Dining al fresco at world's end

  • Outdoor

Dining al fresco at world's end

Posted on 04/10/2021

Restrictions on indoor dining have unleashed a new quality in dining. There is a boom for terraces and gardens, and restaurateurs around the world are going out of their way to offer new experiences based on outdoor dining.

When restaurants closed during the pandemic, we dreamed of returning to the excitement of city life. On the one hand we were afraid for our health. Trapped in our homes, we realized that if there is something to save our sanity, it would only be contact with fresh air, forest and greenery.

Many restaurateurs caught up with new behaviors, or social needs, and invested in gardens, roof terraces, and beautiful patios with lush vegetation. Single tables are even set up in open fields. In short, there has never been such a boom in open-air dining in the gastronomy world.

A table in the middle of nowhere

"One table. One chair. Right in the middle of a Swedish field. "Bord för en" is a solitary dining experience. No waiter. No other guests. Just your thoughts, your inner voice, and a three-course meal delivered in a rope basket" [1]. This most unusual, one-person restaurant with a view of fields and mountains was set up on a large meadow in Ransäter, in the Värmland region of central-west Sweden. Inspired by Covid-19 and the need to survive in a new reality, its owners, Rasmus Persson and Linda Karlsson, came up with the idea by providing food to their parents during the pandemic.

A simple, wooden table covered with a white tablecloth, wild flowers, and a candle looks beautiful sitting in the middle of a meadow. Next to the chair is a wooden pole with a rope, on which a wicker basket with food slides down. The other end of the rope is 50 yards or so from the table, in the kitchen window of the owners' house.

The menu, prepared by Rasmus Persson, a trained cook, is typically Swedish, seasonal: incl. yellow carrot and ginger puree, browned peanut butter and corn croquettes or a blueberry dessert with iced buttermilk. The guests pay for the meal at will; when they leave, the owners leave the table and chair untouched for six hours, and then sanitize everything. [2], [3]

The table operates only in the warm Swedish spring and summer, i.e., from May 20 to the end of August and it is apparently booked well in advance. "We are almost always full," said co-owner Linda Karlsson in an interview with the industry portal ktchnrebel.com. "And if the weather is bad, we offer blankets and a windshield."

In Poland, Małgorzata and Joanna Komsta, the owners of the Silesian restaurants UMAMI and PLADO came up with a unique outdoor dining experience, but for couples: the Dream Table. Born during the first lockdown, the concept is fabulously simple: the client chooses a spot in nature where they would like to dine, and the restaurant sets up a decorated table there and proposes a menu. [4]

Welcome to the miniature restaurant world

One of the smallest restaurants in the world operates in Hamburg on the Elbe. It is located in a tiny, wooden Pegelhäuschen house erected right on the pier in 1880, demolished in 1992, and then meticulously reconstructed. Inside, there is a table for two or four people overlooking the river. The 4-course surprise menu with aperitif, wine and coffee costs 149 euros per person. [5]

You can also eat an intimate dinner in the "Gondola of Pleasure" [6]which belongs to the 5-star Jagdhof hotel in the Austrian Stubaital. The former ski lift gondola has been converted into a charming little Tyrolean lounge that can accommodate up to five guests. Inside, the traditional atmosphere of the Austrian countryside is mixed with the Valentine's Day aesthetics: the ceiling and walls are paneled, and candles hang above the bench made of light wood. The table is surrounded with huge red and white cushions with embroidered hearts. Your dining experience is complemented by the amazing view of the glacier, viewed through heart-shaped windows with white and red draped curtains. [7]

In Amsterdam, in turn, the pandemic gave birth to an unusual restaurant with a concept of a greenhouse for two looking over the Oosterdok. Mediamatic Eten is part of the modern Mediamatic cultural center. The owners were inspired by the French custom of creating a private, secluded "chambre separée" room in restaurants and bars. Its Dutch version is five mini-greenhouses under the stars, 2.53 square meters each. The interior is modern, sparse, and ecological. The menu is entirely vegan, served on long boards to keep a safe distance between the staff and guests. [8]

London dines out and outside

The London climate has never favored outdoor dining. Eating out has only caught up thanks to Covid restrictions and is now experiencing a real boom. How come?

Firstly, restaurants with open-air space could open earlier than those with indoor space only. Secondly, being aware of the very difficult situation of gastronomy, the government did not get in the way of the restaurateurs when they wanted to expand their gardens or take over the pavement. Thirdly, dining outside feels safer and this will not change any time soon.

One of London's most popular and recommended places for an outdoor lunch and dinner is Bentley's Oyster Bar & Grill [9]. The restaurant has invested in a heated terrace, which will be converted into a winter garden after the summer season. Lights and branches of lemon trees are pinned on racks under large black umbrellas, surrounded by wooden boxes with flowers and herbs. The furniture is simple, with a London chic. The newly added Irish chef, Richard Corrigan, has sparked up the atmosphere in recent weeks. The industry portal finedininglovers.com especially recommends his seafood dishes, fish cake, and a seafood platter.

Another place that attracts Londoners is the modern Japanese restaurant Dinings SW3. It is run by chef Masaki Sugasaki in a restored stable building and comes with a small but beautiful terrace. Unfortunately, the terrace closes after dark, so the place is a good proposition for lunch or an early dinner.

The Holborn Dining Room in the courtyard of London's Rosewood Hotel is also impressive. It is a garden oasis in the heart of the city that takes you straight to the Scottish countryside. The luscious plates on the tables are surrounded by lots of greenery: grass, wild flowers, and heather.

However, London's al fresco dining isn't all about gourmet concepts and expensive dinners. For example, in a converted old school shed in Shoreditch a modest, charming, intimate bistro Rochelle Canteen was created. It is a pavement city garden, with an inoffensive, pomp-free atmosphere and the menu of seasonal products, a variety of legumes, and puddings. [10], [11], [12]

Paris opens more terraces

Rooftop restaurants, charming gardens, small pavement gardens with chairs facing the street, all wrapped in a beautiful urban space: Parisian restaurateurs, residents and tourists did not need a pandemic to make them eat outside. Now the French restaurant gardens, officially opened on May 19, are positively besieged as restaurant owners are going out of their way to come up with new ideas for attracting guests.

For the first time in history, restaurant Le Grand Véfour [13], located in front of the Palais Royal Gardens opened a summer terrace. The restaurant's menu has been made lighter, in line with the post-pandemic tastes of the guests. Now it serves, e.g., artichoke broth with poached egg, fried zander with herbal risotto, or delicious desserts for which the restaurant is famous, such as raspberry tartlets or vanilla éclairs.

One of the most appreciated spots in Paris is the Forest restaurant [14] by the Museum of Modern Art. It offers an economical, minimalist terrace, captivating views of the Seine and the Eiffel Tower, with a simple atmosphere reminiscent of the French countryside. Chef Julien Sebbag is up to date with trends focusing on nature in the menu. In Forest you can try, e.g., a rocket salad with grilled halloumi, zucchini carpaccio or peas and asparagus with the addition of tamago egg, marinated feta and coriander, Saint Jean de Luz red tuna tartare or sea bass carpaccio.

The Giorgio restaurant has a particularly charming and fun terrace [15], as the new Parisian "disco trattoria". Forget wearing pink glasses! Here, all furniture, tableware, and food accessories are fuchsia. The terrace is surrounded by lots of plants, and the blaze of pink and green boosts energy and cheers up. Even the hard-to-please Vogue Paris was delighted with the design of the place. The menu plays a similar role as the interior: above all, it is supposed to lift the spirit. Giorgio serves Neapolitan pizza, fried burrata, pasta, and ice cream.

The new sun terrace at Bambini at the Palais de Tokyo stands out against Parisian gardens [16]. There, the designers opted for light white umbrellas reminiscent of the beaches of southern France, exotic vegetation, and stylish upholstery of sofas with a floral motif. The chairs are traditional, similar to those found in the vast majority of Parisian gardens, but in the less common black and ecru. In turn, created in the spirit of the 1930s, with tropical plants and a stunning view of Paris, the Girafe restaurant [17] is a true work of art by Gilles Malafosse and Laurent Gourcuff. [18], [19]

Lunching on the rooftops of New York

As in London, eating outside was not very popular in New York until the pandemic. After the first lockdown, restaurateurs saw in their gardens a temporary means to survive the most difficult stage for the industry.

When the mayor of New York announced the reopening of gastronomy in June 2020, he only allowed outdoor business. Instead of panicking, the restaurateurs pulled together and invested in pavement cafes, charming, creatively decorated courtyards and movie pubs on the roofs.

The temporary solution turned out to be a jackpot. Some streets in the city have even been closed to traffic so that the restaurant business can flourish again. And New Yorkers have no intention of going back to the pubs closed by four walls.

There are already thousands of spectacular open-air food places in New York. One of them is the Mexican restaurant Cantina Rooftop [20], designed in an industrial style, with a large, beautiful terrace under rainbow umbrellas at the top of Stage 48 and a view of the city skyline. The menu is light and casual: nachos, guacamole, street corn, margarita, and summer drinks.

Fandi Mata is a beautiful place [21] in Greenpoint, with a climate that combines the Mediterranean and industrial. Colorful dishes are served on a beautiful, spacious patio with lush greenery and soft, light cushions.

The huge patio of The Fulton restaurant [22] in the Seaport area is quite impressive, with high ceilings and panoramic views of the Brooklyn Bridge. The menu is dominated by seafood. Le Bain & The Rooftop [23] in Manhattan also offers breathtaking views of the Hudson River. It is a famous New York bar with a grass-covered terrace and a dance floor at the top of The Standard in the High Line Park.

Olmsted, a [24] home-made restaurant located a few steps from Prospect Park is no doubt an exceptional place. Their backyard garden looks like it has come straight from a fairy tale, yet offers a casual atmosphere. Lots of herbs and plant pots surround wooden benches decorated with colorful garlands. The yield of the garden inspires the menu; the restaurant serves brunches and dinners with seasonal dishes, as well as summer cocktails. [25]

Summer will be gone, the gardens will stay

How long will the new trend last? Everything indicates that beautiful gardens, terraces, and patios will not disappear by the end of summer 2021 and that they will strive to survive in the rain and snow. Even the most optimistic restaurateurs have to take into account the possibility of more temporary closures in gastronomy. If the governments of individual countries decide to introduce partial restrictions in the fall, gardens will be the only way for restaurateurs to save their businesses.

Like it or not, the industry can expect to make further investments in additional roofing and insulation. On the other hand, restaurant and bar guests can look forward to it as open air dining is no longer restricted to certain seasons.


[1] https://en.bordforen.com/

[2] https://www.foodandwine.com/news/one-person-restaurant-meadow-sweden

[3] https://www.ktchnrebel.com/pandemic-ideas-restaurants-covid19/

[4] http://www.restauracjaumami.pl/zdjecia/#StolikMarzen

[5] https://www.zollenspieker-faehrhaus.de/en/gastronomy/the-pegelhaeuschen

[6] https://www.hotel-jagdhof.at/

[7] https://www.ktchnrebel.com/pandemic-ideas-restaurants-covid19/

[8] https://www.mediamatic.net/en/page/377815/testing-serres-s%C3%A9par%C3%A9es-at-mediamatic-biotoop

[9] https://www.bentleys.org/

[10] https://www.finedininglovers.com/maps/best-outdoor-dining-london

[11] https://luxurylondon.co.uk/taste/food/best-al-fresco-outdoor-restaurants-london

[12] https://www.standard.co.uk/reveller/restaurants/best-outdoor-restaurants-al-fresco-a4488406.html

[13] https://www.grand-vefour.com/en/

[14] http://www.forest-paris.com/

[15] https://www.sortiraparis.com/hotels-and-restaurants/restaurant/articles/223335-giorgio-the-new-italian-restaurant-by-dalmata/lang/en

[16] https://bambini-restaurant.com/

[17] https://girafe-restaurant.com/paris/

[18] https://www.vogue.fr/lifestyle-en/article/the-most-beautiful-parisian-terraces-summer-2020

[19] https://www.vogue.fr/lifestyle-en/article/new-terraces-to-discover-in-paris-summer

[20] https://www.cantinarooftop.com/

[21] https://www.fandimata.com/

[22] https://www.thefulton.nyc/

[23] https://www.lebainnewyork.com/

[24] http://olmstednyc.com/

[25] https://www.thrillist.com/eat/new-york/best-outdoor-bars-restaurants-in-nyc