London may be known as The Big Smoke, but it also has some of the biggest and most beautiful parks and green spaces in Europe. As summer is in full swing, now’s the perfect time to experience London’s many opportunities for outside dining. Discover some of the capital’s best al fresco experiences here, featuring picnics in the park, Michelin-starred dining, and the hidden terraces of some of the most famous hotels and restaurants in the world.
On The Roof with Q
The human gridlock and jostling elbows of Oxford Street are unbearable on most days, never mind in the blazing heat of summer. Luckily, a discreet door by the perfume counters on the fifth floor of Selfridge’s will take you away from the queues and fights over discount items into their pop-up roof restaurant On the Roof with Q, run by the team behind Camden’s Q Grill, and serving light dishes and cocktails from late morning until evening. The food is good, service is remarkably speedy and (as might be a surprise for Selfridge’s,) the prices are pretty reasonable. Basically, it’s your best escape from the retail purgatory below, especially when the summer sales roll around.
Found by the Thames in Hammersmith, The River Café has a serious pedigree in the London restaurant scene. Not only does it have a Michelin star, but it is also the restaurant that launched the careers of both Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and Jamie Oliver, who bother trained in its prestigious kitchens. If that is not enough of an incentive to take a visit, they also have one of the prettiest riverside gardens of any restaurant in London. Sit on the banks of the river and enjoy their signature mushroom risotto or their fish dishes, which are famously smoked in-house in the restaurant’s own wood oven.
River Café, Thames Wharf, Rainville Road, London, United Kingdom, +44 20 7386 4200
As fits the name of this restaurant, it can be found at 1 Poultry, next to Bank Station. Head to the roof to find Coq d’Argent’s roof terrace and its meticulously maintained gardens and an exciting menu of seasonal French food. It is also famed for its excellent sommelier and a fantastic wine list truly befitting the time French dining. And that is not to mention the view, overlooking the whole of the City of London, including such London landmarks as the Tate Modern and St Paul’s Cathedral. Although the food is so good, you might not even notice the view…
Coq d’Argent, 1 Poultry, London, United Kingdom, +44 20 7395 5000
Holborn Dining Room and Delicatessen
Busy, congested High Holborn might not seem like the ideal location for some al fresco dining, but hidden behind the chain coffee stores is Lincoln’s Inn Fields, a pocket of calm just five minutes from the Strand. Of the many great cafés in the area, the best might be the Holborn Dining Room and Delicatessen. As well as having their own terrace in the courtyard of a Grade II-listed Edwardian building, the deli does a great line in delicious picnic hampers. The options are numerous, with their artisanal British fare including meat and cheese platters, sandwiches and a number of delicious dessert pastries for a sweet end to your lunch break.
Holborn Dining Room Deli, 252 High Holborn, London, United Kingdom, +44 20 3747 8633
Chicken Shop Kentish Town
In an almost hidden location by an inauspicious car park just past the HMV Forum, identifying only by the Canvas Bag hanging on its door, Kentish Town’s Chicken Shop has gathered a enthusiastic following. Many call it the best chicken you will eat in London, and it is the perfect choice if you are looking for a little hot food for your next picnic. For under £30, picnickers get a whole rotisserie chicken, three sides and sauces, arriving in one of their signature bags ready to take to sit on the beautiful Camden Lock (only a 10 minute walk away).
Chicken Shop Kentish Town, 79 Highgate Road, London, United Kingdom, +44 20 3310 2020
The Modern Pantry
Clerkenwell’s Modern Pantry, housed in a Grade II-listed Georgian building, offers al fresco diners a wonderful little terrace in St John’s Square, sufficiently away from the busy Clerkenwell main road (but close enough to facilitate some serious people watching). There are 13 tables, available on a first-come-first-serve basis, and they are definitely worth fighting for, being the perfect place to sample their menu of international cuisines featuring modern ingredients and worldwide flavours in innovative and delicious combinations reflecting the international experiences of Danish-heritaged, New Zealand-raised, London-based head chef Anna Hansen.
The Modern Pantry, 47-8 St John’s Square, London, United Kingdom, +44 20 7553 9210
The jewel in the Notting Hill restaurant scene, The Ledbury has been almost literally inundated with award of late, including two Michelin Stars and a place in many lists of the best restaurants in the world. With this success, however, it becomes more and more difficult to secure a table. Luckily, though, their terrace is not only one of the best al fresco spots in the Capital, but also cannot be reserved, making it a great way to experience The Ledbury without month-long waits. Not that the food is not worth that wait, with the menu offering fascinatingly presented delicious classics.
The Ledbury, 127 Ledbury Road, London, United Kingdom, +44 20 7792 9090
Set behind the stunning courtyard of Somerset House, Tom’s Kitchen offers a specially-designed terrace in the summer months, framed with stunning views of the embankment and South Bank, particularly breathtaking in the evenings. Its proximity to both King’s College London and the Courtauld Institute brings a great atmosphere during term time, as the surrounding area is abuzz with students celebrating or commiserating over a few bottles of wine. The simple but effective menu of British comfort food classics done well (truffled macaroni cheese, cured salmon, eton mess) and delicious selection of cocktails at Tom’s Kitchen really live up to their location.
Tom’s Kitchen, Somerset House, Strand, London, United Kingdom, +44 20 7845 4646
The Ritz is, of course, one of the most well-known hotels in the world, with ‘ritz’ becoming shorthand in the language for ostentatious luxury and glamour. Less famous, however, is its terrace. This is on the one hand a great shame, as it is truly a beautiful spot backing onto Green Park. On the other hand, it is lucky, as it means it is slightly easier to get a table! Choose between the restaurant and bar terraces, each equally stunning but one featuring the ‘palace-style’ cooking of the Ritz restaurant with the other serving fine champagne and canapés in a slightly more formal setting.
The Ritz, 150 Piccadilly, London, United Kingdom, +44 20 7300 2370
The Albion Café
Shoreditch’s Albion Café does not do its picnics by halves. Evoking memories of the picnics of your choice of seemingly endless delicious food, their hampers contain a mountain of delicious food. Rather than the tupperware-contained leftovers of cold pizza and quiche that those childhood meals contained, however, Albion offers a selection of delicious and varied food, including cheeses, charcuterie, sandwiches, salads, wine, breads and pastries and the full materials for a delicious cream tea (and the list continues…). Also, they offer the choice to customise the hamper with any items from their shop, including (of course) lashings of ginger beer.
The Albion Café, 2-4 Boundary Street, London, United Kingdom, +44 20 7729 1051
(Published by The Culture Trip)