SUMMER is coming and it’s time to dine al fresco, wearing sunglasses and in clothes that have laid hibernating in a drawer over long winter months. “Life is short, buy the shoes” – words printed on a wall at The Refinery Bankside – nicely captures the mood engendered by the arrival of sunshine in the heart of the metropolis.
The Refinery Bankside is close to Blackfriars Bridge, occupying a large space with industrial-style decor inside and making grand use of a pedestrianized area around the perimeter. Popping up here is a super-sized outdoor screen for screening the Olympics and a new Barcadi-themed drinks menu. At the same time the terrace will be adorned with palm-trees and deck chairs, bringing a touch of Latin glamour to what is usually a dull urban landscape.
While lunchtime brings hungry crowds of office workers, evenings are the best time to enjoy what the open kitchen serves up by way of bar food and full meals. Napoli flatbread, halloumi burgers and bowls of quinoa with avocado and pomegranate seeds all make for delicious light meals while daily specials and steaks tempt you into staying longer and making a night of it.
On the other side of the river, the restaurant merry-go-round continues at Exmouth Market – eateries close and are replaced there on a regular basis and the newest kid on the block, a small pedestrianized street to be precise, plays with Mexican food in a lively style. To judge by the taste of the food and the affordable prices Cielo Blanco could establish itself as one of the street’s permanent residents. The first Cielo Blanco, self-labelled Mexican social eating, opened in Leeds more than a couple of years ago so what you eat at their second home in London is well tried and tested. For just over £20 each, two people could share a bottle of wine and any six of the tacos, tosadas, quesadillas and flautas, enjoying an outdoor meal in a boho neighbourhood. Unlike the countless restaurants nearby on Islington High St, you won’t have to contend with the noise and pollution of constant vehicular traffic and this makes the social dining all the more sociable.
Pavement tables in a pleasant location also beckon at The Cavendish, a pub on a corner in Marylebone where a new chef, Douglas Santi, has brought less formality and more zest to an all-day menu. The upstairs dining area remains conventional and a tad uninspiring with its plain white walls while the bar downstairs can be frantically busy after 5pm but gloriously peaceful later on at night. Best of all is a reservation for a table out on the street, a relaxing spot for food, drink and conversation after a tiring shopping session in Oxford St (only 10 minutes away).
The Cavendish is an Italian job, from the chef to the waiters, and this makes for some exciting food. The chef’s signature dish, 100 layer lasagne, is not as alarming as it might seem and is created using crepe instead of pasta. Expect to find classic Italian dishes like sea bream with clams and Sardinian pasta (fregola) but be surprised by Middle Eastern touches as when the artichoke salad arrives sprinkled with sumac and chia seeds.
Italian food and sunshine go naturally together and a new restaurant on Kensington High Street makes the most of this by having a terrace by the street in addition to its super-stylish interior. Rebosio+Spagnulo have designed hotels from Morocco to Mumbai and their talent is on show inside Osteria 60 where colours of gold and ochre create the feel of a sumptuous nightclub. The terrace with patterned tiles underfoot is more purely Italian even if London buses are regularly trundling past and Horse Chestnut trees grandly line Kensington Gardens on the other side of the road.
The bar is an attractive place to hang out for a drink before eating but for summertime a floral Garden Martini suggests itself and ought properly to be enjoyed sitting outside on the terrace. The menu, like the wine list, is unashamedly Italian – scialatielli alla amatriciana, risotto with lovely San Marzano tomatoes, Neapolitan ragù – and the service is as impeccable as one would expect in a five-star establishment like the Baglioni Hotel.
Camden Town is as different to Kensington as the beer garden at Edinboro Castle is to the terrace at Osteria 60. As pubs go it is nothing special but Dylan Thomas was happy to make it his local and to judge by the crowds that fill the place every evening and weekend lots of punters are of a like mind. At weekends you will probably need a reservation to be sure of a table in the beer garden, especially now that the outdoor space has become a pop-up Gin Garden for the summer months. A special “gin menu” features the likes of a cucumber-garnished Hendricks and a Tanquery No 10 pepped up with citrus notes. Dylan Thomas would have enjoyed all these and the very decent white Rioja that is available by the glass and bottle.
If pavement dining is not your shtick, prepare for a very pleasant alternative after shooting up to the twenty-third floor of a hotel and ascending a snazzy-looking staircase to Kojawan. The Hilton Metropole at the Marble Arch end of Edgware Rd has created a glitzy space with a snazzy blue glass bar counter at one end and anime-themed work by graphic artists around the place. Try to snag a window table for a panoramic view of London from the north. It’s all very different to the busy lobby area at ground level where out-of-towners mill about, wheelies trailing behind them like well-trained pets.
Ko(Korea)ja(Japan)wan(Taiwan) has glamour and the food reflects this: a menu of spice-enlivened picnic food without the plastic cutlery or ants in the grass and on Sundays a brunch with free-flowing wine, Bloody Mary, Cosmopolitan or Kirin beer. Summer on a plate and in a glass – and buy those shoes.
by Sean Sheehan