Spring has arrived. We can now start engaging in the great activity of the new season – planning how we are going to use, and misuse, those balmy days and nights. Of the many pleasures the season affords, one of the greatest is eating, specifically eating outside. Perhaps beneath a tree, always in a warm breeze, or by the Croisette, wine in hand, feet up. Whichever way you do it, you’ll find your food always tastes sweeter if you are eating alfresco. That’s why we MR PORTER has criss-crossed the globe to find you the best places to eat outside. From a chocolate-box French hostelry, to a rooftop restaurant in Greece, we have just the place for you.
The Hotel Grande Bretagne in Athens opened in 1872 and is often referred to as the other Parthenon, so august and venerable is it. It has, over the years, seen off four dictatorships, a brace of world wars and several visits by our favourite bon viveur, Mr David Niven. Its attraction, apart from all the bells and whistles within, is its location – within striking distance of the Acropolis, Syntagma Square and the 2004 Olympic stadium. We recommend heading to the GB Roof Garden Restaurant & Bar to feast on one of the most extraordinary views in Europe. Appetite whetted, you can lean back in one of the large mid-century modern chairs and time travel 2,000 years while enjoying chef Mr Asterios Koustoudis’ fish-heavy Mediterranean food.
What to order: grilled shrimps with fennel cooked in citrus, spinach and bottarga
Smack bang in the middle of Provence, right next to a 12th-century abbey and with superstar chef Mr Alain Ducasse overseeing the kitchen, this Provençal villa-restaurant is more French than a Gallic shrug. Head chef Mr Nicolas Pierantoni has an extensive kitchen garden to inspire him, along with the Mediterranean Sea, which is little more than an hour south, so the menu evolves with both the season and the catch of the day. And what an evolution. There is both a multi-dish tasting section for the committed gourmand, a picnic menu, and a lighter à la carte affair, which, as you would hope, is irredeemably French, featuring fennel velouté, crêpes suzette and, the real show-stopper, John Dory with Swiss chard, shellfish and capers (the place has had a Michelin star since 2006, the Guide describing it as “seasonal and sincere”). Its terrace runs along the edge of the square in the ancient village of La Celle. Shade is provided by parasols, cypress trees and the craggy Candelon mountain. At night, flickering lanterns bathe the tables in forgiving golden light. Yes, reader, it is absolute bliss. And if you overindulge on the vin ordinaire, there are 10 bedrooms (from €320 per night) where you can lay your head, or a swimming pool to dive into, depending on your wont.
What to order: hake’s back, mashed sweet almond and lemon gnocchi
Acre Baja started out as the holiday dream of Mr Cam Watt, a bar owner from Vancouver, and his friend Mr Stuart McPherson, who were both holidaying on the Baja peninsula. After a series of biblical setbacks, including a couple of hurricanes, they now have one of the coolest restaurants south of the US border. The location itself is pretty peerless – 25 acres of rolling farmland fringed with palm trees and soon to be joined by 12 rentable treehouses. The food is wholly unpretentious and all farm to plate, with most of the produce coming from the restaurant’s ranch. Think ceviche with sweet potato chicharrón and black sesame, and grilled fish pibil tacos and luxuriate, Latin-style.
What to order: ceviche washed down with a Tres Amigos cocktail (Ancho Reyes, triple citrus blend and simple syrup)
Outstanding In The Field is one of the most extraordinary dining projects we’ve come across. What’s a dining project? Oh anything from a pop-up to a chef’s residency to a dinner for 12 hanging from a crane over the River Thames (yes, we’ve done it). Since 1999, it has been setting up long outdoor tables anywhere from mountain tops to sea caves, all in the name of reconnecting jaded diners with the land from which their food springs forth from. The unusual operation traverses the US with a merry band of waiters and chefs, producing multi-course dinners about twice a week. They go literally everywhere, from the Pacific Northwest, to Cali, to The Rockies and the Mid-Atlantic coast. Sometimes they even pop up in France. Each dinner is quite different and is entirely down to the guest chef. You pay your $200 and you eat, drink and be merry on whatever they care to produce. Never has the luxury of no choice looked more appealing.
What to order: whatever the chef tells you to
The Roundhouse has been many things over the years – a Dutch East India Company guards’ house, a hotel, a dance hall and Lord Charles Somerset’s hunting lodge. One thing it has never been is anything but extraordinary. Its location is unparalleled, sitting in the foothills of Table Mountain with views of Camps Bay and the ocean beyond. Inside, it’s all fine dining and food arranged with tweezers, but outside the menu is a little more relaxed, a little more rambunctious – think feta-stuffed peppadew, snoek pâté, peppered beef and colourful salads. Just make sure when you do visit, you actually order something. There is a tendency to just, well, stare (we recommend doing so over a glass of something from the 20-strong beer menu).
What to order: spicy olives and a cold beer
Because LA maintains a year-round balminess, it tends to be a dine-inside city. The reason: air-con. We get it, of course, but at MR PORTER we don’t always want to eat our lunch in a giant fridge. We like to feel a little warmth on our backs (unless we are, say, in the Mojave Desert), and in LA there is no better place to do that than in the shady garden groves of Cliff’s Edge in Silver Lake. Even the ancient tree around which everything is arranged seems to be welcoming guests with open arms. Certainly, the kitchen is in capable hands, those of chef Mr Michael Bryant, who serves mainly rustic European dishes with a touch of indigenous Cali ingredients. Expect things such as steak tartare with sea beans, grilled blow fish and calamari kung pao. Book ahead, mind. The secret’s out.
What to order: crispy branzino with blistered shishito pepper, onion, chili vinaigrette and garlic
More of an outside-inside affair, Petersham Nurseries has the twin virtues of being both a beautiful plant nursery and an award-winning restaurant, so after you have lunched in one of the long, plant-filled glass houses, you can pick up some gardenias on your way out. Owned by the Boglione family, who live next door in some splendour and in the company of a large elephant carved from a box hedge, the restaurant is now a decade old. Having launched the careers of Ms Skye Gyngell and Mr Greg Malouf, the kitchen is now run by Mr Damian Clisby, formerly of Hix Soho, who serves an Italian-accented menu that changes depending on what’s in season, and what’s in the garden. Petersham is 10 miles and a world away from central London.
What to order: roast pigeon with scorzanera, thyme and blood orange