With summer knocking on the door, it is important to know where to have nice meal and sit outside. Luxurysafes blog had found out the best al fresco restaurants in London, so you can be guided to your perfect spot.
This plum St James’s site (named after the Covent Garden restaurant that for much of the 20th century was London’s most expensive) feeds French brasserie fare to the hedgies and auction-house grandees of SW1. Boulestin’s 18th-century courtyard’s official name is Pickering Place and is said to be London’s smallest public square – as well as being the location for the last-ever pistol duel in the capital.
Set your body clock to summertime by ordering one of the sunnier dishes on the menu: a zingy new addition of Arctic char ceviche with grapefruit and ponzu, say, washed down with a chilly glass of Sauvignon de Touraine.
Soak up the glow of celebrity as well as the sunshine in the courtyard of what remains one of London’s most star-spangled nosheries. Priority is given to diners with a restaurant reservation but try your luck with a walk-in: eating alfresco is by far the easiest way to score a table at Chiltz.
Down rock oysters freshly shucked from the cart or pick something from Nuno Mendes’s lunch menu: the steak tartare is one of the best in town, the lobster and crab omelette brunchtime bliss. Convinced that we’re having a genuine heatwave? The courtyard is open for breakfast, too.
The secret garden atop No.1 Poultry that first made the City a dining destination in the late Nineties remains as mesmerising a spectacle as ever, an oasis of greenery affording ever-changing views of the Square Mile skyline.
Order from the simpler grill menu on the bar terrace (rib-eye and chips, tuna Niçoise salad) or go full-on French with saumon fumé confit and canard de Challans with the à la carte menus on the restaurant terrace. Champagne from 20 producers is the obvious thing to drink, but there are upwards of 70 blends of whisky, too. And as you’re outside, puff on a Cohiba Robusto.
If eating outside in Soho summons up images of sitting at a tiny pavement table while motorcycle couriers elbow your champagne into your Caesar salad, you haven’t been to the super-civilised courtyard outside the Ham Yard Hotel, which has been extended in size for 2016 and is taking reservations for the first time.
Parasols and oak trees provide shade, a bronze sculpture by Tony Cragg the focal point, and loads of wine by the glass plentiful excuses to linger. The Brit-cum-Med menu suits the alfresco setting – Dorset crab sausage roll with smoked paprika mayonnaise, charred pepper and onion, say – and there’s an ice-cream cart filled with home-made ice creams, frozen yoghurts and sorbets.
Pity the poor tourists unaware that just a few well-shod steps from Bond Street lies one of the most captivating of London’s al fresco eating spaces, a carefree oasis hidden away in a cobbled courtyard.
Kick back with a couple of Mayfair Cosmos and get nostalgic for the late Nineties, which is when Hush first opened and where the spirit of the menu remains: tuna tartare, cod and haddock fishcakes, tiger prawn risotto and cornfed chicken. From 1 June a Taittinger in the Courtyard menu will feature a Taittinger champagne flight – although booze-free iced teas (green tea with rose, cherry and raspberry, perhaps) might be more hydrating.
The Ivy Chelsea Garden
Ivy offshoots are sprouting up all over town (and very nice they are too) but this Chelsea sapling has put down the strongest roots. The reason? The expansive terrace (tucked behind a handsome dining room) bounded by climbing roses, draped with trailing wisteria and studded with pergolas, fountains and Lloyd Loom furniture.
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It’s like a dress rehearsal for a Caprice Holdings entry to the Chelsea Flower Show. On-theme dishes include apple and Stilton salad, creamed wild mushrooms with marjoram on toast, and roast salmon with asparagus and baby watercress – but give me the steak, egg and chips any day. Great for breakfast and brunch too.
This King’s Cross newcomer solves the problem of never being able to bag an outside table the moment the sun starts to shine by offering three big al fresco areas across three levels: a canalside terrace, seating on Granary Square, and a wraparound terrace on the top floor.
The Lighterman is a pub, dining room and bar, but before you dismiss it as downmarket, know that it’s from the same people as Belgravia fave The Thomas Cubitt and it was designed by Stirling Prize-winning architects Stanton Williams. The food is classic modern stuff (crispy squid, Herdwick lamb chop, octopus with salsa); wash it down with craft ale, cocktails and bucketloads of rosé.
The Ritz is famous for being one of the most beautiful dining rooms in London, but outside is even prettier, a terrace enclosed by the lush canopy of Green Park, where diners sit on sturdy cast-iron chairs atop stripy green cushions that match the awning above, tables are laid as assiduously as in the restaurant proper, and a silver ice-bucket sits by your side (not that you would ever need to pour anything yourself).
Luxury with a light touch is the calling card of the menu – Norfolk crab with Sevruga caviar, turbot with truffle and champagne – while after 3pm an afternoon menu touts canapés, cigars and Billecart-Salmon by the glass. Just don’t forget to wear a jacket and tie, no matter how warm it is.
The River Café
There is nowhere else I would rather be on a hot day than sitting here by the river in Hammersmith. The River Café is the Italian restaurant of your dreams; no wonder that if you ask any chef about their favourite places to eat, they will invariably namecheck it.
The simple, seasonal food is as its best in summer and much of what you see in the garden around you – herbs, salad leaves, edible flowers – ends up in the cooking, which even if it hasn’t been grown on site is as fresh as can be. Vitello tonnato, beef carpaccio, buffalo ricotta ravioli: the roll-call of classics tastes better here than it does anywhere else.
Quite simply London’s most spectacular al fresco spot (and the highest in Europe), Sushisamba’s East Terrace runs right to the edge of the Heron Tower, 39 floors above the Square Mile pavements, with birds on the wing for company as well as City diners.
The sushi is adorned with spanking fresh tuna belly, snow crab and sea bass, while the samba comes courtesy of ceviche, taquitos and churrasco. Outside tables are given to those who have a reservation in the main restaurant; if you’ve less of a head for heights (or eating isn’t an issue), have a drink at the bar on the Orange Tree Terrace, where the view (and the drop) are reassuringly at arm’s length.
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