1. Best Restaurant. Really difficult pick this. There are plenty of great eating places, lots of fine food and just about every high street has something to recommend it. The one I’ve plumped for is Tosa in East Finchley (152 High Road). This little gem serves authentic Japanese food. The Tempura and the Yakitori are superb. It’s tiny and can get very busy at the weekends. It isn’t the poshest place but I suspect it’s the most authentic suburban Japanese-Cafe-type restaurant in London. It’s also a great place to stop for a meal before visiting…
2. Best Cinema. Now this was a dead easy choice: the Phoenix, again in East Finchley (52 High Road). This magnificent cinema, 1930’s art deco, recently refurbished, is a priceless gem. It has a proper big screen and a fantastic ambience. The programme of films is imaginative and changes all of the time. I developed a love for the place in the 1980s when they used to do all-night features on a Saturday. As well as films, they have live opera (streamed from the world’s great opera houses such as New York’s Met) and a programme of special events (including a ‘Live Frankenstein’ play) –
3. Best Museum. Again an easy one. The RAF Museum in Hendon (Grahame Park Way) is a must-see for anyone with an interest in aviation, history, warfare or even just for a day out. It has a fantastic collection of Spitfires, Hurricanes, Lancasters, Wellingtons, Harriers, Lightenings, and other aircraft. There is also a great interactive area for children. The Blitz exhibition is currently showing and is worth a visit all on its own. Special events include the performance of Jacqui Dankworth for the Mill Hill Music Festival on Thursday 30 June.
4. Best Venue. Again an easy one: The Arts Depot (5 Nether Street). A busy program of music, comedy and theatre and a lively buzzing cafe in the foyer cement this place at the heart of the arts scene in Barnet. Its funding is currently under threat from Barnet Council and there is a strong campaign to save it.
5. Best Pub. Now here’s a hard one. I have to go for the Claddagh Ring in Hendon (10 Church Road). An authentic Irish pub, run by a real Irishman (Finbar) rather than a concept dreamed up in the marketing suite of a pubco. Live GAA sport streams, great bands, top quality unpretentious food and, I suppose it goes without saying, a great pint of Guinness. Not a place for a quiet pint on a Saturday night though.
6. Best Church. We all have our own beliefs, so I’m not advocating that anyone joins the Church of England! I’m referring to the church with the most interesting history and architecture for those of us who are interested in such things. I am going for St Paul’s Church on The Ridgeway in Mill Hill (no I’m not a member of the congregation). St Paul’s was built by William Wilberforce, the man who drove through the campaign to abolish slavery. The Church was recently refurbished and makes a great venue for choral and orchestral music. There is a great opportunity to experience this on 2 July when players from the BBC symphony Orchestra and the Philharmonia give a performance of chamber music for the Mill Hill Music Festival.
7. Best Bus Journey. For those of you who enjoy a good bus journey and want to see some great views of London, I’d heartily recommend taking the 240 bus from Mill Hill East to Mill Hill Broadway. The views (looking backwards) as you go up Bittacy Hill and forwards as you go down Hammers Lane are truly stunning, especially so at twighlight when the Wembley Arch is lit up. There are also fine views of Totteridge valley to the right as you drive down the Ridgeway. You will pass the house where 60’s icon Patrick McGoohan lived while filming The Prisoner, Wilberforce’s church (see above) and, as you turn down Hammers Lane, the venue where Jamie Oliver’s Dream School is being filmed at the former St Marys Abbey school.
8. Best Theme Park. Again, this is easy as there is only one theme park in the London Borough of Barnet. This is Belmont Children’s Farm (and it’s even on the the 240 bus route!). The title of children’s farm doesn’t do it justice. It is a full-blown zoo with a selection of rides and other activities as well. There are tractor and trailer rides, birds of prey exhibitions and you can even watch old farmer Reid’s racehorses train over breakfast.
9. Best Statue. Again an easy one. La Délivrance at Henlys Corner is easily the finest urban statue in Barnet, if not the whole country. She’s the work of French sculptor Émile Oscar Guillaume (1867-1942). The statue was created as a celebration of the First Battle of the Marne when the German army was stopped from capturing Paris in August 1914. Unlike most statues celebrating military victories, this one to me exemplifies the triumph of human spirit. I first discovered her as a teenager cycling back from a painting and decorating job at Temple Fortune, and fell in love her instantly.
10. Best Fishmongers. You might find this a rather odd category. It may be the most important, because I believe that a great fishmonger is the sign of a great high Street. That’s why I’ve chosen The Burnt Oak Fish Market (63 Burnt Oak Broadway). If you like shopping in sterile shopping centres, clearly you’d have Brent Cross Shopping Centre in this list. I don’t. I like proper high streets with a cosmopolitan mix. You can probably buy anything in Burnt Oak. If I’m cooking a curry (my speciality — tomato and okra curry), I shop in Burnt Oak. The fish here is superb. They know their fish, it’s fresh and it’s cheap. When the fishmonger goes, the high street is dead. Simple rule of thumb, which works every time.
Image of La Délivrance by The Centre of the World