Design & Living / The Hunger

High, Low, Al Fresco: The Best Places to Eat Outdoors

Summer's here and the time is right for eating in the streets. So to help you narrow down your choices, The Hunger present their top tips for the best al fresco dining

Coppa Photography by Neil Wissink

“It is more or less a given that nothing is less favourable to clairvoyance than the bright sun: physical light and mental light coexist on very poor terms," once said André Breton. He may have a point, but alas we are weak and can’t help but succumb to the careless delights of sunny days, leaving behind the long dark night of the soul – at least for a few months. Indeed every establishment in London with an inch of concrete to spare is bustling their tables outdoors, perching up the umbrellas and saying a private prayer to the gods of good weather.

New this year, the Ritz has extended its street-level terrace service to introduce a champagne and canapé afternoon that spans the lazy hours between lunch and dinner. From 3pm you can order the Ritz’s own champagne and a cornucopia of canapés that betray their diminutive size with an exuberance of ingredients and a presentation that dazzles. Some fine examples include squid-ink cracker with lobster sauce, baby prawns, baby cucumbers and paprika, soufflé potato with crème fraîche, and caviar and terrine of foie gras with pineapple slice and pineapple jelly in gingerbread. After gliding through the Ritz’s famous Belle Epoque dining room, the sensibility on the terrace is more Edwardian, with a soupçon of turn-of-the-twentieth-century New York: green and white striped awning, townhouses visible past the gates, a seclusion fractured only by the sounds of city bustle heard from a comfortable distance. The strict dress code means men look their best in jackets and ties and there’s nothing stopping women from donning a summer hat.

While it’s an exceptional culinary experience to be had all year round, the sun offers even more of an incentive to visit the tremendously talented three cooks behind Bokit’La. With their three-year-old street stall venture, brothers Thierry and Nicolas Baptiste and their friend Julien Otz have brought French West Indian food from Guadalupe to London. Sounds specific but we guarantee universal satisfaction. Bokit (aka “creole burger”) is a traditional street-food sandwich in Guadalupe, and it is here upgraded and perfected for strolling diners at the markets in south and west London where these three set up shop. The dough recipe is a secret (they make it fresh in front of your eyes, and you won’t find its equal, trust us) while the fillings – salt cod, chicken or aubergine – merge with the spicy sauce (levels 1 – 5, all made by the Baptiste brothers’ mother) to give a hot, sweet, citrusy, salty and outstandingly pleasing taste. And for these dog days the Bokit’La gents are donning their straw hats and summer garb, so it’s time to set aside a Saturday afternoon to visit the Oval Farmer’s Market and sit low on the grass of the church grounds, enjoying this singular London culinary experience. 

The night descends in summer as well, but the festivities needn’t cease. In fact sundown is the perfect time to perch high above, contemplating the flickering-light view of London Fields offered by Coppa, the seasonal rooftop rosticceria run by the owners of pizzeria and salumi specialists Lardo. Cocktails and rotisserie chicken are the main offer here, easily scaled to serve a large crowd. Get friends and lovers out for the ‘nduja-roasted chicken with sides, including the sweet and vinegary pickled samphire or the grilled radicchio which is a bitter delight. Cured meat platters go a long way with fresh bread from the E5 Bakery.

And three more:
The Towpath Café – Serving up canal-side realness for several years now, this is still one of the nicest spots to linger along the Regent’s canal, and enjoy some American-inspired quasi-health food (think kale salads, but with mayonnaise).
Ombra – A good-value Italian eatery with a head chef from Venice on east London’s bustling Mare Street and a decent view of the canal. Lots of traffic rolls by the terrace, but good vibes from the staff make this an excellent place to sip Campari and soda and eat homemade pasta with ragú sauce and talk about football and Ferraris long into the night.
Rita’s – The Hackney hotspot have taken over the terrace of OvalSpace where they’ll be offering a pared-back weekend menu that mirrors their offering at their first residency at Birthdays; expect fried chicken rolls and frozen margaritas. Plus, there’s talk of their own soft-serve ice cream.

What we love about our al fresco picks: the people watching at the Ritz; the outstanding necklaces worn by the Bokit’La brothers et al; the view from Coppa.

Text by Ananda Pellerin