London has plenty of cafés, bars and restaurants that let you take it outside. Still, 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 including restaurants in central London as well as retreats by the river. Do you agree with our choices? Use the comments box below or tweet your suggestions. And don't forget to check our guide to the best beer gardens for al fresco drinks.
Outdoor dining in central London
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.
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.Read more
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.Read more
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.Read more
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.Read more
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.Read more
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.Read more
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.Read more
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.Read more
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.Read more
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).Read more
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.Read more
Every summer now, the folks behind Q Grill kit out the Selfridges roof terrace above Oxford Street with a new theme and menu. But visit just for cocktails at the Drift Bar to take full advantage of 2015’s tongue-in-cheek seaside theme. The look is brighter than a stick of rock, with the roof dressed with beach balls, deck chairs, fishing nets and adorable seaside huts straight out of St Ives. Postcards pinned to the walls show dreamy Cornwall climes for an overall nostalgia hit.Read more
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.Read more
Outdoor dining in north London
If you can get to Hampstead Heath early, head up to the Brew House for one of its famous cooked breakfasts, then potter around the two terraces until you find the right combination of parasol shade and sunshine at one of the tables above Kenwood House’s sweeping lawn. At peak times, all 300-odd places will be occupied – and the Old Kitchen function room can only accommodate half that number in the event of sudden rain. But the staff seem well-equipped to deal with the place’s endless popularity. For best value, check out the specials and the ‘dish of the day’.Read more
The wonderfully secluded back garden at this excellent, family-run tapas restaurant isn’t exactly a secret, but it certainly feels like one. Groups of three or more can reserve one of eight larger tables, but couples who hope to stare into each other’s eyes among the flowers will have to get here early to secure one of four smaller tables. The owners try to avoid taking bookings if the weather’s looking dodgy, but there’s a new awning to keep off the rain, heaters for chilly nights, and sunshades for the warmest days.Read more
The interiors of this quirky North London gastropub – all faux-gilt furniture and cherubs on the walls – may be looking a shade tired, but its outdoor spaces still get the thumbs up. On the ground floor, the original pub yard has been converted into a 30-cover ‘garden’ area, with wooden furniture, heaters, and access to the surprisingly good cooking, but we think the no-bookings rooftop is more special. Serving only a bar menu and weekend roasts, and with but a handful of tables, it attracts drinkers and grazers who sip on negronis and margaritas over slices of charcuterie. What’s more, thanks to a high, ivy-clad trellis, the space enjoys a lovely sense of seclusion, with decking, parasols and exotic palms adding to a chilled-out, summery vibe.Read more
After a stroll through Highgate Wood, Pavilion Café’s blissfully bucolic setting on the edge of the sports field certainly whets the appetite. Behind the picket fence is a cheerful garden brasserie where diners sit at generously proportioned tables amid tubs of petunias and climbing roses. The rustic Mediterranean menu is pleasingly flexible and supplemented by daily specials. The drinks list includes organic cider and beers, spirits and several wine bargains. Dessert is mostly cakes or ice-cream and good enough, though be warned: catching the waitresses’ attention later on in your meal can be a challenge.Read more
Been fretting about getting your five-a-day? Look no further than this upmarket, yet unstuffy, King’s Cross restaurant. The cooking is supervised by the acclaimed French chef Bruno Loubet, who – thanks in part to eight years spent in sunny Australia – pays special attention to veggies and grains, creating vibrant, exotic dishes that are more Sydney than St Pancras. The alfresco area, with its brightly-coloured metal furniture, and is a relaxed setting to watch the world go by, or watch children (and occasionally grown-ups) scampering around in the 1,000-plus choreographed fountains of Granary Square, London’s newest square.Read more
The Aussie-born Bill Granger made his name in Sydney two decades ago, at the trend-setting Bills café, with simple but satisfying brunch dishes and great coffee. But these branches now seem oddly dated with their homely brunch-forward menus – how 1990s! – when compared to what Granger is doing in London, his home since 2011. This King’s Cross restaurant, the newest of three branches, overlooks King’s Boulevard, the walkway that leads from King’s Cross north to the Regent’s Canal and Granary Square. Tables outside on a quiet piazza catch the sun from 7am until 4pm. On a warm evening it’s surely London’s best new spot for alfresco dining.Read more
Outdoor dining in east London
The Conran-backed Boundary Project has a fine rooftop with panoramic views of London. There are tables and chairs for 40 diners with wicker sofas surrounded by shrubbery, heaters and a wood-burning fire. The summery menu is based around grills and also includes oysters and a smattering of seafood, while freshly baked bread, Serrano ham and asparagus are delivered from the deli downstairs. Remodelled in 2013 with a weatherproof pergola, the bar and dining area will stay open whatever the weather, and is now bookable at lunch.
An urban oasis wedged between Dalston’s two overground stations, the Roof Park is as kooky as they come. Sat on top of the Print House, a building occupied by more than 60 community and social enterprise organisations, it’s open to all its ‘friends’ – simply sign up for the £3 membership online and collect your card when you arrive. There’s a fake lawn, working rooftop allotments (rented out to eco-keen locals) and a smattering of deckchairs, though it’s really the kind of place where you’re just as likely to sit on the floor. When there’s an event (such as live music or a film screening) on, catering takes the shape of a barbecue or roving street food vendor. The rest of the time, bring your own home-made picnic (yes, really) or grab a sarnie when you’re passing the ground-floor café.Read more
Riverside restaurants east of Tower Bridge are rare, but The Narrow makes the most of its situation on the Thames with a bright, open conservatory and outdoor seating area overlooking the wharves of Rotherhithe on the other bank. The handful of alfresco tables can’t be booked, so turn up early for well-executed takes on pub grub. The Narrow is a great spot to simply sit by the river and watch a summer sunset sparkling off the towers of Canary Wharf – and you don’t need to eat here to enjoy the superior wine list or real ales.Read more
Where once there were school bike sheds, now you’ll find the unassumingly excellent Rochelle Canteen. The portable outdoor tables have been replaced by permanent versions, seating around 20 diners, which now means that if it starts raining, you’ll have to abandon them and head indoors. Whatever the weather does, you can always depend on the kitchen.Read more
A crowd of regulars, locals and foodies alike have stayed loyal to the site after a restoration project, not least because of the team’s ongoing commitment to top-quality produce. Ingredients are increasingly sourced directly from producers less than 50 miles away, with smoked fish coming from Stokey and mushrooms from Kentish farms. Outside seating runs to just over 100 seats. Breakfast remains a big draw. High-end sarnies and vibrant salads are popular summer choices.
The Beagle is one hot little dog. Being set within a couple of all-the-rage railway arches, the interior is of course pared back and atmospheric, but the alfresco area beside a traffic-free street is equally chic. Fenced-off sections have been fashioned from chunky reclaimed woods, with immaculately-groomed topiary to boot. Overhead, there’s a brand new retractable awning to shelter you from raindrops, or excessive sunshine (ha). Plus heaters for when it’s chilly. Half the area is reserved for diners (you can book to arrive between 6-7.15pm). The full daily-changing restaurant menu is seved: modern British dishe such as parsley soup with pig’s head croquettes, or braised hogget (grown-up lamb) with borlotti beans.Read more
Street Feast have turned an old car park in Shoreditch into a street food mecca for summer 2015, featuring 15 different food vendors, six bars and space for up to 1,000 hungry visitors. The site's been split into two levels, meaning there are benches and floor space to settle in on as you watch the punters chatting (and, let's face it, queueing) below. Serving up the snacks will be all-star traders such as B.O.B.'s Lobster, Kimchinary, Busan BBQ, Fundi Pizza, Yum Bun and Smokestak, and the bars can provide everything from tequila slushies to cans of craft beer.Read more
Outdoor dining in south London
Covered terrace plus confit of suckling pig: if that combination is your recipe for summer bliss, Lola Roja’s for you. Twenty or so people can squeeze around the tables on its narrow little terrace on Northcote Road (a heater protecting against the chill of late summer evenings) where you get to sample tapas from the modern Spanish menu. The exquisitely presented dishes might include cauliflower crudités with a raspberry sauce or roasted red peppers stuffed with oxtail, as well as more traditional options. The all-Spanish wine list is another selling point, with some brilliant bottles from up-and-coming wine regions. You can’t reserve the outdoor tables, more’s the pity.Read more
With 100-odd tables spread across a pair of decks right on the riverfront, this is a great place to let kids go free-range and watch the Thames flowing past. Around a third of the tables have heaters, while a further third have umbrellas, so arrive early and pick the best spot. The Italian menu stops off at most of the pizza and pasta options you’d anticipate, but with plenty of fish and meat too. Desserts are well-trodden trat classics, but there is also banoffee pie on the menu. And who was that striking woman walking by? Yes, it really was Grace Jones – she lives next door.Read more
Brixton produces many community and cooperative initiatives, but Pop Brixton is one of its most impressive yet. Supported by local activists, a developer and an architect, and with backing from Lambeth Council, Pop has turned a disused space, leased from the council, into a vibrant, inexpensive eating destination. Many vendors at Pop will already be familiar to Brixtonites. Koi Ramen Bar started out as a stall near Brixton station. At Maria Sabina, you’ll find delicious Mexican tacos, served – typically for Brixton – by a blond Norwegian bloke. It’s good to see that outdoor dining in a worthy new enterprise needn’t be abstemious.Read more
Outdoor dining in west London
Five years on since launching in 2009, the Saatchi Gallery’s fabulous brasserie is still going strong. You can sit inside, surrounded by modern art, but the grounds outside are littered with portable tables, perfect for that al fresco lunch, tea, or early supper – these can't be booked. Most of the year, outdoor service finishes at 6.30pm (6pm on a Sunday), but during what they call ‘high summer’ (usually July and August, though call ahead to check), the weekday hours are extended until 9pm, as long as the weather’s fair. Food is by upmarket caterer Rhubarb.Read more
This relaxed and relaxing little Greek bistro near Notting Hill’s Gate cinema has a sweet first-floor terrace above the restaurant, with parasols, heaters and little plants around the ten tables. The menu is a celebration of Greek meze, from dips and stuffed peppers to grilled octopus and spicy sausage. Although the terrace umbrellas give some protection against the elements, if a downpour strikes, the owners will herd everyone into one of two function rooms inside.
This relaxed and relaxing little Greek bistro near Notting Hill’s Gate cinema has a sweet first-floor terrace above the restaurant, with parasols, heaters and little plants around the ten tables. The menu is a celebration of Greek meze, from dips and stuffed peppers to grilled octopus and spicy sausage. Although the terrace umbrellas give some protection against the elements, if a downpour strikes, the owners will herd everyone into one of two function rooms inside.Read more
This gastropub has an adorable herb garden in a walled courtyard. There are, however, drawbacks: the garden’s in shade after around 6.30pm; the ten tables, seating up to 42 people, can’t be booked; and the fact that this is where you retire for a puff on one of the fine Cuban stogies from the pub’s Wine & Cigar Shop will put some people off dining. But arrive early for a lunch, and you could just have the last laugh.
Although not strictly speaking alfresco – you’re dining under a glass roof – this place feels as outdoor as can be, set in an idyllic garden centre just past Richmond. Few London dining rooms can match this one: a magical hothouse alive with palm trees and scented jasmine, the mismatched tables ornamented with terracotta pots of sage and lavender. After eating, you can potter around the plants in the nurseries outside, then walk back to Richmond across the fields. Reservations are essential, but can be made a month in advance.Read more
The Fulham original relocated to these premises (formerly Saran Rom) back in January 2012 and has continued its tradition of upmarket Thai cuisine. The menu has intriguing and well-executed dishes, as well as classics confidently and attractively served. The view of the Thames from these 28 riverside tables, with sun umbrellas and heaters, is certainly better than the view the other way: Blue Elephant is part of a soulless modern complex in ‘built-by-developers’ Imperial Wharf. But we love those helicopters.Read more
If you’ve never been to a German beer garden, Stein’s is good place to start. Set along a stretch of the Thames towpath, just a short walk from Richmond town centre, the large riverside garden can seat up to 300 alfresco diners at shared wooden tables, around half of which offer some shelter from the elements. Food is the best of Teutonic stodge, ignoring the fripperies of starters and going straight for no-nonsense mains, with generous plates of regional sausages with sauerkraut, fried potatoes or dumplings the order of the day.Read more
Have you always fancied watching the world go by the Italian way, while drinking negronis and shouting ‘Ciao bella!’ as pretty girls walk by? Well now you can (if you don’t mind the occasional slap), as this new branch of this Venetian-inspired small-plates bar has opened in Notting Hill, with 20 alfresco seats to assist in your admiration of W11’s beautiful people. It serves the same menu as indoors (cicchetti, fritto misto and meatballs, plus summer dishes such as crab & chickpea crostini or grilled lamb, caponata and basil), and will share the reservations policy too (you can book for lunch, but not dinner). Andiamo!Read more