London may be a heavyweight gastronomic destination, but it isn’t exactly known for its wide open spaces, and its pavement-café culture is still catching up with the rest of Europe. However, if there’s an alfresco area in which this city does excel, it’s those sheltered, secluded courtyards in which one can dine alfresco away from the capital’s hustle and bustle. Here’s our pick of the best restaurants with courtyards.

Words: Nicky Evans

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Bacco Restaurant and Wine Bar, Holborn (above)

What: With its Roman-style floor tiles, whitewashed walls, chic parasols and starched tablecloths, the courtyard of this smart Italian is serenity itself – a big achievement in hectic Holborn. There’s lots to enjoy from the confident, inventive menu, and charming Italian staff make plenty of fuss of their customers.  

Eat + drink: Kick off with an Aperol spritz, and don’t miss the squid-ink cannelloni filled with creamy cod, sautéed squid and red prawns.

Where: 25-26 Red Lion Street, WC1R 4PS

Bleeding Heart Bistro, Farringdon

What: There are three Bleeding Heart offerings centred around this historic cobbled yard, named after Lady Elizabeth Hatton, who was found murdered there in the 17th century. For alfresco dining, however, the ultra-romantic bistro is the place to go. You can’t reserve a table on this greenery-decked terrace, so it’s best to head there straight from work.  

Eat + drink: The lobster specials with a chilled glass of rosé from the encyclopaedic wine list. 

Where: Bleeding Heart Yard, EC1N 8SJ

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Boulestin, St James’s (above)

What: The hidden courtyard of this French brasserie only offers a handful of (highly sought-after) tables, but they’re worth seeking out: a seat in the sunshine amid the adjoining stuccoed houses, Victorian-era gas lamps and jaunty striped chairs is a London experience that’s well off the tourist trail.

Eat + drink: The decadent and boozy Sauternes custard with Armagnac-soaked prunes, and a glass of 1979 Dartigalongue on the side for good measure.

Where: 5 St James’ Street, SW1A 1EF

Chiltern Firehouse, Marylebone

What: You might baulk at the idea of bagging a table at Chiltern Firehouse only to squander celeb-spotting opportunities by eating alfresco, but this atmospheric courtyard gives the buzzy dining room a run for its money. At night the space, sheltered with striped awnings and lit up with fairy lights, is especially pretty.

Eat + drink: Start with a house cocktail – perhaps the Fireman’s Drill – and don’t miss the signature crab-filled doughnuts.

Where: 1 Chiltern Street, W1U 7PA

El Parador, Camden Town

What: This popular neighbourhood tapas restaurant has an ace up its sleeve in the form of a verdant, terracotta-coloured courtyard terrace that beckons diners for an alfresco lunch. On a sunny day, and with a plate of El Parador’s esteemed calamares in front of you, you might almost be in Spain.  

Eat + drink: Order octopus or sardines a la plancha and share over a jug of sangria.

Where: 245 Eversholt Street, NW1 1BA

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Ham Yard, Soho (above)

What: Firmdale’s Soho hotel has typically luxe-on-luxe interiors; by contrast, its chic, design-led terrace with its imposing bronze contemporary sculpture is positively minimalist. Take a seat at one of the many cloth-covered tables and enjoy the dappled sunshine underneath the canopy of leafy trees as you dig into dolled-up Mediterranean-inspired comfort food.

Eat + drink: A plate of crab and chilli spaghetti with a carafe of chilled Muscadet.

Where: One Ham Yard, W1D 7DT

Holborn Dining Room, Holborn

What: The all-day menu of this grand brasserie offers almost every dish your heart could desire. The high-ceilinged Martin Brudnizki-designed dining room is all cosy clubbiness; outside in the courtyard, the chic, topiary-surrounded and tree-shaded terrace is particularly lovely in summer – with snuggly blankets provided for when the cold creeps in. 

Eat + drink: The juicy shrimp burger with jalapeño tartare, and a glass of L’Alycastre Rosé.

Where: 252 High Holborn, WC1V 7EN

The Courtyard at Hush Mayfair

Hush, Mayfair (above)

What: To get to this long-time favourite in Mayfair you have to pass through its serene, shaded courtyard, each table decorated with colourful flowers. The full à la carte is served out here, although you can only snap up a coveted courtyard spot by arriving early (we suggest weekend brunch).  

Eat + drink: A green-machine cold-pressed juice followed by the lobster Benedict brunch special.

Where: 8 Lancashire Court, W1S 1EY

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The Ivy Chelsea Garden, Chelsea (above)

What: The name says it all really: expect classic Ivy-style comfort food in Chelsea, home of the competitive garden. This bucolic courtyard is one of the most stylish in London, boasting a verdant water feature, creeper-clad trellises, and a covered, candlelit area with its own fireplace – it’s a pleasure, rain or shine.

Eat + drink: Time on your hands? Sip a signature gin-laced kir royale during a decadent afternoon tea.

Where: 197 King’s Road, SW3 5ED

No 197 Chiswick Fire Station, Chiswick

What: This former fire station in leafy Chiswick might not be the most obvious spot for courtyard dining, but the monochrome minimalism of its beautifully reconfigured interiors segues seamlessly into an inside-outdoor courtyard with white beams (no ceiling), sofa-style banquettes and vine-covered pillars – plus a cool concrete central table. Stunning.

Eat + drink: The halloumi and courgette burger with mint and cucumber labneh, with a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc.

Where: 197-199 Chiswick High Road, W4 2DR

Stecca, Chelsea

What: This new neighbourhood Italian’s summer secret is its peaceful courtyard garden at the rear of the restaurant: smartly laid tables are interspersed with planted trees, while ivy tumbles from the fencing.

Eat + drink: A plate of bold-flavoured cacio e pepe with one of the SuperTuscans on the all-Italian wine list.

Where: 14 Hollywood Road, SW10 9HY

Two round-ups:

London Soho Kingly Court

Kingly Court, Soho (above)

Slap bang in the centre of town, Kingly Court’s bustling courtyard is home to a melting pot of cuisines; at ground level, most of them offer some form of outdoor seating. Chicken-and-egg restaurant Whyte & Brown’s terrace is one of the largest, though the likes of Cinnamon Soho, Shoryu Ramen Carnaby and Pizza Pilgrims Pizzeria & Friggitoria also vie for space – and custom.

St Martin’s Courtyard, Covent Garden

If you’re looking for alfresco dining in Covent Garden, this open-air yet relatively tucked-away courtyard is a winner. Quality chains such as Dishoom and Jamie’s Italian offer well-priced familiar dishes, while Thai restaurant Suda and Mexican Cantina Laredo fly the flag for far-flung authenticity. A perfect shopping and snacking destination.

For more of the best outside dining in London, click here.

This article was published 6 July 2017