We love London. Truly, we do. But we’re also happy to admit that London can be a bit of an asshole. One minute it’s all drinks on the Thames and skyline views, the next it’s pollution and being charged £800 to live in a box with a leaky sink. But the good news is that there are ways to feel like you’ve abandoned London for a holiday without actually having to book a flight or even breach the limits of the M25. Namely, by going to one of these restaurants. Bottles of rosé and flip flops encouraged.
“Hi there, is this the Advertising Standards Authority? Cool, well look, I just wanted to launch a complaint against every single advert that involves a swimming pool or a pina colada for causing intense emotional distress”. That’s us, weeping with jealousy at every shot of someone wearing swimwear on the TV. Combat the holiday envy with a trip to Mazi’s secluded back garden. This Greek spot in Notting Hill makes a mean tzatziki and the seafood manti should definitely be on your order.
Restaurants like Imad’s Syrian Kitchen are rare. Not only does this place make you feel like you’ve been transported somewhere far, far away where you could viably wear a vest without judgement or hypothermia, it also simultaneously makes you feel like you never want to leave London because, well, Imad’s Syrian Kitchen is here. On the top floor of Kingly Court, it’s got a baba ghanouj we would lay down our lives for (probably), grilled okra, and tender lamb shoulder that will erase the bleak chaos of Oxford Circus station and replace it with the perfect white noise of chewing perfectly spiced meat. Is that the sound of waves in the distance? No, it’s probably rain but who cares, this great little place will provide all the Big Holiday Feelings you need no matter the weather.
The fact that Tavolino’s terrace overlooks one of London’s quintessential landmarks - Tower Bridge - could make you think that this isn’t a restaurant that’ll make you feel like you’ve broken free of the city. But you’d be wrong, because this very well might be the best terrace in the whole of London. Serving handmade pasta and proper negronis, their huge, rattan-chaired terrace has something very dolce vita about it. There are big views of the river. There are little kids frolicking in the nearby fountains. And there’s a whole lot of ricotta on the menu. By the way, if you come here without getting involved in the nduja tagliatelle or the cacio e pepe, then you’re doing it wrong.
Another exceptional example to file under Eating Seafood Is The Only Reason You Need To Turn On Your OOO, Prawn On The Lawn is a great little fish-fuelled restaurant on St. Paul’s Road in Highbury. Not only a top spot to perch and tuck into a whole John Dory, this place is also a fishmongers so you can pretend you’re in the midst of a seafood market you just happened to stumble upon between trips to the beach. It’s also worth noting that their other restaurant is in Padstow, so they really do know how to do that whole relaxed seaside thing, with a little truffle oil and ‘Cornish negronis’ thrown in for good measure. Oh, and their oysters start at the casual price of £2.50.
It’s the strangest thing, but sipping lukewarm prosecco in that paddling pool you ordered from Argos really isn’t making you feel like you’re on Lake Garda. Luckily, the hidden courtyard at La Goccia will give you that whole dolce vita feel, and more importantly, access to some great Italian small plates. Be warned that prices can stack up quickly, but it’s totally worth it for a top-tier catch-up or a special date night.
You want to drink and you want to eat. More specifically, you want to drink a lot and nibble on some delightful things that will leave your hands smelling of garlic for the rest of the day. Enter Bar Douro, a relaxed little Portuguese restaurant in London Bridge. Their outdoor seating involves stools and some big beer barrels fashioned into tables that we can already picture ourselves leaning on, glass of rosé in hand, humming Club Tropicana. On the menu you’ll find things like croquetes, grilled octopus, and the vacation nibbles swan song, garlic prawns.
Campania and Jones is sunshine for the heart. No, we haven’t been on those lunchtime margaritas again, we just mean that even if it’s pissing it down, Campania and Jones will always give you that warm and fuzzy holiday feel. A great little Italian spot that’s all rustic furniture and excellent gnudi, they have a courtyard full of antique chairs and just enough candlelight to make you feel like you’re hundreds of miles away from Columbia Road. Get the raviolo e vongole for peak holiday feels.
Chameleon is the kind of place where a server could stand up and recite the entirety of Shakira’s ‘Whenever, Wherever’ and no one - absolutely no one - would bat an eye. Frankly, a ridiculous restaurant with a beautiful self-coined ‘God’s Garden’, all bets are off here. You can either swing by for an evening of hibiscus royales and slow-cooked kohlrabi or pop-by for an equally boozy, loud weekend ‘cowshuka’ brunch, complete with an electric violinist walking around in a full-length gold gown. Sounds a lot like something that would happen on your last night in Mallorca that your mother would recount in vivid detail to the neighbours, doesn’t it? Plus, on the right sunny day, the secluded Marylebone garden really does have that paradise getaway feel.
There is a tiny red alarm button in our brain labelled ‘BOUGIE FUN’ that we mentally hit every single time we have oysters. As all seafood fans know, oysters, octopus, and clams, are all dishes that taste exponentially better when you eat them outside in the sunshine. We have no idea why, it’s just a fact. Do a little ‘please don’t piss it down’ dance - or alternatively, check your weather app - and make a booking at The Oystermen. This seafood specialist spot has a huge terrace in the middle of Covent Garden away from any traffic. Book a table at golden hour for peak European city-break feels.
Grab your passport, you’re going to Sloane Square. Okay, fine, you don’t technically need your passport to get to Chelsea but whatever, it’s fun to say. This great Bahraini restaurant serves things like moussaka, kashke bademjoon (an aubergine party involving caramelised onion and walnuts), stuffed prawn patties, and pan-seared sea bass with pilaf. The decor is all mosaic tiling, bright white walls, and frankly, a cosy cushion fest. The prices are, erm, a little steep. But it’s worth it for their outdoor terrace, and hey, you’re on holiday right?
Look, calling Circolo an ‘authentic Tuscan trattoria’ is like calling us Gisele Bundchen’s doppelganger. Sadly, it’s just not true. But none of that matters once you’re sitting in their back terrace eating pasta out of a bowl made of cheese and deciding between a ‘Pinky Promise Margarita’ and a ‘Take The Pisco’. Yes, those are real names of their cocktails. Although booking a table can be tricky, this place is a proper laugh and you can’t go wrong with their OTT pasta dishes and a couple (several) cocktails.
If the name of this restaurant gives you flashbacks to every time you’ve attempted to speak French, then same. This little charmer is in Bermondsey and as well as an outdoor patio, you’ll find lots of meat dripping in butter - just the way we like it. On their blackboard - see, we told you it was charming - there are starters like gazpacho and grilled squid, but the mains are rich, sharing situations. Think veal t-bone, samphire sea bream, and chateaubriand - which roughly translates as juicy steak, steak, steak. Plus, they’ve got a great list of wines on offer and a kid’s menu too.
There are garden restaurants, and then there’s the cafe at Petersham Nurseries. It’s essentially a cafe in the greenhouse of a private garden in Richmond, with Italian food that’s pricey, but always extremely pretty and the kind of thing even your pickiest friend would nod approvingly to. Get a plate of their saffron gnocchi with mussels and peas and sit in their absolute stunner of a conservatory, which opens onto an actual meadow during the summer. As far as escapes go, it feels like you’ve left town because you basically HAVE left town. Factoring in the walk from Richmond tube, it’s a proper mission, but compared to getting on the train to Oxfordshire to eat at a mediocre country pub, we’ll take this any day.
Things that make us smile: Dogs wearing sunglasses, the smell of sun cream, watching people try to board a lilo seal-style, and Lemonia in Primrose Hill. This classic, old school Greek restaurant has a whole lot of tzatziki on the menu and fake vines on the walls. The fact that it’s just a tiny bit naff adds to the charm and sipping ouzo in their back conservatory is always a laugh. Make sure the tyrokafteri, calamari, and baklava are on your order.
Getting lost in Holland Park’s Japanese gardens is already enough to make us forget the horrors of the tube, but it doesn’t involve food or drinks, so we can’t really list it here. Stumbling upon Belvedere in Holland Park takes it up a couple of notches. It’s an old restaurant and ballroom dating back to the 17th century, and has a faded grandeur that reminds us of the dance hall from Beauty and the Beast and a real-life Hotel California. The French and Italian food is tasty (though it can feel like you’re eating in a posh restaurant, circa 1994), and even though it’s quiet much of the time, having lunch on its outdoor terrace that overlooks the garden is a peaceful way to escape for a few hours.
Before any trip to River Café we like to set our email status to OOO, just so we really get that full ‘I’m going away, suckers’ feeling. One of London’s most legendary restaurants, River Café serves game-changing Italian food and - surprise, surprise - has river views. You should know that this place is pretty pricey but it’s perfect for a blow-out meal in the sunshine involving things like veal taglierini and an excellent lip-smacking lemon tart.
Llewelyn’s is the kind of restaurant that makes you feel like you might look up and see Richard Curtis saving a small kitten with a kite. Basically, it’s quaint A F. Not only have they extended their seriously lovely outdoor terrace to allow for further al fresco tables, their menu suits that white-wine-sipping, risotto-gobbling energy of summer that we love so much. Just be sure to book ahead, all that charm makes it popular.
Standing on Shoreditch High Street doesn’t sound like a promising place to start for a great escape, and neither does eating lunch inside an old school canteen. Our repressed memories of being locked inside the stationary cupboard aside, things change when you take a couple of turns from the main road, and you’ll end up at a quiet square and the entrance to one of our favourite restaurants in London. Pressing the buzzer to the Rochelle school and opening the gate into the garden that Rochelle Canteen sits in is a delight we’ll never get tired of, and we could easily say the same of the simple but excellent British food. Hit it for a supremely chilled breakfast or glorious lunch and enjoy the al fresco seating.
Being on holiday is fantastic. Having a nap becomes a ‘siesta’, serious laziness becomes ‘wellness’, and that 12pm cocktail becomes mandatory. The good news is that, in our opinion, the pisco cocktails at Chelsea’s Chicama should also be mandatory. Although this chic Peruvian spot is on the King’s Road, their outdoor terrace has a whole lot of foliage and feels surprisingly secluded from the hustle and bustle of London. Expect ceviche, grilled prawns, and hefty seafood platters.
A disused car park in the backstreets of Hackney Wick isn’t an obvious place to escape the stress of London, but turn down an alley (stay with us here) and you’ll reach Grow, a little haven along the River Lea. Everything is apparently locally grown and fairtrade, but the main headline is that there’s an excellent riverside setup that’s hard to beat, and on a sunny afternoon it’s full of locals watching kayakers and paddleboarders coast along the water while sipping cold drinks and eating halloumi and pulled pork buns. There are usually DJs and live bands at the weekends as well, so it’s also easy to make a night of it with a few mates.