You are a social butterfly. If, of course, the definition of social butterfly is someone who is in a codependent relationship with a remote, dry shampoo, and sad songs about the human condition. In all honesty, it’s been a hot minute since any of us were able to see our friends or go on a date, so it’s completely understandable that we’re all a bit rusty at making conversation, holding eye contact, or not screaming ‘SANITIZE ME’ if anyone accidentally bumps into you.
That’s where this guide comes in. We’ve run through our mental arsenal of great restaurants and selected the ones that will help you as you tentatively enter the world of hanging out, and dining out, once more. From a stylish rooftop terrace that will give you something to talk about to a lowkey but lovely café in Victoria Park that will act as restaurant valium, these are the best places to ease you back into a buzzing social life. Just don’t mention Tiger King okay?
How To Secure A Seat At London’s Best Restaurants
photo credit: Forza Wine Serving Us Glorious Sunset Realness
You’re planning a dinner. Please note: we are loosely using the word ‘dinner’ here as shorthand for a spectacular post-hibernation social debut that proves you are still very hot, very cool, and definitely not emotionally traumatised by four months of lockdown. We see you. That’s why we’d like to introduce you to Forza Wine, a rooftop terrace in Peckham serving things like braised beef shin flatbread, garlic mussels, and soft serve. We’re talking views across London, great cocktails, and the opportunity to take a jealousy-inducing pic for the ’Gram come golden hour. Welcome back to society gorgeous xoxo.
After months of not having to engage in excruciating small talk and with the realisation that you can’t go camera-off IRL, something to oil the hinges might be necessary. By something we mean wine and Bright is very good for it. The London Fields wine bar-cum-restaurant is doing a walk-in only terrazzo thing in their car park-looking front garden. There’s lots of natural, low intervention stuff on their list - or cocktails if you’re not into grapes - and the menu is as good for nibbles as it is for cuttlefish ragu.
Mentally you haven’t quite ricocheted back from being told that sitting with your mates might result in contracting a deadly virus. Fair, very fair. If you’re desperate to have a catch-up but still find yourself contemplating investing in a hazmat suit over a vacation and bikini, then rest-assured that Pavilion Café has got you covered. This beloved spot on the lake in Victoria Park does an excellent brunch and there’s always some cute dachshunds around that will act as your own personal fluffy conversation-starters. Basically, think of it as a walk but with great food and company.
If you’re looking to ease yourself back into things with something that feels more heart-to-heart than let’s-have-another-pint, 40 Maltby Street is a brilliant and lowkey choice. With just a handful of tables outside and a changing menu that’s made for two people (or at tops four) who want to carefully and casually catch-up over terrine, fritters and probably at least two custard or Swiss roll-type desserts, the wine bar and restaurant in Bermondsey is a serene oasis in what’s likely going to be a Spring Break-like summer.
You’re going to love this pub in Stoke Newington. It’s like all those Zoom pub quizzes you did except not soul-destroying! A proper neighbourhood gastropub with a nice back garden, this place will work just as well for a slap-up meal or a couple of pints with nibbles. And when we say ‘a couple of pints and nibbles’ we’re 100% acknowledging that you’re probably going to have to meet up with someone you don’t want to commit to a whole dinner with. Catching up on a year of absolutely nothing with a third-tier friend? Grab a pint and a round of chips. Catching up with your favourite, beloved pub pal? Go in on the onglet, gratin dauphinois, pints, and a mandatory round of celebratory negronis.
Once a savant of conversation and the delicate art of relaying every single gory detail of your mutual friend’s shit dates, now you are capable of saying little more than ‘snacks, I like snacks, yes’. That’s why your foray back into society will benefit from a restaurant with a built-in talking point. At Seabird, the talking point is the view. Seriously, if you looked hard enough you could probably see the Eiffel Tower from up here. It also doesn’t hurt that this place is home to the best oyster experience we’ve had in London, thanks to their long list of options and the ever-helpful staff. Don’t skip the cocktails.
Planning to meet up with someone that you don’t want to have a big dinner and a bottle with? Towpath is is our go-to for a lovely and always beautiful (even in bad weather) al fresco daytime meal. The walk-in only cafe sits alongside the Regents Canal in Haggerston, so as well as the vibrant view of your tomatoes and mojo verde, or confit garlic and goats curd on toast, you’ll also enjoy the flashes of orange as a Sainsos bag for life (or two) lazily float past. Nature. Is. Healing.
We’ve missed the sesh. We have ached for it, cried for it, described illegal ravers as ‘wanky little pissheads’ out of a seething jealousy that their morals have meant that they’ve enjoyed the sesh whilst we pretended crochet was anything but an insult to our former lives as Fun People. But the sesh, she is back. Kind of. Although clubs across the land remain closed, this huge open-air bar in Tottenham is open. Perfect for anyone who wants their reunions with a side of dutch courage and the sensation that you’re in a land far, far away from the Central Line, there’s plenty of cocktails and street food to get involved in. Just know that this place is seriously popular, so you’ll need to book a couple weeks in advance.
Llewelyn’s is lovely. Like, the kind of lovely that makes you feel like you’re in some kind of alternative reality sponsored by Enya and rescue dogs. It is the restaurant you deserve. It’s also next to a florist in a quiet square in Herne Hill where - we kid you not - we once saw an actual bird’s nest in a tree and heard someone playing the street piano inside the station. See, lovely. Short of being the finest spot for a potential Richard Curtis meet-cute, the food here is also exceptional. The menu changes regularly but you’re in safe-hands no matter what you order.
Stripped of our Hinge dates and casual 4am drug habits, Londoners have started to crave nature. But this is London, so you know what, a canal will do. You’ll see some ducks, some pigeons, maybe even an Egyptian goose. Suck on that, responsible coupled-up friends who have partaken in the great exodus to countryside living. Jokes aside, Crate Brewery is one of those zero-pressure canal spots in Hackney Wick where you can have a casual pint and eat great pizza whilst the feelgood playlist keeps your spirits up. The best part is that if you start to feel a little overwhelmed by it all you can get your pizza and pints to go and find a quiet spot along the canal.
During this dark period of your life you replaced your personality with plants. It’s not your fault, it was either that or rewatching the entirety of Grey’s Anatomy and we all know you opted for the choice involving less Snow Patrol and weeping. Good for you. But seeing as foliage is now one of the few things that makes you feel calm, 14 Hill’s new takeover of 120 Fenchurch Street’s rooftop should be on your radar. Not only is there some serious plant action and skyline views, you can also get involved in their tarted-up take on a chicken kiev or their huge fruits de mer situation. Be warned, prices are high, but it’s worth it for a catch-up with your favourite people and your favourite things. Plants.
You and your closest friends are desperate to be back in a restaurant but with a chorus of ‘our anxiety levels are off the charts, baby!’. Morito can help with that. This spot on Exmouth Market that specialises in north African and Spanish-inspired small plates, is always energetic but in a cool, laid-back way. Kind of like a hyperactive Beagle just before a nice, long nap. This strip of Clerkenwell is always busy but never claustrophobic and thankfully it’s away from the traffic so you can really enjoy your deep and meaningfuls. Oh, and you know that person you’ve been chatting to throughout lockdown 3.0? Yeah, Morito will work perfectly for that date night too.
The Grand Duchess
Short of hiring Gemma Collins to come and fill any awkward silences, dinner on a converted canal boat is the best lockdown comeback dining option. Nothing to talk about? You’re on a boat. Trying not to mention your friend’s lockdown mullet? You’re on a boat. Turns out that you’ve lost any and all flirting abilities? Who cares! You’re on a boat! The Grand Duchess serves great seafood, including things like monkfish scampi, Carlingford oysters, and whole steamed trout. Plus, they have outdoor heaters on their decks.
If you’ve spent the last year somewhat enjoying all the solitude and WFB (working from bed) then Hoppers is just the place for a meal that will remind you why everyone’s so big on this ‘getting out the house’ stuff anyway. One bite into the lamb shank buriani and you’ll swear off your trackies, but by the time you’ve made your way through the bone marrow varuval, some signature egg hoppers, and what we shamefully refer to as The World’s Buffest Prawns, you’ll never want to be at home again. Excuse me, I live on this foliage-packed King’s Cross terrace now, bring me another coconut gimlet. And technically, you could because it’s totally covered from the weather and you’ll never get sick of their 10/10 chicken kari.
If you would have asked us what a chiminea was prior to the pandemic we would have tilted our heads and said ‘is it, like, the Gen Z version of the macarena?’ But alas, thank you global crisis, we now know all about fire pits, fencing, and the exact shade requirements of a lemon tree due to spending so much time in our mate’s gardens. If your comfort level hasn’t passed ‘casual London garden’ then Lost Boys Pizza is a good shout for a lowkey catch-up. Complete with sweet naff bunting and lots of happy faces, this small Camden pizzeria is as close as you can get to a private garden whilst still being able to pay someone to mix the cocktails. Technically, it’s, erm, vampire-themed, but that’s fine because frankly, nothing scares us anymore, and a little wink wink nudge nudge silliness never hurt anyone. Plus, the pizzas are good and they even have a weather-proof cabin at the end of the garden.
Of course you’ve been socialising! You saw Carrie on Tuesday, Miranda on Thursday morning, and Samantha, that fox, you’ve been seeing her for months. You might even introduce her to your other mate, the Duke, they’d really get - oh wait, hang on, those are TV characters. If your socialising has been strictly 2D, then The Rail House Café is the perfect place for a post-lockdown catch-up for a multitude of reasons. First of all, it’s got that whole boujie lunch thing going on that will remind you of the 820 hours of reality TV you watched during lockdown. Secondly, you can either use it for quickfire coffee and nibbles or a full four-hour debrief over buttermilk pancakes and eggs benedict burgers. Thirdly, they make a very solid cocktail. Rejoice, brunch is back in 3D and so are you.
As you re-enter the world you might find yourself thinking, wow the world is just one big Netflix, and I just don’t know what to watch. What we’re saying is, decisions are hard. So whilst you’re still getting your bearings on where to eat, who to see, when to leave - there’s Mercato Metropolitano. A huge street food situation in Elephant and Castle, you can simply wander around the market, checking out the (food) talent, until something grabs your fancy. And seeing as they’ve got everything from top jerk chicken to Japanese, something definitely will. One of our all-time favourite places to hang out in the sunshine, you should also know that they’re open until midnight from Thursday to Sunday if you’re looking for al fresco late-night options.
Brasseries were actually invented in 1727 after The Great Plague of Marseille, as a safe space for all the poets to share their lockdown sonnets, including one notable piece entitled Au Revoir La Peste. Okay, we just made all of that up but importantly, it sounds legit doesn’t it? Nice bit of all-day dining and a croque monsieur after months of ‘living through history’? Don’t mind if we do. Bellanger is exactly the kind of no-brainer brasserie where you can abandon all worry and just focus on the steak frites in front of you. Hot tip: this place is especially perfect for family reunions that you don’t want to involve a four-course meal.
Evidence that applying stress to already stressful situations will only end in tears: that birthday party where you spent the entire night refusing to do karaoke, every single one-night stand ever, and of course, your A-level results. That’s why simplicity should be at the top of your agenda when you’re starting to dip a toe in dining out again, and nowhere says ‘keep it simple’ like Noodle and Beer. A Chongqing noodle and Sichuan restaurant in Spitalfields, this place serves reliably excellent food you can gobble up whilst offering a ‘so, how’s the family?’ between rounds of thick, chewy tian-shui mian and a fiery bowl of gong-bao ji ding. They’ve got a few tables out front and, as you might have guessed, several beers to choose from.
Fuck it, you can barely remember your own name and date of birth let alone how to feign interest in your mate’s new love interest. Kick it old school - like, playground old school - and just go for an ice cream. It worked when we were all 10-years-old and figuring out friendships that didn’t rely solely on a mutual interest in Pingu. Romeo and Giulietta in Stoke Newington make some of the best gelato in the city and there are plenty of flavours to choose from. They have minimal outdoor seating, but our game plan would be to grab a cone and head for a wander around Clissold Park. Minimum pressure, maximum fun.