Alfresco dining was popular enough before Covid came along and make it practically compulsory. So where to head? London isn’t short of options, but if you want that grand piazza feel, it’s best to head for a neighbourhood that’s geared up for dining outdoors with plenty of space and options. Here’s our pick of London’s best places for alfresco dining…
Lead image: The Lighterman, King’s Cross (photo courtesy of venue)
The transformation of King’s Cross has been quite remarkable, and with 26 acres of open space to accompany the shops, restaurants and crazy cool offices, there are plenty of spots to relax and grab a bite to eat outdoors. The Grass Steps, for starters, are a top spot for a picnic or a lunchtime sandwich, but there are plenty of spots for more formal alfresco dining or long, weekend brunches. The Lighterman is an excellent place to start. Located canal side, it has great views and makes you feel a million miles away from the bustle of a major railway hub. Post lockdown, the neighbourhood has introduced with new outdoor seating and dining options spilling out into Granary Square, Coal Drops Yard and Lewis Cubitt Square. Caravan, Granary Square Brasserie, hicce, Morty & Bob’s and Vermuteria all offer alfresco dining. Closer to the train stations, Drake & Morgan and German Gymnasium both have terraces, the iconic St. Pancras Renaissance Hotel London has a secret rooftop terrace, and The Standard hotel is due to launch a rooftop bar in May.
Borough Market is one of London’s original and best in terms of grabbing hot, delicious food to go and finding a bench, bollard or brick wall to perch on while eating. The market dates back around 1,000 years, but has undergone a lot of modernisation over the last 20 or so years to offer plenty of options for outdoor dining, from the authentic and charmingly rough around the edges, to the more polished. Choose from the likes of 26 Grains, Applebees, Elliot’s, Bao, Arabica, Rabot 1745 and Padella. If you want to keep it casual, you can still grab a bite and a perch in the glazed Market Hall on Borough High Street, which offers sheltered seating surrounded by hanging plants, and there’s also the Borough Market Kitchen with communal tables and counter-top dining. Wherever you dine, there’s something about being tucked under the railway arches that makes Borough Market feel like a rare, hidden gem, despite being one of the world’s most famous markets.
Chelsea’s King’s Road has always been a draw, from the punk era to the Sloanies, and its certainly not short of terraces for outdoor dining. There’s the expansive terrace at Bluebird, the lusciously green celeb hotspot The Ivy Chelsea Garden, and the very ‘grammable Megan’s (at the Fulham end of King’s Road), which even has a roof garden. But Duke of York Square is another hotspot that alfresco diners should certainly nose out. The courtyard here offers smart terraces with white umbrellas and seasonal floral decor from the likes of Polpo, Comptoir Libanais, Manicomio and The Black Penny, as well as the cafe at the legendary Partridges, just across the way. There’s also a roadside seating outside French cafe Colbert on Sloane Square, if you don’t mind all the black cabs whizzing past.
St Katharine Docks, central London’s only marina, is one of those places that makes you feel like you’re not in a city at all. Remarkable, given it’s located right by Tower Bridge and surrounded by busy road into the City. But all that is hidden, and all you see here are glistening waters, some very impressive yachts, the wonderful Dickens Inn, a reconstructed 18th century timber-clad pub and restaurant with balcony and terrace seating. The big hitters here, with plenty of space for alfresco dining, are Côte Brasserie, Strada Dockside and Ping Pong, but The Melusine is the spot to head for, especially in the summer when it fires up its pontoon terrace so you can dine on the water, and its neighbour, Bravas Tapas, is another great spot to sit outside and make like you’re in Malaga. Emilia’s Crafted Pasta also offers a fully covered terrace – with the option of heated cushions! The floating pop-up cinema that usually appears in St Katharine Docks every summer is a big draw too.
Paddington is another great transformation success story for London. What was once an area dominated by trains and traffic, Paddington’s gleaming new canalside district is a complete breath of fresh air. Across Paddington Basin, from Merchant Square to Paddington Central, there are plenty of peaceful waterside dining spots. Darcie & May and The Grand Duchess are two of our favourites – both converted barges offering outside dining space. Sheldon Square, an alfresco amphitheatre that hosts tonnes of outdoor summer events, is also a wonderful spot to hangout, surrounded by bars and restaurants like The Union, Beany Green and Smith’s Bar & Grill, as well as the new Bondi Green just across the water. At the other end of the basin, around Merchant Square, you have KuPP Paddington, Lockhouse and Heist Bank, all with plenty of outdoor space, as well as London’s only floating pocket park, which is a great spot to enjoy a bite from the regular street-food trucks. And let’s not forget Pergola Paddington, a huge rooftop terrace offering street food and multiple bars.
thisispaddington.com / merchantsquare.co.uk
From the old to the new, the transformation of the Battersea Power Station site is very impressive. As well as the shiny glass-fronted new apartment buildings surrounding the power station itself, there are tonnes of great restaurants with alfresco dining terraces by the river or running alongside the atmospheric railway arches. Check out Fiume, Brindisa, Wright Brothers, Megan’s and No. 29 Power Station West for prime outdoor dining. Summer usually sees plenty of family-friendly pop ups and events too, from summer sports screenings to farmers’ markets. And the best bit? You can arrive by boat from central London courtesy of the Uber Boat by Thames Clippers. Move over Monte Carlo!
The busy streets of Mayfair may not seem like the ideal spot to conjure up the feel of summer dining on a European piazza, but it can be, you just need to know here to look. One of my favourite spots for that holiday vibe is Lancashire Court, where you’ll find the multiple offerings of Mews of Mayfair – bars, brasseries and a pizzeria – with outdoor seating dotted along a quaint passageway, as well as Hush Mayfair‘s cute courtyard. North Audley Street, will once again become an outdoor ‘dining room’ experience this summer with widened pavements and eco-friendly heating for North Audley Cantine and ROKA (look out for the opening of The Ivy Asia Mayfair, too). In Belgravia, head for the peaceful Eccleston Yards, where Wild by Tart and The Jones Family Kitchen offer calm, courtyard dining, while the newly opened Pantechnicon on Motcomb Street has three options for alfresco dining – a terrace, courtyard and glorious roof garden.
Ah, Soho, the beating heart of London’s night-time economy since forever. Space is a premium among the messy, hotchpotch streets of Soho, which has always limited alfresco dining options. But lockdown has seen many a street across London granted special licenses to spill out onto the streets to serve food and drinks, and Soho has benefitted from this more than most neighbourhoods. Now you can weave your way around the likes of Soho Square, Berwick Street, Old Compton Street, Greek Street, Frith Street, Dean Street, Beak Street and Brewer Street and grab a table in the street outside numerous restaurants and bars. Move over Paris – cafe culture belongs to Soho now! Kingly Court in Carnaby is also a vibey spot to head for alfresco dining – pandemic or no – and The Ivy Soho Brasserie is also a good bet.