It’s October and under usual circumstances, now would be the time to curl up indoors, squeezing into your favourite neighbourhood restaurant or getting territorial over the pub fireplace. Not this year: you can’t squeeze in anywhere in the age of social distancing. The solution? Make like our Scandi friends. Not hygge — in 2020, who hasn’t had it up to here with staying indoors? — but embracing the fine art of friluftsliv (“free-loofts-liv”).
This mouthful is a Norwegian term that, roughly paraphrased, is all about embracing the outdoors, whatever the weather. That needn’t mean a sudden interest in Millets or Saturday morning mountain climbs; it’s just, well, enjoying getting out and about. Channel “utepils” (ooh-ta-pilz), which translates (just about) as “drinking beer outside”. We can all do that — and frankly, we’re going to have to.
While, normally, places would be packing away tables and chairs, this year they are braving the cold. Last week, Westminster council granted permission for Soho’s pedestrianisation to extend through October, meaning there are 17 streets of alfresco eating to indulge on in W1D alone. Grab your coat and double up on socks: it’s time to go outside.
The Towpath Cafe
Cult favourites draw crowds whatever the weather. Only last week the Standard’s Jimi Famurewa wrote poetry about this canalside place as somewhere to come in the sun and watch barges drift by. But the daily-scribbled chalkboard menu, which might offer smoked haddock one day and Napoli sausage stew the next, is reliably good enough that the chill shouldn’t put you off. In other years they’d be winding down about now, but the pandemic has shifted their seasons.
42 De Beauvoir Crescent, N1 5SB, @towpathlolo
It’s testament to Melanie Arnold and Margot Henderson’s Canteen that it still feels fresh — new even — though it’s sat in the same old bike sheds since 2004. In some ways, Arnold and Henderson have a quintessential summer restaurant — somewhere for a bottle of Picpoul and lemon sole. But if 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that rules don’t apply, so wrap up in your waterproof wardrobe and tough it out if you can.
16 Playground Gardens, E2 7FA, rochelleschool.org
This lively Burmese has plenty of space indoors, but has spilled out on to the pavement too. Spice here is fragrant, aromatic, just enough to keep your mouth tingling but not enough to tear tastebuds to shreds. The fried bream is a must, as is the hake masala, but this is somewhere for fun, too; their margarita is a triumph of tequila strength, the Myanmar lager is a mind-softener and all the wines are affordable.
58 Bethnal Green Road, E1 6JW, lahpet.co.uk
There’s warmth in every dish at this Soho Sri Lankan. Here the weather makes no difference: inside, it’s concrete grey, same as the sky over their terrace. The food is thrilling: Ceylon chicken curry sells itself with a sweet smell, while the chilli kick in the cuttlefish goes right to the bones. Soho is generally good for these comforting spots: at Quo Vadis (26-29 Dean Street, quovadissoho.co.uk), the signature pies keep things toasty, while at family-run Italian 40 Dean Street (fortydeanstreet.com) owner Nima Safei keeps everyone in good spirits with strong drinks and the occasional dirty joke.
21 Kingly Street, W1B 5QA, kolamba.co.uk
Ciao Bella might have a name that suggests a tourist trap, but it’s actually one of London’s long-standing neighbourhood favourites. This place has always been about having a good time, and the best seats have always been at the tables on the street. There’s a canopy to keep the rain off, panels to deter the wind and plenty of home-cooking to combat the cold. Note they’re only accepting reservations via phone (020 72424119).
86-90 Lamb’s Conduit Street, WC1N 3LZ, ciaobellarestaurant.co.uk
One for those who aren’t quite ready to dine while getting drenched, the Bloomsbury Hotel’s seasonally decorated Dalloway Terrace is outdoors, but they’ve wisely got the heaters up and the plastic awnings down. You might have to bear a few Instagrammers — the decor is influencer catnip — but the easy-going menu of nicely realised comfort food (think chicken Milanese, grilled tiger prawns, a Thai green curry) is worth it. Beforehand, pop into next door bar, the near-perfect Coral Room.
16-22 Great Russell Street, WC1B 3NN, dallowayterrace.com
Before it became a highly respected restaurant with a second site in Covent Garden, Petersham Nurseries started as – you’ve guessed it – a plant nursery in Petersham. Its Richmond site is still that, but the food provision has gone from garden centre tea-and-cake to elegant Italian-inspired seasonal plates. Dining outdoors may sit you closest to the winding lanes of abundant flora, but sneaking inside, its glasshouse restaurant isn’t too painful a parting. Seasonally changing floristry collected from the nurseries– the dahlias are currently in full bloom – packs every corner of the room, festoons the tables, and hangs from the greenhouse ceiling.
Off Church Lane, TW10 7AB, petershamnurseries.com
The Ivy Chelsea Garden
The Ivy in Covent Garden may be the original and best, but this west London offshoot is a unique gem amid the Ivy Collection’s growing portfolio. Inside, the King’s Road favourite is festooned with blooms both real and doodled onto the walls, before the restaurant opens up onto an almost absurdly leafy garden – and not all of it is ivy (sorry). The pot-plant paradise was refurbished not long ago, and is looking better than ever. While the summer months are invigorated by the tinkle of a fountain, autumn is warmed by the presence of a crackling firepit.
195-197 King’s Road, SW3 5EQ, theivychelseagarden.com
Sushisamba Heron Tower
The City location of Sushisamba doesn’t stop at its bamboo-latticed walls, but spreads out onto two stunning outdoor terraces – both located a cool 38 floors above ground. The sweeping urban views may not be so au naturale, but dining on Brazilian-Japanese bites of sashimi and ceviche can also be enjoyed within the glow of the gigantic illuminated tree sculpture that erupts from the centre of one terrace’s bar, its red leaves channeling autumn all year round.
Heron Tower, EC2N 4AY, sushisamba.com
Don’t just get out, get high. Forza Wine, Peckham’s “taller, better-looking and cooler sibling” to Forza Win (their words), is up on roof of the bustling Bussey Building. Everything but the beer has an Italian edge — they’ve three twists on a Negroni alone — which they serve alongside proper drinking food, like the carby, booze-soaking pasta alla sorrentina. Groups should order the entire menu (at £98) and get cracking on the wine, from £21 a bottle.
The Rooftop, 133A Rye Lane, SE15 4BQ, forzawine.com
Truman’s Social Club
The UK’s biggest socially distanced pub garden, this spot arrived in Walthamstow in July. While they saw out the occasional summer shower with Glasto-esque poncho parties, they’ve just put up a huge heated beer tent to battle off the worst of the winter storms. No surprise they’ve plenty of Truman’s beers on tap — and are selling cans-to-go come 10pm — but there’s also food from local traders, and live music most Saturday and Sundays too.
1 Priestley Way, E17 6AL, @trumanssocialclub
40ft Brewery ft. Gordos
Dalston’s 40ft Brewery is now pouring pints out in their courtyard — including the apt 6FT Physically Distanced IPA. At six per cent strength, a couple of these should soon see off the cold, but stay steady with slices from local pizzeria Gordos, served daily from tomorrow. 40ft now have a host of new beers and, with room for 120 distanced drinkers in their marquee-covered tap room, there’s space to settle in to taste them all.
Abbot Street, E8 3DP, 40ftbrewery.com / gordos.co.uk
The French House
The vibe at this wonderful, rattling pub has always been to drink to keep the chill off — even in the height of summer. The small terrace here fills up with regulars knocking back endless glasses of wine, but it also doubles as an extension of Neil Borthwick’s terrific upstairs restaurant. Under the big umbrellas, tuck into things like roast quail and pork chops, and listen as locals regale newcomers with routines about their decades-long drinking careers.
49 Dean Street, W1D 5BG, frenchhousesoho.com