By Ed Smith
Assuming there are no bumps in the road, the UK Government’s plan is that hospitality venues can reopen for outdoor dining from 12 April. It’ll be table service only; the “Rule of 6 or 2 households” applies; and expect to check-in and mask-up as you walk around. But hey, between then and (at the earliest) 17 May, when socially-distanced indoor dining opens up, that’s all we’ve got*.
So, for those who have missed going to restaurants and eating a meal with someone other than those we live with, here are some of London’s most stylish places to eat alfresco.
Though of course if you prefer to stay home, you can still dine outdoors in style with our guide to the best garden furniture 2021 has to offer.
*(Relaxation of all social distancing rules, whether indoor or out, is slated for 21 June, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves…).
Parrillan is a rare London venue in that it was set up (in 2019) as an entirely al fresco experience. What, how, and who did they know? To be fair, and as cover for their innocence, it wasn’t always intended as an April thing; and so as it’s opening up earlier in the year than normal, there’s now glass sides and a glass roof, protecting us from (whisper it) British weather, while maintaining the Balearic vibes the rest of the architecture, drinks, and Mediterranean snacks and grill-at-table meat, fish and veg gives off.
A rooftop restaurant on the 14th floor of The Hoxton, Southwark, with views of the Thames, Houses of Parliament and St Paul’s. Think cocktails, fizz, oysters, seafood platters, grilled fish on the bone and their ‘signature’ octopus roll – chargrilled octopus with padron peppers and smoked aioli in a brioche roll. A weeknight fridge forage followed by iPlayer binge this is not.
The original restaurant and teahouse in Richmond avoids the British garden centre café cliché of stale scones, saccharine sponges and murky brews, and instead serves eclectic, seasonal and often flora-adorned plates of food amidst bucolic surrounds. It’s pure escapism; a West London gem. If the centre of town is more your thing, this spring Petersham’s Italian-themed restaurant La Goccia (think salads, pasta, pizza and a few other wood oven fired bits) will occupy the courtyard space of its deli, shop and restaurant space in Covent Garden, and no doubt will be bursting with blooms.
Back in the city, and lower in key, Japanese udon restaurant Koya offers a different and perhaps more restorative kind of style. The noodles, accompanying broths, pickles and tempura dishes are exemplary. It’s also worth noting (and eating) elevated seasonal dishes on the specials blackboard. This is based within the sweeping smooth curves of Bloomberg arcade … and so is weather proof. Super spot for a casual catch-up.
Brat @ Climpson’s Arch
Last summer, Tomos Parry’s acclaimed and Michelin-starred restaurant opened a London Fields-based outpost so that it could keep grilling impeccably-sourced British ingredients and (intentionally) burning Basque-style cheesecakes. The covered yet outdoor space is now a permanent fixture, and definitely one to try and get a booking for.
Burgers, lavishly adorned hot dogs, fried chicken, plus a few, more delicate small plates and sides are on the menu on this sun trap of terrace, which wraps around the Brutalist architecture of The Standard hotel. This is not fine dining but it's done well … and it’s outside and we just want to see other faces, no? Eyes out for the original Banksy.
Wild by Tart
A neighbourhood restaurant between Sloane Square and Victoria, the main part of which is impressively and seductively housed in a vast space – formerly a power station and coal store. Until we’re allowed back inside, there’s a pleasing, covered and insulated courtyard, in which gossip-encouraging drinks and the seasonal, crowd-pleasing all day dining food will be served.
Oasis might not be quite the right word, but there is a pleasing tranquility to the space outside Darby’s, situated as it is in, unusually for the area, a mostly finished square of high rise apartments and offices. Look across the water feature to the shiny American Embassy, up at the glass-bottomed swimming pool bridging two buildings, and inside at the metro-tiled glam of the restaurant out of which your champagne, oysters, and thick, charred, bone-in steaks are coming from.
One of London’s great ‘leisurely two bottle sunny lunch’ restaurants; there are few better places when a day-off pairs with a favourable forecast. In these Covid times they’ve erected an awning for greyer days and cold evenings. The deceptively simple food is always perfectly seasoned and intensely gratifying, and the surroundings uplifting, whether you liked school or not.
Prior to the Pandemic, the city’s main food retail market had gradually gradually cultivating an impressive roster or restaurants in its immediate vicinity. Most are small, though, with no formal outside space. However, during the balmy (barmy?) days of summer 2020, the Market arranged that, come end of trading hours, produce stalls made way for restaurant seats. This will return from April, meaning that from around 5:30pm, we can book places at the likes of Padella, Mei Mei, Bao, Elliot’s, ASAP Pizza, and dine under the ornate iron (and less decorative but still atmospheric railway) arches.
Peckham does rooftop drinks and dining remarkably well. One slick site is the Italian restaurant and wine bar, Forza Wine, at which you can enjoy delicious snacks and small plates alongside cocktails and wine. (Did I mention wine?). Think of it like a (bookable) aperitivo bar; though you can make a full meal of it by eschewing ordering FOMO and choosing the ‘The Whole Menu’ option.
Less obviously stylish due to the semi-temporary nature of their set up, but still outdoors and definitely delicious are the restaurants that occupy the streets of Soho, Fitzrovia, Chinatown and Covent Garden, which Westminster City Council have confirmed can again be used for outdoor dining until 30 September; Smoking Goat’s 60 person covered terrace on a closed Redchurch Street terrace; and a handful of canvas-awning covered tables on the pavement outside Smokestak’s steampunk-chic styled restaurant, with it’s superlative smoked meats and outstanding sides, also in Shoreditch.
Ed Smith is a food writer and author, whose books include Borough Market Cookbook
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