April 2019: We’ve added a couple of shiny new places perfect for summer dining. There’s The Coach, a French gastropub by chef’s chef Henry Harris with a conversatory-style outdoor dining area, and The Open Kitchen, a food hall-type restaurant space in London Fields with a big, vibey beer garden.
For every balmy, rose-trimmed terrace in London there’s a pub with two just-as-good picnic benches outside next to the traffic lights. This city is full of charming cafés, bars and restaurants that let you take things outside (conventional British ‘summertime’ weather be damned). Here’s our list of the best spots across central, north, east, west and south London.
London's best al fresco restaurants
Bordered by lavender bushes and olive trees, Michelin-starred Angler’s chic outdoor terrace is open all year thanks to a retractable roof that shields diners from summer rain and winter chills. Tables can’t be booked, but once you’re ‘in’, you can sip premium cocktails while nibbling on big-money seafood snacks – Porthilly oysters, Cornish sea bass tartare, Alaskan king crab cromesquis. Otherwise, push the boat out with a pot of oscietra caviar.
Out on its mini terrace, the Drury Lane branch of Barrafina sensibly provides parasols for Spanish-style weather, and heaters to combat your typical British summer. As in the dining room, there are no bookings, but on sufficiently sunny days it’s worth queuing to take your tapas alfresco and imagine you’re on holiday instead of mustering the energy for your next tube journey. Informal, sociable and great fun.
Richard Corrigan’s immensely civilised but not at all stuck-up seafood stunner has a chic, heated-and covered terrace on a surprisingly quiet street just off the artery that divides Soho from Mayfair. It's a year-round alfresco alternative to the restaurant's clubby wood-and-leather cosiness, while the short menu offers highlights from the Oyster Bar menu (think seafood platters, sushi salad bowls and fish pie). You can’t book here, so be sure to show up sharpish.
Reputedly the scene of a gruesome ‘crime passionnel’ that wouldn’t seem out of place in a TV costume drama, Bleeding Heart Yard is now home to a buzzy bistro, elegant French restaurant and an informal tavern aimed at famished City types. Tables on the secluded courtyard terraces (summer only) are bookable; should the weather disappoint, you can either huddle under one of the blankets provided… or give up and head inside.
The main dining room of this King’s Road branch of Bluebird Café looks like it’s actually outside; it has a conservatory-style glass roof and loads, we mean loads, of plants. If you want to really get some fresh air, there’s a massive outdoor dining area with fake grass, umbrellas and garden-style furniture serving a Mediterranean menu. It’s the whole al fresco shebang.
Sit on The Botanist’s huge terrace and you’ll get the full force of Broadgate Circle’s pumped-up ambience, plus a dose of vitamin D if the sun shows up. City boys and girls descend in droves to soak up some rays, but the no-bookings rule means a regular scrum for tables. The terrace is open throughout the year – although heaters prove no match for the cruel British winter, even when you’ve stoked up on honest British victuals.
Boulestin’s tiny courtyard on Pickering Place (the site of London’s last pistol duel, they say) is one of those ‘hidden gems’ that just about everybody seems to know about. Luckily, its tables are mostly filled with savvy Londoners, rather than rucksack-toting, selfie-snapping tourists. Dig the Victorian gas lamps and the panels from Henry VIII’s Real Tennis courts at the entrance – an odd backdrop for knowingly old-school French cooking and properly polished service.
Whether you hit Hampstead Heath for an early-morning run, a dog walk, a high-summer swim, or something completely different (hey, we’re not judging), this casual café on the Kenwood House estate is great for sunny days. The two terraces can accommodate 300 people and offer shady parasols and gorgeous views of the sweeping lawns – plus soup, salads, coffee and cake, bespoke afternoon teas and weather-dependent barbecues at weekends.
The only thing better than getting a table inside this Exmouth Market hotspot is snagging one of the 20-odd alfresco seats. There are large communal tables sheltered by an awning, although others are prey to the weather. Either way, this is a top shout for a ‘well-travelled’ breakfast, post-work cocktails, small plates and anything in between. The vibe is laid-back, the house-roasted coffee is ace and service is warm – even if the weather isn’t.
Andina’s ‘little house’ in the West End is an all-round beauty, although we can’t resist its cute patio for a taste of the Andes in the open air. There are just three tables on this atmospherically lit courtyard space, which comes adorned with turquoise-painted walls and fronds of swishy potted plants. All under the cover of a practical, retractable awning, because – let’s face it – we’re still in weather-challenged London, not Lima.
The hype may have died down, but Chiltern Firehouse remains one of London’s hottest tickets and it comes with the bonus of a lovely sheltered courtyard complete with heaters and blankets. Either book a table in the restaurant proper (good luck with that) and ask for an alfresco spot amid the pot plants and lanterns – or simply or turn up on the day with everything crossed. Available for breakfast, brunch and lunch (fair weather permitting).
Relaunched by chef Henry Harris in 2018, The Coach is an enormously elegant gastropub with a lovely garden space to dine in. Like a cross between a cottage and a conversatory, glass walls separate the garden, decked out with mirrors and winding plants, from the dining room. Expect a menu filled with proper French food.
Sibling to The Palomar and The Barbary, Coal Office is a slick collaboration with designer Tom Dixon, plating up the flavours of modern Jerusalem. On the top floor of the very cool Coal Drops Yard development in King’s Cross, during the warmer months it has a breezy outdoor terrace space that’s open for business all day long.
Boasting one of the biggest riverside terraces in London, Coppa Club occupies a prime spot with Tower Bridge in near-sight and The Shard just opposite. Whether you’re in the restaurant, café or central bar, tall windows mean you can soak up the view even when it’s too chilly for alfresco. To eat? Sourdough pizzas, pastas and grills, as well as a few nibbles – if you’re just here for the views.
Things don’t get much more bucolic in London’s East End than at this totally hip warehouse-style pizzeria-cum-brewery on the banks of the Lea. In summer, arrive as early as decency allows to bag a reclaimed riverside bench, then proceed to order your first pint of Crate’s own craft beer, lager or cider (with perhaps a pizza on the side). After that, sun yourself, watch the birds and gaze at the boats bobbing past until last orders.
The famous rooftop garden/bar attached to this excellent City gastropub-with-rooms has been reborn as Piculpeper – an enterprise dedicated to seasonal pickling and preservation, complete with an 8-foot gherkin installation and a growing cast of veg destined for the jar. While the cooks do wondrous things with cucumbers and the like, visitors can sip herb-laden cocktails and graze from a menu of sharply seasonal pickle-themed ideas. You can now book tables throughout the summer months, while the space is available for private hire during the winter.
When you’re dining alfresco in old Bombay, it’s called a verandah, dahhling, not a terrace. And this stylish Shoreditch canteen has its own all-singing, all-dancing version dedicated to the serious business of lounging – complete with brocade fabrics and heavy vintage furniture, plus a retractable roof just in case the sun goes all subcontinental on us. Kick back and order from the eclectic line-up of classic Indo-Irani dishes and East-West mash-ups. No bookings, so look sharp.
Popular with art lovers and local families alike, this sleek glass-sided café is dreamily ensconced within three acres of verdant, tranquil gardens surrounding Dulwich Village’s bijou Picture Gallery. Whether you’re after a quick Union coffee, a light lunch, afternoon tea or a picnic with the kids, it’s worth bagging one of the alfresco tables dotted on the lawn under the shade of spreading trees. Sheer summertime perfection.
Outdoorsy folk who like cycling can stay outside and eat al fresco at this laidback cycling caff in Putney. A big terrace dining area out front soaks up the sunshine, and it’s regularly packed with punters noshing on breakfast baps and, come lunchtime, classic Neapolitan pizzas.
This casual, Aussie-inspired café in a Notting Hill terrace house comes equipped with a quaint, leafy outdoor garden for dining in the sunshine. The food tastes as it looks: pleasantly healthy. Expect icy acai bowls and don’t miss the ‘immune system-boosting’ Liquid Gold latte laced with turmeric.
There’s no denying that Frederick’s lush garden and expertly tended plants are a thing of beauty for those who sit outside at alfresco tables. However, the owners of this Islington classic have also struck gold with a spacious conservatory-style Garden Room that offers the same gorgeous outlook, but with the bonus of a roof that keeps unwelcome rain, excessive sunshine and wind at bay. Appropriately, the menus change with the seasons at this dapper local treat.
Venue says A family-run place in Angel founded in 1969. Menus from £17 (two-course) and £21 (three-course), plus private dining and wedding options.
You can sit inside the Saatchi Gallery’s fabulous brasserie surrounded by modern art, but on sunny days you can’t beat a seat in the museum’s equally well-curated grounds, with their first-come, first-served tables overlooking the green expanses of Duke of York Square. The menu is full of top-quality treats (crisp plaice with mussel fumet and sea vegetables, anyone?), but the Mess is equally enticing for a sparkling sundowner come Pimm’s o’clock.
Restaurant group D&D London does outdoor spaces so well, and this polished all-day ‘grand café’ is no exception, with a whopping 90 seats on its gigantic, L-shaped terrace and a plum location on the pedestrianised stretch outside King’s Cross station. There’s a year-round approach to alfresco dining too: the outdoor space is thoughtfully equipped with heaters, blankets and umbrellas. Watch out for special events too.
The second branch of Stoke Newington’s hit Israeli joint is smack-bang in the middle of Soho, with a big terrace space at Kingly Court that’s heated in winter, heaving in summer. And while we don’t think the Middle Eastern-style food here is as strong as at the original, this is still one of the best spots on the courtyard.
The leafy rooftop garden and terrace on the fourth floor of this swish boutique hotel is a prime Soho oasis complete with stone floors, gleaming modern sculptures, mature oak trees and cream parasols; there are even a couple hives tended by a dedicated beekeeper. What’s more, the tables are bookable (hooray!) – although you’ll be moved indoors if the weather’s bad. Check the website for special ticketed pop-ups.
Directly behind Harrods, Harry’s is a glamorous Italian bistro with a breezy European-style terrace out front that’s often packed with people enjoying a spritz and a plate of pasta after a day of shopping across the road. Food-wise, stick to the simple Italian things: seafood spaghetti and fresh antipasti plates.
Given its name, you’d expect this horticulturally themed venue to tick all the alfresco boxes, and the Ivy’s terrace doesn’t disappoint. By day, its leafy trellises, bloom-filled terracotta pots, water feature and velvet chairs will put you in an off-duty mood faster than you can order an Ivy Garden Royale; at night, fire pits, roaring hearths and lap blankets keep diners toasty and the vibe as chic as can be. No bookings; open until 10pm.
A classic French restaurant in Belgravia, La Poule au Pot has oodles of charm and a very summery white-tableclothed outdoor dining area that’s open during the warmer months. The food is gloriously old-school: think pan-fried scallops and foie gras terrine to start; tender, slow-braised beef bourguignon to follow.
Day or night, summer or winter, this French fancy by the river has everything you could wish for in an alfresco terrace. A jaunty striped awning is rolled out in strong sun, while luxurious sheepskin chair covers taking the chill off during the evening. In hot weather, it’s perfect for sipping St Germain cocktails as you gaze out towards Tower Bridge, while the chilly months herald furry blankets and fondues.
A waterside venue with a difference, this lovely alfresco spot nudges up against the 1930s art deco splendour of Brockwell Lido. Make no mistake: poolside seats just a splash away from the azure water are snapped up fast. That’s because this boho daytime space also attracts famished locals with its terrific breakfasts, weekend brunch and restaurant-worthy lunch menus (check the chalkboard for daily specials).
With its first-floor wraparound terrace and an alfresco area overlooking Regent’s Canal, this capacious bar-restaurant hybrid is a magnet for waterside drinkers and diners. The Lighterman’s alfresco spaces all operate on a first-come, first-served basis, so prepare for a bun fight on hot days. There are no parasols or heaters, but while the weather holds, fill up on seasonal drinks-friendly dishes, craft beers and on-trend cocktails.
There are just a few pavement tables outside this gastro-magnet next to Herne Hill railway station, but if you get one, you’ll enjoy not only the chichi ambience of Station Square and Railton Road but also peerless cooking and spot-on service from a trio whose joint CV includes The Anchor & Hope, St John and Rochelle Canteen. Hell, we’d even sit out here in the rain.
Situated in a magnificent Grade II-listed Georgian building on St John’s Square, fusion queen Anna Hansen’s Clerkenwell flagship has some delightful alfresco tables tucked in among the resident mandarin trees. The Pantry’ first-come, first-served seats are only set out on warm, sunny days – far enough from the noise and exhaust fumes of Clerkenwell Road, but close enough for some surreptitious people-watching.
With Rabbit and The Shed already under their belts, the go-getting Gladwin brothers have rolled out Nutbourne – yet another faux-rustic eatery with a similarly green and pleasant feel. If you’re in alfresco mood, take advantage of its 40-seater terrace and courtyard overlooking Ransome’s Dock – a space that really shines when the sun comes out. Where better to really enjoy some farm-picked seasonal ingredients and wines from the family’s namesake Sussex vineyard.
Venue says Join us this Valentine's Day for our Tasting menu! With oysters and rosé bubbly on arrival. You'll fall head over heels! Feb 14, from 6pm.
Hidden between Hyde Park and South Ken’s many museums, this revamped Polish veteran is a world away from the area’s tourist-packed mass-market cafés. Its light-filled dining room is all old-school elegance with chic, modern touches, but – come summer – you can also eat in the marquee-style covered terrace overlooking the peaceful, tree-lined greenery of Prince’s Gardens (tables are first come, first served).
Venue says The beautiful Ognisko in South Kensington is open seven days a week and offers amazing, critically-acclaimed cuisine.
Inside Hackney’s Mare Street Market is The Open Kitchen: a food hall-style, big, vibey and beautiful dining space with a huge beer garden attached. Order your wood-fired pizza, hearty pasta or fresh salad at the counter inside, then take yourself outside among the fairy lights to eat and while away the afternoon with a bevvie.
Eight floors above the South Bank, Oxo Tower’s restaurant and brasserie might not dish up rooftop dining per se, but they offer more height, fresh air and feelings of space than many of the capital’s rooftop terraces. It’s first-come, first-served for alfresco tables, so arrive on the dot for lunch and take your pick – there are corking views of the Thames and its landmark buildings, plus a menu of modern European food. As there’s no heating out on the terraces, you may need to time your visit carefully.
After a stroll through ancient Highgate Wood, a visit to the blissfully pastoral Pavilion Café seems like the logical next step. Behind the picket fence is a cheerful garden brasserie where diners sit at generously proportioned tables amid tubs of petunias, climbing roses and drooping wisteria. The all-encompassing Med-centric menu is a winner and portions are ginormous; the only problem is finding a table at busy times – and catching the waiters’ attention.
Local families, joggers, dog walkers and visiting foodies all love this park café, not only for its commitment to top-quality ingredients and local producers, but also for its charming domed pavilion and acres of outdoor space (there’s room for 100 bums on seats here). The peaceful views face Victoria Park’s west boating lake – all very serene until someone’s kid runs over your foot with their scooter. Yes, this is yummy-mummy territory.
Billed as a ‘botanical alfresco dining destination’, this summery rooftop behemoth accommodates 850 covered/heated seats, seven day-beds, two bars on different levels, weekend DJs and a rockin’ foodie offering – all in a luxuriant setting of trellises and heavy foliage, with communal tables and a roof in case it rains. The rolling line-up of traders varies, but expect the likes of Patty & Bun, DF/Mexico, Canard and Vietnamese BBQ joint MAM. Open until October 2018.
Venue says Pergola Paddington returns as an urban winter forest this winter with a warm welcome as the nights draw in ~ BOOK NOW!
Eating in this grand Covent Garden offshoot of Petersham Nurseries in Richmond feels a bit like dining alfresco – what with the palm trees in massive pots, the posies of flowers on each table and the general air of light and space. But the Petersham also has a splendid courtyard for that genuine outdoor vibe – complete with even more trees, plant-filled urns and other horticultural paraphernalia. Ideal for those rare moments when the sun peeps out.
Although not strictly alfresco – you’re dining under a glass roof – this magical hothouse alive with palm trees, fragrant bougainvillea and scented jasmine feels as outdoorsy as can be. After joining the ladies who lunch for some seasonal Italian-inspired food, check out the adjoining nurseries, then walk across the meadows to Richmond. Reservations are essential and should be made up to three months in advance: this is no ordinary garden-centre restaurant.
The kind of unreformed French bistro where they spoon out chocolate mousse straight from the bowl, aptly named Petit Pois is cute, dinky, lively and refreshingly off-kilter for oh-so-hip Hoxton. Forget fancy cooking and fussy sauces, this place deals in confident and familiar bistro fare at user-friendly prices, while service is as friendly as can be. If it’s sunny, make like a Parisian and sit at one of the tables in the leafy alfresco space out front
With its whitewashed walls and pops of primary colour, this California-style brasserie is big on the sunshine vibe whatever the weather outside. However, should some of the west coast’s year-round rays grace our shores, head to Pomona’s decked and pagoda-framed courtyard garden, where the food feels that much healthier and the smoothies and spritzes taste that much sweeter. Open from breakfast onwards.
Combining the best bits of a street-food market, event venue and shopping destination, this motley collection of converted shipping containers is a Brixton innovator housing restaurants, stalls and bars galore. Pop has an open-air look in summer, with a large greenhouse space for communal dining, while weather-proofing keeps the punters toasty in winter. Weave past the trendy hordes and explore the foodie offerings as music pumps in the background. Who needs festivals?
Yes, London’s ultimate name-drop restaurant is for trust-funders or special-occasion spendthrifts, but on hot days, the sedate summer-only terrace is still one of the best alfresco lunch spots in London, with vast parasols, mosaic floors, floral boxes and (if you’re so inclined) buckets of Champagne on ice. You can’t book a terrace table, but you can request one. Note: the Ritz’s strict dress code still applies, although gentlemen are permitted to remove their jackets.
Despite its name and riverside location, The River Café’s gorgeous gardens are what make dining alfresco here such a treat. If you snag an outdoor table (request this when booking), you’ll either eat under the awning on the heated terrace, surrounded by fruit trees, herbs and edible flowers, or in the garden itself – amid shady trees on neatly trimmed lawns. The menu is a study in seasonal Italian deliciousness, with some ingredients sourced direct from the growing patch.
Converted from the bike sheds of an old Victorian school, this unassuming canteen for Shoreditch creatives (and others) has half a dozen outdoor tables on its plant-filled patio within the grassy walled garden overlooking Arnold Circus. This chilled-out alfresco space is at the mercy of the elements, but whatever the weather, you can depend on the kitchen for a daily menu of colourful yet homely dishes featuring seasonal ingredients.
We thought you couldn’t sit outside in an upmarket Soho setting and eat well without paying through the proboscis. Yet that’s precisely what the Carnaby branch of this ramen mini-chain allows you to do. A cut above its courtyard neighbours, it offers great-value bowls of its swoon-worthy signature tonkotsu amid the elegant parasols and outdoor heaters of its terrace – although you’ll miss out on the funky vibe and pumping rock soundtrack.
If you’ve never been to a German beer garden – and don’t fancy a trip to Munich – you could do worse than Stein’s, a live-wire outdoor restaurant promising ‘the Bavarian experience’ beside a stretch of the Thames towpath. Its huge riverside space can seat up to 300 alfresco diners at shared wooden tables, many of which offer some shelter from the elements. The name refers to the huge vessels (stone or otherwise) from which you glug litres of ‘bier’.
Breakfast on the towpath overlooking the Regent’s Canal near Whitmore Bridge is a terrific way to start the day, and once you’ve bagged a table you may be tempted to linger for hours – especially if the sun is shining. This self-consciously low-key café has always been a favourite with passing dog-walkers, runners and cyclists, who stop off for coffee and snacks, light-as-air cakes and rustic but skilfully cooked hot lunches.
The Victoria’s Richmond Park location alone makes it well worth a visit. However, with TV chef Paul Merrett overseeing the show, plus a leafy walled garden complete with supersized heated parasols and an open-air bar, as well as a conservatory for in-between days, you’ll see why this smart gastropub is almost permanently packed to the rafters. The garden even has its own kitchen, fired up for summertime grills. Arrive early to guarantee an alfresco perch.
Hidden away from the madness of Chiswick High Road, Villa di Geggiano’s huge, heaving outdoor terrace is a true hidden gem. More than 50 people can be wined and dined in this villa-style space, which serves Tuscan-style delights like grilled, flaky cod and plates of super-fresh veg.
The sleek, warm-weather terrace attached to this branch of Vinoteca overlooks the pedestrianised walkway leading from Regent’s Canal to King’s Cross and St Pancras stations. Life feels pretty good sitting here on a sunny day, sipping one of their affordable, well-chosen wines, nibbling charcuterie or tucking into dishes from the tantalising European menu. The only passing traffic is the occasional bike-riding commuter. City bliss.
Occupying what was once a not-so-beautiful laundrette, this sibling of Islington’s Primeur is also the kind of neighbourhood hangout where the menu is scrawled on a blackboard, the small plates are modish and fish is a strong suit. Yes, Westerns Laundry has a fashionably stark interior, an open kitchen and counter seating at the bar, but you can also eat alfresco on the Provençal-style terrace, surrounded by olive trees and rug-strewn wooden blocks.
You don’t have to wait till Shrove Tuesday comes around for your pancake fix – thanks to this bright and buzzy venue squeezed into one corner of Flat Iron Square. Sweet and savoury buttermilk varieties abound, and you can eat them in the airy, pastel-walled dining room or alfresco at one of the plain wooden tables and benches outside. If it’s sunny, of course, you can always take a stroll around and check out the other street-food vendors on the Square.
Venue says A not so traditional pancake house serving good, honest sweet and savoury food and beautiful craft ciders.
The City branch of dim-sum bobby dazzler Yauatcha takes up the whole second floor in food-heavy Broadgate Circle, and is by far the best alfresco option in the complex. The restaurant itself is book-ended by two heated, summer-only terraces that are perfect if you want to watch City slickers letting off steam (or blowing smoke) in the arena below. Alas, you can’t book tables here.
Boasting a prime position in the heart of Soho, Café Boheme also finds just enough room for a few alfresco pavement tables for those who want to ogle Old Compton Street’s frisky goings-on. Come for breakfast, morning coffee, small plates and French focused wines – or sip an evening cocktail with the sounds of live jazz wafting out onto the street. Be warned: outdoor tables get snapped up sharpish when the sun shines, so be quick.
Although Clerkenwell Kitchen doesn’t take bookings for its outdoor tables, it’s worth trying your luck on spec. The secluded garden terrace has a lovely flower bed and perky sun umbrellas to enhance your enjoyment of the day’s menu – a roster of seasonal fare that shows a crusading commitment to organic and ethically sourced ingredients. There’s also a small Perspex porch should the weather turn bad and you need to shelter.
With around 150 tables spread across a pair of decks right on the riverfront, Marco Polo’s huge terrace is a great place to let the kids go free-range while you relax and watch the Thames flowing past. Some of the tables have heaters, some umbrellas, so arrive early and pick the best spot (you can also book terrace tables in advance). To eat, expect old-school trattoria food, with pizzas and pastas in pole position.
Carry on the outdoor dining
With limited sunshiney days in London, you need to make sure your picnic game is fully on point. Thankfully, we've taste-tested the best pre-packed picnic hampers available in London. So all you have to do is order one of these, dust off that blanket, find a dreamy spot in one of London's best parks and pray for good weather.