about menu choices or someone trying to pinch one of my chips.
Sadly I think there is a bit of a taboo about going into a restaurant and requesting a table for 1. Or perhaps it’s not a taboo, but rather a fear that you will be judged by those at adjacent tables, or pitied by your waitress – but don’t be scared! Embrace the fact that you’re probably more likely to get a seat in a place that has a 2-hour waitlist, or be thankful that you can enjoy a decent lunch and not feel restricted by your 1-hour lunch break because you’ll have plenty of time to get in, eat and get out because you’re not being slowed down by anyone else!
London has a plethora of “single diner” friendly spots and there are a few cuisines in particular which lend themselves well to a bit of solo dining. Asian dishes, in particular, are enjoyable alone because they’re quite quick, delicious and in a few cases, a bit messy to eat. If you’re eating ramen alone, there is no-one there to see you slop noodles down your blouse. Win!
Shoryu, Lower Regent Street
In quite close proximity to each other you will find a few Shoryu restaurants just off of Piccadilly Circus serving up a delicious selection of ramen bowls from classic to Piri Piri! The flavours are bold and the bowls are deep, so great if you’re looking for a filling lunch or decent supper before going to meet your squad for drinks in Soho. You can even have a quick tipple – might I suggest a bottle of the plum wine? I wouldn’t usually recommend drinking a whole bottle of this to yourself, but it’s bloody delicious so you should.
Kanada Ya, Panton Street
Another spot to head for a delicious ramen, Kanada Ya (which come lunchtime always has a queue of about 20 hungry people outside) is infamous for its delicious Tonkotsu ramen. Because there is always a queue it will be easier to squeeze you in if you’re on your lonesome and you can eagerly slurp away without any judgement. The Hanjuku cured brown eggs are a must order addition with a sweet and silky yolk that makes all other eggs pale in comparison and elevates the whole bowl substantially. You can read my full DMN review here.
Kulu Kulu, Brewer Street
For conveyor belt style sushi without the chain element (a la Yo!), head to Kulu Kulu on Brewer Street for really great sushi that you can enjoy in a matter of minutes without having to speak to a single person if you really don’t want to. It is fresh and delicious, with the pricing structure much the same as the chain equivalent, but it just feels a little more authentic in here. Some dishes are a little more unusual, but there are plenty of sushi classics that you can grab as and when they take your fancy.
Bun House, Greek Street
Quick, easy and utterly delicious. If you’re a fan of hot Chinese buns then you’re in for a treat at House of Bun. These little steaming balls of delight are to die for, and because they’re ready to eat almost as soon as you’ve ordered, you can enjoy a very tasty 10-minute solo lunch without even having to acknowledge that you’re alone! Fillings include pork, chicken, fish and my personal favourite, the custard bun! They have a squirty guarantee so if your bun isn’t oozing, they’ll replace it for you!
And then you will find that restaurants that provide counter-top seating are a dream for the single diner because you don’t have to face your loneliness and if anything, you can be entertained by the staff working away in front of you. You might even make a new friend at one of these places…
Barrafina, Adelaide Street
Always featured high on “best restaurants in London” lists, Barrafina is one of my favourite spots to eat. Unfortunately, most of London agrees with me which is why I rarely get to go as I don’t have the patience for the queues. This is where solo dining comes into its own! With a spare countertop seat nestled next to a business lunch or a dinner date, you can dine at Barrafina with ease. What’s better is you won’t have to share any of the outstanding dishes you want to try.
The Ivy Market Grill, Covent Garden Piazza
I love dining at the counter of the Ivy Market Grill. It’s comfortable, it all looks very chic and the barmen are lovely. The menu isn’t restricted up here, either. You don’t have to stick to a bar menu just because you’re ‘at the bar’ and that is super news as the menu here continues to be brilliant. For a quick lunch, you can choose from their sandwich menu (the french dip steak sandwich is pretty great) and I adore the salty, crispy Zucchini Fritti which come towered up like knotted laces in a large bowl. It is classy food with consistency and it feels relaxed enough in here that you need not panic that the staff are pitying you for dining alone. If anything they’re probably jealous you get to enjoy all your food to yourself.
Temper, Broadwick Street
This is one of my absolute favourite restaurants in London. In fact, it might even be my favourite restaurant in London now. I’ve been three times, each time dining at the counter, and though I was accompanied on each of those occasions, the theatre of the cooking going on in front of me could have distracted me quite nicely had I been dining alone! The flames are high, the team are fast-paced, and every element that goes into prepping, cooking and serving the food happens right in front of you. It’s fascinating and delicious and if you have a craving for some perfectly cooked meat but no-one to enjoy it with, this is the place. You can read my full review over here.
Hoppers, Frith Street
Hoppers’ has just opened its second restaurant in Marylebone which… wait for it… actually takes reservations! But before this second venue opened, the only way to dine at Hoppers was to get in a queue and be prepared to wait. A long time. That is unless you were dining solo. My pal Zack dines here almost as much as the staff probably do because he enjoys a bit of one-man dining, which in turn gets him transported straight to the front of the queue and feasting on the most amazing Sri Lankan dishes within 10 minutes of him arriving. The food is exquisite, the flavours bold and original and the textures exciting and different. Zack has almost worked his way through the entire menu so if you fancy doing that too, the way forward is solo.
And then, of course, the ultimate entertainment when it comes to enjoying a table for one is the ability to people watch, and there are a few spots that happen to be positioned perfectly for this activity.
Arabica Bar & Kitchen, Borough Market
If the weather allows, grab yourself one of the tables just outside of this Levantine restaurant in London’s oldest market, where you’ll be able to enjoy a whole host of delicious mezze plates from all corners of the Levant whilst watching the world go by. Order yourself some lightly whipped Tarama and a bowl of gorgeously thick Muhummra to scoop up with a flat-bread or two, and don’t forget to try one of their Armenian-style Lahmacun, too. That should be enough food to see you through a lunchtime of people watching! Read my full review over here.
La Bodega Negra, Moor Street
Soho is filled with great spots to eat in the window, so it’s basically a people-watching Mecca. One of my favourite spots is on Moor Street. La Bodega Negra (the upstairs cafe restaurant, rather than the “porn shop front” hacienda-style restaurant around the back) is right in the heart of it all, with wonderful big windows that let you peak outside and watch the world go by. It’s a perfect spot for a quick lunch with super delicious soft-shell tacos, crunchy tortilla chips and heaps of guac. There’s so much to take in you won’t even realise you’re alone.
Tate Modern Cafe
Of course, the next best thing after people watching is just London watching as a whole, and fewer places lend themselves better to this than the Cafe at the Tate Modern where you can sit at the window and look at views of London across the river while enjoying a coffee and a slice of cake. Before or after an afternoon of solo culture immersion, this really is the best place to enjoy some indulgent alone-time.
Hopefully, the next time you find yourself alone with hunger pangs you won’t feel like you have to cower away in a miserable Pret to curb your hunger on your own. Walk into one of these places, request a table for one and enjoy your own company and some delicious food. You won’t have to worry about splitting the bill with yourself at the end and if you want that pudding you can have that pudding – no-one will be there to stop you or steal a bite when you’re not looking.