My Favourite Al Fresco Dining Spots

I love eating and drinking outdoors and although it's obviously extra-special when the weather is balmy, I don't even mind bundling up to dine al fresco if the venue is worth the potential of getting slightly cold toes.

Food and drink on table with sea view at Bona Mare, Timi, Cyprus

The UK's lockdown rules which allowed pubs and restaurants with outdoor space to open helped us all find some new gems  which we might not have considered if the option to go indoors was available. Just searching for "best rooftop bars in London" opens up a whole range of hidden gems for instance.

But this weekend even with the choice of indoors or outdoors we chose to eat outside giving the whole meal a real holiday feel.

For me, the perfect outdoor restaurant has to tick three boxes:

  1. Great location
  2. Excellent food (and ideally, cocktails)
  3. Buzzy atmosphere.
My personal fave location will always be seafront. I've written a few times about some great places to eat outdoors in Cyprus, an island we visit frequently because my mum lives there. There are so many places offering food with an ocean view I find it hard to pick out my favourite location.

During my honeymoon in Turkey many many years ago I recall one special meal - we ate squid cooked in red wine in a beautiful garden. A large group of German men were sitting near us and at one point they spontaneously broke into song. I couldn't understand the words but the music was beautiful - maybe they were a touring male voice choir. Unforgettable.

Sometimes it's nice to sit in a bustling restaurant and enjoy the atmosphere but sometimes you prefer a more private destination, especially for events like birthdays, anniversaries, engagement parties and baby showers.

There's something rather elegant and sophisticated about private dining rooms which can really make an event extra special. Private dining rooms range in size and style and some even come with access to a terrace or other outdoor area.

I once was lucky enough to be invited for a meal in a private dining room at the iconic restaurant The Ivy in Seven Dials in London- I felt like a VIP from the moment I walked up to the door.

If you want that VIP experience but at an outdoor space check out the beautiful Ham Yard Hotel in Soho, London. The Roof Terrace is an amazing leafy space with fabulous views over the city skyline. Generally exclusively for hotel guests the venue can be hired for private events.

madmumof7 sitting on rooftop terrace, Ham Yard Hotel, Soho, London

Some of the best al fresco experiences I have had lately have been in quite unlikely scenarios.

In Hemel Hempstead there's The Story Cafe in The Marlowes which in good weather takes over an area of the pedestrianised walkway. The food is beautiful from creamy Eggs Royale to the juiciest lamb chops I have ever eaten. 

They do a good breakfast/brunch menu, main meals and sharers from lunchtime to evening plus pancakes, cakes, sandwiches and smoothies. Only complaint? The tables are too small for the giant portions served on giant plates.

teens sitting at cafe table with drinks on it, Story Cafe Hemel Hempstead

It was a humble street food van, Go Greek, in Aylesbury Market Square which offered my daughter and I a real all-round Mediterranean experience.  We each chose a mixed kebab box with beautiful pitta, tzatziki and pork and chicken souvlaki and ate at a little table enjoying our food plus occasional wafts of BBQ scent and Greek music all with a Greek flag flying overhead in what on that day was a beautiful blue sky. If you shut your eyes it was just like being abroad.

And finally, here are my top tips for dining al fresco: Book ahead where possible especially if the weather forecast is good. Dress in layers in case there's a breeze or it's a sun trap. Pop suncream and a raincoat in your bag just in case - you never know in Britain!

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