17 of the best spots for al fresco dining in Essex

Al fresco dining at Le Talbooth. Photo: Le Talbooth

Al fresco dining at Le Talbooth. Photo: Le Talbooth - Credit: Archant

The best al fresco dining spots in Essex from glorious pub gardens to restaurants with an ocean view

1. The Anchor Riverside, Hullbridge
Tucked away in the heart of the Essex countryside, The Anchor Riverside is perfect for any occasion. Whether you’re stopping by for a quick lunchtime bite or a visit for a relaxing evening meal, its spacious garden area, or riverside orangery for more shelter, are ideal for a spot of al fresco dining. Using local, seasonal produce and a passionate ‘field-to-plate’ philosophy, Head Chef Daniel is producing some truly wonderful food for diners to enjoy.

2. Milsoms, Dedham
This charming countryside hotel and restaurant is the perfect place for dining outdoors. When the sun is shining there’s no where better to enjoy your meal than the restaurant’s tranquil terrace overlooking the gardens. The menu boasts a huge selection of incredible food to choose from with mouth-watering steaks that are locally sourced from the Dedham Vale or simple, seasonal salads making use of the delicious vegetables that grow in the area.

3. The Pier, Harwich
Set on the first floor of a renovated 1860 listed building, The Pier at Harwich is the place to be for food lovers. With a stunning selection of fresh seafood that’s brought in from the quay daily, guests can tuck into their favourite fish dishes from mussels, oysters, sea trout and even lobster. Dining from the first floor, take in views of the harbour as the sun shines and sea birds circle arcs in the sky above. We recommend visiting in the evening when you’ll be able to see the sunset.

4. The Pig and Whistle Restaurant, Chelmsford
Based in the Chelmsford countryside, this charming 16th century restaurant oozes rustic charm. With a warm and inviting atmosphere, time seems to stand still at The Pig and Whistle whilst you sit back and relax with a glass of wine on their sun soaked terrace. They serve fantastic home-cooked dishes using the best local ingredients from maple glazed chicken to slow cooked pork belly and John Dory fillets.

5. Billy Hundreds Fish n Tapas Restaurant, Southend-on-Sea
Billy Hundreds Fish n Tapas in Southend-on-Sea has a real passion for serving delicious fish. Owner and head chef Graham along with his father Gordon, who has been a fishmonger for over 40 years, handpick all of the fish they serve. The menu has a delicious range of fresh seafood served as tapas dishes that are perfect for mixing and matching. Treat yourself to chilli prawns, crab tacos, whitebait and sumptuous crayfish tails. All of this can be enjoyed with the backdrop of stunning estuary views.

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6. The Spotted Dog, Great Dunmow
The Spotted Dog Restaurant and Freehouse is all about serving food for foodies that’s been cooked by foodies. The stylish décor is complemented perfectly by its relaxed and friendly atmosphere where guests are encouraged to sit back, relax and enjoy a pint of real ale or perhaps a glass of fine wine. Tuck into dishes using the best locally sourced ingredients, homemade breads and even ice cream!

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7. Le Talbooth, Dedham
With an idyllic riverside setting in the heart of the Constable countryside, dining at Le Talbooth is nothing short of wonderful. Established in 1952 it has a long history of producing stunning, delicious food to diners. Using locally sourced, meticulously prepared food such as hand dived scallops, Thetford forest venison and dry-aged Dedham beef the only thing you’ll enjoy more than the food is the location. Find a seat on the terrace in view of the River Stour and the restaurant’s beautiful garden, soak up the sun and see why they call this area an artist’s backdrop.

8. Roslin Beach Hotel, Southend-on-Sea
Treat yourself to a fine dining experience while savouring what are arguably the most breathtaking views of the Thames estuary that Southend has to offer, al fresco dining doesn’t get better than the Roslin Beach Hotel. With a glass panel terrace to shelter diners from the wind, sit back and relax taking in the stunning views and glorious sunsets and cosy up next to the patio heaters when the sun goes down. With a fantastic menu that utilises some the best ingredients the area has to offer guests can choose from the extensive a la carte menu or keep things simple with a tantalising selection of tapas.

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9. The Victory, Mersea Island
Sitting in its incredible waterfront location, The Victory enjoys heart-warming views of the Blackwater estuary and the North Sea. Making the most of its seaside setting, The Victory receives fresh fish from the Mersea Island Fresh Catch daily and serves incredible seafood dishes as well as a host of contemporary pub favourites and a Sunday roast that’s been dubbed by some as a local favourite.

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10. Donkey & Buskins, Layer de la Haye
With flowers blooming all around - even running up the front of the property - the Donkey & Buskins could almost be a well-manicured garden in its own right. It’s not often you see a pub taken care of to this extent and that attention to detail carries on into their menu which wouldn’t look out of place at a top class restaurant.

11. GreyFriars Hotel, Colchester
GreyFriars, the award-winning, Michelin-recommended dining destination in Colchester, offers drinks and all-day dining on the Baroque Terrace every day from 11am until late. Situated within its own gated grounds at the top of East Hill and created from a beautiful range of Grade II* listed 18th century buildings, it's quite the setting for al fresco dining. Dine on the likes of Mersea Rock or native Colchester oysters, fillet steak, catch of the day and small bites like devilled whitebait, Padrón peppers and wild boar and apple sausage rolls.

12. The Lion Brasserie, East Bergholt 
Nestled in the centre of the historic village of East Bergholt, known as Constable country, The Lion Brasserie has a lovely al fresco patio terrace within the walled garden. Overlooking the manicured lawns, it's a peaceful spot for brunch, lunch or dinner. Whether you are wishing to catch up with friends and family or stop for a rest from exploring the tranquil countryside that surrounds you, The Lion Brasserie is an ideal spot to head. 

13. Down Hall Hotel & Spa, Bishop's Stortford 
Down Hall’s delightful Terrace is the perfect al fresco dining spot to catch up with friends. Here you can enjoy the choice of traditional afternoon tea or light lunches daily from 11am to 5pm. Gourmet Picnic Hampers are also available for fancy taking a stroll around the estate before rolling out a blanket for a super relaxed dining experience. 

14. The Marlborough, Dedham
The Marlborough in Dedham will be open once again from 12 April to offer its usual high quality, home-cooked food and local beer on an al fresco basis. Make up for lost time with the chance to enjoy everything you have missed, including delicious homemade burgers, locally sourced fish and chips and other pub classics. All will be available, along with that long-awaited pint from the pub’s extensive beer selection. There is outdoor seating for more than 150 people but booking, as usual, is highly advisable. 

15. The Pheasant at Gestingthorpe, Halstead
The Pheasant at Gestingthorpe, set in rural countryside just outside Halstead, has a large beer garden for families to enjoy. Dotted with picnic tables and umbrellas, there is also lots of space for picnic rugs and freedom for children to run free in a safe, enclosed environment. The Pheasant also has a new covered outdoor dining space to provide cover from rain or shine, as well as heaters and blankets to keep the chill at bay. Dine on the likes of homemade burgers, pizza, fish and chips, charcuterie boards and Cajun chicken salad.

16. The Creek, Colchester
The Creek in Great Bentley - Essex Life Restaurant of the Year Winner 2017 - has had a subtle facelift with painting to the frontage and improvements to the garden and indoor dining areas. New outdoor furniture makes al fresco dining more comfortable, with space for drinks out front and dining in the smart courtyard out back. The spring menu offers two courses for £23.95 or three courses for £29.95. Enjoy the likes of Carved Beef Sirloin or pan-fried black bream by owner and Head Chef Terence Howard.

17. The Crown, Stoke-by-Nayland
Just over the border into Suffolk, near Dedham Vale, The Crown in Stoke-by-Nayland is worth a mention due to its rather cool garden tipi. Festooned with fairylights, the large tipi is the perfect spot for al fresco dining with an element of cosiness (not to mention protection from the rain!). There's also a garden terrace. Both spots are available to book seven days a week, and you can even hiring a rowing boat from Dedham Boathouse for a post-dinner paddle! Or, if you overdo it a bit, you can stay in one of the newly refurbished bedrooms. 



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