The most elegant restaurants for al fresco dining in London
Insider guide by Ramona Jalba from The Athenaeum Hotel & Residences
Forget the wobbly tables on a narrow pavement usually associated with al fresco dining in London - from a riverside institution to a hidden courtyard in St. James’s, read on to discover my favourite spots for a truly unforgettable meal outside on a sunny afternoon or a balmy evening.
The best part? Each place in this guide also has a lovely main dining room - so should the worst happen, and the English weather kick in, you can continue the revelry indoors.
This elegant restaurant in St. James’s is a homage to one of the world’s first ‘celebrity chefs’ Marcel Boulestin, and his Restaurant Francais in Covent Garden - reputed during the 1930s to be the most expensive restaurant in the city. Today’s Boulestin is the brainchild of restaurateur Joel Kissin (also the man behind Quaglino’s in Mayfair) and has a hidden courtyard, lined with panels from Henry VIII’s tennis courts and lit by original Victorian gas lamps. White table cloths and Parisian-style wicker bistro chairs create a continental ambiance - equally perfect for a romantic dinner or a business lunch. The menu features well-executed takes on bistro classics such as lobster linguine and chicken milanese, and the banana parfait with salted caramel and popcorn is a wonderfully charming and nostalgic treat.
Insider tip: The terrace is open daily (subject to weather), but reservations for a table outside may only be made for Monday - Friday between 7am-12pm and 2:30-6pm. Outside of these hours, guests may request a table on the terrace if one is available.
Petersham Nurseries, Covent Garden
The central courtyard at the West End outpost of the beautiful Petersham Nurseries in Richmond is a truly magical spot. Floral Court connects the home and garden shop, florist, delicatessen, wine cellar and two restaurants which comprise the Petersham Nurseries complex in Covent Garden.Petersham Nurseries is owned by Italian businessman Francesco Boglione and his wife, whose family home, Petersham House, is adjacent to the original Petersham Nurseries in Richmond, and as such, the venue is a beautiful, ‘haute boho’ marriage of English country chic and rustic Italian luxury. During the warmer months, both The Petersham and La Goccia restaurant menus are available to take in the courtyard. The food is always fresh and seasonal, with an emphasis on local and sustainable produce.
This terrace restaurant and bar is a lush, green paradise in the heart of the hustle and bustle of Bloomsbury. Named after Virgina Woolfe’s famous novel, it is a nod to the literary roots of this historic neighbourhood. With a fully-retractable roof, Dalloway Terrace is the perfect indoor-outdoor space, providing the best of both worlds year-round and no matter the weather. The restaurant offers all day dining, including upmarket bistro staples like rock oysters and a signature burger, as well as dedicated breakfast and weekend brunch menus. There is also a good choice of vegetarian and vegan options.
The River Café is a 30 year old institution in the charming West London borough of Hammersmith & Fulham, with a garden featuring beautiful views of the Thames. Founded by the late Rose Gray and Ruth Rogers in 1989, the restaurant is housed in a former oil storage facility redesigned by Rogers’ husband, the architect Lord Rogers. The menu is Italian (Gray and Rogers authored no less than six cookbooks together) and the kitchen has trained a number of celebrity chefs, including Jamie Oliver, Theo Randall and HughFearnley-Whittingstall. Prices are high even by London fine dining standards (main courses start at around £40), but the food is excellent and the portions generous - and who knows who you might run into at this A-list favourite.
Insider tip: Don’t leave without trying the River Café’s famous chocolate ‘Nemesis’ cake.