It’s as if the glamorous Dalloway Terrace, the relatively new alfresco dining venue of The Bloomsbury, has always been there when I step into the heady oasis, currently taking inspiration from the RHS Chelsea Flower Show with dramatic floral installations in collaboration with Nikki Tibbles Wild at Heart. And unlike the capital’s many roadside or rooftop dining options this secret-garden is a highly flexible space offering buxus hedging for privacy, powerful heaters for warmth and a fully retractable roof in readiness of those unpredictable, yet inevitable, English showers.
Named after Virginia Woolf’s legendary novel Mrs Dalloway, in which the protagonist is ‘always giving parties to cover the silence’, it’s a nostalgic atmosphere straight out of the pages of a novel, and with comforting blankets on hand I could easily see myself spending an entire day here sipping tea and eating cake in between chapters. Their recently launched afternoon tea menu designed by Mariatu Kargbo (formerly of The Dorchester and The Lanesborough) has even revived recipes dating from the 1920s and 30s, with a modern twist or two of course.
Instead, Mama and I arrived at the fashionable hour of the cocktail following a pleasurable day shopping at Clarissa Dalloway’s own stomping ground of Bond Street, and there’s an extensive list of tipples to get you into the Bloomsbury swing, including the aptly named ‘Mrs Dalloway’; Champagne, Courvoisier VSOP, sugar, Angostura bitters, plus a superb version of my own personal favourite Tommy’s Margarita. The charming maître d’ persuaded me to try the vibrant and highly quaff-able Cucumber Sour which he went away to mix enthusiastically – featuring Hendricks, Midori, yellow Chartreuse, cucumber and pressed-lemon – and I’m jolly glad I did, it will be just the thing come that long-anticipated London heatwave.
All the other tables were occupied by 6.30pm and, coupled with the low lighting, fairy lights and soft jazz, the terrace took on an enchanting cocktail-party vibe, even on a seemingly ordinary Tuesday night – word is obviously getting out. A small plates menu is available for those wanting a bite with a drink, or the all day dining menu delivers crowd-pleasing options for any time of day, from fish and chips and an Aberdeen Angus burger to a bursting-at-the-seams club sandwich, alongside more refined classic fare such as grilled fish and meats with a variety of accompaniments.
Mama was naturally drawn to the juicy Dublin Bay prawn cocktail which arrived in a Martini glass (there’s a theme here) generously doused in seafood sauce and served with the delicious homemade Guinness brown bread that is a signature, while I was seduced by our waitress’s mention of lobster bisque as one of the daily specials; pleasingly light and creamy, with the addition of a lobster claw making it doubly enjoyable. The concept here is as simple and refreshing as the presentation, good skilful cookery with no unnecessary frills – and they’re nearly always the restaurants I return to.
M’s whole lemon sole might have looked plain, yet to fish lovers everywhere it was a delight; grilled and filleted to fluffy perfection, with a mini copper pan of buerre noisette elevating it to new heights whilst adding a richness and decadence pierced only by a squeeze of lemon. I was equally pleased with my Asian-style main of succulent hand-dived seared scallops, spinach, chanterelle mushrooms and a punchy teriyaki dressing which, when combined with the sweetness of the scallops, the iron-rich spinach and the woody mushrooms, became a harmonious and surprisingly hearty dish, perfect for an early summer evening. When it came to desserts we were torn between the classic lemon tart and the Earl Grey burnt cream, but in the end chocolate was calling to us as darkness fell and the Valrhona and pecan nut slice with salted caramel ice cream proved a satisfying conclusion to an evening a deal more fun than reading Mrs Dalloway.
Dalloway Terrace at the Bloomsbury Hotel, 16-22 Great Russell Street, London WC1B 3NN. For more information and reservations visit the website.