If there’s one thing that Londoners are expert in - aside from moaning and talking about the weather - it’s combining the two, and moaning about the weather. There is nothing this city relishes more than craving sunlight before declaring, three hours into a summer heatwave, that “it’s a bit much isn’t it”.
Everyone needs some respite when the sun comes to town. Here are some airy restaurants with excellent food to have a breather in.
If you’re around London Bridge and the sun is getting overbearing then stop looking longingly at the Thames and go to Native instead. It’s a big and light restaurant on Southwark Street that’s a lovely escape from the outside. The food is seasonal and sustainable meaning the menu is as delicious sounding as it is intriguing. Dishes like fermented tomatoes, focaccia with confit garlic oil, and beetroot tartare are ideal summer bites.
If the idea of some soup on a roaster of a day isn’t appealing, then you need to think a little more laterally. What are we saying here? We’re saying xiao long bao (soup dumplings) in the air conditioned safety of Imperial Treasure in St. James’s. This high-end Chinese restaurant is by no means cheap, but escape the midday sun with a few friends for some of London’s best dim sum in a refreshing environment, and it’s worth it.
Western’s Laundry is a hip seafood restaurant in a converted garage in Islington. It’s a beautiful open space that feels very Grand Designs. So much so that you half expect Kevin McCloud to walk out and start one of his long, meandering, monologues rhapsodising about how eating oysters in a converted garage is the perfect example of nature and machine working in harmony. That probably won’t happen. Nevertheless, this is still one of London’s best summertime restaurants.
Yen is a Japanese restaurant on the Strand that pretty much deals in being the opposite to London on a daily basis. It’s cool, calm, and (so) collected that even the toilets wave at you. Best of all is that you can get some respite and cold soba dipping noodles, alone or in a group, because it’s one of the most relaxed rooms in London to sit in. Soba-aside, the tofu salad here is as refreshing as it is tasty, and the sushi is decent if you’re able to spend a little more.
A full bin is not great in hot weather. Nor is Shoreditch. Unless you’re in Leroy, that is. This restaurant and wine bar is the place to be when the sun is shining, but you’d rather it shine on your glass of wine, or your steak tartare on toast, rather than your face. It gets pretty buzzy in Leroy day or night, so you’ll probably need to call ahead to see if there’s a table or a spot at the bar to pitch up at. Once you do, you’ll find yourself here for a while.
To the narrow-minded, heading for a curry in the blazing heat is an error. But, for those more in the know (you and us), heading to Gunpowder in Tower Bridge is an extremely good choice no matter how hot. This second branch is straight out of the factory, meaning it has all of your chilled air needs, as well as those incredible lamb chops, and that venison and vermicelli doughnut.
If you don’t want to be outside but nor do you want to be inside, then Bellanger is one of London’s finest inside-outside restaurants. Its tall front windows open onto a terrace opposite Islington Green and if you can book or nab one of the tables directly next to the windows, then you’ll be living the inside-outside dining dream. Needless to say, some tarte flambée and a drink will be necessary to celebrate.
Maybe you need to get a last minute birthday gift. Maybe you had a meeting. Maybe you’re just an idiot. Regardless of the reason, you’re in and around Oxford Street and you’re beginning to morph into a human slip ‘n’ slide. It’s a good thing Rovi is a ten minute walk away. This is Ottolenghi’s best restaurant in London and it’s exactly what you need on a boiling hot day. The food - from warm and herby tomatoes in yoghurt with bread, to the squid and lardo skewer - is delicious. Plus it’s open from breakfast to dinner and there’s an excellent bar to sit at.
Uchi is a relaxed and airy Japanese restaurant off the Lower Clapton Road that serves up reliably tasty sushi. This is the perfect place for a post-sunny-day-drinking dinner especially as everything here - from chicken kar-age, to miso aubergine skewers, to nigiri and sashimi - is very tasty. It’s a popular neighbourhood spot so call ahead before you take cover here.
Willis Carrier invented the first electric air conditioning unit way back in 1902. He must have been one sweaty and smart bloke. and we’d like to thank him. Thank you Willis, thank you. Anyway, Noble Rot is our 9.5-rated every-situation spot, so of course it’s A/C’d up. This place is a life saver in many ways. Not least when your face is rapidly turning into an animate slice of cheese on toast. This is the wine bar and restaurant for when you need cold air, cold wine, and shit-hot focaccia most.
Daylesford Café in Chelsea looks like deforestation sponsored by the White Company. There are arbitrary trees dotted about, everything is gleaming white, and you can buy a pot of honey for £30. Nevertheless the upstairs café is a calming environment to relax and have one of their pretty decent seasonal salads.
The problem with being hot - in the “my body is a human waterfall” terms, rather than Ryan Gosling ones - is that it’s easier to warm up than cool down. If you’re cold you put on a jumper. If you’re hot you take off clothing and start rubbing a decade-old can of Fanta you just bought from the newsagents all over yourself. Bocca Di Lupo in Soho removes this problem by having both air conditioning and ice cream. So have a plate of pasta at the bar and some gelato off the menu. Or head to their shop opposite, Gelupo, afterwards.
Diogenes The Dog is a wine bar and shop in Elephant and Castle that’s a very pleasant spot to cool down with a glass of something chilled and admire the outside world from the window. They specialise in wine from small producers, and the staff are very happy to help without being encyclopedic in the slightest. Oh and there are snacks. Tasty snacks.
Remember when you were young and your parents told you to wear a white t-shirt in the pool to reflect the sun? No? We’re the only human lobsters here? Fine. Anyway, Bistrotheque is that white t-shirt in restaurant form. This trendy Bethnal Green bistro is in a big old warehouse and serves up easy pleasers like oysters, steak tartare, and fish and chips. All to the soundtrack of a bloke on the piano.
Primeur was the original converted garage restaurant before Western’s Laundry, though the same people run both. It’s on a residential road near Newington Green, and when the sun has got its hat on and the main door is slid open, it is truly one of (if not the) most enjoyable restaurant in London to be in. The food, European-style small plates, is the perfect accompaniment to a bottle of wine, which range from around £25-£60. The ideal time to book for is early evening, so you can eat jamon and gnudi in sunlight, and then cheese and meringue in candlelight.
Sometimes you don’t want somewhere full of natural light and space when it’s a roaster. Sometimes you just want the blast of artificially cooled air and enough dim sum to sink a ship. Which is why you should be sitting in the Royal China Club on Baker Street. This legendary Chinese restaurant is a haven from the outside world, and it’s so big that most of the time you can just walk in.
Railway arches were previously the go-to location of tactical toilet breaks, but these days they’re the location of excellent places to eat. Sager + Wilde in Bethnal Green is no different, and its big open arch makes it a very enjoyable place to enjoy the outside from the inside, before rejoining nature as the sun sets. The food is just things you’ll want to eat: cod’s roe, heritage tomatoes, handmade pasta, cheese, and of course, wine.