Looking for seasonal summer dining when out and about in London? Read on for some of our favourite spots…
I remember objecting quite vehemently when I heard someone say that anticipation is often better than the event (or thing) itself. I still object and feel myself getting unreasonably cross at the thought of such a statement. I hope there are no psychologists reading this, as they will definitely know they have a case on their hands. But I do hate the thought of the ‘event’ arriving and not being able to live up to expectations.
That said, the anticipation of eating alfresco in this fantastic city has a life of its own. Eating outside in the sunshine is nothing new – but eating outside in London! Such a secret thought. Such a guilty pleasure and one not to be taken lightly, let alone for granted. Such an elusive figment – one I personally stalk all winter, all the while carefully using a gourmet diet delivery service as a nod at the possibility of having to wear something summery. Even baring an arm seems daring, even rude, otherwise.
To honour the possibility of actually sitting outside for meal in London’s summer, a number of clever chefs and restauranteurs have come up with a solution for dreamers. I think I’m the last one to hear of this concept, so forgive me for being so excited: pop-up restaurants and cafes! It’s a brilliant idea and can be as temporary as our summer itself (or, if necessary, the warmth can be simulated by hauling the outdoor gas heaters into place. Perish the thought.) Some come then go quite quickly, essentially designed to seize the moment; some come and stay for the whole summer.
One such pop-up I really fancy is called The Summerhouse, open from Easter until November. The thing I like about it is the awning outside, the blue & white stripes, the summer menu, and the fact that it’s on the banks of the Union Canal. Sun, waterways, and little social gatherings go together and suddenly anticipation hasn’t a chance. It’s what’s really happening that is everything. Gorgeous seafood dishes of clam chowder, popcorn shrimps with sweet chilli sauce and swordfish steak alongside fish pie, mussels & halibut with béarnaise sauce, all washed down with something as inappropriate as a Waterside Cooler (Havana rum, lime juice and orange liqueur topped up with ginger beer). Not a very ‘London’ summer menu, more New England, but that’s what London does best. Food from across the globe – people from every continent.
The sun warming you on the outside, the rum from the inside, the glint of the water nearby, the murmur of happy groups of friends celebrating anything or nothing. What could be more heavenly?
Another truly inspirational place to eat out in the summer sunshine is the Chelsea Physic Garden. This is more in the category of seasonal restaurants than pop-ups, and opens from April to October only. The cafe is called Tangerine Dream, and is truly worth a visit. The Physic Garden itself should be enjoyed first, as there is nothing quite like the heat to release the aromas of the medicinal plants and herbs, which bring the bees buzzing lazily by. This has to be the quintessential sound of summer.
Photograph by Mike Baird
Then sit out on the terrace, feeling very Chelsea London, while you consider the summer menu. It isn’t vast but that’s the beauty – less is more when you look at a buffet table. And on this one in particular, you know that it’s all made on the premises. If you’re unlucky/lucky enough to have missed lunch and have come in for afternoon tea, you know that the cake is homemade and will rival the offering at Fortnums. The visual feast is every bit as good as the actual.
Lemon tart – Photograph by Ralph Daily
On offer is orange and polenta cake, fig and thyme almond tart, Tunisian almond tart, lemon tart, lavender scones with clotted cream and homemade seasonal jams. And there’s nothing to stop you having it with a refreshing glass of wine, if absolutely necessary! This is definitely the place to choose for tea on a gorgeous summer’s Sunday.
Scones – Photograph by Karen Booth
The tabloids will of course be reminding you (again) that summer is the time to feel energised, slim and bare skinned, apart from your shorts and t-shirt. They will be publishing annoying pictures of pretty tanned things, and one has to wonder if they actually have any fun at all. Use an exemplary gourmet diet delivery service Monday to Saturday, eating light and lovely food leading up to Sunday, to make sure you’re in both camps. Have fun, be slim, brown and bare all, all at the same time. All things are possible!
The real thing is better than the anticipation. I promise you.