Stanley's Chelsea review: al fresco fine dining in west London

A botanically blessed restaurant to visit at any time of the year

Stanley's Chelsea
Stanley's restaurant in Chelsea opened in July 2020
(Image credit: Stanley's Chelsea)

It's always sunny in Chelsea. Or at least it seems that way to me. Among the other reasons to envy those who can call this exclusive bit of west London home, I've started to suspect it gets an unfair share of the city's ration of sunshine, too. Mostly because it's been blazing the trail for elevated outdoor dining for years, and Stanley's is the latest addition to a portfolio of botanically blessed restaurants to satisfy the repressed al fresco needs in us all.

Why come here?

When it comes to dining in fresh air, the British aren't too fussy. If there's sun even a mossy picnic bench looks glamorous when littered with enough Aperol Spritz and nocellara olives. Even so, the pandemic made venues think more imaginatively about the experience, which led to a glut of weather-hardy spaces that kept us eating out through thick and thin. 

Inspiration was easily found in Chelsea. Because restaurants in this part of London take their inspiration from the world Jane Austin's characters mingle in. That's not to say there aren't highly impressive equivalents elsewhere in the capital, but nowhere takes al fresco etiquette quite as seriously. Stanley's, a recent newcomer to the scene, looks every bit at home as a Sloane Ranger lunching on the King's Road.

Subscribe to The Week

Escape your echo chamber. Get the facts behind the news, plus analysis from multiple perspectives.


Sign up for The Week's Free Newsletters

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

Sign up

Stanley's Chelsea

The marquee-covered terrace is the main attraction

(Image credit: Stanley's Chelsea)

The vibe

Talking of the King's Road, Stanley's stays close to Chelsea's historical spine, tucked away in a space behind two buildings on the corner it shares with Sydney Street. It's not an entirely open-air venue, but its marquee-covered terrace is the main attraction, erected on a piece of land that was either an alleyway or a courtyard in a former life. If that sounds a little odd, the good news is that you're well-sheltered from fumes and riff raff, even if it's at the expense of anything qualifying as a view. 

But despite being somewhat boxed-in, Stanley's appeals to Chelsea's rural predilections. A billowing halo of delicately arranged, pastel-hued flowers encircles the terrace, immediately whisking me out of an urban jungle and into a land personified by peace, quiet and everything else London typically isn't. The clientele wear mostly creamy-coloured buttoned shirts and converse politely in small groups over chilled wine. Well-behaved dogs welcome any admiring glances without demanding them. 

I sat in a segment of a circular fan of tables on the terrace, partitioned into cosy, cone-shaped booths. Had I chosen to sit inside, there's a conservatory-style room with brick walls coated in a soothing shade of pistachio, lined with books and plates. It would be an idyllic setting for a long, indulgent Sunday lunch, if that's the kind of thing you do. Other rooms inside are more Kit Kemp hotel than country pile, but the overall mood is inclusive and endearing. 

Stanley's Chelsea

This is summertime British eating in its element

(Image credit: Stanley's Chelsea)

The food and drinks

Both the bar and kitchen at Stanley's have their priorities in order. Not everything I tried had my palate doing cartwheels, but I like the honesty and attention to detail. An artfully mixed dry martini, for example, was superior to some I've had nearby which were nearly double the price. The respect a restaurant shows to the simplest cocktails is often a sign of things to come. 

But simple doesn't mean predictable at Stanley's. While the vibrant monkfish carpaccio starter relied principally on freshness and knife skills, the sour hit of sea buckthorn and sweet smoke of the paprika curing found a daring edge befitting of a restaurant that takes itself far more seriously. With it arrived a bowl of whipped cod's roe that was moreish enough to quickly deplete the small amount of young beetroot and radicchio it came with, but I suspect it might have been augmented with something less of a delicacy. 

Our main course, a perfectly charred whole bream for two, left no hiding place for adulterants. This is summertime British eating in its element: from bracing coastal waters to naked flame with zero tolerance for faff. Even the human involvement recalled an age when British service was more reliably excellent. The skill in which the silky flesh was cleanly relocated from skeleton to plate is a depressing rarity these days. It came with a heap of new potatoes, roasted with enough time, fat and seasoning to crumple them into something deliciously unrecognisable. At its essence, this was fish and chips, which in a restaurant that's proudly native in its image and flavours is fine by me.

Desserts tour the standard fruity-chocolatey spectrum, and even if its dome of pink meringue was too chalky in texture, I enjoyed the sense of cultural symmetry I got from concluding my evening in SW3 with that most blue-blooded pud, Eton Mess.

Stanley's restaurant

Perfectly charred whole bream

(Image credit: Stanley's restaurant)

The verdict

Even if you don't subscribe to solar favouritism in Chelsea, Stanley's will have you covered in every sense. Sure, there are more theatrical restaurant gardens in the area serving trendier, more Instagrammable food, but it's unlikely they'll offer the same honest consistency and value for money as Stanley's, where ruminations about the bill are unlikely to dominate the chat on the way home. Far more likely are plans being made about when to return, whatever time of year it is. 

Dominic Kocur was a guest of Stanley's London. 151 Sydney St, London SW3 5UE; 

Sign up for The Week’s Food & Drink newsletter for recipes, reviews and recommendations.

Continue reading for free

We hope you're enjoying The Week's refreshingly open-minded journalism.

Subscribed to The Week? Register your account with the same email as your subscription.