London’s canalways have seen a growing resurgence; they’re bursting with life and are home to more boats now than there were on the water even during the industrial age – the very period the canals were designed to service. As old warehouses are converted into luxury flats, factories into fine dining spaces and storage units into whatever hip eatery will fit in them, the canals have become a creative vein that snakes through the city. If you find yourself strolling along the towpath this summer, watch out for our pick of London’s best canalside restaurants, bars and cafes, listed here from west to east.
The Dock Kitchen, Kensal Green
This West London waterside restaurant is situated in a converted Victorian Wharf building, which has been re-purposed by Derwent London – the same group who introduced Shoreditch’s iconic Tea Building to East London. Under the original brick arches and ceiling beams you’ll find furniture and lighting from industrial designer Tom Dixon who, handily, has a shop below the restaurant. The kitchen here is headed up by Stevie Parle, who has made his way through the ranks of The River Café, Moro and Petersham Nurseries to wind up at this scenic spot. The former Observer Food Monthly Young Chef of the Year winner presents an ever-changing and experimental menu that showcases the season’s best.
Location: Portobello Dock, 342-344 Ladbroke Grove, Kensal Road W10 5BU
Opening hours: Monday to Saturday for lunch (12pm-2.30pm) and dinner (7pm-9.30pm), plus Sunday lunch (12pm-3pm)
Nearest transport: Kensal Green (Bakerloo line and London Overground)
The Union Tavern, Paddington
The Union Tavern is as authentic as London pubs come, with a beer offering that sticks solely to those brewed in London. From Black Cab Stout to Camden Pale Ale, you’d be hard pushed to find a better selection of capital-brewed beers under one roof. And where better to enjoy a cold half than in the tavern’s waterside garden, with just a wrought iron fence between you and the canal. The food menu veers from the British theme and makes a heavy nod to Mexican cuisine but with international influences. If you’re feeling bold, try the deep-fried ice cream.
Location: 45 Woodfield Rd, London W9 2BA
Opening hours: Monday to Thursday (12pm-11pm), Friday and Saturday (12pm-12am) and Sunday (12pm-11.30pm)
Nearest transport: Westbourne Park (Circle and Hammersmith & City lines)
The Summerhouse, Warwick Avenue
The sister restaurant to the long-established Waterway in Maida Vale holds its own just a stone’s throw up the canal. The interiors here could have been lifted from a luxury yacht, with blue stripes, clean whites and plenty of beach-themed accessories creating a fresh summer vibe. The menu follows suit with light salads, sharing platters and an excellent variety of fish, including Cornish cod and Brixham sole. You can dutifully round it all off with a Knickerbocker glory – an English classic. A brunch menu is available on Saturday and Sunday from 10am-1pm and, despite its name, The Summerhouse is open all year round, due to popular demand.
Location: Opposite 60 Blomfield Rd, London W9 2PA
Opening hours: Monday to Friday (12pm-11pm), Saturday (10am-11pm) and Sunday (10am-10.30pm)
Nearest transport: Warwick Avenue (Bakerloo Line)
Canal 125, King’s Cross
With a modern-pub vibe, this bar and restaurant is set in a mid 19th-century building on Regents Canal and is generously spread over three floors. It’s the super-central location that puts this waterside spot on the map; it’s just a five-walk from the transport hub of King’s Cross. The first-floor terrace commands lovely views over the canal, best enjoyed with a glass of something chilled in hand. Chef Gary King presents a menu of Modern European and British dishes, which include award-winning salmon fishcakes, and both roasts and brunch are available on Sundays. Head here on a Monday for stand-up comedy from Crying Duck, or a Thursday for guest DJs.
Location: 125 Caledonian Rd, London N1 9RG
Opening hours: Monday to Wednesday (11am-12am), Thursday and Friday (11am-2am) and Sunday (11am-10pm)
Nearest transport: King’s Cross (Victoria, Piccadilly, Northern and Circle, Hammersmith & City and Metropolitan lines)
The Narrowboat, Islington
The Narrowboat is somewhat of an institution when it comes to canalside pubs. It’s the only pub on the water in the borough of Islington – home of the longest navigable canal tunnel in the south east, the Islington Tunnel, which measures 960 yards. Boaters and land-dwellers alike frequent this popular spot to enjoy the views from the first floor balcony, along with the breakfast, lunch and dinner menus. It’s all about the best of British here, with seasonal ingredients sourced from the British Isles. It goes without saying that the Sunday lunches are popular so, if you plan on visiting, be sure to book.
Location: 119 St Peter’s St, London N1 8PZ
Opening hours: Monday and Tuesday (11am-11pm), Wednesday to Saturday (11am-12am) and Sunday (11am-11.00pm)
Nearest transport: Angel (Northern line)
Towpath Café, Haggerston
The Towpath Café is a little gem, and makes for a great for a pit stop if you’re spending the day wandering along the canal. It takes shape in two storage units, which means the interior space is limited, albeit creative. The tables and chairs spill out onto the towpath itself, making it a perfect spot for people watching (and cyclist dodging). Whilst the food may be simple, it’s well executed and there’s a decent choice. Come here for brunch, coffee and cake, or a Mr Whippy with proper ice-cream custard.
Location: 36 De Beauvoir Crescent, London N1
Opening hours: Tuesday to Wednesday (8am-8pm), Thursday to Friday (8am-9pm), Saturday and Sunday (9am-11pm)
Nearest transport: Haggerston (London Overground)
Crate Brewery, Bar and Pizzeria, Hackney Wick
Ongoing developments in the nearby Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park are fast transforming this area. Just this month, the Here East development saw The Breakfast Club restaurant open its doors, and further independent businesses are expected to follow suit soon. For now, at least, Crate epitomises the gritty creative scene that currently surrounds it in Hackney Wick, offering home-brewed beers from an authentic industrial space. The interiors here were created by local artists, who up-cycled random materials (railways sleepers, bed springs, ladders and, of course, the obligatory palette or two) but the result isn’t as hap-hazardous as it might sound. Crate’s canalside terrace offers more space than the more central waterside spots and has been extended to include a few actual boats, so you can sip a Crate-brewed beverage whilst afloat. Hand-rolled pizzas provide a pretty perfect complement to it all, and are served from the open-plan kitchen.
Location: Unit 7, Queens Yard, Hackney Wick, London E9 5EN
Opening hours: Sunday to Thursday (12pm-11pm, Pizzeria closes at 10pm) and Friday and Saturday (12pm-12am, Pizzeria closes at 11pm)
Nearest transport: Hackney Wick (London Overground)
The Palm Tree, Bow
It doesn’t get much more East End than The Palm Tree. This is a proper, proper pub, undisturbed by the slow gentrification of the area around it, including that of the canal. Around the oval bar you’ll find a kaleidoscopic carpet, metallic wallpaper and red velour curtains, all of which probably date back as far as the old-school cash register. There’s usually at least one real ale on tap, which you can enjoy perusing the signed pictures of former celebrities – that’s if you can make them out through the red-tinted lighting. Evenings are the best time to visit this cultural cornerstone, when the house band, Palm Trio, often pipe up.
Location: 127 Grove Road, London E3 5RP
Opening hours: Monday to Thursday (12pm-12am), Friday – Saturday (12pm-2am) and Sunday (12pm-1am)
Nearest transport: Mile End (Central, District and Hammersmith & City lines)
The Canal & River Trust are the charity responsible for maintaining the some 2000 miles of waterways in England and Wales; this includes towpaths, bridges, locks and docks. You can donate to this worthwhile cause here.
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