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The British really know how to make the most of a sunny spell, whatever season it happens to fall in. If the sun is shining, whether it's summer, winter, spring or autumn, make the most of it with Square Meal's run-down of London's top park cafés, waterside restaurants, pub gardens and alfresco courtyards.
British park cafés used to have a reputation for soggy sandwiches and crumbling cakes, but there have been some great gastronomic additions to London’s green spaces in recent years. The Serpentine Bar & Kitchen, sitting on the edge of the water in Hyde Park, serves jazzed-up British treats, while The Lido Café is another prime location in which to treat yourself to tea and cakes or something more substantial. The Garden Café in the Inner Circle at Regent’s Park is a glorious spot for simple Brit food, and The Terrace in Lincoln’s Inn Fields adds colour to City dining with its leafy surrounds; meanwhile, ducks swimming on the pond provide a great backdrop at Inn the Park in St James’s Park, though there are mixed reports about the food and service. Out west, the terrace at Holland Park’s The Belvedere continues to be a reliable spot for soaking up the sun.
Even if a restaurant isn’t located in a park, many boast their own garden. Perhaps the capital’s poshest alfresco spot is the garden at The Ritz in Mayfair, while a bit more low-key is the green space at Frederick’s in Islington. The gorgeous rooftop garden at Coq D’Argent is the perfect spot for sipping a G&T in the heart of the City, while Boundary’s rooftop restaurant also proves popular for working lunches. Brinkley’s and its sister restaurant Wine Gallery in Chelsea both have beautiful gardens tucked away at the back – great for quaffing their low-mark-up wines.
Nothing lifts an alfresco dining experience more than sunshine shimmering on water, and there are plenty of restaurants that take full advantage of the River Thames and its estuaries. Northbank sits at the north foot of the Millennium Bridge and offers a glorious terrace to enjoy dinner and drinks as the sun goes down. Take a stroll along the South Bank and you’ll find a vast array of riverside treats, from the Oxo Tower's eighth-floor balcony (pictured right) to the peaceful setting of Butler’s Wharf, boasting the polished outdoor area at Le Pont de la Tour and the more relaxed Butler’s Wharf Chop House. For something more cheap and cheerful, a host of chain restaurants outside the Royal Festival Hall offer bumper alfresco terraces.
Docklands is another obvious destination for waterside dining. Some of the best tables can be found at Royal China in Westferry Circus or at Gordon Ramsay’s gastropub The Narrow. Further along the river, you can explore Fulham’s Imperial Wharf where Thai eatery Blue Elephant has pretty views and a riverside terrace. Heading west, Gaucho Richmond serves top-notch riverside steaks, while Ransome’s Dock, in Battersea, offers fine wine and food. Meanwhile, Rotunda in King's Cross is a useful option in central London.
Of course, sunny days are all about whiling away afternoons in beer gardens, and London has a wealth of options to choose from. In Westbourne Park, Grand Union Public House packs the crowds into its canal-side terrace, while The Westbourne tempts punters with its courtyard. Islington gastropub The Drapers Arms (pictured left) and its longer-standing neighbour The Albion both serve fab food in their vine-clad gardens. Over in Hampstead, The Freemasons Arms has a huge beer garden that does justice to its Heath-side location, while The Queen of Hoxton’s roof terrace is a great addition to London's summer drinking spots.
Neither Henry J Beans on King’s Road nor Borough Market’s The George Inn are gourmet hotspots but both have great courtyards that pack in thirsty after-work crowds. If it’s a pint of prawns you’re after, though, go to The Gun's glorious riverside terrace in Docklands.
There’s something rather quaint and olde English about cobbled courtyards, and they offer some of the finest traffic-free alfresco areas that London has to offer. Hush (pictured right) pulls in the crowds with its charming courtyard slap bang in the middle of Mayfair. Momo and Aubaine, on Heddon Street, offer ample outside tables, while fishy stalwart Bentley’s harbours a fine alfresco dining spot.
Just behind Oxford Circus, RIBA's paved terrace is a lovely secluded space for lunch and down the King’s Road, Manicomio serves fresh Italian dishes in a tucked-away alfresco area that’s prettiest when lit up at night. In the City, Bleeding Heart offers tables and chairs in its quaint courtyard, Taberna Etrusca boasts one of the largest courtyards in the Square Mile, while The Zetter and ZTH offer outdoor eating overlooking St John’s Square. Rare finds in Soho include the courtyard at Aurora and the tiny 'terraces' at Quo Vadis and Dean Street Townhouse.
Finally, you’ve got to hand it to those clever people who have installed a retractable roof over their dining areas to deal with the temperamental English summers. Here's Square Meal's pick of the best restaurants with retractable roofs.