London’s best chain restaurants, ranked

From upmarket steakhouses to ramen and tacos
By Time Out London Food & Drink |
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Chains are underrated. Ordering your favourite Pret sandwich and having it taste exactly the same, every time, is a weirdly beautiful thing. And we’re not just talking about sarnies: from upmarket steakhouses to ramen and tacos, we’ve rounded up our very favourite restaurants and cafés with six branches or more and ranked them from bottom to top. Let us know whether you agree with our order in the comments below.

RECOMMENDED: The 100 best restaurants in London

London’s best chains, ranked

1
Hawksmoor
Britta Jaschinski / Time Out

Hawksmoor

Hawksmoor’s butch steakhouses score an exhilarating bullseye with their grass-fed British beef, irresistible sides, perky cocktails and red-blooded wines – all served in clubby, masculine surrounds (lots of leather and dark wood panelling). You can get power breakfasts and luxe seafood in some branches too.

Flagship site: 157a Commercial Street, E1 6BJ

Other locations: Air Street, Borough, Guildhall, Knightsbridge, Seven Dials

2
Lobster Roll, Burger and Lobster

Burger & Lobster

Like it says on the tin, you know where you are with the flashily decorated Burger & Lobster chain. Hand-minced burgers and lobsters (shipped over from Nova Scotia) are the headliners, with backup from lobster rolls, ‘beast’ combos and other affordably luxurious hits.

Flagship site: 29 Clarges Street, W1J 7EF

Other locations: various, across London

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3
best rooftop bars london, gaucho piccadilly roof terrace

Gaucho

Chandeliers, cowhide, black leather and moody lighting – welcome to Gaucho’s spin on an upmarket steakhouse with big-money aspirations. Myriad cuts of pampas-reared beef dominate the show, although the menu spans everything from ceviche to dulce de leche cheesecake. Serious Argentinian wines too.

Flagship site: 25 Swallow Street, W1B 4QR

Other locations: various, across London

4
Chicken shop and Dirty Burger

Chicken Shop and Dirty Burger

Two hip fast-food concepts under one roof, this hybrid from Soho House feeds burger fanatics with highly seasoned patties in glossy brioche buns while chook fans can gnaw on spit-roasted free-range poultry served hot, crisped-up and smoky. To drink? A boozy super-thick shake.

Flagship site: 27 Mile End Road, E1 4TP

Other locations: various, across London

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5
best ramen restaurants in london, tonkotsu
© Ming Tang-Evans

Tonkotsu

Riding the noodle new wave that started washing over London in 2012, Tonkotsu plies a no-nonsense trade in Kyoto-style ramen – distinguished by its creamy pork-bone broth. No frills and no bookings, but there are global beers for a ‘big night out’, Tokyo-style.

Flagship site: 63 Dean Street, W1D 4QG

Other locations:  Selfridges Oxford Street, Battersea, Canvey Street, Mare Street, Notting Hill, Dunston Street

6
Pret a Manger

Pret a Manger

Everyone knows ‘Pret’. This UK-based sandwich-shop chain now has around 500 branches in nine countries, all serving up baguettes, sarnies, wraps, salads, soups and ‘sweet treats’. Veggies and vegans do well here, hot dishes come straight from the oven and the coffee’s organic.

Flagship site: 173 Victoria Street, SW1E 5NA

Other locations: various, around London

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7
christmas sandwiches, paul dinde de noel
© Andy Parsons

Paul

With roots reaching back to a nineteenth-century family bakery in northern France, Paul is a staunch upholder of traditions when it comes to the staff of life. Whether you’re after a breakfast croissant, a lunchtime baguette or some teatime patisserie, this chain delivers the goods. They even have full-blown restaurants in Covent Garden and Tower 42.

Flagship site: 29 Bedford Street, WC2E 9ED

Other locations: various, across London

8
Leon Restaurant, Instagram 2017
© Leon via Instagram

Leon

A chain on a mission, Leon wants us to eat healthily when we’re on that fast-food treadmill. Ok, lunch comes in a cardboard box with plastic cutlery, but the ingredients are seasonal and eco-friendly, right down to the last green pea. Leon’s worthy message is even easier to swallow when the bill arrives.

Flagship site: 275 Regent Street, W1B 2HB

Other locations: various, across London

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9
the best veggie burgers in london

Shake Shack

Peddling the US ‘roadside burger’ experience in stripped-back diner surrounds, Shake Shack has all the stateside trappings – from buzzers announcing when your food’s ready to drive-by style hatches for picking up your full tray. Just add hot dogs, frozen custard ice cream and thick shakes. 

Flagship site: 24 Market Building, The Piazza, WC2E 8RD

Other locations: Canary Wharf, Cambridge Circus, Leicester Square, Stratford, Tottenham Court Road, Victoria Nova

10
pizza pilgrims

Pizza Pilgrims

Spawned from a three-wheeler food van, Pizza Pilgrims now has bricks-and-mortar sites across town – all dealing in Neapolitan-style sourdough pizzas with thick bases and on-trend toppings. Gelupo provide the ice creams, and there are gluggable wines by the carafe to match the retro vibe.  

Flagship site: 11 Dean Street, W1D 3RP

Other locations:  Carnaby, Exmouth Market, Covent Garden, Shoreditch, East India Quay

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11
south bank restaurants, wahaca

Wahaca

Synonymous with good times in the capital, Wahaca’s vibrant interiors, unfailingly bubbly service and tequila-fuelled drinks hit the button every time. Almost everything on the instantly addictive menu is an outright winner if you’re into self-styled Mexican market food with hip, edgy overtones.

Flagship site: 66 Chandos Place, WC2N 4HG

Other locations: various, across London

12
Nandos chicken restaurants

Nando’s

Food snobs look away now. This Portuguese chain is the people’s choice for peri-peri chicken, but also makes its money with burgers, wraps, pittas, salads and steaks. As a family-friendly go-to option, it has special menus for young ‘nandinos’ too.

Flagship site: 10 Frith Street, W1D 3JF

Other locations: various, across London

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13
Le Pain Quotidien Canary Wharf

Le Pain Quotidien

The name means ‘daily bread’ – a phrase that conjures up eating together around communal tables. It’s a theme that sits at the heart of Alain Coumont’s bakery chain, an outfit also known for its organic breakfasts, tartines, quinoa scones and vegan apple pie.

Flagship site: 72-75 Marylebone High Street, W1U 5JW

Other locations: various, across London

14
pizza london, franco manca
© Jonathan Perugia

Franco Manca

Wood-fired sourdough pizzas with serious artisan credentials guarantee queues at this cult-status mini chain. Prices are rock bottom, the pizzas are served up super-quickly, and kids can watch the pizzaiolo doing ‘messy play’ in the open kitchen. Arguably the best of its kind in town.

Flagship site: 144 Chiswick High Road, W4 1PU

Other locations: various, across London

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15
Shoryu Covent Garden

Shoryu Ramen

Trading on authenticity, this ramen chain dispenses its bowls of noodles in long-simmered bone-stock broth with impressive speed and Japanese efficiency. The Dracula tonkotsu is a must-have, the hirata buns are wickedly good, and there’s an awesome choice of sake, shochu and umeshu for aficionados.

Flagship site: 3 Denman Street, W1D 7HA

Other locations: Regent Street, Carnaby, New Oxford Street, Liverpool Street, Shoreditch, Westfield Stratford

16
Patty and Bun NH
Nic Crilly

Patty & Bun

Some crave the confit chicken wings, others drool over the rosemary-salted fries, but it’s really about the kookily titled burgers at this bare-bones dude-food joint – anyone for Smokey Robinson or Lambshank Redemption? Expect neon-lit booths, cult beers, rum punch and long queues. 

Flagship site: 54 James Street, W1U 1HE

Other Locations: various, across London

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17
Pizza Express offer

Pizza Express

Launched in Soho back in 1965, the all-conquering Pizza Express is one of fast food’s success stories – familiar, kid-friendly, reliable and cheery, but with one eye on the trends (think low-calorie options, gluten-free choices, mini desserts etc). Live jazz has made some branches iconic. 

Flagship site: 29 Wardour Street, W1D 6PS

Other locations: various, across London

18

Itsu

With its promise of ‘health and happiness’ boxes and its ‘fresh not fried’ ethos, Itsu epitomises Asian-themed clean fast food. It was a colour-coded conveyor-belt pioneer, but sushi is just one of its ‘eat beautiful’ star turns – don’t miss the ‘potsu’ pots, fusion gyoza and rice bowls.      

Flagship site: 47 King’s Road, SW3 4NB

Other locations: various, across London

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19

Côte

Doing for French brasserie food what its stablemate Strada did for trattoria-style Italian cuisine, Côte mixes smart, glossy interiors with a menu of pure-bred bourgeois classics from moules marinière to steak frites. ‘Formule’ breakfasts, ‘plats rapides’ and a thoroughly Francophile drinks list complete the picture.   

Flagship site: 8 Wimbledon High Street, SW19 5DX

Other locations: various, across London

20

Tortilla

‘California-style Mexican food inspired by some of the best taquerias in San Francisco’s Mission District’, says the blurb – and we’re not about to argue. Tortilla’s mission is clear, and it scores with a line-up of tacos and burritos (‘naked’ or otherwise), plus quesadillas and nachos post-3pm.

Flagship site: 106 Southwark Street, SE1 0TA

Other locations: various, across London

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21

Rossopomodoro

A worldwide chain with a serious presence in London, Rossopomodoro has also stayed true to its Neapolitan roots. Wood-fired pizzas are made with flour from Naples and many of its pasta plates pay homage to the home city, while affogato al caffè provides the final authentic thrill.   

Flagship site: John Lewis Shopping Centre, 300 Oxford Street, W1A 1EX

Other locations: various, across London

22

Chilango

Set up by two Americans with a taste for Mexican food, Chilango keeps it authentic while pulling in ideas from the States’ immigrant communities. Burritos, salads, super nachos and ‘hotboxes’ are its stock in trade, with the option of fiery sauce to finish you off.

Flagship site: 27 Upper Street, N1 0PN

Other locations: various, across London

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23

The Breakfast Club

Act out your teen fantasies and wallow in ’80s nostalgia at this cluttered, ersatz homage to John Hughes’s cult movie – and tribute to the most important meal of the day. Breakfast takes centre-stage (of course), but this Club runs right through from brunch to dinner.

Flagship site: 33 D’Arblay Street, W1F 8EU

Other locations: various across London

24
Yu-kuang Chou

Wasabi

Not sure how to handle sushi? Well, Wasabi makes it easy by offering individually wrapped onigiri triangles alongside its futomaki, gunkan and hand rolls. Billed as a bright, modern Japanese alternative for sandwich-loving Londoners, it also feeds the hungry hordes with soups, salads, rice cakes and bento boxes.   

Flagship site: 34 Villiers Street, WC2N 6NJ

Other locations: various, across London

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25
Five Guys
Tyler Mallory

Five Guys

Jerry Murrell and his sons (none of them named Moe) are the Five Guys behind this US burger chain, which is proving a hit this side of the pond. Expect garish red colours, noisy queues, Coke from a freestyle machine and endless pick-your-own toppings. It’s all very down-home Yankee. 

Flagship site: 1-3 Long Acre, WC2E 9LH

Other locations: various, across London

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