Summer is in full swing, which can only mean one thing: dining al fresco. And while we’ve had to make do with park picnics and barbecues in the garden for the last few months, now some of London’s finest restaurants have opened their doors again, welcoming us onto sun-dappled terraces and tree-filled courtyards for lunches with friends and cocktail-fuelled dinners. Naturally, extra safety measures have been brought in to ensure they comply with government guidelines, with social distancing between tables, contact-free ordering and temperature checks on the door. Here, we’ve rounded up the loveliest spots to eat in the open air in the capital.
The Ivy Chelsea Garden
The most charming al fresco dining spot in all of Chelsea, where the tranquil tree-lined courtyard is filled with the scent of roses and fountains tinkle peacefully in the background, this popular outpost of the Ivy is where the well-heeled locals come for power lunches and intimate dinners. Their summer menu features dishes like crab and apple salad and chargrilled halloumi with couscous, as well as the heartier comfort food they’re best known for, including their famous shepherd’s pie. Luckily, all of it goes extremely well with an ice cold glass of Whispering Angel, which you’ll see doing the rounds in enormous magnums.
High tech new measures have been introduced to keep staff and diners safe, including thermal cameras for regular temperature checks and air filtration units that are 99% effective when it comes to killing viruses. Make sure to check out their colourful new floral installation as you walk in, which was created by leading garden designer Jo Thompson.
195-197 King’s Road, Chelsea, London SW3 5EQ; theivychelseagarden.com
Filled with hundreds of colourful flowerpots, fragrant lemon trees and mismatching chintz cushions, lunch on the terrace at London’s most Instagrammable members’ club feels like dining in the Mediterranean – and could be as close as some of us will get this summer. Designed by London’s interiors king Martin Brudnizki, the al fresco terrace was inspired by an English country garden – with an added Euro jet set twist – and features a retractable glass and steel roof just in case that typical British summer weather comes into play.
The team says they “cannot go too far” when it comes to ensuring the safety of their members and guests, and new measures introduced include state of the art thermal imaging camera technology at reception, while any coats and bags checked into the cloakroom will be cleaned with an electro-static gun. Food orders will be taken digitally, using a QR code that can be scanned with your own device or one of the (thoroughly sanitised) in-house iPads.
46 Berkeley Square, Mayfair, London W1J 5AT; annabels.co.uk
The River Café
This iconic restaurant – set on the banks of the River Thames in Hammersmith – has been feeding its customers big-flavoured plates of seasonal, authentic Italian food since 1987, when it was opened by Ruth Rogers and the late Rose Gray. Though a table indoors means you can marvel at the theatre of the open kitchen, where the talented team rustle up such dishes as bufala ricotta-and garden herb-stuffed ravioli and controfiletto ai ferri – chargrilled beef sirloin with fresh borlotti and Sorrento tomatoes – as soon as the mercury heads north, the sun-dappled al fresco terrace is where you want to be.
Perch on one of the pretty blue chairs, order a glass of crisp Tuscan rosé and soak up the riverside views – this is summer in the city at its best. As you’d expect, the health and safety measures here are stringent with customers’ temperatures taken on arrival, masks worn and social distancing enforced at all times.
Thames Wharf, Rainville Rd, Hammersmith, London W6 9HA; rivercafe.co.uk
The Richmond-based Petersham Nurseries Café is surely one of London’s most magical spots. The airy, greenery-filled glasshouse restaurant spills out into the gardens, where tables and chairs are scattered under a jasmine and bougainvillea-strewn pergola (with Covid-19 distancing measures in place). And now that the restaurant has reopened, for the first time ever service will be extended on selected evenings until sundown. As dusk falls and the flickering candles and thousands of twinkling fairy lights take full effect, the atmosphere is undeniably romantic, with guests feasting on a series of Italian-inspired, provenance-led dishes.
The new summer menu won’t disappoint; expect to see signature dish Garden Fritti – freshly picked borage, zucchini flowers and sage from the onsite walled kitchen garden – as well as the likes of rack of lamb with baby beetroot, green beans, anchovy and mint, and nectarine and almond tart with elderflower syrup. The Covent Garden outpost, La Goccia, has a secluded central courtyard – the perfect spot for a long, lingering lunch in the sunshine.
Church Lane, Petersham Road, Richmond, London, TW10 7AB; petershamnurseries.com
For al fresco perfection, look no further than this picturesque terrace restaurant in Bloomsbury, which has been transformed into a whimsical overgrown greenhouse for the summer season. Florist extraordinaire McQueens Flowers has been drafted in to create an English country garden vibe, with cascading roses, sweet peas and tulips bursting from terracotta pots and trailing up trellises. The scent alone is enough to make you swoon, but the refined all-day dining menu also packs a punch, including favourites like wild mushroom and mozzarella arancini, grilled tiger prawns with green mango and chilli, and black coconut profiteroles.
And if you’re worried about our inclement weather, don’t be – the retractable roof and walls see to the rain and heaters will keep any evening chill at bay. New protocols, such as the availability of menus on personal devices via a QR code, thorough sanitisation and socially-distanced tables, ensure guests can dine with confidence.
16 – 22 Great Russell Street, Bloomsbury, London, WC1B 3NN; dallowayterrace.com
The Garden at The Berkeley
Known for their open-air rooftop pool, one of the best secret sunbathing spots in the city, glamorous Knightsbridge favourite The Berkeley has just added an even more enchanting al fresco space to their roster, in the form of their pop-up garden restaurant. Tucked away in Wilton Place, on a terrace to the side of the hotel that offers views over the charming St Paul’s church next door, this intimate Mediterranean-style restaurant is a real post-lockdown idyll, lined with olive trees and lavender and lit with dozens of lanterns and candles.
With a daily changing menu of sharing plates, guests at the socially distanced tables of two to six can expect platters of giant charred prawns, roasted cauliflower with smoked almond puree and grilled rack of lamb cooked outside on Green Egg barbecues. To wash it all down there’s a selection of garden pitchers, including the Berkeley Cup, a blend of rum, Pimm’s, cassis and ginger beer finished with cucumber and strawberries.
Wilton Place, Knightsbridge, London SW1X 7RL; the-berkeley.co.uk
Private Cabanas at the Mandrake Hotel
This boutique hotel in Fitzrovia boasts one of the largest and most beautiful outdoor terraces in London – surrounded by lush hanging greenery and heady with the scent of passionflower and jasmine, you could be forgiven for thinking you were in a treehouse in the rainforest rather than the centre of the city. To maximise social distancing in these Covid-19 times, the hotel has launched a series of 10 private cabanas for the summer, to transport you to an al fresco tropical escape where you can reconnect with friends without worrying about other diners encroaching on your space.
Each one comes with a screen to stream some of the hotel’s most popular wellness workshops or artistic programmes, as well as your own choice of music. A selection of South American-inspired dishes from the hotel’s acclaimed YOPO restaurant are available to order, including fried fish tacos with spring cabbage, sour cream and pumpkin seed salsa, fried courgette flowers and smoked cheese quesadillas.
20-21 Newman Street, Fitzrovia, London W1T 1PG; themandrake.com
The Secret Garden Bar at The Ritz
Whether seeking respite from the city heat over a leisurely lunch in the shade or enjoying a romantic evening under the stars, the Secret Garden Bar at The Ritz promises to raise the stakes in elegant al fresco dining. Open from 27 July until mid-September, this secluded spot offers a unique sanctuary from its busy Piccadilly locale.
Seasonal cocktails, wine, champagne and caviar are served alongside executive chef John Williams MBE‘s menu, which ranges from the Ritz classic club sandwich to seafood platters featuring dressed crab, oysters, lobster, shrimp and prawns. Located on the edge of Green Park, nestled among perfectly pruned topiary, olive trees and vibrant flower boxes filled with fragrant lavender, this secret hideaway is the place to know when you’re dreaming of an escape to the countryside, even if only for an afternoon.
150 Piccadilly, St. James’, W1, theritzlondon.com
Huge attention-grabbing gold eyes by Portuguese street artist Vhils adorn the front of this bohemian neighbourhood restaurant – though the star of the show here has to be the garden room. Filled with palm trees and monstera plants, the intimate space is nestled beneath a retractable glass roof, making it an outdoor spot to be enjoyed in even the most British of summers.
In the kitchen, chef Theo Hill, formerly of River Café, takes a minimalistic approach, cooking his food in wood ovens and over an open flame. Dishes such as whole sea bream with wild oregano and wood-roasted purple potatoes with caraway sauerkraut slaw go hand-in-hand with the cocktails created by award-winning mixologists Matt Whiley (The Talented Mr Fox) and Rich Woods (The Cocktail Guy).
95-97 Portobello Rd, Notting Hill, W11, goldnottinghill.com