Knowing where’s good to eat outside, especially around central London, is essential. It’s more than likely you’ll end up in the West End at some point—the sun beating down on you, gaggles of teenagers emerging from wagamamas all around you, a man spray-painted gold staring you dead in the eye—and realise that you need a breather. And a drink. And something nice to eat. Preferably while sitting outside. Here’s where to go when that happens.
J Sheekey’s glamorous street-side patio is, even though you’re in a touristy part of London, relatively sheltered from the crowds. If you’re going to splurge on a fancy seafood tower, it should be here. There’s something about the luminous pink seating and the shimmering silver towers of seafood that gets everyone going. But even if you’re not looking to flash the cash, you can still swing by for an aperitif and a few oysters on the side before moving on.
Prior to the rather seductive addition of its covered outdoor terrace, Parsons looked like the kind of place you could walk past every day for a decade thinking it was a barbers. Until, of course, you get a strong whiff of clam chowder, enter, and realise it’s a gorgeous little British seafood restaurant. This place is not only an absolute sanctuary in the midst of Covent Garden’s chaos but it also serves delicious bits like cod cheek fritters with seaweed tartare sauce. It all whispers three words in our ears. Long. Lazy. Lunch.
St. John’s Neal’s Yard bakery isn’t a wine and dine affair—there are a couple of benches outside for you to sit down and have a tender moment with your raspberry doughnut or egg sandwich—but that doesn’t make it any less useful in an area severely lacking in top-tier grab and go options. The treats are more sweet than savoury and it’s perfect for a doughy midafternoon pick-me-up.
If you close your eyes while sitting outside at The 10 Cases and smell the cigarette smoke in the air, taste the wine in your mouth, and blindly fumble for a bit of ham on the table, you might think you were in Paris. Only you aren’t. This Covent Garden spot is about as close to that lively Parisian wine bar feeling as we’re going to get. The wine list is extensive and the charcuterie decent. Be aware that lots of other people will have the same idea, so expect a wait.
From the outside, this Peruvian spot looks like a quaint little restaurant. There are half a dozen or so tables outside and it’s a bit of a suntrap if you time things right. Inside is a big modern restaurant with a rustic private dining room and a bar in the basement. Whether you go for a couple of pisco cocktails and some yuca fries, or a full-blown feast of salmon ceviche, roasted lamb rump, and beef empanadas, you’re pretty much guaranteed a great time.
Stepping into Ave Mario feels like stepping onto a movie set. Red booths, neon lights, and mirrors all over the walls. This is a restaurant of escapism, just like Big Mamma restaurant group’s other spots Gloria and Circolo Popolare. There’s outdoor seating at the front and in the back, plus all the usual pizza and pasta suspects. In case that isn’t enough, there’s also stracciatella ice cream cake. Molto bene.
La Goccia is basically what would happen if a spa and a florist had a beautiful baby that serves high-end Italian small plates. Set in a courtyard aptly called Floral Court (seriously, how Secret Garden is that?), this restaurant is undeniably expensive. But it’s also entirely worth it for a classy catch-up or a special occasion when you’re looking to impress through the medium of burrata and stunning metal garden furniture.
London’s most legendary tapas restaurants are still very much 10/10 spots to cosplay being in a sunnier, less passive aggressive, and officially European city. The Covent Garden location is a nice spot for alfresco dining. Make sure you get the pan con tomate and a glass of something chilled and crispy.