Five things you should know about dining al fresco in London

This is a guest post written by Fiona Maclean, editor of London Unattached.

The British love to dine al fresco.  Even though we don’t really have the right weather, you’ll find us taking shelter under parasols in the pouring rain and wrapped up in blankets in the depths of winter.  Once summer comes, it’s a race to see who can find the best spot. Beat the crowds with these top tips for al fresco dining in London.

GrainStore1.  Many of the best bars and restaurants in London don’t take reservations for their outside tables.  It’s partly down to the unpredictable British weather which can result in chaos if the weather changes.  The solution, if you are booking, is to plan to dine early and arrive a little earlier still.  Then judge for yourself if it’s warm enough to be outside.  It’s the perfect excuse to go for brunch and stay through for a late lunch at places like Charlotte’s W5 in Ealing or Grain Store, King’s Cross.

2.  If the sun DOES decide to shine, pubs and cafes can become very busy very quickly.  Great if you like a lively atmosphere, but for something a little quieter it’s worth looking at some of the hotel terrace offerings.  Try the new Garden Lounge at The Corinthia, the secluded terrace at The Royal Horseguards hotel or the quirky rooftop terrace at the Sanctum Soho Hotel which comes complete with rock and roll styling and a hot tub for residents!  There’s plenty of space at the newly opened Dalloway Terrace, which serves a great all day brunch menu at weekends.

Boulestin3.  Some of the best places for al fresco dining are hidden from the street.  There’s a magical garden at the Troubadour coffee shop in Earls Court with plenty of options for food and drink from snacks and salads to full meals.  The Bleeding Heart in the City has a great courtyard area set back from the street where you can enjoy their traditional French cuisine and excellent wines.  And Boulestin in the heart of St James’s, has a pretty hidden courtyard, lit at night by original Victorian gas lamps.  It’s the site of the last duel fought in England and the smallest private courtyard in London.

4.  The South Bank has a range of great options for al-fresco dining.  You’ll find family friendly restaurants, including Giraffe and Wahaca by the concert halls and theatres.  A little further east, if you are looking for something different, Gabriel’s Wharf has good casual dining options including The Gourmet Pizza Company and The Wharf – both with substantial outside terraces and a river view.  Anchor Bankside, just after the Globe theatre, has riverside tables and a good selection of pub grub.  Once you reach Tower Bridge there are a group of restaurants with river terraces and great views where you can indulge in everything from French fine dining at Le Pont de la Tour (pictured below) to casual Italian at Cantina del Ponte or traditional British dishes at Butlers Wharf Chop House.

Le Pont de la Tour5.  Don’t discount Shopping Centres.  There are good options for al fresco dining in Duke of York Square where you’ll find Polpo, Comptoir Libanais, Manicomio and even a small informal dining area outside traditional grocers Partridges.  St Christopher’s Place, just off Oxford Street at the Bond Street end is similarly well served.  And, some of the bigger department stores have great rooftop bars and terraces.  Try Harvey Nichols or Selfridges, for example.

Looking for the perfect place to dine outdoors? Check out our round-up of the London’s best restaurants for al fresco dining, plus these waterside restaurants with views of the Thames.