Life is better outside, though dining out al fresco has become a competitive sport with many of us who prefer more spontaneity in our lives losing out to smug serial bookers who seemingly have their social life mapped out until July.
Here are my recommendations for eight restaurants/cafes that are either walk-in only or bookable yet keep some tables back for spur-of-the-moment socialising. Most are a little under-the-radar and more likely to offer solace and calm for an epic catch-up with friends, family or lovers as well as that so missed lively hum of conversation, food to savour and exclaim with pleasure over that’s different to what you’ve been cooking endlessly at home. And, joy of joys, being looked after, waited on with soliticious urbane charm and no clearing up.
Kudu, Peckham’s hottest restaurant (close to Queens Rd station) run by Amy Corbin and her South African chef husband Patrick Williams (they’re soon to expand to Nunhead too) have converted what used to be the fag and bin backyard into a glorious, colourful and (importantly) covered oasis. Both the secret garden and pavement seats are bookable, though some tables are kept back for walk-ins. Signature dishes include the smoked bacon butter with house brioche like rolls cooked in a copper pan, hazelnut choux bun with chicken liver parfait and smoked pineapple “snacks”, mussels potjie with seaweed cooked over coals. For brunch, expect boerewors sausage with romesco and white beans, and French toast chocolate babka with orange cream and miso caramel. www.kuducollective.com
Minnow, overlooking Clapham Common has always had a gorgeous, blink-and-you-will-miss-it tiny vibrant patio out back resplendent with fairy lights but now they have a greatly expanded pavement terrace with plenty of tables and always keep some back for the day. They’re open from breakfast through to dinner for every from a croquette snack to a full blown dinner and on Sunday from 4pm-9pm serve a roast with all the trimmings plus seasonal trad pudding and BYO £26.00.. www.minnowclapham.co.uk
One of the sunniest and busiest pavement cafes South of the River is Balham’s Milk London on Hildreth Street, it is a personal favourite, even if I am often the oldest “hipster” there. It is strictly first come first served and I would advise arriving well before 10am especially at weekends if you don’t want to queue for ages. For brunch, I favour Young Betty: invariably perfectly poached eggs with dry-cured bacon or Moxon’s smoked salmon and divine smoked hollandaise. Below, an example of their adventurous specials. The coffee is excellent, and, at weekends, they have definitive pastries, savoury & sweet from Flor besides their own. www.milklondonshop.uk
Jefferson’s ice-cream parlour in the heart of Balham has a real suntrap patio garden for excellent coffees, housemade organic milk ice-cream: the chocolate and coffee flavours are both superb, plus extravagant ice-cream sundaes, pancakes and waffles made to order. www.jeffersonsicecream.com
A favourite of Islington intelligentsia, Bellanger (North London’s The Wolseley with the same owners) has a spacious pavement terrace with a smart blue canopy cover and serves a Grand Cafe menu encompassing breakfast, croques, salads and crepes. www.bellanger.co.uk
Darjeeling Express, culinary and social activist for independent businesses, female and migrant run enterprises, Asma Khan’s restaurant has moved to Covent Garden and has bookable tables on King Street for lunchtime Thali’s. The palm leaf platter of small dishes is served throughout the afternoon too when it is strictly walk-ins only. Choose from Methi Chicken (cooked in rich tomato sauce & fenugreek), Lamb Gosht (cooked with dried red chillies & tomato), Bengali Prawns in a delicate coconut milk sauce or vegan aubergine cooked with nuts with tamarind. All served with lentil fritters, lemon rice, channa dal, potato and peas, tomato chutney and poppadoms £20. www.darjeeling-express.com
Summon up Santorini in Notting Hill at Mazi serving exceptional, sophisticated Greek food: seafood manti (dumplings) evoke the azure Med, calamari are filigree light and loukoumades (a kind of Greek doughnut) with lavender honey, crushed walnuts and chocolate sorbet a decadent dessert. There is a pretty whitewashed patio garden with furniture in that dazzling blue so familiar from Greek holidays. www.mazi.co.uk
Soho is packed at the moment, though it is worth taking a chance on The French House for outstanding gutsy, stripped back French & British bistro food courtesy of Neil Borthwick, chef-proprietor and partner of Angela Hartnett.Try the finest tarama with fat radishes and sharply dressed leaves, Spring lamb navarin and textbook Paris-Brest – a chocolate-drenched, hazelnut-spiked choux bun named after the famous cycle race. A few of the dozen-ish tables on the street are bookable though most are first-come-first-served. www.frenchhousesoho.com