Fast-growing trend of eating outdoors means al fresco dining is now popping up everywhere

Sussex Garden

The pandemic has given us more than just a taste of fresh air, it’s unleashed a love of eating outside rather than in, leading to pine tables and parasols bursting out all over. So Sarah Bond went on the hunt for some of the more scenic places to go, with the unusual and quirky among them…

Deciding where to eat out, or have coffee or tea, is a delight that often has us dithering – but there is a wealth of wonderful places on our doorstep that you may not have thought of exploring.

From simply stunning settings by lakes and rivers, and an antiques treasure trove that serves coffee and cake, to an outdoor private dining shack, chocolate orange scones and a flower shop that serves cocktails, the eateries are growing more imaginative in their attempts to lure you to their tables every day.

And that gives us the most marvellous choice of superb places to eat and drink in the sun and have fun.

Here we round-up some refreshing gems in both Tunbridge Wells and some of the surrounding villages. Many have online menus you can savour before you go.


Tunbridge Wells

For a peaceful haven right in the heart of the town, Fine Grind’s new courtyard cafe at The Amelia, off Monson Road, offers a great chance to escape from the madding crowds and enjoy great coffee, interesting salads, cake and more.é

One of Tunbridge Wells’ best-kept secrets is the fabulous balcony at Dunorlan Park’s cafe, where you can gaze out over the trees to the fields beyond and watch the birds and boating on the lake. Partnered with its sister cafe amid the gorgeous plantings at Calverley Grounds, they offer wonderful baked potato lunches with a variety of toppings and more at a very good price.

For details of both, see

Also, for a sense of really getting away from it all in the middle of town, Trinity Theatre’s hidden garden is a haven of tranquillity, and another great place to meet friends for a nibble and a natter.


Trinity Theatre


Meanwhile, on the glorious Common, you can eat outside or in the conservatory at The Mount Edgcumbe, right by the famous rocks, or enjoy courtyard fine dining at the historic Thackeray’s on London Road. and

For fabulous views over a lake and sumptuous afternoon teas in the peace of a beautiful country estate, you can’t beat the dining terrace at Salomons, which also has an adjacent conservatory restaurant should any raindrops fall. Visit for details.

These are aside from the popular pavement venues filling Fiveways, Mount Pleasant, the old High Street and The Pantiles, where you can enjoy the buzz and watch the world go by. The Pantiles is filled with cafes, and Basil, Bill’s, Esquire, Juliets and The Lodge are among the other town favourites, while at the end of the High Street, florists The Cove also have outdoor tables where you can sip, gin, rum, vodka, wine and non-alcoholic drinks and taste a variety of cheeses and meats with friends.


Outdoor gym


Just a few miles out of town you can truly enjoy rural sights and sounds at Bewl Water country park, where The Waterfront Café has stunning views over the reservoir and beyond. You can even take a boat ride before or after eating, or follow the footpaths through the woods to walk or cycle your meal off.

Just up the road is something that not many people know – you can visit Scotney Castle’s courtyard Tea Room without having to pay an entrance fee to the National Trust property, just the car park charge. The café here offers a Scone of the Month, too – and recipes for previous ones, such as their chocolate orange scone.

Coming back towards Tunbridge Wells you can find The Vineyard, where there are private ‘adventure’ shacks as well as an outdoor eating area, and you can tour an actual vineyard, too.


The Vineyard Private Dining Shack



Going south of Tunbridge Wells you will find a wonderful open-air atmosphere and airy beamed building at The Deer Park Cafe tucked down a country lane, Sham Farm Road, on the edge of the Eridge Deer Park, with an imaginative florists right beside it showing some beautiful displays. Here you really get the feel of the country from the surrounding fields, where people can also go camping. We loved seeing sheep nosing around near the tents, and you might actually spot roaming deer, too.

Off the main road is The Nevill Crest and Gun, which has a huge canopy over its outdoor dining area to protect you from sun and rain, and a large conservatory restaurant right beside it. Plus tables out in the open under the trees.


Dunorlan Cafe



Nestled beside the magnificent Penshurst Place is a real favourite with those in the know– the Fir Tree House Tea Rooms. With tables scattered among the plants and trees in its charming gardens, it serves delicious home-made cakes. With its olde worlde country feel, even Miss Marple would feel at home here, and it’s so traditional it doesn’t have a website, so you will have to discover its delights for yourself.


Mark Cross

One of the best locations for eating is the covered outdoor cafe area at the Sussex Country Gardener garden centre, whch has amazing views over the open Weald. It has two outdoor sections plus open-air tables, depending on how sheltered or open you want to be.

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