London’s Best Park Cafés

In this round-up, we’ve focused on 17 of 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.

Central

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’ newly opened 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 you’re 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.

North

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 serves modern British food with European, particularly Italian, influences. So in the bright, attractive space, expect to find escalope Milanese and lasagne served alongside fish and chips, own-made sandwiches, and cakes like lemon drizzle. Sit at the picnic tables outside and enjoy the sumptuous views of the park; then walk it off in the tree-lined boulevards afterwards.

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.

Downhills Park Café, Downhills Park, West Green

Recognised with a prestigious Green Flag award for being one of the best green spaces in the UK, this 12-hectare park is split into two sections. To the west is a recreation ground for organised sports and football kickabouts; and to the east, formal gardens boasting elegant 19th century design. In the centre is the popular ornamental Italian Gardens filled with rose bushes and flowerbeds. Nearby are a bowling green, hardball area, majestic trees and landscaped gardens. The café is located in this beautiful east section of the park, near Keston Road Gate entrance close to the tennis courts.

Run by an organisation called HAIL, Downhills Park Café is a social enterprise that aims to equip adults with learning difficulties with new skills for future employment. Staffed entirely by volunteers — both people with disabilities and members of the community lending their support – it serves seasonal food, freshly cooked every day using the likes of free-range chicken and eggs. The eggs are served alongside bacon and freshly made pastries for breakfast. Daily-changing lunch offerings include sandwiches like coronation chicken; or a choice of tortilla or quiche such as courgette, mint and feta with salad. Cakes are either made at the café, or donated by members of the community. The coffee is supplied by Square Mile, a small roastery based in Hackney. Prices are low, and this wonderful project is well worth supporting.

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.

West

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 recently 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.

East

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 new 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 new 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.

The Park Cafe At The Hub. Photography by www.nitinkapoorphotography.co.uk

The Park Cafe At The Hub. Photography by www.nitinkapoorphotography.co.uk

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. Currently on the regularly changing specials menu is Goan king prawn curry with rice, and Keralan poached egg curry. 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

The first café to open in the enormous new Olympic ParkTimber 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.

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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.

South

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

The Dysart Petersham

The Dysart Petersham

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, as you’d expect from Roux Scholar chef Kenneth Culhane,  a member of Slow Food UK’s Chef Alliance. The contemporary British cooking here 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.

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sejal

Article by Sejal Sukhadwala | 67 Articles | View Profile

  • http://www.HYHOI.com Nina at HaveYouHeardOfIt?

    How could Petersham Nurseries, near Richmond, be missed off the list?! I love it – so idyllic: http://hyhoi.com/2014/04/petersham-nurseries-near-richmond/

    • Sejal

      Because it’s located in a garden centre rather than a garden; and also because it’s very well-known, whereas we were focusing only on the lesser-known places.

      • Tercal

        Petersham Nurseries is hardly known at all and is a local secret while The Dysart is on the main road, usually busy and, I found, it to be a bit up itself.

        • Sejal

          Well, Petersham Nurseries opened to rave reviews from practically every national and London critic, won several awards and accolades including a Michelin star, it’s frequented by celebrities like Madonna, the original chef Skye Gyngell landed a recipe column in The Independent magazine which ran for a few years, and then she left the restaurant a couple of years ago apparently because she couldn’t cope with the attention… so you can’t really call it a local secret.

  • John

    Pavillion in Victoria Park?

    • Sejal

      Yes, it was a toss-up between Pavilion or Park Cafe At The Hub – and in the end I went for the latter because, unusually, it serves Indian food (I don’t know of any other London park cafe that does), is newly opened, and fewer people know about it.

  • Lucy

    The Dysart isn’t a park cafe…it’s on the main road opposite the park…

    • Sejal

      Although it’s not located inside the park, I included it because is on the very edge of the park, between the park itself and Petersham Meadows, and it overlooks the park – you can sit in the restaurant’s garden and enjoy the views.

      • alex

        The Pheasantry Café in Bushy park. Dysart is not a cafe at all and it’s not in a park either, I agree with Lucy.

        • Sejal

          Thanks for the Pheasantry suggestion, I’ll check it out. As for the Dysart, it’s not a park cafe in the conventional sense, but neither is Lauderdale Restaurant, which is in the grounds of Lauderdale House, or Urban Meadow located beside, rather than inside, Kensington Gardens. I should have made my intentions clearer in the intro – ‘parks and restaurants in, right beside, or overlooking parks, gardens and other open green spaces’ would best describe the piece, but I guess it’s not a snappy title.

  • slcaustx

    I probably have to say I’m secretly glad you missed the lovely little café in the Terrace Gardens between Richmond Hill and Petersham Road – a local favorite.

    • Lucy

      shhh!

  • Joanna De Guia

    You forgot The Pavilion in Victoria Park. It is wonderful and truly makes fantastic food.

    • Jhno

      It is a well known venue, and although the food is great it is also crowded, noisy and not that relaxing. The Hub is calmer, cheaper and the food is unique for a “park cafe”.

  • washu

    http://www.sunnyhillcafe.co.uk/# totally missed this place.

    • Pam23

      Lovely place in the summer.

  • Penel

    Once again South-East London is ignored.
    A lot of these cafes are far too expensive for most people, especially pensioners and parents with children visiting a park.

    • Sejal

      We’ve covered Herne Hill, Peckham, Kennington and Vauxhall in south-east London; and many of the places have been flagged up as being particularly family-friendly and inexpensive.

  • Stephen Locke

    I take the point about South East London – the article doesn’t venture beyond Lambeth and Southwark. For points further east and south it is worth pointing out that Pistachios in the Park have (very commendable) branches at Hilly Fields in Brockley and Manor House Gardens in Lee. Another excellent local addition is the café in Crystal Palace Station, right on the edge of Crystal Palace Park : http://www.brownandgreencafe.com/
    But generally there are still too many parks served by very poor quality (and often not cheap) catering. This article shows there’s room for improvement.

  • Matt

    For you South East Londoners:

    http://oxleawoodcafe.info

  • Susan Lowenthal

    What about the Finsbury Park Cafe (not sure if it has another name)? Lovely new(ish) building and good fresh food for all times of day.
    I haven’t been to the cafe at Golders Hill Park for ages, but it was one of the first decent park cafes around 25 years ago!

  • gostinthemachine

    And for real south east londoners what about the Coach House Cafe and its ‘sunken garden’ outdoor dining area in beautiful Combe Wood in South Croydon: http://www.croydon.gov.uk/leisure/parksandopenspaces/parksatoz/coombe/

  • HFR

    How is the Pavilion not on this list?!

  • Gerry

    Roundwood park and Dulwich parks cafe would have found pride of place on this list. Although this morning I visited Timber Lodge in Olypic park and it was first class;

  • Sejal

    The above list isn’t – and is not meant to be – definitive. Please keep your suggestions coming – especially of the lesser-known places. I’ll check out as many as I can over the coming months.