Al Fresco Dining: London’s Best Outdoor Eating Spots
Al Fresco Dining: London’s Best Outdoor Eating Spots
Outdoor dining is the way forward for many of us in the new normal so we've rounded up some of the best al fresco dining eateries in London.
Al fresco dining is the way forward for many of us now. What was once a nice weather novelty has become something a lot of people ask as a preference – whatever the weather is saying. Whether tables are spaced out that extra bit more or not, there’s the fresh, open air that typically makes many diners feel more comfortable when dining out. We’re also due for at least a week’s worth of last minute summer so if ever there was a time to make the most of eating outdoors…
Whether restaurants with outdoor seating areas are going to invest in more heaters and cosy provisions to make sitting outside more pleasant as the colder months draw near is unknown as of yet but, in the meantime, we’re due to have a few last days of summer over the next week or so – so we’ve rounded up a few of our favourite places with outdoor eating areas or terraces in London, should you be wanting to dine al fresco for the rest of the year.
“Opso” is an ancient Greek word for ‘a delectable morsel of food’. Having dined at Opso a few times between 2015-2016, I was delighted to revisit in 2020, mid-pandemic and still be treated to such delectable morsels. In the heart of Marylebone – minutes from Baker Street station, in fact – sits Opso; a quaint restaurant serving up Greek-inspired dishes. Being a cautious diner out, I am definitely more relaxed knowing restaurants have outside seating areas and Opso definitely stepped up with their social distancing measures. Servers wore masks and gloves and kept their 2m distance, whenever possible and there were dividers between tables – which, not only helped with social distancing but also added privacy should you be on a more intimate date or catch up. Please do not forego the cocktails; the menu is available to peruse via a quick QR code scan and you’ll definitely find yourself torn between the summer sangria and the cucumber sour. Feast upon a selection of starts: bread and kalamata olives are a must, and the tangy ceviche featuring the catch of the day (sea bass, for us) is exactly what you need in your life. Let’s discuss the taramas: I am not a fan of cod roe spread but it was a dish highly recommended to us and I’m always down to try new things. It was delightful. Opso add a fair amount of lemon to this dish, balancing the fishy taste that normally dives taramasalata lovers and haters. The squid ink crisps were a perfect crispy complement too. The metsovone croquette with a gorgeous fig jam went down a treat and the dakos salad featured a zesty blend of cherry tomatoes, capers, feta and olive oil rusks. I’d always recommend the gorgeous lamb shank fricassee but now also the seafood dishes; the catch of the day sea bass was beautifully coated in a beetroot sauce, while the octopus giouvetsi with homemade orzo was a dream. For pudding, look no further than the strawberry profiteroles. One of the few dessert dishes where the ‘fruit’ option trumps the chocolate; this homemade pate choux encapsulated a stunning white chocolate and lemon cream, covered in caramelised almond flakes and topped with fresh strawberries (told you, it was fruit!) – order two, you won’t want to share.
10 Paddington St, Marylebone, London W1U 5QL
Nine Lives Bar
A frequent visitor to Nine Lives Bar, I can personally attest to the fact that it is one of London’s hidden gems of a bar. Great cocktails, great vibe – it ticks all the boxes. Thanks to its spot on Nine Lives Alley, it makes the most of its outdoor space, which should be music to a few peoples’ ears who wish to keep dining out. There’s also heaters and umbrellas upon request – we are in the UK after all and it’s nice that Nine Lives appear to have thought this through for their al fresco dining; summer or no summer! Now, drinks aside, let’s talk about the new food menu. Partnering with Tigre Tacos, the cross section by London Bridge and Bermondsey may well become your new favourite taco spot after you read what’s on the menu. In a world where we heavily rely on a primarily meat taco menu (with a veggie and fish option dotted about), it was refreshing to see a fish and veggie-focused menu from Tigre Tacos at Nine Lives Bar. I love an al pastor taco as much as the next person but fish tacos are my one true love. Devour baja fish tacos, camarones (king prawns) with garlic and ginger and queso (grilled cheese), as well as mango and octopus tostadas – the latter being a citrusy, spicy little firecracker that you don’t want to miss. There’s also guacamole and tortilla chips (is it a Mexican meal without this?!), quesadillas and fried fresh seafood to nibble on in between tacos and tostadas.
8 Holyrood St, London SE1 2EL
A hidden gem in Elephant & Castle, Paladar is a Latin-American insipred restaurant and was actually my first meal post-lockdown. I immediately felt at ease, knowing we were dining al fresco in Paladar’s courtyard. Socially distanced and with track and trace in place, I perused the paper – and therefore one-time use – menus to select tonight’s feast. Like any food-obsessed person with, perhaps, a little too much time on her hands, I had thoroughly perused the menu and even looked up reviews of Paladar before my visit so I knew that the tuna tostadas had to be the first thing I ordered. The vibrant colours and the explosion of flavour as the corn crisps broke in my mouth was absolutely divine and led me to order another portion immediately. The plantain crisps were also a great snack to start off the meal, paired with a creamy, zesty guacamole and the ‘arepa de choclo’ (corn and cheese croquettes) were soul-satisfying and delicious. The seared prawns were succulent and flavoursome, while the sea bass tiradito had the perfect balance of citrusy spice. Chicken empandas and lamb anticuchos followed and these were certainly tasty but the starters were the stars of the show, for me personally. Don’t forget to save room for dessert; featuring pineapple with lime mousse and purple corn churros. The perfect finish to the evening is enjoying the beautiful artwork that hang on the walls inside Paladar; the gallery celebrates Latin American artists and is currently celebrating inspirational women through Rafael Rosas-Marin’s stunningly vibrant work.
4-5 London Rd, London SE1 6JZ
Coal Drops Yard has a variety of restaurants, most of which offer al fresco dining and that includes The Drop (aptly named). The wine bar and restaurant is operating with a slightly reduced menu given the current circumstances but fear not; there’s more than enough tasty nibbles and dishes to enjoy with a glass (read, bottle) of wine. I’m usually a red girl but after spotting a nice-looking Vinho Verde, I just couldn’t resit. Crisp, light and fresh, this went down a treat – paired perfectly with The Drop’s famous truffle crisps. These things are pretty addictive, I’m warning you now. As I mentioned, it’s a smaller menu, consisting mainly of cheeses and cold meats (which isn’t a bad thing, in my opinion), as well as some oysters, if you fancy them. I must confess: I’m a seafood lover who just can’t do oysters, I’m afraid but I’ve heard good things about these ones. A positive to this menu change is Karan’s specials where Head Chef Karan Ghosh has played around in the kitchen to deliver you some stunning dishes such as Goan pork ribs, marinated then slow braised and served with kachumbar (a fresh cucumber, mint, lime, tomato and onion relish) with date and tamarind chutney and fried curry leaves. The tandoori prawns secured my attention but veggie-eaters can enjoy the chatpata charred tenderstem broccoli and the bhel puri.
Unit 22-24 Bagley Walk Arches Coal Drops Yard, London N1C 4DH
Emilia’s Crafted Pasta
Previously only a visitor to the Aldgate location of Emilia’s, while it is a great spot; the restaurant at St. Katherine’s Docks offers al fresco dining with a view of the boats. I was all too happy to indulge in a series of pastas with a view of the water – with the sun shining and an Aperol Spritz to sip on, well it’s just like being on the Italian Riviera. Kind of. There’s something about freshly-made pasta that just warms the soul and Emilia’s are paired with a variety of different sauces. It makes it quite hard to choose so I was glad to arrive with an empty stomach and a determined appetite. Starting off with the classics: I could have had continual plates of the bresaola; finely sliced and accompanied by a rocket and parmesan salad (my greens for the day) and the heritage tomatoes with burrata is also not to be missed. Pasta-wise, there’s seven dishes to choose from, with pasta types ranging from bucatini to casarecce. I’m (clearly) no vegan but plant-based eaters can take comfort in noting Emilia’s caters well for the vegan customer, with a delicious rigatoni with Puglian lentils, tomatoes and mixed vegetable ragu; as well as the classic homemade tomato and basil. I opted for the carbonara with smoked salmon; a different style to the classic dish with pancetta that I am used to. This was delicious and right up my street but bear in mind, it is extra creamy. The four-hour slow cooked béchamel bolognese with grated parmesan was a table favourite but the ravioli with organic lamb, parsley and parmesan in a light butter and sage sauce is the moreish dish for which I’d keep coming back. Dessert – the Emilia’s special: vanilla ice cream topped with honey, crushed amaretti and cantuccini biscuits – followed by a couple of shots of limoncello and Italy, is that you?
C3, Ivory House St Katharine Docks, London E1W 1AT
Who doesn’t enjoy people-watching over a glass or two of wine? That’s exactly what you can expect from dining at 28-50’s St. Martin’s Lane location in London. There’s a lot of inside seating but it’s the terrace tables you’re after if you’re looking for something al fresco while the weather holds out. When it comes to wining and dining, there’s a great selection but I opted for a fruity, pale pink Provencal rosé, which went beautifully with the selection of starters and snacks that were subsequently ordered. Oh and all the starters and snacks were ordered, don’t you worry. Cheese and charcuterie boards were surrounded by dishes of artichoke tempura, truffle arancini (don’t not order this), chorizo bites, salmon ceviche, burrata and olives. Does anyone else get really excited by lots of starters on the menu? Don’t worry – 28-50 does offer a main menu as well; the lamb shoulder was tender and juicy, served with ratatouille, while the rib-eye steak with peppercorn sauce, fries, rocket and parmesan salad went down a treat. With a decent wine list, it was easy to find a red to which I was partial (Argentinian Malbec is hard to argue with), to accompany the second course of my meal.
10 Upper St Martin’s Ln, West End, London WC2H 9FB
Probably my favourite taco spot in London, both El Pastor and its sister restaurant Plaza Pastor offer outside seating if al fresco dining is your priority post-lockdown. Each time I visit El Pastor, I’m always staring at the menu for a good while, trying to eliminate tacos that, sadly, won’t make the cut this meal. Another spot which serves up an excellent tuna tostada, you now also know my beliefs on ordering a healthy dose of guacamole during a Mexican meal – get El Pastor’s with crispy chicharron. There are the pastor (pork shoulder), chicken, baja fish, crab and mushroom tacos…or there’s the option fo getting sharing plates of short rib and bone marrow; pork shoulder or sea bream to make your own tacos on the table. This is not only a truly delicious option (I’m telling you from experience) but it’s also incredibly fun. Again, speaking as someone who loves fish tacos, I really appreciate the baja fish, softshell crab and sea bream taco options on El/Plaza Pastor’s menu (as well as the succulent cuts of meat, of course). Wash it all down with some killer margaritas; the avocado and passionfruit is my personal favourite, closely followed by the spicy mango. Salud!
7A Stoney St, London SE1 9AA or Coal Drops Yard, London N1C 4DQ
Carrying on with the nature of cooking your own food, Parrillan is Barrfina’s al fresco grilling terrace, where diners can enjoy a fun-fuelled dining experience. I was glad to see some of my Barrafina favourites on the menu such as the pan con tomate, ham croquettes and Iberico ham. It was by some miracle that I arrived before my usually punctual friend and I can confirm that should this ever happen to you; the guys at Parrillan/Barrafina can sort you out with a pan con tomate super speedily – leaving zero evidence of your snack by the time your guest arrives. When it comes to ordering for the parrilla, throw it all on there. I personally love grilled seafood so the red prawn and tuna toro were both must-orders for me and I gave myself a good dose of grilled vegetables, like the responsible, adult eater I am. Meat-wise, I opted for the lamb moruno (kebab), Iberian pork and the beef sirloin. Usually this is the part where I’d add something (one would hope) like ‘cooked to perfection’ but that, of course, is all down to you. Parrillan’s servers give you a bit of an idea of how long to leave things on the grill but take relish in your new, temporary career as a grill chef and enjoy the feast which you cook. I did.
Coal Drops Yard, Stable St, Kings Cross, London N1C 4AB
The Green Room
It’s no secret that Southbank is a key spot for al fresco dining – making it even more popular post-lockdown in London. The Green Room is a bar and restaurant between Southbank and Waterloo and offers a mixed menu to cater for all. Start off with some snacks (snacks are always a good idea in my book, again, in case you hadn’t realised) – the sauerkraut and cheddar croquettes are a popular choice, as is the buttermilk fried chicken. The larger plates include black rice and courgette salad with your choice of chicken or halloumi; a crispy chicken burger complete with gravy mayo and haddock and chips. Or you can opt for one of the pizzas; offering your classic margarita style as well as pizzas with chorizo and ‘nduja and a white-based pizza with grilled leeks, courgettes and truffle. Even the vegan option sounds worth a try; featuring confit aubergine and cashew. Good job you have the stretch of Southbank to walk off all the food afterwards.
101 Upper Ground, Bishop’s, London SE1 9PP
Deli Cat & Sons
Looking for somewhere slightly off the beaten path? Deli Cat & Sons is a cute little cafe spot set alongside the Thames. On the slightly less busy Bankside (as opposed to Southbank), it is the perfect little corner for a catch up over some cocktails al fresco, cheese and charcuterie. At lunch times, the deli offers a selection of salads and sandwiches – featuring smoked salmon, carrot hummus and a variety of cold meats. Guests can also choose to go for shraing platters of cheeses, charcuterie and, my personal favourite, the mezze board, which included carrot hummus, chilli roasted feta, kalamata olives, marinated mushroom and rocket. All platters came with sourdough to accompany and I was pleasantly surprised that it was the vegetarian board that took my fancy above all – although the cheese and charcuterie were delicious as well. I thoroughly enjoy when eateries make an effort with their cocktails; sadly I didn’t get to try the full menu at Deli Cat & Sons because I was far too obsessed with the Tropic Thunder (Bayou spiced rum with coconut water, spiced syrup, banana and pineapple shrub) and the Green Glitter (Rooster Rojo Blanco tequila, cucumber shrub, chillies and sugar).
2 Broken Wharf, Queenhithe, London EC4V 3DT
Enjoy Sri Lankan food al fresco in Central London at Paradise in Soho. Feast upon traditional South Asian dishes such as blackened beef brisket with tamarind, banana leaf roasted mackerel and crabmeat kothu roti, acommpanied – of course – by the necessary hoppers (egg is my favourite), sambols and rice dishes. There’s a fair selection for veggies and vegans to tuck into as well; green papaya and long bean salad is a popular choice, as is the fried aubergine and jaggery moji. Raw green mango is another delicious dish – you don’t even need to not eat meat to know that’s going to be delicious. Keep going back for those crab patty empanadas and mutton shoulder rolls and enjoy your Sri Lankan banquet in the heart of Soho.