Make the most out of the summer with our guide to the best al fresco dining spots in town, as recommended by top Taste of London chefs.
“For their sunny terrace”
Take vibrant, Antipodean fusion plates, add one of the best brunch offerings in town, and top with a picture-perfect south facing terrace: meet the city’s ideal al fresco lunch spot, The Modern Pantry. A Clerkenwell stalwart since it opened back in 2011, Head Chef Anna Hanson’s inspired take on east-meets-west dishes (the likes of asparagus and ricotta spring rolls with yuzu puree) are the ideal pairing for balmy summer afternoons.
If you can’t make it down for brunch, don’t sweat, because the culinary joys in store last through lunch and until the final rays lick the flower-strewn patio. The globetrotting small plates deftly transport you across nations and marry unexpected flavours in such a manner you’re left wondering we hadn’t thought of it earlier. Our advice: book yourself in for a group brunch menu, and don’t forget the aged tonka negronis to start.
Where to find it: 47-48 St John’s Square, Clerkenwell, EC1V 4JJ
“For its good food, location and surroundings”
From delicate fusion food to gutsy barbecue: if your idea of the perfect garden party involves chowing down on great hunks of meat washed down with a niche craft beer from the tap, Smokehouse Islington is the al fresco dining spot for you.
The former home of Temper’s Neil Rankin, you know the grill is in a safe pair of hands, whatever the weather. Dishes include the likes of pork chop with stout cured bacon and salsa verde or smoked lamb shoulder with polenta, roulette and sambal. Veggies and pescatarians needn’t fret, however, with a resplendent market fish with smoked mussel chowder and a super on-trend roasted cauliflower on offer to satisfy the troops. The garden itself might be a tad on the small side, but with barbecue this good we’re sure you’ll find a way to forgive them.
Where to find it: 63 – 69 Canonbury Road, Islington, N1 2DG
“It’s beautiful setting makes you feel like you’re on holiday in London”
The courtyard of the River Café is almost as iconic as the restaurant itself, come summer book early to head off the crowds that flock west to soak up its picturesque surroundings and stunning Italian fare. The dappled, tree-lined patio and pastel blue chairs and old school white tablecloths are the perfect backdrop for the menu: a refined riff on traditional Italian dishes. This is simple home-cooking at its most resplendent, as the quality ingredients are allowed to kick back and do the talking. One cannot leave before getting acquainted with the stunning tagliatelle con le ortiche – fresh nettle pasta with butter and parmesan, or making lifelong memories of the costoletta di vitello al forno – wood roasted veal chop with slow cooked peas and salsa verdge.
Admittedly, all of this loveliness comes at quite a steep price, so probably not one to save to any ‘swing by after work’ lists, but choose your most deserving summer-birthday friend and it’s a sure bet you’ll be dining out on the meal’s success for a year to come.
Where to find it: Thames Wharf, Rainville Road, W6 9HA
“After a long walk in Hampstead Heath, their little garden in the front is the best place to sip a pint and have your Sunday Roast”
Not only is The Red Lion and Sun in Highgate a stone’s throw from Hampstead Heath, it has a whopping 2 beer gardens, serves barnstorming Sunday Roasts and boasts a huge whisky list. Want more? Go on then: it was crowned National Wine Pub of the year and ranked in the nation’s top 50 gastro pubs in 2016! Phew.
With this sort of pedigree, it won’t come as a surprise to learn that the food on offer is a cut above your average pub fare: think Jersey rock oysters, Korean spiced chicken wings or whole sand sole, with all meat sourced from the respected local Highgate Butchers. So plan for a sunny day, book ahead, and round off a day exploring the heath with the best al fresco pub lunch you’ll have all year.
Where to find it: 25 North Road, Highgate Village, N6 4BE
“St John is an institution, combine this with the people watching at the market and it’s a great afternoon”
The original St. John in Clerkenwell has been something of a foodie pilgrimage for well over a decade, as discerning diners seek out the pioneers of the nose to tail dining movement. This outpost on Maltby Street is a more modest affair, housed in the brick railway arches by the market and formerly the group’s baking headquarters, but it’s by no means second fiddle.
Dishes hark back to a bygone era, brimming with welsh rarebits, devilled kidneys and Eccles cakes, but not as you know it. Their reworking is so good you’ll wonder how we had the audacity to cast them aside in favour of new trends to begin with. And from its vantage point spilling out onto Maltby Street Market, the people-watching opportunities make the perfect mealtime entertainment.
Where to find it: 41 Maltby Street, SE1 3PA