Who doesn’t wish they were far away from their office desk, perhaps sitting in front of a country pub fire, or eating a fabulous meal with views of rolling hills or the sea, instead of making do with a sarnie on the 38 bus? We do, for a start. Which is why we asked 2Forks food bloggers Anna Kibbey and Annica Wainwright to nominate a delicious dozen of their favourite spots out of London for a lunchtime escape. Each choice is easy to get to by train, so you can be there and back in time for tea. If you’re still hungry by then…
The Ram Inn, Firle
More English than Stephen Fry playing croquet on the lawns of Buckingham Palace, the picturesque East Sussex village of Firle is home to a first-class pub. Hike the Downs then come here for crackling fires and slow-braised ox cheek with horseradish mash (£14.25); when it’s warm, sip a pint of local cider and tuck into prawns in the pretty walled garden.
The Street, Firle, E Sussex. By train: Victoria to Glynde 72mins
Ye Olde Fighting Cocks, St Albans
More than one pub claims the title, but this one is England’s oldest according to Guinness (the World Records people, not the brewery). So there. You’ll have to mind your head (them beams) in this eleventh-century half-timbered octagonal former dovecote, but your reward is locally sourced comfort food for less than £15 a plate.
16 Abbey Mill Lane, St Albans. By train: St Pancras Intl to St Albans City 20 mins
The Beacon, Langton Green
The glorious Weald panorama is worth the 1.5-mile walk, especially when viewed over a plate of excellent roast Castle Farm beef with Tewkesbury mustard (£18).
Tea Garden Lane, Royal Tunbridge Wells, Kent. By train: London Bridge to Turnbridge Wells 50 mins
Never mind all the Nobel Prize winners, this is the most genius thing to come out of Cambridge: an independent bottle shop that hosts a different food truck each day. Pick up a spread and eat by the river.
46 Chesterton Rd, Cambridge. By train: King's Cross to Cambridge 46 mins
Onslow Arms, West Clandon
This place has won awards for its holy trinity: firelit interiors, hearty grub and fine cask ales. Walk the 200 yards from the station or take a detour through the Surrey countryside first to fire up your appetite. You’ll probably need it – the ‘lighter bites’ include bubble and squeak with ham and eggs (£9.75).
The Street, West Clandon, Surrey. By train: Waterloo to Clandon 50 mins
Riddle & Finns, Brighton
This beachfront restaurant is more tuna tartare (£9.25) and oysters (£2) than cockles and whelks, but you can’t quibble with the freshness or the location. The candlelit R&F original in the Lanes is just as atmospheric.
139 Kings Rd Arches, Brighton. By train: Victoria to Brighton 54 mins, London Bridge to Brighton 60 mins
Dundas Arms, Kintbury
Sandwiched between the River Kennet and the Kennet and Avon canal, the Dundas Arms is a prime spot for lazy summer afternoons. Take a stroll along the towpath, ask the pub to book you a barge, or just grab a rug, a wood-fired pizza (£11) and a jug of Pimm’s.
53 Station Rd, Kintbury, Berks. By train: Paddington to Kintbury 59 mins
The Goods Shed, Canterbury
There’s a different menu every day here, using local, seasonal produce from the food hall and farmers’ market in this wood-beamed Victorian railway building. Feast on the likes of Kentish lamb chops with rosemary breadcrumbs and salsa verde (£17.50), then pick up some artisan cheeses to take home.
Station Rd West, Canterbury. Canterbury West rail. By train: St Pancras Intl to Canterbury West 56 mins
The Company Shed, West Mersea
Yes, it’s no-frills (kitchen roll, not napkins). No, you can’t book. But is it worth the effort? Absolutely. Fresh local seafood is cooked simply and piled high for a song (seafood platters £16).
129 Coast Rd, West Mersea, Essex. By train: Liverpool St to Colchester 60 mins
Bricklayers Arms, Flaunden
Jump off the end of the Metropolitan line for a bracing walk and the wonderful Sunday roast by the fire in this pub: £14.95 for chicken, £17.95 for 21-day-aged sirloin. Bargain.
Hogpits Bottom, Flaunden, Herts. By train: Marylebone to Chalfont & Latimer 31 mins
The Croft Kitchen, Biggleswade
Bedfordshire fairs pretty well in the latest Michelin guide, and this gaff in Biggleswade is one of the most charming places to earn a mention. Go for their three-course prix fixe menu (£30.95) on Friday or Saturday. Dishes change daily and are based on carefully sourced, seasonal produce, but might include pork and black pudding terrine, or blowtorched Scottish salmon with Cromer crab and salt cod wonton. Oh yes.
28 Palace St, Biggleswade, Bedfordshire, SG18 8DP. By train: King's Cross to Biggleswade 40 mins
Stanmer House, Brighton
Few pubs are as grand looking as Stanmer House, even in the loveliest corners of the countryside. This Grade 1 listed mansion to the north east of Brighton, sits within Stanmer Park, so there’s every excuse to stroll off those smoked mackerel frittas or that warm ciabatta steak sandwich and play the lord/lady of the manor while you’re at it.
Stanmer Park, Brighton, East Sussex, BN1 9QA. By train: Victoria to Falmer 71 mins
For our full guide to the best escapes from London, plus your chance to win a mini-break for two people, click here.
Thameslink operates train services to and from the heart of London, between Bedford and Brighton via Luton and Gatwick Airport, and St Albans and Wimbledon. Great Northern connects King’s Lynn, Cambridge and Peterborough, via Stevenage and Welwyn Garden City with London King’s Cross. Metro services run to and from Moorgate weekdays, late evening and at weekends. Kids travel for just £2 when accompanied by an adult on off-peak tickets, plus get two-for-one offers to heaps of attractions when you travel by train.