ooks like we made it. April 12 is almost here, marking the first return of restaurants, pubs and bars.
While eating indoors is still off the cards until mid-May, al fresco is go. The thought of freshly poured pints or plates of pasta cooked by someone else have the city creaking under the weight of reservations: anticipation is sky high, and this summer is set to be one for the ages.
While indoor dining doesn’t return until May 17, and things won’t return to normal until June 21, heading to the terraces is a welcome relief after months cooped up indoors. That light at the end of the tunnel? We’re about to be sitting in it.
I’ve had to slightly wean myself off constantly recommending Forza Wine in print, lest people assume they’ve got compromising photos of me or something. But look: if the conversation is about covetable outdoor tables for hospitality’s spring reawakening, then it has to include this rooftop spot in Peckham. The sweeping, panoramic view is almost hilariously stunning. Every song on the stereo seems to gently crank up the party atmosphere. And the Italian drinking food (think lacily crisp cauliflower friti or fontina toasties blotted in hot sauce) reflects an operation with the perfect balance of serious cooking ability and winning, wine-drenched playfulness. JF
133A Rye Lane, SE15, forzawine.com
Going to Rochelle Canteen is the closest I have come to feeling as if I am on holiday while still in London. It is tricky to find but once you’re inside, the world feels like a better place. Tables are laid out among the flowers in the garden and the food is seasonal and clever. I am looking forward to recreating a long lunch I had there last summer — hake with ripe tomatoes and new potatoes, peaches and cream for dessert and excellent people watching. A friend made their watercress salad for me before Christmas and it made me keen to try the real thing. It’s not cheap but then again, I’ve saved so much money with my diet of pasta and pesto these past few months. I hope it doesn’t rain. SB
16 Playground Gardens, E2, arnoldandhenderson.com
I always thought barbecues were more about the company than the food – after all the faffing with coals, the only thing usually left is a half burnt, half raw sausage in a roll. Then I went to Brat at Climpson’s Arch. This is how to barbecue. Star chef Tomos Parry has set up serious grills and uses them to make life-affirmingly imaginative dishes: grilled bread with cheese and girolle mushrooms, lemon sole, a roast chicken rice. There are grilled desserts too, like burnt cheesecake with peaches. Cooking with flames has a theatre to it and the whole setting – twinkling lights and music transforming a Hackney forecourt – is magical. SB
374 Helmsley Place, E8, bratrestaurant.com
The terrace at Tavolino is the closest you can get to Italian holiday feasting in London: olives and sweet Tuscan wine, bowls of fresh Sicilian pasta and ice-cold negronis overlooking to the water. The restaurant might really overlook the Thames but on a sunny day it could be the Med: tables are laid out to face the water and slow stream of promenading tourists, and the grand turrets of Tower Bridge make the ultimate feasting backdrop.
Order the burrata and special fried cacio cavallo cheese to start with some zucchini fritti on the side, but leave room for pasta. Every dish on the pasta menu is made fresh in-house every day, ranging from silk handkerchiefs with walnut butter to a rich porcini, ricotta and chestnut ravioli. If you have room for dolci and are feeling brave, try Tavolino’s olive oil ice cream - you heard it here first. KS
2 More London Riverside, SE1, tavolino.co.uk
Venison doughnuts, Bengali beetroot croquettes and Lasooni wild Madagascan prawns in the shadow of Tower Bridge. Gunpowder’s cosy terrace feasting menu is as exquisite as its reviews, with a new menu of sparkling wine from Noble Rot and hit Indian dishes from Tandoori paneer to lamb cutlets.
The aloo chat is a must for any table, roasting baby potatoes in a special Gunpowder mix with black chickpeas, yogurt and tamarind sauce, and the Karwari soft shell crab is a winner if you normally find yourself struggling with a hard shell. It’s crispy on the outside, and soft, juicy and succulent on the inside, with plenty of meat. If you’ve got room for dessert, order the Old Monk Rum bread and butter pudding with an extra shot of rum.
4 Duchess Walk, SE1, gunpowderlondon.com
The Red Duck
Beware, crispy duck fans: if you bag a table at Red Duck’s cosy outdoor dining terrace, you might want to skip the pre-dinner snack - the hoisin sauce here is so moreish you’ll probably want to pour it into your handbag and take it home once you’ve finished your pancakes.
The duck isn’t too shabby either. The team, led by veteran chef and former Alan Yau lieutenant Chi San, spent a long time searching for the perfect duck supplier and the result is worth the wait. Meat is shipped over from a small farm in Ireland and cooked for five hours in a spiced mix of cinnamon, star anise, cardamom, black cardamom, bay leaves, Sichuan peppercorns, tea leaves, garlic and ginger- it is truly the best in town.
Staff at this Balham restaurant are passionate about their food and it shows. Expect wonderfully spiced salt and pepper tofu, deep-fried chicken wings and Jasmine Tea smoked ribs, all served in a friendly neighbourhood setting that’s perfect for people-watching. Warm and magical, even on a chilly spring night. KS
1 Ramsden Rd, SW12, theredduck.co.uk
Seafood and wine against the buzz of Bermondsey Street. All dishes at this Italian use fresh produce from their Saturday seafood market and you can practically smell the sea: feast on crusty sourdough with Italian olive oil, oysters with Sorrento lemon and grilled prawns with sauteed escarole, pine nuts and raisin - just ask baccalà’s insightful team which wines to pair with each (try the Tuscan bianco for a unique buttery white wine that melts in the mouth).
Elsewhere on the menu, the restaurant’s signature dish, Baccalà Mantecato - evoo whipped salted cod with fresh vegetable crudité - is a must-try, and leave room for dessert. baccalà’s homemade tiramisu - a staple of its two-person takeaway picnic boxes - is the perfect sweet treat to finish off your feast.
Unit B3, 194-204 Bermondsey Street, SE1, baccalalondon.co.uk
My meal kit patience is beginning to wear thin: I have loved many, but feel no particular urge to spend another evening arranging pots of sauces, spices and reductions that endlessly emerge like Russian Dolls. I want Champagne from a bottle I didn’t open, oysters I didn’t shuck, sole that hasn’t made my own kitchen smell. I’d like to savour wine where the price makes me wince, not knock back Tesco’s Finest (a misnomer if ever there was one). Bentley’s is a haven, a heaven, a safe place. DE
11-15 Swallow Street, W1B, bentleys.org
My first time at Circolo Popolare was with visiting friends from New York, and there was a sharp intake of breath from locals and tourists alike when we entered. Flowers and greenery crawl and hang from the walls and ceilings, bottles of wine and spirits clutter the walls and the atmosphere is as buzzy as the decor, the staff even more so. I can’t wait to see how they do it on the new terrace, but it’s sure to make even the most reluctant Instagrammer’s thumb twitch. The food? As Italian as it gets. I’ll be returning with a few girlfriends for an Eggs Florentine brunch, with bruschetta and several Rossini Spritzes for the table. NM
40-41 Rathbone Place, W1T, bigmammagroup.com
The terrace here was designed for unhurried, sunny lunches. The menu of clever European dishes is seasonal and ever-changing, but I’ve made it a matter of principle to always start proceedings with one of their cocktails of the day. And, if it’s on the menu, I nearly always try to persuade whoever I’m with to share the bubbling lasagne for two with me. Once you’ve had your fill at Llewelyn’s, may I suggest heading round the corner to the beer garden at The Florence to keep the party rolling. SR
293-295 Railton Road, SE24, llewelyns-restaurant.co.uk
You’re at Pergola Paddington surrounded by friends, cocktail in hand. The sun is shining. Life is good. The ‘grammable destination is a perfect all-year-round spot: open-air if the British weather treats us, a perspex roof and heaters if not. The ever-changing food stalls offer a chance to discover the latest and greatest grub, while two bars means fun-sponge queues are kept to a minimum. As soon as reservations opened, I was straight in booking a table for my nearest and dearest for the first out-of-lockdown birthday celebrations in a year. Good music and good vibes – what more can you ask for? ED
4 Kingdom Street, W2, pergolapaddington.com
I’ve missed that feeling of deliberately heading out to be thoroughly spoiled, sure, but I’ve also missed the casual “anyone hungry?” meals, the no effort, no pretence, turn-up-as-you-are meals. They never felt like a freedom till they moved out of reach. I want to be out with no real plans and able to sate a mid afternoon hunger with a slice of pizza and a beer, surrounded by tables going through rounds of frizzante-on-tap as they wait for giant, 20” pizzas to appear, different toppings on each half. Homeslice do cracking pizza, but what I really want is the noise, the staying too long, the fun. DE
W1U &EC1, homeslicepizza.co.uk
I can still remember my first meal at the River Café, a Moses basket with a newborn baby asleep at my side. That was almost 29 years ago, back in the days when affordably delicious Italian dishes were still being cooked by Ruth Rogers and the late Rose Gray. Since then, I’ve enjoyed a handful more, including some sublime meals sitting on the terrace overlooking the Thames. A fine view of the river, sunshine, a glass of chilled Verdicchio and a plate of bufula mozzarella… I’ll return the minute they reopen; I’ve been saving up. KL
Thames Wharf, W6, rivercafe.co.uk
Come April 12, I’m going shut my laptop early and sneak off for a long afternoon at Gold. Smack bang in the middle of Portobello Road, it’s the prime spot for doing that thing we’ve been unable to do for months: people watching. Order a bottle of chilled rose (it’s going to be sunny on April 12, right? Has to be), a small plate of the moreish roasted cauliflower dish with spiced yoghurt and let the world rumble on around you. Bliss. SR
95-97 Portobello Road, W11, goldnottinghill.com
With April approaching, my friends and I have swapped telly chat for excited plotting of when, how and where to head for our long-awaited reunion. I’m campaigning hard for Cinnamon Kitchen so we can dine like modern-day maharanis in the glorious spring sunshine. I’ve missed Vivek Singh’s food so much that I had an at-home kit delivered at Christmas and while it was spectacular – and forced me to lay very, very still afterwards – it was no fair swap for an IRL feast. The sweet agony of trying to pick the perfect combination of dishes; the ceremony as heavenly spiced plates arrive; the necessary stroll once we’re done, listening to the stirring sounds of a city that’s been on a year-long pause. It’s all back on the table, and I’m here for it. AS
9 Devonshire Square, EC2, cinnamon-kitchen.com
The Crooked Billet
Come April 12, I’ll be heading straight for pints and plates at my beloved local, the Crooked Billet. The beer garden is one of Hackney’s best: lively and spacious yet somehow intimate and conveniently served by heated wooden cabanas in case of a chill. I’m hankering for their charred padron peppers loaded with rock salt, and sticky Korean chicken wings, perfect to share before a round of cheeseburgers. It’s smashing pub grub to line the stomach before washing it all down an ale – well, it’s wine for me. Even when it’s only been allowed to open with social distancing, this space always has a great vibe. RF
84 Upper Clapton Road, E5, e5crookedbillet.co.uk