British beaches are overcrowded with staycationers and a summer of plane cancellations looks set to turn dreams of relaxing by the Med into a travel nightmare – but if you’re in need of a waterside retreat, look no further than the capital’s restaurants.
Landlocked London happily has the River Thames to break up the city heat, and from canalside cult favourites to French food with a view, the capital isn’t short of restaurants lining its waterways (as well as plenty of pubs and bars). Below, we’ve picked out our favourite spots for a bucolic bite to eat.
If you’re looking for a spot to soak up the sun with a cooling river breeze, most of these venues offer outdoor dining that gets you as close to the waterside as possible. For more al fresco hotspots, check out our full guide here.
Ready to take a dip in the world of waterside dining? Dive in.
The River Cafe
A legend among restaurants, Ruth Rogers’s influential Italian dining room is still an enviable spot to spend a warm day in west London, even after more than 30 years. The main dining room is set back from the Thames, but distanced only by a leafy garden that in summer time is filled with tables of deep-pocketed (including a good-showing of celebrities) diners feasting on nettle pasta with butter and chargrilled Cornish monkfish with anchovy and rosemary sauce.
Thames Wharf, Rainville Road, W6 9HA, rivercafe.co.uk
Ever so slightly upstream from Rogers, restaurateur Sam Harrison has set up his own riverside retreat. With a cracking view of the green-and-gold towers of Hammersmith Bridge, Sam’s Riverside serves a seafood-leaning menu: dressed crab and roast brill, but also pork shoulder and venison chop. Large windows give most tables a view of the water whatever the time of year, with the best seats in the house on a summertime terrace.
1 Crisp Road, W6 9DN, samsriverside.co.uk
London Shell Co.
Who needs waterside dinners when you can have one actually on the water? That’s the premise of London Shell Co. anyway, the restaurant group that boasts two restaurants on board two barges — the Prince Regent and the Grand Duchess. The former takes diners on a cruise of the Regent’s Canal — from Paddington to Camden and back – while they enjoy a five-course set menu of British seafood (£65), with dishes including spider crab with Jersey royals and crispy bacon. If you haven’t quite got the sea legs, the Grand Duchess remains moored throughout the evening.
Sheldon Square, W2 6DL, londonshellco.com
Simple pleasures don’t get much better than beer and pizza – Crate Brewery does both of these very well, and throws in canalside dining to boot. The independent Hackney Wick brewery produces its own beer on site, and its pizza oven also turns out a good line in thin-and-crispy pizzas, topped with global flavours like kashmiri daal and Middle Eastern lamb. Sit out on the benches right by the River Lee Navigation, and watch the barges go by. Around the corner and upstairs is zero-waste Silo, presently a wine bar of sorts, though it doesn't offer the same riverbank vibes.
Unit 7 Queen's Yard, E9 5EN, cratebrewery.com
Tavolino is a relative newcomer to London’s riverside dining scene, and it’s arrived at a very pleasant spot indeed. The restaurant boasts exceptional views of Tower Bridge and the Tower of London from the floor-to-ceiling windows that curve the length of the dining room while, outdoors, summer diners can take a seat at its 70-cover terrace. On the menu are Italian dishes such as mussels, pancetta and lemon bigoli pasta, roasted red pepper, pine nut, pesto and black olive pizza, larger plates such as pan-fried stone bass, pancetta, cannellini and borlotti beans and ice creams made in-house.
2 More London Riverside, SE1 2DB, tavolino.co.uk
Rick Stein Barnes
Rick Stein may be best known for his Padstow empire of Cornish seafood restaurants – oh, and being on the telly – but he’s also serving pescatarian pleasures in Barnes. Seafood is still the name of the game at his London restaurant, situated between Barnes and Chiswick bridges, in a dining room that is raised above a curve of the Thames and provides some pretty impressive views both up an downstream. There’s a little meat on the menu, There’s a little meat on the menu, but dishes of whole Dover sole, butterflied sardines and tronçon of turbot with hollandaise sauce steal the show.
Tideway Yard, 125 Mortlake High Street, SW14 8SN, rickstein.com
Sea Containers Restaurant
Named for a Bermudan shipping container company and situated inside a building inspired by the design of 1920s luxury ocean liners, the Sea Containers London hotel has seafaring in its bones. To complete the illusion, it’s perched right on the side of the Thames at the South Bank, and its restaurant opens out onto a pavement terrace a stone’s throw from the water’s edge. A relaxed, crowd-pleasing menu includes c small plates (crab on toast), large plates (halibut and fennel), health-conscious salads and ’nduja-topped flatbreads.
20 Upper Ground, SE1 9PD, seacontainerslondon.com
Le Pont de la Tour
Don’t want to sit by just any old bit of the Thames? Then pull up a seat in full view of its most famous landmark. Le Pont de La Tour overlooks the turrets of Tower Bridge, boasting a spectacular perspective right on the south bank of the river at Shad Thames. You’ll want to grab a window seat when indoors (in either the bistro or more formal restaurant), but sunny days mean making the most of the terrace and its uninterrupted vista.
36D Shad Thames, SE1 2YE, lepontdelatour.co.uk
Darcie & May Green
The Daisy Green group has already brought its Australian-style dining across several oceans to London, but one of its hotspots is still keen to be out on the water. Diners will find Darcie & May Green onboard a canal-moored barge in Paddington, its colourful facade designed by renowned British pop artist Sir Peter Blake. Inside, you’ll find Antipodean-style cafe fare in the mornings – think flat whites and sweetcorn fritters – followed by summer barbecue-inspired dishes and an all-week bottomless brunch offering.
Sheldon Square, W2 6DS, daisygreenfood.com
The Gladwin brothers are passionate about farm-to-table dining – and if you head to their Battersea restaurant, that table can come with views of Ransome’s Dock, a little inlet off the Thames. An eclectically decorated, conservatory-style dining room channels the Sussex countryside where the family have their own farm, all while looking out onto the water through floor-to-ceiling windows. Expect steaks, veggie dishes and wine straight from Sussex, while everything else on the sustainably sourced menu is just as best-of-British. It’s dog-friendly inside and out, too.
35-37 Parkgate Road, SW11 4NP, nutbourne-restaurant.com
Emilia’s Crafted Pasta
It may not be the Amalfi coast, but Emilia’s Crafted Pasta is channelling Italian boating holidays at its St Katharine Docks branch. Situated alongside the yachts and barges parked up in the east London marina, the handmade fresh pasta restaurant serves up its simple but comforting menu on either outdoor tables or with a view out of its intimate glass-fronted shop. Tuck into casarecce with a creamy sauce of walnuts and chestnut mushrooms or ravioli stuffed with grass-fed lamb, parsley and parmesan, and pretend it’s Positano.
C3 Ivory House, St Katharine Docks, E1W 1AT, emiliaspasta.com
You must be standing on the opposite bank of the Grand Union Canal (or actually sitting at one of the waterside tables) to appreciate Maida Vale’s Summerhouse, which reveals nothing of its charms from its street frontage. Effectively a floating terrace, the restaurant is open to the elements when the weather is good, with nothing between diners and the ducks bobbing along the canal except a neatly trimmed box hedge. The seafood, thankfully, isn’t fished from local waters — there’s Canadian lobster, Jersey oysters and Mediterranean king prawns — as well as sirloin streak, rump of lamb and Sunday roasts.
60 Blomfield Road, W9 2PA, thesummerhouse.co
Steven Edwards at Bingham Riverhouse
A bijou dining room within a boutique hotel, Richmond’s Bingham Riverhouse combines a classically English scene of flowerbed-bordered lawns spilling down to the Thames with modern English cooking from Masterchef: The Professionals winner Steven Edwards. Expect cured mackerel with horseradish and chives, lamb with salsify, celery and mint, and apple parfait with white chocolate and apple sorbet from menus which range in price from two courses for £40 to five courses for £85; the more you eat, the (slightly) cheaper it gets. The best seats in the pretty Georgian townhouse are on a balcony overlooking the garden and river beyond.
61-63 Petersham Road, Richmond-upon-Thames, TW10 6UT, stevenedwards.binghamriverhouse.com
Brothers Fin and Lorcan Spiteri have hospitality in their blood: their father Jon has fronted sociable London legends such as St John and Quo Vadis while the pair have worked in some of the capital’s most respected restaurants and bars themselves. Here in Islington, they’ve taken over a barge on the Regent’s Canal and converted it into a 10-seat restaurant with space for 40 diners, at least half of whom are probably on dates and ready to be seduced by the eternal charms of sparkling napery and good-quality glassware. Fin looks after the cocktails while Lorcan is in charge of cooking: expect duck croquettes, crab tagliatelle, blood orange margaritas and rhubarb negronis.
17 Shepherdess Walk, N1 7JL, thestudiokitchen.co.uk
Hawksmoor Wood Wharf
This Canary Wharf outpost of the upmarket British steak chain makes the most of its Docklands location with sun loungers on the terrace where if the reflection from the water doesn’t give you a tan, the sunlight bouncing off the surrounding glass-walled skyscrapers will. The sundeck, in fact, is attached to Hawksmoor’s Lowback bar, where one may be forgiven for wondering whether the room is moving because of the tide or one-too-may lethal Shaky Pete cocktails; the dining room proper at this floating restaurant is on the floor above, where side orders of beef-dripping fries, macaroni cheese and grilled bone marrow are almost as good as the grass-fed, dry-aged, ethically reared steaks.
1 Water Street, E14 5GX, thehawksmoor.com
Canal towpaths are one of the capital’s most cherished shared spaces, and none more so than the terrace of this neighbourhood gem in Hackney, where cyclists, joggers and buggies form an ever-moving backdrop to Ottolenghi-esque cooking that provides the sunshine even if the weather isn’t playing ball. Expect cult favourites of olive oil cake, quince-jelly cheese toasties and fried eggs with mojo verde chalked up on a blackboard and crossed out when they’re finished. No bookings, but there’s no shortage of things to look at while waiting for a table.
42 De Beauvoir Crescent, N1 5SB, towpathlondon.com
Leafy Richmond doesn’t quite conjure the limitless plains of the South American pampas but who needs authenticity when there’s the Thames flowing right past the plate-glass windows and riverside terrace? This outpost of the Argentine steak chain, just down from Richmond Bridge, sticks to the Gaucho USP of carbon-neutral beef, whether burgers or empanadas, steak tartare or sirloin. Veggie options are surprisingly decent plus there’s a lunchtime set (two/three courses £26/£29.50) for locals. Kids get mini steaks and there’s a bottomless roast on Sunday afternoons (£35), too.
The Towpath, Richmond Riverside, Richmond-upon-Thames, TW10 6UJ, gauchorestaurants.com