15 Riverside Restaurants To Hit Up This Summer
London has a great big river running through it and a load of canals as well. Here’s where to hang out, eat, and drink, near them.
Despite a great big river running through the centre of the city, London is surprisingly lacking in good places to eat with a view of water. Unless you’re counting that Pret sandwich next to a puddle last week. But there’s something about summer and water, isn’t there? Something about the sun shining, glistening off that deeply polluted sewage water, that just makes you feel, well happy. Whether you’re looking for a meal on an actual boat, a pasta-filled view of the Thames, or a pizza by the canal, here are the best places to eat riverside in London.
London Shell Co
Sure, you could eat next to water. Or, you could eat on it. Not off a plate on a lilo, but on a canal boat. The London Shell Co is like meals on wheels, but with no wheels and a lot more oysters. This canal boat serves a set seafood cruising menu (if you want to be on the move) or à la carte (if you prefer to be stationary). Although it reads slightly novelty, this is a genuinely lovely experience, particularly in the evening when it feels like a romantic and very British mixture of Titanic and The Talented Mr Ripley. Only with far fewer fatalities. Touch wood.
The fact that Tavolino’s terrace overlooks one of London’s quintessential landmarks—Tower Bridge—means this very well might be one of the best terraces in the whole of London. Serving handmade pasta and proper negronis on a 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.
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Caravel is our favourite floating restaurant in London. It also gets the high accolade of being London’s most alluring floating fire hazard. On board this charming maroon barge you’ll find lots of candles, natural wine, and a silken chicken liver pâté—yes we just used the word silken, deal with it. The menu, like the space, is compact but the medley of British and European classics is just as delightful as the houseboat heaven look. As you can probably guess, it’s perfect for a romantic date night followed up by a casual stroll along Regent’s Canal.
Darcie & May Green
Behold, another converted barge. But the crucial difference between Darcie and May Green and all of London’s other floating restaurants is that it’s incredibly extra. Being extra is important in the summer, that’s why it’s the one season when you make contact with that uni friend who knows how to open a wine bottle with their toes and has a collection of feather boas. Designed by artist Sir Peter Blake, it’s definitely not subtle but between the Aussie bottomless brunches and fruit-heavy cocktails, it is a lot of fun. FYI the evening tacos will not set your soul alight. Don’t worry, you’re not here for them, you’re here to sprawl on the top deck with a watermelon margarita and pretend you’re not opposite Paddington station.
Towpath is a seasonal café for seasoned table grabbers, but if you come here on a sunny day and nab a seat—alongside a plate of tomatoes on toast—you’ll soon see why it’s so busy. This small spot along the Regent’s Canal near Haggerston station is pretty much entirely outside seating and it has a strong case for being one of London’s most dopamine-inducing restaurants. Tomatoes, fried eggs with mojo verde, and Spanish sausage sandwiches are all favourites. If possible, come for a midweek, day-off meal, because things can get a little hectic during weekend brunch hours. That said, it’s worth it.
The Barge House is permanently closed
The Barge House
Directly next door to Towpath is The Barge House, an all-day cafe serving eggs, sandwiches, and an enormous weekend brunch in hollowed-out loaves of bread. As per its neighbour, the setting here is comfortable and lovely and although next door may be the nicest house on the road in terms of food, this is an excellent back-up option.
Kingston prides itself on being ‘upon’ the Thames. And we can see why when we head to the Riverside Walk on a sunny day. Think people strolling down the river, watching people row by, and a strip of chain restaurants and proper pubs. And at the start of this strip is Chakra, an excellent Indian spot serving everything from Desi classics like kake da lamb rogan josh and fish moilee, to lamb chops and mixed grill platters. You pretty much can’t go wrong with anything here, but our go-to order is butter chicken and goan prawn curry, with saffron pulao and garlic naan. If the weather’s nice, definitely try to sit outside.
King’s Cross has, in the words of a family relative after two glasses of wine, ‘really come up recently’. Although there are all kinds of new spots popping up around here, The Lighterman has been around for a few years on Granary Square and it’s still the best place to sit beside the canal. There’s an excellent outside terrace and balcony, and although the food—scotch eggs, calamari, and the like—isn’t earth-shattering, it’ll do just right with a couple of bevvies beside the water.
It would be impossible not to include London’s most famous riverside restaurant in this list because, really, this is where you want to be eating if you want a view of water in London. This is London’s most renowned Italian restaurant with good reason and it comes into its own on a summer’s day. Of course it’s expensive, but split every dish with a friend and it won’t break the bank completely. Basically, if you want waterside dining in London, look no further.
The Cross Keys
Admittedly, The Cross Keys doesn’t actually have a view of water, but this Chelsea pub is about as close as you’re going to get to the Thames without ending up somewhere that serves deconstructed burgers. It’s 30 steps (or one short daydream) away from the river and the perfect pit stop to cool off, or to fuel your wander/pub crawl down the Thames. Not all the food is great, but stick to classics like sausage and mash or a sticky toffee pud and you’ll be fine.
The Olympic legacy of London 2012 is a confusing one. It involves a red slide that looks like the result of a child trying to tie a knot and it also involves Here East, which is basically Hackney Wick’s answer to the Excel Centre. Gotto Trattoria is an Italian restaurant at the base of it and although it still feels a little sterile, the environment is a very pleasant one if you’re looking for a bowl of pasta and walk along the canal on a nice day.
Crate got in on the regeneration of Hackney Wick early and is still one of the few doing a solid job around here. This brewery is ideal for you to pitch up alongside the canal, have a few too many with a group of friends, think you’ve contracted heat stroke, before eating one of its very decent pizzas and realising you were just hungry all along.
Number 90 Bar Restaurant
Like Crate Brewery, Number 90 is a canalside spot in the shadow of the Olympic Park. But where its neighbour serves pizza, this is more of a burger and bar snack situation. It gets bonus points for having a covered terrace, so you won’t have to race indoors when it inevitably rains. Don’t want the party to end at the weekend? There are regular club nights which are often free to enter.
The Union Tavern
Are human beings closely related to sea lions? We don’t know, but given how deliriously happy we are sat semi-horizontally on the water in Little Venice, we’re going to say yes. This pub is on the Grand Union Canal and although it doesn’t have the kind of food that’ll make you transcend space and time, it does have one of the best canal-side terraces in London. Head here with a group of mates, order the scotch egg, and see how many pints you can sink in the sunshine before resembling an actual sea lion.
Emilia's Crafted Pasta
If you imagine yourself eating in a marina, you’ll probably picture Capri, St Tropez, or Portofino before somewhere between East Smithfield and the Thames. Nonetheless, Emilia’s at St Katharine Docks will serve you a decent plate of food with a peaceful view of boats, and on a sunny summer’s day, what more do you really need? The pasta here isn’t the best we’ve had in London but it’s good enough, and a bowl or two alongside a very tasty tomato and burrata salad makes for an inexpensive dinner or lunch by the water.