Make the most of London’s rivers, canals, docks and basins with this selection of spots to grab a quick drink, a bite to eat, or a full-blown meal by the water. Or even on it.
There’s something a bit special about this modern tapas restaurant at St Katharine Docks. Battered wooden furniture and bare-brick walls are quaint and cool, while the illuminated view of the boat-filled docks from its floor-to-ceiling windows feels more like Spain than Shadwell. Dishes such as raw slices of tuna, deconstructed gazpacho, oysters laced with sherry, and foie gras served in egg shells represent the kind of innovative modern Spanish cooking that’s making waves internationally rather than the usual tapas bar fare. It’s sometimes off the wall, but almost always on the money.
The Captain Kidd
Named after a pirate hanged nearby in 1701, The Captain Kidd in Wapping is a maze of different seating areas, almost all overlooking the Thames. A large outside patio allows drinking and dining right at the water’s edge, while two upper floors both offer prime views of the water. The food isn't the reason people come, but it's a step beyond most basic pub fare.
A prominent fixture on the Barnes restaurant scene for well over a quarter of a century, The Depot occupies a prime spot of leafy river-front, serving brasserie staples alongside a strong selection of wines, beers and cocktails. Steak and chips, grilled fish and roast duck are typical examples of what’s on offer, while rhubarb and strawberry Eton Mess is a long-standing favourite from the pudding list. An evening set menu offers two courses for £15 and three for £18 from Monday to Thursday.
Before launching Dalston Italian Rotorino recently, Stevie Parle opened this internationally-influenced restaurant overlooking Portobello Docks near Westbourne Park. It’s set above the showroom for designer Tom Dixon and the restaurant has been styled by the man himself. Bright-coloured tables and chairs, large low-hanging lights and bare brick walls are smack-you-in-the-face cool, but its the panoramic views onto the water that steal the show. Menus vary from day to day, but expect seasonal produce to play centre stage. Monday nights are the ideal time to try the place out, with a three-course set menu plus a glass of wine for just £24.50.
A public house has stood where The Dove is now on Hammersmith riverside since the 17th Century, and the site has been owned by Fuller’s since 1796. The best bit about the pub’s history is just how easy it is to see: you’ll need to duck your head as you enter, floorboards creek underfoot, and for much of the year an open fire roars. Charming as the inside is, its place in this list is down primarily to its riverside terrace, overlooking a wide, tranquil and wildlife-rich part of the Thames. Naturally, it’s less tranquil when the boat race is on. Drinks consist of Fuller’s ales, the usual big brand beers and a basic selection of wine and spirits, while the food is decent though far from gastro.
Feng Shang Princess
How do you beat being by the water? By being on the water, of course. It’s this unusual quirk that wins the floating Chinese restaurant near Regent’s Park its inclusion here. The food is a Western-friendly take on Cantonese dishes, fine but unspectacular. The views out of the small windows of the pagoda-styled ship onto a leafy part of Regent’s Canal are easily the best bit.
This Docklands gastropub is a tad off the beaten track but well worth the trip from Canary Wharf station. Hearty British dishes are executed with flair in the main dining room where a good balance is struck between pub classics and fancier gastro offerings. The roast dinners are out-standing, having recently featured in our 20 of London’s best Sunday roasts list. There’s also plenty of space to linger with a pints or a cocktail, including an open-air terrace overlooking the O2 right by the choppy Docklands waters.
Le Pont De La Tour
There could be few more impressive places for a restaurant than Le Pont De La Tour’s right on the bank of the Thames, overlooking Tower Bridge and the City. Both food and service are almost as picture perfect as the view at this long-standing, if pricey, fish-focused French restaurant. Grab a spot on the heated terrace and tuck into seafood platters, grilled lobsters and other classics before ending on a selection from the truly epic cheese trolley. It’s a plush restaurant that likes to pamper its diners, a good choice for a special occasion.
Gordon Ramsay’s foray into the world of gastropubs didn’t go that well, with two out of three of his ventures closing. The Narrow is the one that remains, but it’s recently undergone a revamp and menu overhaul that takes it firmly from pub to restaurant - and a rather nice one at that. It’s a more relaxed and much more affordable affair than many of his other venues, and comes with the bonus of a terrace right on the water’s edge in Limehouse. The British-meets-Mediterranean menu spans sardines on bruschetta, monkfish wrapped in prosciutto and scallops with haggis.
The Perkin Reveller
Named after a figure in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales who loves nothing more than eating, drinking, merriment and mischief, it’s fitting that The Perkin Reveller is a venue with so much character. It’s not only set right on the Thames, but immediately next to the Tower of London and partially within the bowels of Tower Bridge itself. Modern versions of Medieval banquet fare include steak with smoked bone marrow mash, crab on toast and scotch eggs, with hefty mains and bar snacks available. A tome of cocktails focussing on London gin, and beers served in pewter tankards make the drinks just as appealing.
The Proud Archivist
A relative newcomer to Haggerston’s burgeoning dining scene, The Proud Archivist is part caff, part restaurant, part art gallery. It’s an easy place to kill time: light and bright, with upbeat music, friendly staff and arty excitement for the eyes dotted all over the shop. Not to mention its double-height full glass windows overlooking Regent’s Canal. Pob by for a coffee and a flick through the papers, a glass of wine by the water, or a full breakfast. It’s worth trying out some of the main dishes, too; we enjoyed meltingly soft roasted pork belly recently. And you can’t get much more summery than a dish of vodka and poppy seed cured salmon served with watermelon granita.
The River Café
This timeless restaurant set by the Hammersmith riverside has served simple, ingredient-focused Italian dishes to loyal fans since 1987. It doesn’t come cheap, but it’s a London institution, and many will claim it serves some of the best Tuscan dishes anywhere outside of Tuscany. If that wasn’t kudos enough, it can also be credited with starting the careers of numerous chefs including Theo Randall, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and Jamie Oliver.
Set within the Guardian and Observer offices at Kings Place, Rotunda occupies a pretty spot right on Battlebridge Basin at King’s Cross. When the weather’s nice, a large terrace allows for alfresco dining right at the water’s edge, while you can make do with panoramic glass windows at other times. The restaurant has its own farm in Northumberland and takes its meat very seriously indeed, hence 32-day-aged steaks, rosemary roasted lamb, and beef and bone marrow burgers are good choices from the robust British menu. Sunday roasts with all the trimmings are also worth a try, while a large list of beers, wines and cocktails are available whether you’re eating there or not.
This vast Wandsworth gastropub is nowhere near vast enough for the swathes of people that cram into its outside area (there’s no grass, so we wouldn’t call it a garden) backing right onto the Thames. But that just creates a pleasing bustle which can be almost festival-like at its peak. One of the biggest draws is the outdoor service areas, meaning you can grab some barbecue food and pints without having to head inside - having the river in sight makes queuing much more palatable. Excellent roast dinners are a reason to head inside though we’ve found that the kitchen here really excels when it comes to meaty mains.
Another waterside option in increasingly foodie King’s Cross, Shrimpy’s made waves when it launched a couple of years ago with queues of diners waiting to get their hands on a soft-shell crab burger. Now in its final few months (it closes in September as the site is due for development), its selection of burgers, wings, ceviche, seafood and deep-fried pickles is still a pleasing one. Not least when eaten right by Regent’s Canal on the large outdoor terrace, which has recently gained a grill serving kimchi hot dogs that we rather like the sound of.
There are few better places for a pint in the sun than the upper deck of this brightly-coloured boat that’s permanently moored near Lambeth Bridge. Down below has also been recently refurbished to make a cosy snug which tends to be calm by day and have a party vibe by night, with regular live music at weekends. A decent selection of well-priced pubby plates such as burgers and nachos are also available.
Toasties, cakes, simple snacks and very decent coffee are what make this canalside café in Haggerston tick. It’s trendy and it bloody well knows it, but still on a sunny day it’s an unbeatable spot to people-watch and soak up the bustling atmosphere. Points to note: they don’t do takeaway coffees and there’s no loo.
Blueprint Cafe: British food and London views at the Design Museum.
Butler’s Wharf Chop House: Steaks and more by Tower Bridge.
Cantina Del Ponte: Shad Thames does Italian.
Serpentine Bar & Kitchen: Snacks and simple plates in the park.
The Swan at The Globe: Theatre-side, Bankside gastropub.
Got any more suggestions? Let us know in the comments below.
This article is part of our Best of London Food and Drink series. Visit the page for more recommendations of where to enjoy the capital's top food and drink, categorised by cuisine, food type and more.