London's best park cafÃ©s
Discover London's great summer park cafés and enjoy the sunshine in the capital
Make the most of the great weather by heading to one of London's best park cafés, where bucolic surroundings and good food shine. We've got all areas covered, from Hyde Park to Hampstead Heath to Highgate Woods.
By Zoe Kamen
Café on the Rye
Strakers Rd, Peckham Rye Common, SE15 3UA (020 8693 9431). Peckham Rye rail/bus 12, 63. 9am-4.30pm daily (Nov-Feb); 9am-5.30pm daily (Mar-Oct).
This café, sandwiched between Peckham Rye Park and the common, was built as part of a major (and ongoing) National Lottery-funded project. Since it opened in 2007, owners Fiona Halton and Andy Clayton have used local suppliers - William Rose butcher, Let Them Eat Cake bakery - and concocted menus to satisfy parents and kids alike. Full and generous English breakfasts come with bubble and squeak; sharp vintage Cheddar is used in sandwiches; our burger had a leafy salad, mustard relish and a generous mound of couscous and roast vegetables. A 'toddler-sized' cone of Jude's ice cream was all we had room for at the end. To drink, there are Samuel Smith's ales, or Dunkertons cider or perry.
Chiswick House Café
Visiting the stately environs of Chiswick House, with its wide gravel pathways, ornamental plants, pristine rolling lawns and sweeping waterway feels like strolling through an Austen novel. The architectural box of a café (designed by Caruso St John) brings you back to the modern world. It may feel a little clinical inside but the exterior is softened by Portland stone, similar to that of the nearby Italianate villa. Food, courtesy of Company of Cooks, starts in the morning with Union coffees, eggs Benedict and full English breakfasts. Lunches can be sandwiches on sourdough bread or perhaps roast salmon salads. Scones, indulgent chocolate fudge cakes and pots of tea hit the spot in the afternoon and there are wines or London Pride ale for something harder.
Fait Maison in the Park
The Tea House, Ravenscourt Park, Paddenswick Road, W6 0UL (020 8563 9291). Ravenscourt Park tube. 8am-5.30pm daily.
Ravenscourt Park, with its many games courts and playgrounds, is a scenic romping ground filled with children. The café, run by catering company Fait Maison is adjacent to Paddenswick Road and sits in its own gated play area. Choose from platters laid out with daily mix and match salads or sweet and savoury pastries. Portuguese custard tarts are one of the highlights.
Fulham Palace Café
Bishop’s Avenue, SW6 6EA (020 7610 7160). Putney Bridge tube. 9.15am-4.30pm daily.
Visiting this café, inside the graceful drawing room of this former residence of the Anglican Bishops of London, can feel like attending an aristocratic garden party. Even the (Teapigs) tea comes in a silk purse. Breakfast (smoked salmon and scrambled eggs, say) is served until 11.30am; lunch (platters of smoked mackerel pâté, prawns and crusty bread) is 11am-3.30pm. Weekends bring barbecues with organic burgers, jugs of Pimm's, wine and an outdoor tandoor oven searing flatbreads and chicken tikka.
The Stables Courtyard, Dollis Hill Lane NW2 6HT (no number or website). Dollis Hill tube. 11am-4.30pm Thur-Sun.
Gladstone Park is a rolling open space of 97 acres in Brent with a sweeping panorama of London laid out to the south. At the northern end of the park there is a tiny family-run café, tucked away in a courtyard in the old stable buildings. On our visit the concise menu featured plump roast sausages with honey mustard glaze and a duck egg and wilted spinach salad.
Kenwood House, Hampstead Lane, NW3 7JR (020 8341 5384). Archway or Golders Green tube then 210 bus. 9am-5pm (till 6pm Apr-Sept).
Catering firm Company of Cooks has been taking over park cafés all over London in the past few years. Its combination of canteen and made- to-order meals is formulaic, but well executed. This outlet in the corner of Kenwood House on Hampstead Heath is one of the prettiest. The huge light-filled dining room opens up on to a tiered garden where teak tables sit among roses and fragrant shrubs; you can enjoy a glass of wine or, rather appropriately, London Pride. Be warned it can get very busy at peak times.
Lido Café at Brockwell Lido
Brockwell Lido, Dulwich Road SE24 0PA (020 7737 8183). Herne Hill rail or Brixton tube/rail then bus 37. 10am-6pm Mon, Tues; 9am-9.30pm Wed-Sat; 10am-6pm Sun.
The Brockwell Park Lido café may look out over chlorinated water in an enclosed space, but it does technically sit within the park and is the best option for outdoor noshing in the area. The menu changes monthly; breakfasts are a highlight, but the likes of dry-aged beef burgers, asparagus with poached eggs and good charcuterie make it an appetising spot at any time of day.
Lido Café at the Serpentine
South side of the Serpentine, Hyde Park, W2 2UH (020 7706 7098). Hyde Park Corner or Knightsbridge tube. 8am-5.30pm daily (times may vary).
Taken over by Company of Cooks in 2010, this café sits on the southern bank of the Serpentine in Hyde Park and has lakeside outdoor seating for several hundred sun-worshippers. The bar and kitchen serve a changing food menu which includes individual flatbread pizzettes, curries and organic ice cream.
The Pepys Building, The Old Royal Naval College, SE10 9LW (020 3327 1280). Cutty Sark DLR. 11am-11pm Mon-Sat; noon-10.30pm Sun.
The expansive walled garden at this award-winning eatery of the Meantime brewery is a lovely setting to slake a thirst with the finest of ales. Drinks can be brought out on to the level fields of the Royal Naval College grounds. Food can be eaten inside, in the garden or packed up to take away.
Pavilion Café at Victoria Park
Victoria Park, E9 5DU (020 8980 0030). Mile End tube then 277 bus. 8.30am-4.30pm daily.
The pond at Victoria Park is drained until July 2011, when it will be refilled with fresh, clean water. The café is still probably London's best place to enjoy a perfectly brewed coffee alfresco. The quaint glass rotunda that houses the café is modest and almost canteen-like indoors, but the food is anything but: the fry-ups are well known in the neighbourhood and beyond, and the cakes splendid.
Pavilion Café at Dulwich Park
Dulwich Park, SE21 7BQ (020 8299 1383). West Dulwich rail/P4 bus. 8.30am-5pm Mon-Fri; 9am-5pm Sat, Sun.
On sunny afternoons this café in Dulwich Park is heaving. Children run amok and adults sustain themselves on Monmouth coffees with organic milk and doorstep sandwiches filled with sausages and bacon from William Rose butchery. Queue up at the counter to order from a menu that has low salt, sugar and fat options – there are even own-made slushies for the kids (and a wine list for adults).
Pavilion Café at Highgate Woods
Highgate Woods, Muswell Hill Road, N10 3JN (020 8444 4777). Highgate tube. Open Summer 9am-7pm daily (opening hours may vary).
Meandering pathways lead through the dense Highgate woods. The café is in the corner of the only open field and surrounded by shrubbery. Pick a table outside or in and someone will come take your order. Standard café fare is interspersed with dishes such as sweet potato and feta fritters or chorizo and rocket salad. That said, ice cream and coffee seem to be the main draw.
Serpentine Road, Hyde Park, W2 2UH (020 7706 8114). Hyde Park Corner or Knightsbridge tube. 8am-5.45pm daily.
Benugo is another catering chain that pops up at many cultural locations. At this eatery on the eastern edge of the Hyde Park boating lake, a wood-fired oven turns out crisp-based pizzas. There is also a full menu of more upmarket offerings, including – on our visit – beetroot-cured salmon or tender salt beef on wholegrain bread. And, of course, it’s a bar as well as a place to eat.
White Lodge Mansion, Springfield Park, E5 9EF (8806 0444)
The Grade-II listed White Lodge Mansion that houses this child-friendly park café is a magnificent building best enjoyed outdoors at the plastic tables in its garden. The café has a homely charm, and attracts legions of families with toddlers and pets in tow. The focus is on healthy food, including freshly prepared hot and cold sandwiches, and delicious meze platters - ours was bursting with a three-bean and chickpea salad, tabouleh and houmous, and the 'Absolute Med' plate brought fresh stuffed vine leaves, falafels and a summery tomato salad. Own-made carrot cake was slightly too sweet, but the banana cake was terrific. Staff are accommodating and mellow.