Now that the dreary days of winter have drawn to an end, London’s bon viveurs can frolic in the spring sunshine again. For The Gannet, the first lunch of the year that can comfortably be taken outside at Hereford Road, chef Tom Pemberton’s splendid Bayswater restaurant, is the ritual that marks the start of the season.
I shall order leek vinaigrette – perfectly seasoned, neatly topped with finely chopped hardboiled egg and strips of anchovy – or sautéed duck livers, still pink, tossed with capers, tarragon and French beans, or perhaps a whole globe artichoke, the unhurried stripping of its leaves perfectly suited to a lunch where there is no thought of returning to a desk.
Then a chunk of hake with roast cauliflower and brown butter, or mackerel with cucumber and chervil, or – if there is still a hint of chill in the air – devilled lamb’s kidneys and mash. Then a plate of British cheeses, a slice of treacle tart and a glass of Poire Williams with an espresso to finish. The thought of this lunch is what kept me going through February.
I am not sure why eating alfresco in London is less common than in Paris, Amsterdam or Copenhagen; we cannot simply blame the weather. But at Italian stalwart La Famiglia in Chelsea, the back terrace fills up as soon as the sun emerges from behind a cloud. Reliably good Tuscan cooking is the order of the day: crostini di pollo, for example – chopped chicken livers with capers and garlic, served on toast – or pappardelle with wild boar ragù.
Or there is Momo (pictured), Mourad Mazouz’s exuberant Moroccan joint on Heddon Street. Outside tables nestle among riotous plants in huge terracotta pots: this is the place for an afternoon tea at which classic Maghrebi sweet, nutty pastries jostle with more traditional sandwiches and scones. Or you could book for a meze lunch, which might comprise zaalouk (charcoal-roasted aubergines with cumin and smoked paprika); crisp, fluffy falafel; briouats (pastries stuffed with mint and four cheeses); and king prawn k’taiffe with avocado velouté and mango chutney. Finish with Moroccan mint tea and those pastries.
The prettiest, most hidden-away little restaurant garden in central London is at Boulestin in St James’s, where courtyard tables vanish as quickly as a plate of their warm cinnamon doughnuts with lemon curd.
Classic brasserie fare – steak frîtes with béarnaise sauce, oeuf en gelée, soupe de poisson, Dover sole meunière – rubs shoulders with pasta, salads and brunch dishes. Jolly good it all is, too, but there is one priceless ingredient for which none of these restaurants charges: fresh spring air.