The UK’s capital is getting creative with how it can offer a safe yet fun dining experience in the coronavirus era.
After months of closure, on July 4 Britain’s restaurants, pubs and bars were given the green light to reopen.
Restaurants across the UK are now operating with COVID-secure safety measures in place, which include face masks, temperatures checks, sanitiser stations, and one-way systems. The government’s recent “Eat out to Help Out” scheme, which offers a 50% discount at selected restaurants Monday-Wednesday, has also been put in place to encourage more Brits to eat out this summer.
In London, restaurants and local councils are getting creative with how they can offer a safe yet fun dining experience in the coronavirus era. Soho has been pedestrianised for the first time, and restaurants across the city are pushing boundaries thanks to new technologies and intuitive design. From rooftop glass pods to conveyor belt table service, here are just some of our favourite COVID-safe restaurants and dining experiences in London.
Dine al fresco in Soho
In an attempt to revive London’s hospitality industry, 17 streets in Soho — one of the city’s major dining and entertainment hubs — have been pedestrianised to encourage more alfresco eating and drinking in the West End. Soho’s most popular streets, such as Dean Street, Greek Street and Compton Square, will now be closed to vehicles between the hours of either 11 am and 11 pm or 5 pm and 11 pm, allowing restaurants, bars, and pubs to offer more socially distanced seating outside. While Soho may look a little different sprawled out across pavements and tarmac, the neighbourhood’s dining scene remains as exciting as ever: choose from Taiwanese steamed buns and vegan Sri Lankan curry along Lexington Street, or opt for Neapolitan pizza or Michelin-starred Spanish tapas on Dean Street. Speciality coffee shops, bakeries, cocktail bars, and traditional English pubs are all on offer too.
Know before you go: Soho is set to remain pedestrianised till the end of September, but there’s a possibility that the scheme will continue through October.
Rent a garden cabana at The Castle
Serving hoppy ales and meat pies to Londoners since 1832, The Castle has been a South London institution for generations. Today, its spacious, fairy-lit beer garden makes it one of the best places in London to enjoy an alfresco, COVID-safe pub lunch. For those looking for guaranteed social distancing, the eight cabana-style huts, some of which are equipped with log-burners and built-in drinks fridges, can be booked for private use for up to ten people. Once settled in, choose from spicy pulled pork buns from the garden’s festival-style Burger Shack, or opt for classic British pub grub like beer-battered cod and chips, steak and ale pie, and Bramley apple and berry crumble. Their Meantime brews, stored on-site in beer tanks, are well worth a try, too.
Know before you go: Private cabanas, or “Mini Castles”, should be booked in advance. Price is available on request.
Go waiter-free at Yo! Sushi
When Yo! Sushi – the Japanese chain restaurant responsible for introducing the sushi conveyor belt to London in 1997 — reopened in July, there were concerns that their signature kaiten, which allows diners to choose their food from a moving conveyor belt, could be unsafe during coronavirus. But, in keeping with their innovative spirit, Yo! Sushi adapted the system to serve plates of freshly rolled salmon makis and spicy pepper squid directly to your table. Yo! Sushi customers now order and pay for their food using their phones, and a traffic light system lets them know when the order is on its way, making the experience almost entirely waiter-free.
Know before you go: With fewer locations open, Yo! Sushi recommends booking a table to avoid queues. The chain is also offering pre-orders and home deliveries.
Dine in a glass pod at Aviary Igloos
Private “igloo” dining was already taking off in London pre-COVID-19. But today these outdoor glass pods provide the perfect socially distanced dining experience. On the ninth floor of the Montcalm Royal London House Hotel in Finsbury Square, the Aviary’s popular rooftop now boasts four newly decorated igloos featuring plush velvet sofas, low candle-lit tables, and a floor-to-ceiling glass structure designed for 360 views of London’s skyline. The menu is bursting with Mediterranean flavours, so expect dishes like sea bream with olive oil crushed potatoes and truffle arancini balls served with tarragon mayonnaise. Their cocktails, too, are up there with London’s best.
Know before you go: Aviary Igloos have to be reserved in advanced. For groups of four or more, there’s a minimum spend of £50 per person.
Book a riverside cabin at The Ship
For a socially distanced meal overlooking the Thames, Londoners are heading to The Ship, a Wandsworth Young’s pub serving anything from steamed mussels and fresh oysters to bangers and mash and Ribeye steak. If you can’t find your 1-metre-distanced spot in their Wandsworth Bridge-facing beer garden or the large outdoor conservatory over the river, there’s always the option of booking a private riverside cabin, which comes equipped with comfy sofas, flat-screen TV, and a heater for those chilly London evenings.
Know before you go: Private riverside cabins can host up to ten people and have to be pre-booked via The Ship’s website.
Dine inside a 13-person wagon at Caboose
Set inside a converted American train wagon, Brixton’s Caboose is a British smokehouse with space for just thirteen people. The wagon can be booked out in its entirety, offering COVID safety-conscious diners complete seclusion, as well as their own chef and host for the evening. The private dining experience includes a 3-course fixed menu centred around smoked meats, with dishes like sliced beef brisket smoked over hickory woodchips and pulled pork belly served with homemade BBQ sauce taking centre stage. The best part? At just £35 per person and a BYOB (bring your own booze) policy, this might just be London’s most affordable private dining.
Know before you go: You need a minimum of eight guests to book the wagon. If it’s a celebration, ring ahead – Caboose will often decorate the cabin for you free of charge.
Order a Michelin takeaway with & Kitchen Table
For those not yet comfortable with eating out in London, & Kitchen Table offers the ultimate fine dining takeaway experience. In response to the coronavirus pandemic, the two Michelin-starred restaurant created & Home, two exquisite taster menus available for home delivery. The seven and 11-course menus, which focus on British ingredients with a contemporary European spin, are an ode to chef James Knappett’s time at noma (voted world’s best restaurant four times) and Per Se (three Michelin stars). For an additional fee, the tasting menu can be accompanied by a selection of wine and champagne recommended by the restaurant’s sommelier.
Know before you go:& Home taster menus start from £75, and deliveries are only possible within the M25. Alternatively, you can pick up your meal from the restaurant.