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London's best outdoor dining

Discover London's best places to wine and dine outdoors

© Jael Marschner

London’s full of charming cafés, bars and restaurants that let you take things outside (conventional British ‘summertime’ weather be damned). But for every balmy, rose-trimmed terrace there’s a pub with two picnic benches outside next to the traffic lights. So it’s lucky, then, that we've put together the below guide to the best alfresco spots across central, north, east, west and south London. Don't forget to check our lists of the best riverside pubs and bars and the best beer gardens for alfresco drinks, either.

Outdoor dining in central London

Angler

Venue says: “Our opulent Russian inspired winter terrace is now open. Voted one of the best in London.”

Angler’s chic outdoor terrace, bordered with lavender bushes and olive trees, 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 feast on classy grills from the lunch menu, or afternoon bar snacks, plus a gourmet barbecue in summer.

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Moorgate

Aubaine Broadgate

A good alfresco option in the Broadgate Circle amphitheatre, Aubaine’s classy, first-come-first-served terrace is perfect for people-watching: it apes French café culture, with chairs all turned to face passers by (mainly City suits). There are smart parasols, cute succulent pots on every neatly laid table and an all-day, summery Mediterranean menu.

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Moorgate
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Barrafina Drury Lane

Out on its mini terrace, this branch of Barrafina supplies 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.

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Covent Garden

Bentley's Oyster Bar & Grill

Recommended

This immensely civilised but not at all stuck-up seafood stunner has a chic, shrub-lined terrace on a surprisingly quiet street just off the artery that divides Soho from Mayfair. It's a sunny, summery alternative to the restaurant's clubby wood-and-leather cosiness, while the short menu offers highlights from the oyster bar menu. No bookings are taken, so show up sharpish. 

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Mayfair
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Bleeding Heart

The buzzy bistro, elegant restaurant and informal tavern in Bleeding Heart Yard are très French. Tables on the terrace (which operates in summer only) are bookable; should the weather disappoint, you can either huddle under one of the blankets provided, or effect a shrug, mutter, ‘bof’, and head inside.

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Farringdon

The Botanist

Sit on The Botanist’s spacious 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 (if it does, so will the rest of the City... and there are no bookings). The terrace is open year round – although heaters prove no match for the cruel British winter.

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Moorgate
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Boulestin

This tiny courtyard on Pickering Place (the site of London’s last pistol duel, fact fans) is one of those hidden gems that more people than you’d like seem to know about – still, its tables are mostly filled with in-the-know Londoners wining and dining out-of-town relatives, rather than rucksack-toting, selfie-snapping tourists. Expect knowingly old-school French cooking, with polished service.

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St James'

Caravan Exmouth Market

The only thing better than getting a table inside this Exmouth Market hotspot is snagging one of the 20-odd alfresco seats – arrive early for a plum spot. The large communal tables are sheltered by an awning; with the others, you just take your chances. The vibe is laidback, and service is warm, even if the weather isn’t.

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Clerkenwell
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Chiltern Firehouse

This lovely, sheltered courtyard, complete with heaters and blankets, is only open for brunch and lunch in fair weather, and closes at 8pm. Either book a table in the restaurant proper (good luck with that) and ask them to allocate you an alfresco table should the sun show its face, or turn up on the day with everything crossed.

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Marylebone

Dishoom

When you’re dining alfresco in old Bombay, it’s called a verandah, daahling, not a terrace. And this stylish café has an all-singing, all-dancing one, with vintage decor, and a retractable roof for when the sun goes all subcontinental on us. Kick back and order from the mix of classic Indo-Irani dishes and East-West mash-ups. No bookings, so look sharp.

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Shoreditch
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Gallery Mess

Recommended

You can sit inside the Saatchi Gallery’s fabulous brasserie surrounded by modern art, but on a sunny day you can’t beat a seat in the museum’s equally well-curated grounds, whose first-come-first-served tables overlook Duke of York Square. The menu is full of top-quality treats, or go for a sparkling sundowner come Pimm’s o’clock.

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Chelsea

German Gymnasium

Restaurant group D&D London does outdoor spaces so well, and this polished café-restaurant 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 equipped with heaters, blankets and umbrellas.

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King's Cross
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Ham Yard Hotel

This summer-only alfresco area is such a Soho oasis that as you approach it you’ll worry it might be a mirage. Its stone floors and gleaming modern sculpture are softened by lush, mature oak trees, cream parasols and linen tablecloths, and – could it be real? – the outside tables are bookable (you’ll be moved inside in bad weather).

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Soho

The Ivy Chelsea Garden

By day in summer, this bucolic venue’s smartly painted pergola, bloom-filled terracotta pots, water feature and striped seat cushions put you in an off-duty mood faster than you can order a signature Ivy Garden Royale; at night, fire pits, roaring hearths and lap blankets keep the diners toasty and the vibe chic. No bookings – may the force be with you.

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Chelsea
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The Lighterman

With its first-floor wraparound terrace and a canalside alfresco area, this bar-restaurant is a magnet for waterside drinkers and diners. All its alfresco spaces are first come, first served, so prepare for a bun fight on hot days. There are no parasols or heaters, but while the weather holds, fill up on drinks-friendly dishes and on-trend cocktails.

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King's Cross
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Outdoor dining in north London

Frederick's

Venue says: “A family-run restaurant in Angel established in 1969. Menus from £15.50 (two courses), plus private dining options and weddings.”

This family-run restaurant used to be renowned for the alfresco tables in its lush garden. They’re still there – and the dense garden’s expertly tended plants are still a thing of beauty – but the team has also struck gold with its spacious conservatory, which offers the same bucolic views, but whose roof keeps unwelcome rain, excessive sunshine and wind at bay.

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Angel

Pavilion Café

After a stroll through Highgate Wood, Pavilion Café’s blissfully bucolic setting is a logical next step. Behind the picket fence is a cheerful garden brasserie where diners sit at generously proportioned tables amid tubs of petunias and climbing roses. The all-encompassing menu is a winner; the only problem is finding a table at busy times – and catching the waiters’ attention.

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London
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Brew House

Whether you hit Hampstead Heath for an early morning run, a dog walk, a high-summer swim, or otherwise (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 lawn – plus a weather-dependent barbecue at weekends.

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London

El Parador

This tapas joint’s secluded back garden is an open secret. Groups of three plus can reserve a table, but couples have to try their luck as walk-ins. The owners avoid taking bookings if the weather’s looking dodgy, but if sunshine turns unexpectedly to showers (or, you know, hail), the awning is rolled out and the heaters switched on.

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Camden Town
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Outdoor dining in east London

Beagle

The interior of this hot little dog recalls New York’s hip Lower East Side, while its traffic-free terrace marks its alfresco territory with immaculately groomed topiary. There’s a retractable awning to shelter you from raindrops, or excessive sunshine (ha), plus heaters for inevitable chilly days. First-come-first-served tables are limited to groups of four or less.

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Hoxton

Crate Brewery

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 order a pint of craft beer, sun yourself and watch the birds and boats bobbing past until last orders.

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Hackney Wick
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The Narrow

Gordon Ramsay’s Limehouse gastropub makes the most of its Thames-edge location with a bright conservatory complete with retractable roof, plus a handful of alfresco tables overlooking the wharves of Rotherhithe. Drinkers can enjoy a glass of superior wine or a real ale right by the river. And did we mention the barbecue on the terrace at summer weekends?

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Limehouse

Pavilion Café

Regulars and visiting foodies heart this bakery and coffee shop, firstly because of the team’s commitment to top-quality ingredients sourced from local producers, and also for its wealth of outside seating (there’s space for 100 bums 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.

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South Hackney
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Outdoor dining in south London

Dulwich Picture Gallery Café

This sleek, modern, glass-sided café is popular with art lovers and local families, thanks to its location within the three acres of verdant, tranquil gardens surrounding Dulwich Village’s bijou art gallery. On a sunny day, vie for one of the alfresco tables dotted on the lawn in the shade of spreading trees – it’s summertime perfection.

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Dulwich Village

The Lido Café

This lovely alfresco spot is a waterside venue with a difference – it 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 bohemian space serves a restaurant-worthy menu that attracts its own, non-swimmer crowd day and night.

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Herne Hill
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Llewelyn's

There are just a few pavement tables outside this Herne Hill gastro-magnet, but if you get one, you’ll enjoy not only the chi-chi ambience of this boutique-lined street 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 sit out here even in the rain. 

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Herne Hill

Pop Brixton

Brixton is a foodie innovator, but Pop – a collection of shipping containers housing food, drink and fashion start-ups (plus a few familiar names) – really keeps the brilliant Village Market on its toes. Weave past the bouncers and achingly trendy masses, beer in hand, exploring the foodie offerings as music pumps in the background. Who needs festivals?

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Brixton
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Marco Polo

With around 150 tables spread across a pair of decks right on the riverfront, Marco Polo’s 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).

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Wandsworth

Outdoor dining in west London

Petersham Nurseries Café

Although not strictly speaking alfresco – you’re dining under a glass roof – this magical hothouse alive with palm trees and scented jasmine feels as outdoorsy as can be. After lunch, check out the adjoining nurseries, then walk across the fields to Richmond. Reservations are essential and should be made three months in advance: this is no ordinary garden-centre restaurant.

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Petersham

Pomona's

With its whitewashed walls and pops of colour, this Cali-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, pagoda-framed courtyard garden, where the smoothies and spritzes taste that much sweeter. 

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Westbourne Grove
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River Café

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 on the heated terrace, surrounded by fruit trees, herbs and edible flowers (there’s an awning here, too), or in the garden, amid the shady trees on the neatly trimmed lawns. The menu is a study in seasonal Italian deliciousness, with some ingredients sourced direct from the garden.

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London

Stein's

If you’ve never been to a German beer garden, Stein’s is a 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.

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Richmond
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Victoria

The Victoria’s Richmond Park location alone makes it well worth a visit. However, with Paul Merrett as chef-director, a leafy walled garden complete with supersized heated parasols and open-air bar, and a conservatory for in-between days, you’ll see why this smart gastropub is almost permanently packed to the rafters. Arrive early to guarantee an alfresco perch.

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Greek Affair

This relaxed Greek bistro near Notting Hill’s Gate Cinema has a smattering of tables on its sweet first-floor terrace, which is open only during summer, when parasols and heaters are deployed as needed. Be warned: in heavy downpours, the owners will herd outdoor diners into one of two indoor function rooms (which can kill the mood somewhat).

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Kensington
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Carry on the outdoor dining

London's best picnic hampers

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.

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By: Caroline McGinn

Comments

7 comments
Alex C

I just found a new messaging app for chatting to businesses, it was pretty weird being able to chat to a restaurant but it actually worked! i believe its for London and called TapTab

Karina P

WAY OUT-DATED - many mentions of things being open until X day in 2014!!! 

Ioannis D

A map pin-pointing out the places would help!

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.

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.