20 London Restaurants That Will Give You That Holiday Feeling
Go to these restaurants when you want to escape London without leaving the city.
We love London. Truly, we do. But we’re also happy to admit that London can be a bit of an arsehole. One minute it’s all drinks on the Thames and skyline views, the next it’s pollution and being charged £800 to live in a box with a leaky sink. But the good news is that there are ways to feel like you’ve abandoned London for a holiday without actually having to book a flight or even breach the limits of the M25. Namely, by going to one of these restaurants. Bottles of rosé and flip flops encouraged.
The fun thing about Meraki is that if you do actually commit to fleeing the country you can hit up its spots in Porto Cervo, Riyadh, or poolside in Mykonos. But you know what people say—Soho is the Mykonos of central London. Maybe. Kind of. Ok, no one says that but this upmarket Greek restaurant will bring the sunshine via the medium of light crispy squid, an oh-so-rich hummus, and a signature courgette tzatziki that proves that Eau de Garlic will forever be the ultimate holiday scent. Be warned, the cocktails usually fall around the £16 mark but they’re essential if you’re in the mood for a paloma or are just trying to convince your mate that Soho is totally the Mykonos of London.
Another exceptional example to file under Eating Tapas Is The Only Reason You Need To Turn On Your OOO, Copita is a great little Spanish spot that’s been serving king prawns, grilled octopus, and other delightful bites that don’t involve seafood since 2011. Our game plan is to always prioritise the cheese board because cheese, but also because it comes with a jolly little bowl of picos. Few things get our brain in the holiday spirit like this traditional mini breadstick snack but in case you require further assistance, get involved in their selection of sherry and order a jamón special from the blackboard.
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Anthony Minghella’s adaptation of Patricia Highsmith's The Talented Mr. Ripley is the seminal holiday film. We will not be taking questions on this. Core to its brilliance is a series of things: linen, Philip Seymour Hoffman, the rippling waves of the sea around Positano, and boats. We’re not saying that anything nefarious is going to happen on Caravel’s gorgeous bobbing little bistro boat. Nor are we saying that Jude Law is going to look you in the eye and ask whether you’d like jelly cream. But we are saying that being on a boat, even one moored in Angel, is a lovely thing. Especially when silky smooth paté and luscious crab tagliatelle is involved.
When the sun finally decides to make an appearance, there are few better ways to spend an afternoon in south London than… pretending you’re not in south London. This coffee shop and deli on the corner of Bonnington Square has the kind of outdoor patio that makes you forget that you’re a 10-minute walk from one of London’s busiest underground stations. An alfresco lunch here consists of things like ciabattas filled with goats’ curd and braised leeks, fresh pastas, and whipped ricotta french toast topped with blueberry sauce and maple syrup. The deli also has a range of Italian produce, from Pan di Stelle cookies to specialty olive oil and tinned tomatoes, so you can keep that holiday feeling going long after you’ve eaten a meal here.
Smokey Jerkey’s baby blue, sun-faded sign on New Cross Road doesn’t exactly scream look at me. Nor does it shout that it’s home to some of London’s best jerk chicken, pork, and lamb. But, when we think back, a tonne of our best holiday meals have come from kind of nondescript places. The Caribbean takeaway spot is a master of smoke. Crispy-skinned, jerk chicken that presumably has a Malboro Red first thing in the morning and uses Smokey Jerkey’s invigorating homemade pepper sauce as SPF. With Eckington Gardens around the corner – an ideal sun trap – you are still very much in SE14. But close your eyes, take a bite, and you may well feel like you’re somewhere else.
“Hi there, is this the Advertising Standards Authority? Cool, well look, I just wanted to launch a complaint against every single advert that involves a swimming pool or a piña colada for causing intense emotional distress”. That’s us, weeping with jealousy at every shot of someone wearing swimwear on the TV. Combat the holiday envy with a trip to Mazi’s secluded back garden. This Greek spot in Notting Hill makes a mean tzatziki and the seafood manti should definitely be on your order.
Fish, Wings & Tings
We’d still be into this Brixton spot’s smoky jerk chicken and the creamy kick of the coconut prawns even if it was pissing it down, snowing, or the sky was doing that whole misery, sorrow, and sadness thing. But the experience of sitting out on one of their pop colour benches in the sunshine? Unbeatable. The market has that summer soundtrack of people suggesting pints in the park and Radio 1 blasting from car windows, the mandatory portion of zingy coleslaw will cool you down, and the sticky pineapple and mango chutney that comes with the reggae wings somehow tastes even sweeter. Get the rum punch too, obviously.
Chestnut Bakery Belgravia
Like stepping out of a three-hour movie to find it’s still light outside, a lunch in the conservatory of this Victoria bakery will leave you a bit disoriented if you’re greeted by anything other than sunshine and the scent of za'atar when you leave. The indoor terrace situation they’ve got going on here is the ideal spot to spend a relaxing morning or afternoon. The waft of coffee and freshly baked pastries, the bright, airy interiors, and the merguez flatbread drizzled with garlic aioli are all reasons why this is one of our favourite bakeries in the city, all year-round.
Imad's Syrian Kitchen
Restaurants like Imad’s Syrian Kitchen are rare. Not only does this place make you feel like you’ve been transported somewhere far, far away where you could viably wear a vest without judgement or hypothermia, it also simultaneously makes you feel like you never want to leave London because, well, Imad’s Syrian Kitchen is here. Located on the top floor of Kingly Court, it serves a baba ghanouj we would lay down our lives for (probably), grilled okra, and tender lamb shoulder that will erase the bleak chaos of Oxford Circus station and replace it with the perfect white noise of chewing perfectly spiced meat. Is that the sound of waves in the distance?
The fact that Tavolino’s terrace overlooks one of London’s quintessential landmarks – Tower Bridge – could make you think that this isn’t a restaurant to take you away from the city. But you’d be wrong, because Tavolino may well be the best terrace in the whole of London. Serving handmade pasta and hefty negronis, its huge, rattan-chaired terrace has something of the la dolce vita about it. There are big views of the river, little kids frolicking in the nearby fountains, and a whole lot of ricotta on the menu.
Weirdly, sipping lukewarm prosecco in that paddling pool you ordered from Argos really isn’t making you feel like you’re on Lake Garda. Luckily, the hidden courtyard at La Goccia will give you that palazzo feel, and more importantly, access to some great Italian small plates. Be warned that prices can stack up quickly, but it’s totally worth it for a top-tier catch-up or a special date night.
Chameleon is the kind of place where a server could stand up and recite the entirety of Shakira’s ‘Whenever, Wherever’ and no one – absolutely no one – would bat an eye. Frankly, a ridiculous restaurant with a beautiful self-coined ‘God’s Garden’, all bets are off here. You can either swing by for an evening of hibiscus royales and slow-cooked kohlrabi or pop by for an equally boozy, loud weekend ‘cowshuka’ brunch, complete with an electric violinist walking around in a full-length gold gown. Sounds a lot like something that would happen on your last night in Mallorca that your mother would recount in vivid detail to the neighbours, doesn’t it?
Look, calling Circolo an ‘authentic Tuscan trattoria’ is like calling us Gisele Bundchen’s doppelganger. Sadly, it’s just not true. But none of that matters once you’re sitting in their back terrace eating pasta out of a bowl made of cheese and deciding between a ‘Pinky Promise Margarita’ and a ‘Take The Pisco’. Yes, those are real names of their cocktails. Although booking a table can be tricky, this place is a proper laugh and you can’t go wrong with their OTT pasta dishes and a couple (several) cocktails.
photo credit: Aleksandra Boruch
If the name of this restaurant gives you flashbacks to every time you’ve attempted to speak French, then same. This little charmer is in Bermondsey and as well as an outdoor patio, you’ll find lots of meat dripping in butter—just the way we like it. On their blackboard – see, we told you it was charming – there are starters like gazpacho and grilled squid, but the mains are rich, sharing situations. Think veal t-bone, samphire sea bream, and chateaubriand, which roughly translates as juicy steak. Plus, they’ve got a great list of wines on offer and a kid’s menu too.
There are garden restaurants, and then there’s the cafe at Petersham Nurseries. It’s essentially a cafe in the greenhouse of a private garden in Richmond, with Italian food that’s pricey but always extremely pretty and the kind of thing even your pickiest friend would nod approvingly to. Get a plate of the saffron gnocchi with mussels and peas and sit in the absolute stunner of a conservatory, which opens onto an actual meadow during the summer. As far as escapes go, it feels like you’ve left town because you basically have left town. Factoring in the walk from Richmond tube, it’s a proper mission, but compared to getting on the train to Oxfordshire to eat at a mediocre country pub, we’ll take this any day.
Things that make us smile: dogs wearing sunglasses, the smell of sun cream, watching people try to board a lilo seal-style, and Lemonia in Primrose Hill. This classic, old-school Greek restaurant has a whole lot of tzatziki on the menu and fake vines on the walls. The fact that it’s just a tiny bit naff adds to the charm and sipping ouzo in their back conservatory is always a laugh. Make sure the tyrokafteri, calamari, and baklava are on your order.
Beit El Zaytoun
The best thing about a retractable roof, other than the obvious protection against British weather, is you always kind of feel like you’re sitting outside. Which is why we make sure to ask for a table at the back of this restaurant, with a view of the canal, because water equals holiday, right? A brunch here comes with a healthy dose of fresh air, carb-filled Lebanese mana’eesh, and creamy hummus. Sit by the window, order the meat and cheese manoushe, and don’t make any plans too soon after, because once you sit here you won’t be getting up for at least a couple of hours.
Llewelyn’s is the kind of restaurant that makes you feel like you might look up and see Richard Curtis saving a small kitten with a kite. Basically, it’s quaint AF. Not only have they extended the seriously lovely outdoor terrace to allow for further alfresco tables, the menu suits that white-wine-sipping, risotto-gobbling energy of summer that we love so much. Just be sure to book ahead, all that charm makes it popular.
Being on holiday is fantastic. Having a nap becomes a ‘siesta’, serious laziness becomes ‘wellness’, and that 12pm cocktail becomes mandatory. The good news is that, in our opinion, the pisco cocktails at Chelsea’s Chicama should also be mandatory. Although this chic Peruvian spot is on the King’s Road, its outdoor terrace has a whole lot of foliage and feels surprisingly secluded from the hustle and bustle of London. Expect ceviche, grilled prawns, and hefty seafood platters.