London's best outdoor dining

Discover London's best places to wine and dine outdoors

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London has plenty of cafés, bars and restaurants that let you take it outside. Though for every rose-trimmed terrace there's a caff with tables plonked next to traffic lights – so it helps to know where the good ones are. Here's our area-by-area outdoor guide. Do you agree with the choices? Use the comments box below or tweet your suggestions.

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Caravan Exmouth Market

The only thing better than getting a table inside this Exmouth market hotspot is getting one outside. You can request one of the 20-odd alfresco seats, but there are no guarantees, so arrive early to snag a plum spot. The three large communal tables, rough-hewn from reclaimed scaffolding, sit under a retractable awning, providing shelter should the heavens open – with the other four, you’ll just have to take your chances. There’s an extensive selection of deservedly popular small plates and a handful of mains. The vibe is laid-back, and service is invariably warm and sunny, even if the weather isn’t.

  1. 11-13 Exmouth Market, EC1R 4QD
Book online

Clerkenwell Kitchen

Although Clerkenwell Kitchen no longer takes bookings for its six outdoor tables, it’s still well worth trying your luck by just showing up. The alfresco area, in a quiet courtyard surrounded by tall office buildings, has a lovely flowerbed and perky sun umbrellas to enhance your enjoyment of the daily changing, seasonal, organic fare. The Kitchen is licensed, the service friendly and the atmosphere relaxed.

  1. 27 Clerkenwell Close, EC1R 0AT
More info

Coq d'Argent

If breathtaking panoramic views are high on your wish list, you can’t go far wrong with the Coq d’Argent. St Paul’s, the Gherkin, the Shard – they’re all in plain view from its large rooftop terrace, and on a clear day you can even see all the way out to Crystal Palace. The covered seating areas (one for the restaurant, one for the brasserie) each seat 50 and are open throughout most of the summer; for the exposed seating (a further two areas, each holding 70 diners), phone ahead to check availability.

  1. No.1 Poultry, EC2R 8EJ
Book online

Angler

A dining space in the Square Mile that’s high end (as well as high up), and that’s NOT Coq d’Argent – surely not?  But it’s true: Angler, the smartest of the restaurants of D&D’s business-like South Place Hotel, quietly snuck up and netted itself a Michelin star. This, its elegant outdoor terrace, is open all year (weather permitting), with the aid of heated parasols and cosy blankets during chillier parts of the year. Tables can’t be booked (it's first-come, first-served), but once you’re ‘in’, you can feast on classy grill dishes or a dedicated alfresco selection (with options from the main ‘carte’ on offer at lunchtimes too), and summery cocktails to boot.

  1. South Place Hotel, 3 South Place, EC2M 2AF
More info

Chiltern Firehouse

Will they, won’t they? At the time of publication, the team at Chiltern Firehouse, who’ve thus far been using their lovely sheltered courtyard (which also has heaters and parasols) for serving weekend brunches and pre-supper drinks, were considering opening it for weekday lunches in summer. If it does happen it will be June 2014 at the earliest, and the fact that you won’t have to (or be able to) book will no doubt cause some sort of siege outside what is currently the hottest of London restaurants.

  1. 1 Chiltern St, W1U 7PA
More info

The Modern Pantry

Anna Hansen’s Clerkenwell restaurant, situated in a magnificent Grade II-listed Georgian building, boasts 13 alfresco tables deployed on St John’s Square. Far enough from the noise and exhaust fumes of Clerkenwell Road but still close enough to people watch, this is a great option for a spot of outdoor dining, particularly now that tables have parasols to provide shade when called for. The globetrotting menu is particularly suited to dining in the sun – Hansen’s signature sugar-cured prawn omelette speaks of South-east Asian sunshine.

  1. 47-48 St John's Square, EC1V 4JJ
Book online

Bleeding Heart

Having been the scene of an infamous murder, Bleeding Heart Yard is part of British history (it features in Dicken’s Little Dorrit, too), but the outside area actually feels more French. Picture the courtyard of a cobbled Provençal village, tables properly laid with starched linens, nice glasses, the works. Should the weather disappoint, you are meant to shrug your shoulders, exclaim ‘bof’, and head inside – there are no heaters, no parasols. You can book for the small restaurant or larger bistro areas (they have separate sections) and order from the relevant menu.

  1. Bleeding Heart Yard, Off Greville Street, EC1N 8SJ
Book online

The Terrace at Orrery

Up on the rooftop of this smart D&D restaurant, the intimate Orrery terrace offers discreet alfresco dining. The handful of tables (it only seats 20 in all) are laid with gleaming glassware and heavy crockery: a fitting match for the fine French cooking. As of summer 2014, there’s a touch of Provence here too, from old wine boxes stocked with fresh lemons, to vintage watering cans, hurricane lamps with flickering tea lights, and lots of lavender. And because the UK summers aren’t quite as reliable as those in the south of France, there’s a sunshine-yellow retractable awning too, just right for keeping the pesky drizzle off your hair-do. You can order off the full à la carte at lunch or dinner, or there’s an alfresco menu of lighter options (marinated artichokes, goats’ cheese and onion tart) available all day.

  1. 55 Marylebone High Street, W1U 5RB
More info

Sushisamba - the Main Terrace and Tree Terrace

Open only in summer (and even then only on sunny days without high winds), the main dining terrace of Sushisamba, which runs along the side of the sky-high restaurant, is a truly sought-after spot. Offering the full run of the à la carte menu, it can’t be booked directly. But if you have a reservation in the restaurant, you can ask to be moved outside – this happens on a strictly first come, first served basis (there are 72 seats). If you’re desperate to be outside and don’t mind a lighter, sushi-only menu, then the ‘tree terrace’ bar area (yup, it has a big tree in the middle of it) is also open daily from April to October (weather dependent), and takes reservations, too, though it doesn't have the fine views and is a far less attractive spot.

  1. Floors 38 & 39, 110 Bishopsgate, (Heron Tower), EC2N 4AY
More info

Bonnie Gull Seafood Café

  • Price band: 3/4

Fancy an escape to the coast, but without the schlep? Then try this summery ‘seafood cafe’. On almost-traffic-free Exmouth Market, the alfresco area comes complete with a navy-and-white striped awning (plus heaters if it’s chilly), beach hut white furniture, and a daily changing menu of dazzlingly fresh fish and crustacea (from mackerel and oysters to whole DIY crab). The only thing missing are a couple of seagulls circling overhead, waiting to swoop on your chips if you look away. You can request to sit outside when you book a table inside: the attentive, chummy staff will always try to squeeze you in.

  1. 55-57 Exmouth Market, EC1R 4QL
Book online

Boulestin

The phrase ‘hidden gem’ gets bandied about an awful lot, but we think that the alfresco dining at Boulestin qualifies, given that it’s both ‘hidden’ and a ‘gem’. Access to the tiny courtyard (Pickering Place, thought to be London’s smallest public square and also the site of its last pistol duel) is via the restaurant, or via an 18th century oak-panelled passageway running off St James’. The set-up is knowingly old-school, from polished service and linen tablecloths to intentionally time-warp French cooking (artichoke salad; veal cutlet with pommes Anna; prunes soaked in Armagnac). Perfect for taking a beloved aunt for some fun in the sun (as opposed to handbags at dawn).

  1. 5 St James's St, SW1A 1EF
Book online

Ham Yard Hotel

The alfresco area at the newest addition to the Firmdale family (a group of small stylish hotels that includes the Charlotte Street Hotel and the Haymarket Hotel) is such a Soho oasis you can almost see the air shimmering. The hard lines (stone floors, a gleaming modern sculpture, brick buildings on all sides) are softened by a handful of lush, mature oak trees, elegant cream parasols and linen tablecloths. There’s a safe but smart modern European menu (risotto, grilled fish), which is all nice enough, but the real reason to visit is to refresh yourself after a hard day in W1. There’s even a designer drinking fountain.

  1. 1, Ham Yard, W1D 7DT
More info

On the Roof with Q

  • Price band: 2/4

You won’t find any chimney sweeps or Mary Poppins types on this department store rooftop. Oddly enough, you’ll find a sunny pop-up from Camden’s Q Grill, filled with shiny happy people clutching their yellow Selfridges bags after a frenzy of credit limit exhaustion. The ceviches, grills and afternoon teas are all perfectly nice, but the real thrill is finding such a delightful escape from Oxford Street’s summer infestation. Meals are served from 11am-10pm – but it’s only there until 27 September 2014, so catch it while you can. The service is impeccable, the drinks list good; when you’ve been over-exposed to retail; this is the therapy you need.

  1. Selfridges Roof Top, 400 Oxford Street, W1H 6HB
More info

Shoryu Carnaby

We thought it couldn’t be done. That you couldn’t sit outside, in an upmarket Soho setting, and eat well, without being made to pay through the proboscis.Yet that’s precisely what Shoryu Carnaby – the newest branch of the esteemed ramen bar – now allows you to do. A cut above its courtyard neighbours, you can get a huge bowl of the signature tonkotsu (wheat noodles in a rich pork broth, with the likes of barbecued pork and soft-boiled eggs) for £11.50. Factor in the elegant cream parasols, with heaters, and you’ll swoon over their noodles too.

  1. Ground floor, 3 Kingly Court, W1B 5PJ
Book online

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4 comments
Terence Fane-Saunders
Terence Fane-Saunders

The Surrey Quays/ Canada Water patch is something of a wilderness for restaurant hunters. But tucked around the corner from Surrey Quays station, perched on the edge of Southwark Park is the Yellow House bar and restaurant. The food is exceptional - seriously good cooking , but not taking itself itself too seriously. So the Friday fish & chips offer just happens to be sea bass with handcut chips, the light, crispy batter made with hoegarden beer. More formal fish dishes include seared hake, or spiced crab risotto. Meats range through the usual grills and an impressively constructed house hamburger to new season lamb. But most locals understandably target the pizza range. For anyone used to the mass-produced offerings of the pizza chains it can come as a shock to discover just how good a properly made pizza can be. And here, the pizzas sit alongside the rest of the dishes as "serious food". The Yellow House loses points on decor, which is a touch drab and dreary, but friendly and professional staff provide compensation. But in the Summer the decor doesn't really matter, if you can secure one of the outdoor tables in the enchanting little secret courtyard , nesting under the shade of the trees of Southwark Park. One of London's most perfect outdoor eating spots.

Martina
Martina

This is great but where are the central london ones? Do they exist?

Michael
Michael

The Metro Garden Restaurant in Clapham is a great place for dining outdoors. The ambiance in the garden is fantastic in the evenings. They have a delicious Sunday Brunch as well.

Byron
Byron

The Water Poet, I think its called, near Brick Lane and Liverpool Street station. The best outdoor meal/environment. Sort of a gastro pub, they have barbeque's on the weekend in the sun. If I'm not mistaken there are some pictures signed by famous footballers there too.