Where To Eat When It’s Too Hot Outside
18 airy and air conditioned London restaurants.
Londoners are experts in many things but in matters of moaning and the weather we truly excel. There is nothing this city craves more than sunlight… before promptly declaring the heat ‘a bit much’. But sometimes you really do need respite. And sometimes that needs to be something other than your third Solero of the day. You need a cool room, a crisp drink, and the luxurious flow of air con.
There are two kinds of respite in attritional heat. One is the kind that sees you collapse through the doors of Argos, arms outstretched worshipping the AC above you, completely ready to spend three figures on a fan that looks like it will one day become sentient. The other is to go to Quo Vadis. The Soho stalwart not only has wonderfully officious air conditioning but it also makes a martini so crispy and so robust that your senses may just forget to register the temperature.
photo credit: Giulia Verdinelli
The Camberwell Arms
Pubs are physical and emotional shelters for the everyday. You take cover in a pub when it is hot, cold, rainy, a little grey, or simply a day when you don’t know what to do with yourself. The Camberwell Arms in Camberwell is an excellent choice for any and all of these days. The cavernous gastropub has plenty of bar space up front where natural light is present but not overbearing, plus lots of tables for a meal that should certainly end in sorbet.
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photo credit: Aleksandra Boruch
Periods of unimaginable heat are becoming more frequent. So investing in something or somewhere with excellent air circulation becomes paramount. Throw in some melt-in-your-mouth anchovies with cold butter and sourdough, or cold apple pie and ice cream, and you’ve got the perfect summer sanctuary. FYI it’s in Farringdon, it serves Italian food, it goes by the name of Trattoria Brutto, and it has massive overhead fans.
You know where it has to stay cold. No, we’re not suggesting going to the penguin enclosure at London Zoo. We’re talking about a gelateria, an ice cream shop. A chilled environment is a professional necessity. So make a beeline for Gelupo and consider yourself very clever.
Imperial Treasure Fine Chinese Cuisine
If the idea of soup on a roaster of a day isn’t appealing, then you need to think a little more laterally. What are we saying here? We’re saying xiao long bao in the air conditioned safety of Imperial Treasure in St. James’s. This high-end Chinese restaurant is by no means cheap, but escape the midday sun with a few friends for some of London’s best dim sum in a refreshingly cool environment and it’s worth it.
Western’s Laundry, a hip seafood restaurant in a converted garage in Islington, is a beautiful open space that feels very Grand Designs. So much so that you half expect Kevin McCloud to walk out and start one of his long, meandering monologues, rhapsodising about how eating oysters in a converted garage is the perfect example of nature and machine working in harmony. That probably won’t happen. Nevertheless, this is still one of London’s best summertime restaurants.
A full bin is not great in hot weather. Nor is Shoreditch. Unless you’re in Leroy, that is. This restaurant and wine bar is the place to be when the sun is shining, but you’d rather it shine on your glass of wine or your steak tartare on toast, rather than your face. It gets pretty buzzy here day or night, so you’ll probably need to call ahead to see if there’s a table or a spot at the bar to pitch up at. Once you do, you’ll find yourself here for a while.
To the narrow-minded, heading for a curry in the blazing heat is an error. But for those more in the know (you and us), heading to Gunpowder in Tower Bridge is an extremely good choice no matter how hot it is. This second location of the modern Indian restaurant is part of a brand spanking new development, meaning it has all of your chilled air needs, as well as those incredible lamb chops and that venison and vermicelli doughnut.
If you don’t want to be outside but nor do you want to be inside, then Bellanger is one of London’s finest inside-outside restaurants. Its tall front windows open onto a terrace opposite Islington Green and if you can book or nab one of the tables directly next to the windows, then you’ll be living the dining dream. Needless to say, some tarte flambée and a drink will be necessary to celebrate.
photo credit: Adam Luszniak
Maybe you need to get a last-minute birthday gift. Maybe you had a meeting. Maybe you’re just an idiot. Regardless of the reason, you’re in and around Oxford Street and you’re beginning to morph into a human slip ‘n’ slide. It’s a good thing Rovi is a 10-minute walk away. This is Ottolenghi’s best restaurant in London and it’s exactly what you need on a boiling hot day. The food—from warm and herby tomatoes in yoghurt with bread, to the squid and lardo skewer—is delicious. Plus it’s open from breakfast to dinner and there’s an excellent bar to sit at.
Uchi is a relaxed and airy Japanese restaurant off Lower Clapton Road that serves reliably tasty sushi. This is the perfect place for a post-sunny-day-drinking dinner especially as everything here—from chicken kara-age, to miso aubergine skewers, to nigiri and sashimi—is great. It’s a popular neighbourhood spot so call ahead before you take cover here.
Daylesford Organic in Chelsea looks like deforestation sponsored by The White Company. There are arbitrary trees dotted about, everything is gleaming white, and you can buy a pot of honey for £30. Nevertheless the upstairs cafe is a calming environment to chill out, recalibrate, and have one of their seasonal salads.
Bocca Di Lupo
The problem with being hot—in the “my body is a human waterfall” terms, rather than Ryan Gosling ones—is that it’s easier to warm up than cool down. If you’re cold you put on a jumper. If you’re hot you take off clothing and start rubbing a decade-old can of Fanta from the newsagents all over yourself. Bocca Di Lupo in Soho removes this problem by having both air conditioning and ice cream. So have a plate of pasta at the bar and some gelato for dessert. Or head to their shop opposite, Gelupo, afterwards.
Diogenes The Dog
Diogenes The Dog is a wine bar and shop in Elephant and Castle that’s a very pleasant spot to cool down with a glass of something chilled and admire the outside world from the window. They specialise in wine from small producers, and the staff are very happy to help without being encyclopedic in the slightest. Oh and there are snacks. Tasty snacks.
Remember when you were young and your parents told you to wear a white t-shirt in the pool to reflect the sun? No? Anyway, Bistrotheque is that white t-shirt in restaurant form. This trendy Bethnal Green bistro is in a big old warehouse and serves easy pleasers like oysters, steak tartare, and fish and chips. All to the soundtrack of a bloke on the piano.
Primeur was the original converted garage restaurant before Western’s Laundry, though the same people run both. It’s on a residential road near Newington Green and when the sun has got its hat on and the main door is slid open, it is truly one of (if not the) most enjoyable restaurants in London to be in. The food, European-style small plates, is the perfect accompaniment to a bottle of wine. The ideal time to book is for early evening, so you can eat jamon and gnudi in sunlight, and then cheese and meringue in candlelight.
Royal China Club
Sometimes you don’t want somewhere full of natural light and space when it’s a roaster. Sometimes you just want the blast of artificially cooled air and enough dim sum to sink a ship. Which is why you should be sitting in Royal China Club on Baker Street. This legendary Chinese restaurant is a haven from the outside world and it’s so big that most of the time you can just walk in.
Sager + Wilde
Railway arches were previously the go-to location of tactical toilet breaks, but these days they’re the location of excellent places to eat. Sager + Wilde in Bethnal Green is no different, and its big open arch makes it a very enjoyable place to enjoy the outside from the inside, before rejoining nature as the sun sets. The food is all the things you’ll want to eat: cod’s roe, heritage tomatoes, handmade pasta, cheese, and of course, wine.