The sun is shining (maybe), you’ve got a chilled glass of wine, there’s a striped umbrella over your head, and you’re sitting on a flower-festooned outdoor restaurant terrace, with a double-decker bus occasionally passing by to stir up a breeze. The vibe? French Riviera, but make it London.
Eating lovely food at a lovely outdoor restaurant has a magical way of making you feel like you’re on holiday, even when you haven’t left the M25 for several weeks – and that’s exactly why we love doing it. But not all restaurant terraces are created equal, and a wonky table on a dismal side street just won’t cut it, so here we go: your guide to the greatest outdoor restaurants for al fresco dining in London.
The Garden Museum Café, Lambeth
What: Seasonal cooking in verdant surrounds
Where: Garden Museum, Lambeth Palace Road, London, SE1 7LB
Not only is London’s Garden Museum one of the city’s best-kept secrets, but the museum‘s cafe is one of London’s real hidden gems. Open for lunch daily and dinner on Tuesdays and Fridays, this award-winning restaurant has interiors inspired by its leafy surrounds – but summer is when it comes into its own, because you can sit in the beautiful verdant courtyard while you eat your equally beautiful meal. Chef George Ryle cut his teeth at Primeur and Padella (the infamous pasta restaurant), influences which are seen in the café’s seasonal menu. A summer’s evening might find you eating a delicate salad of raw artichoke, hard ricotta and courgettes; followed by mushrooms with polenta, or a rabbit leg with beans, pancetta and a golden mustard sauce; all wrapped up to delicious effect with house-made raspberry ripple ice cream.
What: The silkiest pasta and cured meats, taking inspiration from all around Italy
Where: 1 Vyner Street, Bethnal Green, Hackney, London, E2 9DG
Anywhere that throws a mortadella party is alright in our books and Ombra, down near the canal in Bethnal Green, is well known for its seasonal take on the cured meat. Here it’s served draped over gnocchi fritto, those gorgeous pillows of fried dough. Talk about a moreish morsel. But there’s plenty of other things to love here too, like roasted monkfish served with black trompette de la mort mushrooms and sea urchin, or tonnarelli pasta with Sicilian red prawns. As for the outdoor dining, it has a terrace overlooking the canal, and also boasts the Ombra Altana, a mezzanine with plenty of outdoor seating that was built for the London Festival of Architecture, happening throughout June. Did someone say… Spritz?
Mazi, Notting Hill
What: A modern take on Greek food, in the pastel-hued streets of Notting Hill
Where: 12-14 Hillgate Street, London, W8 7SR
Small in size but large in ambition – not to mention flavour-packed cooking – Mazi has long turned heads for the way its modernised the food of traditional Greek tavernas. House-baked breads, grilled aubergines and lobster orzo have been on the menu here for way longer than you’ve had your bucket hat. To sit on the back patio in the sunshine is a taste of pure escapism, one that will have your mind on a beach on a Greek island, even as you gaze at a pigeon flying overhead. Chuck in an expertly research wine list packed with Grecian gems, and you’ve got sheer, unadulterated bliss.
The Rooftop at The Standard, King’s Cross
What: A central location and terrific tacos
Where: The Standard, 10 Argyle Street, London, WC1H 8EG
Atop The Standard’s iconic Brutalist structure lies a hidden gem: the London hotel‘s casual outdoor restaurant on the roof, with iconic views over the London skyline, and the gothic revival facade of St Pancras Station practically within touching distance. Of course, this makes for an excellent place for sundowners – but this summer it’s a great location for a low-fuss dinner too, thanks to the newly launched Decimiño – a pint-sized truck version of the hotel’s frankly brilliant Mexican-Spanish restaurant Decimo. Think nachos but better; epic tacos; spicy tommy’s margaritas; and glorious sunsets.
Tavolino, London Bridge
What: An unbeatable spot looking up at Tower Bridge
Where: 2 More London Riverside, London, SE1 2DB
Tower Bridge never makes for a shabby backdrop, and aperitivo hour at Tavolino makes it especially good, particularly when accompanied by plates of honeyed garlic focaccia and fennel salami. But then eating outdoors on Tavolino’s riverside terrace is great at any time, thanks to brown shrimp and seaweed butter tagliolini pasta, shaved fennel salad with blood orange and black olives, and basil panna cotta with rhubarb and custard. Despite the prime central location, Tavolino’s menu and attention to detail make it feel like a neighbourhood favourite, and an all-round winner in our books.
Acme Fire Cult, Dalston
What: Cult cooking over fire
Where: 40FT Brewery, Abbot Street, London E8 3DP
Outdoor dining and barbecues go hand in hand, naturally, and Acme Fire Cult’s restaurant at 40FT Brewery is a temple to fire cooking (not to mention a repository of great craft beers). Food is served on biodegradable bamboo plates, and lord is the line-up delicious: cold roast lamb from ethically minded Swaledale Butchers, served with trombetta courgettes, fennel, buttermilk and a pop of fresh seasonal herbs; or coal-roasted celeriac with mushroom kelp XO sauce, coco bean miso, and salsa verde. Tucked down an alley off Dalston Junction, this restaurant – and its capacious outdoor seating area – may be hidden from view, but with food this good, it won’t stay under the radar for long.
The Princess Royal
What: Pub gone posh with Moorish-influenced cooking from Ben Tish
Where: 47 Hereford Road, Westbourne Grove, London, W2 5AH
Ben Tish’s Moorish-influenced cooking is what made Salt Yard Group’s name in London, and it was his creativity that was also behind hit restaurant Sicilian-inspired Norma in Fitzrovia. But now Tish has got his hands on a brand-new thing: The Princess Royal in Westbourne Grove, a new opening from the lauded Cubitt House Group. It goes without saying anything Tish cooks up gets our seal of approval (Cornish crab served in the shell with lemon and chilli and Old Spot pork chop are particular highlights), but it’s the posh pub’s extensive garden that seals the deal with plenty of potted plants and bare brick walls.
Sessions Arts Club, Clerkenwell
What: One of the most beautiful meals you’ll have, ever
Where: Old Sessions House, 24 Clerkenwell Green, London, EC1R 0NA
Just when you thought Sessions Arts Club – the restaurant housed in England’s oldest courthouse that’s gone practically viral – couldn’t get any more gorgeous, it opens a rooftop with views over Clerkenwell and beyond. An evening here is likely to be disgustingly nice: olive trees, rosemary and a miniature vineyard provide proper Italian vibes, while the Georgian brick chimneys, newly converted into fires for cooler nights, are all London. The Venetian-inspired food already makes Sessions Arts Club one of the best restaurants in the city right now, but what you’re really coming for is the one-of-a-kind setting that’ll make you think, ‘my life should always be like this; I deserve it.’
The Culpeper, Aldgate East
What: A verdant rooftop oasis with city views
Where: 40 Commercial Street, London E1 6LP
From the outside, The Culpeper looks like a classic City of London boozer. But walk past the ground floor bar and up the stairs until you pop out on the rooftop, and you’ll realise it’s anything but. Not only will you have a lovely spot to admire Spitalfields, but you’ll be sat right beside the greenhouse that grows much of the pub’s salads and fresh herbs – which should give you an inkling of how seriously The Culpeper takes its food. The restaurant seating is inside on the first floor, but you can enjoy a short set menu on the roof, with ash-roasted new potatoes, lardons and chive; lamb shoulder with broccoli and romesco sauce; and beef kofta with mint yoghurt and pickled chilli. Simply gorgeous.
What: The best sunsets in London
Where: The Hoxton, South Bank, 40 Blackfriars Road, London, SE1 8NY
There are sunset views, and then there are Seabird’s sunset views, which drench the surrounding buildings, the river, you, your mates, and your cocktails in jaw-droppingly beautiful honey-gold light – we’re not even talking it up, it really is that good. Throw in London’s largest oyster bar and a menu that looks to Spain and Portugal for its flavours, and you’ve got one hell of a party, or one hell of a romantic date spot, should you be so inclined. Bookings for summer evenings are tough though, so get ready to sharpen those elbows.
Royale, Bow Wharf
What: Provençal-style rotisserie chicken on a wisteria-covered terrace
Where: East London Liquor Co, 221 Grove Road, Old Ford, London, E3 5SN
For even more south of France vibes, Royale is the place to go thanks to a menu that revolves around Provençal-style rotisserie chicken. Except you’re not in the south of France, you’re sat on a terrace under clouds of fragrant wisteria outside the East London Liquor Company in Bow, sipping regional French wine and delicately grazing your way through mouthfuls of baguette slathered in aioli or dipped in braised chickpeas with artichokes and olives; marinated courgettes with pine nuts and ricotta; and, of course, Anjou-style chicken. You know what? It’s a trade we’ll take.
Forza Wine, Peckham
What: Small plates and killer cocktails – and a whole new perspective
Where: The Rooftop, 133A Rye Lane, London SE15 4BQ
Sometimes you can’t see the wood for the trees, and the same applies to London: you can’t see the city’s beauty when you’re right up in the middle of it all. Take a break from the concrete jungle and perch on a Peckham rooftop instead, which provides just enough distance to appreciate a completely different view of the skyline – one that’s somehow made all the more beautiful by the red lights winking at you from the top of the city’s many construction cranes. Forza Wine not only offers gorgeous aperitivo-style cocktails, but it’s got a menu designed to graze your way through slowly for maximum viewing time. You can get the whole menu for four people (including dessert) for £115, too. You know what to do.
Rochelle Canteen, Shoreditch
What: Iconic cooking in a former bike shed
Where: 16 Playground Gardens, London, E2 7FA
Rochelle Canteen’s outdoor dining space is one of London’s worst-kept secrets. Occupying a former bike shed and hidden by the old red-brick walls of Rochelle School in Shoreditch, the courtyard here is a grassy, sun-drenched oasis that feels a world apart from London’s grit and grime – and the food only lives up to the promise. The kitchen is helmed by Margot Henderson, wife of Fergus (chef-proprietor of another of our favourite London restaurants St John Bread & Wine), and there are shared influences when it comes to whole-animal eating and a focus on beautiful seasonal produce.