One of the more welcome revelations of recent times is that restaurants have finally wised up to the fact that there’s more to eating outside than cramming a handful of rickety tables and chairs onto the pavement and hoping no one falls in front of a passing black cab.
Of course, pubs have always done a good line in beer gardens while those restaurants blessed with a garden, such as the River Café, have achieved legendary status for their al fresco. But there’s something about a restaurant terrace that fits those first few days of summer when even the slightest boost in vitamin D seems to make Londoners break out in spontaneous smiles.
There are whole streets now devoted to the art of alfresco: take a saunter along Pavilion Road in Chelsea or Heddon Street in Mayfair or a spin around Coal Drops Yard in King’s Cross and every spare piece of paving is set with a table ready for lunch.
But below we’ve selected the restaurants that have gone the extra mile when it comes to catering for diners eating outdoors, whether with awnings and parasols for when the sun shines and blankets and heaters for cooler evenings, the amount of space dedicated to open-air dining or simply the fact that the loveliness of the experience is a reminder that London is one of the most beautiful cities on earth when the sun shines.
So from a table by the Thames to dinner with a view of the capital’s skyline or peerless people watching, here are the best restaurant terraces in London. Don’t forget to apply the factor 50 — though rest assured that if the sun doesn’t shine, all these places are as nice inside as they are outdoors.
The terrace of the original Mayfair Scott’s has long been one of London’s more reliable celebrity spots, even if the famous faces these days are more likely to be strolling past on the pavement than sitting down to a plateau de fruits de mer (this summer, the terrace is hosting a collab with Aussie winemaker Bird in Hand). This outside area of this new-ish Richmond outpost is an altogether different kettle of fish, a strip of decking high above the Thames with views of the leafy riverbanks towards Twickenham and Richmond bridges. The seafood-focused menu is thankfully sourced from a little further afield: Devon crab, chalk-stream trout, Cornish sole.
4 Whittaker Avenue, Richmond, TW9 1TH, scotts-richmond.com
Theo’s on the Terrace
Granted, no one went to Jamie’s Italian expecting to see the Naked Chef himself, but when it’s a big name above the door, often there’s an expectation that said name is behind the stoves, or at least pottering about the place. Not to name names, but rarely is this true anywhere — your favourite chef off the telly isn’t rushing from the Sunday Brunch studios straight to their chip pan. Full credit, then, to genial Theo Randall, who most days can be found at his restaurant at the InterContinental. This comfortable al fresco terrace, with its views of red buses and Wellington Arch, is a sunwashed introduction to Randall’s utter mastery of Italian cooking. It’s there in the pollo fritto — surely in the race for the capital’s best fried chicken — and it’s there in the cast iron pans where king prawns maroon themselves on garlic-drenched islands of sourdough toast. Look out too for the poached lobster slumbering on a nest of Italian leaves and shaved fennel. A smart partnership with Campari mean spritz are good and strong and proper; try two with selection of antipasti for £40 between 5.30-7pm each day, then put the sunglasses back on and head up the Amalfi coast, or to the West End, or wherever.
This raised terrace tucked away from the hurly-burly of the Strand is decked out with potted plants and furniture as stylish as one would expect from owners Amanda Sharp and Matthew Slotover, the founders of the Frieze Art Fair; full-length windows opened in fine weather mean that tables inside feel alfresco, too. The veg-forward menu has agretti with yellow datterini tomatoes and bottarga or braised artichokes with cannellini, marinda tomatoes and wild garlic, as well as Dover sole, pork tomahawk and whole John Dory.
1 Surrey Street, WC2R 2ND, toklaslondon.com
Hoppers King’s Cross
The redeveloped King’s Cross is not short of appealing alfresco — the terraces at Coal Office, Parrillan and Vinoteca all get a thumbs up — but Hoppers is the nicest, not least because the view looks over the Regent’s Canal to the vibrant goings-on of Granary Square rather than trains trundling into St Pancras. A word of advice, though: bring a pair of dark glasses or the dazzling sunsets will have you squinting into your Sri Lankan street food — the namesake hoppers, or course, but also dosas, mutton rolls, butter squid and lamb shank biryani.
Unit 3, 4 Pancras Square, N1C 4AG, hopperslondon.com
La Poule au Pot
With the tricolore flying proudly overhead, a table outside La Poule au Pot feels more like dining in the square of some bourgeois provincial French town than halfway between Sloane Square and Victoria. A rotating cast of handsome French waiters, house wine served by the magnum and a menu written entirely en français perpetuates the fantasy: tarte à l’oignon, quiche au fromage, le lapin à la moutarde and, bien sûr, la poule au pot itself: a stew of chicken thigh, potatoes, courgettes and carrots.
231 Ebury Street, SW1W 8UT, pouleaupot.co.uk
Barrafina Drury Lane
If the thought of eating alfresco in Covent Garden conjures up images of scarfing down an overpriced burger while an out-of-work actor hovers at one’s elbow pretending to be a levitating Yoda, head instead to the curiously off-radar Drury Lane outpost of London’s best tapas restaurant. All the Spanish classics are here — pan con tomate, ham croquetas, prawn and pepper tortilla, tarta de Santiago — eaten in fine weather on a small parasol-shaded terrace on a pedestrian court. There’s a much bigger terrace at the Coal Drops Yard Barrafina, but it’s somehow not as atmospheric.
43 Drury Lane, WC2B 5AJ, barrafina.co.uk
The initial joy for first-timers to 14th-floor Seabird is finding a totally unexpected eyeline view of London’s most famous landmarks, from Big Ben up west down to the City skyscrapers via the BT Tower and St Paul’s. The next is the simple thrill of dining this high up in the open air, with the Iberian-accented cooking — carabineros prawns, piri-piri plaice, ibérico pork presa — a further attraction. Prices, while hardly bargain basement, are not as eye-wateringly sky-high as one might expect for such a glamorously exalted setting.
14th Floor, Hoxton Hotel, 40 Blackfriars Road, SE1 8NY, seabirdlondon.com
Bibendum Oyster Bar
South Kensington is the epicentre of London’s French community and there’s a deliciously Gallic ambience to this year-round covered terrace on one corner of Brompton Cross, where the fish-focused, brasserie-style food is simpler than the two-Michelin-starred fare upstairs: fish soup and rouille, moules à la marinière, chocolate mousse and candied orange. In a hurry? Pop in for a coffee and take away a seafood platter and an armful of flowers from the on-site florist.
Michelin House, 81 Fulham Road, SW3 6RD, claudebosi.com
The Laundry takes its name from the building’s former life as a commercial steam-press laundry, converted in 2019 into an all-day eatery with one of Brixton’s largest terraces out front (heated if the weather’s not playing ball). Breakfast and brunch give way to an all-day menu of Anglo-European crowdpleasers such as steak-frites, cottage pie and chicken schnitzel, plus there are meat and vegan roasts on Sundays. BYOB on Tuesdays, when there’s no corkage fee; the rest of the time The Laundry also doubles as a wine shop and the drinks list is terrific.
374 Coldharbour Lane, SW9 8PL, thelaundrybrixton.com
Le Pont de la Tour
Do you love anyone enough to give them the best view in London? Le Pont de la Tour is a contender for the most deliriously romantic setting in the capital, a riverside terrace with a gobsmacking view of Tower Bridge for the half of the table facing upriver; the downstream vista towards the twinkling towers of Canary Wharf isn’t too shabby, either. Shellfish platters are guaranteed to make a positive impression but if seduction isn’t on the menu there’s a line-up of crowd-pleasing Franglais cooking along the lines of steak tartare followed by Dover sole meunière and crème caramel.
36d Shad Thames, SE1 2YE, lepontdelatour.co.uk
Consider the difference between a terrace and a courtyard at this chic Japanese down the road from Harrods on the sort of creamily dreamy west London street that will make even the most cynical of diners feel like they’re starring in a Richard Curtis romcom. For what it’s worth, we reckon one side of the restaurant opening out into a paved garden just nudges Dinings into terrace territory. The Japanese menu picks up on the zen calm of it all with elegantly constructed sushi and spanking fresh sashimi.
Sager and Wilde Paradise Row
The perfect combination of east London edginess and calming alfresco, the more restaurant-focused of the two Sager and Wilde wine bars sits in a converted railway arch next to Paradise Gardens. The short menu inspires confidence in the freshness of ingredients and a kitchen that knows how to cook them: pollock with clam chowder and leek, cuttlefish with chickpea and basil. Plus one of London’s most creative wine lists to wash it all down with.
250 Paradise Row, E2 9LE, sagerandwilde.com
Jean-Georges at The Connaught
If one is rushing to a table at Hélène Darroze, Scott’s or Mount St Restaurant it can be easy to miss just how pretty Mount Street itself is. The terrace of Darroze’s fellow French chef import at The Connaught, Jean-Georges Vongerichten, permits a leisurely view of the Mayfair passeggiata and the terracotta-coloured streetscape. Vongerichten swapped his native Alsace for the bright lights of Manhattan and his cooking oozes the luxury comfort beloved of the Big Apple: egg toast caviar, black truffle pizza, shrimp salad dressed with Champagne vinegar. Opens May 1.
16 Carlos Place, W1K 2AL, the-connaught.co.uk
What the Thames is to west London, the Regent’s Canal is to the East End, an urban oasis for cyclists, strollers and anyone in search of excellent alfresco eating. Ombra is an Italian restaurant-cum-pastificio by the water in Hackney with a heated terrace for 30. Small plates of cicchetti and antipasti are the way to go to start — gnocco fritto with mortadella or stracciatella, poached chicken with walnuts and radicchio — ahead of pasta made on-site and a meat or fish main like roasted monkfish or aged pork loin.
1 Vyner Street, E2 9DG, ombrabar.restaurant
Small is beautiful at Trinity, where the tiny terrace out front affords sylvan views of the treetops of Clapham Common beyond — though all eyes are just as likely to be on the plates of Michelin-starred food coming out of chef Adam Byatt’s kitchen. Menus are served with the option of four to six courses; given that the motto of the London alfresco diner should be to make hay while the sun shines, it would be silly to pass up the full six-course shebang (£120) if time permits, given the fleeting pleasure of such a lovely location.
4 The Polygon, SW4 0JG, trinityrestaurant.co.uk
The terrace at Sam’s Riverside isn’t actually quite on the river but tucked to one side of the restaurant: no bad thing when it means that a passing rollerblader won’t come crashing off the Thames Path and into one’s lunch. Still, the river (and trees swaying on the opposite bank) is very much there, and with Hammersmith Bridge out of action for the foreseeable, the only sound of passing engines are the planes overhead approaching Heathrow. Simple things done well is the kitchen’s mantra — beef tartare, lobster roll, lamp rump — while ace cocktails encourage lingering.
1 Crisp Road, W6 9DN, samsriverside.co.uk