I met someone the other day who moved to London in late February 2020. Within a few weeks of uplifting his life and arriving in the city, we were in lockdown. As someone who has lived in London my whole life, bar a few years away at university, I was fascinated to meet a person who had spent over a year here, yet whose experience was so drastically different to my own, mediated through the pandemic and ensuing restrictions.
In particular, I was fascinated by the idea that his experience of London was primarily one of the urban in its outdoor form, which is so far removed from the usual way in which people experience a city. Especially for someone like myself, whose primary haunts are dark bars, buzzy restaurants and dimly lit hotel rooms, to think about London through the eyes of a person who has spent most of his time outside, was a revelation.
Even the temporality of our experiences was inverted. As an independent London escort, I often find myself wandering through Soho, Fitzrovia or Shoreditch after dark, en route to a dinner date, or perhaps in the blissful afterglow of a hotel rendezvous. The pandemic has made many of us creatures of the daytime though – why would you go into Soho at 10pm if nothing is open? His experience of outdoor London had been almost entirely in the daytime, afternoons spent in parks, or wandering down the Lea – our normal night-time pursuits curtailed by the events of the past year.
As London slowly opens up, I cannot wait to take him to some of my favourite places in London. It’s truly a pleasure to introduce someone to your favourite restaurant, your favourite gallery or your favourite museum, to let them glimpse the city through your eyes, and vice versa.
Until then though, I thought I’d share some of my favourite places that we can visit together right now, those lucky London restaurants with outdoor dining – some classics, and some perhaps a little more off the beaten track. And if I’ve missed your favourite off the list? Well, you’ll just have to take me there!
London’s best outdoor dining
Chinatown – Central London – Admittedly, not a restaurant, but I’d be remiss not to mention one of my favourite places in town. Many restaurants have made rapid accommodations for the desire for outdoor dining, tables and chairs spilling out onto the pedestrianised streets. And especially after the downturn in business resulting from racist links between Chinese restaurants and Covid-19, there’s worse things we could do toegther than sharing a plate of hot dumplings and cold beer in the sunshine.
Allegra – Stratford – When you think of fine dining and refined elegance, Stratford isn’t the place that would immediately spring to mind. But you’d be missing out – and at just six minutes from St Pancras, we’ve got no excuse not to branch out in our exploration of London. Allegra is a restaurant, bar and terrace on the 7th floor of The Stratford, a beautiful building from the team behind Chiltern Firehouse and St. Pancras Renaissance Hotel. And crucially, they have a a huge wrap around terrace, which they describe as “an elevated meadow of wildflowers, water features and cedar pathways”. I haven’t had a chance to try the food their yet, but honestly, you could serve me cheese on toast on a roof terrace and I’d be happy!
Ombra – Hackney – Housed in a former art gallery on the corner of Mare Street and Vyner Street, Ombra aims to bring the easygoing atmosphere of a Venetian bacaro to Bethnal Green. We’ll go for the excellent homemade pasta and cicchetti, but stay for the heated terrace and views over Regent’s canal.
Hicce – Kings Cross – A chic, covered terrace overlooking Coal Drops Yard, over sixty natural wines, and a bold and creative menu make Hicce one of the best spots in town right now. And as we move into peak asparagus season, a restaurant which prides itself on using seasonal British ingredients is definitely somewhere I want to be.
Scotts – Central London – A perennial London classic, for those who like their Champagne cold and their oysters plentiful. I go for the people watching as much as the food – both are excellent. Scott’s has a bit of a reputation for being stuffy and old-fashioned, and in a way, it is. But my experiences there have been nothing but delightful, from the service to the decor. Also they have a selection of outdoor tables – and who can say no to that?