Sitting by the water can instil a sense of calm in a frenetic city, and luckily for Londoners, there are plenty of canals, rivers, lakes and lidos to seek respite… and a pint or brunch. Seek out the best waterside cafés and restaurants, kick back and chill out.Read More
London’s Best Waterside Restaurants
Beautiful seafood on a boat, Venetian pasta on the canal, Sri Lankan cuisine by the lake, and more
1. Crate Brewery & Pizzeria
A brewery, taproom and pizzeria on the Hackney Wick canal, Crate Brewery has everything you need to while away an afternoon by the water. After sinking a couple of pints from an approachable list of juicy IPAs, crisp lager and velvety stout, tune in to the alluring aroma of the homemade pizzas. All served on a crispy, thin base, pizza toppings range from the familiar (classic margherita or spicy salami) to the more creative (fragrant dahl with sliced, fresh banana or sweet potato, stilton and walnut). Top tip: get one per person, because no-one will want to share.
2. Towpath Café
De Beauvoir’s cult canalside café doesn’t announce itself loudly along the Kingsland Towpath — a gaggle of trendy twenty-somethings and the produce-forward small plates are signage enough. The menu shifts with what’s good but expect dishes like warm, sweet tomatoes, drenched in olive oil and piled on toast for breakfast, with smoked mackerel and its dollop of crème fraîche and pickled cherries for dinner. There will (almost) always be radishes with taramasalata (with more of that olive oil.) Towpath Café only opens its shutters over spring and summer (the weekend closest to Bonfire Night is usually the last service of the year) so get in quick.
Modelled on a Venetian bacaro, Ombra on the Regents Canal in Bethnal Green is a delight. Sure, it’s not beside Venice’s waterways, but why complain when there are smashing negronis, tagliolini with summer truffle (and parmesan, of course) and a whopping ricotta cannolo. Molto bene!
4. Cafe Cecilia
London E8 4FX, UK
There’s canalside seating coming soon to really clinch the waterside deal, but Max Rocha’s resplendent Cafe Cecilia is close enough to abutting the barges of Regent’s Canal. The atmosphere is continental, the food a little more new-school Modern British, with onglet and chips (not steak frites), a deep-fried bread-and-butter pudding with cold custard for hyphenate fans, and often, on Fridays, a majestic sandwich ready to be taken away along the water.
The newest outfit from Fin and Lorcan Spiteri is a barge converted into a classy, permanent restaurant, a foil to Pontoon, the more casual waterside spot they run right next door. There’s pedigree here: they’re the sons of current Sessions Arts Club connector Fin Spiteri and Melanie Arnold of Rochelle Canteen, and the food is appropriately boisterous in its modern European sensibility: salsify with gribiche; mussels and chips; and pasta dishes like a crab and fennel tagliatelle.
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London E9 7DE, UK
Perched on the edge of the lake in Victoria Park, Pavilion’s domed building slings some of the city’s best pastries, buns and breakfasts. Come the weekend, the benches outside are filled with the hungover and hungry feasting on vegetarian fry-ups, Sri Lankan string hoppers with dahl and stacks of fluffy pancakes. Grab a couple of turmeric buns to go, then walk it off around the park.
7. London Shell Co.
For lunch or dinner on the water, hop aboard The Prince Regent and dive into a five-course, seafood-focused menu courtesy of the London Shell Company. What runs the risk of being a gimmicky concept restaurant, is in reality, just great food in a fun setting. Set sail from Paddington Central and journey down Regent’s Canal and through dishes like zingy, briny Dorset estuary rock oysters, delicately braised squid with borlotti beans, and scrape-the-plate-clean crab tortellini with beurre blanc and seaweed. There is also a “static” lunch service during the week.
8. Emilia's Crafted Pasta
London E1W 1AT, UK
Nestled among the chain restaurants overlooking St. Katharine Docks marina is a diamond in the rough. Skip Zizzi’s and head to Emilia’s Crafted Pasta which serves fresh pasta, made daily on site. The specialty from the Genoan-born head chef is, naturally, casarecce tossed through a thick, creamy pesto, but don’t miss the rich walnut sauce with chestnut mushrooms, from the same north west Italian region of Liguria.
9. Blueprint Café
It’s a hard push to find somewhere with a better, more quintessential Thames view. Play tourist and watch the river’s traffic pass by, with Tower Bridge in the background, while dining on refined modern British dishes. Pork chop with anchovy and potato purée might precede a divine treacle tart with a healthy dollop of clotted cream. Linger on with Muscat dessert wine and watch the sun go down.
10. The River Café
On the north bank of the Thames in Hammersmith, the pioneering River Cafe celebrated 30 years of serving fine, seasonal Italian dishes, last year. Soak up summer’s swansong evenings in the garden terrace which leads down to the river. On the brink of the seasons, you might find culatello with black figs or wood-roasted pigeon and risotto with courgette flowers: whatever the weather, there’s always the chocolate nemesis for dessert.
11. Rick Stein, Barnes
Pretend you’re in Cornwall, in southwest London at Rick Stein’s outpost in Barnes. Nab a Thames-side table and sip sundowners curated by the capital’s esteemed bartender Ryan Chetiyawardana before a fishy feast. The kitchen bangs out Stein classics like Dover sole à la meunière or Indonesian-inspired sea bass, prawn and cod curry. Pull up a chair at the seafood bar for shellfish on ice — oysters and langoustines — plus razor clams and mussels.
12. The Lido Cafe
Remember when local swimming pool cafés only served limp burger and chips or Nescafé Gold in polystyrene cups? Well, Brockwell’s The Lido Café (at, yes, Brockwell Lido) has significantly raised the bar. Pop in for a post-swim brunch of sobrasada on toast, huevos rancheros or a sharing pan of cinnamon buns with labneh frosting. Sit in the sleek, airy dining room or outside on the terrace. NB: that burger is still on offer, and definitely not limp, upgraded with free-range Longhorn patties and twice-cooked chips.
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