In this round-up, we’ve focused on London’s lesser-known cafés and restaurants in parks, gardens and other open green spaces. There’s something for everyone: kid-friendly eateries, smart venues, Italian and Indian food, kosher food, social enterprises and community cafés, and gourmet destinations for dressing up and enjoying cocktails, art and music.
Unless otherwise stated, the venues are open all year round. However, do phone and check the opening hours if you’re making a special journey: many cafés’ hours are flexible and vary according to the seasons, the weather and how busy the park is. So…take a break from your everyday routine, enjoy a brisk walk in a green space with friends, and then unwind in fresh air surrounded by fragrant flowers and awe-inspiring beauty.
Pistachios In The Park Café, Coram’s Fields, Bloomsbury
Despite being centrally located, Coram’s Fields remains little-known. Situated between King's Cross and Holborn, the seven-acre park was originally the grounds of a hospital for unwanted children during the Georgian era. The hospital was demolished in the 1920s, and the space was turned into London’s first public playground for children. It was named Coram’s Fields, after the philanthropist Thomas Coram who had built the hospital. It’s now run by a charity, and houses youth and children’s centres, a community nursery and a city farm, all of which are free to use.
The Fields’ café is run by Pistachios in the Park, a commendable franchise of family-friendly, community-minded cafés located in council-owned parks. (Note that adults can only visit if accompanied by a child.) A large menu of crowd pleasers encompasses breakfast items like salmon on toast, sandwiches such as halloumi with cucumber, sweet and savoury crepes, jacket potatoes, own-made soups, Middle Eastern snacks, English cakes, and organic ice creams and sundaes. Kids get their own separate menu; and there’s plenty for vegetarians. The café uniquely sells its own wooden toys made from reforested wood.
Lauderdale Restaurant, Waterlow Park, Highgate
Located near Highgate Village and the famous Highgate Cemetery, Lauderdale House, which faces Highgate Hill, is an elegant, white 16th century building that backs onto Waterlow Park. It’s now an arts and education centre that hosts exhibitions, concerts and poetry events throughout the year. Its hidden gem of a restaurant is located adjacent to the Lower Gallery, and will be reopening in November 2016.
Queen’s Park Café, Queen’s Park, Kilburn
Very popular with local families, this 12-hectare Victorian park has a café set amid tennis courts, pitch and putt course, petanque pitch, ornamental garden, children’s playground with paddling pool and a small zoo. In summer, the front opens up to become an Italian ice cream parlour, surrounded by tables and benches. Inside you’ll find sandwiches, soups, hot dishes, cakes, and hot and cold beverages.
Hendon Park Café, Hendon Park, Hendon
Frequented by members of the local Jewish community – and open to all – this friendly café claims to be the first and only kosher park café in the UK. It’s located in the quiet Hendon Park, which has pretty flower borders, tennis courts and a lovely children’s playground. According to the Jewish dietary laws, milk and meat are not mixed, and as this is a ‘milky’ café, there’s no meat on the menu, only fish and vegetarian dishes. You’ll find delicious Israeli specialities, such as Israeli breakfasts, shakshuka (slow-cooked eggs with spicy tomato sauce and toasted pita), and various Israeli platters featuring falafel, hummus, Israeli salad, olives and pickles. Sesame-studded giant toasted Jerusalem bagels come with Mediterranean-style fillings or pizza toppings.
Another speciality is freshly made sushi, and staff can make you sushi platters for a picnic. The menu also offers full English vegetarian breakfast, soups, sandwiches, jacket potatoes, pastas, salads, cakes, waffles, crepes, ice creams and desserts. To drink, there are fresh fruit smoothies and milkshakes; plus there’s a separate children’s menu. Big portions of food, and a choice of both indoor and outdoor seating, make this café-with-a-difference a pleasure to visit.
Tangerine Dream Café, Chelsea Physic Garden, Chelsea
Loved by an older crowd of affluent locals and open only April to October, the secluded Chelsea Physic Garden has the hushed, exclusive feel of a little-known secret. We spent several hours admiring its amazing collection of edible plants: everything from olive and cocoa trees to black rice and sumac berries grow here, making it a must-visit for foodies. Situated near trees bulging with little pods of bright green almonds, and attached to the Curator’s House, the charming – and charmingly named – Tangerine Dream Café has lots of tables on the terrace outside. You can also sit on nearby benches, plates on the lap, among the rose bushes, as many do. Regularly changing seasonal menu features ingredients sourced locally, from ‘emerging economies’ abroad, and also from the capital’s top food markets: meat from Smithfield, fish from Billingsgate, and fruit and veg from New Covent Garden.
Attractively presented British, Italian and European-style dishes include salads dressed with fruit vinegars, rib-eye steak, pan-fried sea bass and salmon en croute. Other enticing items on the menu are rare-roasted Aberdeen Angus beef with golden and purple beetroot, fresh horseradish and seasonal greens; and wild smoked salmon with capers, lime onions and basil mayonnaise. The café is renowned for its own-made cakes, desserts and lavender scones, and is particularly popular for afternoon tea. Liquid refreshments include wines, beers and their must-try Amalfi lemonade. Note that the garden charges an entrance fee of around a tenner, which you'll have to pay to use the café.
The Drawing Room Café, gardens of Fulham Palace, Fulham
Set amid sprawling 13 acres, Fulham Palace was once home to several Anglican bishops. Its 18th and 19th century-style grounds boast rare trees including 450-year old ancient oak, and impressive landscaped and walled gardens. The smart Drawing Room Café, located in the Palace’s former drawing room, overlooks the gardens and offers a seasonal, daily-changing menu of fresh, simple, prettily presented food. Full English breakfasts are served at weekends, and more basic breakfast items like bacon roll are offered during the week. Two hot dishes are available daily; plus lunch platters, sandwiches, paninis, soups, pastries, cakes and ice creams. Weekends bring on a party atmosphere, with organic burgers cooked on a barbecue, and Indian dishes roasted in an outdoor tandoor oven – all helped along with wine and Pimm’s.
Urban Meadow Café, Kensington Gardens, Bayswater
Although not located inside a park, Urban Meadow Café is right beside the Bayswater end of the exquisite Kensington Gardens, with views of both the Gardens and nearby Hyde Park. The Modern British brasserie has a bright, airy ‘urban countryside’ look painted with a fetchingly contemporary pattern of leaves, and has a large patio for al fresco feasting. There’s a versatile menu of grazing dishes and more formal meals, along with salads and sandwiches. Start with a breakfast of London sourdough roll with bacon, pork sausage or egg; then move on to something more substantial like roast tomato and stilton linguine, glazed fish pie or pulled pork burger. There’s a popular ‘larder plank’ to share, comprising scotch egg, calamari, potted rabbit, celeriac coleslaw and sourdough toast. To drink, you'll find a range of beers brewed in London. The menu is currently undergoing some changes, but the commitment to sourcing ingredients as locally as possible remains. A grab and go service of food and drink to be enjoyed in the nearby parks is also available.
Holland Park Café, Holland Park, Kensington
Located inside the majestic Holland Park, this quiet, tranquil café serves freshly made seasonal food that’s sustainable and locally sourced. There’s a basic menu of breakfasts (including kids’ breakfast), sandwiches, paninis, salads, soups and pastries. Also available are tempting freshly baked cakes, such as carrot and walnut, or chocolate and orange marble cake. A list of hot and cold drinks includes freshly squeezed juices. More elaborate hot dishes are served whenever the park hosts operas. The self-service café caters for special diets; and sells food to takeaway, including snack lunch boxes for children.
Springfield Park Café, Springfield Park, Upper Clapton
Despite its impressive size of 40 acres, not many Londoners know about Springfield Park by the River Lea, near the Olympic Park. There’s a children’s play area in the centre focusing on traditional ‘natural play’; and the park has won the coveted Green Flag award for being one of the best green spaces in the UK. Inside is the White Lodge Mansion, a Grade II listed building that's home to the Springfield Park Café. Surrounded by lawns and rose bushes, the outside tables give views across Walthamstow Marshes. Inside, the café hosts exhibitions by local artists, live music and other events, and provides free wi-fi, and colouring sheets for kids. There’s an eclectic menu of dishes from around the world, including breakfasts, healthy meze platters, fresh salads, soups, paninis, cakes, pastries and hot meals. There’s a good choice for vegetarians, and freshly squeezed orange juice to drink. The seasonal, regularly changing menu is created from locally sourced, ethically produced ingredients, and the prices are deliberately kept low.
The Park Café In The Hub, Victoria Park, Tower Hamlets
It’s unusual to find food inspired by a top Indian chef in a park café, but this bright, airy and spacious venue in Victoria Park will change your views of both Indian food and the context in which it can be enjoyed. Owned and run by the family of celebrity chef Cyrus Todiwala of the long-established Café Spice Namaste, Café In The Park serves up spicy British-Indian breakfasts, snacks and street food. Popular dishes include masala omelette flavoured with red onions, garlic, coriander, green chilli and tomato, served with seven-spiced masala chai; and the intriguing Algerian omelette – a part-baked dish with a crispy chip base, mature cheddar, harissa, coriander, red onions and tomatoes accompanied by cardamom, mint and ginger tea.
Along with chicken seekh kebab wraps paired with peri peri-spiced potato wedges, the masala omelette is also available in a tortilla wrap, with Cornish brie and Mr Todiwala-brand date and tamarind chutney. Freshly made sandwiches and kids meals like spaghetti bolognese and hot dogs with chips are also available. Surrounded by large picnic space, the café – jazzed up with pretty murals and framed pictures – is a sustainable business that sources ingredients from top British producers. Located in the heart of the park near the children’s play area, water pools and skate park, the other noteworthy features here include a striking collection of trees and a model steam boat club. If you’re feeling sporty, there are football pitches, cricket playing facilities, tennis courts, bowling green, and even professional cycling instructors. As the park is historically known as ‘People’s Park’, the café likes to call itself ‘People’s Café’, and keeps the prices wallet-friendly.
Timber Lodge Café, Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, Stratford
Timber Lodge is situated in the North Park, near a children’s play area called the Tumbling Bay Playground. (The opposite side, accessible via Westfield shopping centre, is the South Park.) Although the main attractions in the park are the Orbit tower, Aquatics Centre and Velodrome, there’s also much else to explore, including wildlife meadows, waterways, mountain biking facilities and a large number of picnic spots dotted around everywhere.
The café blends into its natural surroundings and creates its own green energy using solar panels. Doubling up as a sleek, modern events space and community centre, it’s a social enterprise that creates jobs for disabled people and keeps the prices as low as possible. In accordance with the government guidelines, food is low in fat, salt and sugar. You’ll find freshly made, seasonal dishes such as Mediterranean salads, hearty soups, healthy breakfasts, weekend brunches, baguette and bagel sandwiches, hot dishes, cakes, desserts, snacks and milkshakes. Enjoy these on the terrace outside with free activity sheets for children, or buy picnic boxes to takeaway. Ingredients are mostly sourced from small local shops and market traders.
The Lido Café, Bar & Restaurant, Brockwell Park, Herne Hill
This smart Modern British restaurant is housed in the grounds of the wonderful art deco, Grade II listed Brockwell Lido, tucked away in a corner of the beautiful Brockwell Park. Located between Brixton, Dulwich and Herne Hill, the large park boasts ornamental ponds, formal flowerbeds, ancient walled herbaceous flower garden and a handsome 19th century clock tower. There’s a menu of prosecco breakfasts, smoked salmon with scrambled eggs, mussels cooked in cider and posh burgers. Seasonal ingredients are sourced from small suppliers around the UK, and name-checked on the menu: for instance, triple-cooked chips cooked in R Oil rapeseed oil from Gloucestershire; and pastries, sourdough and chocolate truffles from Clarke’s in west London. There’s an all-European wine list, London-brewed craft beers and hot cocktails in winter. Some tables are set aside for walk-ins, otherwise booking is advisable.
Café on the Rye, Peckham Rye Park and Common, Peckham
This bustling café is located in the Green Flag award-winning, Peckham Rye Park and Common – an enormous 113-acre space with Victorian-style ornamental gardens, wild meadow, small woodland, sparkling lake and sun-dappled streams. Sports facilities here include a skate park and outdoor gym. Located next to the park entrance, the café gives panoramic views over the Common. Freshly made traditional British and Modern European fare is fair trade, free range, organic, and locally sourced from suppliers such as Flour Power bakery and William Rose butcher. On the menu are ‘Rye Fry’ – a full English breakfast with a local twist, toasted ciabatta sandwiches, wraps, burgers, salads and pastries. Daily specials may include beef chilli with sour cream; and to drink, there are beers and ciders. Don’t miss sweet treats like almond and polenta cake, and banana flapjack. There’s butterscotch crunch and blackcurrant fool on the ice cream menu if you’re looking for something to cool you down. The café boosts its kid-friendly credentials with a separate children’s menu.
Kennington Park Café, Kennington Park
One of the few arts and crafts cafés surviving in London, this characterful venue is located in the relatively small Kennington Park. It holds art and photography exhibitions by local artists, and is a great place for meeting friends. The park has a large variety of historic trees, formal flower beds, beautiful displays in the old English flower garden originally created in the 1930s, areas for wildlife, a nature trail for kids, children’s playground, sports facilities, and even a separate exercise area for dogs. Enjoy beautiful views over the park while nibbling on toasted sandwiches, salads, cakes and pastries. In cooler weather, there are hearty, freshly made soups and hot drinks.
Parco Café, Vauxhall Park, Vauxhall
Located between Vauxhall and Stockwell, the Green Flag award-winning 8½ acre Vauxhall Park is a picturesque oasis with its renowned lavender garden, model village and tennis courts. Located in what was once the park’s public loo, Parco has been rebuilt and refurbished as an Italian café. The small modern venue is furnished with comfy leather sofas and bar stools, with terraces on either side dotted with pretty potted plants in which chillies, rosemary, grape vines and olives grow. The menu encompasses freshly cooked Italian classics like own-made lasagne, veal Milanese, calzone, ciabatta sandwiches, and bean and vegetable soups; plus there are breakfasts, daily specials, quiches, salads, cakes, pastries, good coffee and Italian ice creams. The venue is both family-friendly and sophisticated, attracting yummy mummies in the morning, and local office workers and arty types later in the day.
The Dysart Petersham, Richmond Park, Richmond
This amazing venue challenges the idea of a park café altogether. Formerly the Dysart Arms pub, the Dysart Petersham is now an upscale fine dining restaurant. It’s located on the edge of Richmond Park, between the park itself and Petersham Meadows from where it can be accessed by foot. It’s a beautiful arts and crafts building dating back to the early 20th century. The interior has been sympathetically restored and retains many of the original features. Inside you’ll find log fires in winter, crisp linen, sparkling glasses and pottery commissioned locally. In the summer, you’ll want to enjoy full table service in the romantic garden outside, with views over Richmond Park, surrounded by trees lit by twinkling fairy lights at night. There’s even free wi-fi throughout the restaurant and garden.
The food here is serious. The contemporary British cooking is rooted in classical traditions. Expect the likes of tamarind Challans duck with watermelon-radish and hibiscus jus on the main menu; plus there’s a separate vegetarian menu featuring items like salt-baked beetroot with sarawak pepper and goats curd sorbet. Carefully sourced seasonal ingredients include wild produce picked by its own forager nearby, and fresh vegetables and herbs from its kitchen garden. The Dysart takes music seriously too, hence monthly classical music recitals from international artists, background music on grand piano, classical guitar and lute, and annual events hosted on behalf of the London Jazz Festival. Regular food and wine matching dinners are also held – and not many park cafes can boast that.
So, do you know of any other fabulous park cafés that we should include on our list? Ideally somewhere unique or different with great food, smiling staff and a setting of breath-taking beauty? Let us know in the comments section below.
This article is part of our Best of London Food and Drink series. Visit the page for more recommendations of where to enjoy the capital's top food and drink, categorised by cuisine, food type and more.