Despite Instagram’s drip-feed of holiday envy, and the weather’s flagrant disregard for summery outfits, August in London does have major benefits: neighbourhood parks and food markets don’t trigger enoclophobia; you can get a seat on the Central Line; and, most importantly, it’s possible to dine out with a refreshing measure of spontaneity — a rare indulgence in a city where top-tier restaurants (flavour, not spend) require booking weeks in advance, otherwise Olympian queue stamina.
Committed Londoners have been taking advantage of this phenomenon for years — and certain restaurant folk, being gluttonous, regularly hit up two or three spots, trialling a plate or two at each during elongated summer nights. It’s not imperative to hop about to make the most of it: be tactical and make for places that will be a total bore to get into, come autumn — eg: Xu or 108 Garage, both currently calm at lunch; treat a date to an (early in the week) impulse dinner at Ikoyi or Magpie; or catch up on (inexplicably neglected) classics such as the full tasting menu at the Typing Room (with a day’s notice), or a natural wine-drenched lunch at Lyle’s.
Not everywhere is quieter: El Pastor, Padella and Hoppers are still jammed. Best to ingest the researched options below. Then see where the appetite leads — since, for a few blissful weeks, it’s fine to quit the manic diarising and eat out on impulse.
Since Nieves Barragán-Mohacho's departure, Barcelona-native Angel Zapata Martin has been sending out stellar plates at this usually overrun marble haven. As well as continuing to serve those fetishised milk-fed lamb kidneys, he’s switched in fresh specials, such as stuffed pig’s trotters with romesco; guinea fowl rice with girolles; and scallop tartare. 10 Adelaide St, London WC2N 4HZ.
The Barbary and The Palomar
OK, so you can’t exactly potter into either of these ridiculously popular Middle Eastern/North African gaffs, but you can now book at The Barbary (12pm only any day, 5pm only weekdays), and their lunch queue’s at a breezy 20 minutes. Meanwhile, over at The Palomar, there is the rare shot at a late table sans booking (9.30pm/10pm), or the early evening wait, a chill 60 to 90 minutes. The Barbary: 16 Neal's Yard, London WC2H 9DP; The Palomar 34 Rupert St, London W1D 6DN
It’s had less press since Tomos Parry and Chris Leech left the kitchen (and David Cameron left office), but George Barson’s cooking maintains it as a reliable location for exemplary English cooking that won’t scare traditionalists, and so perfectly suited to visiting (adult) relatives, or overdue catch-ups with sedate mates also kicking around town this summer. 10 Shepherd Market, Mayfair, London W1J 7QF
This titchy wine-bar-cum-restaurant is endlessly appealing, or would be were it not such a nightmare to get into that many locals wrote it off their dining maps years ago… only to realise that it’s now feasible to swing by. The perfect start point for any date, or mate hang, is officially back in the game. 41 Dean St, Soho, London W1D 4PY
Since the refurbishment of Soho’s grande dame to re-house Barrafina Frith Street, it’s been harder for non-members to feast on Jeremy Lee’s beautiful, imaginative British (and European) plates. However, it turns out those members have mostly upped sticks for summer, so the ground floor is once again in bounds for those hankering after some solid, seasonal cooking. 26-29 Dean St, Soho, London W1D 3LL
It may have slipped out of mind of late, but Merlin Labron-Johnson’s deceptively simple menu is clever and summery: Isle of Wight tomatoes, stracciatella, redcurrants and kombu Lincolnshire eel; white beetroot, cultured cream and raspberries. Yes, all of that, and the rest, please thank you. 113 Great Portland St, London W1W 6QQ
The taco hypebeasts are on holiday, so it’s possible to get into one of London’s hyped new-wave Mexican spots without an arduous wait: go easy on the tortilla chips, select a couple of tacos and/or tostadas each to start — the egg and macadamia nut mole, and pulpo and bone marrow are key — and then keep ordering until you can’t take it any more. 82 Goswell Rd, London EC1V 7DB
It’s currently way easier to bag a table at the original Moro, a stone-cold classic that still excites at 20 years old. The seasonality, and general commitment to exquisite ingredients served with flair, ensures there’s never a dull plate on offer, whether Mediterranean, Middle Eastern or north African leaning. 34-36 Exmouth Market, Clerkenwell, London EC1R 4QE
Taberna do Mercado
Ahead of Nuno Mendes’ forthcoming Mare Street Market venture, and imminent Lisbon cookbook, an opportunity for a knowledge refresh of Portuguese staples, somewhat reinterpreted, via the “day in the life of a Lisboeta” menu. It might be a little heavy, but whatever, it’s summer, you can go nap it off in a park later. Old Spitalfields Market, 107B Commercial St, London E1 6BG
While booking one day in advance is still advised, that’s still a hell of a lot more laissez-faire than the rest of the year round, so scour the forecast for a sunny afternoon, park yourself on Rochelle Canteen’s secluded garden terrace and feast on whatever seasonal British dishes that sitting’s menu (ever-changing but reliably delightful) brings. Rochelle School, London E2 7ES