Our continental cousins have always been good at the al fresco stuff. Us Brits? Not so much. Perhaps it’s the background threat of drizzle. Perhaps it’s our fear of sunstroke should things rise above 17 celsius. Perhaps we just haven’t found the right set of Persols yet. It’s telling, in fact, that we barely know what to call this fine art. ‘Al fresco’ is good. ‘Outdoor dining’ is all a bit plastic chairs and incinerated sausages. Besides, we simply don’t do squares like Europeans. A dual carriageway? Sure. A decent roundabout? Have five. But a square alludes us, like dancing or emotion.
But the times are changing. Ever adaptable, us Brits are upping our game. Boris Johnson’s given us a roadmap, and by god we’re going to adhere to it — which means, come 12th April, the game’s afoot. But where to book? Never fear: we’ve got you covered. (Or not, as the case may be…)
For a country escape in the heart of the city, The Petersham/La Goccia
Where to find them: Let’s start with a two-for-one. Both The Petersham and La Goccia — found nestled away in Covent Garden — are part of Petersham Nurseries’ London-based offerings.
What to expect: From The Petersham, which draws inspiration from the family home, Petersham House in Richmond, think slow food and quality ingredients. For La Goccia, it’s all wood fired ovens, large grills and independently-sourced produce.
What to order: We’d go for La Goccia’s Chargrilled Pork Chop with Nduja Butter, Capers and Rosemary (£17) — a winter warm; with a hint of that Mediterranean holiday you missed out on this year…
For a fully-heated dose of Englishness, Dalloway Terrace
Where to find them: At The Bloomsbury Hotel in, you guessed it, Bloomsbury. Fully heated throughout the year, Dalloway Terrace isn’t so much tacked onto the hotel as the reason many choose to stay here altogether.
What to expect: A quintessentially British atmosphere, decor that’ll make your Instagram numbers soar and all the peace and charm of a secluded winter garden.
What to order: The Grilled Organic Scottish Salmon with Soft Herb Butter and Lemon (£25). It’s a homegrown triumph — as crisp as the weather outside.
For a taste of Spain, Parillan
Where to find them: Up Coal Drops Yard in King’s Cross — near to sister restaurants Barrafina, Casa Pastor and Plaza Pastor.
What to expect: Parillan is a grill-your-own tapas place — like a hibachi but with more cheek-kissing. It’s also good should you want to grill-you-own forehead: the place is sat on a broad, sun-drenched terrace with acres of seating. So you get red noses with your red prawns. (Please, do wear suncream.)
What to order: What not to order, you mean? You’re the chef, after all. There’s succulent Iberian pork, milk-fed lamb kidneys, and some gorgeous arroz negro — black and silken with squid ink. And, in authentic Spanish style, there’s a dedicated menu of gin and tonics. Sizzle sizzle.
For chic ambience and fine food, No 197 Chiswick Fire Station
Where to find them: Tucked just away from Chiswick Common — on the coolly understated Chiswick High Rd.
What to expect: More of that outside atmosphere. Chic, sophisticated and designed with a minimalist twist, the outdoor area of No 197 is semi-covered, sparsely decorated and has a central raised table for larger groups.
What to order: It has to be the Slow-cooked Dexter Beef Ragu Pappardelle. Not only is this the most warming, comfort-foody dish on the menu, but it’s also unreasonably reasonable (£13.95).
For a truly secret garden, Stanley’s
Where to find them: A quick march from Lennox Gardens in Chelsea, by the Tanner & Lawson art gallery and Baker & Spice deli.
What to expect: The whole place is inspired by an English country garden — with outside courtyard booths fitted with reclaimed timber screens to enable social distancing during the pandemic. Safety, meet style.
What to order: It may be an English garden, but there’s a hint of the exotic at Stanley’s. We’d therefore plump for the Citrus Brined Chicken with BBQ Brassicas and Heritage Grains Porridge (£24.50).
For the best brunch of your life, The Rooftop St. James
Where to find them: It’s all there in the name; on the very top of the Trafalgar Hotel in St. James’s — boasting an unimpeded view of Nelson’s Column.
What to expect: Culinary inspirations from Japan, Korea and one of the most innovative cocktail lists it’s ever been our pleasure of trying. The outside area of The Rooftop St. James is also ideal for taking in the capital’s iconic skyline.
What to order: Go for brunch. Not only will the views be better, but you can order the Eggs Monarch; Steamed Bun, Severn & Wye Smoked Salmon, Onsen Egg, Yuzu Hollandaise & Shiso Cress (£29).
For a liquid lunch, The Berkeley Bar & Terrace
Where to find them: It’s another restaurant folded neatly into a hotel experience. Effortlessly luxurious, you’ll find The Berkeley itself in Knightsbridge; holding its own against institutions including The Wellesley and The Lanesborough.
What to expect: Elegant interiors by Irish designer Bryan O’Sullivan and a lashing of rare spirits and fine Champagne. Yes, there’s food — but this one’s all about liquid lunches.
What to order: Fine, if you really want to eat, then you can’t do much better than the melt-in-in-your-mouth Salt Marsh Lamb Rack (£48).
For joyous rooftop fun, The Nest
Where to find them: Up on the roof of the newly arrive Treehouse hotel in Langham Place, Marylebone. Right up there. Really high up there.
What to expect: Exceptional, truly unparalleled 360 views of the capital, on a handsome, heated terrace should things get elemental. Feels almost New York-y in its rooftop grandeur and scope. Bring your own binoculars.
What to order: There are brunch-y bits and classic continental nods. Expect burrata. We’d plump for the wild mushroom frittata, or perhaps the waffles with berries and cream.
For the finest seafood in London, J Sheekey
Where to find them: A three-minute walk from Leicester Square, J Sheekey is a Soho oyster bar clad in bright red wood and adorned with colourful awnings. You won’t miss it.
What to expect: Simply put? The finest seafood in London.
What to order: What not to order — that’s the question. Of the options, we’d start with the Scallops in Half Shell (£17.50), move onto a Monkfish & Tiger Prawn Tikka Masala for main (£28), and then share a dozen Lindisfarne Oysters (£18.75) as an extra.
For innovative Italian cuisine, The River Café
Where to find them: You know The River Café. It’s the place you’ve struggled to get a reservation during a normal year. Head to Hammersmith. Find the Thames. Turn right.
What to expect: A British institution whipping up top-notch Italian cuisine. Always inventive, never not exclusive and with an airy, outdoor seating area perfect for a pandemic.
What to order: Who knows what they’ll cook up this winter — but last year they had a fresh pasta dish with veal, rabbit, pancetta and radicchio slow-cooked in Fontodi Chianti Classico. If it’s anything as mouth-watering, count us in…
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